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God’s Purpose: Your Conformity to Christ

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me (Psalm 57:2).

When I think about God fulfilling his purpose for me, I naturally drift toward things like material comforts, freedom from inconveniences, and large doses of verbal affirmation. Regrettably, conformity to Christ doesn’t immediately come to mind. How different this is from the Scriptural portrait!

Paul repeatedly informs us that God purposes to sanctify his children, which involves bringing our heart-attitudes and character into alignment with Christ.

What does that look like?

Humility – “. . . doing nothing from selfish ambition or vain glory, but with humility of mind regarding one another as more important than yourselves, not merely looking out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this way of thinking in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although existing in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a slave, by being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:3–8, Legacy Standard Bible).

“The humble man feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can bear to hear others praised and himself forgotten, because in God’s presence he has learnt to say with Paul, ‘I am nothing.’” – Andrew Murray, Humility.

I need humility.

Fruit of the Spirit – “. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23, ESV).

“God, change me in the depths of my being! Fill me with Your holy presence until Your will is my chief delight. . . . Cleanse me of any unholy fire in my own heart! Teach me how to love others the way Jesus loves me!” – Jack Miller, The Heart of A Servant Leader.

I need the help of the Holy Spirit.

Service – “. . . whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26–27, ESV).

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:3–5, ESV).

A hidden life of sacrificial service kills pride, self-importance, self-preoccupation, and self-fascination.

“In Thy will, O Lord, is my peace.
In Thy love is my rest.
In Thy service is my joy.
Thou art all my heart’s desire.” – John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer.

I need to run away from the spotlight and serve quietly in the shadows.

Childlike wonder – “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15, ESV).

This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas–
His hand the wonders wrought.

I need a childlike yet fully adult faith.

Speaking/Doing the truth in love – “. . . speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, ESV).

“You are called to be patient and constructive in every relationship and every interaction” – David Powlison

I need to speak wisely and constructively to my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Brokenness – “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

“Brokenness is the shattering of my self-will—the absolute surrender of my will to the will of God. It is saying ‘Yes, Lord!’—no resistance, no chafing, no stubbornness—simply submitting myself to His direction and will in my life.” – Nancy Leigh DeMoss Brokenness: The Heart God Revives.

I need a broken will.

Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever (Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent)

Naming the Insurrectionist(s) in Our Hearts

They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).

Read those words from the chief priests once more—slowly: “We have no king but Caesar.”

Calloused Hearts
You remember the context: The Jewish leadership wants Jesus dead. But their zeal to carry out their plot must have aroused Pilate’s suspicion, so that he wondered: Why do these Jewish leaders, who would love nothing more than to get the Romans off their backs, now declare their allegiance to Caesar (see v. 15 above).

And why, when Pilate tried to free Jesus, did they reply, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend” (Jn. 19:12). As an unprincipled man himself, Pilate can spot deception when he sees it.

From one angle, of course, it might seem like the Jewish leaders have outmaneuvered Pilate. Their declarations in verses 12 and 15 force his hand. He must do something about Jesus. After all, if Jesus truly is the “King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:3), he must take action, or Caesar will. And Pilate will feel the repercussions.

But from the perspective of divine omniscience, as recorded in sacred Scripture, the Jewish leaders haven’t outwitted Pilate; they’ve revealed their calloused hearts—and ours.

Zooming in the Lens on Ourselves
As fallen human beings, we love to judge other people. It feels good. It’s energizing, enlivening, intoxicating. You can almost feel a burst of energy course through your bones as you breath a heavy sigh and say under your breath, “How could the Jewish leadership betray their own Messiah?” We love to imagine that we’re better.

But we’re not.

Jesus is the King of the universe. And as such, he has the right to rule our lives. He owns us.

But like the Jewish leaders in John 19, we foolishly declare our allegiance to insurrectionists. True, we weren’t physically present when the crowd demanded, “Give us Barabbas!” but the heart that gave rise to such a disgraceful demand lies within each of us. It sounds like this: Jesus, get out of the way. I want freedom. And by freedom, we mean our own definition of freedom.

But the problem is that our self-chosen paths of “freedom” enslave us to false gods. And since false gods are harsh taskmasters who detest their worshipers, those who worship them become just like them—ruthless, insatiable, and filled with hate.

And you can always tell when someone worships at the altar of a false god because the following characteristics show up with regularity:

Unrighteous anger – They’re often infuriated with people, circumstances, and/or inanimate objects.

Demandingness – They insist that other people make their life work.

Control – They have an obsessive need to know what’s going to happen in any and all circumstances. To use biblical language, they want to walk by sight, not by faith.

Narcissism – They assume that their exhaustion or frustration is a license to speak to, or treat people, however we want.

Skepticism – They pile up reasons for why they don’t believe in God, or the resurrection of Jesus, or the veracity of Scripture. But underneath all the technical jargon and pseudo-intellectual arguments is something quite sinister (and nearly always unbeknownst to the skeptic): They’ve decided in advance the kind of life they want to live and then reverse engineered a philosophy that fits their desires.

Dehumanization – They reduce people to objects who exist to satisfy their “needs.”

AutonomyThey crave personal autonomy, bodily autonomy, and intellectual autonomy—the golden calves of Adam’s posterity.

“I Find No Guilt in Him”
How can we get out from underneath the tyranny of these false gods and enjoy genuine and lasting freedom? Only by surrendering all of who we are—everything—to the Messiah-King. We need the Author of Life to rule our lives.

The dearest idol I have known / Whate’er that idol be/ Help me tear it from Thy throne/ And worship only Thee. – William Cowper, “O for A Closer Walk with Thee”

Here’s the astoundingly good news: Jesus has proven himself faithful, which is why even Pilate had to confess, “I find no guilt in him” (Jn. 18:38). Nevertheless, Jesus went to the Place of the Skull because he was on a mission. He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). In order to do this, he lived a sinless life. He bore our sins. He cried, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). He conquered death. He ascended. He now intercedes.

The Posture of Genuine Worship
I ask you: What’s holding you back? What are you holding on to? What are you refusing to relinquish?

Name the insurrectionist(s) in your heart and hand them over to your faithful Savior. It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.

In light of the fact that the posture of genuine worship is sacrifice, I’m making it my daily practice to pray the following prayer taken from this sermon by John Henry Newman (1801–1890):

I sacrifice to Thee this cherished wish, this lust, this weakness, this scheme, this opinion: Make me what Thou wouldest have me. I bargain for nothing; I make no terms; I seek no previous information whither Thou art taking me; I will be what Thou wilt make me, and all that Thou wilt make me. I say not, “I will follow Thee whither Thou goest,” for I am weak. But I give myself to Thee, to lead me any whither. I will follow Thee in the dark, only begging Thee to give strength according to my day.


40 Lessons Learned in 40 Years of Life

I turned forty last Thursday. I know, whoopty do. But I’ve been contemplating some of the most significant lessons I’ve learned along the way. And so I wrote them down in no particular order. Here they are:

1. I am a sinner in need of a Savior.
2. Jesus is the only one in the Savior category.
3. My wife’s love for me reminds me of Jesus’s love for me.
4. My kids are awesome.
5. God knows me better than I know myself.
6. “We love those who know the worst of us yet don’t turn their faces away” (Walker Percy).
7. A people-pleasing kind of life is not fun.
8. Conviction of sin is not the same thing as repentance.
9. Read the Bible every day.
10. If you wait until you feel like praying to start praying, you’ll never pray.
11. Life is not a competition to be won.
12. “True friends stab you in the front” (Oscar Wilde).
13. I rarely lose my temper (seriously, ask my wife!) but when I do it’s because other people aren’t treating me like I’m the center of the universe.
14. You can’t beat a person who doesn’t care if he loses.
15. When someone criticizes you, resist the temptation to criticize them in return. Die to yourself. It shreds the ego. Get on the cross and stay there.
16. Love is not unconditional affirmation.
17. Passive-aggressive behavior is unbecoming.
18. If you ignore problems, they don’t go away.
19. Don’t let the sins you see in someone else’s life control you.
20. I’m 40 and basically still want my mom to hold me and tell me everything’s going to be okay.
21. God doesn’t make the hard things in life go away.
22. Spend time around people with a good sense of humor. Laughing is fun.
23. Listen to your parents. They’re smarter than you are.
24. “Make friends with books. They’ll never leave you nor forsake you” – HB Charles.
25. Don’t worship your heroes. “All of your heroes are frauds, just like you” (Andy Mineo).
26. Vulnerability invites intimacy.
27. Don’t read the church growth gurus. They’re mostly wrong. Pastoral ministry isn’t rocket science.
28. Spend time every day reading poetry. (Here is a good place to start)
29. Life is too short to drink bad coffee and read mediocre books.
30. Read novels (unless, of course, they’re mediocre. See lesson #29). Here’s one of my recent favorites.
31. Loving others when there’s nothing in it for you is incredibly sanctifying.
32. All genuine pastoral ministry is rooted in a feeling of desperation and the simultaneous abandonment to the promises of God’s Word. It sounds like, “If God doesn’t act, then this is doomed to fail.”
33. There are three kinds of conversations to have: 1) Competitive, where the goal is to win. 2) Informational, where the goal is to get your point across. 3) Connecting, where the goal is to connect at the heart-level with others. Make sure you do the third kind the most.
34. Cultivate childlike wonder and kill cynicism.
35. I should have deleted my social media account a long time ago. “One of the great uses of Facebook and Twitter will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time” – John Piper
36. Silence and solitude remind you that you have a soul.
37. The older I get, the more beautiful I find God’s ways.
38. “Complaining is usually a veiled lament about deeper issues of the soul” (Craig Barnes).
39. You can’t achieve your way into significance.
40. Ministering to people during times of grief and death makes me long for the new heavens and the new earth: “Your eyes will behold the King in his beauty. . . . there the LORD in majesty will be for us a place of broad rivers and streams . . . And no inhabitant will say, ‘I am sick’; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity” (Isaiah 33:17, 21, 24).

The Beautiful Letdown: My Story of Grace

Note: A few weeks ago, Pastor Vinnie shared his testimony. In his introduction, he encouraged us to become more vulnerable and open about our struggles. This is my attempt at sharing a glimpse of my story. 

My friend Jason and I used to say he was harder to reach than the president. We were talking about our mutual friend, Adonis, who goes by the initials A. D. We were right to speak of him this way because he rarely, if ever, picked up the phone, and rarely, if ever, returned our calls.

Given his non-phone-answering prowess, I had little hope that he would answer my phone call that July evening in 1999.

Just moments before dialing his number, I fell to my knees by the side of my bed and prayed. With only a few words out of my mouth, I opened my eyes and looked around the room. Was someone with me? It felt like a presence had joined me in the room.

While still on my knees, I grabbed the phone and called the only friend I knew who attended church. I called A. D.

And he answered. 

“When’s the next time you go to church?” I asked.

He backpedaled and stumbled over his words.

“Uuuuhhh . . . well . . . there’s a Bible study Tuesday evening . . . and then we have . . .”

“I’m going with you,” I interjected, cutting him off mid-sentence. Though unable to articulate what was happening inside me, I knew I wanted to do God’s will for my life.

So, with no church background, and zero—and I mean zero—knowledge of the Bible, I picked up A. D. and we drove to Bible study together. As we arrived, I quickly noticed that this was no ornate Roman Catholic Church like the one I attended on Christmas and Easter as a child. It was a Baptist church painted white and brown.

Walking through the courtyard, A. D. greeted people and introduced me to his friends while we made our way through the education wing that housed several classrooms. Eventually, we entered a room filled with other teenagers—some younger and some older than me. Like a kid on his first day attending a new school, I sat quietly, feeling out of place.

The youth group had been studying Bill Bright’s book on the Beatitudes—Jesus’ “Blessed are you” sayings found in Matthew 5:1–12, about which I knew less than nothing. And thankfully, the instructor gave me a booklet where the verses were printed out for me, so I didn’t have to fumble through the Bible for thirty minutes trying to find them, because, did I mention I had never opened a Bible?

The fourth Beatitude was the focus of that evening’s study: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).

I was fixated on two words: thirst and satisfied. I felt precisely the opposite. I had thirsts. I craved satisfaction. But everything I had tried up to that point in my life hadn’t worked. My soul felt hollow. My life felt insignificant.

Retracing the steps of my life, it’s easy to see why.

I suppose through a combination of nature and nurture, I unconsciously absorbed the idea that I could achieve my way into significance. And from a young age it seemed like athletics would be the means to do so. With some initial success at baseball, I was confident I was on the right path. But by age thirteen I bumped up against a limitation: I feared getting hit by a fastball to the head . . . or back . . . or shoulder . . . or thigh . . . basically anywhere on my body. So, I moved on to basketball.

Though I enjoyed moments of triumph, it eventually dawned on me that I would never reach six feet tall. The wise course of action—to me at least—was to bow out early and save myself the embarrassment of not making the varsity squad. My dreams of being the Italian Michael Jordan died a quick death.

With my stellar track record in tow, I tried wrestling, and it wasn’t pretty. Actually, words cannot adequately describe the fullness of that disaster. It was a dumpster fire par excellence. I can talk about it now, but at the time I was embarrassed. Truth be told, I was humiliated.

Though only fifteen at the time, I was disappointed with life. I yearned for a cool breeze of peace to blow my way. Little did I know, those feelings of disappointment were a prelude to grace.

I now believe that God was pursuing me through life’s disappointments. God let me feel the vacancy in my soul in order to show me that only his perfect love could quench my soul thirst.

Why else were my eyes riveted on those two words thirst and satisfied? Answer: Because God loved me too much to allow me to find rest in unstable realities.

That Tuesday evening study at the Baptist church with my friend A. D. put me on a path that eventually led to pastoral ministry. But my journey with God started with feeling letdown by life. Peered at through the lens of Eternal Spectacles, however, I call this initial stage of my journey with God a beautiful letdown. Which explains why Switchfoot’s song by that title has always spoken to me.

It was a beautiful letdown
When I crashed and burned
When I found myself alone
Unknown and hurt
It was a beautiful letdown
The day I knew
That all the riches this world had to offer me
Would never do Switchfoot

In his memoir Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner (1926–2022), wrote, “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.”

I think he’s right. After all, He who controls the winds and the waves is wondrously adept at escorting his chosen ones into his warm embrace. Our paths into His arms are not the same, but quiet reflection illumines his purposeful providence in our lives.

So, I ask you: What’s your story? How did God draw you to himself?

Perhaps God is nudging you to write out your genealogy of grace and share it with someone.

Favorite Books of 2022

Rather than provide you a list of my top ten books of the year, here are my favorite books of 2022 from four different categories—Theological, Devotional, Pastoral, and Recreational. I’ll make a few comments on each one as we go. And I’ll apologize in advance for the lengthy one.


Michael Horton, Justification, 2 Volumes.

A tour de force and my go-to source from now on the doctrine of justification.

Stephen Charnock, The Existence & Attributes of God, 2 Volumes.

If you think systematic theology is dry, stuffy, and impractical, I dare you to read Charnock. Every Christian should read his second discourse on practical atheism.

John Piper, Providence.

I’ve read a lot of John Piper’s books, but this is my favorite. Reverent and worshipful.

Hans Boersma, Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew.

The second chapter, titled, “No Plato, No Scripture,” is worth the price of the book itself. Here’s one of my favorite sections:

[W]hen we try to read Scripture apart from any metaphysical presuppositions whatsoever, our very attempt to exalt the Bible collapses in on itself. Faith isn’t meant to function without reason, and we shouldn’t attempt to do theology without philosophy. The isolation of Scripture vis-á-vis metaphysics is practically impossible: invariably it means the unwitting adoption of one metaphsyic or another—most of the time one that assumes nominalist presuppositions since they make up the metaphysical air we breathe. . . . When we try to isolate Scripture from metaphysical presuppositions, we make it the unsuspecting victim of whatever philosophy happens to be prevalent. It seems more prudent to acknowledge the potential benefit of metaphysics and to ask which metaphysical account coheres with what we find in Scripture (136, emphasis mine).

Those inclined to disagree with Boersma, should consult Richard Muller‘s essay, “Incarnation, Immutability, and the Case for Classical Theism,” Westminster Theological Journal 45 (1983): 22–40. (If interested, email me and I’d be happy to scan it to you.)

Muller shows that John 1:14—specifically the words “And the Word became flesh”— requires a certain metaphysic. Does the word became indicate a change in God? Does the word became mean God is mutable? Muller demonstrates that exegesis won’t resolve the dilemma here. (As an aside, if you take the word became in verse 14 to mean that Christ added a human nature to his already divine nature, it shows that you’ve been catechized into and embraced the orthodox Christian faith as codified in the Council of Chalcedon in 451. See St. Cyril of Alexandria’s book On the Unity of Christ

Those who affirm divine immutability uphold the metaphysics of the Council of Nicaea (what Boersma and Craig Carter call “Christian Platonism”), while those who deny divine immutability operate out of “post-Kantian metaphysics, specifically from Hegelian ontology” (Muller, 34). Neither Muller, nor Boersma, nor Carter assert that the church fathers swallowed Greek philosophical thought hook, line, and sinker. The fathers did no such thing. Supposing that they, and the classical Christian tradition more generally, borrowed from Greek philosophical thought uncritically betrays a lack of familiarity with both classical Christian theism and Greek philosophical thought.

I always come back to Carter’s observation:

“The pro-Nicene theology that emerged in the fourth century as the consensus doctrine of God in the Christian church was not a result of the imposition of Greek metaphysical ideas onto the Bible, as if Aristotle was preferred over Moses, Isaiah, and Paul. Rather, on the crucial issue of divine transcendence, Aristotle was corrected on the basis of Moses, Isaiah, and Paul. . . . [Jürgen] Moltmann’s project is built on a faulty foundation because he simplistically equates the use of Aristotelian concepts with the uncritical use of such concepts, as when he writes smugly, ‘Aristotle’s God cannot love’ (Crucified God, 222), as if no one from Athanasius to Aquinas had noticed the fact” (Recovering Trinitarian Classical Theism, 210, 210n11).


Matthew Henry, The Pleasantness of a Religious Life.

You’ll think to yourself, “I’m glad I’m a Christian,” as you read this book.

Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening.

Like everything else Spurgeon writes, this is theologically weighty and practically pungent.

Esther Liu, Shame: Being Known and Loved.

Working through this book in my quiet time was immensely helpful. I highly recommend it to anyone who wrestles with shame.


Dane Ortlund, Deeper.

I love this book because Ortlund’s desperation seeps through his writing. You can sense his earnestness for this topic.

John Kessler, Folly, Grace, and Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching. 

The work of a pastor-theologian. His final chapter, “The End of Preaching” is fantastic.

While I’m sure DeYoung’s arguments won’t convince committed egalitarians, it will help you understand why complementarians believe as they do.

Nate Brooks, Identifying Heart Transformation: Exploring Different Kinds of Human Change. 

A profitable read. Brooks provides you with biblical categories to help readers think through how God transforms people.


John Steinbeck, East of Eden.

Masterful prose, excellent character development. Well worth the read.

Charles Martin, A Life Intercepted: A Novel. 

If you think you can achieve your way into significance, read this. Great story.

Charles Martin, Water from My Heart: A Novel. 

This will inspire you to become a better person.