Tag Archives: spiritual formation

Remember the Lord and Fight!

I hesitated to write this post because it is much more personal than anything I’ve written here before. If, however, it can be an encouragement to someone who has had an experience similar to mine or has experienced the same feelings and emotions, perhaps it will have been worth it to pull it out of my personal journal and publish it here.

This past Sunday one of the pastors at my church announced that he had accepted a pastoral position at another church in another state. To be more precise, I should say that our church’s only ordained pastor will soon be gone. Not only that, but his departure marks the fifth time since August of 2015 that a pastor has left my church. The circumstances of those departures are not the subject of this post, nor would I put anything in a public blog post that might cause any pain to other members of my church.

I know that this man, whom I consider a friend, has not accepted this new position lightly or without prayer and godly counsel. When he told the church that moving on brought sadness for him, I believe him. His continued service to our church over the past couple of years has been a source of great encouragement to me and I rejoice for his new church family that they will now be blessed by his ministry.

Still, his announcement brought with it a wave of discouragement for me. It’s a feeling that’s become too familiar over the past couple of years. I want nothing but God’s best for my pastor and friend, but I would be deceiving myself if I were to deny that it hurts that he will no longer be at my church. It is difficult not to feel somewhat abandoned and alone. Five men who have been spiritual mentors and guides, teachers, and friends have left my church family and I know that those relationships will never be quite the same.

It was no coincidence that my Bible reading plan for 2018 had me reading in Nehemiah 4 on the day of this announcement:

But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.

In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall. And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”

Nehemiah 4:10-14 (ESV)


Rebuilding the Wall of Jerusalem under Nehemiah by William Brassey Hole (1846-1917)


Perhaps the discouragement I felt this Sunday compares in some small way to what was felt in Judah in Nehemiah’s day. The people were hard at work, but they met opposition. Their strength was failing, there was too much work to be done, and it became clear that the task was too much for them. But Nehemiah gave them a reminder, words of encouragement: “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” No matter who opposed the Israelites or what circumstances stood in their way, they could fix their hearts and minds on the God whom they served and take courage from his awesome power. They could then turn that courage into action by being prepared to fight for their families and their homes.

I worship and serve the same God who has not changed at all from Nehemiah’s day. I strive to be a committed member of my church (although I know I do not fill that role perfectly). Sometimes the effort involved in committing myself to my church seems overwhelming. Often, I see the strain of that effort more in others than in myself. Given what my church has been through, it is easy to think about giving up on one’s commitment, feeling that we’ve been left to fend for ourselves.

But I have no reason to wallow in that kind of discouragement or believe the lie that we are abandoned. I remember the Lord, who is great and awesome. When the task before me seems too much to bear, I know that He is my strength. He supplies that strength for a purpose: that I may glorify him. The reconstruction of Jerusalem brought glory to God as well as safety for its inhabitants. The work that God has called me to do in my local church brings glory to him, but I can also draw motivation from the fact that the members of my church are my family. When your family is in danger, you prepare to fight.

The call to myself and to anyone else feeling discouraged (especially anyone in my own church family who might read this) is simple: do not fear enemies or circumstances, but remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and resolve to fight on behalf of those you love.


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The First and Last Thing I’ll Ever Write About Joel Osteen

No television preacher’s name likely evokes more visceral reactions than Joel Osteen’s. Some love his style of preaching while others denounce him (Google Christian rapper Shai Linne’s Fal$e Teacher$ for one example). I have to admit that until fairly recently I had never really paid very close attention to what Osteen said or wrote. Recognizing that it would be unfair of me to come to any conclusions about what he believes without letting the man speak for himself, a few years ago I checked out two of his books from the local library, Become a Better You and Every Day a Friday.

I started writing this note back then and had thoughts of doing a series of posts, pointing out both the good and the bad from Osteen’s works.  Brutal honesty time: I really couldn’t get into his books. I read the first few chapters of Become a Better You, but I just gave up after a while.  Aside from any theological issues, I just found the book repetitive and not engaging.  Those are issues of personal preference, however, and I certainly don’t hold those against Osteen or those who find value in his writing.


Be that as it may, the few paragraphs below are more along the lines of what I wanted to write about.  I don’t intend to read any of Osteen’s books in the future nor do I intend to spend very much time (if any) trying to discern whether his teaching is biblical or helpful.  I’ll leave that to others who can do it more effectively and who have the time to devote to it.

In the first few pages of Become a Better You I came across the following passage. I quote it at some length here to provide context.  The emphasis is in the original.

Too many people don’t have the confidence and self-esteem they should because they’re constantly dwelling on negative thoughts about themselves. I don’t say this arrogantly, but in my mind, all day long I try to remind myself: I am anointed. I am creative. I am talented. I am successful. I have the favor of God. People like me. I’m a victor and not a victim.

Try it! If you go around thinking those kinds of thoughts, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, or inferiority won’t have a chance with you. Throw your shoulders back, put a smile on your face, and be looking for opportunities to stretch into the next level.

Back in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve at the forbidden fruit, they hid. In the cool of the day, God came to them and said. “Adam, Eve, where are your?”

They said, “God, we’re hiding because we are naked.”

I love the way God answered them. He said, “Adam, who told you that you were naked?” In other words, “Who told you that something was wrong with you?” God immediately knew that the enemy had been talking to them.

God is saying to you today, “Who told you that you don’t have what it takes to succeed? Who told you that the best grades you could make in school would be C’s rather than A’s? Who told you that you are not attractive enough to succeed in your personal relationships or talented enough to flourish in your career? Who told you that your marriage is never going to last?

Those paragraphs come from the first chapter of the book entitled “Stretching to the Next Level.”  The focus of the chapter should be obvious from the excerpt above: don’t let what other people tell you about yourself (negative thoughts) overshadow who you are as a child of God (at least that’s the best way I can think of to summarize Osteen’s writing).  As far as that statement goes, it’s unobjectionable and, I think, is not inconsistent with Scripture.

In the passage above, however, after some reflection, I think there are two problems.  At first blush, the Scripture passage to which Osteen refers seems to support his general point about rejecting negative thoughts put in one’s mind by someone else.  But upon closer examination, I think that Osteen has divorced this particular story from its context (perhaps dangerously so).

Indeed, God did pose the question to “Adam, who told you that you were naked?” (Gen. 3:11).  Osteen’s next sentences, however, are where I think he goes astray.  First of all, looking back a few verses we see that Adam and Eve “realized they were naked.”  (Gen. 3:7 NIV).  So the answer to the question God posed was not, as Osteen seems to imply, that the serpent (“the enemy”) had told them they were naked; rather Adam and Eve came to understand it on their own. Failing to read Scripture in context is an error.  It’s an error that’s rampant, of course, and each of us has our favorite verses to which we resort with little or no regard for the context.  To that extent, I can’t fault Osteen more than anyone else for making the same mistake that I’ve made on more occasions than I can probably even remember. Nevertheless, the error seems pretty clear in this instance.

The second and more significant problem with this passage from Osteen’s book is that the error is not harmless. Osteen suggests that God, as he did with the first people, asks each of us, “Who told you that something was wrong with you?”  His line of reasoning is that people should reject negative thoughts about themselves and focus instead on telling themselves things like, “I am successful. I have the favor of God. People like me.

Here’s the problem with using the passage about Adam and Eve to make that point: there was something wrong with Adam and Eve.  They had sinned, thereby requiring God to separate Himself from His creation.  Even if God meant to ask them “Who told you that something was wrong with you?” there can be no doubt that He certainly did not mean to imply that there was nothing wrong with them.

Osteen thus obscures the source of the first human beings’ sense that something was not right with them.  Removing sin from the story is, I think, the most harmful error one could possibly make.  To the extent that people today sometimes feel that something is missing from their lives or that something is wrong with them they are correct.  The only solution to that problem is salvation.  Absent a recognition of one’s sin nature and repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ there is no salvation.

Encouraging Christians with truths about the standing they enjoy with God because of Jesus’ work is one thing.  That seems to be the basis on which some defend the tone and content of Osteen’s preaching.  Confusing the lost by obscuring the effects of sin is indefensible for anyone who claims to be preaching the true Gospel.  Non-Christians very well may leave a service at Lakewood Church feeling better about themselves, but if they don’t come away with a clear understanding of their own sin and their need for repentance they have been deceived and they are likely much worse off than they were before.

That, I think, is the danger of the teaching of Joel Osteen and others like him.  I don’t doubt his sincerity and he does seem to be a genuinely happy person.  It is possible, however, to be very sincere, but, at the same time, to be sincerely wrong.

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A Time Management Tip from a Puritan Minister


Jeremiah Burroughs, c. 1600 –  November 13, 1646

What can we learn from the Puritans about the frenetic pace of modern life? Most would probably assume that their world and ours are so different that nothing they had to say could have much relevance for present-day followers of Christ. I think, however, that we should not be so quick to jump to that conclusion. Consider the following excerpt from Jeremiah Burroughs’ work The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:


By murmuring and discontent in your hearts, you come to lose a great deal of time. How many times do men and women, when they are discontented, let their thoughts run, and are musing and contriving, through their present discontentedness and let their discontented thoughts work in them for some hours together, and they spend their time in vain! When you are alone you should spend your time in holy meditation, but you are spending your time in discontented thoughts. You complain that you cannot meditate, you cannot think on good things, but if you begin to think of them a little, soon your thoughts are off from them. But if you are discontented with anything, then you can go alone, and muse, and roll things up and down in your thoughts to feed a discontented humor. Oh, labor to see this evil effect of murmuring, the losing of your time

The Puritans, of course, could never have known anything of our technological advancements, but we can still learn from them because God never changes and because fallen human nature remains the same as well. If anything, modern Christians (especially those in the United States and other wealthy countries) are more susceptible to murmuring than the average Englishman of the 1600s. We have so many more distractions that the ways in which we can come to be discontent and prone to murmuring are almost without end.

What if we took Burroughs’ advice? What if we took all the time we spend thinking about things we think we ought to have or afflictions we think we should not have to bear and instead spent that time worshipping God and thinking on whatever is true and lovely and of a good report? (Philippians 4:8) I can’t help but wonder how much more productive we can be for the cause of Christ if we could rid ourselves of murmuring. We modern American Christians claim (murmur?) about how busy our lives are, but how much of that busyness could we shed merely by being content with God?


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Everything is Spiritual

In a piece at libertarianchristians.com, Doug Stuart approaches the topic of how Christian spiritual formation involves every area of life, including politics:

We cannot compartmentalize spiritual formation to certain practices or to times of day, such as our morning Bible reading, praying at mealtime, or when we participate in official liturgies at church. All of life is spiritual formation. Those things toward which our hearts are inclined indicate the state of our spirituality.

Read the rest here.

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