Living By Three C’s

Prior to preaching for the first time, my pastor gave me some advice which I call “The Three C’s” -

1. Be clear.
2. Be concise.
3. Be consistent.

He advised me to keep these points in mind every time I sit down to prepare a sermon. Additionally, these points should also be in the back of my mind as I am standing before God’s people delivering His word.

Over the past few months, as I have had further opportunities to preach, I’ve kept this advice close to me, and in doing so, I’ve come to realize that it’s not only in a preaching or ministerial context that these questions apply. These concepts can also be applied to my day to day activities, and ultimately, to my life in general.

1. Am I Clear?

Ambiguity breeds confusion – it is a friend of no one. It is important that those around me understand where I am coming from. At least, I think it’s important. Whether it’s verbal or non-verbal communication – clarity is important. I’m sure we’ve all seen cases in which a message was communicated, but it was so unclear that the desired results were way off the mark.

So, I take this thought process into my interaction with the major relationships in my life, i.e. my bride and my children. I am myself – am I clear regarding how I feel about God? How I feel about our family? How I feel about them? Am I doing our dating anything that would cause them to question my love for them or my desire to see their relationship with Christ continue to develop and grow? When further with day to day interaction – do I give them my time and attention when they need or want it, or do I give it when it is convenient for me? And really, similar questions can apply to the other relationships in my life, i.e. extended family, friends, people I meet throughout the day, etc.

2. Am I Concise?

“Stop talking me to death!” was a phrase some friends and I adopted when I was a teen. This phrase was our way of telling someone that they were doing too much talking; the listener was being “killed” with all the unnecessary talking being done. Admittedly, I find myself still using the phrase sometimes. Albeit, more in a joking manner than not.

But, I have to examine myself in light of this second point; am I guilty of doing the same to others? Do I unnecessarily drag on a conversation past the point of interest? Do I wear out my welcome when I visit with people? Do people find it a delight or a chore to talk with me? I can’t stand wasting my own time, so I try to be extra cautious when it come to other people’s time. When you really think about it, the long and short of it is this: we all get the same 168 hours each week. I don’t want to take up more time that someone is willing to give me. Everyone’s time is valuable – I don’t want to waste it. In return, I believe that I am showing people that I value the time that they did give me.

3. Am I Consistent?

One of my many desires is to be unwavering in what I believe – especially when in hard times. I’m sure we’ve all met people who confused us regarding their stance on a topic. They were pretty indecisive when it came time to “choose a side” on an issue. People who stake claim in this camp breed confusion in everyone with whom they associate.

So again, I have to do some self examination – am I guilty of the same thing? Do my family, friends, and even co-workers know where I stand with my worldview, or do I jump to the side of convenience when my convictions are tested? Do I hesitate voicing my views because I know they might be in the minority? It is in the times of struggle and strife that our beliefs are tested, and in that testing, we truly realize where we stand on the things that matter. So I feel strongly enough about something to “fall on my sword” about it? Regardless of the subject matter, and regardless of the environment or audience – do I maintain the same principles and standards? Even further, am I the same person at home as I am in public? These things are important.

Am I Successful?

No – I’m not. Sitting here right now, I can’t tell you that I’ve been clear, concise, and consistent in everything I’ve done. I know that I haven’t been clear, concise, and consistent in everything I’ve said. I’d be lying if I claimed to have been. Without naming all the factors that contribute to my inability to success in my efforts, the underlying reason in all the factors is sin (Romans 3:23). However, I’m thankful I serve a God who is clear, concise, and consistent – always has been and always will be!

Am I Committed?

All of this is well and good, but it means nothing if I am not committed to living this way. If I don’t actively pursue God and trust Him to strengthen me as I strive to live these guidelines, then what am I telling the world I am trying to reach with the gospel?

What am I telling my family?
What am I telling my friends?
My co-workers?

I’m telling them that they can go alone and be alright. I’m telling them that, in and of themselves, they can make sense of their life and live it trusting in their own power. But, that’s not what God says.

When we want to be clear about who we are, God speaks to us in Galatians 1:10. When we want to be concise in what we say, God speaks to us in Proverbs 10:19. When we want to be consistent in our actions, God speaks to us in 1 Corinthians 15:58.

I pray you’ll seek God in guiding you, just as I seek Him in guiding me, to be committed to a life of being clear, concise, and consistent. Let’s trust in, and lean on, Him and His everlasting word. I believe it is possible, but only with the grace He provides to allow it to happen.

Grace and Peace,
John

With Your Morning Cup of Coffee

As you sit down with your coffee this morning, enjoy some of these articles that I’ve enjoyed over the past few days.

1. If Jesus Walked Into A Bar, Would Everyone Know His Name? – Mike Leake.

Was Jesus really “buddy buddy” with sinners? Was He truly the “high-fiving” type that He is sometimes portrayed to be? Mike takes a quick look at this portrait of Jesus and sets the record straight.

2. Walking with the Dead: The Character-Shaping Power of Community – Dave Dunham

Well, a new season of “The Walking Dead” has started. So, that means Pastor Dave is back to analyzing each Sunday night episode from a biblical worldview. And as with previous posts from previous seasons, he doesn’t disappoint.

3. New Study Says We Pick Up Our Smartphones 1,500 Times a Week, Stare at Them 3 Hours a Day – Daniel Beam

I thought this article was interesting. I haven’t looked at the other article linked within this one, but the sheer numbers alone are pretty amazing. He even speaks a little about the next upcoming mobile devices – smart watches. (Personally, I’m not seeing the appeal right now.)

4. Where My 90 Hours of Mobile Phone Screen Time In September Went – Bob Stanke

Bob read the above article and tried the test on himself. Pretty interesting results.

5. Busting a book buying myth – Ian Carmichael

I want to show my bride this article. I think it justifies my constant purchasing of books!

6. Three Things Little Girls Need From Their Fathers – Joyce McFadden

I love when articles like this are written by women. Although I’ve read some good articles written by men on the same topic, I honestly don’t think that we can do the subject justice like a woman. This is literally first-hand knowledge.

7. 10 Things You Need to Know About the Bible and Slavery – Graham Veale

I notice that when we think of slavery and the bible, it is usually in the context race and what took place in the United States. This article sheds some light on the biblical history of slavery. Enlightening.

What good articles have you read over the past few days?

Grace and Peace,
John

Over 20,000 Steps Later…Reflections on the Army Ten Miler, 2014

Army 10-Miler Finishers Coin
Army 10-Miler Finishers Coin

As I sit here thinking about (and healing from) the Army Ten Miler I ran on Sunday, I can say that I am thankful for the opportunity to have participated. I was only one of 35,000 participants who came out to take part in a 30 year tradition – a tradition that brings together Wounded Warriors, active duty and retired service members, and civilians from all over the country, to include “shadow races” taking place on military installations all over the world.

My teammates and I met at the Metro Station in Greenbelt, MD and rode together into Arlington, VA. For the hour or so ride, many more racers from other stops piled onto the train – all of us with the same destination. As time progressed, I could see sunlight gradually break through the darkness and welcome us to a new day.

This was the first race that I’d ever run, and admittedly, the first time I that had even run 10 miles. I consider myself a runner, but I’ve never had the desire to push past seven miles. Upon arriving to the race at around 0630, I could see that my team and I were “late to the party”. It seemed as though all 35,000 people were already there socializing and stretching and making their to their starting areas.

As my team and I parted ways to get to our respective starting waves, I maneuvered the crowd, encouraged by the people of all ages, sizes, and shapes whom were gathered together in one location for the same purpose. Maybe this is what it like to join fellow running enthusiasts to take part in what many people would deem “crazy”. I mean, really – who in their right mind would volunteer to do something like this – to pay to wake up at 0430 on a chilly Sunday morning, wait around hours on end to run 10 miles, non-stop, for upwards of a hour or so?

Well, last Sunday morning, you could find 35,000 people gathered together in the Pentagon parking lot to do that very thing.

The race was set to begin at 0800, depending on the wave in which you were starting; however, the Wounded Warriors had a start time of 0750. The Chaplain gave the invocation as we all stood with our heads bowed, giving thanks to the Lord for, not only a good day to run, but for another day of life. As the announcer counted down to the start time for the Wounded Warriors and eventually gave the coveted command of “go”, the entire crowd – 35,000 participants – yelled and cheered as these men and women, injured in various tours of combat, took off to tackle their 10-mile trek through Washington D.C. By the time my wave arrived to the start point, a few of them were already on their way back.

Inspiring.
Humbling.

Once we started our race, everyone enthusiastically set off to *embrace the suck together. It was so awesome. As my team mate and I progressed through the miles, it was hard to see anyone not trying their best to make it through. Strangers were giving encouragement to other strangers they passed along the course…

“There you go!”
“Atta boy!”
“Keep going!”
“You can do it!”

…was the battle cry of everyone there. Above all of this, the greatest encouragement for me happened at mile seven.

As I passed the marker pressing me to keep the pace for three more miles, I heard a steady round of applause coming from runners as well as the people gathered along the sides of the route cheering us on. As I got closer to the clapping, I saw a small group of people walking ahead of me. In the center of the group was a gentlemen who had lost both of his legs. He was a double-amputee. He was one of the Wounded Warriors who had started at 0750 – almost two hours prior. He was still going. He purposed in his mind and heart that he was going to finish the race.

As I passed him, in his face, I felt like I could see pain and frustration. Maybe he had recently been in the accident that claimed both of his legs. If so, maybe he was still getting used to walking in prosthetic legs. If that was the case, one thing the accident didn’t take from him was his will. The most important thing I know I saw in his face was determination. Determination to get to the end. Determination to finish the race. Determination to accomplish the mission before him.

Then, I understood the clapping – from participants and observers – including myself.

Then, I understood why runners with impressive race paces were purposely slowing down, no longer worried about their finishing times – including myself.

Then, I understood – even more than before – the will and determination our Wounded Warriors have despite, what the world sees, as a limitation.

I don’t know his name. I had never seen him before, and I might not ever see him again; but, whoever he was – I sincerely thank him for his service and his sacrifice!

My teammate and I continued the race and three miles later, we were done, were were tired, and were grateful. Prior to starting the race, my teammates and I jokingly admitted that we hadn’t trained as well as we should have. We all trained individually, so we probably did a run here or there, but nothing that could be credibly called a “training plan”. In situations like that, the only thing that keeps you motivated to continue a race is the support and encouragement you get from fellow runners.

I’ve always heard how being a runner was like being part of a club, but I’ve never felt it as strongly as I did during the Army Ten Miler. When I see the occasional runner during my morning runs, I give a cordial wave…maybe even a head nod and it’s often reciprocated. But this run was something different – something more than that. There aren’t too many events (that I can think of) in which there is an instant bond and camaraderie formed among strangers. It’s as though everyone knows and agrees about how much the miles before them are gonna suck, but they also know that everyone will be enduring those miles together – so let’s go!

Now, over 20,000 steps later and many hours of resting, I look back and I can say that I truly enjoyed the run – much more than I thought I would. And although I was happy I ran it, my knees and ankles were pretty upset with me. I know because they were complaining to me shortly after the run and even later into the night. But, it’s all good. I did some stretching and I took it easy today. So, I can tell that they aren’t too mad at me anymore. Hopefully, things will get better between us in the next day or so – at least before our next race.

Grace and Peace,
John

*The term “embrace the suck” is something service members say when the task/event before them has the potential to not be enjoyable, but since it can’t be avoided – it might as well be accepted and “embraced”.

With Your Morning Cup of Coffee

As you sit down with your coffee this morning, enjoy some of these articles that I’ve enjoyed over the past few days.

1. Why I’m Glad David Platt Is the New IMB President – Russell Moore.

Ok, really – this just makes sense! Perfect choice for such a position.

2. Kindle + Evernote = ♥ – Tim Challies

I love reading. I love Evernote. Both of them together? Yes, please. As usual, Tim does a good job on this article explaining how to integrate them together. Honestly, I was going to write an article along the same lines, but after reading this one – I’m glad I didn’t. I know he did much better than I would have.

3. Walk With God For Joy – Jared C. Wilson

This pastor has such a heart of grace. I can’t think of a time that he has spoken on a social media hot topic and not shown the side of the issue nor getting the attention it deserved. Thank you, sir.

4. Five Tips For Leading Your Small Group – Kevin DeYoung

I am currently preparing the lesson for a small group discussion with the teens in my church. This article has given me some great tips.

5. 10 Things That Happen When You Can’t Put A Good Book Down

I just though this was funny…I know a few people whom this would be quite appropriate for…myself included.

What good articles have you read over the past few days?

Grace and Peace,
John

Do You Journal?

journaling

I’ve been using a journal for the better part of a year, and to be honest – it’s been extremely rewarding. I love the idea that I can pick up my notebook or my tablet and read what has happened over the past few months of my life. Many things that have happened to me – good and bad – are all recorded. I say many things because, admittedly, I do not journal every night as I should – but I’s happy to say that I am more consistent than not.

Journaling is deliberate. I am consciously setting aside a portion of my day, either by placing the time on my calendar or on my todo list, in order to have a meaningful review of what took place that day, and record those events. When you think about it, it’s really my opportunity to take a snapshot of time. Later, in a few months or even years, when I pick up a certain journal,  I can do some self-assessment and see if I’m growing and maturing from past events and decisions. And most importantly, I can asses my growth and maturity in my relationship with Christ.

In my home, my girls have also taken up the habit of journaling. Both of my daughters have their own respective journals, and my bride shares a journal with our youngest daughter. This journal is an outlet for our youngest daughter to have a platform to share things in writing, that she is not comfortable sharing verbally. This medium has worked well for her.

I’ve covered a variety of topics in my journaling. Everything from challenges at work to vacations with the family. I written about disagreements with my bride to Saturday morning breakfast with her. I’ve written about my failures in sin and my triumphs in Christ. Seriously – I think I’ve run the gamut of topics to jot down in my journal…and it never gets old to me. I really do enjoy putting my thoughts down via paper or electronic.

For a few months, I used a moleskine type notebook as a journal. It came in handy…it was useful, and truth be told – that is my preferred method to record my thoughts. But, lately I have been using an app on my phone, and surprisingly – it’s been working out pretty good. (Maybe I’ll write a short review of it later.) The point being – since my smartphone is 99% of the time within arms reach, I really have no excuse for not taking down a note or two about my day.

I think, for some reason, journaling has never really been seen as “manly”. Growing up, it was always the girls that had a “diary” – never the “tough guys”. But, it was always the “tough guys” that wanted to know the what the girls were putting in those diary’s. It’s unfortunate that some people do not realize the many advantages of maintaining a journal until later in life – as I later discovered.

However, I’ve been encouraged by a few of the articles that I have come across over the past few weeks regarding journaling – I have posted two of my favorites below. The authors of the below articles provide good encouragement about the practicality of journaling and some f the subsequent benefits. I won’t repeat the reasons as stated in these articles, but I encourage you to take some time to read through them. Prayerfully, you will see how journaling can be a blessing to you many times over.

Are you already maintaining a journal? How is it working out for you? If not, what are your thoughts about starting one?

Grace and Peace,
John

Why Do You Journal?
7 Reasons to Keep A Journal

 

#IHeardNuthin

Here’s a little something to get you over your mid-week slump…

Lecrae’s new single dropped yesterday at 1:16pm EST. (Notice the “116” reference?) It’s a banger, too. In the past, Reach Records didn’t normally release a video along with a single. I think the first time I noticed it was with Tedashii’s first single “Dark Days, Darker Nights f/ Britt Nicole” from his new album, “Below Paradise”. (If I’m wrong, let me know in the comments below.) Now they’ve done the same with this new single from Lecrae.

Maybe this will be a new recipe for Reach – new single = new video. I know the fans won’t be upset about it. Granted, neither Lecrae nor his label mates are in the video, but you have to admit that it’s better than just staring at an album cover for five minutes!

This track is from Lecrae’s upcoming album, “Anomaly”, scheduled to be released in August. The song is produced by Gawvi, the new(est) producer signed to Reach. He’s a beast of a producer! He’s produced for many artists – a few include Rhema Soul, Trip Lee, Social Club, and more specifically, possibly my favorite Andy Mineo track from “Heroes For Sale” – “You Will”.

Check out Lecrae’s new single below.

#IHeardNuthin

Are you a fan of Reach Records? What do you think of this new one from Lecrae?

Happy Social Media Day!!!

Yeah, I didn’t know there was a such thing either. Not many people do.

Apparently, Social Media Day is day that is celebrated worldwide. It is a day that Mashable created “in 2010 as a way to recognize the digital revolution happening right before our eyes.” And I’m sure you will agree – it is a revolution.

The below video was created by Mashable as a sort of “promotion” for the day, but even more, as a way to show the influence and popularity of certain outlets used within the social media platform.

I’m sure everyone reading this can stand in agreement that social media is huge and highly attractive (read: addictive). Case in point – you’re reading this blog possibly from a link on your Facebook or Twitter page. Admittedly, I even wrote some of this post from the WordPress app on my smartphone. Social media has woven itself into the fabric of, not only our lives, but our very being. It has, in many ways, become an extension of who people know us to be. On the flip side, it has also become an extension of who we are, or who we project ourselves to be – whether it’s the real us or not. For better or worse – we’ve allowed social media to define us.

Social media in and of itself is not bad. Personally, I think it is a good platform for engaging people. Family and friends have been connected or reconnected. Experiences have been shared across thousands of miles. Grandparents living on one side of the country can see their grandchild living on the opposite side of the country grow up. In my case, I was blessed to find the church in which my family and I currently worship and serve.

Social media, as a whole, can be used for good – when it is used in a context in which selfish gain or humiliation and degradation of others is not the goal. Unfortunately, those two situations happen more than not in the social media world. As fallen creatures, we have a habit of using positive resources in negative ways. People post provocative pictures, videos of pornographic content and unnecessary violence, and people also engage in cyber-bullying – those are the obvious things. There’s no telling what else is being done that is not as blatant.

Although social media can and has been used to connect people (in either a positive or negative way), that very same platform has the tendency to drive us apart. The platform has done done a remarkable job in bringing so many people together virtually, that we are even further apart physically. And what does that do for the gospel?

Yes, through social media, brothers and sisters are spreading the life changing truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A 140-character tweet can be sent from North Carolina and reach someone in Germany. Someone in California can write a note on Facebook about being baptized and that could be the open door for an unbelieving friend in Michigan to engage with questions about the faith. The challenges come in when we use the platform of social media exclusively to spread the gospel.

When we don’t make the effort to physically reach out to the lost, the personal elements of relationship face even further degradation. When we depend on technology to be our hands and feet to a lost and fallen world, what happens when that technology fails?

By no means am I saying to get rid of technology, nor am I saying deactivate your social media profiles. What I am saying is social media should be employed as a resource to assist you in spreading the gospel. It should not be the means, but a means of telling the world about Jesus. He’s too good to be displayed behind computer screens, forwarded in text messages, shared on Facebook feeds, explained in 140-character Tweets, and liked in an Instagram photo. He is so much more than that. Share Him with your lips, touch others with His hands, walk with others with His feet, live with others by doing life. That is the best way that we can share Jesus – through the life that He purchased on the cross. Go live that life for Jesus.

I ask that you take just a few more minutes to view this video. I don’t know anything about the person speaking in it…whether he is a believer or not. But I appreciate the message. I appreciate the intent. I think it’s a message that we can all understand and relate to, and in our pursuit of sharing Jesus outside of a technological platform – I think it’s something that we can all get behind.

I pray that as you watch this video, you can be reminded of the need to tell people about the limitless and bountiful joy to be found in Jesus Christ – not in the limited toys and gadgets of everyday life. Grace & Peace.

How will you share Jesus today? Who will you speak to, touch, and walk with?

 

“Blogging Theologically” by Aaron Armstrong

blog

Today’s “Follow Friday” blog recommendation is “Blogging Theologically” ran by Aaron Armstrong. I learned about Aaron’s blog as I was first getting serious about my own blog. I took some time to take a look at what current writers were doing on their blogs and I stumbled upon “BT”.

I took a look through the site and one of the first trends I noticed about Aaron’s posts was his transparency. He is a brother who seemed to have no issue with telling his readers about his personal shortcomings. I appreciate his honesty.

Aaron’s site was one of the few that I saw, initially, that didn’t have posts that would be 4 – 5 pages if read on a word document. What I mean is, his site showed me that every single post doesn’t have to be really long and theologically deep in order to be God glorifying, people edifying, and worth posting. Many of Aaron’s posts are short (I understand that it a relative term) and to the point. Once you finish reading what he’s written, you don’t feel like you’re missing something. He puts his points across very well.

If you’re on twitter, follow him here.

The articles below are a few that I’ve enjoyed in my time reading “Blogging Theologically”. These articles are no way exclusive of the great writing he does on a daily basis, but there are just a few I’d like to point out:

  1. Choosing A New Preaching Bible
  2. Four And A Half Books I Shouldn’t Have Read As A New Christian
  3. Think About What You Read
  4. 3 Passages I Want to Preach (but have been afraid to)

Take some time over the next few days to check out this brother’s site. Grab a cup of coffee, your favorite reading device (smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc), and settle in for some good, honest reading. If you like what you read, recommend him to others.  Drop him a line if you can. Tell him that John sent you! ;)

Grace and Peace.

Have you already been to his site? What are your thoughts about it? Are there other sites you’d like to see highlighted for “Follow Friday”?

With A Cup of Coffee

As you sit down with your coffee this morning, enjoy some of these articles that I’ve enjoyed over the past few days.

1. Primer on Reading the Bible by John Hughes

There is a lot of advice out there about how to read the Bible. As with any advice, some is good and some is bad. I love these pointers because each one is rooted in dependance on God for understanding of His scripture.

2. This is your brain on mobile by Jeremy Vandehey

This is just an interesting article. Please be aware, there is a curse word or two at the end of the article. In general, the author brings some good points and recommendations on how to unplug.

3. FBI rescues 168 child prostitutes, nabs 281 pimps, in weeklong sting by Peter Weber

I am always, ALWAYS, happy when I read articles like this. Granted, there are still hundreds, if not thousands of people (children specifically) whom are still caught up in this way of life. However, this article tells me that there are 168 children that are no longer enslaved to 281 pimps and this life. And those 281 pimps are no longer on the street. Please continue to pray for, not only these recently rescued children, but also those whom have not been rescued. Also, pray for the repentance of, not only the 281 people just arrested, but also for those still enforcing this life on others – adults and children alike.

4. Hey, remember that time Google accidentally made Skynet? by Bryan Bishop

This is a amusing article, albeit a bit disconcerting. The imagery and comparisons used by the author in telling the story are a bit too realistic for comfort. The author places the creation and advancement of the Google operating system, i.e. Android, in the context of “The Terminator” plot. Quite an interesting twist to this technology.

5. “5 Ways To Fight Temptation” – I’ve always enjoyed the videos that Joe (@whatisjoedoing) released. I think this brother has a gift to relate biblical truths to a young generation in a manner which is easily accessible and understandable.

Living life on purpose, for His purpose…

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