16 Things to Pray for T4G 2016

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During this week, some ten thousand Christians from all over the world will descend upon Louisville, Kentucky. What brings them together? They come together for the Gospel. This bi-annual conference is an interdenominational gathering of Christians who certainly have various differences, but what they have in common is much greater—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Whether you are at the conference or not, I ask you to pray for what God is doing, and will do, through this gathering of believers. To help give you some ideas of how to pray, here are sixteen suggestions.

 

  1. Pray for pastors to be encouraged.  

Pastors spend most of their lives pouring out for the good of others. This conference provides a unique opportunity for pastors to be poured into. Pray that weary pastors would be encouraged by the fellowship and instruction they receive.

 

  1. Pray for the speakers to have power.

The speakers at T4G are some of the most gifted pastor-teachers in the world. But they are just men. They struggle with the same things everyone else does. So pray that God would give them strength in their weaknesses and that He would speak powerfully through each of them for His glory and the good of all who hear their messages.

 

  1. Pray for Gospel witness in the community.

As these many Christians come into the city, they come in contact with hundreds of cabdrivers, restaurant servers, hotel employees, protestors, and business owners. Pray that Christians would embody the Gospel they come together to celebrate by being good tippers, kind with their words, and not demanding on those who serve them. Pray this kindness would open doors for Gospel conversations and for many to come to know the Lord.

 

  1. Pray for the singing.

 One of the most unique things about this gathering is the singing. Try to imagine ten thousand unified voices singing about the wonders of God’s mercy to us in Jesus. Pray for believers to not only sing with hearts of faith, but also to be encouraged by the chorus of voices proclaiming the glories of our heavenly King.

 

  1. Pray for friendships to be born.

This conference was birthed out of friendship among the speakers. And this is one of the main reasons they put on the conference. Pray that God would kindle relationships among like-minded brothers who would be able to develop life-long friendships in Christ.

 

  1.  Pray for wisdom in partnerships.

This conference affords the opportunity for ministry leaders from all over the world to spend time together to pray, dream, plan, and orchestrate great things for the Kingdom of God. Plead that God would help His people have wisdom about ways they can work together for the spread of His glory among the nations.

 

  1. Pray for sisters to be strengthened

T4G is not a men’s conference, but because it is aimed at pastors, a large percentage of the attendees are men. But there are many sisters in Christ here who are in need of your prayers. Ask that God would build them up through His word so they can go back strengthened to bless their churches, families, and communities.

 

  1. Pray for believers to be protected.

Satan hates Jesus and He hates God’s children. Pray that his sinister schemes to hinder Gospel work would be thwarted. Pray for protection from lust and pride and comparison and envy and discouragement and whatever other fiery darts he will launch at the hearts of those who have come.

 

9.  Pray for the families of attendees. 

Most of the people in attendance leave wives and children behind at home. This can be a strain on many families who covet your prayers. Ask the Lord to give strength to wives and mothers, for children to be obedient and not get sick, and for all other chaos on the home front to be held to a minimum.

 

  1. Pray for the logistics.

To pull off a gathering of ten thousand people, you need a logistics miracle. Pray for disasters and distractions to be at a minimal and that everything from registration, to sound, to security, to book store stocking, to meals and beyond to go smoothly.

 

  1. Pray for the volunteers.

Over three hundred people travel to this conference, not simply to be served by the Word, but to serve those who are coming to hear the Word. Pray for them to serve others with the joy of Christ.

 

  1. Pray for churches to be edified. 

Hundreds upon hundreds of local churches have pastors or members in attendance this week. Pray for these congregations to be edified by those who will return with fresh vigor. Pray for delight in Jesus to spread among these churches and for great revival to occur among God’s people because of what happens here.

 

  1. Pray for unity.

At a conference where there is such a diverse group of believers, there is always opportunity for the evil one to stir up squabbles. Pray for brothers and sisters to humbly hold their convictions and aim to make much of Jesus who is the hope of all believers.

 

  1. Pray for people to love the Word.

This year’s conference focuses on the glory of the Protestant Reformation. This Reformation was birthed when God stirred a fresh understanding of His Word among His people. Pray that as the Word is preached and read and sang, that the Holy Spirit would stoke fresh fires of love for the Scriptures in the hearts of His people.

 

  1. Pray for attendees to long for heaven.

One of my favorite parts about the conference is seeing old friends. I delight in seeing their smiles, hearing their stories, and in sharing meals together. But then, we are forced to say good-bye. Some will leave early because of unplanned tragedies, and others will head home as they had planned. But there is something that saying sad “good-byes” does for us…It makes us long for that Land where we will never say good-bye again. Pray that God would use T4G to cultivate a longing for heaven where we will be gathered together once and for all with our heavenly Father. O Come Lord Jesus! Come!

 

  1. Pray for the Great Commission to be aided.

Between now and that Great Day when faith will be made sight, we have been called to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Pray that God would not allow this to just be another conference where we take home our books and notes and nothing changes. But rather, ask that God would use all the equipping and teaching and singing and planning to produce a movement of Spirit-empowered people who risk everything so that the Good News about Jesus will be taken to those who have never heard.

 

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

 

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When I was young, we took a family vacation to Maine. My father spent his summers there as a kid and wanted us to experience the beauty of its wooded wonderland. During our stay we did some fishing, went sailing, and ate as much lobster as you can before turning into one.

Near the end of the week, dad told us he had something to show us. So we piled into the car and drove along a dark, windy, pine tree-walled road that led out to an open field. The field was home to a tall, black-ironed fence that enclosed a well-kept acre of tombstones that dated back to the 1800s.

We were confused (and a little concerned) about why dad was taking us to a graveyard near the end of vacation—but we followed as he led us down a well-worn path that steered into the heart of the cemetery.

Gravestone - My Dear Young FriendWe watched as he and my aunt scanned tombstone after tombstone until they found the one they were looking for. As we made our way over to the sunken grave he asked us to gather around as he read from a gravestone that had nothing on it but this inscription:

“My dear young friend as you pass by,

remember you were born to die;

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now, so you shall be,

prepare to die and follow me.”

On that day, a no-named dead guy delivered a message that has never escaped my memory: you will die.

Of course that wasn’t the first time I’d heard this fact of life, but ever since that afternoon in the graveyard I have remembered the message and a few lessons from it.

Lessons from the Tombstone

1.  Death is coming.

“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

Death is the one appointment that all of us will keep. When it comes, it comes without discrimination. Death comes for the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, the light-skinned and the dark-skinned. Death takes Democrats and Republicans, men and women, young and old, married and single—death comes for us all.

Our date with death was secured for us long ago in a garden quite unlike that graveyard. It was a perfect Garden, one whose name meant “delight of the Lord.” But it was there in Eden that our first parents turned away from the Giver of Life.

God responded to Adam and Eve’s sin by placing a curse on them, and on all people who have come after them. The LORD told Adam that life would be interrupted and that he would “return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Since that day, life has a black cloud hanging over it reminding us that we were born to die.

2.  Death should stir reflection.

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2

Despite the fact that we know death is coming, we seem to do all we can to avoid considering it’s impending arrival. We prefer to turn up the volume of distraction and numb ourselves with entertainment. Wisdom however, teaches us to approach our deaths differently.

In what could be seen as morbid counsel, King Solomon prescribes his listeners to fill their time attending funerals instead of fiestas. Why? Because when you sit in a room with a casket and a lifeless body, your soul has an opportunity to be sobered.

In the quietness of that mortuary, you hear sniffles of sorrow similar to the ones that one day will be cried over you. You see flowers that lay on a box similar to one you in which you will be laid to rest. Your mind is given opportunity in those moments to consider that as they are now, so you shall be.

One of the oft-forgotten ministries of Moses was that of a funeral conductor. As he wandered in the wilderness for forty years, he buried an entire generation of people and wrote Psalm 90 as a reflection upon it. After remarking about the brevity of human life, Moses asked God to, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Wisdom is birthed out of an awareness that the sands of time are sinking from the hourglass of our lives. Every moment that we have sinks into a unretrievable arena that will one day be evaluated before God Almighty (Hebrews 9:27, Revelation 20:11-15). Our mortality ought move us to be wise with the days we have, which must include preparing for what comes after we die.

3.  Death is not the end.

“An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” John 5:28-29

During a later trip to the graveyard, my uncle found a note attached to the base of our memorable tombstone. The note read like this, “To follow you, I will not yet; Until I know which way you went.”

The witty chap who left this note was on to something. Our fallen friend had invited us to prepare to follow him, but before we follow him in death, it is important to know which way he went. You see, death is not the end—for any of us.

Death does not end our existence, it merely serves as a gateway into our next existence. Death is the doorway that leads to our final, eternal dwelling. While we cannot know which way our fallen anonymous friend went when he died, we can know which way we will go.

How? 

Because there is Another who was born to die, and born to live and give life to others. While He lived on the earth Jesus gave this promise, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me though he die yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Jesus was the Son of God who came to earth to die on a cross for sinners and then raise from the dead. Jesus calls us, while we have time, to repent of our sins and follow Him in belief. For those who do this, they are promised a future day of resurrection.

One day soon, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command…and the dead in Christ will rise first…then we who are alive…will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

 

And that is the hope of those who trust in Christ. We know that one day we will escape the grave’s grasp and be taken up to be with our Lord forevermore. This too can be your hope if do not know Jesus.

His message is similar to the one on that gravestone.

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now, so you shall be,

prepare to die and follow me.”

Jesus came as we were so that we might be as He is. He is coming soon, so let us prepare for our day of death by trusting in the One who died and rose and promises to raise us from the grave to be with Him and like Him forever more (1 John 3:2).

Come soon, O risen Lord Jesus!

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Followed by The God of Grace

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God's pursuing love followed me to Panama City Beach and drew a gracious line in the sand.

God’s pursuing love followed me to Panama City Beach where He drew a gracious line in the sand saying, “You are either for Me or against Me.”

It was early in my junior year at Virginia Tech—and I felt like everywhere I turned, God was following me around.

It all began a few months before, when a friend came to a Halloween party and talked to me about Jesus. And ever since that night, it seemed like I couldn’t escape what he had said. I believed God was real, but I was not ready to surrender my life of drugs, drinking, or dating. Yet at the same time, I couldn’t escape the sneaking suspicion that my friend was telling me the truth.

Several times that semester I found myself smoking a blunt, only to become compelled to flush it and pick up the Bible. One early morning I was reading and became so overwhelmed, I printed out portions of Revelation and nailed it to the apartment door of “the white devil” who had long been my cocaine dealer (yes, that freaked him out). On the weekends, I would party hard, but somehow attend a church on Sunday, regardless of how strung out I was from the night before.

My soul was conflicted. I loved the fleeting pleasures of sin, yet I felt as if I was being pursued by the One I later heard affectionally called “The Hound of Heaven.”

It was in the middle of all this soul searching that my buddy Adam suggested we take a trip to Panama City Beach for Spring Break. I wasn’t sure if I should, but it didn’t take much convincing for me to agree that I was just stressed out and that I needed a little fun in the sun to help clear my mind.

Redemptive Road Trip

As we drove with windows down and music blaring, we talked about life and school and girls—and about what I had been reading in the Bible. I told Adam that I was seeing things in a new light and I was feeling like God was showing Himself to me everywhere I went. Adam was a good friend and he listened, but I’m sure he thought I was going crazy.

As we neared Panama City Beach I noticed a plane flying overhead pulling a banner behind it. As it drew closer I could make out that it read, “Jesus Loves You – John 3:16.”

I pointed my arm out the window and told Adam, “Look, God is following me around.”

Once we arrived at the hotel, we dropped our bags in the room and headed to the beach. We anchored our chairs in the sand and cracked open a pair of cold ones. After a while I noticed what looked like a small herd of students talking to people around us and handing out little booklets. A couple guys came over to where we were sitting, gave me a pamphlet and told me that “God had a wonderful plan for my life.” After we talked for a few minutes, they made their way down the beach and I turned to Adam and said, “See, I told you, God is following me around.”

We laughed it off and headed back to the room. That evening we went to a club until closing time when we made our way out to the curb to call a cab. But no sooner than we got there, three vans pulled up with holy roller graffiti on the side that read “God loves you!”, “Believe the Gospel!” and “Jesus saves!” The drivers got out, offering free rides for anyone who needed it. We declined the ride, but as we walked away I looked over and said, “Adam, I’m not making this stuff up, I think God is following me.”

The next day was a little rainy and we decided to lay low at the hotel. At some point in the night, I found some weed and smoked myself hungry. I found Adam and we made our way to the Waffle House across the street. I told Adam that I felt like God was making me feel bad for the way I was living and I didn’t know what to do. As we scarfed down our waffles he looked at me and said, “bro, I think you need to stop doing the drugs, they’re messing with your mind.”

Within minutes, the door to the Waffle House opened up and a flood of about 30 loud and laughing people carrying Bibles came into the restaurant and took seats all around us. One of the guys walked straight up to our table and said “hey, my name is Shelby, do you go to Virginia Tech?” We said yes, introduced ourselves and then he asked me, “have I ever seen you at a church in Blacksburg?” I told him I had visited a few and that it was possible.

He explained that he was with a group called Campus Crusade for Christ and that he would like to meet up with me when we got back to school to talk about God and the Bible. We exchanged information and he headed off.

After he was gone, Adam turned, stared at me in the eyes and said, “Dude, God is following you around!”

A Line In the Sand

The next day I took a walk on the beach before dusk. As I did, I saw a girl sitting by herself staring at the ocean. I wasn’t sure why but I felt like I was supposed to go over and talk to her. I said hello and asked her how she was and if she had been in the water. She kindly replied and said the water was a little too cold for her.

I said something stupid like, “yeah I’d have to have a case of beer before I got in there.” She looked at me and said, “you know, I don’t know about that, but God has taught me that Jesus is all I need to be happy.” It was a pretty serious Jesus juke, but it didn’t surprise me.  I told her that I had been thinking a lot about God and asked her to pray for me.

As I walked toward the hotel, a lady in a beach wheelchair and another guy my age signaled for me to come over to them. I knew this was another divine set up, but I felt like it would be bad to run from a woman in a wheelchair, so I made my way over to them.

The lady’s name was Stacy James and after a few get to know you questions, she looked at me and said, “Garrett, what do you know about Jesus?” I don’t remember much else that she said except that God wanted me to know that I had to choose to either be for Him or against Him because I could not be both (Matthew 12:30).

That beach trip proved to be a true line in the sand for me.

When I returned to school I began meeting with Shelby and he helped me to understand the basics of what it meant to walk with Jesus. And since that trip, I have been for Jesus. This is not because of something wise or wonderful in me, but rather, for some eternally mysterious reason, God had set His affections on me and chased me down.

I tried to run, tried to hide, tried to explain His pursuit away, but in the end, I found His grace to be irresistible.

I’d like to leave you with two thoughts…

  1. God follows you because He loves you.

If you are reading this and know God has been following you around too, I plead with you to stop your running. God chases you down, not to do you harm, but to rescue you.

One of God’s prophets named Isaiah once described our running this way, “we all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Following our own way seems like it leads to life, but in the end it is quite the opposite. Proverbs 14:12 says “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Running from God leads only to judgment by God (Revelation 20:11-15).

Yet because God loves running rebels, He sent His Son Jesus to come and rescue us from our wandering toward destruction. Jesus came as the “good shepherd” who “lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11).

What that means is that Jesus came to earth to die on a cross and receive the judgment we deserve for the way we sinned against God. But then Jesus rose from the dead and now calls all people, including you, to turn from their sin and receive forgiveness from Him (Acts 2:38, 17:30-31). God follows you because He loves you. So stop your running and surrender to the One who watches over your soul (1 Peter 2:25).

  1. God uses you to follow those He loves. 

Do not underestimate how important it is to always be throwing Gospel seed wherever you go. Whether we are on a beach, in a Waffle House, flying a plane, driving drunk people home, or doing normal life; remember that God is working to call His people to Himself—and He is using you to do it.

My wife regularly reminds me that “every brief encounter is from the Lord.” It may be a full Gospel conversation on a short-term mission trip or it may be simply asking a cashier how you can pray for them. God uses all sorts of “brief encounters” to awaken Gospel interest in the hearts of His elect.

The question is, are you actively seeking ways to help others hear the good news of the sinner-seeking Savior?

The year after my trip to Panama City Beach, I went back, but this time it wasn’t to party. Instead, I went with the same group whom God used to reach out to me the year before. I share that only to illustrate that God loves to use the most unlikely of people for His purposes.

So if you feel inadequate in sharing the good news about Jesus with others, do not allow that to stop you. Remember that God is the great Evangelist, He is simply allowing you to share in the joy of helping others come to know Him.

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Love is a Risk Worth Taking

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coffee-shop-mug

I was reading in a coffee shop recently when I noticed a young man sitting across from me who was speaking angrily under his breath. His head was tilted downward and his body was tense and trembling. As I watched, he began hitting himself in the arm and the chest. Then he bit his hand so hard that I grimaced.

There I sat with the Bible open in front of me, but completely unsure of how God wanted me to respond.

I prayed, asked for wisdom, but continued to sit, trying not to stare. The man seemed out of control, and I wasn’t sure how he would respond if I approached him.

While I remained paralyzed with uncertainty, a lady walked over to the man, knelt down next to his chair, looked him in the eyes and said, “Hello, my name is Lori, what’s your name?”

She carried on a short conversation with him, asked him what his name was, what he was drinking, and then mentioned that she noticed he seemed to be upset and asked if he was OK.

He smiled, looked away with a touch of shame, and shared that he had Tourette Syndrome and that he was just having a hard day. She thanked him for talking to her and encouraged him to be careful and not hurt himself. She walked out the door and headed toward her car.

I was moved by her courage and compassion, so I caught up with her in the parking lot (trying not to be creepy) and thanked her for the way she showed such love to the man she didn’t know.

She said, “I saw everyone staring at him, but I couldn’t just watch him struggling like that. I was afraid he might hit me, but I thought it would be better for me to risk being hurt than for me to just let him hurt alone.”

I don’t know if Lori was a Christian or not, but her love reflected Christ’s love—and I was deeply rebuked.

I thanked her for her kindness, and went back to my table. After a few minutes, I saw the young man hitting himself again. Encouraged by Lori’s example, I went over, introduced myself and began talking with him. As he struggled, I asked him if there was anything I could do to help. He lifted his teary eyes to mine and said, “pray, if you are the praying kind of person.”

Brian turned out to be a Christian. Rebuked, again.

I had withheld love from a brother in Christ because he was acting in a way that wasn’t “normal.”

We talked for a little while about what God had been teaching him recently. He shared about his love for God and how faithful the Lord had been to him despite what he faced each day. His words were sincere and I could tell they came from a grace-filled wound. When we finished, we prayed together, he thanked me, and after a few minutes, he headed on his way.

And I was left to sit with my open Bible, lukewarm coffee, and a few lessons I hope never fade.

 

  1. Love is a risk worth taking.

Lori reminded me that love is willing to risk. She was willing to risk a punch to the face because she knew that Brian needed to be loved rather than ignored or stared at. Love is often risky, and always worth it. Having an open Bible and acknowledging that every page is God’s inerrant word is good, but if it does not move me to love, it means nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

The Lord Jesus used a similar scene to rebuke the Pharisees in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). There we find that being a good neighbor is marked by proactive love that overlooks all racial, political, cultural, and social barriers in order to extend love to those in need. Should safety be taken into consideration? Certainly. But as David Platt has said, “Because Christ has died and risen from the dead, safety is not our priority.”

Lori took the risk of loving Brian, and in the process showed me the lesson Jesus taught through the Good Samaritan. Her love was risky, but it was worth it.

 

  1. Love is good medicine.

I have a history of mental illness in my family, so I am keenly aware of the complexities that so many people deal with each day. That being said, I have often seen how God uses gracious displays of tangible love to bring peace to people, regardless of where they are on the mental health spectrum.

Ligon Duncan once shared a story of twin eighteen-month-old boys who had been passed through the foster care system. In their first year and a half of life they had been in nine homes, almost all of which had been abusive. That was until a couple from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School agreed to house the twins. After a difficult first few days, the parents were told by psychologists that the children would never be “affectively normal” because of terrible abuse they had suffered. Despite the warning, they kept the boys in their home for nearly two years. During this time the boys developed remarkably and the doctors could find no other explanation for their turnaround other than the love they had received. God brought healing to those young children through the Christ-like love of their foster parents.

We live in a cold world filled with broken people who feel they have little reason to rejoice. But God uses various acts of kindness to lift the spirits of the suffering. Kindness is not a throwaway Hallmark idea. It is fruit of the Holy Spirit that can break through brokenness to strengthen suffering souls (Galatians 5:22-23). Brain was strengthened by kindness that day, and so was I.

 

  1. I’m glad Jesus loves better than me.

I am increasingly thankful that Jesus does not show love to “normal” people. Why? Because none of us are “normal” before God.

The fall has marred us all. And though we may not suffer with the illness Brian does, we are all broken like Brian is. No part of our being is “normal.” We are emotionally, sexually, mentally, physically and spiritually broken. Sin has ravished us and made us far stranger to God than Brian’s illness did to some “normal” people in a coffee shop.

But it is into that brokenness that Jesus entered. He left the peaceful palace of glory and stepped down into our world of pain. He came to show compassion to sinners and to rescue us from all our self-destructive behaviors.

Jesus came to love people who could do nothing in return for Him. Romans 5:8 says it like this, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God loves sinners like us by forgiving us for all the ways we withhold love from those we think are unworthy or unapproachable. But it is through this forgiving love that we are also compelled to show God’s love to the people He places in our path (2 Corinthians 5:14-21).

This love is often risky, but it is a risk worth taking.

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The Sweet Freedom of Ditching My Smartphone

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Andrew Sherwood is a personal friend whom I asked to write a reflection about why he ditched his smartphone. I hope his words serve you as you pursue “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

 smartphone

 

“You want a phone that doesn’t get the internet? You mean you have an iPhone but want to go back to a flip-phone? Can I ask why?” You could tell the wireless salesman thought I was pranking him.

“I’m addicted to my iPhone,” I replied.

I pitched my iPhone for a basic no-internet flip phone a few months ago. First, let me say plainly: I believe getting rid of my iPhone is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my adult life.

That’s not because I believe it is wrong, sinful, or always unwise to have a smartphone, but because I discovered I was too immature and too undisciplined to use it well.

Perhaps you’re wrestling with some vague sense of dissatisfaction from a technology addiction and hopefully the below is helpful to you as you think about what to do next. Personally, I overestimated what my iPhone would give to me and I underestimated what it would take from me.

Here is some of fruit I’ve seen since pitching it:

Purity

“Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned” (Proverbs 6:27). Praise God if you don’t struggle with sensual temptations on your smartphone. But if you do, why carry constant temptations around with you 16 hours a day? For years, I made lame and unwise excuses about keeping my phone rather than pitching it. But the flame from these things is real and the burns run deep. You can lose your soul to an iPhone. Your soul. For a phone. Deepak Reju’s article on this aspect of temptation is 
fantastic.

Increased Focus on Things that Matter

Do you ever get a nagging sense of conviction when you’re supposed to be paying attention to your wife, kids, discipleship companion, pastor, sermon, etc. and you ever-so- quietly click on the power button to check your phone? I did. Thousands of times, actually. My daughter would happily run over from the playground and find me nose down, buried in some sports equivalent to People magazine. Truthfully, I’m sickened over the memories I should have made with my family that were instead empty moments spent with my 
iPhone.

In Psalm 90:12, Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days carefully, so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” The sands of time are sinking – and I will give an account on That Day of the grains of sand wrongly given to frivolity instead of stewarding the good gifts God has graciously provided me through the people in my life.

Increased Prayer

I used to check my iPhone at stoplights, carpool lines, walking someplace — anywhere I had even a moment’s downtime. Without my smartphone, there are new opportunities to pray throughout the day. The ant principle seems to apply here (Proverbs 6:6) – over time, the small windows to pray pile up into storehouses full of brief prayers to my heavenly Father.

Living Without the Low-Pitched Hum of Anticipation

Being plugged in to a broader world of Twitter, e-mail, and instant news made for a precarious idol in my life. Even when physically putting my phone away for a few hours during family time, my heart was often going through the motions when eating a family meal, putting my kids to bed, or talking to my wife. It wasn’t just distraction I was dealing with: it was a problem of dissatisfaction that nothing but “plugging back in” would satisfy.

After getting the kids down to bed, I would sit down on the couch and immediately light up my phone, checking emails and social media. I was getting my fix (though my desires were never satiated). My wife might interject a kind comment like “Hey, how was your day?” and my immediate emotional response was one of annoyance or worse, anger. I noticed that I was frantic for updates when being without my phone for even a few hours. Have I ever honestly yearned for God’s Word or His presence as much as my phone? Just check my phone log of time spent on Twitter vs. my time in God’s Word and you’ll see what I really cared about. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Reading More (Actual) Books

I underestimated the time I would spend reading junk on my phone. Every night in bed, every morning when I woke up and the countless slivers of stolen time in between. There has been such refreshment in keeping my Bible and a few library books near me to read whenever I have free time. I’m sure there’s some way to usually read really good stuff on your smartphone that feeds and waters the mind and soul but I’m far from disciplined enough to do that.

“This is the greatest gift you’ve ever given me”

“When you had your smartphone, you were a walking vending machine of whatever you’d ingested that day. It was difficult to talk about deeper things that mattered because you were constantly distracted by internet litter. You’re now able to focus and give necessary attention to deeper issues. More of what we talk about comes from your heart rather than your Twitter feed.” – My Wife

Healthy Connection to My Humanness

I’m not anti-technology (I’m writing this post on a computer). I’m a graduate student and use technology for a lot of what I work on—and I’m thankful for it. But I also feel like I’m sort of an idiot. If Google Maps doesn’t tell me how to get somewhere, I’m lost even if I’ve driven to the place ten times before. And remembering something? Forget it—I have to put it into my phone.

There’s something about that neuro-rewiring that leaves me puzzled (read “The Shallows” for more on this) and unsure about what it’s ultimately doing to my ability to think. These days, I’m actually looking around at the streets I drive on, figuring out how to get places and forcing myself to remember things people tell me. There’s nothing inherently virtuous about these changes but there is a palpable sense of freedom when I do them.

I was taking a walk with my daughter a few weeks ago when she looked up and said “Daddy, I like having conversations with you. You’re good to talk to.” The irony. Sad thing is, I’m not that great to talk to. I’ve trained myself to zone out and to communicate to others “My phone and whatever it has on it is more important than you.” I don’t want that to be true another second of my life.

The Puritan preacher Thomas Watson once wrote “Sin hangs weights upon us so that we move but slowly to Heaven.” Those weights are often placed upon us slowly, over time, so that we get used to the pressure of them before sin adds more. And then the slower …and slower………and slower we move.

Is your phone a weight slowing your path to Heaven? A coal you’re heaping in your lap? A thief you paid $500 to steal things that matter?

Prayerfully ask God and those around you.

What is your phone for you?

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Why I Plan to Read Less of the Bible This Year (2016 Edition)

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“Let us strive, every year we live, to become more deeply acquainted with Scripture.” ~ J.C. Ryle

Open Bible

 

Regularly reading God’s Word is one of the most important things we can do. We live in a world that constantly lies to us, and our hearts are prone to believe those lies. But in His mercy, God has given us His Word to guide and guard us. He has “granted to us His precious and very great promises” to renew our minds and refresh our hearts (2 Peter 1:4). As much as we need food to live physically, we need God’s Word to live spiritually (Matthew 4:4).

The turn of the New Year offers a natural time to reset (or recommit) to regularly reading God’s Word. Of course there’s nothing magical about the New Year, but it serves as a natural time to make changes in our lives as we seek to grow in Christ-likeness. For me, one of the changes I’ve made over the past years is that I plan to read less of the Bible each year; and I’ve found that less can actually be more.

For most of my Christian life (since 1999), I’ve been following a Read the Bible in a Year plan. I was introduced to this idea early on as “the thing to do” and ever since I’ve found it to be a pretty typical goal for many Christians. I’ve enjoyed this plan, but to be honest, I’ve never finished the plan in a year. There, I said it. I’ve never finished the Read the Bible in a Year Plan.

Some years I’ve made it further than others and by God’s grace I’ve never gone more than a few days without spending time in the Scriptures. But over the years I’ve been riddled with guilt for failing to finish the plan and for rushing through some portions of the plan just to check it off. In my younger years as a Christian, this guilt was more debilitating, but even today I know my propensity to commit to something like reading the Bible in a Year plan and then fell guilty when I fail to do it.

To be clear, I’m not taking a flamethrower to spiritual disciplines. If we don’t “discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7-8) we are in sin and our hearts will grow cold toward God. Reading the Bible regularly won’t make you more godly, but you won’t become more godly if you don’t spend time in God’s Word. It is wise to make humble plans that are aimed at helping yourself and others grow in godliness.

I also want to be clear that I’m not against the Read the Bible in a Year Plan. It’s an excellent goal and very achievable. In fact, I had one friend who after his conversion read through the Bible deeply twice in just under a year. So, what our plan is seems less important to me. What is most important is that we commit to deeply reading God’s Word in the hopes that we will grow in our love for Christ.

Thomas Brooks, in his classic work Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices gives helpful instruction here, “Remember, it is not hasty reading—but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee’s touching of the flower, which gathers honey—but her abiding for a time upon the flower, which draws out the sweet. It is not he who reads most—but he who meditates most, who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.”

With that in mind, here are a few ideas for your consideration.

Make a plan.

As Don Carson rightly said, “no one drifts toward holiness.” If we just go with the flow, we will eventually be swept away with the current of idleness and sin. In light of this, it is wise to make humble plans to draw near to God and fulfill His purposes (Prov. 6:6-8, 21:5, 24:27; Matthew 6:33, 25:1-13; Luke 14:28; James 4:13-17). As you think about what plan you intend to use, I’d encourage you to look at this excellent post by Justin Taylor. As for me, here’s the three-fold path I’m planning to take this year.

       First, I plan to read the passage that will be preached on the next Lord’s Day. If I’m preaching this will be a necessity since I’m hoping to live better than I preach, but if I’m not preaching, I plan to study ahead to get the most out of the sermon. Our church publishes what we’re preaching on in advance with the hope that our congregation will come having already soaked in the text, hungry for more.

       Second, I plan to pick one Bible book a month to study deeply. In January, a few friends and I are studying Ecclesiastes. For the month we will read and re-read it. We plan to outline it, chart it, and memorize portions of it. Then in February, I’ll select another book with a similar approach, though hopefully improved by January’s attempt. By doing this I’m able to meditate deeply on one book, something I felt I was missing in other seasons of my life. Some months I may do multiple books if they are short (i.e. In November I did 1, 2 and 3 John).

       Third, I plan to read other books of the Bible in one sitting throughout the year. To avoid neglecting other portions of the Scriptures, I have a list of the books of the Bible in my journal and plan to regularly step away for an hour or two throughout the year and just read them straight through. In January I’ll plan to read through 1 & 2 Kings and the pastoral epistles. Though I have not finished my Bible Reading Plan in a year, it is rare for me to not read most / all / more than the whole Bible in a year.

Partner Up.

I encourage you to not keep your plan by yourself. Find another brother or sister in your local church who you enjoy spending time together with and ask them to join you in this journey. Commit to a month or two or whatever works for you, but don’t do this alone.

As I mentioned above, a few guys I’m discipling and I are going through Ecclesiastes together in January. We will get together a couple times during the month to discuss what we’re reading, but we’ll email or text or talk on the phone more regularly about what we’re learning and what we are struggling to understand. You don’t have to work out your plan with someone else, but I’ve certainly benefited from it.

In case your’e wondering, I plan the first 6 months and then plan the rest of the year’s reading in June. We’re planning to read Galatians in February, Isaiah in March, 2 Corinthians in April, and Nehemiah and Ezra in May.

Remember Why You’re Reading.

The reason we read the Scriptures isn’t just to check off boxes and make ourselves feel like we’ve accomplished something for God. The Scriptures aren’t an end in themselves, God is the end. As we plan to seek Him, however we do it, we must come with the supreme goal of loving Him more and obeying what He teaches us when we do read. If our plans become traps for guilt and discouragement—then plan to scrap your plan and do something else.

The most important thing in this moment and in the moments that make up next year is that we draw nearer to God through His Son Jesus. His Word teaches us how to do this, so let us plan to draw near with great hope because of promises like these from the Prophet Isaiah,

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight ourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…” Isaiah 55:1-3

May the Lord bless us with His rich and gracious supply as we read His Word in 2016.

 

 

 

Picture courtesy of Keith Ferrin.

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It’s a Good Time to Remember, Reflect, and Resolve

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“Consider your ways.” Haggai 1:5

The Lord gave this sobering command to His people after they drifted from rebuilding His temple in 520BC. They began well, but when opposition came, their faithfulness fizzled out. Left in the weeds was God’s house, overgrown due to lack of attention. But the Lord graciously intervened and the people reflected, repented, and reengaged in the work He had entrusted to them.

Most of us would probably do well to “consider our ways.” If you’re anything like me, you get overloaded and feel a persistent strain on your devotion to God. We get distracted and begin to drift, and as D.A. Carson says, “we do not drift toward holiness.”

If we don’t regularly take time to evaluate our heart, we can, often unknowingly, drift into sluggish and sinful patterns.

To fight against this deadly drifting, it’s wise to prayerfully consider our ways. And while there’s nothing magical about doing this at the turn of the year, a completed calendar does provide a natural opportunity to intentionally remember, reflect, and resolve with hopes of developing deeper devotion to Christ in the year ahead.

 

Take Time to Remember

The turn of the New Year has become one of my favorite times of the year. It’s not because I’m stoked to see Pitbull’s New Year’s Revolution (how did he get invited back?), but rather because of a tradition my wife and I have kept over the years.

Shortly after the turn of the calendar page, my bride and I sit down with lists we’ve compiled separately. Preparing the lists is a sweet time for us and we’re both usually anxious to share their contents with each other.

The first list is of the five things we’re most thankful for from the past year.

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old.  I will ponder all Your work, and meditate on Your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:11-12

Taking time to remember what God has done over a whole year is sweet for our souls. We tend to forget the many mercies that fill our day, but we’ve found that preparing our lists helps us think back through the peaks and valleys of the past year. During that journey we’re afforded a prime opportunity to remember God’s goodness. During our time of sharing we’re often reminded of things we’d forgotten and blessed to see how God used the same event to affect us in different ways.

What are you thankful for from this past year? Who can you share these memories with?

 

The second is a list is of five things we’re hoping for God to do in the year ahead.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.” Psalm 37:4-5

Over the years that we’ve done our New Years reflecting, I’ve sensed that our trust in God has deepened. He has proven faithful, but usually in ways we hadn’t planned for.

We’ve seen Him carry us through miscarriages when we’d prayed for babies. We’ve seen Him close doors we’d hoped for while opening other doors that led into greener pastures.We’ve seen Him say yes to things we asked for, and often in ways we hadn’t even considered possible. When we look back on the passport of our lives we find that the pages are stamped by His perfectly faithful hand.

God’s past faithfulness strengthens our present hope to believe in His future faithfulness. We have full confidence that our God will answer every one of our prayers in ways that are better than we can ask them (Matthew 7:7-11). He knows what we don’t know and sees what we don’t see. We have come to delight in this truth, even when it’s tough.

Since God has been so good to us in the past, we find great joy in looking with hopeful expectation toward the future. We’ve found that if we aren’t prayerfully trusting God for great things, our faith can grow weak and we can slip into spiritual cruise control.

This list helps us to trust God to do specific things in the year ahead. Our lists often include the names of people we hope God will save, particular sins we desire to experience victory over, or ways we hope to see God move in our church. This list stirs us to hope in God because we know He delights in doing great things for His people (Ephesians 3:20-21).

 What big things are you trusting God for in the year to come? Who can join you in praying for these things?

 

Reflect on Your Heart

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any previous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24

The Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. We need Him to open our eyes to see where our hearts have strayed from His ways. One of the best ways unearth the calloused soil of our hearts is by considering heart-probing questions. Questions serve us uniquely because they force us to step into the light as we answer them.

A number of years ago a friend shared with me a list prepared by Dr. Donald Whitney that contained questions “to prayerfully ask in the presence of God.” These questions are designed to help us do the kind of heart work that we all desperately need.

Below are the first 10 questions, but a full list of 31 questions can be found here. 

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

 

Whether you consider these questions alone or with someone else, they will be well worth your time.

 

Resolve to Go Deeper

 Most New Year’s resolutions have something to do with losing a few pounds, getting on a budget, or to make our communities a better place. Those resolutions may be good, but Christians shouldn’t stop there. Remember that “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” 1 Timothy 4:8.

Our resolutions should primarily center on growing in godliness, not just in reducing our waist size. The best model I’ve ever seen of making spiritual resolutions is Jonathan Edwards. When he was 19 he composed a list of 70 resolutions that he committed to re-reading each week in hopes of keeping them faithfully. Matt Perman developed a thematic arrangement of these resolutions that you should check out. 

Here are a few of Edwards’ resolutions that I strive to keep as well:

#7 – “Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.”

#14 – “Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.”

#22 – “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can…”

#30 – “Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.”

#67 – “Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.”

Whatever your resolutions may be, here are two things to keep in mind.

1.      God gives us grace to keep our resolutions.

We must not fall into the trap of making resolutions that lead us to rely on ourselves. Jesus said “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God gives grace to do what we resolve (1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:13) and He gives us grace when we fail to keep our resolutions (1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 12:9). God promises to give us grace and as Matthew Henry said “God’s promises to us are more powerful and effectual for the mortifying of sin than our promises to God.”

2.      Don’t find righteousness in keeping your resolutions.

God won’t love you more because you make it to the gym more often.

God won’t love you more because you finish the Bible in a year.

God won’t love you more or less because of how many people you witnessed to.

God won’t love you more if you fast twice a week.

We should resolve to grow in practical righteousness, but we must not look to our resolution-keeping for our positional righteousness. Our righteousness is found in the One who resolved to die on a cross for sinners who failed at their resolutions toward self-improvement. Our justification is found only in a resurrected Savior who clothes us in His righteousness. Rest in the righteousness Christ gives us through faith, not in any kind of righteousness we resolve to achieve.

So, let us be a people who remember, reflect, and resolve with the hope that God will deepen our love for Christ and guard us from drifting from His perfect ways.

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Remembering this Can Keep You From Sinning

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“The ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord and He watches all His steps.” Proverbs 5:21

Sin hates darkness because it hates to be seen for what it is. This is why cloudy minds are the devil’s playground. The less clearly we think about sin, the more likely we are to gladly give into its offerings.

Our interns recently read J.C. Ryle’s Thoughts for Young men, and one of them reminded me of this sobering section from the book. I pray the Lord might use it to sober your heart as He did mine.

“The sound of a footstep coming has stopped many a deed of wickedness. A knock at the door has caused many an evil work to be hastily suspended, and hurriedly laid aside. But oh, what miserable folly is all this! There is an all seeing Witness with us wherever we go. Lock the door, pull down the blind, turn out the light; it doesn’t matter, it makes no difference; God is everywhere, you cannot shut Him out, or prevent His seeing.” – J.C. Ryle – Thoughts for Young Men (pg. 48-49).

Lord, keep us sober-minded that our hearts may always be set upon pleasing you, not our sinful longings.

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How Grace Triumphed Over Empty “gospels” – Toni Meadors’ Baptism Testimony

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toni meadorsOn Sunday, I had the honor of baptizing Toni Meadors. What follows is her account of how Jesus delivered her from trusting in empty Gospels by showing her the Gospel of His saving grace.

I grew up going to church and hearing about Jesus, but I had a shallow understanding of salvation. I spent most of my teen years believing I was a good girl because I didn’t follow the path many around me took. However, when I turned 17 years old, I followed the “gospel of the world” and got involved in all kinds of reckless behavior of which I am now ashamed to speak.  Eventually, because I was afraid of the consequences of my behavior, I told my mom what I had been doing and she took me to church.

That Sunday I walked an aisle, said a prayer, and sobbed rivers of tears.  At that point, I thought I had become a Christian. But that was not the case. The church I was attending increasingly began to teach the “prosperity gospel,” so for a long time I saw God as a means of personal fulfillment and gain.

Once I understood the fallacy of that gospel, I began attending a First Baptist Church.  The teaching was better, but looking back I see now that I learned and believed a “moral gospel” that taught me how to be a good person without any inward transformation.  During this time, I met and married my husband Tim, whom I love very much.  The army moved us around and we ended up in Virginia.  We attended church together, yet, I created lots of distress in our marriage because I had no power to recognize or fight sin in my life.

Despite my inability to truly love my husband, I was able to deceive myself (and everyone else) into believing that I was a born again Christian. I attended church, listened to Christian radio, was actively involved in a ladies’ Bible study group, had a quiet time every day, was passionate about conservative politics, gave money to various ministries, and even shared my faith. But looking back, I believed the lie of the “works-based gospel” and didn’t understand that I could never do enough to make myself right and acceptable before the Lord.

By God’s grace, 13 years after my initial profession of faith, I started listening to John Macarthur’s sermons online.  Initially, I did not like what he said as he continually preached about the great sinfulness of man and of a Christ who came to save men from their sins.  Through his preaching, God opened my eyes and I saw the multitude of sins for which I was guilty.

I saw the empty, sinful soul that was hiding behind the mask of morality and the mask of religion.  By His grace the Lord opened my eyes to see the truth, and for the first time, I embraced the Gospel of God’s grace. I believed the good news that God’s Son Jesus Christ saves and redeems men from their many and great sins, and from the punishment they deserve.

Shortly after God gave me this new life, we moved to Kentucky.  I attended a Gospel preaching church and began to read lots of theology.  Unfortunately, although I was born again, I began to become puffed up and was not loving my family as I should. My pride hindered me from humbly living out the Gospel that had saved me.

But once again, God showed me mercy, and brought me to Del Ray where I have learned that right theology and love can and must coexist.  I am by no means a perfect wife, mother, daughter, or friend but with God’s help I am learning day by day how to love and to live for His glory.

So, I am here today to be baptized in obedience to the command of my Lord and Savior.  I am here to identify with the One who bore my sins, took my place, died in my stead, and was buried and rose again for my justification.  I am here to publicly proclaim my intention to walk with Jesus in the newness of life for the rest of my life.

 

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

 

Praise God whose Gospel of grace triumphs all other false “gospels!”

 

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Heaven Is a Holy Place, Do You Really Want To Go There?

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At a recent retreat, pastor Mike McKinley challenged the men of our church to consider whether heaven was a place we would really want to go when we die.

As he explained, heaven is a holy place. A place where sin is not enjoyed, but rather its defeat is celebrated. There will be no love of sin in that land, only love of God—and the enjoying of His holiness. If we are longing to go to heaven, it is a longing aimed at being with God, and being like Him in His perfect purity.

Heaven is a holy place. Do you really want to go there?

To help us consider this question, he shared this wonderful reflection by J.C. Ryle.

Suppose for a moment that you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself and by whose side would you sit? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes are not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy, if you had not been holy on earth?

Now perhaps you love the company of the light and careless, the worldly-minded and the covetous, the reveler and the pleasure-seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There will be none such in heaven.

Now perhaps you think the saints of God too strict and particular and serious. You rather avoid them. You have no delight in their society. There will be no other company in heaven.

Now perhaps you think praying and Scripture reading, and hymn singing, dull and melancholy and stupid work, a thing to be tolerated now and then, but not enjoyed. You reckon the Sabbath a burden and a weariness; you could not possibly spend more than a small part of it in worshipping God. But remember, heaven is a never-ending Sabbath. The inhabitants thereof rest not day and night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” and singing the praise of the Lamb. How could an unholy man find pleasure in occupation such as this?

Think you that such a one would delight to meet David and Paul and John, after a life spent in doing the very things they spoke against? Would he take sweet counsel with them and find that he and they had much in common? Think you, above all, that he would rejoice to meet Jesus, the crucified One, face to face, after cleaving to the sins for which He died, after loving His enemies and despising His friends? Would he stand before Him with confidence and join in the cry, “This is our God… we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:9)? 

Think you not rather that the tongue of an unholy man would cleave to the roof of his mouth with shame, and his only desire would be to be cast out? He would feel a stranger in a land he knew not, a black sheep amid Christ’s holy flock. The voice of cherubim and seraphim, the song of angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, would be a language he could not understand. The very air would seem an air he could not breathe.

I know not what others may think, but to me it does seem clear that heaven would be a miserable place to an unholy man. It cannot be otherwise. People may say, in a vague way, they “hope to go to heaven”, but they do not consider what they say… We must be heavenly-minded, and have heavenly tastes, in the life that now is, or else we shall never find ourselves in heaven, in the life to come.” – JC Ryle, Holiness

Do you really want to go to that land of holiness? If so, the pursuit of holiness must mark our lives today (Hebrews 12:14). We must be pure in heart, so that you can see God by faith in this life, and by unhindered sight in the life to come (Matthew 5:8).

So I ask you, do you want to go to heaven and be holy? Then take consideration of what stands in the way of you becoming more like Jesus today. What hinders your progress in holiness? Identify it and kill it (Romans 8:13). Pray that God would give you strength, so that by His grace, you might take another step toward that holy land where sin will be no more.

Pray for me to do the same.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

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