The Pursuit of Holiness

I am finally getting to the end of Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness, after setting it down for about three months. It is a great book—both profound and extremely convicting. I think the most convicting chapter has been related to holiness in the body (chapter 11).

I am a guy who really struggles with his weight. I have a horrible sweet tooth—an unrelenting desire for tasty things made of sugar.

And I hate it.

Back in 2004, I was 310 pounds and decided enough was enough. I started eating rigidly according to the GI diet, and even started eating on a regular schedule (going from one meal to six smaller meals per day). I worked out religiously… and the weight I’d carried most of my life came off.

I dropped 120 pounds in a little over a year. When I got married in 2006, I was just north of 190 pounds, had muscle tone for the first time in my life, and had the start of what might have become a six-pack. It was really cool.

So what happened?

Honestly, I got lazy. I became undisciplined.

I started thinking, “Oh, a sweet here and there can’t hurt. I can handle it.” Only, I couldn’t.

Working out became more difficult when our daughter was born and I cancelled my gym membership; I couldn’t make it out enough to actually get the value I needed from it. I had the skills to exercise at home. Only I didn’t.

Today, I’m somewhere north of 230 pounds. Because I became undisciplined and lazy. Because I have indulged in something which I can honestly say is a sin for me.

Here is what I am learning in the pursuit of holiness: Do not become undisciplined and lazy. When I feel conviction, I must listen to my conviction and not give in to temptation. I must remember that it is the Holy Spirit who will give me the strength to resist temptation whenever it comes, if only I will be obedient.

This morning, I’m going out for a run before anyone in the house wakes up. It might not be long, but it’ll be good. And by God’s grace, I’ll do it again the next day. And the next. I will not succumb to the temptation to indulge my sweet tooth. And while I run, and while I eat, I will remember Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 9:27: No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Lessons from Nehemiah 8: Anger


Artwork © Justin Gerard. Used with permission.


Nehemiah’s final reforms are found in the  final chapter of this great book. Nehemiah had returned to King Artaxerxes 12 years after having left to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. After some time, possibly years, he asked to return to Jerusalem. Upon his return, he was welcomed by a most troubling situation: The people had once again intermarried with the surrounding nations, and many of their children could not even speak the Hebrew language—their entire religious culture was being lost. To compound the situation further, Tobiah, Nehemiah’s old foe, had been given the chamber where “they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests.” (v. 5). Tobiah was living in the court of the temple! He saw that the people of Judah were working on the Sabbath, treading winepresses. The Levites were neglected and had fled to their own fields to take care of themselves, and the house of God was forsaken.

What was Nehemiah’s response?

He got angry. He got really, really angry.

He had Tobiah and all his furniture thrown out of the chamber, and had it cleansed & returned to its proper use.

He confronted the officials and demanded that they not forsake the house of God—he brought everyone together, appointed reliable treasurers over the storehouses, and the people gave their offerings.

He shut down all commerce on the Sabbath day, commanding that the doors of the gates be closed until after it had passed. He saw merchants and sellers camped outside Jerusalem, waiting for the doors to open, but he told them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” And in case you were wondering, “laying hands” is a euphemism for “beat down.” And they left.

He confronted the men who had intermarried with the surrounding nations and he shamed them—He cursed them, pulled their hair and beat some of them! He even chased off the son of Elishiab the high priest, who had married into Sanballat’s family.

And after all this, Nehemiah prays, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (v. 31).

Nehemiah, in this final chapter, shows us the importance of righteous anger.

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Lessons from Nehemiah 7: Obedience


Artwork © Justin Gerard. Used with permission.


Nehemiah chapters 11-12 presents a list naming the people who would live in Jerusalem, those who would remain in the surrounding villages, & the dedication of the wall; this passage serves as a conclusion to the story of the repopulation of Jerusalem.

The dedication ceremony described is the culmination of everything that’s taken place over the course of the book; the wall is complete, the people have repented and turned to God, their Savior. There is much celebration and rejoicing. But as I was reading, I was left with a question…

Why are the lists of names important? Why would the Holy Spirit inspire them to be written, not just here, but throughout Scripture?

Now, we could potentially over-spiritualize it and say that these lists are representative of the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3; Revelations 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12, 20:15, 21:27), in which the names of all God’s people, past, present & future, are found.

And maybe that’s the reason… but maybe there’s another, practical reason for the existence of lists like we find in Nehemiah 11 & 12.

They serve to show us the fruit of obedience.

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Lessons from Nehemiah 6: Repentance


Artwork © Justin Gerard. Used with permission.


In Nehemiah chapters 9-10, the people of Judea come together and confess their sins. They read from the Book of the Law; they name all of their sins publicly; they proclaim the history of creation and salvation—That God created the heavens and the earth and made everything good. God chose Abram & brought him out of Ur, to make for Himself a people. They tell of the Exodus, where God redeemed the Israelites from the hands of Pharaoh, and made them to be a witness to all the nations of the earth. But they rebelled. They chased after the gods of the surrounding nations which were no gods at all, and  rejected great gifts God had given them. And God chastened them; He sent them into exile for their disobedience. Because they had disobeyed His covenant and paid no attention to His Law, God made them slaves.

Now the people come before the Lord to confess their sins and to renew the covenant which they have broken.

In these chapters, we see the people of Judea repent of their sins.

What we learn from this passage is the need for repentance.
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Lessons from Nehemiah 5: Preaching and Bible Study

Artwork © Justin Gerard. Used with permission.

Nehemiah chapter eight opens on the first day of the seventh month with Ezra the Priest preaching a sermon—and it’s a good one, lasting from early morning to midday. He preaches through the Law of Moses, and the people begin to feel the weight of their sin and mourn. Ezra admonishes them not to grieve, itself a positive response to the reality of sin, but to rejoice “for this day [the Day of Atonement] is holy to the Lord.” The people rejoiced and celebrated, because they understood the words proclaimed to them.

The next day, the leaders of the people came together to study the Law, where they found that they were commanded to celebrate the Feast of Booths, remembering their time as sojourners in the wilderness. And they obeyed, and there was much rejoicing. Ezra read from the Book of the Law in the presence of the people each day of the celebration, which lasted seven days.

Here’s the big idea that we learn from this passage of Scripture: A passion for Jesus and Scripture  is created and fueled by the right preaching of the Bible. If the Bible is not preached in our churches, people will not be brought to repentance.

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Vintage Saints: Robert Robinson

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robert_robinsonRobert Robinson was born in 1735 in Swaffham, Norfolk, England. His father died when Robert was very young and he turned to a life of reckless abandon. One night, Robert and his friends harassed a drunken gypsy, demanding that she tell their fortune for free. She pointed directly at him and told him that he would live to see his children and grandchildren.

These words shook Robert, and he lived in fear of where his life would lead him were he not to change.

This led Robert, under the guise of going to mock him with his friends, to hear the preaching of Methodist evangelist George Whitefield. Whitefield’s sermon, dealing with John the Baptist’s words, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7). These words filled him with a deep conviction of sin. After three years of wrestling, Robert repented of his sin and became a Methodist Pastor.

Two years later, he wrote his best known hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.This hymn, with its passionate portrayal of our tendency to wander from our gracious and merciful God, is still a favorite of many Protestant Christians today. The original lyrics of which are reprinted below.

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The implications of Fake Work

My friends over at JRoller Online Book Reviews have posted my review of Brent D. Peterson & Gaylan W. Nielson’s excellent book, Fake Work.

In a nutshell, the purpose of the book is to reveal the reality of the working world—that much of the work we do has nothing to do with the goals of our companies—and provide us with the means to turn work culture around.

From the original review, fake work is defined as:

Quite simply, it is any work that we do that fails to align with the goals of our companies, organizations, churches, and families. It’s the work that we do that steals our time & energy, and destroys our morale. The authors refer to it as “the road to nowhere” – as though you’re building a road on a mountainside leading to the site of your new cabin; you’ve moved rocks, filled the roadbed and faced the oppressive heat and the punishing cold. But you’ve moved ahead, confident in your understanding of the surveyor’s plans. But, as you weave and wind around the landscape, you find yourself at the end of the road, staring down from the edge of a cliff.

That, in essence is fake work. A great deal of effort expended, resources committed, but none of it matters, because it doesn’t get you where you need to go.

Pretty scary isn’t it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept and the implications it has for all of us, and for Christians within the workplace in particular.

There are a lot of new books coming out discussing work culture—what works, what doesn’t, what needs to change. Most are coming to the same conclusion: How we work and how we define success is broken and needs to change. We need to stop evaluating the appearance of work, and instead begin evaluating the results of that work.

The typical job is defined by a 40 hour work week. You’re at your desk, your station, for eight hours, less your 30 minute lunch break, every day. But what if your job doesn’t take that long to do?

What do you do then?

Well, I know a lot of us find busy work to do. We do whatever we can to look busy, because we don’t want to be seen as not working hard.

But is that really working hard? If we’re spending more time blogging or watching YouTube videos, simply because we have to fill an eight hour day, can we really say that we’re doing the best job we can?

Are we worshipping God in our work?

Scripture tells us that we are to work hard; that “whatever [we] do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,” says Colossians 3:23. For many of us, fake work and a work culture based on time instead of results actually inhibit our ability to fulfill this commandment from Scripture.  They don’t encourage us to work their hardest at our jobs, to see work as worship.

This is because there is no value in what we do.

If we know that a report we’re working on isn’t going to be read, nor are our ideas going to be implemented, we don’t want to bring anything to the table. If we know that it doesn’t matter how quickly we get our tasks done because the appearance of work is more important than the results, we don’t really work as for the Lord. We actually are working for men—for their approval and for their standards.

So here’s the big question: Are you willing to draw a line in the sand—to say “no more” to fake work and instead only do work that actually brings value to your company?

Are you prepared to transform the working world and really see your job as an act of worship?

Lessons from Nehemiah 4: Perseverance

Artwork © Justin Gerard. Used with permission.

In Nehemiah chapters 6 and 7, opposition continues, with a desperate attempt to discredit Nehemiah and assassinate him. Sanballat and Geshem sent four letters to Nehemiah, asking him to come for a meeting at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono. Nehemiah declined their invitation, preferring not to get murdered—besides, he had some important work to do, namely get the walls finished and the doors put up. A fifth letter was sent in a final attempt to scare him, spreading the rumor that the Jews were planning on rebelling against Artaxerxes.

But Nehemiah persevered.

He then is given a false prophecy, saying that assassins are coming to kill Nehemiah, so he should go hide out in the temple, where he’d be safe. But Nehemiah recognized it as false, and refuses to act cowardly. If he’s going to die, he’s going to die like a man.

And Nehemiah persevered.

After 52 days, the wall was completed—an amazing feet, accomplished only by a miracle of God! And there was more conspiring against Nehemiah. Because the hand of God was obviously upon the people of Judah, what was to stop them from becoming a mighty nation once more? The nobles of Judah conspired with Tobiah the Ammonite, because many of them were bound to him by marriage, and Tobiah sent letters to Nehemiah to make him afraid.

Still, Nehemiah persevered.

These chapters remind us again of the need for perseverence in the face of great opposition.

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Lessons from Nehemiah 3: Reputation and Generosity


Artwork © Justin Gerard. Used with permission.


In Nehemiah chapter 5, Nehemiah learns that the returned exiles are being taken advantage of by their own people.The people mortgaged their fields, vineyards and homes to get food to eat. They borrowed money against their fields and vineyards to pay their taxes. They were forced to sell their sons and daughters into slavery in order to service there debt, because “other men have [their] fields and vineyards” (v. 5). Nehemiah accused the officials of oppressing the people for their own gain and demanded an end to the exacting of interest (a practice explicitly forbidden in Deut 23:19-20). “Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them,” Nehemiah commanded (v. 11).  He made them swear an oath under threat of judgement from God (v 13), and the people agreed.

Nehemiah then leads by example in modeling generosity. Rather than taking the food allowance that were his right as governor of Judea, he forsook his rights; he did not take his daily ration of forty shekels of silver, as the previous governors had. He and his servants did not lord their position over the people, but worked with them on the rebuilding of the wall, and accumulated for themselves no land.  He even hosted large dinner parties at his home nightly for in excess of 150 people, with all food provided at his own expense.

What do we learn from this chapter? We learn how we ought to treat others— we learn the importance of true generosity.

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Scrapbook Idol

Some time ago, my wife showed me an article in Maclean’s dealing with the plight of “Scrapbook Widowers”—Men who have been “abandoned” by their spouses for their border-line obsession with the hobby of scrapbooking. The article itself is a great read, although a bit frightening. The amount of money that is poured into the craft (now a multi-billion dollar industry) is astronomical and I had no idea there were scrapbooking cruises and craft fairs. I can’t imagine looking at different kinds of paper, glue, and stickers for more than a few minutes, let alone days.

I guess that says a lot about my interest in crafts, doesn’t it?

My being creeped-out aside, we did have a great opportunity to discuss the importance of hobbies – specifically, when does our enjoyment of anything go too far and take the place of ultimate desire in our lives?

I don’t have to tell you about the different directions we’re being pulled in, the demands we all have on our time, and how important it is to have a healthy release from these demands. We all get that; I don’t think anyone would argue to the contrary. Hobbies are fantastic. One of my favourite hobbies is reading.

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows I love books. I love them more than college kids love bad pizza at four a.m. I have a stack of books on my night stand about a foot and a half high, on subjects varying from theology to crime-fiction. It’s awesome! When I see another book I’d like to read, I get giddy. When people ask me what I want for my birthday, the answer is simple: Books, check my Amazon wish list.

Christmas? Books.

The holiday when I’m not sure why I’m getting a present? Books.

There’s nothing wrong with books by themselves, even the ones I don’t like; although, if I don’t like a book or author, I’m happy to tell you why.

In excruciating detail.

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