Contending For Our All (book review)

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

As someone who thoroughly enjoys studying history and leadership, “The swans are not silent” series of books by John Piper is right up my alley! The fourth book in this excellent series is Contending For Our All. 

As with all of the other books in this series, Contending For Our All explores the lives of three notable men of history around a common theme. This book focuses on the theme of dealing with controversies in the church through the lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen. 

None of these men sought to be controversial, but neither did they shy away from addressing the unbiblical teachings of their day. Even though it cost them prestige, advancement, personal comfort, and even a few friends, these strong men knew that standing for biblical truth was their supreme privilege. Athanasius confronted the heresy of Arianism, Owen was one of the most influential voices for the Puritans, and Machen warned the evangelic church of its drift away from orthodoxy. 

These men counted the joy of serving Jesus even in the face of controversy as the greatest honor they could obtain. They served well and lovingly and earned the highest praise in the voice of their Master saying, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Their lives are a timely reminder for all Christians living in today’s post-truth culture. 

As with all of the other books in this series, Pastor John does a remarkable job in sharing these biographies in a compelling and memorable manner, and in a way that makes the case for all Christians to stand strong as they too contend for truth. 

If you would like to read the other book reviews I’ve reviewed in this series, check them out here: 

►► My Patreon supporters will have exclusive access to all of the quotes and notes I compiled while reading this book. Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

Links & Quotes

Don’t rush through your Bible reading time. Slow down to savor the good stuff. And if there’s something you don’t understand, ask the “Chef”—the Holy Spirit loves to make God’s Word clear to you.

On a recent Breakpoint broadcast, John Stonestreet reported, “Even while many nations pump the brakes on radical transgender ideology and healthcare practices, Americans at both the state and federal level continue to push culture-wide affirmation, social transition of minors, hormone therapies, and harmful surgeries. Advocates frequently claim that so-called and misnamed ‘gender-affirming’ treatments—including surgery—‘save lives,’ that gender dysphoria is a permanent condition even among minors, and that regret by those who undergo such treatments are minimal or non-existent. Increasingly, research suggests otherwise.”

“Hazael’s historicity has never truly been in doubt; there are far too many inscriptions from the ancient world testifying to his existence.” Check out this archeological biography of King Hazael who appears several times in the Bible.

Dan Reiland notes, “Leaders navigate within the realm of pressure; it’s part of the landscape. It’s how we handle the pressure that makes all the difference.” Dan shares four ways the pressure of leadership is needed and helpful.

Be careful with non-biblical rules! I went much deeper with this idea in an exclusive video for my Patreon sponsors. If you want to get access to these exclusive lessons, it’s just $5/month. Check out my Patreon page to subscribe → https://www.patreon.com/craigtowens.

John Piper explains that there are three levels of how to live with material things. He then dives deeper into what the purpose of prosperity really is.

T.M. Moore has a stern word for pastors: “If we are faithful in telling the whole truth of the Gospel, not everyone will be thrilled with our preaching. We need to make sure Jesus is. When it comes to sin, let’s not mince words, and let’s not act like it’s not the big deal it is. No progress in faith can be made where sin is not consistently and thoroughly confessed, repented of, and forsaken.”

God Longs For You

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

There’s a misconception that many people have about God’s laws: they think that they are intended to rob us of enjoyment, that they restrict our lives and remove our pursuit of happiness. 

In actuality, the exact opposite is true. God is love (1 John 4:8). That means everything God does is rooted in His love for us. Including the laws He gives us. He loves us and wants us to stay in the place where we don’t experience the heartache, pain, and disappointment of missing out on His blessings. 

God is also happy. Paul calls it “the glory of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11). The word “blessed” can easily be translated as happy. God is happy and He wants us to share in this ultimate happiness. 

Consider the blessings that are in first and last of the Ten Commandments: 

  • The first commandment says there is only one God. Far from this being restrictive, it’s a huge blessing. I don’t have to search and compare, I don’t have to make a list of pros and cons and then settle on the best option, but I can enjoy the one and only true God. 
  • The tenth commandment says I don’t need to crave anything outside of what God has given me. Again, this is a huge blessing because it tells me that my loving Father has given me all that I need, that He alone satisfies my cravings. 

John Piper gave the essence of idolatry in this line: “Preferring other things above God.” This is why God delights for us to delight in Him. When we do, He is our sole focus. When He is our focus, we enjoy Him immensely and we reject anything that would remove our gaze from Him. 

That’s why there is a continuous linkage in all 176 verses of Psalm 119 between God’s laws and our delight—between obedience and satisfaction. When we obey God, we experience His happiness. 

The apostle Paul called Christians to live this way: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). Gospel literally means “good news.” What good news are we supposed to proclaim? The good news that God is happy and that He wants to say to us, “Come and share your Master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:21)! 

When I was a kid I struggled with this question: Do I love God just because He first loved me? I thought, “That seems like a cop out. Am I really saying that the only reason I have for loving Him is that He went first?” But then I realized it couldn’t be any other way. How could I love an angry God? How could I ever expect to approach a God who knew all my sins and had the final say on my punishment, and was just waiting for a chance to get His hands on me? 

I can only love a loving God. I can only love Him because He first loved me (see Romans 5:8). 

In a similar way, I can only crave God because He first craved a relationship with me. Otherwise I’m setting myself up for unimaginable heartbreak and disappointment! 

Jesus said it was His Father’s “good pleasure” to reveal Himself to us. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son. Our heavenly Father craved a relationship with us, so He revealed His Son Jesus to us so that Jesus could reveal the Father to us (see Matthew 11:25-30; John 14:7).

Just as we could only love God because He loved us first, we could only crave a relationship with God because He craved a relationship with us first. It was always His plan to adopt us into His family—this is what gives Him great pleasure (Ephesians 1:5). Then God works in us to fulfill His craving for us, which empowers us to find our deepest longings satisfied exclusively in Him (Philippians 2:13). 

Sometimes we get a small taste or experience of earthly pleasure that quickly fades away. C.S. Lewis reminded us, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” 

Our craving for God is only satisfied in the knowledge that God first craved a relationship with us. Only the intimacy of our Savior will fulfill our cravings. Anything else will end only in utter disappointment. 

If you have missed any of the message in our series called Craving, you can find a list of all of the messages by clicking here. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

Links & Quotes

Premier athletes know the value of flexibility for keeping them in the game. I think we would be wise to practice flexibility in our relationships too—this is definitely a game-changing move! Check out my weekly Monday Motivation videos on my YouTube channel

“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger like, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” —Thucydides

This week we remember Columbus Day. You probably remember the rhyme: In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Many people have thought Columbus set out to prove the world was round, but the History Channel has a mini-biography that debunks this claim.

One of my YouVersion friends (Nikki) commented a great reminder: “God can do way more with my surrender than with my striving.”

Thomas Zimmerman was an influential leader in the early days of the Assembly of God fellowship’s history. “Over a 50-year period, Thomas F. Zimmerman (1912-1991) served the Assemblies of God as pastor, district official, department leader, assistant general superintendent, and general superintendent. His leadership greatly increased the influence of the Pentecostal movement in the evangelical world, as well as in the broader American religious landscape.”

I post quality content nearly every day. If you don’t have time to read all that I share, please let me read it for you. The Craig T. Owens Audio Blog is just like this blog, except you get to hear me read my blog posts. Check it out my podcast on Spotify, Apple, and even Audible.

“The word ‘hell’ is used in the New Testament fourteen times, twelve times by Jesus Himself. It is not a myth created by dismal and angry preachers. It is a solemn warning from the Son of God who died to deliver sinners from its curse. We ignore it at great risk.” —John Piper

Christian apologist and cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace wrote, “the battleground on the abortion issue is beginning to shift, and this shift is going to cause us to rethink our approach to the debate.” Pro-life advocates need to check out Wallace’s post Justifying Homicide: The Future Battleground In The Abortion Debate.

Responsibility isn’t supposed to be fatal! Exceptional leaders accept and promote appropriate responsibility, while weak leaders play the blame game. But accepting responsibility doesn’t mean “falling on your sword”! You can check out the rest of this conversation I had with my podcast partner Greg Heeres on The Craig And Greg Show leadership podcast.

The Rewarding Exchange

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

In Romans 3:23 we read, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  What does it mean to “fall short” of God’s standard? John Piper describes it this way: “It means that none of us has trusted and treasured God the way we should. We have not been satisfied with His greatness and walked in His ways. We have sought our satisfaction in other things, and treated them as more valuable than God.” 

A couple of chapters earlier in Romans, Paul tells us about an exchange that people make. They exchange a relationship with the eternal God for things which they can grab immediately. Sadly, these immediate things are only temporal things that fall short of God’s awesome glory and leave us perpetually unsatisfied (Romans 1:21-25). 

We were created by God to crave. Craving is what gives us staying power and brings fulfillment. Think of it this way: Would you rather…

  • …go to a job that is mundane, boring, and only focused on making money OR go to a job that is fascinating, using our talents, and trying to make a difference in the world? 
  • …eat food that tastes like cardboard OR eat savory food? 
  • …serve a god that is temporary, fickle, and unreliable OR serve a God that is eternal, faithful, strong, and loving? 

Or think of it another way: Which of those jobs would you want to go to? Which job would call out your best effort? Which food would you want to eat? Which food would make you want to praise the chef? And which God would you want to spend eternity with? Which God would want to invite others to worship? 

God gives us cravings that can only be satisfied in Him. The devil perverts these cravings to get us to go for quick, easy, self-made pleasures. Just think about how he tempted Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-6). 

Both the Old Testament and New Testament tell us of the joys of eternal cravings being satisfied and the consequences of giving in to temporal cravings. For example: 

  • God gives a craving for future meat, but satisfies us with manna while we wait. The devil temps us to have our meat now (Deuteronomy 12:20; Psalm 106:12-14; Numbers 11:34). 
  • God gives a craving for satisfying relationships. The devil tempts us to indulge our passions now by grabbing the most alluring relationship (Proverbs 5:18-19; Deuteronomy 5:21; Romans 1:24, 26). 
  • God gives a craving for success and significance in His timeframe. The devil tempts us to get ahead now (1 Kings 11:37-38; Genesis 3:6). 

(Check out all of these passages by clicking here.)

It’s a terrible exchange when we give up the glorious eternal for the fading temporal! Romans 1 describes the results as sinful, degrading, shameful, unnatural. That’s because the things of earth are temporary; only God is eternal. 

For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh—craving for sensual gratification—and the lust of the eyes—greedy longings of the mind—and the pride of life—assurance in one’s own resources or in the stability of earthly things—these do not come from the Father but are from the world itself. And the world passes away and disappears, and with it the forbidden cravings (the passionate desires, the lust) of it; but he who does the will of God and carries out His purposes in his life abides (remains) forever. (1 John 2:16-17 AMP) 

We have to trust the One who gave us His unshakable promises—Be delighted with the Lord. Then He will give you all your heart’s desires (Psalm 37:4 TLB). Be delighted with Him and He will—not “may” or “hopefully He will” but He will—give you ALL your heart’s desires! 

There is an ultimate reward in Heaven but there are incredibly satisfying rewards along the journey to Heaven as well. Rewards like happiness, security, insight, and divine counsel from the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 4:8; Psalm 119:2, 10, 16, 18, 24).

If we will resist the temptation to satisfy our cravings by exchanging the eternal for the temporal, we will be rewarded with divine satisfaction here and rewards beyond imaging forever in God’s presence! 

If you’ve missed any of the message in our series called Craving, you can find all of them by clicking here. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

Created To Crave God

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I was playing golf with a pastor and a missionary when the starter asked if a single player could join us to make a foursome. We happily agreed. About 4-5 holes into our game, our guest asked what we did. My pastor friend started out, “I’m a pastor, and this guy is a missionary, and—” 

Our guest interrupted and blurted out, “You guys are Christians?! I’ve never had so much fun! I always heard Christians were boring.” 

When did it come about that people thought of Christians as boring—or even worse, as sourpusses and killjoys? Sadly, too many Christians have helped cement this idea in people’s minds. I think this is largely because those Christians are misinformed and frustrated. This frustration, I believe, comes from the mistaken idea that Christians are supposed to squelch any urges or cravings that we have.  

But check out this Q&A from the Westminster Catechism—

Q: What is the chief end of man? 

A: To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. 

Glorifying God is supposed to result in enjoyment—enjoying both God’s presence and the life He has given us. We are created to crave the fuel of His Spirit that satisfies and energizes us. 

Just as your car would at best under-perform if you attempted to run it with anything else but gasoline, so our lives will under-perform and feel like drudgery if we are trying to fuel our cravings with anything other than God. 

The dictionary defines “craving” as a great or eager desire, or a yearning. But I believe the Bible defines God-honoring craving as the longing for an intimate relationship with God that is implanted by God Himself. 

The people of Judah had gone astray from God and were trying to satisfy their urges with foreign gods and pagan idolatry. When King Asa called these backsliders back to God, here’s how he did it—

[Asa] commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers—to inquire of and for Him and crave Him as a vital necessity—and to obey the law and the commandment. (2 Chronicles 14:4 AMP) 

Contrast this with the temporary cravings of earth—

But those who crave to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish, useless, godless, and hurtful desires… (1 Timothy 6:9 AMP) 

This world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever (1 John 2:17 NLT). 

Nowhere are godly cravings and earthly cravings better contrasted than in James 4:1-6. 

In this passage, the Greek word for desires (v. 1) and pleasures (v. 3) is hedone. This is where we get our English word “hedonism.” There is nothing wrong with pleasure—for God Himself takes pleasure—but it’s what pleasures we are craving that can make them ungodly. James rightly points out that the wrong hedonism is a craving to fulfill “your desires,” “your pleasures,” and to desire “friendship with the world” (v. 1, 3, 4)

Jesus talked about worldly cravings—using the same word hedone—when He said, “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures [hedone], and they do not mature” (Luke 8:14). 

Notice the same thing in Isaiah 58:2 where God declares that people “seem eager” to delight in God, but it’s only a show for them to satisfy fleshly cravings. John Piper noted, “God means they are delighting in their business and not in the beauty of their God. He does not rebuke their hedonism. He rebukes the weakness of it. They have settled for secular interests and thus honor them above the Lord.” 

Instead, notice the fulfilled cravings when we seek God: “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 58:13-14). 

I like that reminder that “the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” The origin of the word craving is the Old Norse word krefja, which means to lay claim on something because of a promise. God has promised, and so we can claim it. 

James assures us that the spirit God implanted in us envies intensely (James 4:5). We were made to crave God’s presence, we were made to find ultimate satisfaction in His presence, we were made to find eternal delight in knowing Him more intimately! 

The proud person says, “God, I know what I want. Give it to me.” The humble person says, “God, I know Your presence is the only thing that will satisfy me. Give it to me.” 

The craving in our spirit can be redirected from earthly yearnings to God-honoring yearnings by yielding to the Holy Spirit. I would humbly suggest that our prayer should be something like this—

“Father, grant that my cravings are for Your name to be hallowed, Your kingdom to be made visible, and Your will to be done. Let the enjoyment I have in Your presence shine out of me in a way that invites others to be dissatisfied with their earthly cravings and find their ultimate satisfaction in a personal relationship with You through Jesus Christ. Holy Spirit, continue to refine and redirect all of my cravings away from earthly things to eternal pleasures. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.” 

If you would like to follow along with all of the messages in this series called Craving, you can find all of the sermons by clicking here. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

Links & Quotes

T.M. Moore wrote to pastors, “Effective ministry and fruitful Christian living are not automatic. They don’t just happen. Each requires that we receive the gifts of God, develop them according to His Word, and put them to proper use day by day. We must work out our salvation and work at our calling with focus and vigor.” Check out the rest of his post 

Speaking of pastors: In order for us pastors to be at our peak, we need to take care of ourselves. Here is a short video where I talk about the principle of sabbathing (a topic I explore in-depth in my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter).

This study from PennMedicine tells us that our brains can continue to learn new things until the day we die. So apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks!

My friend Greg and I have always tried to combine work and play. We’ve found that fun can really help leadership lessons stick. Check out this clip from a recent Craig And Greg Show leadership podcast.

Some really fast-moving stars in our Milky Way galaxy have further called into question the dating of our universe. These stars seem to indicate a universe that was created by God recently.

“When you’re good at something, you’ll tell everyone. When you’re great at something, they’ll tell you.” —Walter Payton

How does the word of man become the Word of God? Great teaching from John Piper in his “Look at the Book” series.

Links & Quotes

John Maxwell makes it clear in this quote that leaders are to focus on the other person: “Lead according to their dream. Coach according to their weakness. Mentor according to their potential. Delegate according to their strengths. Relate according to their personality.” —John Maxwell 

In my ongoing Monday Motivation video series, I shared one of my favorite Bible verses about mentoring:

A very interesting mini-biography of Alexander Hamilton: American Prodigal—The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of Alexander Hamilton.

“…One of my favorite analogies of prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie. I like to contrast the wartime walkie-talkie of prayer with the domestic intercom. What I like to say is that one of the reasons prayer malfunctions is because people take a wartime walkie-talkie and try to turn it into a domestic intercom, in which they ring up the butler to please bring another pillow to the den. 

“Prayer is not designed as an intercom between us and God to serve the domestic comforts of the saints. It’s designed as a walkie-talkie for spiritual battlefields. It’s the link between active soldiers and their command headquarters, with its unlimited fire-power and air cover and strategic wisdom. When you understand this, you can pray the locks off people’s hearts.” —John Piper

“I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance.” —John D. Rockefeller

“Envy is the demand that what will make me happy is what I do not possess.” —Dr. John Townsend

How Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun became a Christian. Here’s an interview by C. M. Ward.

Here is a brief clip from a recent Craig And Greg Show leadership podcast that honors my grandpa’s words and gives something for all leaders to aspire to: honoring others…

Links & Quotes

William Perkins defined theology as, “The science of living blessedly forever.” He also had this word for pastors as they teach theology: “The ‘demonstration of the Spirit’ becomes a reality when, in preaching, the minister of the Word conducts himself in such a way that everyone—even those who are ignorant of the gospel and are unbelievers—recognize that it is not so much the preacher who is speaking but the Spirit of God in him and by him…. This is what makes his ministry living and powerful.”

“Self-trust is the first secret of success.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

80 Years Ago: The Assemblies of God was a founding member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and remains the largest of the 40 denominations that are members of the NAE today.

John Piper identifies five digital dangers and gives us strategies for combating them. I especially thought these insights on pornography were powerful: “More insidious that X-rated videos, we can now not only watch but join the perversity in the privacy of our own den. Interactive porn will allow you to ‘do it’ or make them ‘do it’ virtually. I have never seen it. Nor do I ever intend to. It kills the spirit. It drives God away. It depersonalizes women. It quenches prayer. It blanks out the Bible. It cheapens the soul. It destroys spiritual power. It defiles everything. Resolution: I will never open any app or website for sexual stimulation, nor purchase or download anything pornographic.”

“I could well believe that it is God‘s intention, since we have refused milder remedies, to compel us into unity, by persecution even and hardship. satan is without doubt nothing else than a hammer in the hand of a benevolent and severe God. For all, either willingly or unwillingly, do the will of God: Judas and satan as tools or instruments, John and Peter as sons.” —C.S. Lewis

“The response of Jesus to those guilty of sexual sin is not to condemn nor condone the sin. I see in His example [John 8:10-12] a good pattern: (1) Love first—‘I don’t condemn you’; (2) Speak the truth—‘Sin no more.’” —Kevin Berry. The world has made “love” mean accepting whatever the other person is doing, and “truth” now means agreeing with the other person. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can speak the truth in love without condemning nor condoning.

Links & Quotes

I love the humanitarian work of Convoy of Hope wherever there is a need. They are on the front lines of Ukraine right now. If you are looking for a good organization to support financially, please check out their current efforts and click the Donate button on their page.

“[God] does not need us. If we stay away He is not impoverished. He does not need us in order to be happy in the fellowship of the Trinity. But He magnifies His mercy by giving us free access through His Son, in spite of our sin, to the one Reality that can satisfy us completely and forever, namely, Himself. ‘You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore’ (Psalm 16:11).” —John Piper 

“Good preachers are good learners, and not just of the Scriptures. They need to understand the times and the ways the times impact the people they are called to serve. Preachers who know their sheep well, as our Good Shepherd exemplified for us, will hear their concerns, understand their thoughts, discern their hopes and fears, and be able to preach in a way that speaks directly to their souls with transforming grace and power. Let us strive to be sons of Issachar when it comes to the ministry of God’s Word.” —T.M. Moore 

I love the Babylon Bee! Here is something that should make every pastor say, “Aha!”—Scholars Discover Introductory Notes To Paul’s Epistles That Dismissed The Children To Youth Ministry So The Adults Could Hear The Message

This week I shared another exclusive video with my Patreon supporters. Please consider supporting this ministry at just $5 per month. I also shared this public video especially for my fellow pastors:

John Stonestreet wrote about our amazing brain. What a marvelous thing our Creator has given us! Here is just one example: “In 2013, a collaboration between Japanese and German scientists created one of the most realistic brain simulations ever attempted. They used what was, at that time, the world’s fourth-largest computer, containing over 700,000 processor cores and producing an eye-popping 1.4 million gigabytes of RAM. The machine worked at top speed, crunching numbers for over 40 minutes. In the end, it produced just one second of simulated brain activity.”

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