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.

Reflecting on the Value of the Church

A message I shared at our lastest GBF Camp weekend

“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” ~Matthew 16:18

What is the value of being involved in the life of the church? 

Is it worth meeting new people who could potentially hurt you? Is it worth of submitting to imperfect elders and pastors to guide you in your spiritual life? Is it worth getting the family up during a Sunday morning after a long week just to make it to Sunday School and Sunday service when a family devotion at home while listening to an online sermon from John Piper may sound like a better bargain? Is it worth the hassle of having to find a babysitter at the end of a long week so that you and your wife can attend a mid-week Bible study with people who you don’t even “gel” with? Is it worth being involved in the church, when there are so many other things that seem to be screaming for your attention?

These questions are rooted in a more foundational question: what is the real value of the church? Church life, after all, is not the only component of Christian living. There’s personal devotions, marriage, family life, work, school, physical health, financial and material stewardship, relationships, and recreation to note the majors. And so there’s a growing trend – and an alarming one – of Christians attempting to live out their Christian faith without a significant involvement or investment in the church. I’ve seen this as a pastoral minister and Christian educator; Christian families, be them genuine or nominal, are investing so much energy into every major (and minor) facet of life except for the ministry of the local church. The issue is not a lack of time or energy. The issue is the failure to value an eternally valuable institution. 

Every Christian, you and me included, ought to examine the level to which he values the church as reflected in his life. And before that, every Christian ought to understand the actual value of the church. And even before that, every Christian ought to understand the fleeting value of the world. 

First, consider that the world as we know it is losing its value, because the world as we know it is headed toward decay. Read the book of Revelation in case you aren’t sure. Consider that the natural world, regardless of all efforts of environmental and ecological conservation efforts, will head toward destruction (things look a lot different than they did in Genesis 1-2). Consider that human society, from a moral and political and sociological perspective is decaying. Warfare is, as been, and will continue to be rampant and is only growing more massive in its destructive properties (nuclear weapons didn’t exist back in the days of Joshua). Terrorism is at an unprecedented level; mass killings by one man are more possible and frequent. Immorality is at an all-time high; there is no new sin under the sun, but the public embracing and endorsement has reached new heights. Consider that the family unit, though ordained by God to be the building unit of society, is temporal in its nature. Marriage ends when death does you part; parenthood ends (or should end) when children graduate from high school. Finally consider that your outer self is in a decaying process. Regular gym workouts, scheduled, and organic nutrition cannot prevent the onset of physical death; they only delay it. Consider, brother, that the world as we know it is losing its value. 

It is in the context of a decaying world that the Christian ought to then consider the value of the church. For the record, the church on this side of eternity is far from perfect. Nor is local church involvement meant to be all-consuming for the believer. But unlike the natural world, human society, and the outer self, the church is of eternal value because Christ promised its indestructibility. Listen to His words to the apostle Peter: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). While Christ is currently sustaining the universe until its decay, He is currently building His church toward glory. This is the work of the Lord. This is what Christ is doing. This is the project He is undertaking. This is how He is currently furthering His kingdom. Each day that passes by, the world heads to decay while the church gets larger and more glorious. And how is it that Christ is building His church? Through one saved, sanctified soul at a time. It was the church that Christ gave up His life for and purchased with His blood. It is the church that Christ is continually sanctifying with the washing of His Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is the church to whom, in the midst of massive global destruction, Christ will be wed in heaven’s marriage feast. 

So what is the reward then for the believer who invests his life in the building of God’s church? It is that he will have invested his life endeavors in an indestructible institution. It’s that plain and simple. What remains to be proven is whether the lives of the Christians in our country will reflect such a truth.  



Identifying and Avoiding the Gossip

“He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.” ~Proverbs 11:13 

“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” ~Proverbs 20:19 

“For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down…The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.” ~Proverbs 26:20, 22 

I was taught as a child not to associate with strangers. Later, in my budding years as a Christian, I was told not to closely associate with false teachers and unrepentant sinners. But it was only after marrying a prudent woman of God that I was warned not to associate with gossips. For her wisdom I thank the Lord everyday.
Scripture says, after all, to love all but never to associate with all. The Scripture says to do good to all, but to walk closely with a select few. But this particular dissociation with the gossiper wasn’t always mentioned or stressed in the Christian circles of which I’ve been a part. Perhaps it was because gossip is sometimes difficult to identify. But perhaps, it’s also because gossip is naturally hard to both avoid or abstain from. 

Before gossip can be avoided, it must be identified. And before it can be identified, it must be defined. Gossip is both qualitative and quantitative in nature. Gossip is more than just speaking ill of others or revealing the most private of information. Proverbs 20:19 defines a gossip as one who habitually reveals information, period. There’s a difference between testifying truthfully about a situation or person and spreading information about a person in an unsolicited or unwarranted manner. Gossipers are those who inherently have very little – if any – respect for the privacy of people and their lives. To them, information gathered is information to be dispensed. There habitually spread the details of peoples lives – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the neutral – over the community like butter over bread, using the very butter knife of their tongue. While they are not always malicious (engaging in gossip does not always necessitate evil intent), they simply like to be in the know and make known. You know a gossiper by the sheer amount of time he or she spends talking to people about people. They have a natural instinct to expose, rather than protect, the details of the lives of the people around them. 

Gossipers make an easy living in this world because people are naturally curious about people. It’s not surprising that tabloid magazines never go out of print, for the the human flesh naturally finds gossip delectable (Proverbs 18:8). You’d expect the circulation of such behavior in the world, but it’s more unfortunate when it is both present and cultivated in the church. I have personally been a part of church circles and church affinity groups in which gossip was simply the currency of the fellowship. Such behavior caused a considerable amount of pain and grief for both me and my wife, and we have since learned to be careful with the people with whom we choose to confide and spend time. 

Thus, I’ve learned to identify the gossip given the definition above. They’re actually not difficult to spot, as they are often revealed by two things: 1) what they tell you about others 2) the kind of question they ask about you. A gossip will habitually tell me things about people that I have honestly no business knowing and that I didn’t ask about. The information they share about people are neither purposeful or encouraging. Gossips, without your inquiry, will tell you what Bruce likes to eat for dinner, the marriage problems and Mike and Shelly are experiencing, the after-school activities that Katie takes her kids to, how Aaron asked Amber out but was rejected, and how Wes is not going to Cornerstone Bible Church. Conversely, gossips will also ask you questions that are “probing.” – not because they themselves are trying to get to know you or learn from you, but because they need some currency to spend. I can identify a gossip when there is a disproportion between their level of closeness to me and the things that they inquire about me, my family, and my ministry. I find it particularly sad when close friends learn about the particulars of my life from individuals with whom I rarely interact, but it happens. 

Once identified, the Scriptures are explicit: “Do not associate with a gossip” says Proverbs 20:19. Gossipers are not to be hated or mistreated or slandered. But they are not to be associated with. They are not spend considerable amount of time with. They are not to be confided in. They are not to be walked closely with. It’s not about playing favorites; it’s about playing wisely. If you desire to navigate through this side of eternity skillfully in such a way that maximizes your involvement in the furtherance of the kingdom and your influence in the disciple-making process for the glory of Christ, the relational sphere in which you integrate yourself matters dearly. That means who you walk with and who you avoid are no minor issues. So stay away from those people who make a living by telling you about others and telling others about you. You life and ministry will be richly blessed should you do so. 

Let the Teachers in the Church be Few

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” 

~James 3:1

Let the servants in the church be many; let the teachers in the church be few. 

With regards to the mass percentage of formal Bible teachers in the church, the Bible is not silent. James 3:1 is explicit: “Let not many of you be teachers.” For the record, there is a degree to which all Christians are called to teach in an informal sense (Colossians 3:15-16). The commission of discipleship is given to all believers (Matthew 28:18-20). I believe that, in this epistle, James is referring to formal teachers in the church body. The culturally Jewish community of believers he was addressing most certainly understood the concept of recognized teachers of the Scriptures within the community of God’s people. In the Old Testament, teachers of the Law had to be appointed, vetted, and trained. Never were they the majority; never were they self-appointed. While the twenty-first-century church doesn’t have scribes and priests, formal teachers do exist in the form of preachers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and biblical counselors to name a few. Such positions tend to be highly coveted. Over the years, I’ve seen countless individuals approach the pastoral staff of the church claiming that God has placed it in their heart to be formal Bible teachers. I’ve heard a number of them say that they’re “bored” at church…mainly because the capacity in which they serve doesn’t involve formal teaching. The problem is not that they feel this way. The problem is that there are too many of them that feel this way – because there isn’t room for all of them. By God’s design, the formal teaching ministry in the local church was meant to rest on the shoulders of a select few. The saint who claims, then, to be gifted at teaching and desires to serve formally in that capacity in the church ought to doubly examine himself, lest he be self-deceived about his perception of his giftedness or qualification (cf.1 Timothy 1:7).

The call for teachers to be few in the church may seem impractical and even unfair, but it is not without reason. James gives the reason in the second part of verse 1: “…knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” Again, James’ culturally Jewish audience would have understood this. The Old Testament Scriptures are filled with denunciations by God toward false and careless shepherds, prophets, priests, and scribes. Christ Himself reserved His harshest diatribes toward the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes during His earthly ministry. James’ audience knew that God’s strictest judgments were reserved toward those who promoted themselves as the formal teachers of Scripture. From my own observations, most overly-eager beavers see formal teaching as a means for personal ministry satisfaction, in the same way many of today’s millennials talk about job satisfaction. Butt they are often unaware of the gravity of the commission. Teaching God’s Word is task of great gravity because of the gravity of the Word of God itself. James refers to the Scriptures as one that is able to save the souls of people (1:21). Whether a person rightly understands, receives, and responds to the Word impacts his eternal condition. Those who are self-absorbed in their pursuit of personal ministry satisfaction are not fully aware of the severity of the judgment that would befall them had they put it upon themselves to formally teach the Scriptures on a regular basis. A church whose body rightly understands this would only have a handful of its people desiring to take up the task. And even those who were willing, able, and gifted would do so with great fear and trembling (1 Corinthians 2:2-4).  

So, then, let the servants be many; let the teachers be few.