Friday, January 23, 2015

One Blood

O God,
You have made of one blood
all the peoples of the earth,
and sent Your blessed Son
to preach peace
to those who are far off
and to those who are near.
Grant that people everywhere
may seek after You and find You;
bring the nations into Your fold;
pour out Your Spirit upon all flesh;
and hasten the coming of Your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Book of Common Prayer

Tweeking Your Prayer Life

Does your prayer life need a little "tweeking"? Read The Power and Privilege of God's People by David Mathis
Now is the time to take a fresh look at your private prayer life and dream about a tweak or two you could make in the coming days. Typically the best way to grow and make headway is not a total overhaul, but identifying one or a couple small changes that will pay dividends over time.
Or maybe you have little-to-no real private prayer life (which might be as common among professing Christians as it’s ever been), and you really need to start from scratch. You may feel first-hand the weight of Francis Chan’s alarm, “My biggest concern for this generation is your inability to focus, especially in prayer.” Perhaps it’s true of you, and you’re ready for change.
Whether you’re in need of a little self-evaluation, or learning as a beginner, I’d like to offer a few practical flashpoints on private prayer. But let’s start with why private prayer, or “closet prayer,” is so important in the first place.
Praying “in the Closet”
“Closet prayer” gets its name from Jesus’s famous “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5–8. The context is Jesus’s instructions for not “practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1).
When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5–6)
Just as praying in earshot of others had its immanent rewards in first-century Judaism, so also it does in our twenty-first-century church communities, whether it’s in church or small group or just at the table with friends and family. It can be easy to slide into impressing others as the driving motivation for our praying with others, whether its our length, tone, topic, or jargon, all carefully chosen to produce certain effects in our human hearers alone.
It’s a tough line to walk, because we must pray publicly — in church and in our homes and elsewhere — and public prayer should take into account that others are listening; it should have others in mind. But the danger lurks of sidelining God and shifting our focus to making ourselves look impressive.
Test of Authenticity
But “closet prayer” offers a test of authenticity for our public praying. As Tim Keller comments on Matthew 6:5–6,
The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life. Many people will pray when they are required by cultural or social expectations, or perhaps by the anxiety caused by troubling circumstances. Those with a genuinely lived relationship with God as Father, however, will inwardly want to pray and therefore will pray even though nothing on the outside is pressing them to do so. They pursue it even during times of spiritual dryness, when there is no social or experiential payoff. (Prayer, 23)
Private prayer is an important test of whether we are real.Remedy for Inadequacy
But private prayer is not just a test of our trueness, but also an ongoing remedy for our inadequacies and the lack of desire we often feel for God. Prayer, says John Piper, is “not only the measure of our hearts, revealing what we really desire, it is also the indispensible remedy for our hearts when we do not desire God the way we ought” (When I Don’t Desire God, 153).
Private prayer shows who we really are spiritually and is essential in healing the many places we find ourselves broken, needy, lacking, and rebellious.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Overcoming Hopelessness

Feeling hopeless? Read Psalm 108: The Key to Overcoming Hopelessness by George Wood,
When you're depressed, about the last thing you want to do is get out of bed and rise to face the morning. Here's a psalm to counteract hopelessness and help you welcome a new day with courage.
If you think the words of Psalm 108 sound familiar—they are. Look back to Psalm 57 (vv. 7-11) and Psalm 60 (vv. 5-12) and you will find Psalm 108 simply repeats the endings to these two earlier psalms. Psalm 57 begins with David hunted; the setting for Psalm 60 is David defeated. Yet, both psalms end, not in despair, but in confidence that God has a brighter day ahead. It's those positive endings that are joined together in this psalm.
Aren't you glad to know that tough moments in your life, when you feel trapped or beat up, don't last forever—that later you'll focus upon God's promises fulfilled rather than your present pain?
A Wake-Up Song
Are you so excited about living that you can't wait for the dawn of a new day? David is. He's up and singing, musical instruments in hand (v. 2), expressing the sentiments, "When morning gilds the skies, my heart awaking cries, may Jesus Christ be praised!"Maybe you don't face your days like that. You had a sleepless or troubled night, filled with dread or anxiety. The last thing on your mind is cheerfully getting up.
You really need to tune in to the fundamental truth conveyed in this psalm and all of Scripture. Your day will go better if you begin with praise to the Lord who made and redeemed you.
Remember the apostle Paul? In prison he wrote, among other things, the letter to the Philippians. It's a letter of abounding joy and the assurance that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him (4:13). I used to be troubled by that phrase "all things," thinking maybe Paul was using a cliché. After all, there wasn't much he could "do" in prison—no preaching, church planting or mentoring of pastors. In fact, he could do very little within the confines of his cell. Then it dawned on me one day—the toughest, most difficult thing God ever asked him to "do" was prison. And through Christ, he found he could "do" even that. Surviving unjust incarceration was one of the "all things."
Are you going to compound your misery by having a miserable attitude or will you decide to sing instead (vv. 1-2; Phil. 4:4)?
What's there to sing about? That you're not lost or alone in God's great universe today, that you are part of a vast assembly on earth who lift their voice to praise Him (v. 3). The Lord has not permitted you to fall outside His grace by your own weakness, stubbornness or rebellion. He folded you to Himself even as you ran from Him—otherwise, how would you know His love reaches to the heavens and His faithfulness to the skies (v. 4)?Jesus' love is no come-on. He didn't cross His fingers behind His back when He said it. At no point has He considered retracting His love for you or breaking the bad news to you that He doesn't love you anymore. He loves you today. He loved you yesterday. He will love you tomorrow.
Open your heart and voice to God in response: "Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth" (v. 5).
Confidence for the Day
What gives you hope to live this day? Is it not God's past performance? Isn't the best predictor of what a person will do in the future what he has done in the past?
The psalmist reviews God's track record with geographical references to camping places (Shechem and Succoth) where the Lord sustained Abraham and Jacob (v. 7), as well as the names of a sampling of the tribal territories of Israel (v. 8) and historic enemies God has defeated (v. 9). All these references relate not only to God's past deeds but also constitute promises of present and future aid. With confidence David can ask for help because of what the Lord has already done (v. 6). The Lord's consistent character can be relied upon.
Challenges to Meet
David ends the psalm by recounting the most difficult task facing him—the fortified city of Edom (v. 10). Such a place lay impregnable because of its walls, battlements and defenses.
You may have your own Edom—an absolutely impossible situation. You don't have a clue as to how you can crack through the fortifications of your problem. David didn't know the "how" either, but he knew the "who"—the Lord Himself.
But, here's the catch. What if the Lord says, "Not you. You failed Me. You didn't listen to Me, so why should I pay any attention to you?" David faced that prospect head-on (v. 11), but did not let it deter him from asking the Lord for help anyway (v. 12). The very God who refuses to assist you when you are stubborn, rebellious and self-willed turns toward you when you are vulnerable, humble and penitent.
He'll give you strength to make it through this day (v. 13).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Delayed Reaction


Stop Fighting Your Brokenness

From Darryl Dash - The Benefits of Brokenness
I have a pastor-friend who is unflappable. I think it would be impossible to tell him something that would surprise him. I know, because I’ve shared some things with him that might have raised some eyebrows. His never moved; he responded with the grace and strength that I needed at the time.
It’s hard to surprise my pastor-friend, because there isn’t much that he hasn’t experienced himself. He’s had the parenting problems. He struggled with an episode of major depression and burnout. He’s failed and succeeded in ministry. He’s stayed faithful over the long term, but he’s battered and bruised. He’s got a credibility that only comes from those who have stayed in the battle long enough to know that it’s tough.
He reminds me of another older man I met through Serge, the ministry started by Jack Miller. “There’s nothing you could tell me that would shock me,” he said. “There’s no way that you’re a worse sinner than I am.” Some could say that as a platitude; he said it as a truth. When you have been around long enough to have been humbled, and are still walking with God, you have a grace and a strength that’s hard to fake.
The older I get, the less I’m surprised by the struggles and foibles of others. I no longer have the quick answers and the simple advice. I am accumulating the wounds that I hope will one day give me the credibility that is able to stand in the middle of suffering and to say much without saying anything.
I’m no longer fighting the process of being broken. I’m learning what I couldn’t have known when I started ministry over twenty years ago: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply” (A.W. Tozer)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sustaining Motivation

The piece below was written by Tony Merida, author of Ordinary (which I reviewed here):- Good Doctrine Wins People, Not Arguments. Good theology is necessary to sustain ministries for social justice.
Social causes come and go like bad fashion trends, sometimes quite literally: what color bracelet are you wearing this month?

Surely our consumer-conditioned attention spans have something to do with this, but let’s be real: when you care about something enough to devote serious time and energy, it can be discouraging when the anticipated results never materialize.

Many people know they should care for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, but few are motivated to do this over the course of a lifetime. Jesus reminds his followers, “You always have the poor with you” (Mark 14:7). In other words, we ain’t gonna solve poverty anytime soon.

How in the world can we keep up the good work when it feels like a lost cause? Good theology.

Theological types often get stereotyped as all head and no heart. This is unfortunate because a few key doctrines of the faith provide the sustainable inspiration we need for a lifetime of good works.
If we believe that everyone is made in the image of God—imago Dei—then everyone is worthy of dignity, love, basic human rights, and hearing biblical truth.

Those who abuse people made in God’s image through enslavement, torture, rape, and grinding poverty, are dehumanizing people and insulting God Himself. Many victims of human trafficking and abuse report how they felt inhumane after being oppressed.

Those who believe in the imago Dei should live out their theology through practical acts of love for the oppressed and vulnerable.
The Bible records for us the story of God coming to save people. When we were enslaved, He freed us. When we were orphans, He adopted us. When we were sojourners, He welcomed us. When we were widows, Christ became our groom.

The mercy and justice of God meet at the cross, where our redemption comes from. We needed His redemption because we cannot live up to the standard God has set. But One did. Jesus Christ is the ultimate display of a life of righteousness and justice. Through repentance and faith in Christ, we are clothed in His righteousness.

Now, as believers, we have power to live just lives, and when we fail, we know God won’t crush us, for He has already crushed Christ in our place. Now we pursue justice because we love God, and have already been accepted in Him.

We want to show mercy. That’s what God’s redemption has done for us.

Monday, January 19, 2015

In Print


Faith Boost

Need a "faith boost" for the new year? Then read this piece by George Wood at Charisma
Have you ever heard a healing take place? I have. I listened to an audio tape of Duane Miller teaching his Sunday school class from the text of Psalm 103 at the First Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas, on Jan. 17, 1993. Duane prematurely retired from pastoring three years earlier because of a virus which penetrated the myelin sheath around the nerves in his vocal cords, reducing his speech to a raspy whisper.
He experienced firsthand the awful distress described in Psalm 102, the counterpoint to the joy found in Psalm 103.
eaching his class that day with a special microphone resting on his lips, he reaffirmed his belief in divine healing and that miracles had not ended with the Book of Acts. Listening to the tape, at times you can barely understand his weakly spoken wheezy words of faith. The miracle happened at verse 4 when he said, "I have had and you have had in times past pit experiences."
On the word "pit," Duane's life changed—the word was as clear as a bell, in contrast to the imperfect enunciation of the preceding word "past." He paused, startled; began again and stopped. He said a few more words—all in a normal clear tone—and stopped again. The class erupted with shouts of joy, astonishment and sounds of weeping. God completely healed him as he was declaring the truth in this psalm. (You can read the full account in Miller's book, Out of the Silence, Nelson Publishers.)
Consider His Benefits
Like Duane Miller, perhaps you have spent a lengthy time in the despair found in Psalm 102; but Psalm 103 shows that the Lord has a deep healing to match your deep hurt. Psalm 102 ended with a sense that God's blessings would skip over you (v. 23) and benefit instead your children and their descendants (v. 28). Psalm 103 says God will not forget you.
No wonder the psalm begins with gratitude (v. 12). Look at what the Lord has done (vv. 3-5).
1. He forgives all your sins. Sins, like legal wrongs, are of two kinds: those arising from intention and those stemming from negligence. God forgives both our acts of commission and omission. He frees you to start over after failure, cancels all indictments against you, and discharges all your debts.
2. He heals all your diseases. The sticking point for many is that they have not yet experienced a healing like Duane's nor that assured in this psalm. But as believers in Jesus, we must take the long view when miracles do not immediately occur—that ultimately in Christ healing will come even if you must wait for the glorification of your body at the resurrection. God is committed to stamping out all disease; but in His providence, He has not yet banished death nor the instruments of illness which lead toward it.
Please broaden the definition of disease to include any deterioration which diminishes your well-being and wholeness. A disease can just as easily be a bad attitude, an unforgiving spirit, a bitter heart, an eruptive and angry tongue, a fundamentally flawed will that does not resist addictions. In Jesus, the good news of the gospel works to liberate us from these deformative and degenerative diseases so that on the inside our personality and disposition increasingly resembles that of Jesus.
3. He redeems your life from the pit. The pit represents the abyss from which you cannot escape. God reaches His long arm into the pitch-dark hole of depression or despair where you lie helpless and imprisoned, grabs you strongly, pulls you up and sets your feet on solid ground in the sunlight of His presence.
4. He crowns your life with love and compassion. A crown of righteousness, life and glory waits for you in heaven (2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4). Right now, the Lord wants you to wear a crown of love and compassion. Let others seek the crown of success, riches or power. God has a better gift for you.
5. He satisfies your desires with good things. The principal horror of depression is its total lack of hope. But God is committed to bringing good into your life—no matter what. The subtlety of temptation is that it bids you to believe you are headed down into the pit of nonfulfillment if you obey God, when the opposite is true: "At Your right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Ps. 16:11). There's no disappointment in Jesus.
6. He renews your life like the eagle's. Trap an eagle and confine him to a dark cage. He won't live long. He lives best when he flies free. You're no different—and that's why the Lord has provided "all His benefits" (Ps. 103:2 ) for "all the oppressed" (v. 6). Note the word "all." Our Lord is not a God who has pets nor is He a respecter of persons. His favor applies to all who call upon Him.
Our Basis for Confidence
How can we be sure God is like this? We have the records of generations to whom He has revealed himself (v. 7). His character is seen in how He helped Israel and what He's done for you (vv. 8-12). And if that's not enough to convince you, observe His tender parenting (vv. 13-18). Your life has a fixed center of stability because the Lord reigns (v. 19).