What Not to Say to Your Professor…

My dad is a professor. my mom has been a professor. My older brother is a professor. They all tell me stories. This is real.

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The Seductive Song of Self-Pity

Her voice is soft and melodic; it’s sweet to the ear and soothing to the tired heart. She whispers not during the seasons of joy, but instead during those times of trial. When you’re tired and weary. When the responsibility is great, and when busyness abounds. I feel her scratch my itching ears with her words, saying just what I wish I heard from the people around me. And here’s what she sounds like:

“No one understands what’s happening in your life.”

“No one knows how much you have to bear.”

“No one sympathizes with the weight of responsibility.”

“Sure, you could try to tell someone, but what good would that do?”

She sings this seductive song of self-pity over and over again. And with each beautiful refrain, I find myself nodding my head in agreement and descending further into my own isolation, insulated by the determination that no one indeed does understand the season of life in which I find myself. She sings, and I listen, and it feels really good. My resentment is justified; my sense of pride in hard work is bolstered; my superiority over others who, unlike me, aren’t awake at this hour or aren’t sacrificing like I am is built.

Self-pity is a ladder builder; she helps me construct that apparatus which I climb on so I can peer smugly over the heads of those I’ve left far below me.

And it feels so good. What makes it feel even better is, unlike so many times when you have the sense your pride is wrong and unjustified, in the case of self-pity, it feels right. That’s the best kind of pride of all.

And that’s the worst kind of pride of all.

It’s the kind of pride that mitigates any sacrifice you or I might make because it devalues those you are supposedly sacrificing for. That supposed sacrifice is only another means of bolstering our already well-bolstered egos.

Will you make sacrifices today? Will you get up early or stay up late? Will you find yourself doing things that others will not? Do you find yourself in a season of trial? If you do, then she will be singing to you, and her song will be sweet, reminding you just how special you are and how (though she would never say it like this), much better you are.

Though we might hear the seductive song of self-pity, there is another song we might play louder in our souls. We can crank up the volume on this one so that it drowns out the sappy resonance of self-indulgence. This new song is a lot older. And it’s lyrics are a lot better. The tune builds as you sing each line, and it’s focus is not on the anemic sacrifices we make but on the true and great sacrifice that was made on our behalf. It’s the song that the self-righteous and self-focused have sung for years as a means of taking their focus off of themselves and putting it where it belongs:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very natureGod,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Play it again Lord. And I’ll turn it up.

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An Old School Scripture Memory System That’s So Simple It Just Might Work

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When to Stop Chasing Your Dream

I live in a city of broken dreams. Walk into virtually any coffee shop or restaurant in Nashville, TN, and you can find someone working hard there doing something that is wildly contrary to what they originally came to this city to do.

They didn’t set out to be a server; they didn’t plan on being a barista. In fact, they might have a demo CD in their trunk even as they are pushing food or coffee out of the kitchen. There are those who look at their present state as a stopgap, confident that at some point they will make the right contact or find the right opportunity and their music career will take off. Sometimes it happens that way; most of the time it does not. And so there are also those there who are struggling with the discrepancy between what they envisioned their future to be and the trajectory they are currently on.

And it feels to them like they are dying inside. With every cup of coffee and every plate of food, they are shriveling slowly, but methodically, into a shell of bitterness and resentment.

Dreams are wonderful things; they fill us with hope and optimism; they make us view every day with new possibilities and cause us to spring with joy at the prospect that “today might just be the day.” They are wonderful, that is, until they aren’t any more. It’s at that moment when you come face to face with the reality that maybe it’s actually not going to happen for you.

But I want to propose that there is a time when it’s not only necessary but actually appropriate to stop chasing your dream. Here’s the reason why:

Just like anything else in life, dreams can easily, quickly and subversively become idols, and when they do, you find that at some point along the line your dream has stopped being an aspiration and started being your master. Your self-worth is tied to an opportunity. Your joy is contingent upon your vocation. Your identity is linked to your advancement. When that happens, your dream is no longer the stuff of Disney movies; it’s a serious obstacle in your growth into who Jesus wants you to be.

Sometimes that’s a tough pill to swallow, and not just because it means letting go of something that we have invest so much time, energy, and emotion into. It’s also difficult because it means accepting, at a broad level, that our vision for our future is different than God’s vision for our future. But, as with most things that are difficult, this is also a great moment of opportunity.

When you make the choice to let go of your dream, Jesus is waiting there. He’s waiting, in the rubble of what you thought the future would hold, not to just give you a new future, but to remind you of who you are in the present. He’s faithful to reestablish your sense of self-worth and identity based on something way better than a dream. He’ll remind you, regardless of what else happens or doesn’t happen, that you are a child of God.

Jesus is like that – He fills up what has been emptied out. And in the moment when we finally give up, for our idols masquerading as dreams have been stripped away, to step in and whisper in our ear something that’s far more lasting and far more important: “You are a child of God.”

Read more in my book, Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life.

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Breaking Out of Over-Education

Last week, I wrote a self-confessional post called “Is There Any Hope for the Over-Educated Christian?” The takeaway of the post was meant to say, yes, there is indeed hope for those of us whose knowledge outpaces our obedience, but we aren’t likely to begin to break out of the trap of over-education until we first realize we’re in it. So I tried to give us three signs to help us self-diagnose.

Today, though, I wanted to follow up with some active steps that we might take together. Though recognition might be the first step, it can’t be the last one. In other words, if we stop at acknowledging that we are intellectually bloated but do nothing about it, then we’ve only shifted the target of our knowledge. Previously, our highest end was theological fact; now our highest end is knowledge of self. And though we might congratulate ourselves for our self-awareness and new supposed authenticity, that knowledge of self is only so good as it pushes us to a greater obedience to Jesus.

So here are three practical steps we can take once having diagnosed ourselves as being the over-educated Christian:

1. Find a place to actively serve in the local church.

Preferably, find a place to serve where you will likely not be congratulated for doing so. Rock some babies. Teach some 3-year-olds about Jesus. Volunteer to clean up the grounds of the church. Whatever it is, try and find a job where you can serve without the temptation of doing so exclusively for the applause that might come from doing so. When you serve in this silent, almost secret kind of way, you are going to war with the kind of pride which craves the sense of superiority which comes from increased knowledge.

2. Pursue the discipline of requesting specific prayer.

When we are over-educated and under-obedient, we love the kind of churched environment where we can talk in generalities about deep, theological questions. We love the opportunity to show off what we know without it having to cost us anything. And self-disclosure and acknowledgement of weakness is costly. How do we fight that? Well, one simple way might be to regularly ask someone else to pray for you. And not in a general way, but for something very specific. When you do, you are acknowledging before another your weakness and need, and you are beginning to break down the carefully constructed wall that’s been built brick by intellectual brick.

3. Pray specifically for someone else for 5 minutes a day.

It’s funny what I’ve seen happen to my prayer life as an over-educated Christian. Prayer becomes largely self-focused, when it’s there at all. Very few minutes at all are spent in intercession for another, and even when it is, those prayers aren’t specific. To break out of the self-focused grip of intellectualism, one of the very proactive things we can do is commit to pray for others, not in a general way, but very specifically, and to commit to all the other things that come along with that. Things like listening. Thing like remembering. Things like pursuing relationships of depth and meaning.

These are actions we can take, but let’s make sure that we don’t treat these actions like a formula. There is no formula; there is grace. And thankfully, God is ready to grant it as we are ready to ask.

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How a Christian is Like a Little Child

Jonathan Edwards:

The tenderness of the heart of a true Christian, is elegantly signified by our Savior, in his comparing such a one to a little child. . . .

A little child has his heart easily moved, wrought upon and bowed: so is a Christian in spiritual things.

A little child is apt to be affected with sympathy, to weep with them that weep, and can’t well bear to see others in distress: so it is with a Christian (John 11:35, Romans 12:15, I Corinthians 12:26).

A little child is easily won by kindness: so is a Christian.

A little child is easily affected with grief at temporal evils, and has his heart melted, and falls a weeping: thus tender is the heart of a Christian, with regard to the evil of sin.

A little child is easily affrighted at the appearance of outward evils, or anything that threatens its hurt: so is a Christian apt to be alarmed at the appearance of moral evil, and anything that threatens the hurt of the soul.

A little child, when it meets enemies, or fierce beasts, is not apt to trust its own strength, but flies to its parents for refuge: so a saint is not self-confident in engaging spiritual enemies, but flies to Christ.

A little child is apt to be suspicious of evil in places of danger, afraid in the dark, afraid when left alone, or far from home: so is a saint apt to be sensible of his spiritual dangers, jealous of himself, full of fear when he can’t see his way plain before him, afraid to be left alone, and to be at a distance from God; Proverbs 28:14, “Happy is the man that feareth alway; but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.”

A little child is apt to be afraid of superiors, and to dread their anger, and tremble at their frowns and threatenings: so is a true saint with respect to God; Psalms 119:120, “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments.” Isaiah 66:2, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and trembleth at my word.” V. 5, “Hear ye the Word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word.” Ezra 9:4, “Then were assembled unto me, everyone that trembled at the works of the God of Israel.” Ch. 10:3, “According to the counsel of my Lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God.” A little child approaches superiors with awe: so do the saints approach God with holy awe and reverence. Job 13:11, “Shall not his excellency make you afraid, and his dread fall upon you.” Holy fear is so much the nature of true godliness, that it is called in Scripture by no other name more frequently, than the fear of God.

Religious Affections, WJE, pp. 360-61.

(HT: JT)

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Is There Any Hope for the Over-Educated Christian?

Is there any hope for the over-educated Christian?

I hope so. For I am one.

I live in an affluent area where the largest challenge to my faith is not persecution but instead materialism – the opposite prong on the same pitchfork. My playlist abounds with countless sermons and unbridled access to biblical teaching. I live within a stone’s throw of not one, not two, but at least three faithful, evangelical churches. The number of books by dead theologians on my bookshelves that I haven’t even cracked far outnumber the number that I’ve read. At any given moment, I can be reading, listening to, or even watching centuries of commentary, study, and reflection on any biblical text I so choose.

I am, if you’ll excuse the metaphor, an intellectually fat Christian. My mind is obese with knowledge and bloated with facts. And as I loosen the belt around my heavily churchified brain more and more day by day, I wonder what would happen if my obedience kept pace with that knowledge.

The truth is that I know far more than I obey. And that causes me to wonder if there is any hope for over-educated Christians like me, or am I destined to drown in this sea of head knowledge because no matter how much I might be puffed up by it, I am no less buoyed by it. Again, then, I would ask… Is there any hope for the over-educated Christian?

And, of course, the answer is yes. It’s not “yes” because of the merits of knowledge, but because in the gospel, there is hope for all, be they the fatly-minded or the thinly-rebellious, whether they’re the younger son returning from the far country or the older son busy working in the field.

Perhaps the first step toward that help is the recognition that help is needed; that this condition of over-education is not necessarily a mark of spiritual maturity. So, then, how do you know if you are an over-educated Christian? I’d offer three ways to help us self-diagnose:

1. If you tend to have an attitude of examination rather than participation…

If you find yourself, surrounded by the worship of God, the preaching of the Word, and the fellowship of the saints, examining the methodology of those leading rather than participating in what’s going on around you, it’s very possible that you have begun to be overtaken by your education. In a case like that, you would prefer to analyze the details of the presentation rather than dwelling on the content and the presence of God.

2. If you are more excited than grieved at finding the fault…

If during that examination you do indeed find fault, and maybe it’s something relatively minor, do you feel a sense of justification? I know that feeling, too. It’s a sense of triumph that somehow you have been able to mine through all the external fluff and find that kernel of error that simply must be exposed. And if it’s not exposed to the world, at least it’s exposed in your own heart. When we feel that, we are feeding that animal of superiority that lurks in us all, that beast which craves a higher place over all others so that we might not feel so small, even for a moment.

3. If you desire generalities over personal specifics…

If, when you find yourself in a conversation with another in the body of Christ, there is no confession of sin, no admittance of struggle, and no grace to listen to another do the same, but instead prefer to deal in hypothetical “can God make a rock so big He couldn’t move it” kind of discussions, then beware of over-education. In a case like this, we keep the truth of God and the conviction of the Holy Spirit at arm’s length because we fear what might happen to us if it, and He, came any closer. Surely something would have to change, and we can’t bear the thought of the magnifying glass of our gaze being turned inward.

And when, like me, you do recognize just how far your knowledge outpaces your obedience, don’t fall into despair. But don’t either dismiss the thought. Instead, renew your mind not to just know about Jesus but to know Jesus truly though doing so will involve far more cost (and far more joy ultimately) than mere intellectual learning.

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Toward a “Gospel Culture” in the Church

Great thoughts here from Jared Wilson:

The most gracious people you and I know are people who have had an experience of grace and fixate on grace. The least gracious people we know are people who may know about grace academically, “theologically,” but don’t seem the least bit changed by it and really have a fixation on the law. They have an inordinate fixation on who did what wrong and what they deserve.

The same dynamic takes place in churches. Where grace and law are taught academically but law is “felt” as the operating system of the church, you will likely have a stifling, gossipy, burdensome environment. Where grace and law are taught theologically but grace is felt as the operating system of the church, you will see people begin to flourish, breathe. (You’ll also attract more sinners, which is where religious people start getting a little antsy.)

But the message of grace made preeminent will generate an atmosphere of grace.

This is why the harmony with each other of Romans 15:5 is “in accord with Jesus Christ.” It’s not predicated on having a bunch of stuff in common. It’s not predicated on common race or social class. It’s not predicated on a common special interest or political cause. It’s not predicated on all being theology nerds, liking the same authors, being Reformed or Arminian or somewhere in between. It’s not predicated on all being Republicans or Democrats. It’s not predicated on all being for social justice. It’s not predicated on all being homeschoolers or public schoolers. It’s not predicated on music styles or preaching styles or anything like that. All of that sort of commonality produces a very fragile harmony.

It is instead predicated on our common Savior, Jesus Christ, compared to whom we are all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and from whom we have all received grace upon grace. It’s impossible to bask in the glorious grace of Jesus Christ and at the same time toot your own horn. So the more that we together focus on the gospel of Jesus, the more together we will walk in accordance with him and therefore in harmony with one another. “Gospel doctrine,” our friend Ray Ortlund says, “creates a gospel culture.”

Read the rest here.

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Making Decisions Before a Sovereign God

Jesus said to wait, and wait they did.

The fledgling church had been through the ringer. They had walked away from the crucifixion as a defeated movement, cowards to their own cause. But then they had seen the impossible stand before them. They had put their hands in His and watched Him do everyday things like eat a meal. Then they had seen Jesus ascend into heaven. Now they were back in Jerusalem.

Waiting.

Waiting for power. Waiting for the comforter. Waiting for the Holy Spirit.

But it strikes me that there are two different ways we can wait: we can either wait passively, or wait actively.

These Christians could have simply sat in Jerusalem twiddling their thumbs. There is a time and place for that – when God makes a promise and the difficult task is to simply sit and wait for that promise to be fulfilled. But there are other times when there is still work to be done in the meantime. Indeed, that work can and often is the expression of our faith that God is going to do what He promised. That’s the route these early Christians took. So there, in the midst of their waiting on God to do what only God could do, they took action:

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.

All these were continually united in prayer,along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.

During these days Peter stood up among the brothers—the number of people who were together was about 120—and said: “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David spoke in advance about Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.For he was one of our number and was allotted a share in this ministry.”Now this man acquired a field with his unrighteous wages. He fell headfirst and burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out.This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that in their own language that field is called Hakeldama (that is, Field of Blood).“For it is written in the Book of Psalms:

Let his dwelling become desolate;
let no one live in it; and
Let someone else take his position.

“Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us—beginning from the baptism of John until the day He was taken up from us—from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of His resurrection.”

So they proposed two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, Lord, know the hearts of all; show which of these two You have chosento take the place in this apostolic service that Judas left to go to his own place.”Then they cast lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias. So he was numbered with the 11 apostles. (Acts 1:12-26).

Now again, they might have simply sat. Done nothing. Waited passively. But they chose to act – to make decisions before a sovereign God. There is a great truth in that for all of us, I believe – the sovereignty of God does not paralyze our decision-making; rather, God’s sovereignty gives us the freedom to move and act according to His will. We see at least three ways that happens in this passage.

1. They were united in prayer.

Don’t miss that little detail at the first. They weren’t just shooting the breeze there in Jerusalem; they were earnestly praying, not in isolation, but with each other. They were actively seeking their next step in prayer as they were waiting. We have the tendency sometimes to use the sovereignty of God as an excuse for doing just the opposite – not praying. Not thinking. Not being together. Because, after all, God is going to do what God is going to do. But in this case, the group remember that God is indeed going to do what He is going to do and part of His plan of action involved human agents.

2. They used their God-given wisdom.

It’s wonderful to see that they didn’t haphazardly move – their action wasn’t done out of frustration for the seeming silence from heaven. Instead, they thought about the situation and brought their collective wisdom together to say that they needed another person to replace Judas, but not just anyone. Even then, they had the foresight to know they needed someone who had walked with Jesus and witness His resurrection. Another eye witness to give testimony in the days ahead.

Wisdom is an incredible gift, and one that should be put to good use. And along with that wisdom, God has given us the gift of each other. We are more wise together than we are alone.

3. They acted, and they trusted.

This group knew that no matter what plans or decisions they made, the ultimate decision rested with the Lord. He had the final say. That’s not to argue that with every decision we simply throw the options in a hat and draw one out, but it is to say that in the end, when we make a decision, we can walk confidently in that decision knowing that God will exert His sovereign influence to shape that decision in the way He wants it to be shaped.

But also notice that they never assumed that this decision would somehow take the place of what God had promised. Choosing Matthais was not these disciples trying to push along God’s time table to deliver this power He promised; it was simply a decision that needed to be made in preparation for what they believed was coming.

Be encouraged today, Christian, that God is sovereign. He rules over all. And He is working. Don’t let that knowledge move you toward fatalism and decision paralysis; let it instead motivate you to do the next right thing as you wait for Him in faith.

 

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Six Things Every Freshman Needs to Know

Good word here from Sammy Rhodes:

If I could write a letter to every incoming freshman who doesn’t want to waste their college, I would want to say six things to them before they move to campus. It applies to their anxious parents, too.

1. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is learn.

One difficult part about college is being confronted with so many people who disagree with you, professors included. It’s easy to get either disillusioned or overly defensive. Don’t. One of the best ways a student can bear witness to Christ is to learn so well from those who disagree so that you can sympathize with their perspective, see things from their point of view, and express it as well as they could. No one will respect your disagreement with them unless they first feel you’ve understood them, even gleaned things from them. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to learn, especially from those with whom you disagree.

2. Community isn’t optional; it’s essential.

More specifically, I mean Christ-centered community on campus. In other words, you need friends who love and listen to Jesus. Friends who love you enough to say hard things. It takes time to find those friends. More than time, it takes persistence. Stubbornness even. You have Christ, and you need community. It’s not either-or. It’s both-and. No one says it better than Bonhoeffer in Life Together:

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. . . . Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.

3. Committing yourself to a local church is vital.

Community on campus is good. The wise, diverse, multi-generational, pastor-led community of the local church is better. This feels like a good time to remind you that the church isn’t a place; it’s a people. As a Christian, you are already part of it. You don’t go to church. You are the church. That means you aren’t being yourself if you’re not involved in a gospel-centered, Bible-believing, Christ-exalting local church. Finding one is typically easy. Committing yourself to one is the hard part.

4. Love your roommates until you love your roommates.

The hardest thing to do is love the people right in front of you. And no one is more in front of you than your roommates. You know, the ones who will keep you up way too late, and wake you up way too early. The ones who will go Castaway and haven’t left their room in weeks. The ones who major in Awkwardness. That’s exactly the person God is calling you to love. Don’t wait until you feel love for them to love them. Love them until you feel love for them. Eat with them. Play Xbox with them. Watch movies with them. Have convictions, absolutely. But convictions are never an excuse not to love.

5. Stop looking for a soul mate and look for a sole mate instead.

One of the easiest things to do is spend all of college obsessing over boys or girls. There are the ones back home. There are the ones you met at orientation. There are ones that you haven’t found the courage to speak real, human words to yet. There are the ones you’re already thinking about marrying. Then there is the fear that you will never be someone else’s “one.” That you are somehow peculiarly unlovable. That upon graduation you will be banished to Misfit Island along with Rudolph and Hermie, left to die alone in your singleness. The good news is if you’re a Christian you’ve already met “the one.” The bad news (at first) is his name is Jesus. He’s the only one who can ever emotionally fulfill you in all the ways you long to be fulfilled. He is your soul mate, the one you were made for, the one with whom you will spend eternity. This frees you up to look for what Gary Thomas calls a “sole mate” — someone who loves Jesus and is willing to walk side by side through life with you in marriage as you both follow him. The best place to find this is often within your community of Christian friends.

6. Your brokenness isn’t a barrier to Jesus, but an invitation.

The last thing I want you to know is that because college is a time that reveals your heart, it is also a time that reveals your brokenness. You are going to say and do and think things you wish you could take back. You are going to be confused. You are going to be challenged. You may find yourself with nagging doubts. You will get lonely, and take that loneliness to all the wrong places. You will find out things about yourself you hope aren’t true.

I want you to know that your brokenness, whatever form it takes, is no barrier to Jesus. It’s an invitation to trust and be loved by him. The good news is that the kind of people Jesus loves are broken sinners. You’re never beyond the reach of his grace, even on your worst day — just as you’re never beyond the need for his grace, even on your best day. Because “the only fitness he requires is to feel your need for him.”

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