By / Oct 4

Every pastor who loves Jesus and his Church wants the church he leads to grow. After all, Jesus made it clear that he came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), to build his Church (Matt. 16:18), and to lead his followers to become fishers of men (Mark 1:17). Before he ascended to the right hand of the Father, Jesus gave his followers the Great Commission, calling us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:16-20). Following Jesus’ example and command, the apostles preached the gospel to everyone they could, and the early Church experienced explosive growth as thousands were added to the Church, including three thousand people in a single day (Acts 2:41). There is coming a time when all things will be subject to our King (1 Cor. 15:24-28), and as pastors we have the privilege of leading our churches to participate in God’s vision and mission. Every pastor who still has passion for his calling wants to see this happen in and through his ministry.  

Church growth methods

The question then becomes: How? How do pastors lead their churches to grow, and how do they discern whether or not they are growing? One of the predominant answers to this question is what is often called the attractional paradigm. This approach is based on trying to make every element of the church as attractive as possible to the surrounding culture so that people will attend the church and then make a commitment to Jesus Christ (and the church). Music, preaching, and programs are explicitly designed to draw people into the church. Success is then based on measurable metrics such as average weekly worship attendance, the number of decisions made to accept Jesus Christ, or the number of people who join the church.  

While the attractional paradigm continues to dominate many evangelical churches, an increasing number have begun to realize that there are problems with this model. For example, faithfulness to God’s methods of doing church as described in Scripture does not always produce measurable results. Large numbers of people and decisions do not necessarily indicate a healthy, growing church. 

After a generation with the attractional paradigm as the prevalent way of doing church, research indicates a heightened biblical illiteracy and lessened church commitment among evangelicals. In other words, it doesn’t seem to be working. These problems have led to an increasing popularity for what is often called the gospel-centered or gospel-driven paradigm, where pragmatic concerns and measurable metrics are no longer the driving forces behind how we do church. Instead, the biblical content and methodology of the gospel are the driving forces, whether they are considered “attractive” to the surrounding culture or not.  

Transitioning to gospel-driven growth

Jared Wilson's book The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace is dedicated to helping pastors and churches transition from an attractional way of doing church to a gospel-driven way. Building upon authors such as Jonathan Edwards, Ray Ortlund, Tim Keller, Colin Marshall, and Tony Payne, Wilson first offers a biblical critique of the attraction paradigm. He then walks through what a gospel-driven way of church looks like, beginning with how to measure and not measure success. This leads into a chapter explaining how to place the supernatural power of the gospel at the center of everything a church does. Subsequent chapters highlight what this looks like in preaching, worship music, discipleship, and mission. The last two chapters explicitly encourage and equip pastors in leading gospel-driven change in their churches. Several helpful resources come at the end of the book, including a bullet-point list of the principles Wilson has expounded throughout the book, recommended books for further reading, and a number of troubleshooting questions and answers. 

One of the features that makes Wilson’s book more readable than many in this genre is the narrative he builds his instruction around, echoing authors such as Calvin Miller. He weaves the story of a fictional church, LifePoint Church, throughout the book, and how its pastor becomes convicted about the need to move away from their attractional model to a more gospel-centered model. Grounding his teaching in an illustration like this helps highlight real-world issues, such as how this kind of transition will affect an established church both positively and negatively, how pastoral staff and congregational leaders might react, and how it will impact the pastor.  

Gospel-Driven Church is Wilson’s 12th book. Having read most of his books, it is everything you would expect from Wilson: biblical, practical, well-written, historically informed, and directed to pastors but accessible to most interested readers. Wilson writes as a former pastor, using his personal and ministry experience as illustrations, supporting his work with relevant examples, grounding his work in Scripture and doctrine, and focusing on practical application. While each chapter could be dealt with in a book-length treatment (something Wilson readily acknowledges with his recommended resources page), Wilson does a commendable job of focusing on the most important issues and not forgetting his audience of busy pastors. 

As a pastor who believes the gospel-driven paradigm is the biblical way of doing church and does his best to practice it, I was both encouraged and strengthened by Wilson’s book. I would recommend it to pastors, seminary students, and church leaders, particularly those who are struggling in churches dominated by the attractional paradigm or seeking instruction on how best to pastor at this cultural moment.  

By / Jul 4

Dietrich Bonhoeffer largely derives his fame from his martyrdom at the hands of the Nazi regime. Under immense stress, Bonhoeffer’s religious convictions prompted him to fight for the true good of the German people against genocidal tyranny. Understandably so, less attention has been paid to his theology and his understanding of private Christian faith. However, Bonhoeffer’s life and writings demonstrate a vital nuance to personal, spiritual practices that ought to inform our private faith today.

Before his involvement in the assassination plot, Dietrich Bonhoeffer retreated to relative obscurity and operated an underground seminary in the German town of Finkenwalde. Here, removed from the political activities of his day, Bonhoeffer gives us the best glimpse of his expectations for personal spirituality.

Practicing spiritual disciplines

To prepare his seminarians for ministry, Bonhoeffer mandated disciplines very familiar to us. Bonhoeffer required his students to read Scripture privately, writing, “we are not permitted to neglect this daily encounter with Scripture.”[1] Bonhoeffer intentionally uses the word “encounter” here as he disallowed that this time would be an academic or pastoral pursuit: the ministers-to-be were not allowed to search for sermon material or use a Greek New Testament; rather, Scripture study was meditative, or prayerful, and enabled the Finkenwalde seminarians “to encounter Christ in his own word.”[2] Thus, the “goal [of Scriptural meditation] is Christ’s community, Christ’s help, and Christ’s guidance.”[3]

Bonhoeffer also insisted that his seminarians fasted. Arguing that it reminded them of their “estrangement” from the world, he regarded this practice as nonnegotiable.[4] Just as prayerful Scripture reading ultimately looks to encounter God, Bonhoeffer does not see fasting as an end in itself but rather a response to faith in Christ, a means of orienting one’s life to God.

However, Bonhoeffer appears to speak out of both sides of his mouth, paradoxically railing against retreat from the world. In Ethics, he writes firmly, “for the Christian there is nowhere to retreat from the world, neither externally nor into the inner life.”[5] In After Ten Years, he develops this criticism a little further:

In flight from public discussion and examination, this or that person may well attain the

sanctuary of private virtuousness. But he must close his eyes and mouth to the injustice

around him. He can remain undefiled by the consequences of responsible action only by

deceiving himself . . . He will either perish from that restlessness or turn into a

hypocritical, self-righteous, small-minded human being.[6]

Developing a moral backbone

How then are we to make sense of Bonhoeffer’s actions and commands? While condemning withdrawal from the world, Bonhoeffer appears to do the very thing he hates, retreating to Finkenwalde and exhorting his students toward inward-focused, privatistic practices.

In her essay “Bonhoeffer’s Understanding of Church, State and Civil Society,” Victoria J. Barnett, director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust, notes Bonhoeffer’s awareness of this exact contradiction: “The Finkenwalde experiment opened up the risk inherent in any kind of internal exile, which is that it becomes a flight into a privatized kind of discipleship.”[7] Barnett thus indicates that while the Finkenwalde period may appear apolitical, Bonhoeffer understood this apparent contradiction.

However, his other writings—as well as more insight from Barnett—provide a fascinating dimension to Bonhoeffer’s personal spirituality which resolves this tension. Rather than seeing spiritual disciplines as a retreat from the world, Bonhoeffer understands spirituality as the necessary foundation for Christian political action.

Retreating to Finkenwalde, Bonhoeffer was not neglecting or refusing the world. Rather, Barnett’s essay highlights how he here sought “the creation of moral backbone and the establishment of the discipline his students would need if they were to stay on the right path” under the attractive Nazi regime.[8] Personally, Bonhoeffer saw his meditation not as retreat but the only way he could take certain steps in public life: encountering God personally provided the necessary foundation for political action.

This moral formation via spiritual discipline does not, however, only apply to ministers. Bonhoeffer extends this political dimension of spirituality to the local church because a church consumed with her own desire and self-interest cannot truly love her neighbor. Only by developing contentment and self-control will the church be able to be selfless, to be the church-for-others, as Bonhoeffer puts it.  

Bonhoeffer thus resolves the apparent contradiction and demonstrates a necessarily political or public understanding of private spirituality. Rather than serving as an end-in-themselves, private spiritual practices function as a means to create genuinely Christian public action. Reading Scripture prayerfully may appear an isolated or individualistic practice, but such meditation forms our desires and builds virtue. Fasting similarly generates self-control, enabling—through God’s grace—the Christian to overcome selfish ambition and promoting generosity. Personal spirituality, though seemingly apolitical, therefore empowers the church to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned.

Notes

  1. ^ The Complete Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Series. Volume 14. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Publish Company (2014). 936.
  2. ^ DBWE 14, 932.
  3. ^ DBWE 14, 933.
  4. ^ DBWE 4, 158.
  5. ^ DBWE 6, 62.
  6. ^ DBWE 8, 40, emphasis original.
  7. ^ Victoria J. Barnett. “Bonhoeffer’s Understanding of Church, State and Civil Society.” Found in Dem Rad in die Speichen fallen : das Politische in der Theologie Dietrich Bonhoeffers = A spoke in the wheel : the political in the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Ed. Kristen Busch Nielsen, Ralf Karolus Wustenberg and Jens Zimmermann. Guetersloh, DE: Gütersloher Publishing House (2014). 361.
  8. ^ Barnett, “Bonhoeffer’s Understanding of Church, State and Civil Society,” 361.
By / Dec 6
By / Nov 22
By / Feb 17

Could your calendar app be part of faithfulness in the Christian life?

In some respects the question seems ridiculous, but it points to one of the most helpful realizations I have come to over the last several years when it comes to loving my family and leading at my job. What I’ve realized is that far too many of us put a great deal of forethought into what we do at our jobs, but we put far less thought into the other areas of responsibility in our lives.

This is a problem, first of all, because our life is a stewardship, and being faithfully on mission in the world requires strategy and planning. As Christians, our lives and livelihoods are gifts of grace for which we will account, but we’re not merely responsible in life for those duties listed in our job description. I am an employee but I’m also a Christian, church member, husband, and father, among other things, and God has called me to faithfulness in all these areas.

Secondly, we’re fallen creatures, and we must be aggressive in combating our own sinful hearts. This means being strategic with our time across all of our areas of responsibility and guarding against lethargy and selfishness. Many of us take this kind of strategic approach with respect to our work lives: plan your day, or others’ needs will plan it for you. And yet even if we are diligent in planning our work it can be easy to fail to bring that same intentionality to bear in other areas of our lives. It’s easy to think that since we have to be “on” at work, we get to be “off” at home and don’t have to be as focused. But husbands, what are we saying to our wives if we are hyper-conscientious about how we plan our workdays but not our date nights? Parents, what are we expressing to our children when our work gets undivided attention, but we’re distant at home, glued to a television or phone because we need time to “decompress”?

This is not to say life should be devoid of spontaneity. But we must remember that the Christian life is a life of warfare. We are called to wage war against sin and must resist the temptation towards passivity. Strategic planning, then, is one concrete way we can fight sin and serve Christ more effectively. Here’s how I accomplish this.

1. Plan your week, not your day.

I take 30 minutes with my wife every Sunday night and make a plan for the week ahead, considering what I want my life to look like by the same time next week. The list is simple. It’s just a basic to do list in which I list out anything I want to accomplish that week over and above what’s already on my calendar. The important element here is that it is the week that I plan and not just the next day. This is because, for one, I tend to be overambitious about what I think I can accomplish in a given day, and making a plan for the week frees me from growing discouraged when enough boxes aren’t checked at the end of a day; it also offers margin so when the unexpected arises and my day takes an unexpected turn I don’t feel like everything is lost. More than that, having a week in view rather than just a day allows me to think about what kind of progress I want to make on big goals and projects. It’s easy to overestimate how much you can do in a day, but it’s also easy to underestimate how much you can accomplish in a week. Make the week your basic unit of measurement and you spare yourself the unnecessary effort of making endless lists; you also naturally begin to think in broader categories of long-term effectiveness rather than short-term requirements.

2. Review your roles.

This weekly planning starts with a quick review of my roles. I have a simple list saved on my computer that has listed across it every area in my life in which the Lord has entrusted me responsibilities—to name a few, Christian, Church member, Husband, Father, Employee, Boss, Friend, etc. I try to make sure I’m thinking through these categories when I put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and I’m writing out a list. The point in this is simply to make sure I’m attending to everything the Lord has called me to. Every week looks different, and I’m not trying to devote equal time to each of these categories. Faithfulness is the goal, not some elusive quest for “balance.” What this review does is simply help me keep my entire life in view and not just what seems most pressing at the moment.

3. Draft your list.

Start making your weekly list by asking yourself the question, “What do I know I need to do this week?” Think through your week, and take a look at your calendar to remind you of what you’re already committed to that week (e.g., meetings, conference calls, church events, family activities, etc.). Then list what else you know you need to do that week—whether tasks, conversations, or reminders. Make sure these items are concrete, next-step actions: “Talk to Tom about communications budget needs,” never just “Budget.” Use whatever tool you like but keep it simple and accessible. If it’s complicated to use or access you’re less likely to stick with it.

4. Plan your investments.

The most important step in the planning is the answer to the question, “Where can I invest myself this week?” This is when I make the move from getting stuff done to making sure I’m living my life well. Up until this point I’m just listing out tasks, but here I’m moving from details to the big picture. For work, I look at my list of things I need to do and ask myself, “What else is there I need to do to make the biggest difference?” or “How can I get these things done most efficiently?” At this point I will often take a look at my task list and block off certain times on the calendar so I can focus on high-yield work projects, or create space to where I can bundle several things together and get things done more quickly. But, more importantly, I’m also thinking about other areas of my life, and I ask myself questions like, “How can I surprise my wife this week?” or “What is something special this week I can do for my daughters that will create a lasting memory?” As I think through the answers to these questions I build in and protect time in the week to make sure I carry through. This step, more than any other, makes sure the urgent in one area of my life does not overtake all the others.

In C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, the elder demon Screwtape counsels his demon nephew Wormwood in the art of distraction. He comments that one of the “patients” he successfully led to destruction commented upon entering Hell, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” For those of us in Christ, living our lives faithfully and investing our time for maximum kingdom effectiveness is at the core of our mission. So we must be on guard against an Enemy who will seek to lull and to distract, and we should be diligent to use whatever means necessary to remain focused on all the fields of ministry the Lord has given us access to. In some respects, then, the pathway into spiritual warfare may start with something as simple as opening your to do list.

By / Mar 21

Hello, I’m Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and you are listening to Questions and Ethics. This is the program where we take a question that you are struggling with and look at it through the lens of the kingdom of Christ as found in the Bible.

The question today comes from a man named Tony who writes in and says, “Dr. Moore, I’m having a difficult time. Our church has recovered what we believe to be the biblical understanding of church discipline. We have someone who was in persistent sin, wouldn’t repent, so we followed the Matthew 18 steps toward church discipline, ending at excommunication. We removed him from the membership of the church.” Tony says, “I ran into this guy at a local restaurant, and he wanted to talk, and we ordered a meal and sat and talked through various things. And I really am feeling guilty now, because doesn’t the Bible say that we are supposed to shun people who are under church discipline and not to eat with them? And that’s exactly what I did. I ate with him. So did I do the wrong thing?”

Well, Tony, that is a good question because it’s been so long since many churches have exercised biblical church discipline because we haven’t seen it in our context in a long time. It’s sometimes very difficult to know what to do. We don’t have some of those sorts of intuitions that are formed just from repetition of seeing something done over and over and over again. So, for instance, most people don’t have to think about, or most churches don’t have to think about—Wait a minute! What do we do? How do we do a baptism?—because they’ve seen baptisms done. They may do it differently than the last generation of the church did, but they’ve got a prototype. For a lot of churches, though, church discipline is kind of like that first generation of Baptists in the seventeenth century recovering a New Testament doctrine that they’d never really seen done—the immersion of a believer in water. And so how do we do this when we haven’t seen it done? All we really have are the biblical texts and then something way, way, way back in our history. So we have to think that through.

So this is a good question. A lot of people assume that somebody under church discipline is somebody that we ought to shun, that we ought to mistreat even. And so sometimes people will think well, because the Bible says, “Do not even eat with such a one,” and because Jesus says in Matthew 18 to treat that person as a tax collector and a Gentile, then when I run into that person in the grocery store I shouldn’t say anything, or if I sit down in Starbucks and this person sits down next to me, I ought to put down the coffee—does that constitute eating? No! I don’t think that’s what those biblical texts are talking about. I think the main issue that those texts are talking about is the question of who is a brother or sister and who is a neighbor. Who is part of the family? Who is outside of the family? That’s why Jesus is saying, for instance, in Matthew, chapter 18, he says that if the one that you have confronted repents then he says you have “gained a brother,” verse 15 of chapter 18. So the language there is a brother and then of tax collector and Gentile.

Now, of course, how does Jesus treat tax collectors and Gentiles? He doesn’t treat tax collectors and Gentiles with shunning. He doesn’t avoid them. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons that Jesus is often being confronted and one of the reasons that Jesus is often being criticized is because he won’t shun tax collectors and sinners, because he does hang out with tax collectors and sinners. The question is whether or not there is a clear marking out of who is on the inside of the church and so has a responsibility to live up to those responsibilities that Jesus has given to the church as a kingdom of priests, and who’s not—who is on the outside and who needs to be evangelized?

So when Paul says in I Corinthians, chapter 5, when he says in verse 12, “What have I to with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” and he says the one who is excommunicated, the one who is put out of the body, he says, “I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler, not to even eat with such a one,” I think the issue there for the Apostle Paul is the Lord’s table, the gathering as the family and the people of Christ around the Lord’s table, and not to associate in such a way that would give someone the assurance that he is a brother or a sister in a case when that assurance is false. So when somebody is excommunicated from the body, I think that means you treat that person exactly as you would an unbeliever. So you don’t give that person any reason to kind of hide behind oh, well, I’m really a Christian; I’m really in fellowship with Christ. You don’t invite that person to the Lord’s table. You don’t give that person the sorts of responsibilities within the church that would come along with being a brother or sister in Christ. You instead make it very clear you are dealing with someone who is on the outside.

Now, why? Because what is the point of church discipline? The point of church discipline is not to punish people. The point of church discipline is not to stigmatize people. The point of church discipline is not just to get people out of here. The point of church discipline is redemptive. You are handing, as a church, Paul says, that person, “over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved,” Paul says. So what is the ultimate hope? The ultimate hope is that that person will repent. Because in church discipline you are dealing either with somebody who knows Christ and is walking away from Christ, in which case, “my sheep hear my voice,” Jesus says, as the good shepherd; the voice of the church in handing him over is something that the Spirit uses to convict and to bring that Christian back into right fellowship. Or you are dealing with somebody who is not a believer—he or she has never experienced the new birth; so that person is now being evangelized.

So what do you do when you sit down with that guy in the restaurant, Tony? I think what you ought to do is to treat him exactly as you would any other unbeliever. You don’t know if he’s an unbeliever, but the scripture says you treat him as such until he comes to repentance. So you treat him with kindness and you treat him with evangelistic zeal. So you want to talk to that person and then you want to get to the point where you say, “What’s going on with you, John? Let’s talk about what’s happening in your life. Don’t wander away from the Lord. Don’t do this. Come to repentance.” That’s the way that you seek to treat this person so you don’t ignore the discipline. You don’t act as though you are still right back in the Sunday school class or wherever you were with this person. But you don’t shun that person either. You seek to apply the gospel, the blood of Christ is offered to you. The opportunity to come back home is offered to you. You do that with humility. You do that with conviction, and you do that with kindness so that ultimately you pray that you are going to see that person right back—repentant, restored to fellowship in the church. And then you don’t hold it against him. You move forward as someone who, as Jesus says in the parable of the prodigal, someone who was dead and has now been restored again to life. That’s the hope.

So I don’t think shunning. I think instead a distinction between those who are part of the church and those who are outside of the church.

Thanks so much for listening to Questions and Ethics. For more resources on living out the Christian life according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, check out our website at erlc.com. And then send me your question. Maybe you’ve been reading the Bible and you’ve come across a passage that’s difficult for you to understand. Or maybe you’ve been having a conversation with a neighbor; or something you’ve seen on Facebook or on Twitter that you are wondering how should I think about this as a Christian. Or maybe it is something that you are wrestling with in your workplace or in your marriage or in your family or in your church. Well, send it to me at [email protected] or via Twitter at #askrdm. So until next time, seek the kingdom, and walk the line. This is Russell Moore.

By / Feb 21

I, ­­­___________________, hereby resolve, by the power of the Holy Spirit working within me, to seek to

Act like a man in watchfulness and strength, fulfilling my duties to my God, to my church, to my family, to my employer, to my neighbor, to my nation, and to all nations, governed by the precepts of Scripture and guided by integrity of heart (Job 38:3; 40:7; Prov. 11:3; Jer. 29:4-7; Matt. 25:14-46; 28:19-20; Luke 10:25-37; Acts 1:8; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Tim. 2:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:13-17);

Bless the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten me again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for me, kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet. 1:3-5);

Confess my sins to the Lord and to others forthrightly, striving to keep a clear conscience before God and man, knowing that if I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear my prayer and that he who covers his sins will not prosper (Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:13; Acts 24:16; James 5:16; 1 John 1:9);

Delight myself in the Lord, trusting in Him thoroughly, serving Him unswervingly, committing my way to Him unreservedly, and waiting on Him expectantly, thereby positioning myself properly to see Him act powerfully, granting my heart’s desires accordingly, to the glory of His name (Ps. 37:3-7);

Encourage every soul God brings across my path, building up rather than tearing down, blessing rather than cursing, letting no corrupt communication proceed out of my mouth but that which is good for edification that it may minister grace to the hearers (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-28; Rom. 12:14; Eph. 4:29; 1 Thess. 5:11);

Forgive others just as God in Christ has forgiven me, a helpless sinner, covering my sins through His atoning sacrifice, carrying them from me as far as the east is from the west, and casting them into the depths of a crimson sea, never to be charged against me (Ps. 103:12; Is. 1:18; 43:25; Micah 7:19; Eph. 4:32);

Give unto the Lord the firstfruits of my labor, bringing all the tithe of my increase into the storehouse, along with offerings as I’ve purposed in my heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, but gratefully, for God loves a cheerful giver (Prov. 3:9; Mal. 3:10; 2 Cor. 9:7);

Humble myself in the sight of the Lord, who then will lift me up, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted, as God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Matt. 19:30; 23:12; Mark 10:31; Luke 1:52; 14:11; 18:14; James 4:6, 10; 1 Pet. 5:5-6);

Invest in the lives of others as a doer of the Word and not a hearer only, evangelizing the lost, discipling the found, and uplifting the cast down, developing and using my spiritual gifts and natural talents for the expansion of the Kingdom and the building up of the saints (Matt. 25:14-46; 28:19-20; Luke 10:25-37; 1 Cor. 12:1-31; 2 Tim. 2:2; James 1:22);

Join the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before me walking by faith, not by sight, refusing to sell God’s blessings for a pot of porridge to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, but instead esteeming the reproaches of Christ greater riches than the treasures of this world, for without faith it is impossible to please God (Gen. 25:29-34; Heb. 11:1-40; 12:1-2);

Keep my heart with all diligence, walking by the Spirit with integrity of heart within my home, setting no unclean thing before my eyes and covenanting with my eyes that I will not look upon a woman lustfully, mindful that a young man cleanses his way by taking heed according to God’s Word (Job 31:1; Ps. 101:2-3; 119:9; Prov. 4:23; Gal. 5:16);

Love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself, being kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another and esteeming others better than myself, looking ever and always to Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith, who demonstrated the highest form of love by humbling Himself and becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37-39; Luke 10:27; Rom. 12:10; Phil. 2:3-8; Heb. 12:2);

Make every effort to add to my faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly affection; and to brotherly affection, love, for if I have not love, I am nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3; 2 Pet. 1:5-7);

Navigate the billowing seas of life guided by the compass of Scripture, with my eyes fixed not on my storm but on my Savior, the Captain of my salvation and Commander of my soul, the omnipotent Lord who reigns supreme over wind and wave and can immediately steady my feet, still my storm, and station me on dry land (Matt. 14:22-34; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21; Heb. 2:10);

Open my mouth for the voiceless, rescuing those who are being drawn toward death and imploring a confused and deceived culture to choose life, not death, for every human life is an image-bearer of the Creator (Gen. 1:26-27; Deut. 30:19; Ps. 82:3-4; 139:13-16; Prov. 24:11; 31:8-9);

Preach good tidings to the poor; to bind up the brokenhearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God; and to comfort all who mourn, giving them beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified (Is. 61:1-4);

Quiet my soul daily before the Lord, drinking deeply from His Word and sitting silently in His presence, seeking to know Him and to hear from Him, ascribing to Him the glory due His name and worshipping Him in the beauty of holiness, for great is the Lord and greatly to be praised (Ps. 29:2; 46:10; 62:1, 5; 145:3; Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 2:2-3);

Remember the tender mercies of the Lord, recounting His magnificent workings in my life, from the biggest of breakthroughs to the smallest of details, meditating on all His work and talking of all His deeds that His name will be remembered in all generations (Ps. 45:17; 77:10-12);

Study to show myself approved unto God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth and ready always to give a reason for the hope that is in me, with gentleness and respect (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:15);

Trust in the providential timing of Almighty God—the Sovereign Lord who can do all things and carries out His plans in the fullness of time—not limiting the Holy One of Israel or charging Him with wrongdoing for trials that brew and temptations that ensue during seasons of wilderness and wait, but keeping my eye on the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, my Deliverer who leads His people like a flock (Gen. 18:14; Ex. 13:21-22; Job 1:22; Ps. 77:20; 78:41; Jer. 32:17, 27; Luke 1:37; Gal. 4:4; James 1:12-15);

Uphold the high vision God has given me of marriage—a picture of Christ and His Bride, the Church—loving my wife even before I know her and preparing to lead her in all godliness and to lay down my life for her just as Christ laid down His life for the Church, meanwhile praying that my bride-in-waiting, a precious jewel to be found, would cultivate virtue through a deepening walk with God, that we would not arouse or awaken love until it pleases, and that in covenant marriage the Giver of life would bless us with fruit of the womb whom we may teach faithfully to know and to love Christ, for he who finds a wife finds a good thing, obtaining favor from the Lord, and children are a heritage from the Lord (Gen. 1:28; 2:24; Deut. 6:4-9; Ps. 127:3-5; 128:1-6; Prov. 18:22; 31:10; Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4; Jer. 31:3; Hab. 2:2-3; John 15:13; Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 3:7);

Value every moment as a gift from God, redeeming the time because the days are evil and asking God to teach me to number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom to know and to carry out His will, for He who began a good work in me will carry it out until the day of Jesus Christ (Ps. 90:12; Eph. 5:15-16; Phil. 1:6);

Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all might according to His glorious power, with all patience and longsuffering with joy (Col. 1:10-12);

X-ray my innermost being, inviting God to search me and know my heart, to try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting (Ps. 139:23-24; 1 Cor. 11:28);

Yield my will to God just as Christ yielded His will to the Father all the way to the cross, drinking the cup He prepares for me, all the while trusting Him to show me the path of life, for in His presence is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forever (Ps. 16:11; Matt. 26:38-42); and

Zero in on God’s all-encompassing purpose for my life: to know Him and to make Him known, testifying with both my life and my lips that Jesus Christ—the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, the crucified Lamb and the coming King—is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11; 3:10; Rev. 1:8, 11, 17; 22:12-13, 20).

So help me God. Amen.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:33

By / Feb 21

A new year signals a new beginning. With the simple turn of the calendar from one year to the next, millions of Americans resolve to turn over a new leaf, to make a fresh start. And that often entails New Year’s resolutions, many of which have already been abandoned and forgotten in 2014. It’s February, after all.

As creatures of habit (and of failure), many of us return to the same resolutions year after year. Among common commitments toward change: exercise more and lose weight, save more and spend less.

Such goals are commendable, to be sure, even as motivations to get one’s physical and fiscal house in order vary widely. But what about the spiritual dimensions?

For believers, we all ought to strive to care for our bodies and to steward well the financial resources God has entrusted us. After all, Scripture instructs us that our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit” and that we should “glorify God” in them (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The Bible is replete with financial counsel, too, warning that “the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Prov. 22:7). To devote proper attention to these areas of life is to walk in wisdom.

But annual ambitions toward a “new you” ought not to end here. How many of us resolve, seriously, toward growing in godliness?

The apostle Paul reminds us that “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). Paul’s purpose here is not to dismiss care for our human bodies—he even says it has “some value.” He is, though, pointing us to the weightier matters of life, things that will carry into the next life and yield “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

The devoted Christ-follower—a “new creation” in very identity (2 Cor. 5:17)—pursues these things, and earnestly so. Yet, this righteous course we seek to travel often becomes a fog. We stumble and fall. We easily lose our way. One reason for seemingly perpetual distraction and disorientation may well be that our sincere desire to maintain clear vision and sure footing is cast merely with single spoken breath, rather than captured intently with pen and paper and set always before our eyes.

Popular advice to anyone charting a new course—or simply returning to an old, tried and true one—is to write it down. Scripture advises this too. Consider God’s instruction to His people Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:4-9 ESV).

This call to “write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” led me to consider the placement of God’s Word in my own home. Shortly after moving into a different apartment last year, I determined to permeate my humble abode with the fragrance of Christ. One of the most life-enhancing things I could do, I thought, would be to keep the Word of God always before me. Not simply an open Bible on the table, though that’s a good start, but something more.

That “something more” turned into a 26-point Scripture-saturated statement I titled “The 830 Resolution”—830 is my apartment number—each action point beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, A to Z. Far from exhaustive in scope, the resolution, now framed and hanging, serves as an ever-present reminder of God’s all-encompassing purpose for my life: to know him and to make him known, to testify with both my life and my lips that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. It is, in short, a resolution toward godliness.

While the 830 Resolution originates from the perspective of a single male, most of it applies to any believer, in any season of life. I share it here—imperfect as it may be and impossible as it will be for this broken man to always follow—in the hope that it might be of help to someone else, a fellow traveler.

So feel free to make it your own. Re-title it. Pull out sections and replace them with different ones. Or, better yet, start afresh and prayerfully write your own, from A to Z. After all, the source material God provides—the Bible—is vast. His story therein of love and redemption through Christ for fallen and sinful man is a call both to enter into his grace and to shine forth his glory. Make it your story.

And revisit it often. Tuck your resolution in your Bible, stick it to your refrigerator, hang it on a wall. Place it somewhere you’ll see it often, and be reminded of why you’re here and what this life is all about anyway.

As for next year, if by God’s grace another turn of the calendar comes around for me, perhaps I’ll write a new resolution. But maybe not. Quite possibly, no doubt having stumbled and fallen many times along my journey, I’ll just keep these same words hanging on my “830” doorposts for yet another year. Praise God we can always begin again.