In the Bible we get to see real people who really lived and did real things in history.
Most importantly, we get to see how they interacted with and followed God.
I recently read through the book of Judges and was encouraged by the many stories of God working in and through people to rescue Israel throughout their initial years in the promise land and I wanted to encourage you with one of these many stories.
Ehud was one of the earliest characters in the book of Judges. He was a left-handed man who was able to use this uniqueness to get past the security protecting Eglon, the king of Moab, who was oppressing Israel at that time.
After getting past the guards and killing Eglon, Ehud says something to his fellow Israelites that is very telling of his character:
“And he said to them, “Follow after me, for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites and did not allow anyone to pass over.”Judges 3:28
Notice that he doesn’t take the credit for what God was doing through him.
He could have quickly gathered fame and wealth by taking this opportunity to gather Israel around himself rather than around God.
Yes, he was their leader; he told them to follow after him.
But he made clear that God was the one giving them the battle,
That God was the one for them to ultimately follow, thank and worship.
It’s easy to do one of two things:
- To simply press on and simply serve God by yourself
- To gather other people around you to build yourself, your vision, and your “kingdom” up
But it’s much harder to be willing to bring others along, to disciple them, to encourage them, to serve alongside them, to lead them – but to make sure that everyone keeps their eyes on God, and not you.
But that’s what we’re called to do.
To simply follow Jesus,
And to encourage others to follow us and do the same.
Not so that we may gain from it,
But that they may be blessed, and God glorified.
May we be like Ehud,
Doing the difficult work,
And calling others to come alongside
And follow God together.
For years we’ve lived in a world that increasingly cares about our public image and what people think about us.
And that desire continues to grow.
As if the wave of the internet and social media wasn’t enough, we now live in a time where people pass immediate judgement on your character and generally who you are as a person based on if you’re wearing a mask and seeming to social distance.
The outward appearance of holiness and “better than thou” living has become what many of us strive for.
Virtue signaling in our words and public actions have become commonplace.
And this is very dangerous for our personal character.
Because the more we continue to value what other’s perceive of our character,
And the more we emphasize the things that are merely outward and public,
The more we forget to look at our true selves.
The more we start to think we really are “good” people.
And the more we won’t see our need for a Savior and God to continue to make us more like Him.
I’m Not Saying Masks Or Public Acts Are Bad
But our society has continued to go down a path of “you are a good person if you do this specific, public action” and “you are a bad person if you do not do this specific, public action”.
And this is at a time where our public “Instagram” life already doesn’t line up with our “real” life.
The issue is that we are rushing down a path where we make entire character assumptions about others with very little context about their life as a whole, but instead based on a very small set of information that could very well be done out of almost any other reason other than their true character or beliefs.
We’re judging books by their covers at a breakneck speed.
What Jesus Had To Say About Outward Appearances
Again, the issue isn’t what you’re doing publicly, but that the more we emphasize our public appearance, the less we’re focusing on the more important part of our lives: our character.
The problem is that we’ve become so quick to judge others from a sliver of their public appearance, that I’m afraid we’ve also begun equating our own personal character with what we present publicly; but our public appearance and our private character aren’t the same thing.
As we see throughout Scripture, God cares far more about our inward character than our outward appearance:
“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.'”1 Samuel 16:7
And, again in Jesus’ ministry we learn something very important about caring more about our outward appearance over our inward character:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”Matthew 23:27
To have an outwardly beautiful appearance,
And an inward life full of dead people’s bones,
Is NOT the life God would have for you.
What Does This Change?
Again, I’m not proposing that any of what you already do, or others do, outwardly might be wrong at all. It very well might be good. But is your inward character doing well?
The issue isn’t really about doing outward things, it’s that we have pushed so much for polishing the outward appearance that it’s likely that we’ve all forgotten our inward life.
So, What Is Your Private Life Like?
It’s been said that your character is decided on what you do when nobody is watching.
So, what do YOU do when nobody is watching.
Nobody is taking pictures,
Nothing will be shared online.
And, even then, when you do these good things,
What is your intent?
Where is your heart?
Scripture tell us that none of us are good inside (Romans 3:10–12, Romans 3:23),
That none of us have a pure heart,
That what we deserve is death (Romans 6:23a)
But that God’s free gift of grace is to offer us life (Romans 6:23b).
Do you believe that?
Have you been living that?
Have you been asking God to transform your inward character,
Above your outward public image?
Because after all the applause is gone,
After all the things of this world fade,
The only thing you’ll really care to hear is:
“‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”Matthew 25:23
As a culture, we jump from one thing to the next. Although we have all heard of studies telling us to stop multitasking and to generally slow down and smell the roses – few of us do.
In fact, it’s not just common, but actually encouraged and a badge of honor to say how busy or tired you are – as if you’re doing something wrong if you’re not.
However, the way people try to fix this is just as damaging.
I’ve heard many people encourage others to “live in the moment” and to simply “follow their heart” and ignore all repercussions of the future and to simply live IN the present and live FOR the present.
And that is just as wrong.
We can’t simply go to the other extreme of not only living in the present but also living for the present without dire consequences.
But we also can’t continue through life at break-neck speed without suffering just as many consequences.
So here’s our solution. It’s not easy to do, but it really is this simple:
Live in the present.
Slow down, work with, and enjoy what’s in front of you right now.
Live for the future.
Keep in mind the overall trajectory of your life.
For the Christian, this is ultimately living out what Jesus meant when He said to “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). We are called to live in the world, but not of this world (1 John 2:15-17).
Does your life right now reflect what you want to be “living for” or do you need to course correct?
Take inventory and start now
What is the future you’re living for?
Does your life reflect it?
Does your calendar, hobbies, budget, lifestyle reflect what you want to be “living for”?
Are you living in the present?
Or are you constantly hurried in life?
And not able to even enjoy the path you’re on?
The perfect example
It’s amazing to look at Jesus Who was “about His Father’s business” (Luke 2:49) and had “done everything the Father had given Him” (John 17:4) yet never seemed hurried or rushed.
Clearly He had a lot on His plate and He did many things, but He was never consumed and rushed and overwhelmed by them.
We too, can be about the work God has for us,
We too, can complete all that God has given us to do,
And without becoming stressed out, overworked, unable-to-stop-to-smell-the-roses people.
By His grace and transforming us to become more like Himself,
We too can become like Jesus in this way.
As you reflect on how God would have you live in the now, and for the future differently, I thought this a perfect passage to read, reflect and pray that God would cause us to be a people who live in the moment and live for His Kingdom.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”Matthew 6:25–34
In the year 2020, I read 41 books.
I’m blown away by how much I’ve grown in the discipline of reading (for reference, I had read 4 books in 2018 and only 1 in 2017… I’ve been keeping a list of books I read for a while and it’s only recently gotten to the numbers it is now).
I’ve really enjoyed listening to these books on library audio apps like Overdrive and Hoopla, and it’s the only way I have been able to “read” as many as I have.
That said, I LOVE reading and learning so I thought I’d pass on my favorite books from this past year in case you would like to read any of them as well.
Please note, these aren’t in any particular order, though I put them into categories in case you’re looking for a specific type of book:
- Judges For You by Tim Keller
- Galatians For You by Tim Keller
Tim Keller has written a few books in a Bible study/commentary format that are very simple to read. He has a few, but the two I read are listed above. The one on the book of Judges is incredible and I think you should check it out if you’re even vaguely interested.
- Experiencing God by Henry and Richard Blackaby // Such an incredible book to consider how God might want to work in you and through you.
- Through the Eyes of a Lion by Levi Lusko // An awesome book to get our eyes back on the truth of God’s Word. Heart-wrenching at times, but totally worth it.
- Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster // A very simple book that unearths spiritual disciplines in a way that most gloss over. If spiritual disciplines have ever been confusing or difficult, this is an amazing book.
- The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence // a great book reminding us to slow down and simply be present with God wherever we are.
- A Tale Of Three Kings by Gene Edwards // Simply showing the differences between King Saul, David and Absalom. A great book reminding us what it truly looks like to live a life (and lead a ministry) that reflects God’s heart even when it’s difficult.
- Purpose Driven Youth Ministry by Doug Fields // A very in depth book from one of the most experienced youth pastors around and is definitely applicable to other areas of ministry as well.
- Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer // We certainly don’t create simple things naturally, they have to be sought out. And this book helps you think through how to truly make ministry simple
The Mistborn series! I read the first trilogy and I just finished the first book in the second trilogy. It’s an incredible series. If you like fantasy like Lord of the Rings, I’m pretty sure you’ll love this.
- Getting Things Done by David Allen // I’ve always been facinated by productivity books, blogs and podcasts and although I had read lots of people’s thoughts and applications of David Allen’s book, I finally got around to actually reading it! It’s a great book that you should definitely check out.
- Do More Better by Tim Challies // This is the first productivity book I’ve ever read specifically from a Christian worldview/perspective on focusing specifically on what God has called you to do over other things and how that can be flushed out in a productive way.
- The Bullet Journal by Ryder Carroll // The Bullet Journal is probably the most famed way of organizing a physical notebook and although I’m not interested in starting a physical notebook, I still got a lot of good takeaways when it comes to organizing information and keeping productive.
- How to Win at College by Cal Newport // I thought this might be good for a youth pastor, such as myself, to read as potential suggestion for high schoolers and I also hoped he would have principles that could translate to the average adult’s life – and it does. It’s a great and simple book, though there is a section on finding your identity and such that I extremely disagree with. The areas focused on productivity, building key relationships, etc are great.
I hope that helps you find a book or two that will be useful for you to check out in this coming year!
“New Year, New Me.”
Have you seen that phrase around?
It’s a popular saying this time of year. It brings ideas of being a whole new person in this new year.
But is it really true?
Did you transform into a better and more able person when the clock struck midnight?
And, even so, should we put our hope in our ability to design a perfect life this coming year?
I hope you don’t.
The reality is, as good as New Year resolutions are and as useful as the motivation from a new calendar can be…
January 1st, 2021 isn’t very different from December 31st, 2020.
Change happens overtime, not with the flip of a calendar.
So, instead of “new year, new me” I propose something different:
New Year, Same God.
The calendar year changes
Our situations change over time
We, ourselves, change over time
He stays the same.
He is our solid rock,
Our firm foundation,
The One we can trust and rely on in the midst of a world of unknown.
I don’t know if 2021 will be any different than 2020.
I don’t know if 2021 will be any better or worse than 2020.
But I know the God Who is faithful through it all.
More hopeful than relying on a new year,
And certainly more hopeful than relying on a new me to hold everything together,
I want to rely on the same God Who is faithful to all generations.
I hope you do the same.