Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Best Way To Love

The Best Way To Love Someone - Through Prayer by Kelly O'Dell Stanley (From Tyndale Blog)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6
When you sit down to draw a still life, you have to be careful to maintain a consistent position. If you get up to stretch and sit down a few inches to the right, the scene will look different. The spaces between objects will have changed, relative proportions shifted. Lines moving away from you will be at different angles. Even if you’re not an artist, you’ve probably seen this in another way. When your family poses for a Christmas photo in front of the tree, it might look as though it’s growing out of your son’s head. But if you shift a couple feet to one side, that is no longer the case. This is because you’ve found a new perspective.
When I decided to keep a prayer journal for one month (from Thanksgiving through Christmas) for my friend Peggy, I knew it would be a meaningful gift. But I didn’t realize it would be a gift to me too.
Peggy’s life intersects with mine in so many ways. She and her husband pastor our church. Our children are about the same ages, and we grew up attending the same school for most of our lives. When I went forward to be baptized in sixth grade, it was during Peggy’s slumber party (she’d taken us to her church’s revival). When I later found my church and discovered what it meant to have an intimate relationship with Jesus, I owed much of it to Peggy’s example.
Peggy helped me discover the power of prayer. We often tell people we’ll pray for them but promptly forget. So, I wanted a tangible record of my commitment to pray for her.
I chose a small journal and sat down every day to write out my prayers. I prayed for a different aspect of her life each day—her children, husband, ministry, leadership, faith life, friendships, extended family, work, finances, and health.
When I intentionally prayed for Peggy and her family, asking for God’s protection and intervention, guidance and leadership, I got a new glimpse into Peggy’s life—her faith, her struggles—that I hadn’t seen before. In turn, I found a renewed sense of gratitude for her gifts—her joy, her welcoming kindness, her fun-loving personality. I gained a greater respect for the weights she carries and for the responsibility of her position and a new awe for the strength of her character and the depths of her faith. And this made me a better friend.
Amazing things happen when we pray. God draws nearer. Rough edges are made smooth. Hardened hearts are softened. It was easy to pray for Peggy because I already cared about her. It may not be as easy to pray for someone you don’t particularly like—someone who hurt you, makes snide comments, lies, cheats, or can’t be trusted. But here’s the hard truth about Christianity: we’re called to embrace the teachings and practices of Jesus, and that isn’t easy.
Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). To pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) and to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6).
But not just any old prayers will do. We’re called to pray with thanksgiving.
Lucky for us, prayer and gratitude go hand in hand.
Pray for your enemy (or rival, or the person who offended you on Facebook) and you will discover that there’s more than one side to every story. Pray for the wife of a man you’re attracted to, and before long, you have one more good reason to avoid getting too close to him. Pray for the boss who sets a negative tone in the workplace and you might find yourself shouldering some of the emotional load he carries; your newfound compassion may change the dynamic of your relationship. Ask God to show you ways to give and you may realize your financial situation isn’t as dire as you thought.
The greatest gift you can offer to someone is your heartfelt prayer. Along the way, you will begin to see that, whatever your view, God is there.
And gratitude will bubble up. No matter where you are sitting.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Always Look For Him In The Text

How to Be a Gospel-Centered Bible Reader from Crossway on Vimeo.

How to Be a Gospel-Centered Bible Reader - Jared C. Wilson

One of the best practices for those who want to make sure that they are gospel-centered everyday—that they are looking into the grace of God in Christ—is to look for Christ in the Scriptures.
Most Christians understand that they ought to be spending time in God’s Word everyday but a lot of times that can just look like a checklist of religious duty. No matter what biblical text you’re in, it is important to look for the gospel in it and to look for Jesus in it. This can be a little harder in the Old Testament and even in some New Testament texts. However, the aim is rather simple: look first and foremost for what God has done, notwhat you are to do.
Reordering your study of the Bible in this way will help you to develop a gospel-centered impulse or instinct—one that is quicker than our instinct toward man-made religion or obedience. And that is what will produce more and more awe in your heart at what God has done.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Remember What You Know

"In these places of deep disappointment, we must remind ourselves of those things about God that we KNOW to be true ... though they might not FEEL true at the moment. Even Jesus felt forsaken before He was resurrected."

               -  Christine Caine

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Identity: Achieved or Received?

Watch this speech by Tim Keller on Our Identity: The Christian Alternative to Late Modernity’s Story (via Justin Taylor)

Tim Keller speaking at chapel for Wheaton College (November 11, 2015), explaining that our culture repudiates as oppressive the idea that someone else names us and gives us an identity, but that when you trust Christ you have the only identity on earth that is received instead of achieved.
Keller goes on defend a form of individualism as inescapable but to critique expression individualism (the idea that you must look inside and then express them outwardly no matter what anyone says). He offers five critiques: it is  (1) incoherent; (2) unstable; (3) illusory; (4) crushing; (5) excluding.
We are social beings who need recognition and naming from outside—someone whom you love, approve, and esteem—to speak to you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Never To Be Separated

Why Doctrine and Devotion Must Never Be Separated by Ray Ortlund, Jr.
Doctrine + Devotion
The Bible calls men today to lead in their churches and in their homes through both doctrine and devotion.
What is “doctrine”? The word simply refers to biblical teaching. So no man should fear this word. You can ponder the Lord, by his grace. But if you resist theological thinking, that mentality itself is teaching something, and what it’s saying is really bad doctrine.
What is “devotion”? This word simply refers to heartfelt feeling. So no man should look down on devotion. You can love the Lord, by his grace. But if you resist devotional feeling, that feeling itself is captivating your heart with really bad devotion.
But if your Christianity is both doctrine and devotion, both head and heart, and increasingly so as you grow and mature, then you are truly following the Lord.
Here is where the Bible takes us: All doctrine should be devotional, and all devotion should be doctrinal. This is the full-orbed kind of Christianity that we see everywhere in Scripture.
Sometimes men come from a background where doctrine was under-emphasized, and now they are excited about learning and growing and thinking and understanding. Good! But as you grow, don’t lose devotion. If you have doctrine without devotion, you will become proud, hard, aloof, and superior. And the gospel-team will lose yardage because of you.
One or the Other Just Isn't Enough
Sometimes men come from a background where devotion was under-emphasized, and now they are excited about worship and prayer and sharing and feeling. Good! But as you grow, don’t lose doctrine. If you have devotion without doctrine, you will become self-indulgent, gullible, vulnerable, and shallow. And the gospel-team will lose yardage because of you.
But if you have doctrine with devotion and devotion with doctrine, both head and heart, if your thinking is tenderized with great love for the Lord and your love strengthened with great thoughts of the Lord, you will become a well-rounded, balanced, wise, formidable, attractive man whose influence is the very influence of Jesus himself. And your life will be a touchdown for the team.
Which emphasis do you need to add to your Christianity right now? Are you growing deeper in doctrine and knowledge and insight and understanding? What significant books have you read in 2015? Not just dipped into but read. From cover to cover. And are you growing deeper in devotion and enthusiasm and passion and energy? What tears have you shed in 2015—tears of joy, of longing, of repentance, of worship? Not just a twinge of feeling but ravished by the glory of the Lord. Personal meltdown.
The Bible is God’s primary mechanism for deepening every one of us every day in both doctrine and devotion.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Digging For Gold In Simple Stories

How much golden truth can you find in one short story from Scripture? Check out this example - Your Bible Is a Gold Mine from Jon Bloom at Desiring God:
The word of Christ dwells richly in the one who dwells in it long enough to discover its riches (Colossians 3:16). The Bible is the divine mine that contains the theological mother load. Any theology book based on it is only a small fraction of the Bible’s unquantifiable wealth. That’s why there will be no end to theological book publishing.
The wonderful thing about this mine is that we often find treasure in unexpected places. God loves to lace and layer revelatory riches in what at first seems like a fairly straightforward historical narrative.
One example is the account of Jesus and Peter walking on water in Matthew 14:22–33. This aquatic hike is astounding. But if we’re not careful, we may only see the obvious gold and miss out on much more. Here are a few less obvious nuggets I found when digging recently.
Jesus Makes Us Face Strong Waves in the Dark
Jesus “made” the disciples get into the boat (Matthew 14:22). At the time, they probably didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t an unusual directive from the Master. But in retrospect, it became clear that God knowingly sent them to face an adverse wind all night.
After an exhausting day of ministry (feeding the 5,000), God did not lead them to a rest beside quiet waters, but to row against battering waves for most of the night. The sovereign Lord sometimes intentionally sends us when we’re already weary to struggle against adversity in disorienting darkness.
Jesus Comes in Unexpected Ways at Unexpected Times
When Jesus finally came to the disciples, he came in a completely unexpected way — walking on the water. This so caught them off guard that they didn’t even recognize him at first (Matthew 14:26). Furthermore, Jesus didn’t show up until “the fourth watch of the night” (Matthew 14:25) — between three and six in the morning.
The weary disciples had been fighting the wind and waves (and probably each other) for long dark hours. No doubt they prayed for God’s help. In the apostle John’s account, once Jesus reached them and got in the boat, “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going” (John 6:21). This must have come as a welcome relief, but notice that this relief wasn’t provided until they were extraordinarily tired.
When God comes to us in a moment of need, he might arrive in an unexpected, unrecognizable, and frightening way and later than we hope.
Ask Jesus for Impossible Things
Peter’s request of Jesus was outrageous. It may be that this story is so familiar or has been told to us so matter-of-factly that it doesn’t shock us. If that’s true, we need fresh eyes. We must put our sleep-deprived selves in that wave-tossed little boat in the dead of night, feeling the wind-whipped sea spray on our faces while we squint at the strangest thing we’ve yet seen — Jesus standing about ten feet away on the heaving water as if it were solid ground.
Imagine our nerves being on edge from the terror-induced adrenaline rush. Would we ask to get out of the boat and join Jesus on the water? We might best answer this question by asking ourselves how often we are asking Jesus for the privilege of risking the humanly impossible with him now. Jesus may have admonished Peter for having “little faith” (Matthew 14:31), but Peter was a faith giant in that moment compared to the other eleven. He was the only one who asked to do the impossible with Jesus. And Jesus granted it to him with pleasure.
God is pleased when we ask him to enable us to get out of the safety of our “boat” in order to do the humanly impossible with him, and he does grant such requests.
Jesus Sovereignly Responds to Our Asking
This story illustrates a profound mystery: God in his sovereignty interacts with our initiative. Note the very brief but loaded exchange between Peter and Jesus:

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” [Jesus] said, “Come.” (Matthew 14:28–29)
There is towering theology in these few words. Peter recognized Jesus as the sovereign Lord of all nature who was commanding the water to support him. Peter also knew that walking on the water would require faith, but he did not mistake his own faith as the power that would command the water beneath him. So he asked Jesus to command him to come. And when Jesus commanded, Peter exercised faith in Jesus’s word, which Jesus honored. That’s how Peter’s faith helped him walk on water. It’s true that when Peter’s faith weakened, he sank (Matthew 14:30). But his cry to Jesus for help proved that Peter knew where the power to hold him up resided, and was itself an expression of faith. And again Jesus responded to Peter’s faith by pulling him back up (Matthew 14:31).
Notice, Jesus did not call any of the disciples to join him on the water. Peter took the initiative to ask Jesus if he could come. Forgive the pun, but this is deep theological water. If Peter had not taken the initiative to ask Jesus, this aspect of the story might simply be missing. What might be missing from your story if you do not take the initiative to ask Jesus?
God alone has power to command reality, but he encourages us to request whatever we wish in prayer (John 15:7) and he loves to respond to our faith by commanding answers to our requests.
Dig, Find, and Be Enriched
O, there’s much more gold in this story to be had, but time and article word limits fail me. I must refrain. Go dig, find it, and you will be enriched. In only twelve verses we discovered four theological nuggets:\
  1. The sovereign Lord sometimes intentionally sends us when we’re already weary to struggle against adversity in disorienting darkness.
  2. When God comes to us in a moment of need, he might arrive in an unexpected, unrecognizable, and frightening way and later than we hope.
  3. God is pleased when we ask him to enable us to get out of the safety of our “boat” in order to do the humanly impossible with him, and he does grant such requests.
  4. God alone has power to command reality, but he encourages us to request whatever we wish in prayer (John 15:7) and he loves to respond to our faith by commanding answers to our requests.
The Bible contains over 31,000 verses — so much gold and so little time. We’ll never exhaust the gold it contains during our brief lives, but we must discover all we can. The apostle John said this about the three years he spent with the word made flesh: “Were every one of [the things Jesus did] to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
Well, the written word is written. But of this word we can say that if all it reveals were to be written, the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Does God Want You to Be Happy?

The answer is yes, but perhaps not the way Joel Osteen and the like think. Read "Actually, God Does Want You To Be Happy" by Jade Mazarin at Relevant
Once upon a time, too many people saw God as a genie whose main purpose was to grant us our every wish. They believed every action in life was meant to bring happiness, and if it did, it would be what God wanted.
Then a backlash ensued against these ideas. A tidal wave of rebuttals addressed them, speaking out about deeper truths like purpose in suffering, and the fact that our happiness is not the litmus test for what’s good.
As a result, many people today state that while God is concerned with our growth, He is not so concerned with our happiness.
Today the idea of God wanting us to be happy is one that many Christians shy away from or refute. We’re OK with words like, “contentment” or “joy.” We believe those words contain an element of depth and holiness. "Happiness" though, well, that’s different. It reminds many of us of society’s definition of the meaning of life—like momentary satisfaction. It feels empty, irresponsible and even dangerous. It seems to squash the notion that God is Holy, wants us to grow or uses our suffering.
And sure, God is not a wish-granter, and our main purpose in life isn't consistent happiness. I have been through long seasons of intense trial and suffering, and they have changed me in priceless ways—ways I believe were divinely created.
But I think that while God allows and carefully uses seasons of difficulty, it is not His sole desire for us. When I look at His Word, I can see that He has a strong desire to even bring us—dare I say it—happiness, even if it’s not exactly how our culture would tend to define it.
Happiness Is in God’s Nature.
First of all, we see happiness in God’s very nature. Not only is He overflowing with love, He also brimming over with happiness.
Scripture says God “rejoices over us with singing.” This is not some uptight, stern judge who waits for us to mess up. This is a person who adores us, and whose very being is inclined toward happiness.

Scripture not only says God Himself is our strength; It also says His joy is our strength. Perhaps it’s time we paid more attention to His jovial heart.

Too often, we walk around with a heavy sense of seriousness. We are burdened with the belief that God Himself is serious, and our duty is to walk “just so” before Him. We become weak under the load. We think becoming lighthearted might mean becoming irresponsible.
But that’s not the way it has to be. Scripture not only says God Himself is our strength; It also says His joy is our strength. Perhaps it’s time we paid more attention to His jovial heart—one that can’t help but sing over His creation.
David praised God with singing and dancing, and sometimes we need to do that—get off that mental tight rope and just celebrate God’s good presence around us.
Hope Through Suffering
Of course, God’s desire for us to be happy doesn’t mean we won’t have times that we’re not. He takes us through seasons of suffering and difficulty, because He does desire more for us than only happiness; or what we think is happiness. He wants to refine our character, help us heal from the past and develop into our emotional and spiritual potential. This process often feels painful, and He doesn’t ask us to just pretend like everything’s OK and smile through it.
But the struggle is not the end of the story. And if we think God wants us to feel constantly miserable in order to make us holy, then we won’t grasp all of His love. The truth is, even the invitation to grow contains the desire of God to bring us to a deeper level of health, freedom—and therefore happiness.

He takes us through seasons of suffering and difficulty, because He does desire more for us than only happiness; or what we think is happiness

When we go through times of suffering, God wants us to keep sight of the hope that there’s more for us. In Isaiah, we see His passion to encourage the Israelites. Many years prior, they rebelled against God, and He distanced Himself from them. And yet, now He zealously proclaims that He is taking them back. He even wants to bless them more than they’ve ever been blessed before.
You can almost feel God’s excitement when He says, “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 51:11).
Clearly, God doesn’t just want them to feel a little better. He wants their joy to be everlasting. He wants gladness and joy to overtake them.
Happiness doesn’t mean something that’s only surface level, even if people around us treat it that way. In fact, true happiness—happiness from God—is peaceful, safe and good. It’s genuine, and it isn’t based on situations that are empty or bad for us.