Monthly Archives: June 2012

For Those Who Believe Laughter is a Gift From God

I think I literally tilted my head back in laughter at this one.

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A Simple Practice to Inspire Others-Minded Prayer

Perhaps you’ve read what Samuel said to the people of Israel in 1 Samuel 12:23: “… far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.”  What’s the obvious principle here?  That we sin when we neglect to pray for others.  This truth has been brought to my mind on many occasions to lead me to extend my prayers beyond myself.  But for me, praying for others can often seem forced, routine, and empty.

For example, our church sends out prayer requests given by the congregation through email twice a week.  At times, as I read over the prayer needs in those emails my heart lacks the urgency and compassion it needs for my prayers to be more than tossing up words into the wind.

Yesterday, the Lord opened my eyes to a practice that can go along way in inspiring God-honoring, others-focused prayer.  Myself and two other elders  met with a lady who is pursuing membership at our church in order to hear her testimony and ask her some questions about her relationship with Christ.  Although I knew of this women and had seen her at church, I had only just said “hello” to her.  People had told me about her, but I had never taken the time to get to know her personally.

As we sat on her couch listening to her story of conversion and the specific ways that Christ had transformed her life, something was happening in my heart: I began to feel appreciation for having her as my sister in Christ, I began to feel sympathy for her as she spoke of the trials in her life, and I began to feel compelled to pray for her.

So what is the grand epiphany that I had that empowers prayer for others?  It may seem obvious, but it’s simply the reality that prayer for other people flows more easily out of a heart that knows those people on a personal level.  This woman is no longer just a name I’ve heard or a face in the crowd.  We talked with her, fellowshipped with her, and praised God with her, and now I have been inspired to pray for her.

So Church, if you want to help cultivate a prayer life that extends beyond your needs to those of others, get to know more people on a more personal level.  Pursue them so that you will pray for them.

 

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The Question You Should Ask Your Child Next Time He/She is Sick

Last week while we were on vacation our oldest son (5 yrs.) got sick with some kind of stomach bug.  I have a pretty strong constitution, so I got the privilege (yes… I did say “privilege”) of caring for him during this bout.  It may sound weird, but there’s a certain part of me that enjoys it when our oldest son gets sick.  Why?  Because I get a lot of opportunity to talk to him about the deeper things of life.  He’s a kid who doesn’t sit still or stay quiet unless he’s sleeping (and even that’s suspect), so to have him drained of energy provides time for copious story-telling and gospel-conversation.

At one point, while he was in the tub resting after an “episode”, I asked him the question, “Why is their sickness in the world?”  He could have answered with something about germs or not washing his hands, but instead, he answered with what his mother and I have told him, “Because there’s sin in the world”.  This provided me with another open door for proclaiming the good news of Jesus, so we went on to talk about sin’s destructive nature and how sickness reminds us that we need a Savior.

Next time your child is sick, don’t just think about the burden that comes with contagions and sanitizing every inch of your home, think about the opportunity it provides to point him/her to Jesus.

 

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Missing Out on Beach-Reading for the Glory of God

Home again, home again jiggity jaw!  Is that how the expression goes?  Well… anyway, I just got back from vacation last week and found that I had less free time when I was off of work and out of my routine than when I was busting out the daily grind here at home.  Before we left for Florida, I had grand ambitions of sitting under an umbrella on the beach, listening to the waves as I buried my feet in the sand, and working through some of the books that I have on my summer reading list.

When we reached our destination we found that the weather was post-card perfect for hanging out on  the beach all day.  But the more and more I thought about it, I realized, “Oh yeah… Dude, you have kids… and their pretty small kids”.  There was no way I was going to get any reading done while my young children were out there playing in the waves.  I have a responsibility to keep them safe and make sure they don’t eat too much seaweed.

Then I thought about it a little bit more and realized it’s not about being a lifeguard for my kids as much as it is having a blast with them: “Brent, do you really want to stick your nose in a book when God’s creation is all around you shouting His glory and there are countless memories to be made with your children who will only be this young once?

While I was on vacation I did not read one sentence of the books that I packed (other than the Bible), but by God’s grace I prayed with my family, talked with my kids about God’s awesomeness in creation and wore myself out enjoying God’s grace with them.  When I first recognized that it was going to be difficult to get any reading done on vacation, I was disappointed, but as I look back I don’t feel bad about how I spent my time because worship took place.  And instead of it just being a solitary worship as I read a book on the beach that no one else was reading, it was a worship that included my family.

 

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Kevin DeYoung, a Free App, and Your Edification

Sincere thanks to Steven, Richie, and Ben for serving us with their guest posts this week!  Edification is the goal of this blog and each of them met it with precision.

Today I simply want to draw your attention to an excellent resource.  Kevin DeYoung is one of my preacher/writers and his church, University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, has recently created a FREE app you can use to access his sermons, blogs, and other resources.  I commend it to you for your… yes… edification.  Download the app for iphone or android here.

 

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3 Reasons We Still Need the Gospel After Salvation

Today’s post is by Ben Whiting – a fiction writer, a devoted husband and father, a faithful member of our church, and a dear friend.

The gospel is not an appetizer. It doesn’t start the meal, whet your appetite for the main course, and then get out of the way. The gospel is the main course, and by eating it we are satisfied, energized, and matured. Here are three benefits of meditating on and diving deeper into the gospel.

The Gospel Inspires Worship:

Picture an evening news program. The weatherman says a storm is coming–the most powerfully decimating storm in history. That storm is God’s wrath toward sinners–every one of us. But, one of the news anchors interrupts, there is good news: a bomb shelter downtown that will stand against the storm. There is room for the whole town. Unfortunately, you are paralyzed from the neck down and cannot even change the channel to ignore this discussion of the epic storm. But the man who built the shelter knows your name, and he fights through the swirling debris as the storm begins to hit, and he comes to your house, pulls you out, and carries you to the shelter. He leaves you in safety and goes out for another helpless soul. And another. And another. Until he himself is killed by the storm.

This story is our story, and it is magnificent and glorious because our God is magnificent and glorious. Dwelling on the gospel should enflame our hearts in worship.

The Gospel Cultivates Humility :

Didn’t the story above empower you? Didn’t it make you feel capable?

We were helpless, and–as Paul reminds us in Galatians 3–we need God’s grace just as much to be made complete as we did to be rescued. Not only that, we were wretches. We deserved to die in the storm.

The gospel reminds us that we were and are helpless and ill-deserving. The gospel brings us low, robs us of a high view of ourselves, and turns our eyes to God for help.

The Gospel Tears Down Idols :

The gospel is the power of God, not just to deliver us from damnation but to progressively release the hold that sin still has on us. The base desires that lie at the heart of our sinfulness are uprooted by truths of the gospel.

The man who worships acceptance because his father never had anything but criticism for him? That man finds God’s acceptance in the gospel and can worship God instead.

The teen who accepts abuse from others and administers it to herself? That young woman finds God’s complete forgiveness in the gospel–all of the abuse she deserved, already taken by Christ.

The woman who worships intimacy and chases after it in sex or friendship or even marriage? That woman finds God’s romance in the gospel–a king who desired her when she was undesirable, cleaned her and made her his bride.

Keep preaching the gospel to yourself. Plumb its depths. Let it heal your heart, one corner at a time. What other benefits do you find in gospel meditation? What other wounds does it address? I’d love to hear your comments.


On Faking Obedience

Today’s post is by Richie Haratine – a college professor, an actor, and a dear friend. Enjoy!

As an actor, I’m paid to pretend.  I tell great stories and play convincing characters in front of large numbers of people.   My job is to create a being as real and convincing as any person you’d meet.  If I break character while I am on stage, even for a moment, I haven’t done my job.  But when I step off the stage and you and I happen to bump into each other, then you see the real and honest me….sometimes.
 
Truthfully, I’m a fraud most of the time.  I want very badly for people to like me, particularly Christians (because you’re my brothers and sisters).  I want you to be assured and encouraged and believe that, “yes, I am growing. . .Christ is enough!. . .that God is sovereign!” and that those truths shape me.  And they do shape me. . .sometimes.  But other times, I’m lying straight through my smiling face.  And it hurts holding that smile for so long. 

So, obedience.  Now, I can show a long list of obedient behavior (and I’m sure you could, too), which, strangely enough, feels like yet another performance.  But if only you could see the tug of war that was happening on the inside.  Obeying so I can prove to myself what a determined and spiritual hulk I am.   Obeying so others will think well of me, so others will see and tell their friends what a good obedient Christian I am, and worst of all, attempting to obey to make sure God is happy with me.   Of course, He’s already happy with me in Christ.  Duh.  So why do I fake it? 

Obedience is a very big and important word for Christians.  I’ve been down the road of “just do it”, don’t let your “feelings” rule you or dictate your behavior, and let God’s law guide you.  Obedience to God’s law is critical, no debate there.  But let’s consider some of the ramifications of being really obedient. . .how ‘bout those Pharisees?  Proud, arrogant and self assured.   They were so wonderfully obedient, and, boy, did they know it.  The only reason I mention this is because it appears to me that obedience doesn’t eliminate sin.  Obedience can say, “hey, look at me!”  It can impress others or fool others.  But look, God didn’t give us a list of rules to see who could follow them the best.  A trained monkey can obey a list. 

Here’s the rub. . .the moment after you have done this act of obedience. . .check and see, where does your heart go?  Me, I’m either a little stoic about it like “oh no, it’s just my duty, God calls me to live like this…so onward! Let’s march!” Or I get a little proud and start to look around and notice that others could really take my advice on how to be more obedient and holy.  It’s one or the other for me. 

But there’s a third response.   Gratitude.  Just gratitude.   When I came to Christ, I did nothing, it was all Him.  I brought my sin, and only my sin.  And today, when I obey God, rightly, with a heart of joy, not just biting my lip and gritting it out, that, too, is God.  When I am able to love people, think of others first, be patient, avoid an old habit, refrain from sin, I am amazed. . .because that most certainly is not me.  The real me is lazy, tired, riddled with idols, anxious, impatient, loud…and I love my habits, and frankly, I love to sin.  And you do too.  It’s our fallen nature.  The only thing that’s changed is now God is living in us.  So when we find ourselves spontaneously and joyfully obeying God’s law, let’s not pat ourselves on the back or act like it’s just our duty. . .but let’s praise God, because he did it, not us.

Quick caveat:  I’m not suggesting you disregard obedience to God’s law.  That’s crazy.  Instead I’m praying that the desires and motivations to obey would be valued more highly.  May we all say, without faking it, “not my will, but yours be done.”    Luke 22:42


Not Alone in Doubt and Suffering

I’m on vacation with my family this week, so I’ve rallied some guest bloggers to take the helm.  Today’s post is written by Steven Thorn, a professional writing major at the University of Oklahoma, one of my former students, and a dear friend.

 

“God and the Problem of Evil” has always been a stumbling block for me. In good times, it’s a conundrum that can keep me up at night. In trials, it’s a cause for doubt and spiritual crisis.

Thank God, I am not alone in this struggle. Job and C. S. Lewis wrestled with this issue.

In the Book of Job, this “blameless” and “upright” man loses his children, thousands of livestock, many servants, and his health in a short span of time (Job 1:1-2:10). Job spends the rest of the book asking God a simple question: “Why?”

After Job and his friends discuss the Problem of Evil for almost forty chapters, God appears. He refuses to answer Job’s questions. Instead, God interrogates Job.

God basically tells Job, “I’m God and you’re not. Who are you to question me? I created everything. What have you done?” Intimidated and humbled by God, Job can only repent. His questions about suffering remain unanswered, and he receives a new understanding of God’s power and glory.

There are two main things that I love about the Book of Job. First, the book’s approach to the Problem of Evil is complex. Suffering is not a formula.

Sometimes, God strikes down the unrighteous with cause. However, in the Book of Job, Satan incites God against the righteous Job to ruin Job “without cause” (Job 2:3). The cause of suffering was external to Job. He didn’t deserve it. However, throughout the suffering, Job refused to curse God (Job 2:3, 10).

Readers of Job see the exchange between God and Satan, as God proves that Job is a faithful servant. However, Job did not know of this heavenly confrontation, or of God’s confidence in and love for Job. In the immediate aftermath of Job’s tragedy, he has no explanation, only heartache. This inspires him to ask some of the most emotional and honest questions in the Bible—which is the second thing I love about the book.

God allows Job to question Him for a period of time. In the end, God ends Job’s interrogation and puts Job in his place. However, asking questions is an important part of expressing grief, and God gave us the Book of Job to demonstrate that truth. He also gave us the book to reiterate the fact that He is God, and we are not.

C. S. Lewis’s book, A Grief Observed, is another example of questioning God and expressing grief.

A Grief Observed is a collection of journals that Lewis wrote as he dealt with the death of his wife, Joy. Like the Book of Job, A Grief Observed is full of anguished and honest observations about life, death, and God. Neither Job nor Lewis ever doubts the existence of God, but Lewis does wonder if God is a sadist.

Throughout the book, Lewis has periods where it seems as though he has recovered his faith—but then he spirals back into darkness and despair. The book ends on a very somber note, but Lewis died a believer in Jesus Christ. He trusted the Lord, even after the death, and the questions, and the pain.

While the doubts and the questions were distressing for Lewis, reading A Grief Observed is a comfort to me—because the doubts and the questions are distressing. The knowledge that people like Job and C. S. Lewis have suffered through “God and the Problem of Evil” let me know that I’m normal and human. Additionally, the fact that these men could ask these questions and still maintain their faith reminds me that God is faithful to preserve all of His children.

Don’t lose heart if you struggle with “God and the Problem of Evil.”

Don’t lose heart in the midst of doubt and suffering.

You’re not alone. Ask questions. God is God, and He is faithful.

 

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Parents, Tell Your Kids “Jesus is better”

Last night after I put the kids to bed, I had just begun a phone conversation with a friend when Justin began to wail.  Immediately, as I walked into the room, Peter, his older brother, began his defense.  The defense was pretty weak and it was obvious that Peter had sinned against his brother by whipping a hard, plastic toy at his face.  So, I spent some alone time with Peter, explaining to him why his choice was sinful and administering some needed discipline.

Afterward, I took the opportunity to share with Peter the blessings of the gospel.  I told him that the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is for sinners like us, but we have to run away from sin and run to Jesus as our only hope for rescue.  Then, as I began to tell him about the promise of heaven for believers, Peter asked a question he had never asked before: “Daddy, will we be in heaven together?”  As a father, this question melted my heart.  My son wants to be with me forever!  As much as he disobeys and pitches a fit when I tell it’s time for bed, he really does love me!  I wanted to bask in the light of this question and say something like, “Oh buddy, your daddy will always be with you” as I tearfully wrap him up in a big bear hug, but that would’ve been confusing, misleading, and unhelpful.  This was an opportunity to tell my son the truth and point him to the One he needs so much more than me.

I explained to Peter, again, that heaven is promised to those who come to Jesus believing that he died for the forgiveness of their sins.  “So then”, I said, “if you trust in Jesus to save you, you will be in heaven with Daddy some day.”  While true, these words were insufficient, so I went on.  “But I’m not the one who makes heaven great”, I said, “in heaven the one you will be most excited about will be Jesus because he is the Savior and the one who loves you more than I ever could… Jesus is the reason heaven is such an awesome place.”

Parents, take advantage of moments when you can show your children that Jesus is better… that his love is a thousand times stronger than yours on your best day.  As much as we may want our children to love us, they need to see Jesus as more lovely.

 

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Things that Can Prevent You from Spending Time with God on Vacation

It’s summer time and vacations are in full swing.  For months we’ve been looking forward to getting away from the routine and the to-do lists so we could create memories… memories like taking a nap in an inner tube or buying a churro from the cart vendor at Sea World (yes, please!).  Vacations can be exciting, restful, and therapeutic, but vacations can also pose some dangers in regard to your personal time with God.  Here are some things to be aware of so that vacations from home and work don’t become vacations from the Lord as well.

  1. You’ll be out of your routine – Yes, we take vacations to escape the routine for a while, but the routine goes a long way in helping to keep us meeting with God in his Word.  So, don’t plan to abandon all routine on vacation or else you’ll likely find yourself spiritually dry by the time you get home.
  2. You’ll want to do all the reading you never get to do at home – When we’re on vacation, we see it as an opportunity to finally crack open that novel, biography, or magazine that we haven’t had the time for at home.  There’s no problem with that, but don’t be so consumed with entertainment reading that God’s word gets pushed aside.
  3. You’ll want to spend as much time with your family as possible – On vacation we want to spend concentrated, undistracted time with our spouse and kids because it’s rare to find that kind of time at home.  This is wonderful!  I hope this is your desire.  But we must remember that God is even more important than family.  So, do what you can to use the time when your family is sleeping, but if your kids are early risers, don’t feel bad about designating a block of time for you to spend with God.  You’ll need it in order to love them the way you should.
  4. You’ll be tempted to associate your time in God’s Word with work – Reading or studying God’s word is often not easy.  The Bible was written a long time ago in different cultures, so we have to mentally engage with it to discover its beauty and impact.   Because we want to rest on vacation, this activity can seem more daunting than usual.  Bur remember that the Word of God gives us something better than physical rest: spiritual rest.  For the work we do in reading/studying the Bible, we receive the truth and promises that dispel the spiritual turmoil and burdens that so often hinder our hearts.

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