Gender

Hobbies: Gift or God?

The moment I walked into the dorms, I was greeted by a barely clothed 19-year-old guy with an Xbox controller in his hand. He looked at me and asked, “You play Halo?” So began my undergraduate degree at a Baptist university. I had come to study the Bible and philosophy, but it seemed that many of my peers had come to enjoy four years of practicing and perfecting the art of hobby. Dedicated intramural teams, obsessive gaming, competitive fantasy football brackets, and weekends to shoot skeet or play golf were just a few of the options that college opened up for myself and hundreds of other young men. When I graduated, the hobbies just got bigger and more expensive. With salaries and full time jobs, young men are given the resources to take their hobbies and obsessions to new levels. They often have a hard time being able to enjoy their hobbies in a restful way, without immersing themselves headfirst in a world of distraction. The young seminarian might obsess over his blog, the undergraduate student might be chest deep in video games, the father is dedicated to watching every game or being out on the links every weekend, and the grandfather is hoping to re-read all his favorite Grisham novels this spring at his lake house. Like Aristotle might have said, had he had the chance to update the slang in his Nichomachean Ethics, “It’s hard to fiddle in the middle.”

Are hobbies evil? Absolutely not! But when hobbies become obsessions they flip the created order, where man exercises God-given authority and dominion over creation (Gen 1:27-31), and instead place man in subjection to the creation (Rom. 1:21-25). So, the question before us is, how do you enjoy God’s goodness in creation without making your hobby a hindrance to your faithfulness to God’s mission in your home, church, and community?

I want to state three things that we must do, truths we can’t abandon in enjoying hobbies, and two things that we can do to shape our practice of hobby.

What We Must Do

In order to be faithful men of God while enjoying God’s creation, we must:

1. Be Self-Controlled

Paul tells Timothy that those who aspire to the office of overseer “desire a noble task.” These men, the overseers, are to set an example of the lifestyle of a Godly man. Paul exhorts Timothy that these men, the standard set before the men of the church, should be “sober-minded” and “self-controlled" (1 Tim. 3:2).

What is self-control? It is the ability to restrain oneself from one thing so that one might be cast headlong into something better. Paul goes on in 1 Timothy 4:12-15, saying, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid theirs hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”

As C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “We are far too easily pleased.”

We refrain ourselves from immersion in hobbies so that we can immerse ourselves in communion with God. We practice self-control in our hobbies so that we can practice reckless abandonment in our pursuit of Christ.

2. Redeem the Time

Above my desk, in my office, I have a framed picture that my wonderfully creative wife made for me that has pictures of books, coffee beans, and a few quotes. Knowing that my hobbies are reading, writing, and the quest for the perfect cup of coffee, in the middle of that picture is a quote from Jonathan Edwards. The quote from his “Resolutions” says, “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.” Underneath this quote is Paul’s admonition to the church in Ephesians 5:15-16, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making he best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

Is it lazy that I occasionally enjoy reading fiction while I watch a rack of ribs smoke on my pit? Is it sinful that my brother and I have fun attempting the maddening challenge of placing a small white ball into a hole 400 yards away? No, but there is a difference in delighting in the good gifts of God and engrossing myself in the realm of distraction.

If I look to use the “first fruits” of my time for any hobby or practice other than advancing the Kingdom in my home, church, and community, then my hobby has stolen my heart.

One way that I would encourage you to “test your hobbies” is to ask the question, “Where do I run in times of crisis?” In times of crisis, struggle, or fear we run to the functional hero of our hearts. After that argument with your wife, do you flee to tinker in your garage? After that bad news from the boss, do you escape into a fiction fantasy?

Where you run to spend your time when your “time is up” is where your worship is directed.

3. Possess a Gospel Urgency

While Paul encouraged Timothy and others to “Practice these things [scripture reading, teaching, exhortation, etc.], immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15). Paul goes on, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Our hobbies should be practiced with a gospel urgency. Vacations, hobbies, and rest does not exempt us from the ongoing mission of God in our home, church, and community. If your hobby is an escape from living under the Lordship (authority) of Christ, than your hobby is a remnant of your sinful desire for autonomy. When you are enjoying fishing on the lake…you belong to Christ, the water belongs to Christ, and the fish belong to Christ. Like Abraham Kuyper once proclaimed, “There is not one square inch in all of our human existence over which God does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

Yet the world and the spiritual forces of evil at work in the lives of unbelievers oppose Christ’s Lordship over all of creation. Your hobby must become a platform upon which you stand to proclaim “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:1).

If our hobbies are lacking an urgency to know and enjoy Christ and to make him known, than they are becoming less than they were created to be.

What We Can Do

To encourage and challenge ourselves to remain faithful men of God while enjoying our hobbies we can:

1. Serve Our Wives

I love writing, so I operate a blog. My wife knows that I love to write and that if I am not blogging, I will be working on a sermon, book, article, or paper. What does it say about my heart if I write a thousand blog posts and never once use my gift of writing to honor, serve, or celebrate her? It says that I believe my hobby is from me, through me, and to me. Does that phrase sound familiar?

So I attempt to serve my wife with my writing. I write her poems and “choose your own adventure story-dates.” I am also sure to speak well of her in my writing.

Maybe you love to cook; cook her a meal. Maybe you love to work with your hands; make her something. Maybe you love to golf; take her out to her Putt-Putt. Be creative, put as much thought into including her in your hobby as you do in practicing your hobby.

2. Include Others

You are not the only guy who likes playing Madden 2013. There is a high school guy in the student ministry at your church who can destroy you, invite him over and let him teach you a few things. You are not the only man in your church who enjoys watching the games on Sunday afternoon, so invite them over and mute the TV during the commercials. You would be surprised at how excited that young man would be to get invited to your senior adult men’s domino game.

Bring other people into your hobby. Use your hobby to develop relationships with your neighbors and church family. When you see a gift as a gift, and not as an entitlement, than you will share that gift.

The real question is, “Is your hobby gift or god?”

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Kyle Worley is the author of Pitfalls: Along the Path to Young and Reformed, an editor at CBMW, and serves as Connections Minister at The Village Church Dallas Campus. He holds a double B.A. in Biblical Studies and Philosophy from Dallas Baptist University and an M.A.Th. in Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also pursuing an M.A.R at Redeemer Theological Seminary.

*This originally appeared at CBMW.

The Idol of Hospitality

  My husband and I host people in our home all the time. We are called to live in community with one another. We strive to live in community on a regular basis, but with that community comes hosting duties. As a hostess I provide food, entertainment, and above all make sure my house is clean. These three things can become an obsession for me, so much in fact that I find I never leave the kitchen. It's unbelievably easy to get wrapped up in the details and not enjoy our company. We get so distracted with preparing that we leave little time for fellowship and gospel-intentionality.

When I get so consumed with preparing, the story of Mary and Martha hits home for me.

Hospitality: Gift or Idol?

While Jesus is traveling, Martha opens her home to him. At this point, Jesus is pretty popular in some circles. He isn’t just traveling with the 12 anymore. There are crowds following him. I picture Martha’s house resembling a sardine can, so I see why Martha felt the need to get everything ready.

Can we all relate to Martha? Don’t we all get a little apprehensive about having people over? Will there be enough food? Is my house clean enough? This concern and attention to detail can spread into a much bigger problem. Hospitality is a spiritual gift, but it can quickly become an idol.

I can’t count how many times I have been cleaning in the kitchen alone when people are over. People leave their plates everywhere; someone needs to clean it up. It’s my house so it’s my responsibility. There is a mental checklist of things I have to get done before I can join everyone. The countertops are dirty, there are dishes in the sink, and the chip bowl is empty.

Like Martha, I am distracted by all of the service..

I get so encumbered by these tasks that I don’t enjoy our company. My guests aren’t here to watch me keep my house clean. They are here to fellowship with me, just like Jesus is there to fellowship with Mary and Martha. What can start as a little preparation can become a big distraction.

Mary gets it. She probably laid out some cheese and crackers and made it a point to get a good seat. So good a seat that she was literally “at his feet.” Mary seems to be excited by the opportunity to spend time with Jesus. . Not only was Mary at Jesus’s feet, but she also “listened to his teaching.”

Meanwhile, Luke writes, Martha “was distracted with much serving.”

This simple juxtaposition calls the posture of their hearts into question. While Martha’s serving is not a bad thing, she quickly becomes consumed by it. Her heart is more centered on the hustle and bustle of having people over. Mary is captivated by Jesus. He is all she needs. Mary has centered her heart on Jesus.

Hebrews 12 says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith...” Mary was laying aside every hindrance. She was intentional with her attention. I’m sure Mary knew there would be plenty of distractions, and she knew this was not the time to get caught up in them. Her sister, however, did not have the same perspective.

The Greek word for ‘serving’ is diakonian, which means ‘ministry.’ Oh, how this changes my mindset when I read it as, “Martha was distracted with her ministry.” How many times do we get caught up in our ministry we forget who we’re doing it for? We are so distracted by the ministry itself we forget to focus our hearts on the one our ministry is for. Instead of looking up, we begin to selfishly look inward.

A Change of Heart

We worship a God who is jealous for our attention and we live in a world that offers an endless supply of distractions. I justify my behavior by saying, “Jesus, I’m doing this for you!” I need to clean up while people are here so there are no distractions between them and God. Jesus gently replies, “No my child, you are doing it for yourself, in my name. You are the distraction.” Ouch.

Jesus replies the same way to Martha. The Message says, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.”

Jesus isn’t telling Martha that her preparations are bad. He is saying that they have taken his place in her heart. Only one thing is needed: a heart held captive by God. Mary has chosen what is essential.

I’m a Martha. I am anxious and troubled about a huge list of things that have to get done before I can sit down. We have people over to eat good food and enjoy one another’s company. I want my home to be a welcoming hospital for the broken and hurting of the world to come in and be healed by the Physician. But the Spirit cannot speak through me when I am distracted with the ministry of “doing”. Christ no longer holds my heart captive, my selfish desires do.

My friend recently took her daughter to story time at the library. The children were seated looking at the storyteller. Every child had a view of the book until her child decided to stand up for a better view. She blocked everyone else’s view of the book. The other kids were now focused on her and not the story. They couldn’t see through her to the storyteller.

Martha was so consumed with her ministry she blocks the view of Jesus. “She went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’” (Luke 10:40) How often are we the ones who stand up in front of Jesus while blocking others’ view? And we do it in the name of our ministry.

Christ-centered Gatherings

So how do we stay Christ-centered at a simple gathering? For me, it means putting 2 Corinthians 10:5 into practice by “taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” When I get the itch to do the dishes that are piling up, I say a quick prayer to refocus my heart on Christ. Through the gospel, he alone offers me freedom from idolizing hospitality toward others.

It’s okay to be prepared, but as soon as the door opens, preparation should stop. Chances are, your house is already spotless and most of the food is ready to go. You've been there, done that. Something will always need to be cleaned, but company will not always be with you. So when you feel a Martha tendency surfacing, refocus your heart. Make Christ the ‘main course’ of your fellowship because it can’t be taken from you. Your friends are willingly walking into a Christ-centered environment, so make the most of it for Christ and the gospel.

In the grand scheme of things, what will you remember later in life? Will you remember you checked everything off your to-do list? Or how awesome it was to experience God’s presence in your home? Let’s make it a priority to focus on Christ who is Lord of our ministries rather than the ministry itself.

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Danielle Brooks lives in St. Augustine, Florida where she owns and operates Danielle Brooks Photography. Danielle and her husband, Rich, attend Coquina Community Church and host various weekly gatherings in their home. They are also parents to a crazy Russian Blue cat named Ava. 


Church Planter's Wife: Are You Willing?

  Unpacking in our new home in a new state far from our families, I opened a box marked Fragile in big black letters. Inside, buried under bubble wrap, I found my framed wedding vows. While I searched the master bedroom for the perfect spot where the frame could hang, I read what I had committed to Kyle on our wedding day. Just as it had when I had first written the words, my heart stopped on one line.

I vow to support the ministry that God gives you.

An Overarching Willingness

When I wrote those vows in the weeks leading up to our wedding, I read them several times, each time imagining myself speaking them on our wedding day and, each time, hesitating at the promise to support Kyle’s calling into ministry. Although they were weighty, the other lines about faithfulness and commitment felt right to me; I could confidently make those promises to Kyle. I considered scratching the ministry line because it seemed out of place for wedding vows, but my heart felt unsettled at that prospect, too. I couldn’t pinpoint the difficulty surrounding this one vow. Kyle had a clear call to ministry, of which I was fully supportive. In fact, although I had rarely voiced it, I had felt a similar call on my life from the time I was in high school. I suspected I would marry someone with the same calling. When Kyle told me what he wanted to do with his life, I thought, Well, of course! as if it were silly to consider anything else. We rarely discussed the calling—it was a given, a natural next step for both of us, something we were willing to give our lives for. The hesitation, then, to put my support in writing surprised me. Possibly for the first time, in the middle of writing my wedding vows, I considered what ministry might mean for my life.

As I measured the future with a moment of God-given clarity, I saw what a lifetime of ministry might entail: shouldering heavy responsibilities, giving ourselves away to others, living far away from family, or possibly enduring criticism or defeat for the sake of Christ. Because Kyle had surrendered control of his future to God, my vow of support meant stepping into his shadow and following him where God led. Was I willing? Was my conviction so firm that I would speak those words to Kyle and to God in front of our friends and family?

A Specific Willingness

Eight years after our wedding day, I stood in our new home, holding those vows in my hands. We had just moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, to start a church from scratch. I recalled hearing the term church planter in seminary, but had not known what it meant, certainly not imagining the term would ever describe us. Yet there I stood, dusting off a frame of my wedding vows in a home and a city where we didn’t know anyone. Although much had changed since the day we wrote our promises down on scratch paper—we had three little boys and Kyle’s experience of serving on staff at a church in Texas— the same questions arose in my heart, urging for a silent renewal of the vow I had made to my husband. When I’d first said those words, they had been a general affirmation of the calling on my husband’s life. Now we faced the difficult work of church planting. My support and affirmation of my husband’s ministry would be crucial.

Was I willing?

I said yes on my wedding day, and I said yes to church planting. And—this is very much the key to being a minister’s wife—I have said yes every day since, most of the time with joy, sometimes with reluctance and selfish resentment, but nonetheless a yes.

I vowed a commitment to my husband, but I’ve discovered the commitment, the yes, that sustains is my submission to God. My yes is to Him and will naturally align itself as support of what my husband does as a minister of the gospel.

An Ongoing Willingness

Three years after the day I laid my head down on my pillow in our new home in a new state far from our families, wondering if something could be made out of nothing, God has done it. He has used His people, so broken and weak, to bring light to a spiritually dark place.

Every so often, I stand in front of my wedding vows, hanging framed on the wall. Just as when I wrote the words, my heart stops on one line.

I vow to support the ministry that God gives you.

Clearly, my support and affirmation of my husband’s ministry has been vital. And, clearly, God has moved powerfully around and among us.

But the work is far from complete. The Lord is still calling on me to move forward in faith—loving, serving, discipling, and leading. Church planting—and all of ministry—is a faith marathon, not a sprint. Daily He asks for my heart, that He might cultivate it, so as to produce fruit in and around me.

Am I willing?

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Christine Hoover is the author of The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for Her Heart (Moody, 2013). She is a church planting wife and the mom of three boys. She also encourages ministry-minded women to live and lead from grace on her blog, Grace Covers Me.

[This article is an excerpt from Christine's book, mentioned above. Used with permission from the author.]

Why Women Should Go Beyond Titus 2

When women think of discipleship relationships, we often think of Titus 2:3–5:

"Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self–controlled, pure, working at home, kind and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled." (Titus 2:3–5)

Although it is good and right to think of this passage when discipling women, there is a danger in taking one passage of Scripture and zooming in on it; the danger is in missing or excluding the whole. For example, before there was Titus 2:3–5, there was Titus 1:1–2:3, and after Titus 2:3–5 there is Titus 2:6–3:15. And before the book of Titus, there is the entire Old Testament and the majority of the New Testament canon. And after the book of Titus, we have Philemon through Revelation. I think this mistake has the potential to rob women of the richness of the Scripture. It is unhelpful to bind women's discipleship to these three verses to the exclusion—or to the flattening—of the rest of the Bible.

It is because I know the dangers of thinking in an exclusively Titus 2 category that I put such emphasis on gospel-centered, whole–Bible discipleship in my local ministry. I may write on a more public level to encourage the broader Church, but I know the power of local discipleship relationships and that's what I try to cultivate in my daily life.

I’m also convinced that life-on-life discipleship is the way that Jesus discipled his followers. He not only taught them the Scriptures, but he invited them to watch him live a life of servanthood, modeling the gospel to them in the everyday of life. If we focus on gospel-centered, whole-Bible discipleship fostered in organic relationships, we are modeling what I view as Scripture’s version of discipleship.

Gospel-Centered Whole-Bible Discipleship

You may wonder why I am using the terminology “gospel–centered whole–Bible.” First, if discipleship is not “gospel-centered,” it doesn't qualify as discipleship. Without that intentional center, it inevitably begins to drift away from Christ. If it's not centered on Christ, it will inevitably lead to setting something at a higher value than Christ. Whatever that “thing” is which becomes the focus, it will eventually become an idol. This idol will enslave the heart and marginalize the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Second, I use “whole–Bible” because focusing on narrow passages can blind us to the work of God in the rest of Scripture. There is potential to flatten our faith and stunt our growth. It can make us biblically illiterate or eventually twist our understanding of God's work in the gospel. It does this by setting the passage in focus up and above the work of Christ in the gospel. It puts us at risk of almost pitting Scripture against Scripture.

By centering on the gospel and expanding our discipleship to the entirety of Scripture, we encourage other women to understand and experience Christ in all of life. It keeps a woman's zeal for Jesus while tempering the pendulum swinging on other issues (e.g. singleness, marriage, work, children, etc.).

Although discipleship is more than just studying the Bible together, I prefer to couple the organic relationship with studying the Scriptures directly. This can happen in an organized women's Bible study or it can happen in a small group of women studying God's Word together or it can happen in a one–on–one relationship.

Another benefit of whole–Bible discipleship is that it sets all of God's Word as an arc over the relationship so that anything and everything can be talked about in light of the entirety of Scripture. This robust exposure to the Bible as a whole will spiritually feed the single and the married woman, those with children and those without, the young and the old. Whole–Bible discipleship strengthens women as women.

Organic Relationship-Building

There are various ways to teach and train women, and many have proven useful. One of those ways is teaching books of the Bible, as we've discussed. Through the exegetical teaching of God's Word we can work through faith issues, home issues, personal sin issues, and even marriage issues. Exposure to the direct Word of God opens women to the direct work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. It's crucial to foster discussions of the Word of God, and as women talk and think and share and cry, the Holy Sprit actively works in their midst.

The second method which has proven to be fruitful in my life is organic discipleship relationships. These are relationships which form and are sustained naturally from common local life. I am not against organized discipleship teams, or assigned groups or pairs at all. I know they can be a useful tool and a blessing to people's lives, but I personally prefer to practice a more organic approach. That does not mean, however, that I don't employ deliberateness.

These can be very deliberate; you can set a schedule and meet on a regular basis. Sometimes these relationships are less formal friendships—women who come over for tea, coffee, or lunch and we talk. I try to make sure that these relationships don't devolve into an “I have it all figured out, so let me download all my wisdom.” These women are my sisters in Christ. I have just as much to learn from them as they do from me because we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Discipleship is more about inviting a woman into my life to know me for who I am, how I pursue God, how I serve my family, and all the faults and failings that go with that. Reciprocally, I aim to know who they are, how they pursue God, how they serve their family, and to learn from them and hopefully to sharpen them in return. One of the things that blesses me deeply is the young moms. I oscillate between feeling unworthy to give them advice and wanting desperately to bless them with wisdom I wish someone had given me when I was young. One of the greatest blessings of keeping my eyes on Jesus is seeing the variety of beautiful ways he works in other women's lives. And then he blesses me by letting me share in that work.

How do we intentionally build these types of relationships in a culture which fosters an individualistic lifestyle? It's helpful to look at relationships and community examples in the Bible. Not necessarily as a one–to–one analogy to today, but as examples of how God works through “one–anothering.” When we look at Scripture we see the Christian community shared meals, shared their goods, sacrificed for one another, sang together, prayed together, exhorted one another, and so on (see: Acts 2). Maybe they even had their version of a “wine and cheese” night. No, they didn't do this perfectly, and there were surely a few squabbles. This is part and parcel of being in each other's lives. We have squabbles, but by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit, but we overcome with our relationships stronger than before.

Where to Start

If you are  unpracticed at this kind of “life together” type of discipleship, it may be difficult to think of ways to start. It's certainly not a 0–to–60, speedy relationship-building technique. It's deliberate, time consuming, and requires longsuffering. It's deliberate in that we have to put effort into praying and looking out for people who need to be loved, cared for, and mentored. It may mean inviting singles over to spend time with you or to share in your family time. It may be serving the less fortunate together. It could be a variety of things, but the point is to disciple them through letting them into your life. Treat them like family.

Edith Schaeffer used to say a family is like a door: a door that has hinges and a lock. This door should have well–oiled hinges and can swing open, like a hospitable family inviting others into their life and home. The door/family also needs a lock, for those times when the family needs to be alone together as a family. Living fruitfully means learning the balance. It's time consuming because these types of relationships aren't built overnight. And when they are built they require consistent care, which leads us to longsuffering. In an instant-gratification culture, this can be one of the most difficult parts of living within these organic relationships. We need patience with ourselves and others. This is not a McDonald's drive-thru type of discipleship; these are human beings who we are investing in, and who are investing in us. This is the Christian life lived out faithfully together and within communities.

Gospel-centered whole-Bible discipleship is about women pursuing Jesus together in light of the entire Word of God through the real-life power of doing life together. It's about seeking first the kingdom of God together and letting him add whatever he wills to us.

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Luma Simms (@lumasimms) is a wife and mother of five delightful children between the ages of 1 and 18. She studied physics and law before Christ led her to become a writer, blogger, and Bible study teacher. She is the author of Gospel Amnesia: Forgetting the Goodness of the News. She blogs regularly at Gospel Grace.


The Pornified Mind and the Glory of God

It was not the mere beauty of Eve's body that brought Adam such joy, but the image-reflection of his Creator standing in full glorious reality in front of him. It was not only a sexual reaction, but a spiritual one.