The Imitation of Christ, a book review.

Kempis, Thomas à.  The Imitation of Christ, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996).

In studying for a sermon, I came across the impact Thomas à Kempis’s devotional book had upon the conversion of John Wesley. Wesley was the founder of the Methodist church. His conversion and the early Methodist lifestyle have always been of great interest to me, even as a card-carrying Baptist.  

Thomas à Kempis was a fifteenth-century monk who wrote this small book that has two distinct parts. Books one and two are short chapters, sometimes only one or two paragraphs that point to the inward life of the believer. Books three and four functions as a conversation between “The Disciple” and “The Voice of Christ.”

I read this book electronically and found the highlighting feature helpful. I found that at the end of the short book, I accumulated fourteen pages of quotes. In looking over my quotes, most of them came from the first two books.

The help for the believer in the war against sin and our walk with the Lord. Kempis is masterful in dealing with sin and our approach to the Lord. He says, “I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it (2).” What good are academic degrees for the Christian, and in my case pastor, if we do not walk humbly with our God? Kempis echoes this truth saying, “He is truly great who is little in his own eyes and makes nothing of the highest honor (7).” It was here in these first two books where Kempis operates like a surgeon of the soul calling us all to find our worth in knowing Christ and being known by him.

Kempis allows us to see sufferings and trials in a way that promotes our Christian walk. Present trials and sufferings purge us of our utopian view of this world. He says, “It is good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing. It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well. These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory (19).” Lest you think he backs off in his view of our response to life, he says, “Our wretched body complains so easily because our soul is altogether so lifeless (42).” OUCH! What is our hope? Kempis is clear, “You have here no lasting home. You are a stranger and a pilgrim wherever you may be, and you shall have no rest until you are wholly united with Christ (60).”

Now, looking toward books three and four, I have fewer quotes and even fewer nice things to say. In these books, Kempis proceeds conversationally between “The Voice of Christ” and “The Disciple.” Quite frankly, these two sections did not have the same impact on me. I am quite leary of devotionals that transition to the first person for Jesus, remember the whole card-carrying Baptist thing? I believe God spoke and his words are contained in the written Word of the Bible. Modern-day devotional books like Jesus Calling or even ancient ones like Imitation of Christ that go into the first person, even if all they say is Scriptural, is just a step too far for me.

I finished this book and as far as a recommendation, I can give one only cautiously. I want us all to greatly value the written Word and see such attempts to speak for Christ in a first-person setting, as crossing the line. I will leave you with this last quote, and I hope in sharing it, you will see the folly of trying to speak for Christ. “The whole life of Christ was a cross and a martyrdom, and do you seek rest and enjoyment for yourself (89)?” We know nothing of the cross because Christ bore it. As for martyrdom, we only suffer a moment compared to the suffering Christ endured on our behalf. So while some devotionals are easy to read and can seem inspirational, especially when we consider how difficult the Bible is to read and understand at times, let’s do the hard work of consistent Bible reading because in doing so, we get to meet God through his written Word.

Here are 14 pages of quotes I copied from the book as I read it in Logos.

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996).

Imitating Christ and Despising All Vanities on Earth Page 1

By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.

Imitating Christ and Despising All Vanities on Earth Page 1

Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ.

Imitating Christ and Despising All Vanities on Earth Page 2

I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it.

Having a Humble Opinion of Self Page 3

Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise.

Having a Humble Opinion of Self Pages 3–4

Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you.

The Doctrine of Truth Page 6

The more recollected a man is, and the more simple of heart he becomes, the easier he understands sublime things, for he receives the light of knowledge from above.

The Doctrine of Truth Page 7

If men used as much care in uprooting vices and implanting virtues as they do in discussing problems, there would not be so much evil and scandal in the world, or such laxity in religious organizations.

The Doctrine of Truth Page 7

On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived.

The Doctrine of Truth Page 7

He is truly great who is little in his own eyes and makes nothing of the highest honor.

The Doctrine of Truth Pages 7–8

He is truly wise who looks upon all earthly things as folly that he may gain Christ. He who does God’s will and renounces his own is truly very learned.

Reading the Holy Scripture Page 10

TRUTH, not eloquence, is to be sought in reading the Holy Scriptures; and every part must be read in the spirit in which it was written.

Reading the Holy Scripture Page 10

God speaks to us in many ways without regard for persons.

Unbridled Affections Page 11

An unmortified man is quickly tempted and overcome in small, trifling evils; his spirit is weak, in a measure carnal and inclined to sensual things; he can hardly abstain from earthly desires.

Unbridled Affections Page 11

True peace of heart, then, is found in resisting passions, not in satisfying them. There is no peace in the carnal man, in the man given to vain attractions, but there is peace in the fervent and spiritual man.

Avoiding False Hope and Pride Page 13

If there is good in you, see more good in others, so that you may remain humble. It does no harm to esteem yourself less than anyone else, but it is very harmful to think yourself better than even one.

Shunning Over-familiarity Page 14

DO NOT open your heart to every man, but discuss your affairs with one who is wise and who fears God.

Obedience and Subjection Page 15

Many live in obedience more from necessity than from love. Such become discontented and dejected on the slightest pretext; they will never gain peace of mind unless they subject themselves wholeheartedly for the love of God.

Obedience and Subjection Page 15

Everyone, it is true, wishes to do as he pleases and is attracted to those who agree with him. But if God be among us, we must at times give up our opinions for the blessings of peace.

Obedience and Subjection Page 15

It may happen, too, that while one’s own opinion may be good, refusal to agree with others when reason and occasion demand it, is a sign of pride and obstinacy.

Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection Page 17

Because they tried to mortify entirely in themselves all earthly desires, and thus they were able to attach themselves to God with all their heart and freely to concentrate their innermost thoughts.

Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection Page 17

If we mortified our bodies perfectly and allowed no distractions to enter our minds, we could appreciate divine things and experience something of heavenly contemplation.

Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection Page 17

The greatest obstacle, indeed, the only obstacle, is that we are not free from passions and lusts, that we do not try to follow the perfect way of the saints.

Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection Page 18

If we tried, however, to stand as brave men in battle, the help of the Lord from heaven would surely sustain us. For He Who gives us the opportunity of fighting for victory, is ready to help those who carry on and trust in His grace.

Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection Page 18

If we let our progress in religious life depend on the observance of its externals alone, our devotion will quickly come to an end.

Acquiring Peace and Zeal for Perfection Page 18

Resist temptations in the beginning, and unlearn the evil habit lest perhaps, little by little, it lead to a more evil one.

The Value of Adversity Page 19

IT IS good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing. It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well. These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory.

The Value of Adversity Page 19

Therefore, a man ought to root himself so firmly in God that he will not need the consolations of men.

Resisting Temptation Page 20

Yet temptations, though troublesome and severe, are often useful to a man, for in them he is humbled, purified, and instructed.

Resisting Temptation Page 20

There is no state so holy, no place so secret that temptations and trials will not come. Man is never safe from them as long as he lives, for they come from within us—in sin we were born.

Resisting Temptation Page 22

Some, guarded against great temptations, are frequently overcome by small ones in order that, humbled by their weakness in small trials, they may not presume on their own strength in great ones.

Avoiding Rash Judgment Pages 23–24

If you rely more upon your intelligence or industry than upon the virtue of submission to Jesus Christ, you will hardly, and in any case slowly, become an enlightened man. God wants us to be completely subject to Him and, through ardent love, to rise above all human wisdom.

Bearing with the Faults of Others Page 27

UNTIL God ordains otherwise, a man ought to bear patiently whatever he cannot correct in himself and in others. Consider it better thus—perhaps to try your patience and to test you, for without such patience and trial your merits are of little account. Nevertheless, under such difficulties you should pray that God will consent to help you bear them calmly.

If, after being admonished once or twice, a person does not amend, do not argue with him but commit the whole matter to God that His will and honor may be furthered in all His servants, for God knows well how to turn evil to good. Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure.

If you cannot make yourself what you would wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves.

Monastic Life Page 29

He who seeks anything but God alone and the salvation of his soul will find only trouble and grief, and he who does not try to become the least, the servant of all, cannot remain at peace for long.

The Practices of a Good Religious Page 33

THE life of a good religious ought to abound in every virtue so that he is interiorly what to others he appears to be.

The Practices of a Good Religious Page 33

With good reason there ought to be much more within than appears on the outside, for He who sees within is God, Whom we ought to reverence most highly wherever we are and in Whose sight we ought to walk pure as the angels.

The Practices of a Good Religious Page 34

Devotions not common to all are not to be displayed in public, for such personal things are better performed in private.

The Love of Solitude and Silence Page 36

SEEK a suitable time for leisure and meditate often on the favors of God. Leave curiosities alone.

The Love of Solitude and Silence Page 38

If in the beginning of your religious life, you live within your cell and keep to it, it will soon become a special friend and a very great comfort.

The Love of Solitude and Silence Page 38

In silence and quiet the devout soul advances in virtue and learns the hidden truths of Scripture.

The Love of Solitude and Silence Page 39

Raise your eyes to God in heaven and pray because of your sins and shortcomings. Leave vanity to the vain. Set yourself to the things which God has commanded you to do. Close the door upon yourself and call to you Jesus, your Beloved. Remain with Him in your cell, for nowhere else will you find such peace.

Sorrow of Heart Page 40

IF YOU wish to make progress in virtue, live in the fear of the Lord, do not look for too much freedom, discipline your senses, and shun inane silliness.

Sorrow of Heart Pages 40–41

Fight like a man. Habit is overcome by habit. If you leave men alone, they will leave you alone to do what you have to do. Do not busy yourself about the affairs of others and do not become entangled in the business of your superiors. Keep an eye primarily on yourself and admonish yourself instead of your friends.

Sorrow of Heart Page 42

Our wretched body complains so easily because our soul is altogether too lifeless.

Thoughts on the Misery of Man Page 44

Do not lose heart, then, my brother, in pursuing your spiritual life. There is yet time, and your hour is not past. Why delay your purpose? Arise! Begin at once and say: “Now is the time to act, now is the time to fight, now is the proper time to amend.”

Thoughts on the Misery of Man Page 45

So long as we live in this fragile body, we can neither be free from sin nor live without weariness and sorrow.

Thoughts on the Misery of Man Page 45

How great is the frailty of human nature which is ever prone to evil! Today you confess your sins and tomorrow you again commit the sins which you confessed. One moment you resolve to be careful, and yet after an hour you act as though you had made no resolution.

Thoughts on the Misery of Man Page 45

We have cause, therefore, because of our frailty and feebleness, to humble ourselves and never think anything great of ourselves.

Thoughts on the Misery of Man Page 45

It would be beneficial for us, like good novices, to be instructed once more in the principles of a good life, to see if there be hope of amendment and greater spiritual progress in the future.

Thoughts on Death Page 46

VERY soon your life here will end; consider, then, what may be in store for you elsewhere. Today we live; tomorrow we die and are quickly forgotten. Oh, the dullness and hardness of a heart which looks only to the present instead of preparing for that which is to come!

Therefore, in every deed and every thought, act as though you were to die this very day. If you had a good conscience you would not fear death very much. It is better to avoid sin than to fear death. If you are not prepared today, how will you be prepared tomorrow? Tomorrow is an uncertain day; how do you know you will have a tomorrow?

Thoughts on Death Page 46

What good is it to live a long life when we amend that life so little? Indeed, a long life does not always benefit us, but on the contrary, frequently adds to our guilt.

Thoughts on Death Page 47

How happy and prudent is he who tries now in life to be what he wants to be found in death.

Judgment and the Punishment of Sin Page 50

IN ALL things consider the end; how you shall stand before the strict Judge from Whom nothing is hidden and Who will pronounce judgment in all justice, accepting neither bribes nor excuses. And you, miserable and wretched sinner, who fear even the countenance of an angry man, what answer will you make to the God Who knows all your sins?

Zeal in Amending Our Lives Page 55

A man makes the most progress and merits the most grace precisely in those matters wherein he gains the greatest victories over self and most mortifies his will. True, each one has his own difficulties to meet and conquer, but a diligent and sincere man will make greater progress even though he have more passions than one who is more even-tempered but less concerned about virtue.

Zeal in Amending Our Lives Page 58

A fervent and diligent man is ready for all things. It is greater work to resist vices and passions than to sweat in physical toil. He who does not overcome small faults, shall fall little by little into greater ones.

Meditation Page 60

Do not place much confidence in weak and mortal man, helpful and friendly though he be; and do not grieve too much if he sometimes opposes and contradicts you. Those who are with us today may be against us tomorrow, and vice versa, for men change with the wind. Place all your trust in God; let Him be your fear and your love. He will answer for you; He will do what is best for you.

Meditation Page 60

You have here no lasting home. You are a stranger and a pilgrim wherever you may be, and you shall have no rest until you are wholly united with Christ.

Meditation Page 61

How can you be a friend of Christ if you are not willing to suffer any hardship? Suffer with Christ and for Christ if you wish to reign with Him.

Meditation Page 62

If all were well with you, therefore, and if you were purified from all sin, everything would tend to your good and be to your profit. But because you are as yet neither entirely dead to self nor free from all earthly affection, there is much that often displeases and disturbs you. Nothing so mars and defiles the heart of man as impure attachment to created things. But if you refuse external consolation, you will be able to contemplate heavenly things and often to experience interior joy.

Purity of Mind and Unity of Purpose Page 67

A MAN is raised up from the earth by two wings—simplicity and purity. There must be simplicity in his intention and purity in his desires. Simplicity leads to God, purity embraces and enjoys Him.

Purity of Mind and Unity of Purpose Page 67

If your heart is free from ill-ordered affection, no good deed will be difficult for you. If you aim at and seek after nothing but the pleasure of God and the welfare of your neighbor, you will enjoy freedom within.

Purity of Mind and Unity of Purpose Page 67

If your heart were right, then every created thing would be a mirror of life for you and a book of holy teaching, for there is no creature so small and worthless that it does not show forth the goodness of God.

The Joy of a Good Conscience Page 72

Praise adds nothing to your holiness, nor does blame take anything from it. You are what you are, and you cannot be said to be better than you are in God’s sight. If you consider well what you are within, you will not care what men say about you. They look to appearances but God looks to the heart. They consider the deed but God weighs the motive.

Loving Jesus above All Things Page 73

Love Him, then; keep Him as a friend. He will not leave you as others do, or let you suffer lasting death. Sometime, whether you will or not, you will have to part with everything. Cling, therefore, to Jesus in life and death; trust yourself to the glory of Him who alone can help you when all others fail.

Loving Jesus above All Things Page 74

You will quickly be deceived if you look only to the outward appearance of men, and you will often be disappointed if you seek comfort and gain in them. If, however, you seek Jesus in all things, you will surely find Him. Likewise, if you seek yourself, you will find yourself—to your own ruin. For the man who does not seek Jesus does himself much greater harm than the whole world and all his enemies could ever do.

The Intimate Friendship of Jesus Page 75

How dry and hard you are without Jesus! How foolish and vain if you desire anything but Him! Is it not a greater loss than losing the whole world? For what, without Jesus, can the world give you? Life without Him is a relentless hell, but living with Him is a sweet paradise. If Jesus be with you, no enemy can harm you.

Wanting No Share in Comfort Page 80

I have never met a man so religious and devout that he has not experienced at some time a withdrawal of grace and felt a lessening of fervor.

Appreciating God’s Grace Page 82

Resign yourself to patience rather than to comfort, to carrying your cross rather than to enjoyment.

Appreciating God’s Grace Page 82

God does well in giving the grace of consolation, but man does evil in not returning everything gratefully to God. Thus, the gifts of grace cannot flow in us when we are ungrateful to the Giver, when we do not return them to the Fountainhead.

Appreciating God’s Grace Page 83

Give to God what is God’s and ascribe to yourself what is yours. Give Him thanks, then, for His grace, but place upon yourself alone the blame and the punishment your fault deserves.

Few Love the Cross of Jesus Page 85

JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him.

The Royal Road of the Holy Cross Page 88

No one understands the passion of Christ so thoroughly or heartily as the man whose lot it is to suffer the like himself.

The Royal Road of the Holy Cross Page 89

The whole life of Christ was a cross and a martyrdom, and do you seek rest and enjoyment for yourself?

The Royal Road of the Holy Cross Page 89

You deceive yourself, you are mistaken if you seek anything but to suffer, for this mortal life is full of miseries and marked with crosses on all sides.

The Royal Road of the Holy Cross Pages 90–91

Be ready to suffer many adversities and many kinds of trouble in this miserable life, for troublesome and miserable life will always be, no matter where you are; and so you will find it wherever you may hide. Thus it must be; and there is no way to evade the trials and sorrows of life but to bear them.

The Royal Road of the Holy Cross Page 92

With good reason, then, ought you to be willing to suffer a little for Christ since many suffer much more for the world.

Truth Speaks Inwardly without the Sound of Words Page 96

Speak to me for the comfort of my soul and for the amendment of my life, for Your praise, Your glory, and Your everlasting honor.

Listen Humbly to the Words of God. Many Do Not Heed Them Page 100

A Prayer For the Grace of Devotion

O Lord my God, You are all my good. And who am I that I should dare to speak to You? I am Your poorest and meanest servant, a vile worm, much more poor and contemptible than I know or dare to say. Yet remember me, Lord, because I am nothing, I have nothing, and I can do nothing. You alone are good, just, and holy. You can do all things, You give all things, You fill all things: only the sinner do You leave empty-handed. Remember Your tender mercies and fill my heart with Your grace, You Who will not allow Your works to be in vain. How can I bear this life of misery unless You comfort me with Your mercy and grace? Do not turn Your face from me. Do not delay Your visitation. Do not withdraw Your consolation, lest in Your sight my soul become as desert land. Teach me, Lord, to do Your will. Teach me to live worthily and humbly in Your sight, for You are my wisdom Who know me truly, and Who knew me even before the world was made and before I was born into it.

We Must Walk before God in Humility and Truth Page 102

Some men walk before Me without sincerity. Led on by a certain curiosity and arrogance, they wish to know My secrets and to understand the high things of God, to the neglect of themselves and their own salvation. Through their own pride and curiosity, and because I am against them, such men often fall into great temptations and sins.

The Wonderful Effect of Divine Love Page 105

Love often knows no limits but overflows all bounds. Love feels no burden, thinks nothing of troubles, attempts more than it is able, and does not plead impossibility, because it believes that it may and can do all things. For this reason, it is able to do all, performing and effecting much where he who does not love fails and falls.

The Wonderful Effect of Divine Love Page 105

Love is watchful.

The Wonderful Effect of Divine Love Page 106

Let my soul exhaust itself in praising You, rejoicing out of love. Let me love You more than myself, and let me not love myself except for Your sake. In You let me love all those who truly love You, as the law of love, which shines forth from You, commands.”

The Proving of a True Lover Page 109

Fight like a good soldier and if you sometimes fall through weakness, rise again with greater strength than before, trusting in My most abundant grace. But beware of vain complacency and pride.

To Despise the World and Serve God is Sweet Page 118

They who cast aside all carnal delights for Your love will find the most sweet consolation of the Holy Ghost. They who enter upon the narrow way for Your name and cast aside all worldly care will attain great freedom of mind.

How One Should Feel and Speak on Every Desirable Thing Page 130

Grant me Your grace, O most merciful Jesus, that it may be with me, and work with me, and remain with me to the very end. Grant that I may always desire and will that which is most acceptable and pleasing to You.

True Comfort is to Be Sought in God Alone Page 131

If you desire these present things too much, you will lose those which are everlasting and heavenly. Use temporal things but desire eternal things. You cannot be satisfied with any temporal goods because you were not created to enjoy them.

Confessing Our Weakness in the Miseries of Life Page 139

Often it is a small thing that makes me downcast and sad. I propose to act bravely, but when even a small temptation comes I find myself in great straits.

Confessing Our Weakness in the Miseries of Life Page 140

Strengthen me with heavenly courage lest the outer man, the miserable flesh, against which I shall be obliged to fight so long as I draw a breath in this wretched life and which is not yet subjected to the spirit, prevail and dominate me.

Above All Goods and All Gifts We Must Rest in God Page 141

ABOVE all things and in all things, O my soul, rest always in God, for He is the everlasting rest of the saints.

Remember the Innumerable Gifts of God Page 144

OPEN my heart, O Lord, to Your law and teach me to walk in the way of Your commandments. Let me understand Your will. Let me remember Your blessings—all of them and each single one of them—with great reverence and care so that henceforth I may return worthy thanks for them. I know that I am unable to give due thanks for even the least of Your gifts. I am unworthy of the benefits You have given me, and when I consider Your generosity my spirit faints away before its greatness. All that we have of soul and body, whatever we possess interiorly or exteriorly, by nature or by grace, are Your gifts and they proclaim Your goodness and mercy from which we have received all good things.

Remember the Innumerable Gifts of God Page 145

All things come from You; therefore, You are to be praised in all things. You know what is good for each of us; and why one should receive less and another more is not for us to judge, but for You Who have marked every man’s merits.

Self-Love is the Greatest Hindrance to the Highest Good Page 155

Do not covet what you may not have. Do not possess anything that can hinder you or rob you of freedom.

Self-Love is the Greatest Hindrance to the Highest Good Page 156

The place matters little if the spirit of fervor is not there; nor will peace be lasting if it is sought from the outside; if your heart has no true foundation, that is, if you are not founded in Me, you may change, but you will not better yourself.

Self-Love is the Greatest Hindrance to the Highest Good Page 157

Give me, Lord, heavenly wisdom to learn above all else to seek and find You, to enjoy and love You more than anything, and to consider other things as they are, as Your wisdom has ordered them. Grant me prudence to avoid the flatterer and to bear patiently with him who disagrees with me. For it is great wisdom not to be moved by the sound of words, nor to give ear to the wicked, flattering siren. Then, I shall walk safely in the way I have begun.

The Quest of Divine Help and Confidence in Regaining Grace Page 160

Your tardiness in turning to prayer is the greatest obstacle to heavenly consolation, for before you pray earnestly to Me you first seek many comforts and take pleasure in outward things.

The Quest of Divine Help and Confidence in Regaining Grace Page 161

And do not consider yourself forsaken if I send some temporary hardship, or withdraw the consolation you desire. For this is the way to the kingdom of heaven, and without doubt it is better for you and the rest of My servants to be tried in adversities than to have all things as you wish.

Restlessness of Soul—Directing Our Final Intention toward God Page 168

MY CHILD, do not trust in your present feeling, for it will soon give way to another. As long as you live you will be subject to changeableness in spite of yourself. You will become merry at one time and sad at another, now peaceful but again disturbed, at one moment devout and the next indevout, sometimes diligent while at other times lazy, now grave and again flippant.

There is No Security from Temptation in This Life Page 171

MY CHILD, in this life you are never safe, and as long as you live the weapons of the spirit will ever be necessary to you. You dwell among enemies. You are subject to attack from the right and the left. If, therefore, you do not guard yourself from every quarter with the shield of patience, you will not remain long unscathed.

There is No Security from Temptation in This Life Page 171

Moreover, if you do not steadily set your heart on Me, with a firm will to suffer everything for My sake, you will not be able to bear the heat of this battle or to win the crown of the blessed.

Pure and Entire Resignation of Self to Obtain Freedom of Heart Page 176

I have said to you very often, and now I say again: forsake yourself, renounce yourself and you shall enjoy great inward peace.

A Man Should Not Be Unduly Solicitous about His Affairs Page 179

My child, it often happens that a man seeks ardently after something he desires and then when he has attained it he begins to think that it is not at all desirable; for affections do not remain fixed on the same thing, but rather flit from one to another. It is no very small matter, therefore, for a man to forsake himself even in things that are very small.

A man’s true progress consists in denying himself, and the man who has denied himself is truly free and secure.

Peace is Not to Be Placed in Men Page 183

Your love for your friend should be grounded in Me, and for My sake you should love whoever seems to be good and is very dear to you in this life.

Every Trial Must Be Borne for the Sake of Eternal Life Page 194

All that passes away with time is trivial.

The Desire of Eternal Life; The Great Rewards Promised to Those Who Struggle Pages 199–200

My child, often, when the fire is burning the flame does not ascend without smoke. Likewise, the desires of some burn toward heavenly things, and yet they are not free from temptations of carnal affection. Therefore, it is not altogether for the pure honor of God that they act when they petition Him so earnestly.

The Desire of Eternal Life; The Great Rewards Promised to Those Who Struggle Page 200

Ask, therefore, not for what is pleasing and convenient to yourself, but for what is acceptable to Me and is for My honor, because if you judge rightly, you ought to prefer and follow My will, not your own desire or whatever things you wish.

The Desire of Eternal Life; The Great Rewards Promised to Those Who Struggle Page 202

Let this be your wish: That whether in life or in death God may be glorified in you.

How a Desolate Person Ought to Commit Himself into the Hands of God Page 203

What does Your servant possess that he has not received from You, and that without any merit of his own? Yours are all the things which You have given, all the things which You have made.

How a Desolate Person Ought to Commit Himself into the Hands of God Page 204

Nothing happens in the world without Your design and providence, and without cause. It is well for me, O Lord, that You have humbled me, that I may learn the justice of Your judgments and cast away all presumption and haughtiness of heart. It is profitable for me that shame has covered my face that I may look to You rather than to men for consolation. Hereby I have learned also to fear Your inscrutable judgment falling alike upon the just and unjust yet not without equity and justice.

How a Desolate Person Ought to Commit Himself into the Hands of God Page 205

Make of me a pious and humble follower, as in Your goodness You are wont to do, that I may walk according to Your every nod. Myself and all that is mine I commit to You to be corrected, for it is better to be punished here than hereafter.

How a Desolate Person Ought to Commit Himself into the Hands of God Page 205

You know all things without exception, and nothing in man’s conscience is hidden from You. Coming events You know before they happen, and there is no need for anyone to teach or admonish You of what is being done on earth. You know what will promote my progress, and how much tribulation will serve to cleanse away the rust of vice. Deal with me according to Your good pleasure and do not despise my sinful life, which is known to none so well or so clearly as to You alone.

How a Desolate Person Ought to Commit Himself into the Hands of God Pages 205–206

Do not allow me to judge according to the light of my bodily eyes, nor to give sentence according to the hearing of ignorant men’s ears. But let me distinguish with true judgment between things visible and spiritual, and always seek above all things Your good pleasure. The senses of men often err in their judgments, and the lovers of this world also err in loving only visible things.

How a Desolate Person Ought to Commit Himself into the Hands of God Page 206

For, as the humble St. Francis says, whatever anyone is in Your sight, that he is and nothing more.

God’s Grace is Not Given to the Earthly Minded Page 211

But he who desires to walk freely with Me must mortify all his low and inordinate affections, and must not cling with selfish love or desire to any creature.

The Different Motions of Nature and Grace Page 212

Nature is crafty and attracts many, ensnaring and deceiving them while ever seeking itself. But grace walks in simplicity, turns away from all appearance of evil, offers no deceits, and does all purely for God in whom she rests as her last end.

The Different Motions of Nature and Grace Page 212

Grace, on the contrary, strives for mortification of self.

The Different Motions of Nature and Grace Page 213

Grace does not consider what is useful and advantageous to herself, but rather what is profitable to many. Nature likes to receive honor and reverence, but grace faithfully attributes all honor and glory to God. Nature fears shame and contempt, but grace is happy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus. Nature loves ease and physical rest. Grace, however, cannot bear to be idle and embraces labor willingly.

The Different Motions of Nature and Grace Page 213

Grace, on the contrary, delights in simple, humble things, not despising those that are rough, nor refusing to be clothed in old garments.

The Different Motions of Nature and Grace Page 213

Grace, however, is kind and openhearted. Grace shuns private interest, is contented with little, and judges it more blessed to give than to receive.

The Corruption of Nature and the Efficacy of Divine Grace Page 217

Hence it is, my God, that according to the inward man I delight in Your law, knowing that Your command is good, just, and holy, and that it proves the necessity of shunning all evil and sin. But in the flesh I keep the law of sin, obeying sensuality rather than reason.

We Ought to Deny Ourselves and Imitate Christ through Bearing the Cross Page 219

Follow Me. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Without the Way, there is no going. Without the Truth, there is no knowing. Without the Life, there is no living. I am the Way which you must follow, the Truth which you must believe, the Life for which you must hope. I am the inviolable Way, the infallible Truth, the unending Life. I am the Way that is straight, the supreme Truth, the Life that is true, the blessed, the uncreated Life. If you abide in My Way you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free, and you shall attain life everlasting.

High Matters and the Hidden Judgments of God are Not to Be Scrutinized Page 226

Rejoice, you humble, and exult, you poor, for the kingdom of God is yours, if only you walk in the truth.

All Hope and Trust are to Be Fixed in God Alone Page 227

I had rather be poor for Your sake than rich without You. I prefer rather to wander on the earth with You than to possess heaven without You.

We Should Offer Ourselves and All that We Have to God, Praying for All Page 256

O Lord, upon Your altar of expiation, I offer You all the sins and offenses I have committed in Your presence and in the presence of Your holy angels, from the day when I first could sin until this hour, that You may burn and consume them all in the fire of Your love, that You may wipe away their every stain, cleanse my conscience of every fault, and restore to me Your grace which I lost in sin by granting full pardon for all and receiving me mercifully with the kiss of peace.

Do Not Lightly Forego Holy Communion Page 260

What good is it to delay confession for a long time or to put off Holy Communion? Cleanse yourself at once, spit out the poison quickly. Make haste to apply the remedy and you will find it better than if you had waited a long time.

Man Should Not Scrutinize This Sacrament in Curiosity, but Humbly Imitate Christ and Submit Reason to Holy Faith Page 283

Be not disturbed, dispute not in your mind, answer not the doubts sent by the devil, but believe the words of God, believe His saints and prophets and the evil enemy will flee from you. It is often very profitable for the servant of God to suffer such things. For Satan does not tempt unbelievers and sinners whom he already holds securely, but in many ways he does tempt and trouble the faithful servant.[1]

[1] Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), 1–283.


The Holy Trinity, a book review.

Letham, Robert. The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship. Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2004.

Matters of the Trinity are weighty, nuanced, and practical. As a local church pastor, I want to read books that promote theological accuracy and practical application The Holy Trinity is such a book. I found this book helpful and useful in my understanding of the Trinity and have used various parts in sermons as illustrations.

The book has four parts. The book begins with the biblical case for the Trinity beginning in the Old Testament. A chapter is dedicated to each person of the Trinity. While I believe these chapters could have been longer and functioned more like a biblical theology, they accomplish the goal to identify the person of the Trinity in the New Testament. These chapters serve to set up the historical and theological expression of the Trinity which serves as the meat of the book.

The historical and theological sections of the book are divided into two sections. Part Two: The Historical Development and Part Three: Modern Discussion is almost three hundred pages of the book. For my use, interest, and enjoyment, Part Two was more interesting and enjoyable than Part Three, and it is probably my fault.

The chapters covering the early trinitarian issues, Nicaea, and Athanasius are enlightening. Letham shows a deft hand in paring down mass amounts of information into a few paragraphs and in some instances, pages. He covers various church fathers and deduces their writings to various paragraphs highlighting the aspects of the Trinity where they are strong, weak, and issues they write against. His sources and footnotes allow one to study any of the information further. He is kind to those early writers but makes connections to subsequent historical heresies that help tie the parts of the book together.

Did you know Arius’ heresy gained popularity through the many songs he composed? Neither did I. Little nuggets like that exist all throughout the book. It is easy to use the information contained in the book and bridge it to modern-day application. Letham does a masterful job highlighting the early adopters and later disciples and how these various groups impact the church as a whole in different times.

In full disclosure, I found Part Three less profitable than the first two sections. I believe this is entirely my fault. As an evangelical pastor, I am not inclined to read much from Eastern theological perspectives. I learned much from this section but most of it was relatively newer material to me whereas the early church fathers were more familiar. I have read some of Barth and Moltmann. I see more relevance in Barth for modern-day scholarship but in my reading, I have never encountered Sergius Bulgakov. The Eastern-focused aspects of the modern conversation were not as applicable to me.

Everything comes together in the final section where Letham shows the interconnectedness of Trinitarian thinking as it pertains to worship. This chapter would have sufficed as a conclusion for me. Thinking and reading about the Trinity is good but it is better to express worship to our Triune God. How the Spirit enables and encourages us to worship is something I will continue to think about. What Letham has begun in this book as it pertains to a Trinitarian view of worship will be helpful for years to come for me.

You should read this book. It is helpful. It is edifying, even if you learn some new names along the way. There is a great payout in the concluding chapters where you will see the glorious Triune God in how we love and how we worship.  


mission killers: newsletters and reports

Would you fire Jesus from your missions agency? Would you lead your church to stop supporting him if he was your missionary? These questions seem outrageous and in a way, I mean them to be. Sadly, there is more truth to these questions than anyone wants to admit.

Modern missionaries are not Jesus. They do not claim to be the Savior of the world. They are just his messengers. Somehow, we want to hold them to a higher standard than we would the one they serve.

Here is the scenario. The missionary either raises their support or they are fully funded. Normally, the missionary who raises support will send out newsletters chronically their ministry successes. These newsletters will be full of pictures, numbers of decisions, worship attendance, or other metrics. The newsletters justify the missionary’s support. Like the newsletter, the missionary who is fully funded answers monthly ministry reports with much of the same information. Yearly reports must show a growing ministry of more salvations, baptisms, and new churches.

The missionary is tempted to embellish numbers or frustrated to see all their ministry turned to just a couple of numbers on a report or newsletter. Month after month, all of their hard work and ministry turned into numbers that never seem to be enough.

Can you imagine, Jesus in this situation? Early in his ministry, he had performed miracles, turned water into wine, and called the twelve disciples. One Passover over five thousand men and their families were fed by Jesus. Can you imagine his ministry report!

Well if you keep reading in John 6 where it records Jesus feeding the five thousand men, you will see that things take a turn for Jesus’ ministry report. Jesus began to teach on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35). Then Jesus said in the synagogue in Capernaum, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Then thousands left him (Jn 6:66). So many left Jesus that he asked the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well” (Jn 6:67).

Peter answered in a way that may help us evaluate the missionaries we support or oversee. He said, “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69). Missionaries have the very words of life. Instead of measuring missionaries on the response of lost persons, let’s make sure they are sharing the words of life. Here are some questions to ask instead of being so “decision” or “number” focused in your missionary evaluation.

  1. How are you doing?
  2. How is your family life? Wife? Children?
  3. Is there anything particularly difficult or challenging right now?
  4. What is most life-giving in your ministry?
  5. What are ways you have seen God at work around you?
  6. Is there any ministry story that you would like to share? This can be good or bad. Ministry is hard. We do not always get the “results” we hoped for!
  7. How can I pray for you?

There are many other questions but these are a good start. Instead of evaluating missionaries based upon basic metrics, try and use a time of reporting (which is good) as a way to build relationships and free the missionary to share the words of life. Let’s not forget, William Carey, the “Father of the Modern Day Missions Movement” served seven years before he baptized his first convert. Aren’t we glad support wasn’t taken from him because he didn’t “produce” or “reproduce” enough!


the last monday in may

The last Monday in May is celebrated as Memorial Day and I hate it. I used to love Memorial Day as a kid. It marked the end of school and the beginning of summer. It was a long weekend and it meant my parents were off. Sometimes we would go on a short vacation but the long weekend assured that something special was going to happen, even if it was just staying up late and hanging out with friends. Something happened and now I dread Memorial Day.

September 11, 2001, changed the world. I was already in the Army. We went from peacekeeping camouflage-wearing Soldiers to Combat Veterans. Thousands of Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen (sorry Coast Guard) deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Many made it home. Several thousand did not. Tens of thousands came back injured. Everyone came back changed.

For many who returned from a deployment (many deployed multiple times), Memorial Day is not a happy occasion. Memorial Day isn’t for us. It’s for those who didn’t make it back. It’s for those who died in uniform.

Interestingly, many Veterans of older wars will receive your thanks should you thank them for their service on Memorial Day. OEF/OIF will usually correct you. Some of them will be upset if you do. What is the difference in response between the two groups of Veterans?

I do not have any scientific data to back this us but I’ll share my thoughts with you. Veterans of older wars (Korea, Vietnam, and other skirmishes) will thank you or receive the thanks in place of the fallen. The victims of these wars received, especially Vietnam suffered for years without any thanks so any, even if misplaced is received.

Secondly, these fallen heroes died at the hands of the enemy. Casualties of OEF/OIF died at the hands of the enemy but the enemy was usually hidden away with an improvised explosive device (IED). OEF/OIF made enemy recognition difficult because uniforms were not common so the enemy looked like the shopkeeper and the shopkeeper looked like the enemy. When a Soldier was killed in action without a “fair fight” there is extra guilt.

Soldiers have survivor’s guilt. Survivor’s guilt comes in two ways. The first is why him and not me? The guilt comes in thinking that I should have died and not him. Thousands of scenarios go through the mind about changes that could have been made that would have made you trade places. The second way of survivor’s guilt comes by feeling that more could have been done. The best place for “something” better to have been done is usually if an IED would have been seen, traveled at a greater speed, or more quickly/accurately returned fire. The guilt comes from thinking, I could have done more.

Veterans of older wars have survivor’s guilt. Usually, the casualties from older wars died because of engaging the enemy. Many OEF/OIF casualties happened without seeing an enemy. OEF/OIF Veterans have compounded guilt because they can play the “what-if” game without ever seeing an enemy. It isn’t a situation of my guilt is worse than yours. It’s just different. Like I said, no scientific data. I’ve just talked to a lot of guys about it.

My issue with Memorial Day is quite different. My deployment was a cakewalk compared to many. My issue with Memorial Day is because of my time served as a Chaplain. I loved serving as an Army Chaplain until I got a call from Mortuary Affairs. Chaplains have the horrible job of notifying family members about the fallen Soldier. It was bad when I got the first, and then I got the second, then the third…

Memorial Day is a REALLY important day, it just isn’t about me. It isn’t about me because I came home. I can’t get all excited about it because I know what it cost. The numbers of casualties are not just numbers to me, they are names. They are Soldiers. They are sons. They are my brothers. They could have been me.

So if you are a Veteran suffering with survivor’s guilt or you just hate Memorial Day, I want to offer you two words of encouragement. First, guilt is normal. The way to combat guilt is by a greater emotion/feeling. The strongest feeling you can feel, the one that really hits you deep in your soul is the feeling of honor.

Your feelings of guilt are not surprising and you are not alone in feeling that way. But let’s be clear, you can’t change the past. You can only do something about the present. Your future isn’t guaranteed so live today in a way that honors those who paid the ultimate price. Find a unique way to honor those who didn’t come home.

The second word of encouragement for you, death is also in your future. Don’t let this handcuff you from living but be prepared to die. At 19 years of age, filling out my SGLI life insurance claim was a sobering moment. Death could come tomorrow or in twenty years, maybe many more but it will come.

How can you be ready to die? You must first admit that you’re not perfect. It’s not that you made a mistake here and there. Your primary problem is you have offended a holy God by willfully rejecting his standard of life. Your character does not align with what he requires. He requires perfection. You are selfish, angry, lustful, and proud by nature. So when you go to die, God will not let you in with all that stuff. Why would he?

If you want to be ready to die, it isn’t enough to just know that you’ve not met God’s standard. Honestly, it’s not good to die and bring that stuff to God. He knows that and so he made a way. The way he made wasn’t really fair but it was just. It was just because God requires a sacrifice to pay for our wrong doing. There wasn’t a sacrifice that was sufficient so he sent his Son. He lived the life we should have and then died the death we deserved. He died in our place and paid the price for our sins. If you believe this and surrender to Jesus, you can have new life so that when you die, you can really live.

Memorial Day reminds us of the cost of freedom. Sunday reminds us of the cost of eternal life. Let the reader live in a way to honor those who make these days special.

Missions History Uncategorized

mission killers: man-centered missions

It seems odd to think that a missionary or pastor can do man-centered ministry. What is man-centered missions? Man-centered missions sound like some of my old sermons and college papers. It all changed when I heard a sermon by Paris Reidhead entitled, Ten Shekels and a Shirt.” The sermon changed my life. I listen to it regularly. What is the big take-away? Do missions for God’s sake and not for man’s.

What is the difference? Metrics. It’s all about metrics and how we consider something a success. Man-centered metrics look at two things, attendance and response. If these are the metrics by which you measure success, then you will conduct your ministry to these two ends.

How to gain a boost in attendance: Make church as little like church as possible. Give away anything you can. Make the music as much like what you hear on the radio as much as possible. Find a song, some skilled musicians, and play some of the most popular songs. Make the message as application-heavy as possible. As a speaker, be funny, give great stories, and don’t get real “preachy.” People don’t like that stuff. Let the people feel good.

For a boost in your response, make it easy for people to respond. Just take a show of hands, count those up and then report the raised hands. If you want people to respond, offer them the deal of a lifetime. To kids, have them repeat a short prayer. Promise them unlimited ice cream in heaven and let them know they will see their grandparents there. To adults, let them know heaven will be full of streets of gold, six-pack abs, and a mansion. You can relax at the heavenly beach home that you have always wanted. All you have to do is repeat this short prayer.

Other ways of man-centeredness are not so blatant. Before you completely dismiss the above methods, I’ve heard them all. I haven’t embellished. I remember them because they are so outlandish. I am not as worried about the crazy ice cream promise to kids. I am worried that someone said it but it isn’t as common as much as the other ways we do man-centered ministry.

When we make the success of our ministry man-centered, we operate with the goal that someone leaves happy. We want them to come back. We want them to respond. So we minister in such a way to find a way to give a man what he really wants.

We are the prosperity gospel preachers but we just make the payoff in heaven and not on earth.

Do we want people to attend? YES!

Do we want people to pray and trust Christ? YES!

Do people who have never prayed before need a model to follow? YES!

So what is the difference? The end. The goal.

Man-centered ministry can look like other types of ministry and missions but the goal is not man’s response. The goal is God’s glory. Full Stop. Nothing Further. God is the goal, not man.

We must make a change in our methodology by changing the metrics. The goal must be making much of Jesus.

Jesus says,And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (Jn 12.32).” If our goal is man’s response

Missions History

mission killers: hyper-Calvinists

There is nothing as dangerous to missions today as hyper-Calvinism. Calvinism is just fine but not hyper-Calvinism. It’s dangerous and it should be avoided like a leftover wet sock left at youth camp.

The clearest distinction between the addition of “hyper” to Calvinism goes to the very beginning of what is called the “Modern Day Missions Movement.” Missions programs, methodology, and cooperation began with the sending of William Carey. Carey was a cobbler turned preacher turned pioneer missionary who is affectionately called, “The Father of the Modern Day Missions Movement.” It’s a great title of which we will see more later but for now, just think British shoe cobbler turned Jesus loving preacher.

Carey is in a meeting with some Baptist pastors. He’s one of the younger ones and the least influential. However, he had finished reading Captain James Cook’s book’s Voyages. Carey was captivated by the people and need to evangelize the lost. Hearing Carey’s passionate plea about the need to evangelize the lost, Dr. John Ryland Sr. said, “Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.”[1] And that my friends is hyper-Calvinism.

Hyper-Calvinism takes the idea of God’s sovereignty and election to an unbiblical extreme. The extreme measure looks like this: God has chosen who will come to faith in Christ and it is not dependent on our actions. We do not need to interfere with God’s sovereign will. If they are to be converted they will be, whether we evangelize or not. The most thoughtful will believe that if we share the gospel with them, then their judgment will be more severe because they will know more about the gospel message. We should not heap extra judgment on those who are not elect and therefore have no chance at coming to faith in Christ.  

You can see how this is a problem. Carey is excited about learning about people from all over the world and he wants to tell them about Jesus. Ryland thinks this is preposterous at best and spiritual harmful at worst. Carey replied with a small booklet called, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens in which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of Former Undertakings, and the Practicability of Further Undertakings are Considered, or An Enquiry for short.

His booklet set the world of missions on fire! In his booklet, he demolished the hyper-Calvinism of the day. He argued that God uses “means” or methods to see the conversion of the lost. He argued that we could not know the elect but that we must evangelize because God uses means to convert the lost. We are the means. Hyper-Calvinists were comfortable with man having no responsibility and action in God’s election. A Calvinist like Carey believes in election but knows God’s method is to use other believers’ prayers and gospel presentations to change the lives of the lost.  

You can see how hyper-Calvinism is dangerous. It is dangerous not because it misunderstands election (it does) or because it wrongly applies missionary methods (they do) but because they are biblical. Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20) and to be witnesses (Acts 1:8).

Before you go, maybe ask yourself this question, “Am I a hyper-Calvinist?” You may say, “NO WAY!” So let me state it another way, do you live like Rylan or Carey? Do you have a passion to see the lost come to faith in Christ? Are you praying for lost friends and sharing the gospel with them? Or, are you acting like John Ryland?

[1] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, “Introduction,” 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 244.

Army Jeremiah Spiritual Disciplines

Feel the Burn!

Feel the Burn!I loved my time in the Army. I especially enjoyed it before most of my body hurt. Before injuries, age, and overall girth, I loved push-ups. I loved wide-arm, close grip, elevated, diamond, clap, and one arm push-ups. There are few feelings as wonderful as muscle failure after a tough work-out session sponsored by the US Army.

The most push-ups I ever did came at Fort Benning, GA for basic training. We would do push-ups before meals, before bed, when we should have been in bed, when we did right, and definitely when we got in trouble. My drill sergeants were sure to “teach” us of our wrongdoings through push-ups to muscle failure. It was tough but worth it. When Basic Training ended, I did 70ish push-ups in 2 minutes.

At that time, Fort Benning, GA was an all-male training station. After Basic, I went to Fort Jackson, SC. Fort Jackson was a co-ed training station. They also had Basic Training there but I went there just for Advanced Individual Training (AIT). My drill sergeants were both male and female. Having female drill sergeants was a different experience for me.

Whereas the male drill sergeants would use the standard push-up for correction, the female drill sergeants used a different method. In short, it was horrible. I thought my shoulders were in good shape. I thought they were strong. I thought they were conditioned. My push-ups increased to 80 in two minutes. Honestly, a female drill sergeant was not able to make me do push-ups enough to bring me to muscle failure because most often, drill sergeants did the punishment with the soldiers. Army regulations were guiding their use of physical exercise as a means of correction but don’t read into it too much, it was pure intimidation. When a drill sergeant starts an exercise of which you are to follow and continues to do it as soldiers drop like flies… you learn that you are a mere mortal. You learn you drill sergeant is not. My female drill sergeants made us suffer from the overhead arm clap.

What is this torturous method? Imagine you are at a concert and clapping your hands over your head, except the music is the voice of the drill sergeant counting and your arms coincide with her cadence. I was prepared for push-ups. I was not conditioned to hundreds of those things. When it first happened, I thought I was going to die. My shoulders burned and did not stop for two days. I could not bring my hands above my head to wash my hair, well I did not have hair then but where hair should have been was unwashed. The burn in my shoulders made everything difficult. Writing, typing shoes, and even taking off a shirt were painful. Anything I did for two days came with a painful reminder of those blessed overhead arm claps.  

Reading in Jeremiah this morning, I was reminded of this story. Jeremiah did not have overhead arm claps. He had the Word of God. Jeremiah was a prophet who spoke of Israel’s sin before and during the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC.

He was alone during this time. There were other prophets but they did not speak for God. They spoke “prophecies” the people wanted to hear. The other prophets spoke lies to the people for their own gain. They told the kings everything would be fine. Jeremiah told them destruction was coming because of their sin. 

Jeremiah was placed in the stocks because his message was of doom and destruction (Jer 20:1-6). He spoke against the government and religious leaders. Their response caused him great suffering. How did he respond? He wrote the book of Lamentations. He was not a happy or joyous prophet. His joy would only come in death. He said Jeremiah 20:14, “Cursed be the day on which I was born!” The suffering and deep depression of Jeremiah was immense. But it was not his dominant emotion. 

Jeremiah is usually called the weeping prophet because of the many laments within the book bearing his name and Lamentations. However, it is best to see him as the “burning” prophet. Jeremiah had a message to give. He did not want to give it. He even said of speaking for Yahweh, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name (Jer 20:9).” He was sure to be done with the whole prophet business except, he had this burning. He could not forget it. Anything he did, he felt it. 

When the physical body is under extreme physical exertion, it burns. It burns while you are exercising and depending on your level of conditioning or the intensity of the workout, it will burn for days after. For the prophet Jeremiah, he heard from God. He was called by God. He was sent by God to Israel. The human body is not conditioned to hold in the Word of God. The Word of God must be shared. Jeremiah knew this well, “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot (Jer 20:9).” Jeremiah continued to speak. He spoke even though he suffered. He spoke even though the temple was destroyed. He spoke even though his message was not received. 

My prayer is to never do an overhead arm clap again. I’m not sure my left shoulder would allow it. Secondly and more importantly, I want the fire of God’s Word to burn in me. How do we do this? First, you must spend regular time reading and meditating on God’s Word. God cannot work out of you what you do not have in you. If the fire of God’s Word is going to burn in you, then you must give it plenty of fuel. I have made it my habit to read through the Bible on a yearly basis. I like this method because it keeps the story of the Bible fresh in my mind. Second, you must pray. When you pray, use the Bible. Pray about what you have read. Pray for those who need to hear and then pray for an opportunity to tell them. Third, find someone to pray with you and hold you accountable. Look around at who is a faithfully following Jesus, who is a little ahead of you in the faith, and then ask them to disciple you. Part of discipleship is holding one another accountable for the purpose of growing in Christ-likeness. 

Church Issues

To attend or not attend?

The outcome of COVID-19 remains to be seen. We do not yet know when the world will get back to normal, whatever that is. I have no interest in adding to the many hypotheses and analyses. There are more competent and qualified people than me to address the subject. I want to speak about something more important and more dangerous. I want to talk about the church.

Churches still have not returned fully after months of quarantine. More troublesome is one-third of people have not returned and may never come back. What happened? There are different theories. Some pastors I have spoken to see it as a salvation issue, while others see it as pseudo committed people getting out of the rhythm of church attendance.

Church attendance is a salvation issue and it is also not a salvation issue. The pastors I have spoken do not believe going to church makes one saved. Their argument is as stated: The gathering of the local body is an issue of obedience to Scripture, to reject the biblical command to gather together is a sign up an unrepentant heart. Because repentance is a sign of a believer, those who willfully reject gathering together are in unrepentant sin and not truly converted.

I am sympathetic to their line of reasoning. Everyone I have spoken to understands those who, for medical reasons, do not feel comfortable attending. We are not talking about those in that type of situation. Those who find other things to do, created new routines, or found out they liked having an extra weekend morning are the ones causing the concern.

Hebrews 10:24-25 gives clear direction to believers to gather together, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” I do not think this is a time to pile on people who have enjoyed time away from church. Rather, these verses teach us that the struggle to gather together for believers is not new.

Believers then and believers now need encouragement to gather together. The writer of Hebrews tells us to consider how to encourage others. The idea of consider in the text carries with it the idea of careful, thoughtful, contemplation for the sake of others. We are supposed to use our minds to think of ways to encourage others to love, do good works, and gather together. This encouragement comes as believers gather together.

When believers gather together there are numerous benefits. They are strengthened as they worship together. The work of God is magnified through their prayers. They are comforted as they minister to one another, especially those who are suffering. They grow in holiness as they listen to the Word preached. They help send gospel missionaries and care for the poor as gather offerings. Their witness is benefited as a socially and economically diverse group of people fellowship in unity. More could be said for the benefits of gathering for mental health as it pertains to loneliness, depression, and other results to staying away from fellowship. At the very least, many people have long-standing deep friendships that are cultivated through in-person gatherings over Bible study and prayer.

Consider then, how you might encourage others to gather this Sunday. Find that friend that you haven’t seen at church in a while, check on them, invite them back. If they are concerned about health reasons, reassure them and encourage them that they are not in sin. We are living in crazy times. We need another. We need you there.


multiple personalities

I celebrate 15 years in ministry this month. I’ve been in various positions throughout those years. The Army and schooling necessitated a couple of those moves. One of my favorite jobs was as a Spirituality Group Leader at a recovery hospital. The hospital had a residency program for those recovering from drugs and alcohol, Soldiers with PTSD, and other patients with a host of mental disorders. It always kept me on my toes leading Bible studies. 

I learned to read the charts of the patients as I made my notes and signed off on their participation. Some of the stories were very sad because the patients struggled with years of abuse which they tried to cover up with drugs and alcohol. There were others who came from great families with great resources. Even though they had the world at their finger tips, they squandered it all away for a substance. It was so very sad. 

Then there were the Soldiers with PTSD. They were angry, struggling to cope with civilian life, and often heartbroken for those that never came back home. I loved these guys. I understood much of what they were going through, though in a lesser degree. 

My most challenging group of patients were those who had various mental disorders. Have you ever tried to lead a Bible study with someone who thinks they are Jesus? Really, there was a guy who thought he was Jesus. Walking on water? Yep he did that. Feeding 4,000 and 5,000? He did that too. Then his medicine changed and he thought he was Judas. Another week went by and he identified with his real self. It was crazy, literally. My heart went out for him as he was struggling to figure out what was real and what was not real. 

There were many like him. I wouldn’t know who was coming each week. Was it their actual self or someone they were pretending to be? It was always the most intense and interesting Bible study times. Typically Junior high boys are the most difficult to lead in a Bible study but they have nothing on mental patients! It was tons of fun as I would lead those Bible studies twice a week and share the gospel with them even. It was way outside my comfort zone but I find those times are when God grows us best. 

This all has me thinking about who we really are as people. We may not have “multiple personalities” but in a sense we do. If we act one way at church and another at home, we do. If we act one way at the ball field and another at work, we do. Even still, as a parent, does my daughter see me as having a loving and harsh side or am I just Dad that is both at the same time? I hope the latter. 

This problem is not new with modern psychology. There were people who were charged to not be double minded. Having two minds isn’t just an issue of not knowing who you are but is ultimately not knowing who God is. Jesus’ brother James instructs the Jews who live abroad to have faith in God with no doubting (James 1:6-8). They needed to have faith in who God really is not who they thought he was apart from true biblical knowledge. He frames this all with the command to ask God for wisdom if you need it. We are to ask without doubting because God is a good God who wants to bless his children with good gifts like wisdom. If we doubt we are like a ship that is tossed by the waves of the ocean. James doesn’t want us unstable with doubt. He wants us to be like a lighthouse, firmly fixed in the ocean withstanding the winds of doubt. We need to do this, not because we have great faith but because our faith is fixed to a sure hold.

Faith is like an anchor. The strongest of anchor, if not secure on something solid will be worthless. I’ve been in the ocean many times with an anchor far too big for the boat only to see us drifting because the anchor is just sliding on the sand. However, I was fishing with a good friend when we donated three anchors one morning because there were rocks and/or structure which were very solid so solid we never got the anchors back.

The strength of faith is not in our faith but in what/who we have our faith in. If we have faith in our ability, when we get tired our faith is useless. If we have faith in our bank accounts then when our money runs out, we are done for. However, if we have faith rooted in Jesus than we are as strong as Jesus is strong. When we are weak, we are actually strong when we are in Jesus (2 Cor 12). 

How can this be? We are like this because God doesn’t have multiple personalities. Depending on your upbringing and who have you have listened to, you may think God does. You may think the God of the Old Testament is about the Law, is angry, and often mad. The God of the New Testament is all about grace, mercy, and love. To be honest, I heard those things and thought them too, though it was a while ago. What really helped me understand who God is was a little book called The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. I’m rereading it now and enjoying  it immensely. 

The book is about the attributes of God in other words, it is a book about who God is. There isn’t a better subject for a book in my opinion. It is short enough that it serves as a good introduction for anyone. In the book he shows how God is not segmented like we are. He is not separate in his personality. He is perfectly loving while also showing hatred for sin. His mercy is equal to his wrath. This is helpful to understand. God is not different in the Old and New Testaments. He is always himself and for us, this is for our good. For you today, in your circumstances, it is for our good that God is always himself. Our circumstances need to be informed by good theology that God does not change like a ship tossed by the wind.

He loves us, hates sin, is merciful, and wrathful. If we have Jesus the wrath has been paid, we get the mercy, love, and by God’s grace learn to hate sin like Jesus. Let me finish with a quote from Tozer, “

The divine attributes are what we know to be true of God. He does not possess them as qualities; they are how God is as He reveals Himself to His creatures. Love, for instance, is not something God has and which may grow or diminish or cease to be. His love is the way God is, and when He loves He is simply being Himself.”

God doesn’t change. He is not wrathful without being loving. You can’t get his discipline without also getting his grace and mercy. THIS IS GOOD NEWS! He is always our loving Father. He is always loving and he doesn’t get tired and his love doesn’t run out. So know that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, he is working in your life right now, he is working out of love. He does not change. 


don’t be a cheapskate

I have a friend who is the most generous person I know. He is a guy who would gladly give you the shirt off his back. He is also skinny, with a six-pack, and perpetually tan so taking his shirt off isn’t exactly offensive. He’s not just generous in offering his shirt. He offers time, money, and his things. But let’s be clear, he’s very generous with money. He’s not rich but what he has, if you need it, you can have it. He doesn’t just give a little, he gives much. 

It has me thinking about missions. I live overseas because of him and many others who give generously. I live here to continue gospel ministry. When we think about the gospel ministry, we need to give the gospel generously. The opposite of a generous person is a cheapskate, I don’t want to be a gospel cheapskate. How can someone be a gospel cheapskate? We cheapen the gospel when we do not share the gospel robustly. 

We cheapen the gospel by minimizing it to just a couple of verses or a memorized presentation. Furthermore, we cheapen the gospel when we make the goal of our ministry getting someone to “pray the prayer.” I remember hearing someone share how they shared the gospel. We shared a hamburger at a restaurant as he told us about his gospel exploits that day. He had little booklets which shared the gospel message. He was in a van with several others evangelizing the city. Rightly, the group started out with prayer and asked God to bless their day. Then they drove to a rough neighborhood. They wanted to win the baddest dudes in the city so they set off looking for people who looked tough.

He told us story after story how he would jump out of the vehicle standing on street corners and share the gospel with them. He would scare them initially but then lead them to Christ. His gospel presentation went something like this: How sure are you if you were to die today that you would go to heaven? After the person expressed some doubt, he would ask, “Would you like to pray this prayer to make sure you go to heaven?” After the person prayed, he’d give them the booklet and jump back in the van. He had an amazing success rate. I’m just not sure we can really call it a success. He did consider it a success because he was able to lead someone to Jesus in less than a minute. His best that day was 47 seconds. I was devastated by this gospel cheapskate. 

The gospel is not about getting someone to say a prayer to get them out of hell. The gospel is the good news of God. The good news of God means we have to understand him, our offense against him, and his provision for restoration. In other words, we need to know about God, sin, Jesus, and our response. We can’t do that in 47 seconds. I’m hesitant to put a time limit on this process but it takes longer than a minute. If a person comes up to you and asks you what they have to do to be saved chances are it will still take more than 47 seconds but rest assured there have been previous encounters. We don’t need to see how little of the gospel we can share because the message is a message about God. We don’t need to try to minimize God. Instead, we need to see how much we are able to communicate about God. 

The gospel is the gospel because it is about God. It is rich and wonderful because it is his story. It is breathtaking and captivating because only he could make the way. It is marvelous and miraculous because we get to be involved in sharing this great news! If your heart resonates with some of this, then why try to share as little as possible? 

When we think about a gospel cheapskate, we need to remember Jesus. He didn’t give us part of himself. He gave us all of himself. He died so we can live. He paid for our sin so we can have a relationship with God. He came to earth so we can go with him and so much more. God is the God of so much more. He can do more than we can ask or think. He gives his grace and mercy more than we can imagine. These attributes of God will be discussed in the next post so stay tuned.