Direction 1: Concerning the Novelty of Godliness
A number of years ago, Scripture Studies.com. put out a series of excerpts from one of my heroes, Richard Baxter. Baxter's Christian Directory was a powerful influence in my life and I was happy to see this material put online. The specific material consisted of excerpts focused on Baxter’s Directions to Young Christians.
I thought I would provide an even smaller excerpt and include the link for you to check out more of Baxter's excellent spiritual counsel. He was a physician of souls indeed! As one person put it, “And in our day of spiritual fads and consumerism, his direction is needed more than ever.” I couldn’t agree more. I thought these directions were fitting for Christian men and women of all ages who are at different places along their Christian pilgrimages. May Baxter’s words bless you as you continue your journey to the Celestial City and the likeness of Christ.
Here’s Direction 1…
Take heed lest it be the novelty or reputation of truth and godliness, that takes with you, more than the solid evidence of their excellency and necessity; lest when the novelty and reputation are gone, your religion wither and consume away.
…To this kind of professor, the greatest truths grow out of fashion, and they grow weary of them, as of dull and ordinary things; they must have some new light, or new way of religion that lately came in fashion; their souls are weary of that manna that at first was acceptable to them, as angels’ food. Old things seem low, and new things high to them; and to entertain some novelty in religion, is to grow up to more maturity: and too many such at last so far overthrive their old apparel, that the old Christ and old gospel are left behind them.
Click here to read the whole message.
This post is sort of a "part 2" to the post below on success.
Question: What is mediocrity? What examples of it have you witnessed recently? How do you prevent mediocrity from attacking you, your family, or your business?
Answer: I would say my definition of “mediocrity” is, not pursuing my God-given calling. Examples of mediocrity in my life would include: Not seeking to grow in my faith. Not learning about myself. Not learning how to develop myself so I can increasingly become who God made and called me to be. Not taking responsibility for my life. Not seeking to bear much, good, and lasting fruit for Christ and his Kingdom. General laziness and, sometimes, apathy. I guess with these examples I'm trying to point toward the direction of my life as opposed to results. While we participate in the process, results are ultimately up to God.
Some folks may be given five talents, some two, and some one. What counts is not how much you’re given, but what you do with what you’re given. Are you faithful with what you’ve been given, or do you tend to bury your talents in the ground? No effort – no risk – no trust in God. That describes too many of us. That has described me all too often.
I think we slow the influence mediocrity in our lives by obeying God, trusting him, staying close with him, continually seeking to be filled with his Spirit, staying in God’s Word, praying, praying, and praying some more, pursuing lifelong personal development and learning, etc. AND... traveling along this path with others is key.
The sanctifying process is more than learning how not to sin. While it obviously includes that, it also incorporates the positive act and attitude of conforming more and more to the likeness of Christ and renovating our lives under his Lordship so that we can grow toward our God-given potential…for his glory. Putting off sin and putting on righteousness. Dying to self and rising with Christ. We must continuously move forward, becoming progressively sanctified (i.e., becoming more like Christ, who perfectly fulfilled his calling). In all of this, God's grace is required. (I'm not endorsing a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality.)
I have experienced mediocrity in my own life. Every time I have daydreamed or surfed the net too long, watched too much TV, slept in too late, etc., I have embraced mediocrity.* But I think I’ve come to understand that I move toward overcoming mediocrity in my life only as I make the most of the time God has given me.
Very practically speaking, that means having a God-glorifying plan, (related to the various spheres of my life), and then faithfully, strategically, and consistently working that plan. There's certainly more to say about this, but this is a start.
By the way, I just started reading a great book by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, entitled, Living Forward, which addresses these very ideas. Best of all, they provide a great road map (or action plan) for how to "live forward."
* Just a note to say I have not defined how much "too long, too much, or too late" is, regarding the things mentioned in this sentence. That's going to look different for each of us. I know the difference between "taking a break" versus "being lazy" in my life. You'll have to figure out the difference between the two in yours.
Just a quick thought for today.
Grace and Truth,
Well, I did it. For better or worse, I wrote a book (I'm not much of a marketer). It comes out of years of working with and discipling men.
And, according to my mother, who is a godly woman, it is an easy read. I'm pretty sure she meant that as a compliment. Here's a little bit about it...
Before men can live godly lives and go into all the world to make disciples for Christ, they must first have a firm foundation.
The foundation all men need is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only when a man becomes a new creature in Christ can he grow in Christlikeness.
This godly man will then follow his Lord into every sphere of his life, making a difference in his home, church, workplace, community, culture, and world. He does not pursue such godliness in isolation, but in the fellowship of other godly men. This is how God’s Kingdom transforms the world. But it must start with the Gospel.
Foundations for Godly Manhood encourages men to pursue all God created, redeemed, and calls them to be by building their lives upon the firm foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his life-giving, life-transforming truth revealed in Holy Scripture.
Share this with men you're witnessing to. It works for one-on-one discipleship, small groups, or read it devotionally for yourself.
You can click here to order it.
Trying to find a Bible storybook you can read to your young children is often a challenge. Some aren’t much more than “Jesus loves you” messages – page after page – with a few baby cherub pictures thrown in. Then there’s a variety of other versions that add value in different ways. And, of course, it’s hard to beat simply reading a regular version of the Bible to your child. My experience is that a good children’s Bible storybook supplements a regular reading of the Bible in very helpful ways.
A few years ago I came across a set of Bible stories I have read to my children ever since. These stories come in a Ten Volume set, entitled, The Bible Story by Arthur Maxwell. You can learn more about the book and the author by clicking here.
The series covers the entire Bible. No story, (I’m pretty sure), has been left out. Because the purpose of God’s Word is not always to give us every detail of a person’s life (example: Jesus’ childhood), the author respectfully (and I think fairly faithfully) “speculates” about such things. He never makes up things a Bible character said or did. And if he’s just exercising a little “imaginative wonder,” he clearly communicates that.
The pictures are fantastic. Very colorful. My kids love the pictures as well as the stories. We bounce back and forth between an Old Testament volume and then a New Testament volume.
One of the things I like most about the series is it was written in the 1950s. I know there is no golden era of the Christian faith (though the Puritans come in at the top for me). However, I really like the fact that this is not another children’s book trying more to be “relevant” to the child rather than faithful to the text. Who needs that? The author gives a faithful rendering of the story (with bits and pieces of the actual biblical text interspersed throughout the story) in a winsome way that gives my children a real love for the stories and a deep desire to hear them again and again. You just can’t beat that.
Here’s the link again to the website that sells this series. I wasn’t able to find it at Christian Book.com. I didn’t check Amazon.
The Bible Story
More than four hundred stories in ten volumes covering the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation
by Arthur S. Maxwell
I encourage you to buy this series at once and begin reading the stories to your children. You won’t regret it. It’s an impacting and fun way to shepherd your children. And, as I said earlier, you just can’t beat that.
Grace and Truth,
A few years ago, our church’s men’s discipleship groups studied a video curriculum by Gary Thomas called, Sacred Marriage. It is a series for both husbands and wives but I thought it would be useful to study with just the men. It was fantastic. The study is based on the book by the same name. I have recently begun reading the book and, like the video series, it’s great.
One of the things that struck me as I watched the video, discussed it with our men, and have now been reminded of as I read through the book, is how Thomas focuses on the foundation of (you could say, the theology of) marriage and what God’s ultimate purpose is in marriage. The book is not, as he puts it, a three, seven, or ten-step program for a better, happier marriage. Instead, he does some of the hard work of looking at God’s real purpose of marriage… which is to make us holy… not necessarily happy. That’s a hard message to sell… especially in the era of romantic comedies and the Hallmark and Lifetime television channels.
In the first chapter of the book Thomas puts it this way…
…there’s a deeper question that needs to be addressed beyond how we can “improve” our marriage: What if God didn’t design marriage to be “easier”? What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place?
What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?
As Thomas will go on to say in the chapter, holiness and happiness aren’t necessarily contradictory, but a person’s happiness becomes illusory if they think, a.) that it’s the sole purpose of the marriage, and b.) their spouse is the one in whom they will find such ultimate purpose.
The real intention of the book, for Thomas, is to show his readers that marriage, in the same way as abstinence for celibates and isolation for hermits, is a context for spiritual growth. He says marriage can become the means by which we can “grow in our service, obedience, character, pursuit, and love of God.”
If I might put it in Wesleyan terminology, marriage is a means of grace by which we draw closer to God and conform more to the likeness of Christ. That’s not a bad deal.
Grace and Truth,
Below is a brief video interview with Gary Thomas on what the purpose ought to be.
I just started reading Gene Getz’s book, The Measure of a Man: 20 Attributes of A Godly Man. I immediately thought that this is something I would love to share with the men of our church family. As book after book (as well as human experience) seem to remind us, boys are rapidly growing up in this world without learning what it means to be a man… even fewer understand what it means to be a godly man. Too many are having to make it up on the fly… with disastrous results.
Therefore, I thought I would share some of the insights I’m gleaning from the book and pass them on to you, with a few extra items I hope will be a blessing to you.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)
The first chapter of the book is a broad overview of everything Getz will be looking at throughout the rest of the book. The chapter is entitled, “Becoming Faithful Men.” That’s a key topic as well as an important title. You see, we aren’t born faithful. Just the opposite, in fact. We are born fallen in sin, broken, and far from God. If we’re blessed to be born and raised in a Christian family, we may come to know God earlier in our lives. However, regardless of our background, growing in our faith is a lifelong pursuit. As you can imagine, if our goal is "Christ-likeness,” then we all have a LONG way to go! So I like the word “becoming”, because it highlights the idea of process… not product. We are works in progress (superintended by God himself (Philippians 1:6), and our goal is to continue moving in a Christward direction throughout the course of our entire life.
The word becoming also emphasizes focus and intentionality. No one grows into a godly man by accident. It happens on purpose or it doesn’t happen at all. Philippians 3:12 captures this idea. The Apostle Paul is laboring and straining to reach the goal of maturity in Christ (i.e., godliness or holiness). It’s an everyday and “on purpose” process that requires nothing less than God’s Spirit working in and through us to give us the will, strength, and direction to grow in grace. We won’t grow in our faith apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, and yet, the Holy Spirit won’t do the work for us. We have to participate in the process.
Finally, Getz uses the word “Faithful” to describe the kind of man he has in mind. Then, borrowing from 1 Timothy and Titus, Getz puts together a list of what we might call the marks of spiritually mature (godly) manhood. Here’s his list…
Can anyone read that list and declare they’ve already arrived? Anyone doing perfectly with this list?
Over the weeks to come I hope to look at each one of these headings and offer some thoughts and reflections from Scripture regarding what these characteristics might look like in our lives and how we might, in Paul’s words, “obtain them.”
To close this post, I want to share this prayer from Ken Boa…
Faithful Father, as I reflect on the redemptive history recorded in the narratives and oracles of Scripture, I see so many surprising setbacks and breakthroughs. The wisdom of Your Word invites me to view events and circumstances with a long-term perspective. When I only look at the short-term, I get muddled, confused and doubtful, because I allow my immediate circumstances to shape my understanding. But when I contextualize the events of my life in the long-term, I can see that You are indeed causing all things to work together for good to those who love You and are called according to Your purpose. Teach me to affirm that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to Your children in Christ.
Your Brother in Christ,
While I'm sharing excerpts from Packer, I thought I should also share this snippet from one of Packer's books that I have read a number of times, A Quest for Godliness. I've been listening to an audio course of Packer's lectures (from 1988) on the Puritans, and it inspired me to share this little list from Packer on why the church really does need to sit at the feet of the Puritans and learn from them. Here's a little from his list...
1.) There are lessons for us in the integration of their daily lives. As their Christianity was all-embracing, so their living was all of a piece. There was for them no disjunction between sacred and secular; all creation, so far as they were concerned, was sacred, and all activities, of whatever kind, must be sanctified, that is, done to the glory of God.
2.) There are lessons for us in the quality of their spiritual experience. In the Puritans’ communion with God, as Jesus Christ was central, so Holy Scripture was supreme.
3.) There are lessons for us in their passion for effective action. They had no time for idleness of the lazy or passive person who leaves it to others to change the world.
4.) There are lessons for us in their program for family stability. It is hardly too much to say that the Puritans created the Christian family in the English-speaking world.
5.) There are lessons to be learned from their sense of human worth. Through believing in a great God, they gained a vivid awareness of the greatness of moral issues, of eternity, and of the human soul.
6.) There are lessons to be learned from the Puritans’ ideal of church renewal. The essence of this kind of renewal (what they called “reformation”) was enrichment of understanding of God’s truth, arousal of affections Godward, increase of ardour in one’s devotions, and more love, joy, and firmness of Christian purpose in one’s calling and personal life.