FGA Conference, Day 2: Blessings and Responsibilities

It was another great day today at the FGA conference.  The plenary speakers were really good, and I am looking forward to getting to hear the other breakout session speakers on MP3 later in the week!  It was a day of blessing for me as well.

I got out for a run this morning, and it was interesting!  Dallas is cool in the mornings right now, and I got to run a path I have never run through some fields that I couldn’t really tell what kind of footing I had in.  Rather than fret that it wasn’t my preference I decided to enjoy the experience, so I had a great time.  It was a harbinger for the day, as things weren’t 100% as expected but that was good anyway.

Our plenary speaker in the morning was Dr. Jody Dillow, who impacted me mightily through his book Reign of the Servant Kings.  Dr. Dillow shared on Matthew 7 and on “entering the kingdom of God” from a very interesting viewpoint that has sent me off looking for some cultural context on “entering” that might prove fruitful.  The sessions were interesting to say the least; when they are available online I will post them!  I got to go to lunch with Dr. Dillow and my good friends Keith and Lori, which was a really good time of fellowship.  It’s fun to meet your theological heroes and realize that they are real people, and especially fun when you see a devotional heart and great humility in Christ.

I got to lead a breakout session today which was awesome.  Within the theme of “getting the gospel out” I was asked to teach of Preaching and teaching the free grace of God.  So I titled my message “Don’t Church it Up!”  I was very blessed to have about 20-22 people attend my session; I think it went very well.  We had fun talking about keeping it simple in presenting the gospel of Christ, centered around Paul’s admonition in 1 Cor 2:1-5.  The audio file will be available soon.

We went from there to our annual business meeting.  I HATE meetings; they are “where minutes are kept and hours are wasted.”  There were some procedural things that needed to be done, but after that I was very touched that Dr. Fred Chay put forth my name to serve on the board of trustees (they call it an executive council) for FGA.  Along with four other good men I was approved by the membership, and so for the next two years I will be a board member.  This was a great honor and I am blessed to be able to serve God by helping people see the truly free offer of eternal life in Christ.

The evening was really great as well.  We had our banquet, and the banquet speaker was none other than Dr. Charles Ryrie!  I use Dr. Ryrie’s Basic Theology in my Systematic Theology classes at SWC, so it was great to meet him.  He is a humble man to be sure, and a great thinker and writer.

So all in all today was great.  I was very honored to get to speak to friends and colleagues in my breakout session, and even more humbled to be asked to serve on the board.  I got to spend some great time getting to know some amazing theologians and writers as well, and that time of fellowship was very precious to me!  I am being filled with the grace of God as I listen to the speakers and challenged in my theology, which is always a good thing.  And I am having godly fun with friends, which is like the cherry on top of the sundae!

I used to disdain conferences because of their “rah rah” nature, but now I see that doesn’t have to be the case.  If they are run correctly and the content is really solid, they can be a very useful tool and a helpful time of growth and refreshment.  I am ready to get home to Phoenix and help people see the grace of God more clearly!

Happy Father’s Day!

To all of the dads out there who read ABF, I wish you a Happy Father’s Day!  I hope you get a large hunk of beef critter, place it near open flame until it is appropriately flame-seared (which would be medium-rare for the record), and then get to enjoy it thoroughly with your family.  Soon enough I will be doing just that!

I was reminded this week in my study of 2 Timothy 1:1-10 that God’s definition of a dad and ours doesn’t always match up.  I am also reminded that this is a very, very good thing!  Allow me to explain.  First, Paul thinks of Timothy as his son:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. ” (2 Timothy 1:1–2)

Paul calls Timothy his “beloved son” in 2 Tim 1:2.  We know from 1 Corinthians 4:17 and Philippians 2:19-24 that Paul and Timothy were very close friends and ministry companions; we also know from Acts 16:1 that when Paul met Timothy that he was already a believer in Christ and an adult.  So Paul is not biologically related to Timothy!  Nevertheless, they were so close that Paul considered him a son.

So God’s definition of a father is not always the world’s definition.  Whereas the world says that a father is the man who gives us our genetic code, God says that a father is a man who cares for us, encourages us, leads us, and provides us an example of godliness regardless of genetic links between us.  The biblical definition of a dad does not require blood relation, but care and love and commitment. 

I am really grateful for this.  The man who donated his genes to me is a stranger to me.  He and my mom divorced when I was a baby, and I haven’t seen or heard from him since my 5th birthday.  I was in a position to be a statistic (such as the fact that about 85% of men in prison effectively have no father), but in my case I was never without a father figure who could provide that example for me.  We lived with my grandparents when I was little, so my grandpa provided a great example of dad for me.  My uncle filled a need for a loving man in my life for a long time.  And then in the best example, my mom married a wonderful man when I was six who actually adopted me as his own and even gave me his last name! 

This is God’s true picture of fatherhood; it’s more about adoption than it is about flesh and blood.  We all begin life alienated from God and hostile to Him (Colossians 1:21).  However, when we trust Christ we are adopted by God as His children (Galatians 4:5)!  He takes those who were not His children and adopts Him into His family (Ephesians 1:5), giving us a spirit and a position in His family by which we can call Him our Father (Romans 8:15).  God is our adopted Father who loves us unconditionally and gives us everything we could ever ask for as children.

What does that mean for us?  Well first of all, make sure you talk to your Heavenly Father today and thank Him for your adoption and for His love for you.  Take some time and thank the Lord for His care for you and love for you, bringing you into His family and blessing you with every blessing you have. 

Secondly, this understanding of biblical fatherhood really speaks to those of us who do not have great fathers here on earth.  Whether your “real” dad is a good example or not, you have been adopted into the family of the King!  Even when our earthly fathers fail us, our Heavenly Father never will.  And if your dad hasn’t been a great example, you can likely point to wonderful, godly men who have filled that role in your life and been sent from God to help you live for Him.

Finally, if you haven’t found a man who can be this in your life, rest in God today that He loves you unconditionally, and also rest in the truth that He wants you to have a man in your life who you can relate to as father.  Then set about finding that man so you can have an earthly relationship that mirrors your heavenly one.

Happy Father’s Day, dad!  Also, a Happy Father’s Day to some other men who have been fathers to me:  Grandpa Bob, Uncle Jeff, Dr. F. Olden Pittman, and Dr. Fred Chay.  I appreciate you men more than you know.

Doing Friendship God’s Way

We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

I have been studying Colossians with some men I know, and God has been using it to work me over the past couple of weeks!  Reading it through every day has been a real blessing; there is a treasure trove of truth in that short book that has really been changing me and making me reassess my commitment to being the man that God wants me to be.  He has led me as a husband and father, and shown me recently about my need to be grateful.  Lesson #1: reading a single book of Scripture many times in a month pays significant dividends in my heart and in my understanding of Scripture.

Case in point is the quote above of Colossians 1:28.  Paul tells us that his ministry is focused not just on teaching, but on “admonishing” every man.  This term (in Greek it’s the word noutheteo for you Bible scholars out there) refers “to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct.” (BDAG)  Paul doesn’t just show people the truth found in God’s Word; he is perfectly willing and ready to warn them when their course of action is headed toward disaster!  He is willing to tell guys where they are headed and also to tell them to knock it off.

I think of this like having a friend who is about to walk off a cliff.  If you saw a friend blithely heading toward a cliff, would you launch into a lesson on physics and the surety of their fall?  I sure hope not!  Hopefully you’d warn them strongly and even grab them if need be to stop them from heading to their doom.  That is, in my mind, the heart of the word “admonish.”  We do everything in our power to help our friend keep from going off the deep end.

These words were ringing in my ears the past week or two, as I had to have a couple of significant conversations with friends.  I have a good friend who was having a really hard time in his marriage, and as I was riding to see him for a get-together the Lord kept bringing Colossians 1:28 to mind.  I HATE confrontation and conflict, so much so that I get physically ill before I have to have a conflict.  But these words kept ringing in my ears, so I knew what I needed to do.  I couldn’t get away from them, so to be an obedient disciple I needed to listen and trust that God’s way was best.

Then I thought some more about this verse and the intent of the teaching and admonishing.  Paul wants to “present every man complete in Christ.”  The idea here is that Paul wants the people in his life to be mature; he wants them not only to know Christ, but to be mature in Him and committed to Him.  That really struck me because of my mission statement.  I have said for the past 4 or 5 years that my purpose in life is “to know Jesus Christ, to grow in Him, to serve Him, and to help others do the same.”  Well, that means helping them be the people that God wants them to be!  It means more than teaching; it means admonishing when I have to and being willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of my friend and for what Christ wants with my life and theirs.

I am a teacher and a preacher by calling and skill, so I have no problem there.  If living as a Christ follower for me was just teaching I would be all for it!  I am not, though.  I pastor a smaller church, which means that I can’t be the “preaching pastor” or whatever who buries himself in his study and comes out of hiding for 30 minutes on Sunday morning.  No, shepherding involves getting involved in people’s lives and being willing to get in the mix with them.

So I had that difficult conversation, and God blessed it.  I have had two since as well, one with a man I am mentoring and another with a lady who needed to be warned as much as taught about where her actions were taking her.  And even though I hate confrontation, God kept bringing this verse to mind over and over.  Teach and admonish, teach and admonish.  Don’t settle for the surface relationships, whether with God or with people.  It seems like He brought that verse into my life for this season to remind me to be willing to go the extra mile with people, helping them be who they should be in Christ.

Want to grow in Christ?  Surround yourself with people who are willing to admonish you when you need it.  I am so grateful for the couple of men I know who, when I am being an idiot, are perfectly willing to tell me I am being an idiot and that I need to stop being an idiot.  They help me see the truth of God by teaching me (usually by example) what godliness is and admonishing me when I ignore Him.  So get some friends like that; they are worth their weight in gold.  And be a friend like that too, who is willing to help others see the biblical issues in their life and love them enough to nudge them to choose to serve God.

That’s the way to be “complete in Christ.”  And from my perspective, that’s everything.

A Goal, a Plan, and Some Help

It’s a big day for me today.  Today begins my first day of a 12-week training schedule leading up to my second half marathon!  I ran a 2:08:39 in my first half, and this time my audacious goal is to break the 2-hour barrier.  I need to shave 40 seconds a mile off of my pace from January, so I need to get training!  Those 40 seconds are not magically going to run away and hide; I know that it is going to take a lot of hard work (and hopefully 5 less pounds to lug around) to make it.

The first step to making a goal happen is writing it down.  Done, and you’re my witness.

It takes more than a goal to be successful, though.  The world is filled with people who set goals that they never achieve.  Whether they are New Year’s Resolutions or financial goals or what have you, the world is littered with discarded goals and the frustration that comes with them.  It takes a plan to get from where you are to where you are going, and some help along the way.  Plan your work and work your plan.  Get help in planning from those who know the ropes, and bring others alongside to help you work your plan when it gets tough.  This is true not only in running, but in life.

For my training, that means a running schedule and some mentorship.  I got a running schedule from Runner’s World (the “Smart Coach Training Program” box is great…just plug a few details in and viola!) and then tweaked it to my particular schedule needs and past results.  I know where I stand today in my running, so I wrote a plan to hopefully get me from where I am to a 9:10 half marathon pace.  Now I have a written plan for the next twelve weeks.  That two hour Personal Record (PR in runner’s lingo) will only come if I hit the road consistently and with purpose.  I also sent the plan to my two amazing running coaches (my beautiful, marathon-veteran wife and my sister-in-law, who not only is a marathon veteran but also broke 2 hours in a half while 8 months pregnant with my nephew!).  I know that I need some feedback to make sure that my plan is workable and will get me to my goal.

The second step to making a goal happen is planning the work.  Done.  Now all that is left to do is to work my plan.  That’s simple, which is not at all the same thing as being easy!

For life, many goals are not so concrete as “I want to run a two-hour half marathon.”  I think that every one of us should have as a goal to be completely committed to Christ, as Paul shows us in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

That’s a great goal, but it’ll never happen without a plan!  How can we live a life that is completely devoted to Christ like this?  Well there are plenty of steps along the path; if you’ve walked this path in the past you can certainly sketch the basics like I did in my running plan.  If not, consider adding some “parts” to the plan:

  • Get into the Word of God daily.  Having a daily plan of Bible reading is crucial for spiritual growth.  Men, if you’ve got no ideas you can join our online men’s Bible study Yahoo group.
  • Make prayer a daily part of life.  And not just over meals, but asking Him to make you new every day.
  • Get into community.  Get to church, and don’t just attend.  Serve, learn, grow, and get to know people.  Make friends with others in your church who are growing in their walk and invite them into your life!

Once you have a plan, check it with some godly mentors.  Don’t have a mentor?  Get one!  Seek out godly people who have walked the walk for awhile, and tuck in under their wing.  As the author of Proverbs says at Proverbs 15:22:

Without consultation, plans are frustrated,
But with many counselors they succeed.

Get some counsel on your goals, plan your work, and work your plan.  Want to be a better Christian?  How about a better husband or father?  A better wife?  Maybe money is tight and you want to be a better money manager.  Then set a goal, plan your work, check your plan, and work your plan.  Perhaps you need to build some physical health as a spiritual discipline.  (I was a bowl of goo coming out of seminary…)  Set a goal, plan, check, and get after it!  Whatever the situation, the only wrong answer is to sit there and do nothing.  So get after it!  And just so we are clear, make sure that you’re bringing God into every step of the process, lest James smack you upside the head:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”
14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Give the Lord His place as Master, set goals that honor Him, plan your work, check your plan, and work your plan.

See you at the finish line on June 6th in San Diego. 🙂

The Buddy System

Laura pretty close to dragged me out on a run this morning.  I just about loathe being cold and wet, and I hate having rain on my face.  (it’s an artifact from when I wore glasses…I hated having water on my glasses and still don’t like rain on my face)  So since it was raining outside this morning I was planning on skipping it.  But she got me out of the house and we hit the road together.  We went for a pretty good 5k this morning, which made me think of Solomon’s wisdom concerning life lived in community in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

9 Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.
10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.
11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?
12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

image There is power in having good and faithful friends around to help us do what we need to do!  I wanted to back out this morning, to take it easy, to chill out and skip my run because I don’t like running in the rain.  My running buddy, though, wouldn’t let me.  She had the courage to say, “Come on!  Let’s get our shoes on and take a run!”  And with her encouraging me I went.  Now, sitting at my computer in the afternoon, I am very glad that I listened to her.  She reminded me that it’s important to have others around, because when I fall, she can and does lift me up. (verse 10)  Without her there I would have just taken the day off and been lazy, but having a running partner made all the difference in my habits today!

God works in our lives in community, plain and simple.  When I have others in my life who can lift me up when I am weak and keep me moving in the right direction I can reach incredible heights.  This is a common theme in a lot of movies and hero dramas (and villain dramas too); Batman had Robin, the Skipper had Gilligan, Butch Cassidy had the Sundance Kid, and the list goes on.  Even “The LONE RANGER” had Tonto!  We are built to serve God in community, to have a friend or friends around us who can help us be strong and serve the Lord. 

Therefore 1encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.  (1 Thess 5:11)

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13)

So with that in mind, I had a couple of questions for myself this afternoon that I thought others might benefit from:

  1. Am I cultivating real and authentic relationships with people who can encourage me and lift me up?  Am I building friendships with people who want my best and encourage me to serve God and be the best I can, or am I allowing people to pull me down to their level?
  2. Am I being an encouragement or a discouragement to those around me?  Am I an excuse for them to slack off or am I helping them be strong when they can’t? 
  3. If I had to characterize my life, would it look more like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, (think about his community [caution: language in the link) or like Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland’s Opus?  Which would you prefer at the end of your life?

Friends who encourage us in Christ are not plentiful enough to waste.  So go thank the people who share your life and make it better, who encourage you to be the best that you can be.  And make an effort today to be an encourager to those around you!