Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Growing Pains

I find that my desire to grow requires change--but I hate change.

I find that my desire for more wisdom requires trials--but I hate trials.

I find that my desire for greater degrees of holiness requires time--but I hate waiting.

The spiritual growth we desire as followers of Christ is not something we reach out for in vain. It is something which the Scriptures show to be part of God's will for our lives in Him. It is His will to sanctify His people. But that doesn't mean He does it overnight, and it doesn't mean He does it without messing with things (with which He is completely allowed to mess).

Looking back at the various changes that have occurred in my life leading me to where I am today, I can see--though only in part--how God used those changes to shape me and mold me in a progressive fashion toward a perfect reflection of His Son. And though I believe that Scripture does not teach perfectionism, I do believe that the Holy Spirit's work, which begins with the conviction He brings, continues on as long as we live.

Yet, I must remember that much of the work God does in His children is established in the valleys. In the seasons of life where we know we live in a way that effectively makes our "Christianity" a facade for fleshly desires. In the times when, though we do live more like Christ by His grace, life is still filled with pain. In the tears of our spouse, our children, our friends. God works at all times. But it's harder to acknowledge in the worst of times.

May we be hopeful in the promises of our faithful God who, in His perfect wisdom, often strengthens His people through the change--not in the absence of it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

3 Things to Keep in Mind When Reading Christian Books

There is great value in reading books by Christian authors; however, there are things that we should all keep in mind before we open the front cover.

1. The authors are fallible.

I know that for myself anyway, it can be easy to forget, but remembering this is crucial in approaching the books of Christian authors appropriately. We know that the scriptures are the revealed Word of God and that the men who wrote the canon did so by the Holy Spirit’s strength (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). This truth permits us to read the Bible without fear of running into errors in doctrine or history. We don’t have this assurance when reading books outside of the canon, however. This means that we need to approach the reading of non-canonical works with a different mindset. Even the most solid teachers and authors are capable of misinterpreting Scripture or making unbiblical assertions. I have often overlooked that fact. Never read an author without asking yourself, “Is this something Scripture teaches?”

2. The authors are like us.

Something else I sometimes forget when reading books by Christian authors is that they’re in the same situation as me. We’re in the same boat in the sense that we are sinners that have been saved by grace and are on the long road of sanctification. As learned and experienced as many of them are, they still struggle with sin. They still experience suffering. They still wrestle with hard questions. Galatians talks about the Spirit being at war with our flesh. Does this not also apply to the writers on the other side of the page? Being reminded of this, I hope, will lead us to read with hearts that are encouraged and uplifted by the ways in which God is sanctifying these individuals and using them to teach us as well.

3. Books ought to be used as supplements—not substitutes.

If there is one thing in this short list I am guilty of, it is this one. For some silly reason, I find myself more willing to read books written by fallible authors than to read the book by the infallible author, namely God. One of the definitions for “supplement” is: something that completes. This is not the way I am using the word. The Word of God doesn’t need to be completed. It is absolutely sufficient. Rather, think of books as “add-ons” or “bonus features.” (Don’t take that metaphor too far.) Again, only Scripture is infallible. However, there is a lot to be said for reading and learning from other Christians. What better way to love God with our minds (Matt. 22:37)? We just need to be careful that we don’t allow such reading to replace our reading of the Bible. God uses His revealed Word to mold us (2 Tim. 3:17). We can still learn from other books (and the really good ones will be brimming with Scriptural references), but we can’t expect to be sanctified apart from digging into the Word.

As Spurgeon is credited with saying, "Visit many great books, but live in the Bible." The Lord can and does use the wisdom of other men and women to shape and teach His flock--and their books are a great resource for us. May we be mindful of the way in which we approach the lessons they have learned and pass on to us.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Insight in Insult

As you read the Proverbs, you will see time and again that the wise are open to ridicule, correction, and instruction. The foolish, not so. Scripture also, however, provides guidance for how to approach the task of correcting or instructing another individual. Paul explains to Timothy that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). While this is a directive relating specifically to interactions with those outside of the Church, it has practical implications for interactions with believers as well. Instruction driven by impatience or anger is, though perhaps wise in substance, hurtful and often unfruitful in delivery. And, as with every other area of our sanctification, developing a biblical understanding of how to correct each other is an ongoing process.

Yet, as the process continues, there are bound to be days when patience and gentleness are absent in delivery. And there will be times when we are the recipient of such correction rather than the giver of such correction. In these cases, the instruction may sound and feel more like an insult than instruction. I would argue, though, that this does not mean the instruction can or should be disregarded immediately. At times, there is insight to be found in insult.

To be clear, there are plenty of examples of insult that should be viewed as nothing but insult. I do not refer to such remarks. If we try to find a nugget of truth or encouragement in every insult thrown our way, I fear we may become more discouraged than when we first received it. In such cases, the most encouraging thing may very well be to simply acknowledge the falsehood of the remark and find ourselves, as before, secure in our identity in Christ.

However, in situations when poorly given instruction feels more like an insult, there is wisdom in dwelling on the affront-like correction—not because it is affront-like but because it is correction. And, though the correction being given may also be unnecessary or uncalled for in the moment (which can, in itself, feel like an insult), acknowledging our sinful tendencies that always show up eventually can help us apply the correction to future situations when the correction is called for but may not be offered.

Proverbs 12:16 says: “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.” Ignore the biting insults of others when they have nothing to offer you in correction. Look to Christ and find rest in His approval which will always trump the disapproval of others. But if correction may be found in an insult, pull it out, take note of it, learn from it, and then throw the rest away. And, if you really want to get the most out of an insult, talk it out with that individual. Particularly within the body, a willingness to express your hurt brought on by a remark sooner rather than later may lead to helpful correction for—not just you—but for the other person as well. And whenever these situations can lead to further sanctification of both individuals, that’s a glorious win.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

4 Reasons I Now Use a Flip-Phone

Convenience vs. Holiness: Why I Switched

Edit: I wrote this back in July 2018, but I still use a flip-phone and hold to the same thoughts.

At the beginning of December 2017, I made a decision to downgrade from my iPhone to a flip-phone with a data-free plan. It had been over two years since I first purchased the smartphone, and, yes, the transition was a little rough. Now, seven months later, I have since received many questions regarding my reason for the switch. Though my answers have varied from person to person, the overarching reason is this: I concluded that the convenience of a smartphone was not worth the harm to my personal holiness. What follows, then, are some things I have learned since the switch. But let me be clear for you. I am not trying to argue that owning a smartphone is a sin for everyone or that I am somehow more righteous than everyone else because I switched back. What I am sharing right now is simply my personal reflection on what I have learned from the experience thus far. Are there people out there who would be wise to take a break from their smartphone? Yes. Is that the case for every smartphone user? No. Am I in a place to make that call for you, the reader? Absolutely not. I simply invite you to read on and learn from it what is most helpful for you in your walk.

1. Convenience can be an idol. 

Technically, this first point was something I learned the day I made the switch. For a while, my considerations to switch back to a “dumb phone” for the sake of personal holiness were stifled by the greater value I allotted to convenience. I realized, by God’s grace, that I was placing such stock in the convenience of my phone that it was preventing me from seeing the far greater importance of my own walk with Christ. My use of an iPhone was far too frequently tearing down my degree of holiness rather than building it up. The decision to switch was made when God showed me that convenience had become an idol--an idol that was keeping me from sanctification.

2. There is a fine line between “tool” and “distraction.”

This point may very well be something I learned through different articles or books, but, regardless, I have learned it experientially as well. If I had to categorize the time I was spending on my iPhone between using it as a tool for practical, beneficial uses and as a distraction, I’d probably slice it around 30/70. If I recall correctly, one study on smartphone use estimates that we look at our smartphones approximately every four minutes. I hate saying it, but I think I landed below that figure. What’s really telling, though, is the fact that the habit of looking at my iPhone has carried over to my flip-phone! That’s right. Sometimes I catch myself just pulling out my phone, looking at the time and then putting it back in my pocket—because that’s about as much as I can do with a flip-phone—unless I have a text. But, really, it’s just as ridiculous! “Travis, you know what time it is. You looked three minutes ago!” While there are far fewer ways for me to turn my current phone into a distraction rather than just using it as a tool, it’s either humorous or sad or both that I still try. Distraction may not always be a bad thing necessarily, but I, for one, overstay my welcome far too often.

3. I don’t need a smartphone.

There is no question that dozens of doors of convenience that were once inaccessible to us are now available through our smartphones. The list of helpful tasks that these hand-held computers can perform has very quickly become inexhaustible. Email, reminders, web surfing, clocking in/out, reading books, and listening to music or podcasts are but a small fraction of what can be done with these pocket devices.

Yet, I can say definitively from my own experience that, though life may be “harder” without these conveniences, I do not need a smartphone in order to function. Over the last seven months, though I have missed the ease with which I could communicate using my iPhone, I have adapted and have not experienced any serious drawbacks as a result of downgrading to a flip-phone. Now, keep in mind that I have not abandoned all electronic devices. I am typing this article on a MacBook after all. In this age of digital technology, there is much that relates to school and/or work for which I simply need access to a computer. And though the times when my laptop was out of commission happened prior to the phone switch, I do think I would be okay if it happened now—rough as it would be.

4. Faces are far more enjoyable than screens.

I’m still learning this lesson. In the same way that the “crossover effect” is causing me to look at my flip-phone too often, I still tend to spend too much time on my laptop simply because I’m used to the screen time. However, I have still learned that the shallows of screen entertainment have little to offer in place of the depths of face-to-face interaction and community.

Can I offer a challenge?

People have told me that what I did seems radical. Perhaps in the sense that I don’t know of many people who have actually done this, yes. It is radical. But in terms of the change it will bring to your life…it’s not. At least, it doesn’t remain so. Again, the transition is rough, but beyond that, there is a sense of release. So here’s an invitation: give the switch a try. 3 months. 6 months. It doesn’t have to be permanent. It may not be for me. But there is much to be learned if you give it a try.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Measures and Me

"...with the measure you use it will be measured to you."

Jesus' teaching on hypocritically judging other people in Matthew 7 is a frequently quoted passage--it's often over-simplified to, "don't judge," so it may not be accurate to say it's a "well-known" passage. But I've read and heard this passage many times.

The irony is that one of my main thoughts is: "Yeah, those judgmental people better listen up! This passage is for them!"

To which the Spirit of God within me says, "Uhhhh. No. The passage is for you."

If I'm completely honest, the measure I use on other people is really, really, really strict. The measure I use on myself is often far more "lax" than it should be. We're told to examine ourselves to see if we're still in the faith. But I find myself masquerading as a spiritual practitioner who examines other people--almost always finding something to judge or inappropriately speculate about.

I don't want the kind of measure used on me that I use on others. The presence of humility and self-awareness combined with "up-front" grace with others that is freely given--without an examination beforehand--is something I desperately need the Spirit's help to acquire--what else is new.

By God's abundant grace, I can and will grow as a grace-giver to others who will judge--but only as one who has understood how grace has impacted my life and must shape the way I judge: not as a Pharisee but as a sinner saved by grace who is being shown in greater and greater measure what holiness looks like through Christ.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Steps Established

"The heart of man plans his way,but the Lord establishes his steps."

The reality of Proverbs 16:9 hits me again and again. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I continued to face new situations that required a renewed sense of trust in the sovereign God I serve. But trust is a tricky thing. By that I's really, really hard. My pride and desire to have control always get in the way and prevent me from simply resting in the fact that God establishes my steps.

In three months, I will be heading south to begin studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. For the first time in my life, I am moving away from home. I commuted during all four and a half years of college, and I saw my childhood friends just about every week. I've never felt a sustained sense of...lostness. (Unless you count the mornings when I wake up forgetting what day we're in.) I've known nothing but home. I've been comfortable.

Therein lies the problem.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not moving primarily to "get away" and force myself into the unknown. I do sense a call to serve in church ministry of some kind so I believe seminary is the next best step for me. Yet, I am also aware that comfort can be an idol--and often is. When I make decisions (or don't make them) based strictly on whether or not I will remain comfortable, I have raised that feeling on a pedestal it is not worthy of having.

Leaving will be uncomfortable. I am counting on it. I'm not dreading it, but that's probably because it's still three months away. (Ask me, mid-April.) Change has always been uncomfortable for me. But I don't think it would be out of line to say that God has worked a significant portion of my growth through and in the change. For that reason, I eagerly await what lies ahead.

If you would like to stay up-to-date on my experiences "down south," read of the (hard) lessons I'm expecting to learn, and see how worthy our God is through what He does in my life, I invite you to subscribe to See How Worthy for weekly updates.

Soli Deo Gloria