Monthly Archives: January 2012

Maximize Your Mealtime Prayers

I don’t know about you, but I find it way too easy to forget God during the day… even as a pastor.  Sometimes when I get to the office in the morning, I hit the ground running, doing God’s work to the neglect of God for much of the day.  There are days when I’m getting into bed at night and I realize that I have not spoken a word to God other than the quick, perfunctory prayers I pray before meals.  This got me thinking: what mile markers can I put throughout my day that I can use as reminders to meet with God and remember him in the midst of the chaotic busyness of our world?  Well, for starters, I’ve already got some in place that I’m not using to their fullest capacity – those routine prayers I pray before meals.  If I will make those prayers intentional and sincere instead of rehearsed and mindless, then they can become occasions for me to lift my heart to God in praise while pleading my need for his grace.

This may be an exercise you could stand to benefit from as well.  I’m not saying that you have to pray for ten minutes while your food is sitting in front of you getting cold, but I think it is reasonable to maximize the 60 seconds that precede your first bite with some focused prayer.

Here’s one way I suggest you do this: pray in light of the similarity your meal shares with the gospel.  What do I mean?  Every meal is a provision from God for our need to eat.  When God gives us a meal he is providing us with the sustenance and nourishment we need to live in the immediate future.  On a much larger scale, when God sent Jesus to die in our place, he provided us with the sacrifice that was necessary for us to live eternally.  Our food and our Savior are both provisions of God for our needs.  The provision of our food says that God loves us and cares for our bodies as a father who works to put bread on the table for his children.  The provision of our Savior says that God loves us and cares for our souls as a father who gives everything for his children to be set free.  This parallel can help to expand your thankfulness in prayer and give you the confidence you need to ask God for more than just your daily bread.  Church, let’s use our mealtime prayers to move our hearts and minds beyond the temporal provision of food to the eternal provision of Jesus.

 
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What Are Your Functional Saviors?

In light of yesterday’s post, Learning to Be Suspicious of Yourself… Not God, I thought I’d provide these fill-in-the-blank statements (taken from The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington) with the hope that God will use them to help you identify the things you look to as “saviors” in the place of Christ.  It may that you have received Jesus as your Savior for the forgiveness of sin, but that does not mean you always carry him and his saving-ness over into your day-to-day life. Things like security, respect, pleasure, comfort, possessions, and significance are what we frequently look to as refuges when life gets hard.  These things don’t have the capacity to save us from the influence and effects of sin in our lives; they will fail us.  By God’s grace we need to identify these “functional saviors”, de-throne them from our hearts, and replace them with Christ.  The Savior of our past and future is also the Savior of our present.

 

-I am preoccupied with __________.


-If only _________, then I would be happy.


-I get my sense of significance from ____________.


-I would protect and preserve __________ at any cost.


-I fear losing _________.


-The thing that gives me the greatest pleasure is _________.


-When I lose ______ I get angry, resentful, frustrated, anxious, or depressed.


-For me, life depends on ____________.


-The thing I value more than anything in the world is _________.


-When I daydream, my mind goes to ___________.


-The best thing I can think of is __________.


-The thing that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning is ________.

 
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Learning to Be Suspicious of Yourself… Not God

In his commentary on Psalm 95 in The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon writes on the way in which Israel put God to the test in the wilderness after they had been delivered from slavery: “Friendship only flourishes in the atmosphere of confidence, suspicion is deadly to it: shall the Lord, true and immutable, be day after day suspected by his own people?”

Although Israel had witnessed the power of God in the ten plagues, experienced his glorious way of escape from Pharaoh through the Red Sea, and daily ate of his provision (manna), they remained suspicious of God.  They continued to grumble and complain against him in the wilderness because they were not convinced of his goodness and love.  Israel did not believe God was looking out for their best interest, so they wanted to see more signs, experience more blessing.  Needless to say, this did not bode well for the health of their relationship with him.  As Spurgeon says, “…suspicion is deadly to [a friendship]”.

Are we any different?  When our circumstances squeeze us, so often we wonder if God is really “for us”, and we put him to the test in our prayers with a mentality that says, “If God is good, then surely he will ____________ for me.”  God has told us that he is unchanging (James 1:17) and he has told us that “in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), so we can trust that he will always do what he says he’s going to do for us.  We, on the other hand, are the ones with hearts that are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Consequently, we should be suspicious of ourselves, not God.  I know I’ve said this before, but we need to be a people who are asking open-ended questions of our hearts: “Why did I say that?  What did I want when I did that?  What does that kind of thinking reveal about where my priorities are?  Is what I am telling myself reflective of God’s truth, or is it a lie?”  Certainly we can go nuts with this and become morbidly introspective, but the point is not to know your heart with scary-specific precision.  Rather, it is to expose your heart for what it is and then redirect it with God’s truth, pleading with him to help you break free from our world’s popular “just follow your heart” philosophy.  I believe it is one of the enemy’s great ploys to keep us suspicious of the One on whom suspicion is wasted so that our spiritual eyes don’t see all the incriminating evidence that lies within.  Church, let us pray for God to help us trust him and distrust ourselves.

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My Children, a Kid’s Meal Storybook, and Gospel Conversations

When I got home yesterday, I changed out of my work clothes and found my two boys hanging out in our bedroom.  They had been to Chick-fil-A earlier in the day and wanted me to read them the book they got in their kid’s meal.  It was a Little Golden Book called The Little Red Hen.  I had never read this book before, and although I do understand that not every book that comes in a Chick-fil-A kid’s meal is by C.S. Lewis, I read it to them anyway.

The story is about a talking hen who decides to plant some wheat and calls on some other talking animals (a duck, a goose, a cat and a pig) for help.  The hen gets denied by each of these “friends”, but that doesn’t stop her from asking their help at each step in the process from planting the wheat, to harvesting it, to making it into flour, to making it into dough and baking it into bread.  As you may expect, they continue to say “no”.   When the bread is baked, cooled, and ready to eat, each of the “friends” is now ready to sacrifice their time and energy to come over to the hen’s house and help her eat the bread, but the story ends with the hen sitting at her table by herself, eating the entire loaf with a big smile on her face.

Now, I’m sure that this story was written to teach children something about kindness and being quick to help, but as soon as I read the last page I thought, “Dude, where’s the grace?  The little red hen missed a chance to live out the gospel and chat with her neighbors over a meal about the gospel implications of unmerited giving (assuming she knows Jesus).”  At this point, I closed the book and proceeded to explain to my boys that the other animals didn’t deserve the bread the hen made because they refused to help her.  But if the hen would’ve given them the bread in spite of their unkindness, she would’ve been following the example of Jesus, who gave himself to rescue a people who have only treated him unkindly.

My reason for telling you this story is to point out that there are gospel conversations everywhere.  Not only are they waiting inside kids’ folk stories like this one, but they’re out in nature, in the news headlines, in our problems and relational conflicts, in politics, in movies, in the mundane tasks of home life, and so on.  Pray for God to open your eyes so you can see them, and use them in your family, at church, at work, and with your friends.

 

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Exercises in Humility: Contrasting Your Works With God’s

Today, one thing we could all use is a good dose of humility.  If you don’t agree, you probably need two doses, and one to grow on.  Too often we live with the perspective that we are kings or queens and the people in our lives are our subjects whose privileged calling is to do our bidding.  If they fail to follow our commands or meet our expectations then it’s off with their heads (metaphorically speaking, of course).  It’s so easy for us to adopt a “rights” mentality and let it spin out of control wherein someone dropping the ball at the office or the kids running through the house becomes punishable by hissy fit.  In these moments of delusion, we need some truth we can recall easily so that we see things as they truly are.

Last week while studying Psalm 95, I listened to a sermon on the text by Brian Chesemore, one of the pastors at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland.  In the sermon, Chesemore drew a helpful application from a part of the Psalm where the psalmist tells the congregation to worship God because of his creation: “The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land” (v. 5).  For humility’s sake, Chesemore said in response that it is a good exercise for us to contrast the works of our hands with the works of God’s hands.  For people like Chesemore and myself, the works of our hands are sad at best.  Put me in a garage with some wood, nails, and tools for a couple of hours and I will have created several new injuries (some of which you thought impossible previous to my time in the garage).  I sit in an office right now that was made by someone else, at a desk made by someone else, in a chair made by someone else, typing on a computer made by someone else, wearing clothes made by someone else, listening to music composed by someone else, drinking coffee brewed by someone else.  The works of my hands, when compared to a God who formed the majesty of every mountain peak and the resplendent beauty of every space nebula, are few and unimpressive.

But what about those of you whose handiwork is the stuff of great quality and quanitity… can you be humbled by contrasting your works with God’s?  Perhaps you are an extremely gifted carpenter or a phenomenal musician or a painter of stunning artistry, where do you stand in comparison with God?  Think of this, you may be creative, but you have not made anything out of nothing.  If you are a musician, then you compose music with notes and sounds made by God, using instruments made out of elements that are part of God’s creation, listening with ears crafted by his hand.  God is the only one who has created out of nothing.  Furthermore, even if you are gifted creatively, then the works of your hands are limited.  There may be one or two areas in which you are highly skilled and have been highly productive, but God has created everything with perfect precision…  even things we will never know existed.

Today, Church, let us be humbled by this contrast and instead of being led to despair because you are not as great as you think you are, praise the one who is greater than you think he is: “For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Amen (Romans 11:36).”

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Ways for Husbands and Wives to Express Love to Each Other

In his book, A Homework Manual for Biblical Living Volume 2, biblical counselor, Wayne Mack, has a list for both husbands and wives of specific and practical ways each of them can express love to each other.  The list for husbands has 103 suggestions and the one for wives is at 94.  Here are several from each list:

Ways a Husband May Express Love to His Wife

  • Talking about her favorably to the children when she can hear you and when she cannot.
  • Greeting her when you come home with a smile, a hug, a kiss, and an “Am I glad to see you.  I really missed you today”.
  • Being willing to talk to her about her concerns and not belittle her for having those concerns.
  • Sitting close to her.
  • Giving her your undivided attention when she wants to talk.
  • Joining with her in a team ministry in the church.
  • Thanking her in creative ways for her attempts to please you.
  • Being reasonably happy to go shopping with her.
  • Leading family devotions regularly.
  • Give her a lingering kiss.
  • Asking her to pray with you about something.
  • Remembering to tell her when you must work late.
  • Refusing to compare her unfavorably with other people.
  • Not nit-picking and finding fault, and giving the impression that you expect her to be perfect.
  • Letting her know you appreciate her and what you appreciate about her.  Do this often and for things that are sometimes taken for granted.
  • Asking forgiveness often and saying, “I was wrong and will try to change.”

Ways a Wife May Express Love to Her Husband

  • Supporting him and cooperating with him enthusiastically and positively when he has made a decision.
  • Being ready to leave at the appointed time.
  • Asking him for his advice and frequently following it.
  • Refusing to nag.
  • Beginning each day with cheerfulness and tangible expressions of affection.
  • Refusing to disagree with him in the presence of others.
  • Seek positive and non-threatening ways to help him become more fully the man God wants him to be.
  • Being satisfied with your present standard of living or furniture or equipment when he can provide no more.
  • Try to anticipate what he might desire or wish and surprise him by doing it before he asks.
  • Cooking creatively and faithfully.
  • Maintaining his disciplinary rules (with the children) when he is not present.

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A Filter for Information-Overload and Why the Bible Doesn’t Apply

A couple of years ago, as Keri and I were purchasing graduation cards we came across one with the silhouette of a graduating senior jumping in the air with his diploma in hand, and just below him the card read, “Thanks Wikipedia!”.  This card led me to think of how much information we have at our fingertips today and how much of it we actually read or hear or watch in just one week.  We receive information from Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, email, Pinterest, blogs, Youtube, the gazillion TV channels on cable, magazines, newspaers, the mail, our friends, families, acquaintances, and authority figures.  With all the info we receive, we can’t possibly respond actively to all of it.

Therefore, we have to  put up filters for our information, so that we know what deserves our time and energy and what does not.  One of those filters is considering where the information is coming from.  If you read a blog by someone without children who is giving out practical advice on how to raise children, you might not want to do too much with that information.  If there’s a fellow employee at work who’s always giving you second and third-hand information who tells you the company is downsizing, don’t start packing up your desk.  See, the person from whom the information comes goes a long way in helping you determine what you should do with that information.

So, what should we be doing with all the information we receive from the Bible?  In the case of this information, the one giving it out is Creator of everything, he is the highest authority in the universe, he is the one who, with self-generating love, made a way for sinners to be rescued from sin, and he is completely perfect in all of his attributes.  The information filter above should never disregard anything in the Bible because God is its author, and therefore, it demands an active response.  By the grace of God, if you come across a promise in the Bible, believe it.  If you come across a command, obey it.  If you come across a description of God, worship Him in light of it.  If you come across a depiction of man that exposes your sin, repent.  If you come across a description of the gospel, rest in it and then go tell someone about it.  Why?  Because of where the information comes from.

 

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How The Gospel Frees Us From the Fear of Awkward Silence: Part Two

Yesterday, in exploring the fear of awkward silence, I mentioned two reasons why I am concerned that this fear is a bigger threat than many of us realize: 1) In the context of local church, this fear can keep us from having spiritually-beneficial conversation with members and visitors, many of whom desperately need such conversation.  2) This fear can also keep us from getting to the meat of a conversation where you get to know a person and opportunities for encouragement and counsel are more numerous.  Bottom line: this fear keeps us from fellowship and ministry.

As I also wrote, this fear often stems from our desire to impress people and be seen by them in a certain light.  When we can’t think of anything to say and awkward silence rears its ugly head, the image or identity we are trying to create with a person quickly begins to dissolve.

How do we escape this fear so we can take advantage of our conversations for the glory of God?  Do we just grit our teeth and push through the silence?  Do we just say the first bonehead thing that comes to mind?  No, we need to remember specific aspects of the gospel so that we take the fight to the root of this fear.  In remembering the gospel, you discover that you have been given a new identity and a new purpose.  Church, this changes everything!

Your new identity – Paul tells us in Romans 8:15, “…but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry ‘Abba!  Father!’”  So often we work and toil trying to create an identity for ourselves (who we want people to think of us as), so we strategically craft our words, our appearance, and, in the in the case of awkward silence, the time when we choose to exit a conversation.  The gospel says that this work is over because we have been given our identity.  We don’t have to work to create an identity for ourselves because, through Jesus’ work, God has already given us one.  And not just any identity, but the identity of sons and daughters of the Most High God!  Is there a higher and more important identity in the universe that we can be given?  We don’t have to be afraid of awkward silence because whether there’s silence in a conversation or not, if we are in Christ, then we will still have the most significant identity that a human being can be given.  We don’t lose our identity as sons and daughters of God because we couldn’t think of something eloquent or funny to say.

Your new purpose – Before we became Christians, our purpose in life was to serve ourselves by any means available, but in Christ, things changed drastically.  In 2 Corinthians 5:15, Paul writes, “…and [Jesus] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”  If we are simply living to serve ourselves, then leaving a conversation when awkward silence is looming overhead is no big deal because you will feel better by leaving.  But if your purpose in life is now to live for Jesus instead of yourself, then leaving a conversation for fear of silence means walking away from the purpose God has given you.  This doesn’t mean that you now have to accept the miserable burden of continuing to talk to someone even when it gets awkward.  It means that you get to accept the wonderful privilege of fulfilling your God-given purpose by seeking the good of another for Jesus.  See, if you understand what purpose is, then you understand that to fulfill your purpose means to experience joy and peace.

As we seek to live for Christ by building up his body through spiritually-beneficial conversation (even when there’s a little bit of silence), we are acting out of God’s identity and purpose for us… which means we will also experience the joy he has for us.

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How The Gospel Frees Us From the Fear of Awkward Silence: Part One

There is a certain part of me that fears awkward silence.  When you get to that moment in a conversation when you can’t think of anything else to say and it’s obvious that the person you’re talking with isn’t coming up with anything either, a little bit of hysteria sets in.  In the midst of awkward silence, time seems to slow down when all you want is for it to speed up, you think desperately of something to say that will be better for the conversation than grunts and nods but you’re drawing a blank, and you get this sinking feeling that the dialogue you are having is going down in flames and the chances of survival are miniscule.

Perhaps you can relate…  and if you can’t, consider yourself blessed.  If the above description sounds even a little bit like something you’ve experienced, then there’s more for you to be concerned with than you think.  Here are two reasons why I believe this: 1) In the context of the local church, the fear of awkward silence can often keep us from having spiritually-beneficial conversations with certain church members and visitors, many of whom are in serious need of such conversations.  Essentially, this fear can keep us from obeying the “one-another” commandments of Scripture, especially the ones that we feel are most conducive to awkward silence (i.e. rebuke, exhortation, giving counsel, correction).  2) The fear of awkward silence can also keep us from getting to the meat of a conversation – that part of the conversation where things get a little more personal and the opportunities for biblical encouragement and counsel increase.  When awkward silence hits, too often we duck and run with a line that sounds something like, “Well, gotta go find the wife… have a good one”.  Persevering through silence and allowing a conversation to mature can be what God uses to change a person’s perspective for the rest of the day… or week… or more.

Much of the time, our fear of awkward silence comes from an ungodly desire to be seen by people in a certain way.  We have a certain persona we want to keep up and, to one degree or another, we want to impress others with what we say.  In the case of awkward silence, we have nothing left to say and that doesn’t bode well for the person we want people to think we are.  How can we move past this fear and take advantage of our conversations for the glory of God?  Come back tomorrow when we will look at how the gospel of Jesus Christ directly applies to this problem.

 

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Using “Christianese” With Those Outside Our Bubble

As Christians, we can easily get trapped in our bubble of church friends and believing family members who, along with us, read Christian authors, check Christian blogs, have their Facebook news feeds stacked with Christian “friends”, eat at Chick-fil-A where there’s a nice “Christian” atmosphere, and rock out to Christian music in our minivans.  This bubble is hard to break free from because of the comfort and sense of security it provides us.

One of the dangers of getting too cozy in this bubble is that we become so familiar with the language of Christianity that we don’t know how to talk to unbelievers or new Christians about the truths of the Bible because we’re surrounded by people who know exactly what we mean when we use words like “righteousness” or “glorify”.  If an immigrant comes to America, moves to a neighborhood that is concentrated with people from his home country, gets a job in that same neighborhood, and spends all his free time in that neighborhood, chances are he’s not going to learn how to speak with anyone outside of that neighborhood.  Such is the same with Christianity and our language: “Christianese”.  We definitely need to take pains to get out of the bubble more often, but that’s another blog post.  Today, I want to concentrate on preparation for those times when we do get out.

Church, one of the purposes of our salvation is be proclaimers of God’s awesomeness (1 Peter 2:9).  Our proclamation should go out, yes, to each other, but also to the unbelieving world and those who are on their way into our gospel community.  Therefore, it’s not that we don’t use Christianese (though there are some traditional, non-biblical words I’d be happy to abandon), it’s that when we use it with those outside our bubble we must also teach it so that they know what we mean.  To help us toward that end, here is a list of words and phrases we should learn to teach to those outside the gospel community (in no particular order):

  • Jesus
  • Gospel
  • Atonement
  • The Will of God
  • The Trinity
  • Grace
  • Covenant
  • Scripture
  • Inspiration (in regard to Scripture)
  • The Kingdom of God
  • Righteousness
  • Faith
  • Repentance
  • Justification
  • Holiness
  • Propitiation
  • Sin
  • Glory/Glorify
  • Perseverance
  • Redemption
  • Regeneration/Born Again
  • Reconciliation
  • Salvation
  • Hell
  • Heaven
  • Sovereignty
  • Doctrine
  • Fellowship
  • Worship
  • The Heart
  • Sanctification

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will give us a good start at contextualizing our communication with those who need salvation or need more depth to their faith.

 
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