Eight Steps for Setting Your Mind on the Things Above


Recently I preached a vision casting message for our church.

I called it ACUTE–A Vision for the Future.

The “A” in the acrostic stands for Awakening–Seeking Our Spiritual Transformation. My text was Col. 3:1-4. You can listen to the audio here.

As promised, this post includes a link to an article I wrote for Tabletalk magazine sometime ago called On Your Heart. It outlines a process for effective meditating on Scripture–perhaps the most strategic way to set your mind on the things above.

Won’t you join the Awakening Challenge? Memorize one verse per week and meditate upon it regularly.

Imagine the rise in spiritual temperature in your congregation God might give as a result!

Sappy and Green

I am fond of several sayings. One of them is this: “Getting old is overrated.” I quoted it again just before writing this post. I talked with my mom after an outpatient surgery she underwent the other day. We both agreed. Getting old is overrated.

At least it is physically. I didn’t have surgery this week, but I feel the effects of aging after turning sixty-one the other day. I won’t bore you with the anatomical details. I take solace in the fact that getting old spiritually is definitely NOT overrated. I say that because of two passages of Scripture, one New Testament and the other Old Testament.

Consider 2 Cor. 4:16 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. Wasting away. Couldn’t have said it better about the physical body. But this text is decidedly good news for someone who, by God’s grace, has walked with Jesus for nearly forty-one years now. My inner self, the immaterial side of my being, is being renewed day by day. That means I have come a long way, baby.  I am not the man I was and I am not the man I will be. Thanks be to God. Let the transformation continue.

But the news gets better. Consider Psalm 92:12-15.

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, 15 to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Living in Florida, I get the imagery. Palm trees endure through absolutely everything. They shoot relentlessly to the sky sprouting their luxurious fronds. Cedars of Lebanon I am not so familiar with. Wish I were. Had to do some research:

These giant, beautiful, evergreen trees grow in mountainous regions, at altitudes of 3,300-6,500 feet (1,000-2,000 m). They can be found in Lebanon, south-central Turkey, and Cyprus. They produce cones which grow on top of the branch. The trees can attain a height of 100 feet (30 m) and the trunk may reach 6 feet (2 m) in diameter. Compared with the trees of Israel, the cedar is indeed a mighty tree, and it is highly praised in Scripture.

When I think about the reality of becoming an increasingly older man, righteous in God’s sight by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone, I am thrilled to consider this not as something overrated but highly desirable. The promise of God for those planted in the house of the Lord, at home in the courts of the living God, is that such will flourish, grow, and still bear fruit even in old age. The last thing I want to be is some grumpy old codger making everyone miserable in a self-centered, morose, miserable endgame. Full of sap and green. That’s for me. Let me live out my days doing exactly what v. 15 says, declaring that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Sappy and green. Sappier than ever, brighter green every day. Let the aging continue. Definitely not overrated.

Matthew Henry said it well:

In God’s trees the strength of grace does not fail with the strength of nature. The last days of the saints are sometimes their best days, and their last work their best work.
Lord, may my last days be my best days, my last work my best work.
I promise. I’ll give you all the glory.

Toughest School Ever (3)

In Philippians 4:11, the Apostle Paul makes an amazing statement: I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. He doesn’t say, I am learning or I hope to learn. He speaks as if to suggest some degree of mastery of the contentment curriculum. He is adamant. He adds in v. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.

Honestly, I can’t yet speak so confidently. But this gives me hope. Such a lofty goal is attainable. Contentment, though often it seems the opposite, does not lie outside our spiritual reach in this world.

No doubt, as I explained in my previous post in this series, Christ’s school of contentment is a compulsory school. As followers of Jesus, shaped by the gospel, we must strive for the same gracious frame of spirit to which Paul attained. However, we should indeed think positively about our prospects for growth in light of the excellency of the Instructor.

I say this first, because of the nature of God Himself who teaches in this school. My Puritan friend explains:

‘Content’, signifies a self-sufficiency, as I told you in opening the words. A contented man is a self-sufficient man, and what is the great glory of God, but to be happy and self-sufficient in himself? Indeed, he is said to be all-sufficient, but that is only a further addition of the word ‘all’, rather than of any matter, for to be sufficient is all-sufficient. Now this is the glory of God, to be sufficient, to have sufficiency in himself. El-Shaddai means to be God having sufficiency in himself. And you come near to this. As you partake of the Divine nature by grace in general, so you do it in a more peculiar manner by this grace of Christian contentment, for what is the excellence and glory of God but this? Suppose there were no creatures in the world, and that all the creatures in the world were annihilated: God would remain the same blessed God that he is now, he would not be in a worse condition if all creatures were gone; neither would a contented heart, if God should take away all creatures from him. A contented heart has enough in the lack of all creatures, and would not be more miserable than he is now. Suppose that God should keep you here, and all the creatures that are in the world were taken away, yet you still, having God to be your portion, would be as happy as you are now.

So our first encouragement about the prospect of growth in contentment comes from the excellencies of His nature as the all-sufficient God, unshakably happy in Himself. In Him through Christ that character takes hold and transforms us over time from murmuring malcontents to rejoicing sons and daughters.

But there is one more word of encouragement about the seemingly impossible mission of attaining contentment related to the excellence of the Teacher. That has to do with the content from which He teaches. For example, consider again Hebrews 13:5-6.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

From where does the writer draw in backing the exhortation to avoid covetousness in favor of being content with what one possesses? God’s word from the Old Testament in Psalm 118:6.

Another wise saint from the past, J. C. Ryle wrote about the significance of this:

The main point I want to impress on men’s minds is this: we ought to make the texts and promises of the Bible our refuge in time of trouble and the fountain of our soul’s comfort. When St. Paul wanted to enforce a grace and recommend a duty, he quoted a text. When you and I would give a reason for our hope, or when we feel that we need strength and consolation, we must go to our Bibles and try to find out suitable texts. The lawyer uses old cases and decisions when he pleads his cause. “Such a judge has said such a thing; and therefore,” he argues, “it is a settled point.” The soldier on the battlefield takes up certain positions and does certain things; if you ask him why, he will say, “I have such and such orders from my general, and I obey them.” The true Christian must always use his Bible in like manner. The Bible must be his book of reference and precedents. The Bible must be to him his captain’s orders. If anyone asks him why he thinks as he does, lives as he does, feels as he does, all he has need to reply is, “God has spoken to such an effect: I have my orders, and that is enough.”

Does the Christian virtue of contentment seem far beyond your reach in the flesh. Take heart.  Though enrolled in the toughest of schools we have the best of instructors teaching the most superior content.

O happy day when we will say with Paul, I have learned and I know.

Toughest School Ever (2)

In my first post on the virtue of content, I likened it to schooling that takes place over one’s lifetime under the providence of God.

In this post and those to come, I wish to continue working the same metaphor describing various aspects of the curriculum from the Scriptures.

The place to begin, I believe, is with the nature of this discipline as a compulsory subject. Anyone who has done any higher education grasps the difference between required courses and electives. I loved electives in college. I got to pick and choose what I liked. Motivation wasn’t an issue. When it came to the required stuff, I had no choice. I either took the class or faced dropping out.

Certain texts make it clear that we can’t do an end-around on the school of contentment. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.” There’s no denying it. God commands that we stay clear of the desire for more stuff and find satisfaction in whatever He has given us, big or small, or in between.

Then we have Paul’s words in First Timothy 6:8. “But if we have food and clothing, with these will be content.”  Really? Talk about setting the bar low when it comes to your possessions. He doesn’t even include shelter in his short list. Grub in the belly and clothes on the back. Enough for me. Satisfied. No problemo. Yikes!

But here’s the kicker in that same context. If you back up to verse 6 you read this: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” You can’t miss the duty in v. 8, nor back in Heb. 13:5. We have an obligation to pursue contentment. It’s a gospel necessity. We can’t skip this course. We can’t clep out of it. We’ve got to take the class, if we belong to King Jesus.

But don’t miss the glory of it, as my new-found friend Jeremiah Burroughs would say. For that we go back to First Timothy 6:6 where Paul touches on what makes for great gain. Anybody NOT interested in great gain? I didn’t think so.

He doesn’t say that godliness in-and-of-itself amounts to great gain; he contends that godliness with contentment is great gain. Here’s how I read that. Without contentment, whatever gain belongs to godliness isn’t as great as it is with contentment. As for me and my house, not settling for less than great gain!

Of course, all this begs the question “What is contentment?” I can’t improve on the old Puritan’s definition. I’ll end with it:

Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

Have you enrolled? The course is not optional for followers of Jesus. It is decidedly compulsory.

Submit to the duty, but go for the glory.

Precept Ministries Is Coming, Hurrah!


Today I actually  had a quiet time, studied for my next sermon in John, exercised (a little too painful after the two-month layoff), and now I sit before my laptop writing a blog post. Perhaps after two months of hectic Project Occupy the New Building, life has started to get back to more of the routine and regular disciplines, including the occasional spot on the blog.

Why am I so excited, you may ask, about Precept Ministries? Easy. The aim of Precepts in teaching women in particular how to study the Bible book-by-book through solid inductive Bible study methods matches up perfectly with our values, mission and vision as a church. Kay Arthur, founder of Precept Ministries and gifted Bible teacher (her videos make up a core part of the weekly study process), longs to see women grow in their intimate relationship with God. She wants them to know God better. That’s what our elders want for all our folks at OGC. So launching a Precepts Bible study this fall in our new facility makes all the sense in the world to us, especially since God has sent us a certified instructor in the form of soon-to-become-a-member Joyce Jacobs. Hurrah again!

Starting September 4 Joyce will lead part one in a study of  2 Timothy: A Study in Discipleship. (Note: this is a change from the earlier post this week that advertised Revelation (Part One). Please forgive any confusion this causes!) The class will meet on Tuesday mornings at the church (an evening “mirror” class will be offered for women as well, interest pending). As a bonus, during August Joyce will offer a 4-week study (each class only one hour) for women who might be new to Precepts using Kay Arthur’s book Lord, Teach Me To Study the Bible in 28 Days ($13).

Let me commend that 28 day journey to you even if you never take one of the more demanding but oh-so-rewarding extended Precepts studies like the one coming up in 2 Timothy this fall. In this little resource you will get a fine introduction to Bible study methods. Kay Arthur makes studying the Bible not only manageable but delightful as she takes you over the course of month through studies in the Old Testament book of Jonah and the New Testament book of Jude. You will likely catch her fever for a desire to know God better, an even higher view of Scripture than you already possess, and get equipped with the tools to study the Bible for yourself in such a way that your spiritual life will profit in ways you can hardly imagine. How sweet is all of that?

If you would like more info, contact Joyce by phone at 407.365.2266 or by email at

I can’t wait to see what God does in the lives of the women of OGC as the search the Scriptures together and in them engage their beloved Lord Jesus in ever increasing degrees of soul-satisfying delight!

Triple hurrah!

An Acts 9:31 Birthday Wish/Prayer for OGC

Our church turns 19 on Sunday. Thanks be to God. It pleases the Lord to grant us corporate length of days.

As we head toward the actual anniversary this Sunday, I want to share with you a personal birthday wish/prayer I have for our church each time of year our anniversary comes around. My hope is you will join in making it with me.

It comes from Acts 9:31.

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

By peace Luke means rest from persecution. The previous chapters record the hits taken by the fledgling church throughout Palestine in the form of heavy persecution. But now, following Saul’s conversion, she enjoys a widespread, relative peace.

But that’s not all the author tells us about the church in this season of blessed rest. He mentions two other significant realities about her. First, she was being built up. Edified. The Greek word gives us a word picture of a house under construction. We might say she was becoming more spiritual.

Second, she multiplied. The church grew. Numbers were added. Souls were saved. People were converted. The kingdom advanced.

How did these two things occur? Walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Walking conveys the idea of an everyday kind of experience. It was second nature for this church of the first century to reverence God and to be strengthened by His Spirit. In other words they were a Godward people in every sense of the word. As a result, they were edified and multiplied.

G. Campbell Morgan, in his commentary on this verse, wrote:

It is impossible to read this verse without being reminded of the missionary vocation of the Church. Here the Church is seen going on its way, going in the way the Lord commanded it, going to the nations to disciple them, going into the cosmos to suffer in order to save; and going on its way in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. These two things are closely united. The first part of the verse ends “being edified”; the second part ends “was multiplied.” The underlying thought is exactly the same. Consequently if the Church is to be missionary, she must be spiritual; and if the church is to be spiritual, she must be missionary (The Acts of the Apostles, Fleming H. Revell, 1924, pp. 253-54.

Spiritual and missionary. Edified and multiplied. To be one or the other we must be both. That is my prayer for OGC as we move into our 20th year. May God make us spiritual and missionary, edified and multiplied, to a greater extent than we ever have before!

Will you join me in praying this birthday wish for our church?