Study the Buck. Don’t Shoot it. 

Recovering the essential skill of listening

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” ~Proverbs 18:13

I’ve seen it time and time again. A young man gains solid biblical teaching from a sound, biblical, evangelical church. He immediately adopts the Ezra 7:10 mentality, becoming eater to study, practice, and teach the Word of God – formally or informally. Discipleship, counseling, and leading small groups becomes an ambition for his zealous soul. But rather than treating the sound doctrine he learns as lenses through which to understand the world around him more clearly, he stores them as bullets for his rifle. He then sets out on a hunting expedition, also known as his first discipleship or counseling where he is the mentor rather than the pupil. He braces himself, waiting for the buck – also known as the erred statement of the person with whom he’s meeting – to emerge from the forest trees. The moment of truth arrives when the buck emerges, and he does what a good hunter does: he fires and hits his target. The buck falls lifeless. The young hunter-minister stands proud of his great aim, having corrected his erred pupil with a series of theological bullets. 

The problem, however, is that he wasn’t supposed to shoot the buck; he was supposed to study it. Don’t get me wrong; there is a place and time to shoot. But the man of God is a shepherd more than a hunter. He shoots at the wolves, and not at the bucks. And not at the eagles or the foxes. 

People have asked me in the past what I believe is the most important skill in life and ministry, particularly in the realm of pastoral and biblical counseling. I always find it difficult to answer that question, but what I can answer is what I’ve observed to be the most neglected skill in the reformed, evangelical community – and even amongst pastors and leaders. And that is the skill of listening. 

For a minister – be he a pastor, preacher, mentor, evangelist, or counselor – there is a time to teach and a time to listen. Ministers wholly committed to rightly interpreting and communicating the Word of God (and praise the Lord for this) often make the mistake of treating every time as a time to preach and teach. Their counseling and discipleship meetings become forty-five minute Bible expositions. But when you’re always teaching, you’re never listening. And if you’re never listening, then you’re never learning. And if you’re never learning, the Bible calls you foolish. And as a result, many people in church are hesitant to be honest about the reality of how they’re doing and what’s happening in life. Their to expose the critters of their heart, even the harmless squirrels and badgers, comes out of the fear that they’ll get rifled one after the other. I’ve surveyed a number of folks – particularly young men – about this very thing. Why are they afraid to be honest? At times, it’s pride. But the majority of the time, it’s because a previous attempt to be transparent about the realities of life has only triggered an barrage of counsel from answer-happy pastors. You can’t blame them. Why would they want to be honest with someone who won’t listen? I for sure wouldn’t. Would you?

For the record, the goal of a counseling and discipleship meeting is not mere comprehension of a person. The goal is, well, to give counsel or instruction. I’m not denying the importance of the didactic component in these settings. Helping involves more than hearing. But you can’t help when you don’t hear. Counsel and instruction – even if it is biblically sound – must be given as appropriate to a person’s condition or circumstances. There is such a thing as saying the right thing to the wrong person, or to say the right thing to the right person at the wrong time or in the wrong way. One of the antidotes to this is the application of skillful listening. Only when you put down the rifle and take out the specs will you realize that, at times, what you thought was a wolf really was a stray husky that looked like a wolf but is harmless to the sheep. Only then, will the rest of the critters of a man’s heart emerge for you to observe. Only when you listen will you truly understand. And only when you understand are you in a position to give counsel or instruction. Consider the following Scripture:

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” ~Proverbs 18:13

“A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but the man of understanding draws it out” ~Proverbs 20:5

“A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.” ~Proverbs 18:2

Study the buck. Don’t shoot it. 

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I Find Comfort in His Laughing

Reflections on Psalm 2 in light of world chaos 


So what is God doing as He sees tensions rising between North Korea and the United States? What is He doing as He sights extremist groups continually plague the Middle East? What is He doing as He observes the political grappling between Russia and Ukraine, between China and Taiwan? 

As He watches political world powers contend for supremacy, what is God doing? Psalm 2:4 gives the answer. 

He is laughing. 

“He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.” Psalm 2:4, New American Standard Bible. How’s that for your latest CNN headline. 

And in this laughing, I happen to find great comfort. 

I’m naturally terrified of war. Perhaps it’s because I’m already a more nervous person to begin with. Perhaps it’s because I grew up listening to the stories my grandparents shared of how they had to hide in underground trenches during World War II during the invasion of the Philippines. Perhaps it’s because I took it upon myself to study about the Holocaust when I was all of eleven years old, and realized how human atrocity can rear its ugliest head in the blink of an eye, and that no people group is ever safe, and that no nation is immune from inhumane philosophy spreading amongst its masses. Perhaps it’s because I’m a student of world history, and am aware of the historical trend that world powerhouses are also perpetual targets of invasion and dethroning efforts, and that living in the United States means just that. Perhaps it’s because I’m human, and all humans groan at the prospect of war and yearn for the prospect of world peace. But perhaps it’s because, in my humanity, it’s easy to find security and hope in fallen human leaders and international world powers such as the country in which we live, rather than in our God who watches from the heavens and does as He pleases. 

And perhaps it’s because I sometimes forget that, while world leaders are jockeying between trembling and threatening, our Lord in whose hand lies the course of world history sits in the heavens…laughing. 

He laughs at world leaders, who to Him are mere grasshoppers (Isa 40:22). He laughs, because it is His decrees that decide the course of the nations and His hand that providentially shapes peoples and kingdoms (Dan 2:21). It is His hand that raises up and tears down. He laughs, just like a Grizzly laughs at a bunch of squabbling chipmunks, whose lives he would crush with but a single swipe of His massive paw. He laughs, because all affairs in our universe’s time and space are prepared by none other than Him (Heb 11:3). He laughs because He is, in reality, completely unchallenged in His sovereignty (Isa 40:17). And one day, He will put an end to all this human jockeying and establish His Son as the Rightful Ruler of the nations (Psalm 2:7-8). 

I’ve learned, over the years, to read the Scriptures before I read the news. In light of the world’s current state, I’ve particularly learned to value the Psalms and the Prophetic books. I’ve learned the value of listening to the voice of He who controls world history and world politics before I hear the voice of presidents, prime ministers, dictators, and news anchors. I’ve learned that in order to both understand and respond correctly to what’s happening in the world today at a global scale – lest I react with either extreme of naïveté or paranoia – I have to listen to the very Author Himself. 

Thankfully, He is not silent. Thankfully, the day is coming when all this chaos will come to an end. Christ our Savior has asked for the nations, and the day is coming when all will be given to Him as a possession. The nations He will break with a rod of iron, and shatter them He will like earthenware. Christ will reign, and with Him so will we. 

It’s no wonder the Lord is laughing. And when He laughs, so my heart rests.

Live Not for the Resume

Fighting against the desire to publicize one’s works and credentials
“…do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…” ~Matthew 6:3-4

 From the time I hit middle school, the American culture in which I was immersed began training me to build my resume. As a 14-year old, I was required to submit a resume for my high school applications. As an 18-year old, I again had to submit one for my college applications. And as a 22 year old, I once again had to submit one for my employment applications. For the record, I’m not against resumes, but I am saddened about how, in the past, I began to live for them. Somewhere during each of those four-year increments, I began to do more than submit the resumes; I began to purposefully and methodically build them. I began to take up certain endeavors in anticipation of displaying them on the resume. I began to vigilantly keep track of my accomplishments and milestones in order to beef up the already-existing resume. And after some time, I began submitting those resumes outside of the medium of the 8-by-11 handout – through the means of verbal boasting of abilities and achievements. I found myself in utter violation of Christ’s words in Matthew 6:3-4: “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” I’m glad that the Spirit revealed this to me in my twenties and not in my fifties; I’ve since made every effort to mortify that terribly prideful habit. 

 By the way, I’m not against the 8-by-11 resumes. I have one tucked away somewhere in my laptop hard drive that I can send out electronically per request from an employer. They’re, at the very least, a necessary evil; at best, they can be helpful. Matthew 6:3-4 isn’t an exhortation to get rid of them. It’s not a call to spiritual or occupational amnesia. In that very same Sermon on the Mount, Christ also commands to cut off one’s right hand should it cause one to sin – implying some necessary level of awareness of what you’re doing. Paul commands Timothy to pay close attention to both himself and his teaching (1 Timothy 4:16). Christ, in this particular passage, isn’t abolishing or nullifying the responsibility for Christians to give an accurate and truthful account of their words and deeds. Christ is not advocating the quality of spiritual forgetfulness. 

 What Christ is addressing here is a certain type of sanctified spiritual focus. The command to not let one’s left hand know what one’s right hand is doing is figurative language which Christ employed to exhort His followers to forsake the hypocrisy of putting their own deeds in the spotlight so that they can be honored and esteemed by men (Matthew 6:1-2). Resumes, by nature, are self-displaying. It’s one thing to submit them by necessity; it’s another thing to live for them due to social or spiritual insecurity. Good works were not meant for self-display. Our deeds were never meant to be artifacts in Christian museums. Even Christ, the Son of God Himself, astoundingly commanded numerous times for His miraculous deeds and healing not to be publicized. He didn’t live to build His resume, and neither should we as His followers. 

 Christ’s followers are to fervently minister to others, but also not focus on how much they’re doing for others. To not let one’s left know the deeds of one’s right is to find satisfaction in God’s awareness of our deeds without aiming for others to see, acknowledge, and esteem them. It is to live and minister in such a way that isn’t for the building or submitting of that resume, but to engage in good deeds out of an all-consuming love for God and a self-sacrificing love for others. 

People who are obsessed with titles are resume builders. People who can’t stop talking about themselves are resume builders. People who crave for the publicity of their credentials are resume builders. People who want everyone to know how much they’re doing are resume builders. Don’t they realize that not even all of Christ’s deeds were listed in the inspired accounts of Scripture (John 20:30). Let your eyes, then, be focused on the glory of God who employed you and the good of the people around you. Indeed, you may very well find yourself having a difficult time recounting all of the good deeds in which you engaged over the course of the week. And that’s okay. For while you may have trouble remembering, your Father in heaven who sees what you have done in secret will reward you. 

 Live not to build the resume; live to build God’s people. Live not to display the resume; live to display God’s glory. 

Exposing Your Teeth to the Dentist

Honesty in the Discipleship Relationship 

“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds  ay be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:20-21)

You can’t say “yes” to every young man who requests to be discipled or mentored by you. Partly, it’s because you’re not omnipresent. But more importantly, not everyone can be effectively discipled.

I fully recognize that at times, some one-on-one mentoring relationships haven’t been successful or fruitful simply because I wasn’t the right guy to work with a particular personality (see a previous entry I wrote called “Chemistry – Does it Matter?”). This I concede, and I’m more than happy to see a young man who may have previously driven me up the wall suddenly flourishing in his walk with Christ under the mentoring ministry and guidance of another. But this aside, I’ve also learned that certain young men just can’t be effectively discipled (at least, during particular points in their life) because they’re resistant to exhibiting this particular virtue known as honest transparency.

You’re not called to be transparent with every person. But you need to be so to the one from whom you’re seeking discipleship. If a man isn’t honest with where he is, what he wants, and where he’s struggling, I’ve simply learned not to proceed with the discipleship process or to cease a previously commenced one. For while honesty is not the sole virtue needed for growth in a Christian, it’s a non-negotiable one. Christ, instructing nicodemus about the nature of a true disciple, says, “For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:20-21). The implication is this: a man who isn’t transparently honest about himself, his motives, his struggles, his deeds, and his ambitions is by definition one who loves his sin and refuses to expose them lest he be compelled to unhinge himself from them. He is the man who walks into the dentist’s office and refuses to open his mouth for the inspection portion of the treatment. Such a man simply can’t be treated, no matter how skilled and experienced the dentist.

Conversely, the investment or hours and weeks – and sometimes years –  into the man who exhibits such honest transparency comes with the great reward of watching the fledgling transform into a full-flighted eagle. Such men almost assuredly surmount previously insurmountable obstacles, in the same way that man who cried “Help me with my unbelief!” eventually learned to believe. Discipling the honest man, without a doubt, brings about some of the greatest blessings in ministry.

After all, it is the one who learns to expose his teeth to the dentist whose teeth will eventually be treated.

A Fellowship of Men in the Presence of God


Reflections on the 2017 GBF Men’s Retreat

And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves. 

~Mark 6:31-32

This past weekend marked my first experience at a men’s retreat. And it was awesome. Or should I say, uniquely awesome. 

A bit ironic, perhaps, given that speaking and exhorting the men of the church in whatever capacity induces the strongest heartbeat in pastors and ministers. Ironic, surely, given that counseling, discipling, training, ministering with and being educated alongside men has comprised more than a good slice of my life’s pie. Pastors’ conferences, men’s breakfasts, church leadership get-always, I’d been to them all. But an all-inclusive men’s retreat – it was, for some reason, my first. I hope it won’t be the last. 

An Ancient Activity

The gathering of a select group of God’s men to a secluded area, away from the regular responsibilities of daily life, for a concentrated time to absorb the Word of God and be refreshed by the company of one another is no novelty. If anything, it’s a classic endeavor. Christ would frequently take His twelve to the mountains or secluded places for prayer, teaching, or simply rest from the crowds. At the GBF Men’s Retreat, we weren’t Christ and His twelve, but we were a group of twenty-three saints tucked away for an over-night get-away at the American River – a couple of hundred miles away from our home base in Silicon Valley. Engaged we were in an ancient activity. There’s something special about tapping into the classics. 

Pondering the Person of Christ

On Friday evening, the men opened up the Word of God together, specifically from Mark 14:26-50, and studied Christ while examining ourselves from the same passage. We first examined the fleshly traits that so often beget us and hinder us from a full-fledged pursuit of biblical masculinity – conceit, casualness, and cowardice. Then, in the subsequent session, we pondered the godliness of Christ as laid out in this near-apex of the Scriptures. There was Christ before us – the seeking man, the suffering man, the submissive man, the settled man, the sacrificial man. Christ may not have not been present with us in physical body, but His person was made vivid through the revelation of the Bible. And contemplate Him we did. Then, on Saturday morning, we went rafting. 

In the Presence of the Untamed God

It’s every little boy’s dream, only it was different as a grown man. Rafting is every bit as humbling as it was exhilarating – not because any of us fell into the river, but because the river wouldn’t listen to us. We could only navigate through the river’s rapids and currents; we couldn’t command them. The American river flowed at a direction and with a vigor wholly independent of our will, causing me to consider that the majority inanimate earth remains untamed. Yet, even this river flowed only by the decrees of Almighty God. I was reminded once again – as I’m sure were the rest of the men – that it isn’t the river that is untamed; it is the Lord Himself, to whom the entire universe belongs and obeys (cf Job 38). There is nothing that a man needs more than to realize that he stands perpetually in the presence of the untamed God. 

Witnessing the Work of the Spirit

But the 4 hours of rafting left us with a good 16 hours (for you math geeks, I subtracted the time spent rafting and sleeping) together. That’s 16 hours driving together, stomaching steaks and scrambled eggs together, studying the Word together, exploring the camp grounds together, sitting around lanterns (or, rather, lantern-looking flashlights) rehearsing stories together. It was “male-bonding” as it’s normally termed, only it was everything but normal. It was unique – not because it’s unique for a group of twenty three men to do all these things together over a weekend, but because it’s unique for a group as eclectic as ours to have done so. The oldest man in our group was a grandfather in his late 60s; the youngest, 15 – an incoming junior in high school – with everything in between and with roots from different farming grounds. Some were born and raised in California; others from Idaho; some, from China, Kuwait, and Hawaii; others, from Virginia and Tennessee. The group consisted of engineers, collegians, writers, business owners, and pastors. Some were athletes; some were artists. A homogeneity meter of virtually zero. But this is the nature of Christ’s church, whose fellowship spans every culture, generation, ethnicity, occupation, and socio-economic background. I’ve been around the block long enough to realize that not all local churches reflect this. And so to witness the diversity amongst the men present – to witness the fellowship of our church’s men break through the barriers that normally confine immunities and social groups – was witnessing a redemptive work covered by the Holy Spirit’s fingerprints (cf Galatians 3). 

So there you have it: an overnight trip to the American river with twenty-three men engaging in an ancient activity of pondering Christ apart from the normal responsibilities of life, in the presence of the untamed God, witnessing the redemptive work of the Spirit. That, my friends, was the 2017 GBF Men’s Retreat. 

What do You Think About All Day Long?


One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate on His temple. 

~Psalm 27:4
If the city’s most proficient cardiac surgeon performed a surgical incision on your heart, what would he observe? What are the contents of your inner man? What is the vision your heart is constantly imagining? What is the goal that your heart is pursuing? What is the beauty that your heart is desiring?

It is a core anthropological principle that a man’s heart yearns for the beautiful. That you who read, be you a male or female, yearn for the beautiful is then no secret. And it is an equally inescapable reality that you as a human being yearn for a beauty that you have yet to see. Ecclesiastes exposes you in biblical wisdom: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing” says verse 1:9; “What the eyes see is better than what the soul desires,” states verse 5:9. You yearn, yet you are not satisfied. Yes, that is you who are reading this. Day in, day out, you’re dreaming and imagining – thinking about something, and thinking about it constantly. 

But the question is: What is it that you think about all day long? Or, better asked, Who is it that you think about all day long? Who or what is that one thing you desire, that one thing you’re after that occupies even your soul’s tightest crevices? The inquiry can’t be ignored, because the yearning of your heart is the resulting current of the object of your worship. It’s why Psalm 27:4 is a psalm. It’s a key gem in the believer’s expression of the worship of the one true God. This particular verse puts a microphone to the God worshipper’s heart and transcribes the words on the pages of Scripture. So don’t just read the words below. Listen to them:

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate on His temple.”

Are you, as is this psalmist, a simple man defined by a singular passion? Is the prospect at gazing at His beauty your all-consuming ambition? Does the desire to dwell in His eternal presence to behold His un-surpassing glory stir your soul to live the way you do? The integrity and quality of your worship is proven by such. The worshipper of God yearns not just for God’s provision or protection, but for God Himself. He desires God’s beauty more than His blessings. God is the singular focus of his heart’s compass. In other words, the true worshipper of God thinks about God all day long. 

If the Lord Jesus Christ then returned at this very moment and surgically expose the contents of your heart, what is it that He would find? I’ll tell you what He will find. He will find what He has already been observing: that which you have been thinking about all day long. 

The Wisdom in Studying Animals

Sheep pictureSometimes, wisdom for the afflicted saints is to go to the zoo.

How’s that for some reformed biblical counsel.

And I’m not joking, just in case you’re wondering. Sometimes, the best counsel for those struggling to endure some severe trials really is to take some time to learn about animals.

You won’t find from the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors’ recommended resources list, I guarantee. But I assure you that my thesis above is consistent with biblical wisdom, because I discovered it from a wisdom book of the Bible. Specifically, I unearthed it from the book of Job. Specifically, from Job 38:9-39:30.

Job, lest you didn’t notice, is world history’s only saint for whose afflictions the Holy Spirit dedicated an entire book of Scripture. Yes, all forty-two chapters of it. The persecution Job experience was the result of a conversation of cosmic proportions, as God Himself nominated Job as the candidate whose conduct would disprove Satan’s blasphemous claim that even the most righteous and God-fearing of men would curse God under the pressure of severe suffering. For over thirty chapters, Job wrestles – dialoguing with his friends, vindicating himself, and interrogating God. He fluctuates between trusting God and attempting to prosecute God. Finally, in the thirty-eighth chapter, out of the whirlwind of foolish counsel from well-meaning but ignorant friends, God speaks. Finally, an answer from heaven. Finally, an explanation for the chaos. Finally, the prospect of an insight into the angelic realm and the hidden counsel of the Almighty.

But God doesn’t tell Job about the cosmic conversation. God never revealed to Job how his suffering would spit in the face of Satan’s claim and demonstrate before all of the heavenly hosts that genuine worship of God can persevere through the most grieving of circumstances. He never explained to Job that his life would serve as an example of faith to encourage the church amidst her later persecution (James 5:11-14).

Instead, in the lengthiest interrogation ever recorded from the Almighty to finite man, God says…

“Can you hunt prey for the lion…” (38:39-40)

“Who prepares for the raven its nourishment…(39:41)

“Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth?” (39:1a)

“Do you observe the calving of the deer…” (39:1b-4)

“Who sent out the wild donkey free…” (39:5-8)

“Will the wild ox consent to serve you…” (39:9-12)

“The ostriches’ wings flap joyously…” (39:13-18)

“Do you give the horse his might…” (39:19-25)

“Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars…” (39:26)

“Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up…” (39:27-30)

Lion. Raven. Mountain Goat. Deer. Donkey. Ox. Ostrich. Horse. Hawk. Eagle – not exactly the ten-point outline that your average ACBC counselor would use to help a man who had lost his possessions, children, and health, and whose wife just told him to curse God and die. But yes, in one of the greatest divine bequeathing of wisdom from Creator to creation, God tells Job to consider the animals.

Job’s response after all of that and more? “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (42:1-6). Needless to say, God knew what He was doing, and Job got the point.

So what was God’s point? Why consider the animals as a Christian during trying times? First, it gives you further insight into God’s glorious and unmatched creative power. But more poignantly, it parks you to the realization that there is so much that is happening in the universe that has absolutely nothing to do with you.

It’s an atomic bomb to the world of the myopic. The cheetah’s ability to sprint at 60 mph, the orca’s ability to learn new hunting tactics, the eagle’s ability to soar for 4000 miles without stopping for food, the mongoose’s ability to outmaneuver and kill a cobra, are all works of the Almighty that exist in their magnificence apart from anything that has to do with you or me. As a Christian, that you matter does not equate to being the center. Those who are suffering would be wise to humbly remember that there is still much in this world that God is doing that has little or no relevance to their problems. And that isn’t to diminish their pains, but simply to de-centralize them. Studying animals, their behavior, and their amazing abilities from a biblical perspectives ultimately serves to remind you and me that we are single leaves in a massive forest – that all things exist for the glory of the God who is remains absolutely sovereign over all of the universe’s affairs as its sole Creator and Sustainer.

How’s that for some reformed biblical counsel.