Book Review: Balance, by Gregory Tyree

Let me start off by saying that I am not generally a fan of “self-help” books or anything that might resemble them. That being said, I really enjoyed this book, Balance by Gregory Tyree. 

First of all, Gregory is a really good writer. His writing style is friendly, and easy to follow, and makes you want to continue reading. He isn’t overly technical, nor is he too “wordy”. He says what he needs to say and he moves on. This is a quality that I wish more writers possessed.

Secondly, Tyree’s illustrations are helpful, clear, and serve to hammer his points home. While I usually find charts distracting, and even at times annoying, the charts in this book I found quite useful. Even his self-assessment tools are extremely helpful, not only to help make his points, but also to make you think about the areas of your life that you may be struggling.

Most important of all, this book is truly a beneficial book. While written from the perspective of a Christian and a Pastor, anyone can be helped by reading this book. Whether most of us realize it or not, there are areas in all of our lives in which we struggle in, or are less successful than we are in others. Gregory does a great job of helping us pin-point those areas without coming off “preachy” or overly critical. In fact, he sees himself as a “fellow struggler”, which is in some ways is quite reassuring.

I personally am very glad I ventured outside of my normal reading habits and gave Balance a read. I’m confident that Gregory has given me many helpful, practical, and easy to follow steps that will allow me to begin to cultivate balance in my life in a way that I’ve not done in the past. I pray that as I continue to take these steps, and as the grace of God continues to work in my life and ministry, that I will become a better husband, father, pastor, and friend. I believe that this book is certainly a tool, that will aid me in this process.

Balance, by Gregory Tyree is available in paperback or kindle. Click HERE to check it out.

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Coming Soon! Jonah and the Mercy of God

 

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I’m thrilled to be working with Focus Forward Publishing to release my next book, Jonah and the Mercy of God. Tentative release date is early May, so be watching out for it! I’m so excited about this project, and I can’t wait to share it with the world!  More details to follow.
http://www.focusforwardpublishing.com

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The Vanity of Envy

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In Ecclesiastes 4:4 King Solomon says, “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is a vanity and a striving after wind.”

So, Solomon is saying that the reason he sees people working so hard, and striving, and toiling is what? It’s because of envy! It’s because they want what others have. It’s what we would call trying keep up with the Jones’.

Friends, is this something we still see in our day? Absolutely it is. Do you ever struggle with this? I know I certainly do. We see our neighbor, or our friends with a new car, or a bigger house, maybe even a new boat…and we want what they have! It’s something that I believe we all struggle with on some level, or at the very least we have at one time or another.

We want what other people have, and so many people are out there killing themselves, and working themselves to death – not because they have to and not because they need more money to survive – but simply because they want more stuff. They want the things they see that other people have.

Again, I believe we all struggle on some level with this…it’s simply a part of our sinful nature.

But, Solomon says that this is vanity. It’s pointless! Solomon says that it’s a “striving after wind.”

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say that hard work is bad. The Bible certainly doesn’t say that, in fact it says the opposite. Hard work is a good thing. It is a virtue to be a hard worker.

But the question is, what is our motivation? Are we working simply to get more stuff? Or is our work motivated by the desire to honor and glorify God? Because it should be! Is God at the center of even our work ethic? In Colossians 3:23 the Apostle Paul says that, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…”

So, your work is to be done for the Lord. So yes, work hard, but not for stuff, not out of envy, but for the Lord!

But, if we just take Solomon’s words here at face value, we could get the idea that maybe we shouldn’t be such hard workers. Some people do see the greed and selfishness that motivates so many people to work, and they come to the conclusion that they don’t want to be in this “rat race” so they just decide they aren’t going to do anything! That’s sometimes why we see 30-35 year old grown men still living with their mamas, or why people decide to be “free spirited drifters” bouncing around from place to place, just ‘living for the moment’ or trying to be ‘free’ and not ‘tied down by “the man”…whoever “the man” is…

But that’s not the right way either, is it? I think experience and common sense would tell us this.

Look at Ecclesiastes 4:5, “The FOOL folds his hands and eats his own flesh.”

Solomon says it’s a fool that won’t work. If you won’t work and take care of yourself you will eventually starve. You can’t provide for your needs if you don’t work, so a failure to work is self-destructive…it’s foolish! This is true economically, physically, mentally, and spiritually. We were created to work! One of the purposes of our existence is to work. I believe that this is why we feel so satisfied after a good hard day of work. So a refusal to work, when we get right down to it, is rebellion against God. (Of course some are disabled or simply unable and can’t work, this is another scenario altogether which I am not speaking of here. Please don’t misunderstand me.)

So, if working our fingers to the bone for more stuff isn’t the right way, and if refusing to work altogether isn’t the way to go…then what is? Well, Solomon tells us.

Ecclesiastes 4:6, “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and striving after wind.”

Very simply Solomon is telling us to be content. Yes, work hard. Yes, provide for your needs. And THEN enjoy what you have. “One handful of quietness is better than two handfuls of striving after the wind.”

Contentment, being content with what God has blessed you with is much better…INFINITELY better that striving for what can’t satisfy.

My church hears me say this time and time again, but folks this world will never provide you with enough “stuff” or money to make you happy. This world can’t satisfy you and this is why it’s pointless to continue to strive and chase after the wind for more of what this world can offer you! Friends, you CAN’T keep up with the Jones’….

Someone will ALWAYS have more than you do! Always. And if you are living your life, and working simply for what others have, or if you are constantly competing or trying to keep up with other people then it is absolutely a striving after the wind, because you will never have enough…

So, be content. Enjoy what God has given you, and WILL continue to give you. Ultimately, our satisfaction and contentment comes when we realize that all we really need is Jesus.

John Piper has said, “No matter how glorious you are, you will never be glorious enough to satisfy your own soul.” Folks, this is truth and a truth we would be wise to take to heart. The only thing that is glorious enough to satisfy our soul is the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how glorious you are and no matter how glorious you think your stuff is, or the stuff that someone else has is…it will never be glorious enough to satisfy your soul. Therefore, the only right option and the only logical option is to run to Jesus, who as I’ve said so many times, is the only one who truly satisfies.

 

Life’s Big Question

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Animals die. People die. This is a certainty. Death is inevitable. It happens to us all. This reality should cause us all to ask a very important question, and I think for most of us it does. This is also the question that King Solomon was asking in Ecclesiastes 3:21-22. Solomon asks, “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?”

Solomon is asking the question here: Is there life after death? He said, who knows? And like I said, this is a question I think that we all deal with at one time or another in one way or another. It’s a question that most people have.

The inevitability of death is one thing. But here is the real kicker – and if you don’t believe me just read the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes – if this life is all there is, then life IS meaningless. And if this life is all there is, and if life is meaningless, then we all should despair, because that is a terrifying thought.

BUT, if there is life after death, then everything changes doesn’t it? That’s the game changer!

Solomon wants the answer to this most important question, he asks, “Who can know?” And it is true, in one sense, that there is a limit to what we can know about what happens after we die. Yes, we can hear stories or read books about folks who have had near death experiences, but still, there isn’t anyone who has ever been dead for a long period of time, and then came back and told us what the after-life is all about. We have no truly first-hand accounts of all of the details….

Still, we want them! And that’s why books about people going to heaven, and their tales (and I would say tall tales) are so popular to people. Because we want the details about what happens when we die. We want to know what we can expect. Because the unknown is scary. But in and of ourselves, our knowledge of life is pretty limited to our present state. In and of ourselves, we don’t know what happens beyond the grave. This bothered Solomon, and I think it bothers many people.

So Solomon says we might as well just enjoy our present existence, and enjoy life all we can. And IF we are uncertain about our eternities, then I guess this IS the best plan, to simply enjoy life while you can and to get as much joy out of this life while you can…

But the question I have for all of us is this: Do we have to be uncertain about our eternity? I don’t think so. Solomon himself would figure this out too. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 he says of man, “…the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

But even better than this, we have a great advantage over Solomon, don’t we? Why? Because we know Christ. We KNOW the one who can, as Solomon says in verse 22, “…bring him to see what will be after him.” We KNOW the one whom Solomon was longing for.

We KNOW the one who has been through death, and yet came out victorious. We KNOW the one who came down from heaven to reveal the truths of eternity to us. We KNOW Jesus the Son of God who was put to death on a cross.

But He didn’t stay dead did he?

We know that on the third day he conquered death and was raised. He is now in glory at the right hand of God! And now all who believe in Him will rise again to the better life that Hebrews 11:35 tells us about. Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a better place for us, so that we can be where He is. That’s what John 14:3 says. And because of these things we can be certain of our eternities, and we can have the blessed assurance that we sing about so often.

Jesus has revealed eternity to us, and He has won it FOR us…and all we have to do is receive it, and trust and rest in Him.

Follow Me: The Danger of Comparison

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On a recent Sunday as I was recovering from some minor surgery, I was home and therefore had an opportunity to listen in to various church services led by other pastors. For the most part this was a very positive experience and very uplifting.  To listen to other pastors as they expound the Word of God is such an encouragement, and something I enjoy tremendously. As a preacher, one of the ways I improve my craft is by listening in to how other guys approach the art of preaching. Of course anytime you hear the Word of God proclaimed, it should drive your heart to worship, and on this Sunday I was certainly moved to worship by many of my fellow laborers in the Word.

That being said, I was also reminded of something that I all too easily forget. Comparison isn’t always a good thing for a Christian, and very often it can be a dangerous thing. Let me explain.

As I listened to some very gifted preachers boldly speak of the truths of God’s Word, I found myself thinking, “Wow, this guy is a great preacher. I sure wish I could preach like that.” This might sound innocent enough to most of us, and I too am tempted to just shrug it off…but I think there is a bigger problem here than we might think. The problem as I see it, is that if I can hear a man proclaiming the amazing truths of the Scriptures, and all I can do is wonder if the guy is a better preacher than me…then I have a problem. How can I hear about the beauty of our God and the wonderful acts of our savior, and instead of being driven to worship…be driven to compare myself to another of God’s servants while wondering who the better preacher is?

Sadly, this isn’t something that is limited to this particular Sunday. It happens quite often. I find myself on many a Sunday afternoon scrolling social media and reading about what God is doing through other Pastors and other churches, and I often find myself questioning why God doesn’t seem to be blessing me and my church in the same way he might be blessing others.

But, comparison isn’t just a bad thing because it brings out our insecurities. It can also lead to pride.

You see, on this same Sunday I heard other guys totally miss the point of the text they were preaching. I heard others say things that were completely false. I saw some guys being just plain silly. I picked up on others who had weird quirks or mannerisms. I could go on, but you get the point and can probably tell where this is going. Just as previously I was questioning myself, and feeling very insecure about my gifts as a preacher…when I listened to others, I found myself feeling pretty good about myself and getting puffed up with pride.

It’s really quite silly. But, whether most pastors want to admit it or not, this is a problem for many of us. I know, because I have a lot of friends who are pastors and I know the conversations that we have.

Now, a lot of you are probably reading this and thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with me? I’m not a pastor. Why should I care about your weird insecurities?”

The reason I think you should care is because I don’t think this is a problem limited to pastors. I think all of us look around at other Christians from time to time and wonder why God is or isn’t blessing us like he is blessing them. Perhaps we look at how God has gifted someone else to serve Him, and we wish that we had that gift. Maybe we wish we could pray like someone else. It could be that we would like to teach that Sunday school class. It might even be the fact that we look at one of our brothers or sisters who have such an outgoing personality that the ability to witness or evangelize seems to come so easy to them, and we wish that God had given us that gift. It could be any number of things.

Perhaps this isn’t you, but maybe you are the one whom God has gifted in one of these ways. Do you ever look down on other Christians because they don’t have the same abilities that you do? Do you ever find yourself feeling superior to other Christians because you have the ability to pray in public or the gift of teaching, or because you’ve done so many great things for Jesus while others haven’t? Surely, none of us would want to admit to this…but in our most honest moments, are those feelings there?

Maybe no one else has ever had these feelings, and I’m just a bigger sinner than everyone else…but I tend to doubt it. I think all of us have a tendency to want to compare ourselves to others and gauge where we are in the Christian life by our perception of where someone else might be.

In John 21:18-19 Jesus tells Peter not just that he would die in service to God, but he tells him how he would die and glorify God in his death. He then tells Peter, “Follow me.” Upon hearing this, Peter looks around and sees John. Peter then questions Jesus by saying basically, “Well, what about him?!?” Jesus’ response to Peter are words of wisdom that we all need to take to heart. Jesus said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that you? You follow me!”

Friends, we aren’t called to compare ourselves to others. We aren’t called to question why we have some gifts and others don’t. We aren’t called to wonder why God may be blessing someone else one way, while our blessings don’t seem so obvious. The fact is, God has gifted us all differently and called each of us to serve him in unique ways. My service to God won’t look the same as yours, and yours may not look the same as mine…and that is okay.

The fact is, we all have one calling in common, and that is to follow Jesus. We all would be well served by worrying less about how God is using others and comparing ourselves to them, and instead focusing more on our Lord who has called us to follow Him…no matter how he chooses to use us to glorify Himself.

Don’t Waste Your Social Media

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Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has heard the “Great Commission”. Even if you aren’t a Christian, chances are you probably know what I’m talking about when I refer to the “Great Commission”. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says these words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”

As I contemplate these words of Jesus, I am both encouraged AND discouraged, let me explain.

First of all, I am encouraged as a believer, because God has placed me in a time and in a society in which it is easier than ever for me to reach the masses with His Word. Now, we could list any number of things to make this case – things like air travel, radio and television, or even print media – and these are all wonderful things. What I have in mind though is social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter.

I can hear some of you chuckling right now. Many of us don’t take social media seriously. Many of us think of our social media time as simply a way to connect to friends or to share cat videos and photos of our dinner. Others think of social media as a complete waste of time. I want us to think about this, however: In what other forum do you have dozens, maybe even hundreds or thousands of people listening to hear what you have to say? In terms of Gospel impact, what other forum do you have in which you can post a Bible verse or an inspirational quote or thought, and that same verse or quote get seen and shared by people on the other side of the world? All with the simple click of a button. All of us have a circle of friends and a sphere of influence. Social media allows us to multiply that exponentially.

Again, some of us think of social media as a giant waste of time. A lot of us value a physical visit or a phone call more than a message on Facebook or a comment on a status. I get it. In a world that is increasingly becoming more digitized, and folks are communicating by text and email, the sound of someone’s voice or the sight of a friendly face at your door is often refreshing. I don’t think social media can ever replace that, nor should it. BUT, this shouldn’t be a reason to ignore such a powerful tool that God can use for His glory and to spread His message.

As a pastor, I share a lot of Scripture on social media. I often post inspirational quotes or even thoughts that come to my mind throughout the day. I post links to blogs that I find helpful or even blogs that I myself write. Some people would see all of this as a giant waste of time. You would be amazed though at how often people who would never step foot in a church send me a message and ask me questions about spiritual matters. You would be amazed at the number of people, and the types of people that interact with the things that I post. Again, people from all walks of life, with a variety of beliefs, and worldviews. I hear often, “well I never thought of that” or, “I’ve never had anyone explain things like that before.”

I don’t say this to puff myself up, but to say that all of us can reach people via social media that perhaps we would never be able to reach otherwise. I think we would be silly to ignore such a powerful tool. Do we really believe if Paul or Jesus had access to the internet that they wouldn’t take full advantage of it? Absolutely they would, and so should we.

The power of social media and its potential to be used for Great Commission impact is very encouraging to me. As I said though, I am also a bit discouraged, and here is why. With such a powerful tool that we have been given as Christians to make such a powerful impact for the Kingdom of God, I see so many of us wasting this opportunity…and not just because we aren’t using it, but because we are using it so unwisely.

In our charged political climate, as opposed to us seeking to make an impact for Jesus, we would rather use our time online to spout off about our political ideas and philosophies. Instead of us taking advantage of the opportunity to share about the love of Jesus, we use that time to tell everyone how angry we are about this politician, or this group of people, who we believe are ruining our country.

But it isn’t just politics. So many times I see Christians sharing posts with language or images that certainly do not honor the Lord we say that we worship. I see Christians themselves using language or writing posts that are unbefitting of one who calls himself a child of God. I’m no prude, and I can enjoy a good joke, but it is hard for people to take you seriously as a Christian if you share Scripture in one post, then in the very next post go on a profanity-laced rant about the guy who cut you off in traffic.

Social media, like anything else, can and should be used for the glory of God, and I believe this is the reason for which God has given it to us. That being said, Satan will do everything in his power to use it for evil and distract us from using it for its intended purposes. For some, he will simply try to convince us that there is very little value in it. For others of us, he will try to tell us that it’s really just a big waste of time…and if we aren’t using it as a means to glorify God, then he is right.

Don’t fall for Satan’s trap. Take advantage of every opportunity to make much of Jesus. Take every opportunity you can to spread the message of the Gospel. Use the power of social media to take the Word of God to all nations. You never know how much impact one click of a button might have.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or WHATEVER you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

Suicide, Forgiveness, and God’s Redeeming Power

 

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Suicide is a tragedy that has touched many families. For those who have lost loved ones in such a tragic way, there are often wounds that last a lifetime. Suicide is a tragedy that has touched many people from all walks of lives, and it doesn’t discriminate – people of all races, economic classes, educational backgrounds, you name it – almost everyone has loved ones, or has known someone who has taken their own life.

I remember a few years back, a pastor that I knew from a distance took his own life. I was struggling with how this sort of thing can happen, so I was speaking with someone very close to me about it. As we were discussing, this person made the comment, “I’ll bet he’s really wishing he didn’t do that now.” The implication here was that this pastor was in hell.

I’ve often heard, and I believe many of us have heard, because I believe it’s a misconception that many people have, that if you commit suicide, you automatically end up in hell. I tried to explain to my friend that I didn’t believe suicide does automatically send you to hell. They simply said, “Well, I think it does.” When asked for a theological or biblical reason behind their answer, they didn’t have one…it’s just what they’ve always been told, and the belief they’ve always held. I used to believe this also, for the same reasons…it’s just what I’ve always been told. But just because you’ve always been told something, doesn’t necessarily make it so.

As I’ve studied this subject however, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe it to be true that suicide automatically sends someone to hell. First of all, there is the case of Samson who we know killed himself along with many Philistines in Judges 16, yet is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a model of faith. I believe even more though, we need to look to the overwhelming teaching of Scripture which is this: If you are in Christ, and I have no reason to doubt that many who commit suicide are, then you can be assured of your salvation. If you are in Christ, all of your sins past, present, and future are forgiven. (Acts 10:43, Colossians 1:14) I believe this is especially pointed to also in Psalm 103:10-14. Romans 7 and Hebrews 10:14 also certainly give us a picture of the “already-not yet” aspect of salvation.

I think people have arrived at this faulty conclusion because they have this idea that you have to confess every single sin, in order to be forgiven of every single sin. But that just isn’t the case. Can you imagine trying to remember every sin you commit throughout the day? What about the sins you commit without even thinking about it? Following this faulty logic, none of us would or could receive forgiveness for all of our sins. Not only that, our salvation would become dependent on a work, which again the Bible tells us is not the case.

Certainly we are to confess our sins as soon as we are reminded of them, or see that we have sinned, but none of us are so perfect that we will remember each and every one of our sins, and confess them to our Lord. We are all sinners and must confess that to Christ on a regular basis, and repent of the sins we see in our lives. But unfortunately all of our sins won’t be clear to us.

Furthermore, as far as I can tell, the Bible only speaks of one unpardonable, or one unforgivable sin. What is it? Jesus tells us Himself in Mark 3:22-30 & Matthew 12:31-32. The only sin Jesus tells us we cannot be forgiven of is blaspheming, or speaking against the Holy Spirit. I believe what Jesus is speaking of here in these verses is the rejection of the Holy Spirit’s call to salvation, ultimately denying who Christ is and denying Him as Savior. If we deny Christ as Savior, then we cannot be forgiven of that sin, or any sins for that matter. Once we do confess Christ as Savior however, then all of our sins past, present, and future can and will be forgiven as I talked about earlier. (Also see Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13)

So am I saying it’s okay to commit suicide? NO! NEVER!

Our bodies are the temple of God. (1 Corinthians 6:19) There is no situation so bad, so tragic, that it should make us want to harm ourselves knowing that our bodies belong to God. There is no situation so lacking in hope that we shouldn’t put our faith, hope, and trust in Christ to redeem that situation. That being said, all of us are prone to act irrationally at times. I know I myself have done more than one stupid thing in an act of anger or distress. The actions of those who take their own lives just happen to have greater consequences than the things I’ve done. Yet my actions were sinful, just as their acts are. Whatever situation it is that leads folks to take their own lives, I would like to think that I would always act differently, or do things differently than they have…if not for my own sake, but for the sake of my wife and children. As I’ve said, I can’t even imagine what folks who have lost loved ones to suicide go through. But, until we walk in someone else’s shoes, we can’t truly know what we would do, or how we would respond.

I do think though, there is some truth in what the friend I was speaking to said. I do think as folks who take their own life give an account to God, they do mourn for what they did. The Bible tells us that we all must give an account for the things we do. (Hebrews 4:13, Romans 14:12, and especially 2 Corinthians 5:10) So while I do believe we are forgiven for all our sins as believers, and won’t have to suffer hell because of them, we all will give an account, and there will be consequences for all of our actions.

My heartfelt prayers go out anyone who has lost someone they love dearly to suicide. I can’t begin to imagine what they go through. What I do know though, is that we have a God who can and will redeem any situation, and will glorify Himself through it. I’m sure it’s often hard for them to see that, heck it’s hard for me to see how He will do it even from a distance.  Still I know it’s true, and I pray that perhaps somehow, they will be able to cling to this fact in the midst of their pain.