The Marks of the Christian

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And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11, NIV

The Marks of the Christian

Regularly reading the New Testament ought to remind us of the ways contemporary Christians fall far short of the vision of the Christian life found among the early Christians.

I’m convinced that this shortfall is rooted, at least in part, by our neglect of the Bible as our rule of faith and life.

Faithful friends

As the Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi, we note his obvious affection for them (verses 3 and 8) and his gratitude for they way they have come alongside him in his gospel ministry (verse 5). Despite the personal cost and the difficulty of the Apostolic work entrusted to Paul, the fellowship of Christians like those in Philippi have made the burden more bearable as together they have entrusted themselves to the grace of Christ.

Personal transformation

These faithful brothers and sisters in Christ Paul reminds of God’s transformative purpose. “[H]e who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion in the day of Christ Jesus” (verse 6b).

Who among us doesn’t need to be reminded of Christ’s promise to work in us by faith the transformation we need so that when we meet him face to face we may step into a new creation free from the curse of sin and death?

We’re not yet the people we will become, but those who have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus are moving–if at time haltingly–in the direction of Christ-likeness.

Paul’s prayer

Paul shares with his readers the content of his prayer for them and I suspect that Paul would pray the same for us today. This prayer shows us at least three marks of the Christian, that is characteristics of one who is a growing disciple of Christ. 

Able to discern (verse 9-10a)

Christians ought to be loving. And the love that marks our lives must be, according to Paul, a love that has some attendant qualities. Christian love is marked by growing “knowledge and insight.”

Knowledge and insight of what? It’s difficult to know precisely what Paul means here. At the very least it would seem to imply an experiential knowledge of God and of God’s revelation of Himself to us in the Bible. It is this knowledge that enables us to “discern what is best,” that is what most closely aligns with God’s revealed will.

Pure and blameless (verse 10) 

This discernment, rooted as it is in a love that is marked by knowledge and insight, produces in our lives a purity and a blamelessness. The concepts of purity and blamelessness seem to be neglected in contemporary Christianity.

All Christians are positionally pure and blameless because the obedience of Christ and his sacrifice on the cross have been credited to our account. However, what Paul is talking about here is volitional purity and blameless–it is based upon choice and upon actions that together form a way of life.

Fruit of righteousness (verse 11)

Christians are expected to produce the “fruit of righteousness” that is the product derived from the above and that is expressed inwardly before it is expressed outwardly.

It’s not difficult to see how we all have a long way to go on this. Ask God what needs to change in your life so that you’re not only willing, but able to devote yourself to Him in a way that leads to transformation.

3 questions for the end of the day

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3 Questions for the end of the day

Summary

You should ask yourself three questions at the end of the work day when the garage door has closed and you’ve take as seat in your comfy chair. These questions will help you put your day into perspective as you transition to family time.

  1. What is one thing that I accomplished today?
  2. Was it the right thing?
  3. Who is one person I encouraged today?

Why

Question one makes sure that you had a minimally productive day. If you struggle to answer the question, consider how you can take back control of your day.

Question two ensures that the your productivity was in the right direction. If you conclude that you’ve been working in the direction or on the wrong project, ask yourself why. Do you need to practice saying no or letting go of projects that are going nowhere?

Question three guarantees that you improved someone’s life in some small way. Each of has struggles of which others know little. My general rule has been to try to do something to encourage a co-worker and/or author everyday. After all, the world doesn’t need one more jerk.

Conclusion

In the words of the insurance commercial, “life comes at you fast.” In order to grow spiritually and emotionally its necessary to grab periods of quiet reflection throughout the day. I find that the major transitions of the day are a good place for a moment of stillness and a quick review.

Try it and leave a comment if you find this idea helpful.

How to interact with suffering friends

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Society doesn’t provide us with much in the way of resources for caring for those who are suffering. Our TV shows tend to either ignore suffering or simply (in reality shows) allow us to—voyeur-like—gaze upon the suffering of another without actually entering into it. There are precious few role models of care for those suffering. Pop psychologists offer a sliver of resources, but again they’re limited by time and attention. We look to the presidents and governors to assuage our pain, but in reality they are—despite their great power—powerless to lift of the pain from our lives.

Sometimes we’re tempted to believe that perhaps suffering isn’t really as pervasive as it might first seem. Perhaps most people go through most of life with relatively few bumps in the road. Maybe suffering is the exception rather than the rule. And, even if it really is widespread isn’t there very little I can do to offer comfort to friends in difficulty? I’m not clergy or a mental health professional. What can I offer?

Suffering is universal. It is all around us.

Pulitzers

We rarely, however, pause and become open to encountering it in the life of another. We may get a brief sense that a friend is suffering, but in our haste to move to the next thing we breeze through a conversation without offering our friend space simply to express the pain, to let some of the suffering move from heart to lips—even for a brief moment of respite.

Despite our society’s messages, there is much each of us can and should do to care for friends who are experiencing suffering.

Every one of us should be able and willing to simply lend a listening, non-judgmental ear. Suffering is a profoundly isolating experience. The only way to let another know about it, which can sometimes offer just the slightest reprieve from the weight, is to talk about it.

Consider this: the moments in which someone recounts to you the greatest sorrow in their life are moments in which that friend is opening his or her soul to you. The pain may be so great that he feels he can do no other, yet it is still true that the very moment of sharing is an intensely vulnerable moment.

In those moments, each of us can either alievate (albeit briefly) another’s suffering or we can increase it. None us would intentionally say something believing that it would increase the suffering of another. Yet, how often do we unconsciously do precisely that?

Broadly, when we have the privilege of speaking with suffering souls—and we’re all suffering souls in various ways—we should avoid speaking of the

 

  1. The secret will of God. I believe firmly in the sovereignty of God and yet I know that God is not the author of sin. Further, I know that I am not privy to what has traditionally been called the secret will of God (in contrast with his revealed will found in Scripture). It is presumptuous of us to speculate about God’s designs moreover it is counterproductive, especially in the moment.
  2. God’s intent for this experience. God may use all things redemptively in the life of the Christian, but the moment of acute anguish is not the right time to point that out. At times, considering that God may have some deeper purpose is comforting. As a general rule, explore this only when the person you’re speaking with seems to be open to exploring it. Each of us has to reach a spot where we’re ready to consider this—moving there prematurely is dangerous.
  3. Causation. “Who sinned, this man or his fathers?” Linking sin and suffering is a natural human impulse that is exhibited in the book of Job. Job’s friends become certain that the anguish in his life has been caused by some offense against God. The reality is that there is no correlation—at least in Job’s case—between sin and suffering. More accurately, the relationship between sin and suffering is broader than 1:1. Suffering exists in the world because of the Fall and sin’s entry into our lived experience. However 1:1 causation is never easily detected.

As you move into this week, you will encounter people in distress; suffering souls who need a shoulder to lean on even if only for a moment. You can make a positive difference in their lives if you will only stop, listen, and allow them to lean on you.

Five podcasts I couldn't live without

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podcast

Like most of you I have a lot on my plate. One of the most challenging elements of life can be making time to continue to learn and develop both as a minister and as a leader. I’ve found that podcasts are an excellent way to learn.

I listen while I exercise. During the warmer months I’m out on the bike and it’s not safe to wear earbuds and listen to a podcast. However, in the winter months I shift my exercise routine toward jogging, which is perfect for podcast listening. I typically run for about 30 minutes which is just about the same length of many of the podcasts that I enjoy.

Podcasts also form a key part of my evening going-to-bed ritual. Research shows that ritual practices can have a calming effect and actually provide a structure that leads to freedom (more about this in another post). I listen to two podcasts right before bed.

So, here’s my list of five podcasts that I really value:

  1. This is Your Life (Michael Hyatt). This is my podcast for running. Michael focuses his podcast on intentional leadership and influence often touching on productivity as well. At around 25 minutes its the perfect length for a run and also features a question section at the end that is helpful.
  2. Insight for Living (Chuck Swindoll). I love Chuck’s Bible teaching. He’s a master of teaching the Bible in a way that’s both true to the text and deeply engaging. I often listen to this podcast while working in the yard or, less often, while relaxing in front of a fire in the living room.
  3. Truth for Life (Alistair Begg). A little known fact is that every presbyterian pastor secretly wishes he had a Scottish accent. Begg is a master of expository preaching and a Bible Calvinist. He excellently preaches Scripture without allowing his doctrinal system to be of greater focus than the Bible. His style is simple, straightforward, and often employs hymnody. A valuable model of the Puritan plain style of preaching.
  4. Pray as You Go (British Jesuits). This daily podcast provides a brief (>15 minute) devotional service featuring prayer, sacred music, scripture reading, and reflection questions. Anna and I listen to this in the evening as we get into the bed and settle toward sleep. There’s something beautiful about the Word of God washing over us as we let go of the troubles of the day.
  5. The Archers (BBC Radio 4). The Archers is the longest running radio drama in the world. Set in the rural community of Ambridge, the drama centers on the lives of the village’s residents many of whom are farmers. What’s intriguing about The Archers is how compelling and interesting a host of small and trivial events can be in the life of a community.

 

The virtue of self-acceptance

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selfacceptance

It is often said today…that we must love ourselves before we can be set free to love others. This is certainly the release we must seek to give our people. But no realistic human beings find it easy to love or to forgive themselves, and hence their self-acceptance must be grounded in their awareness that God accepts them in Christ. There is a sense in which the strongest self-love that we can have, in the sense of agape, is merely the mirror image of the lively conviction we have that God loves us. There is endless talk about this in the church, but little apparent belief in it among Christians, although they may have a conscious complacency which conceals the subconscious despair which Kierkegaard calls ‘the sickness unto death.’

Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal

 

I wonder how effective we are at helping people to experience the deep love God has toward them in Christ?

If Tim Keller is right that flourishing and effective congregational ministry can only happen where people repeatedly encounter and experience the love of God in the gospel, then surely this has to be at the heart of the church’s ministry.

Moreover, this communication of God’s love for us has to be married with the Christian virtue of self-acceptance. Self-acceptance isn’t a virtue in our society. We favor self-improvement–you can make yourself into anything you want to be if you only try hard enough, buy and use the right product, and surround yourself with the right people.

Self-acceptance means coming to the place where you’re able to accept yourself as you are. You can only get there through coming to accept God’s unconditional electing love that chose you just as you are not on the basis of your idealized self or even your future self. No. God saved you because he loves you. And he loves you because he saved you. File that under the category of “mystery.”