Making a Difficult Decision? Try this Tip.

Ever had to make a difficult decision? I sure have.

Of course, what counts as “difficult” depends on who you are, your level of experience, and the magnitude of responsibility. Harry Truman had to decide to drop an atomic bomb on Japan, to deploy U. S. forces to the Korean peninsula, and to relieve General MacArthur of his command.

You’ll probably never have to make decisions on that scale.

But you do have to make decisions that—for you—are difficult, even agonizing. Besides the complexity of information to process, the feelings of the people involved, and the conflicting stories you are hearing, you face another big obstacle to good decision-making: yourself.

I don’t mean your own weaknesses, lack of experience, etc. I mean this: the very pressure to decide can compromise a leader’s ability to make a good decision. This is why a friend of mine once told me that the right decision is abundantly clear until you’re the one who has to make it.

If only you could split yourself into two people—the one who bears the responsibility to make the decision, and the one who, free from that responsibility, can see what the right decision should be.

I know of only one way to do just that, and here it is: Take some time to write out—or at least think out—the decision as if it were a section in a historical biography. Fast-forward twenty-five or fifty years—when the dust has settled and emotions have cooled, when the principles at stake are better understood and the guiding values come into focus, when the decision may be viewed as a laudable step forward in the march of history, even if it’s just your personal history or the history of the organization you lead.

Then, from that serene vantage point, you may just get a better glimpse into what the right decision should be, and—just as importantly—gain fresh courage to execute it.

George Whitefield’s Delight in Scripture and Prayer

When I was a child, I heard a pastor read this section from George Whitefield’s diary. It still stirs me to greater discipline and delight in Scripture and prayer.

My mind being now more open and enlarged, I began to read the Holy Scriptures on my knees, laying aside all other books and praying, if possible, every line and word. This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul. I daily received fresh life, light and power from above. I got more true knowledge from reading the Book of God in one month than I could ever have acquired from all the writings of men.

And in prayer . . .

Oh, what sweet communion had I daily vouchsafed with God in prayer, after my coming again to Gloucester! How often have I been carried out beyond myself when sweetly meditating in the fields! How assuredly have I felt that Christ dwelt in my and I in Him! And how did I daily walk in the comforts of the Holy Ghost and was edified and refreshed in the multitude of peace!

-Taken from volume 1 of Arnold Dallimore’s George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the 18th Century Revival

I’m a Believer. So Why Do I Struggle with Doubt?

“When they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17).

“Some doubted.” Yes, even when looking at the resurrected Christ.

What can we learn from this? We can learn that while we are still in this world—even if we were to see Jesus with our own eyes—we sometimes struggle with doubt. If this was difficult for the disciples who stood staring right at Jesus, how much more necessary is it for us today!

I came across a helpful discussion of this mingling of faith and doubt in Calvin’s Institutes. I offer it here to encourage those of us who find our faith mingled with doubt—who cry with the father of the demon-possessed child, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). (Note: I’m using Henry Beveridge’s translation. For clarity’s sake, I have updated the language and taken the liberty to paraphrase in some places).

The believer finds within himself two principles: the one filling him with delight in recognizing the divine goodness, the other filling him with bitterness under a sense of his fallen state; the one leading him to recline of the promise of the Gospel, the other alarming him by the conviction of his iniquity; the one making him exult with the anticipation of life, the other making him tremble with the fear of death. These principles are due to the imperfection of our faith. For, in this present life, we are never fully cured of the disease of distrust. We are never quite completely engulfed in perfect faith. That is why we feel those inner conflicts.

But this does not mean that faith is an obscure and confused understanding of God’s will. Even though we may be harassed by various doubts, it does not follow that we are divested of faith. Though we are agitated and carried to and fro by distrust, we are not immediately plunged into the abyss. Though we are shaken, we are not driven from our place.

The certain outcome of this struggle is this: that faith in the long run triumphs over the difficulties which try to bring it down.

Why? Because of the nature of true saving faith. As soon as the minutest particle of genuine faith is instilled into our minds, we begin to behold the face of God—in peace and favor toward us. We behold him, though far off, yet so distinctly as to assure us that there is no delusion in it.

-Adapted from Calvin’s Institutes Book 3, Chapter 2, Sections 18 and 19.

The “Book of Nature” is Not Enough

“The heavens declare the glory of God.” Every day, to each human being, the universe tells us something: There is a creator, and he is unimaginably powerful.

For centuries, people have called this “the Book of Nature,” or, to use a theological term, “general revelation.”

But it is obvious that something has gone wrong with this “Book of Nature,” this story of God’s glory. At the very least, something has gone wrong with our ability to read it right. The words seem to be smudged. Important pages are missing. In fact, the more closely we look, we will notice that there is another story written between the lines—a tragic tale of selfishness, rebellion, despair, and, finally, death.

This is not the story of the original Author. Rather, it was edited by our own sin and rebellion, as we are told in Genesis 3:17-19:

Cursed is the ground because of you [Adam]; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The Apostle Paul expresses it this way in Romans 8:20: “The creation was subjected to futility,” and is in “bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:21).

This “futility” and “bondage” is part of the reason that on one night we might look up at the stars and say, “What a Creator!” And on another day, we look at the decay all around us, and say, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”

It is because of human sin that humans fail to read the book of nature as we should. This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 1:19-21, when he writes,

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

There is enough in the Book of Nature to show us that there is a God and that he is unimaginably powerful and glorious. But the Book of Nature is powerless to teach us why we are in such a predicament, why we feel so wretched and still long for light and salvation. It is powerless to teach us how to have a right relationship with God.

And that’s why we need another book, the Book of Scripture.

Five Attitudes You Need When Reading the Bible

We need God’s Word to teach, correct, and train us. But simply reading the Bible does not guarantee that we will enjoy its benefits. We must read the Bible . . .

. . .  in faith

“For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:2).

. . . with humility

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21)

. . . with self-discipline

. . .to still the noise, both inside and outside ourselves.

“Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21),

. . . to establish consistency.

“On his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2)

. . . with delight

“[The blessed man’s] delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).

. . . in fellowship

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

Fifteen Reasons to Pay Attention to God’s Word

The more I read, study, memorize, and meditate on it, the more I realize that God’s Word is what I need. All the time.

It is the power that brought the universe into existence (Genesis 1:3).

It is the seed that brings you to life (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:21).

It is the truth that sanctifies and sets you free you (John 17:17; 8:31-32)

It is the light that guides you (Psalm 119:105).

It is the mirror that shows you who you are (James 1:23).

It is the joy and delight of the heart (Jeremiah 15:16; Psalm 1:2).

It is the river that makes you flourish (Psalm 1:3).

It is the water that washes you (Ephesians 5:26).

It is the course that educates you (Psalm 119:130).

It is the gold that enriches you (Psalm 19:10).

It is the bread that nourishes you (Matthew 4:4; Job 23:12).

It is the courage that emboldens you (Psalm 56:4).

It is the song that you sing (Colossians 3:16).

It is the sword that arms you for battle (Ephesians 6:17).

It is the breath of God (2 Timothy 3:16).

For these and many more reasons, “see that you do not refuse him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25).

A Powerful Productivity Tool at Your Fingertips

If you’re reading this on a smartphone, you have a powerful productivity tool right at your fingertips.

I’ve used it to read mentally demanding books, clear out my e-mail inbox, plan for meetings, and strengthen my prayer life.

No, it’s not an app or any kind of online program. It’s much simpler than that.

It’s the 15-minute timer.

And it’s ridiculously simple. I have an iPhone, so I begin by saying, “Hey, Siri. Set the timer for 15 minutes.” When the countdown begins, I shut out everything else and put all my concentration into that one task.

This works on tasks I love and the ones I loathe. The enjoyable tasks, if left unchecked, could keep me occupied endlessly—to the neglect of other important ones. The fifteen-minute timer keeps me accountable to move on to other tasks I need to do. And those irksome tasks (the ones you get busy just to avoid) can be tamed by the timer, too. I’ve been surprised how much of an unpleasant task I can knock out when the timer is going.

Of course, not every task lasts only fifteen minutes, but tasks that require more time can be divided into smaller units. And the awareness that the clock is ticking helps me push myself, cut out distraction, and ultimately get more done than I thought possible.

You might be surprised how many e-mails you can respond to in fifteen minutes. Or creative ideas you can generate. Or even the quality of heavy reading you can do.

So why not give it a try? All it takes is a little determination—and a timer.

Why We Need a Prophet, Priest, and King

I recently finished preaching a three-part sermon series on Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King. While researching for these sermons, I came across this helpful paragraph in Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.

He had to be a prophet to know and disclose the truth of God; a priest, to devote himself to God and, in our place, to offer himself up to God; a king, to govern and protect us according to God’s will. To teach, to reconcile, to lead; to instruct, to acquire, and to apply salvation; wisdom, righteousness, and redemption, truth, love, and power—all three are essential to the completeness of our salvation.

Bavinck’s explanation provided the springboard for this three-fold schema I used when preaching:

  • My view of God is distorted, so I need a PROPHET.
  • My relationship with God is disrupted, so I need a PRIEST.
  • Our world is disordered, so we need a KING.

Closer to Bavinck’s wording, here’s another way to think about it:

  • TRUTH. I need someone with truth. As Prophet, Jesus tells me the truth about God, myself, and the way to God.
  • LOVE. I need someone with love. The truth he tells me is that God is holy, and I am sinful. As Priest, Jesus stands in my place before God—taking my punishment, and presenting me as righteous.
  • POWER. I need someone with power. As King, he has the power to make everything as it should be.

In the Old Testament, these roles of prophet, priest, and king were so important that they required the special help of God’s Spirit. Since oil was a symbol of God’s Spirit (1 Samuel 16:13; Luke 4:18), a leader would pour oil over the head of the one who was being commissioned as a prophet, priest or king,  who would then be called an anointed one (see Psalm 105:15; Exodus 30:30; 1 Samuel 16:13; 24:6).

The English words “Messiah” and “Christ” come from the Hebrew and Greek words meaning “anointed one.” So when the writers of the New Testament refer to Jesus as the Christ they are saying that he is the ultimate Spirit-anointed one—the Prophet, Priest, and King, all wrapped up in one divine person (see Acts 10:38; 1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 16:13).

Singing the Seven “I Am” Sayings of Christ


Last month, I had the opportunity to preach at a Christian camp. Since the campers’ ages ranged from 7 to 12 years old, I wanted my sermons to be simple, memorable, and foundational. So I chose to preach on the seven “I Am” sayings of Christ in the book of John.

As I prepared my sermons, the truths of these seven sayings began to deeply impact me. I wanted them to stick with the campers long after the week of camp. Then I had a thought: Turning these sayings into a song might help the kids remember these truths. So I went to work, putting these sayings into rhyming verse, and my wife Christa put it to this beautiful tune. As it turned out, this exercise pushed me to understand more clearly what Jesus was saying, and the significance it has for our lives.

The final product was a simple four-verse poem and chorus. I’ve provided the text below, with some comments on its context in the Gospel of John.


To hungry souls, Christ is the Bread
Who fills and satisfies.
To darkened hearts, He is the Light
Who opens blinded eyes.

John 6 tells us that Jesus had miraculously fed a monstrous crowd numbering over 5,000 people. When these people with full tummies followed Jesus hoping for more handouts, Jesus told them that their real need wasn’t for physical bread. After all, not even manna—bread that fell from the sky—could keep their ancestors alive. The only thing that would ultimately satisfy them was the Bread that came straight from Heaven—in other words, the Son of God who would die and rise again on their behalf. To “eat” this Bread means to believe in Jesus. Whoever does, Jesus assures us, “will live forever” (John 6:58).

In John 8:12, Jesus proclaims, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The very next chapter dramatizes this claim. Jesus restores vision to a man with congenital blindness. However, this man still needed another kind of sight—faith in Jesus. When he later came to Jesus and believed in him, the formerly blind man could finally “see.” He understood that he was a sinner in need of Jesus. The proud Pharisees, however, ironically remained blind, since they refused to believe. To them, Jesus said, “Your guilt remains” (9:41). When we come to Christ as the light, we simultaneously see our sinfulness and Christ’s perfection. We no longer try to deceive ourselves into thinking that our sin is hidden to God. Instead, we confess our sin, taking refuge in His perfect Son.


To wandering sheep, Christ is the Door
Who loves and lets them in.
No better Shepherd can they know
Than He who died for them.

Many people cherish the idea that there many paths to God. Christ’s teaching, however, is quite clear: access to the “fold” is only through Him. But the invitation is free: “I am the door,” Christ proclaims, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9).

Not only is Jesus the door of the sheepfold, he is the Shepherd of the sheep. In contrast to false shepherds, those self-seeking “hired hands,” Jesus proves his love by his sacrificial death: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (10:11). Let no one think that Christ’s death betrayed his weakness, for “no one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (10:18). Neither should anyone think that his death was permanent, for “I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (10:17). Can we find any better Shepherd than Christ?


Like branches, we can bear no fruit
Except through Christ the Vine.
He is the only Way to God,
The Truth, the Life Divine.

The third verse echoes John 15, which teaches that fruitfulness comes only through a relationship with Christ: “I am the vine,” he explains, “you are the branches. whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” The second part of this verse reflects the familiar words of John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”


Those dead in sin will come alive
At Jesus’ mighty cry.
For all who trust in Christ the Life
Will live and never die.

The phrase “those dead in sin” calls on Ephesians 2:1 to explain our deadness without Christ. I hoped the words “Jesus’ mighty cry” would evoke the scene of our Lord standing at the gaping mouth of the tomb shouting, “Lazarus, come forth,” which is the context in which he tells grieving Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

I saved this saying for the final verse, even though it comes earlier in the book of John. It serves as a fitting climax since the theme of eternal life runs throughout John’s gospel from beginning to end. In 1:4, John tells us that “in him was life.” And near the close of this book, when explaining why he wrote, John says, “These [signs] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).


Come to this Feast, behold this Light,
Pass through this open Door.
Be led by Him and loved by Him,
And live forevermore.

With the chorus, the verbal mood changes from declarative to imperative. These sayings of Jesus are not intended as interesting facts to ponder. They present us with a Person to whom we must respond. That is why I wanted the chorus to be an exhortation, a direct call to action, just as the Apostle John intended for the readers of his gospel. I tried to incorporate at least a hint of each of most of the seven sayings. The “Feast” reminds us of Jesus as the Bread. The “Light” and “Door” are stated explicitly, and the words “pass through” reflect Jesus’ being the “Way” to the Father.  The exhortation to “be led by Him” urges the proper response to Christ as the Good Shepherd. Finally, the invitation to “live forevermore” is evocative of Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life.

What I’m Reading: Sweet Reason

Sweet Reason: A Field Guide to Modern Logic

Sweet Reason is not the sort of book that will keep you wide-eyed, turning pages late at night. It’s actually a pretty dense textbook—the kind with charts, gray boxes, exercises, and odd-numbered answers at the back of the book.

So why am I reading this? When working on my Ph.D., I was required to have proficiency in two research languages and was given the option to substitute formal logic for a language. I chose to take logic instead of a second language, and Sweet Reason was the textbook. It turned out to be a game-changer for me. As I researched for and wrote my dissertation, Sweet Reason gave me the skills to more effectively evaluate arguments and compose my own. I determined (nerd that I am) to work through the book a second time.

The brilliant thing about this book is that it assumes virtually no prior knowledge about logic, but then leads you quickly—almost without your realizing it—into some pretty complex stuff. The authors deliver the content in a whimsical but clear writing style, and they weave informal logic throughout the textbook. Despite its daunting subject, Sweet Reason is anything but dry and dusty.

Thinking—good and right thinking—takes hard work. Discovering the truth is no easy task. But those who learn to do it well are less likely to be confused or deceived; they are more equipped to articulate truth to others. As a Christian who serves the God of truth, I believe right thinking is not only personally beneficial but also a way I can worship my God. And Sweet Reason is helping me do just that.