Friday, September 23, 2016

Nurturing the Habit


You may have noticed that I'm frequently presenting articles on Bible reading.  Why> Because it's that important!  Check out Improve Your Bible Reading With this Course of Action by Ken Brady (via Charisma Magazine)
It's a noble goal and one that every Christian should strive for. Perhaps you just made a personal resolution or you just had a spiritual mountaintop experience and you want to fan the flame of passion you feel for God and His Word.
Whatever it is that has moved you to act, you'll have a better chance of developing a daily habit of time with God if you follow these seven tips for nurturing a daily devotional time with God.
1. Pick a time for your devotional reading. Make it a priority by calendaring it as you would any other important meeting. We set appointments for much less important things like oil changes, haircuts and lunches. How much more important is it to have a daily time with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? The Creator is available to meet with you; are you ready to meet with Him? Set a specific time to meet with Him daily and stick to it.
2. Pick a place for your devotional reading. I have a favorite recliner in my home ... it's "mine." I love to begin my day by sitting in this particular chair with my Bible near me, my copy of Stand Firm (a men's devotional) and a cup of coffee. I find that meeting with God in the same place each day is helpful and helps me to build memories of what God says during my daily devotional time with Him.
3. Pick an accountability partner. When you are trying to establish a new habit, it helps to have someone hold you accountable. I want one or two people to have permission to ask me how my daily devotional time is going, what God is saying to me and whether or not I'm keeping my appointments with God.
4. Tell others. Let your Bible study group, spouse, close friend or children know what you are about to attempt. It is amazing how much more devoted you will be to having a devotional time with God when you know others are watching you to see if you are really serious about it.
5. Don't skip a day. This is not to be legalistic, but to make sure that you don't give yourself an "out." If you choose to have your daily devotional time early in the morning, say 6 a.m., you know that you can't do it if you keep hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock. You may be tempted to skip a day and spend extra time with God the next day, but making up lost time rarely happens, and once time is lost, it's lost. Don't talk yourself out of meeting with God, and don't give yourself permission to skip a day. Do a Google search on creating habits and you'll find plenty of evidence that repeating a habit 21 to 28 days in a row is significant in forming an ongoing habit. Some people may need a little longer than that, but the point is, be consistent and don't skip a day.
6. Reward yourself. While meeting with God is its own reward, of course, consider giving yourself small incentives for consistently having your daily devotional time. For instance, at the end of your first seven days of consistently meeting with God, take yourself out for coffee or a special dessert. Do something like this at the end of each week, and perhaps build up to something big, like buying yourself a new Bible that will become a part of your daily devotional time, and a reminder of your commitment to meeting with God.
7. Persist. Let's face it, our schedules are busy and we lead "time compressed" lives. If you do miss a daily devotional time, don't give up and count yourself a failure. Forgive yourself, recommit and begin again. Don't stop having a daily devotional time. That's exactly what the enemy would like you to do ... so don't.
Beginning a daily devotional time with God can truly be a life-changing experience. You have every possibility of growing closer to the Lord than ever before as you get to know Him through prayer and the reading of His Word.
Your time with God will be motivated by your deep love for Him and the grace He has poured out on your life, not just keeping an appointment so that you can check a box. Allow yourself to experience the blessings of spending time with your Savior and allow Him to transform your heart so that you reflect the image of Christ to others in your family, neighborhood and workplace.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hard Work Pays Off


"Marriage is crazy work, but it is good work. Two people must regularly get over themselves and fight for love. There is no coasting; it’s pretty much foot on the gas forever. Some parts get easier and sometimes not so much, and many of us will fight our way back from disintegration to create something stronger than before - with scars of course."

        - Jen Hatmaker

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beware the Sinkhole Syndrome

Spiritual Disciplines and the Sinkhole Syndrome by Donald Whitney at Tabletalk Magazine
You know the story. A man has been a believer in Christ for decades. To all outward appearances he’s a man of Christian faithfulness and integrity. He has maintained a reputation as a fine example of public and private faithfulness to the things of God for decades. Then, without warning, it all collapses into a sinkhole of sin. Everyone wonders how it could have happened so quickly. In most cases, it soon becomes known that—like most sinkholes—the problem didn’t develop overnight.
Several years ago, this man likely had a relatively consistent devotional life through which the Lord often refreshed, strengthened, and matured him. But with each passing year, his busy life became ever busier. Increasingly he saw his devotional life more as a burden—a mere obligation sometimes—than a blessing. Because of the massive doses of Bible teaching he’d heard—in addition to the knowledge gained teaching church Bible classes himself—he began to imagine that he needed less private prayer and Bible intake than when he was younger and not as spiritually mature. Besides, he had so many other God-given responsibilities that surely God would understand that he was too busy to meet with Him every day.
One small concession led to another; one plausible rationalization led to the next, until the devastating day when a tipping point was reached and the spiritual weakness developed by too many private compromises could no longer sustain even the appearance of Christian integrity. And into the sinkhole fell his reputation, witness, ministry, and perhaps much more.
If you’re a strong, young Christian, passionate about the things of God, and you find it impossible to imagine yourself coming to such a condition: beware. This situation could easily be yours in a few years. The words of 1 Corinthians 10:12 are an apt admonition here: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
I’ve been in pastoral ministry for twenty-four years. For fifteen years I’ve been a professor of biblical spirituality. I’ve written several books and many articles related to spirituality. I speak on the subject to future ministers and missionaries on a daily basis in the seminary classroom, and in churches and conferences around the country almost every weekend. And yet I will freely admit that it’s harder for me to maintain my devotional life now than ever in my life. That’s because I’m busier now than ever. I have many more responsibilities than I had as a young man. And they all take time, time that must come from somewhere.
As the pressures of life increase and more deadlines loom, it becomes harder to maintain time for the devotional life. And herein is where the erosion begins.
At the outset it’s likely that very few will know when the hidden part of your spiritual life begins crumbling. Just as imperceptible movements of water underground can carry away the earth beneath long before anyone on the surface perceives it, so the pressures of life can secretly displace the soil of our private spiritual disciplines long before the impact of their absence is visible to others. The more public parts of a Christian’s life, such as church involvement and various forms of ministry, can often continue with little observable change right up until the awful moment of collapse and the hypocrisy is revealed.
I’m sure you’re already familiar with many factors that undermine intimacy with Christ. Realize that it’s almost certain that the “time-thieves” trying to steal from your time with God will only increase as the years pass. My hope is that this article will alert you to this subtle, creeping tendency so that it won’t overtake you.
Never be deceived by the temptation to think that with the increasing spiritual maturity you expect to come with age, the less you will need to feast your soul on Christ through the Bible and prayer. What Jesus prayed in John 17:17 for all His followers—“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”—applies to us all throughout our lives.
Jesus practiced what He prayed for us. While Jesus is infinitely more than our example, nevertheless, He is also our example of sanctified living, of life coram Deo. The Bible tells us that Jesus regularly attended when God’s people assembled to hear the Scriptures (Luke 4:16) and also that He would get alone to meet with His Father (Matt. 14:23). Jesus’ followers need both the sustaining grace that comes through the public worship of God as well as that which comes to us when we meet with Him individually.
I don’t want to minimize the role of the church in preventing spiritual shipwreck in the life of the believer. In this piece, however, I am writing to warn those who will increasingly be tempted to think that frequently meeting God with others can compensate for seldom meeting with Him alone.
There are seasons of life when our devotional habits may be providentially altered. But the general rule is that those reconciled to God through the cross of His Son need conscious, personal communion with Him every day until the day they see Him face to face. And the ordinary means by which He gives it is through the personal spiritual disciplines found in Scripture, chief of which are the intake of the Word of God and prayer.
Pursue the Lord with a relentless, lifelong, obstacle-defying passion. Resolve never to let your daily life keep you from Jesus daily.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Simple Trinity Prayer

A Simple Trinity Prayer by Richard Rohr (via Internet Monk)


God for us, we call you “Father.”
God alongside us, we call you “Jesus.”
God within us, we call you “Holy Spirit.”
Together, you are the Eternal Mystery
That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us and even me. 
Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness.
We can only see who you are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing—
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
Amen.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Fire The Committee

"You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons. Our hearts are multi-divided. It's like we have a board room in every heart. Imagine: a big table, leather chairs, coffee, bottled water, and a whiteboard. A committee sits around the table in your heart. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others. 

"The committee is arguing and debating and voting, constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We tell ourselves we're this way because we're so busy with so many responsibilities. But the truth is that we're just divided, unfocused, hesitant, and unfree.

"That kind of person can 'accept Jesus' in two ways. One way is to invite him onto the committee. Give him a vote too. But then he becomes just one more complication. 

"The other way to "accept Jesus" is to say to him, 'My life isn't working. Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them. I hand myself over to you. I am your responsibility now. Please run my whole life for me.'

"'Accepting Jesus' is not just adding Jesus. It is also subtracting the idols."

        - Ray Ortlund, Christ Is Deeper Still - blog

Reading Jesus Centered

I'm always looking for ways to improve my Bible reading experience, and ways to help others in the same way. Check ou Two Simple Steps for Changing the Way You Read the Bible by Stephanie Hillberry at Lifetree
I’m just going to come right out and say it: applying the Bible to our lives is overrated. When we apply it to Jesus instead, we unlock unexpected insights that prove to be more valuable than practical application. But learning to read the Bible in this new way can take a little practice, plus a few good tools. Here’s what helped me make the transition:
Two simple steps for how to read the Bible with a Jesus-centered approach
First, get a Jesus-Centered Bible.
I mentioned that a few good tools help to shift our focus off ourselves and onto Jesus while reading the Bible. The Jesus-Centered Bible is one of those tools because of its’ unique features that make focusing on Jesus easier.
But first, if you’re thinking, “isn’t my Bible already Jesus-centered?” the answer is Yes–of course it is. There are references and insights about him all the way from Genesis to Revelation, and you can start digging deeper into them right now.
But if you have trouble spotting his story in the Old Testament (which most of us do), or if the epistles of the New Testament seem like they’re as much about the apostles and the early Christians as they are about Jesus, then the Jesus-Centered Bible can help in a way that other Bibles don’t. Because it was created exclusively to frame all the books of the Bible with Jesus as the central character, he’s easier to spot. Blue letters, for instance, reveal him in the Old Testament, and red letters highlight his name in the entire New Testament (a really simple feature that’s surprisingly eye-opening). And throughout all the pages you’ll find commentary and questions directly about Jesus. Even the year-long Bible reading plan features chapters that uniquely focus on Jesus.
Sure you can find him in other Bibles, but the Jesus-Centered Bible makes it really hard to miss him. And that’s what we want.

Second, get a journal.
Whether you normally journal or not, you’re going to want to jot down new insights about Jesus as you read. You can use the journaling method that works best for you, or start with some ideas based on what’s worked for me lately. Regarding the latter, here’s what I do when I’m reading a Bible chapter.
>> I read through the text once just to get the overview.
>> Then I reread it with a question in mind. My favorite questions to ask while reading come from Rick Lawrence’s suggestions in The Jesus-Centered Life. They include:
  • What’s one thing for sure I know about Jesus based on what I just read?
  • What did Jesus do/see/say here? What didn’t he do/see/say?
>> Then I write my observations. Personally I’ve found it helpful to write them like I’m having a conversation with Jesus. For instance, from Colossians chapter three I might write:
(v1) You raise us to new life with you.
(v1) You sit in heaven in a place of honor at God’s right hand.
(v3) You’ve hidden our lives with you in God. You’re a protector, a guardian.
(v4) You’re all that matters. Anything that isn’t about you doesn’t matter.
(v11) You forgive us. You’re forgiving in nature. You don’t hold a grudge.
(15) You offer peace to rule our hearts. You don’t offer strife or anxiety. You are the source of peace.
(v16) Your message is rich and fills our lives. Your message isn’t shallow. It isn’t deficient. It’s better than the messages from the world/culture.
(v17) You appointed us as representatives. You’re trusting. You’ve entrusted your message to us. You believe in us.
Do you notice how focusing on Jesus in this way shifts the entire perspective? After years of writing more “me’s” than “you’s” in my prayers and journals, this simple tweak has been powerful. In a culture that constantly preaches self-fulfillment, it’s refreshing to realize how liberating it is to not put ourselves at the center. Call it a paradox or heavenly wisdom, but Jesus wasn’t lying when he said that when we die to ourselves, we’ll actually find ourselves. Or, rather, we’ll find him, and our lives tucked in with his.
This Jesus-centered approach to reading the Bible sounds simple enough to start, right? Get your Bible and journal today and spend the next thirty days practicing these two steps. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ready to Recharge

Who wants a prayer recharge? Here's 8 Ways to Recharge Your Prayer Life by J. Lee Grady
How would you grade your prayer life these days? Are your spiritual batteries drained? Do you need a recharge? It's easy for prayer to become monotonous and predictable, but the Holy Spirit is always willing to offer a jumpstart. Even if you feel like a failure in this area, He can turn a spiritual wimp into a warrior.
After a recent string of answered prayers, I've discovered a fresh excitement about my own prayer journey. I've also realized that if I want to mature spiritually, my prayer life must go to a higher level. Here are eight ways you can turn up the heat:
1. Develop your spiritual confidence. Many Christians live on the far edges of God's blessings because they don't believe they have been made righteous by Christ's sacrifice. You will never expect answers from God if you think He is mad at you. Don't act like a slave who begs for things. You are His heir, and He has given you His royal robe, His signet ring and His estate. He wants to give you the kingdom. God tells us to "draw near with confidence to the throne of grace" (Heb. 4:16). You can ask Him for anything.
2. Be more specific. Zig Ziglar used to say: "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time." That's why vague prayers are inferior to specific ones. I have recently begun the habit of making a "Top Seven List" of prayer requests. When I did this during my recent out-of-state move, the Lord answered six of my seven requests within two months. One of my prayers was that when I bought my new house, my new house payment would not be more than my old one. It turned out to be one dollar less! I was reminded that James 4:2 says: "You do not have because you do not ask."
3. Ask big. We can limit what God wants to do in the Earth by praying in a puny way. Why would we settle for less when God can do the impossible? Elisha boldly asked his mentor, Elijah, for a double portion of the Holy Spirit—and God gave him that mantle. God may want to double what you are requesting of Him. The Lord said: "Ask of Me, and I will give the nations for Your inheritance... " (Ps. 2:8). His vision for your life is far greater than what you supposed.
4. Become more aggressive. Status quo prayers won't be enough in seasons of spiritual battle. There is a time to go to war in the spirit, and this will require a militant attitude toward the enemy. When Elisha told King Joash to take arrows and strike the ground, in preparation for a battle, the king halfheartedly hit the ground only three times. Elisha said: "You should have struck five or six times, then you would have struck Aram until you would have destroyed it" (2 Kings 13:18-19). Too often we are satisfied with small victories because we didn't pray with enough intensity. Your zeal will often determine your outcome.
5. Groan when necessary. People who have allowed God to use them in intercession know that certain situations require travail. This is not easy prayer—it is the spiritual equivalent of childbirth! When Elijah prayed for rain to end a seven-year drought, the Bible says he "crouched down upon the earth and put his face between his knees" (1 Kings 18:42). If you really want a crime wave to end in your city, or a nation to find Jesus, or your own children to be saved, let the Spirit pray through you in a deeper, messier and noisier way.
6. Combine fasting with prayer. Fasting is not a way to bribe God. You do not need to forfeit food to get His attention. But fasting helps you focus on the Lord—and it can intensify prayer power. There are certain spiritual obstacles that need an extra push. When speaking of a demon that needed to be cast out, Jesus told His disciples: "But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" (Matt. 17:21). If you are hitting a spiritual brick wall, it may be time to fast.
7. Do a night watch. I am not the kind of guy who typically gets up at 3 a.m. to pray. I like my sleep! But there are moments in our lives when the Lord may woo you to spend time with Him in the night hours. In Song of Solomon, the bride hears her Beloved calling her to get out of bed (5:2-6) and she doesn't respond quickly enough. Many of us are too distracted by the busyness of life to hear God call us to a season of prayer. Yet the Lord is looking for people who will carry His burdens. Will you let Him pray through you?
8. Expect God to fill in the gaps. I used to fight discouragement about my prayer life because I didn't feel my prayers were powerful enough. But then I read Ephesians 3:20 in a new light. It says God is able "to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think" (Eph. 3:20). That means after I pray, God adds His own miraculous ingredient. My prayers may seem feeble and flawed, but He is able to amplify them. Like the tiny lunch of five loaves and two fish, Jesus can take something insignificant and feed a multitude. When you pray, expect Him to increase the impact. What you whisper in your closet can shake the world. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Reservoirs

"If then you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir than as a canal. For a canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, and thus communicates, without loss to itself, its superabundant water. In the Church at the present day, we have many canals, few reservoirs."

      - St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What Nobody Talks About

From a Facebook post by Kay Warren -
Growing up in church we didn’t talk much about our problems, much less about emotional problems. If we did, it was mostly in hushed whispers, and we said things like “She had a nervous breakdown.”  I never knew what a nervous breakdown was, but I knew it was something I didn’t want to ever happen to me or to someone I loved.  And nobody – absolutely nobody – talked about suicide.
But then suicide knocked on my door and I couldn’t pretend anymore that it didn’t exist.  A sweet neighbor who found herself in the middle of an unwanted divorce let her suicide note on my front porch. I made frantic calls and left notes on her locked gate to let me know she was ok. But later that day the call I had been dreading came; she had shot herself and was not going to survive.  
Years later suicide drew even closer as the husband of my dear cousin, a wonderful, warm and caring pastor of small churches in Texas, took his life when the shame and guilt of financial difficulties and a secret alcohol addiction overwhelmed him.
Then suicide came to my family.  My funny, creative, loving and severely mentally ill son, Matthew, killed himself after decades of pain and suffering. His hopelessness almost became my hopelessness as I went down into the depths of catastrophic grief and loss.
Major depression and anxiety were present for my neighbor, my cousin’s husband and for my son. Fear and dread of perhaps a bleak future colored their thinking until they couldn’t see any other way out. Depression is not only hard to live with, it can be lethal.
With millions of people around the world living with varying levels of depression – including me – we have to get better at disclosing it, talking about it, seeking help, and continuing to offer hope to each other.  Communities of faith can embrace those suffering with mental illnesses, offering solace, comfort, practical help and unconditional love – especially when depression doesn’t go away.  
I have the utmost respect for people living with depression and anxiety – those who continue to trust Jesus and follow him even when it seldom feels good.  Let’s admit it – when you feel good, it’s fairly easy to trust God and believe that He is in control of the details of your life, and to have hope that pesky problems will resolve themselves quickly.  Praise and worship songs stir your emotions and you lift your hands in joyful abandon. But when the dark thoughts of doom, despair, anxiety, and fear become your constant companions – even though you’re doing everything you know to do to feel better – trusting God, believing better days are ahead, and retaining hope become epic feats of courage and endurance.
We honor military heroes – rightly so, because they are willing to offer their lives for the good of our country.  But there are other heroes, mostly unrecognized and unsung, who get up day after day to face the deafening roar or the toxic whisper of depression that taunts them to give in; to end it all.  There are beautiful heroes who refuse to surrender their joy to the voices that never stop reminding them of their brokenness, their perceived failure and unworthiness. These brave men and women have much to teach us about faith and trust and mostly, about HOPE. 
So don’t hide your struggle, please.  Instead, teach the rest of us how to live courageously even when it doesn’t feel good. We need you!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Grace In The Moment

GRACE, AGONY & COMPASSION: "Such grace is given for crisis moment, and it does not mean that anyone...is free from low periods of depression and recurrent agony from time to time. We must not expect each other to float above the reality of loneliness and wondering 'What if…'"

    ~ Edith Schaeffer, Affliction

Hope for the Broken

God Uses Broken People from Anthem of Hope
Throughout the Bible we see God using imperfect people for the sake of his mission to bring hope to the world. I never quite understood why Jesus chose the individuals he did, but I am guessing his reasoning was to further prove the validity of his being. He didn’t call the popular, rich or successful to further his ministry, but rather, the poor, broken and faithful. I can only imagine how confused the Pharisees and religious leaders must have been while looking at the team of people the proclaimed Savior had gathered together. They were a team of misfits with nothing to lose but everything to gain with God. 
From an outside perspective, we can see that It didn’t matter where people were from, what they had done, or who they use to be; Jesus used all people for the good of His will. Don’t believe me? Here are some examples of people that were used for the greatness of HIS glory.
God's broken soldiers
  • Abraham -Was old.
  • Elijah – Was suicidal.
  • Joseph – Was abused.
  • Job – Went bankrupt.
  • Moses – Had a speech problem.
  • Gideon – Was afraid.
  • Samson – Was a womanizer.
  • Rahab – Was a prostitute.
  • Samaritan Woman – Divorced.
  • Noah – Was a Drunk.
  • Jeremiah – Was young.
  • Jacob – Was a cheater.
  • David – Was a murderer.
  • Jonah – Ran from God.
  • Naomi – Was a widow.
  • Peter – Denied Christ three times
  • Martha – Worried about everything.
  • Zacchaeus – Was small and money hungry.
  • The Disciples – Fell asleep while praying.
Paul – A Pharisee who persecuted Christians before becoming one.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”—Romans 8:28
You are worthy
If you ever feel like you aren’t worthy enough to be used by God, let alone loved by him, just remember that Jesus used a bunch of flawed people to share Hope to a flawed and broken world. In God, we find renewal, mending, and purpose. Jesus didn’t call the equipped, He equipped the called. And no matter what you’ve been through in life, remember that the same power that conquered the grave lives within you. You are worthy of life. You are worthy of God's love. You are worthy of joy. You are worthy of a fulfilling purpose that will take you places you never imagined reaching. 
Learn more at http://anthemofhope.org
—Anthem of Hope

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Loving Those Who Hurt

You may think you have the right approach and goal in caring for your friend going through depression, your sick elderly mother, a couple struggling through a miscarriage, or a friend grieving the loss of a career, but it doesn’t matter how sincere you are if you're way off target. I have had conversations with many individuals who had good intentions, but at the end of the day they only exacerbated my hurt. And sometimes I thought I was doing good for someone else when I was actually causing more pain. In our sincerity we can still be wrong! We need God’s help to care for our friends who are distressed.
Here is a brief discussion about ten approaches to caring for the hurting that look helpful on the surface, but in the end may only add to the pain. Through this list, I hope you’ll see that God’s love triumphs in your weaknesses. We don’t know the answers, and we can’t fix things, but he is faithful to care for our friends in the midst of their pain.
1. Don’t Be the Fix-It Person
“I’ve been thinking about you. I’ve picked up this brand-new organic, all-natural ointment that will surely heal your disability. My grandmother used it for her foot pain, and it went away in a week. It should heal you too!”
The truth is, nobody wants another treatment, ointment, acupuncture reference, or diet that is 100 percent guaranteed to get their hopes up higher than they’ve ever been before. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been handed another bag full of exotic creams in some language I couldn’t understand. I can’t count the number of times people have given me something that they claim has healed someone with the same ailment that I have. When you make these claims and guarantee healing, it may highlight to the one who is hurting that you have no idea what kind of issues they are actually dealing with. It’s in our nature to want to offer a solution for a problem—and that’s great! We yearn to help and often have great intentions by wanting to fix things. The heart behind this is wonderful, but sometimes the best help is a listening ear to the problems that a person is really facing. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” A better approach would be to ask more questions and grow in your understanding of another’s pain rather than offering solutions for something you know very little about. Sometimes the best thing you can do is say, “I’m sorry, can you help me better understand what you are going through?” And then listen.
2. Don’t Play the Comparison Game
“Oh, wow, you have arm pain. I had tennis elbow one time, and it was really rough. I couldn’t play any sports for a couple of weeks. I know exactly what you’re going through.”
Unless you’re Jesus, it almost never helps to tell someone that you know exactly what he or she is going through. We think we’re encouraging others by proclaiming we’ve gone through something similar, when in reality what they’re going through may be much different from our past experience. It is certainly not exactly the same. Another way you might play the comparison game is to point out other people who have it worse than your friend. We might think we’re helping when we tell someone who has a hurt leg, “Well, at least you still have a leg. There are thousands of people around the world who don’t have any legs, and they can’t walk at all. Praise God for the leg you have!” But how is that supposed to make the person feel? Not better, that’s for sure. When you do this, you minimize another person’s suffering. You are making your suffering friend feel like his pain is “no big deal.” To people in pain—whatever their issue is—it is a big deal. A person’s suffering is no small suffering to that person in that moment. If you minimize a person’s pain, it will compound his hurt even more. And when a person’s experience of his real pain is invalidated, then he is not pointed to Christ for hope and help. Why bother Jesus with something that’s really no big deal? A better way forward is to say, “I love you,” and “I am so sorry,” and to pour out your heart in compassion for the one hurting because what he’s going through is difficult and unique to him. Rather than working hard to remember your distant relative who went through something similar and sharing those stories, show sympathy and love for the hurting person who is right in front of you. Instead of comparing your friend to someone you know, you might say, “I don’t pretend to understand what you’re going through, but I want to try. Help me understand how you are feeling.”
3. Don’t Make It Their Identity
“Hi, nice to see you. How’s your back? Is it feeling any better? Have you gotten any rest? Are you in a lot of pain right now? How is it compared to how you were last week? You really don’t look very good right now, maybe you should sit down.”
Another of the ten commandments of what not to do for your hurting friends is to bring up their pain so much that it becomes their identity. If you talk about it all the time, you are at risk of defining them by their struggle and pain as if that’s all they’re about. We need to be careful to not constantly bring up their suffering. At the same time, we want to show we care, so this is a tough balance to keep. As you care for your friend, it is important to remember that if your friend has a disability, he is not fundamentally a disabled person. If he is a Christian, then he is a Christian who has a disability. If your friend has lost his job, he is not fundamentally an unemployed person. If he is a Christian, then he is a Christian who is unemployed. As a Christian, his primary identity is as a son of the living God. He is a human being who has an immortal soul, redeemed out of the kingdom of darkness.
The apostle Paul understands this truth but goes even further and says that the fundamental identity of Christians is that they are in Christ. That despite our sin and wickedness, God did the following: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:4–7). A believer now lives in light of a completely new reality. Our sinful condition is reversed. We have gone from being enemies of God to being “in Christ” (v. 7). This is the reality for the Christian. Now that we are saved by grace, God views believers as he views his Son. This is remarkable. When God the Father looks at us, he sees Jesus. When he looks at a Christian who has a disability, he doesn’t primarily see disability; above all, he sees his Son. When he looks at a Christian who is weak or sick, he doesn’t see sickness—he sees our Savior. As we interact with believers who are hurting, realize that their identity is that of being in Christ Jesus. When you speak to them, help them draw their gaze to Christ so they can see things from an eternal perspective, and consistently remind them that their identity is not in their circumstances, but in their Savior.
4. Don’t Promise Deliverance Now
“Oh, I just know you are going to get healed. You love Jesus and are faithful to him, so he will definitely heal you. Just be patient and think positive and keep the faith and you’ll be healed in no time at all.”
When we 100 percent guarantee that God will deliver our friends from their suffering in this earthly life, we make God out to be some type of cosmic vending machine. Your prayer requests become command central for getting God to do the exact thing you want, when you want it. When you give the promise of healing to the hurting, you inevitably overpromise and underdeliver. Eventually this message lets you down. If you see God as a vending machine, then you will become disillusioned when your candy bar doesn’t drop after payment has been submitted. When you promise healing for your friend, he will be crushed if it doesn’t happen. Instead of promising deliverance, promise the presence of God.
A Christian worships God for God, because God is more precious than anything this world has to offer. God is the beginning and the end. He’s the goal—more of him, not more of the stuff you think you can get from him. Over the past decade or so, various well-meaning people have kindly told me that God was going to heal me. They have tried to encourage me that since I am a man of faith and I love God, I’ll be healed. Some have said that because I am a pastor and am doing the Lord’s work, I will be healed. Many have said that God would bless my faithfulness by giving me good health. Others have said, “It’s all going to be okay.” Now, they’re right and they’re wrong. God will one day heal me, but it might not come here on earth. I may never get to pick up my baby in this life. However, in the next, I will not shed another tear as I ponder whether I will ever be able to play ball with my sons. In this life I may not be able to button my shirt and put on my shoes by myself, but in the next life I will be perfectly dressed in Christ’s righteousness. Instead of promising deliverance in this life, point them to God’s presence and a future hope that will never let them down.

Loving Those Who Hurt

You may think you have the right approach and goal in caring for your friend going through depression, your sick elderly mother, a couple struggling through a miscarriage, or a friend grieving the loss of a career, but it doesn’t matter how sincere you are if you're way off target. I have had conversations with many individuals who had good intentions, but at the end of the day they only exacerbated my hurt. And sometimes I thought I was doing good for someone else when I was actually causing more pain. In our sincerity we can still be wrong! We need God’s help to care for our friends who are distressed.
Here is a brief discussion about ten approaches to caring for the hurting that look helpful on the surface, but in the end may only add to the pain. Through this list, I hope you’ll see that God’s love triumphs in your weaknesses. We don’t know the answers, and we can’t fix things, but he is faithful to care for our friends in the midst of their pain.
1. Don’t Be the Fix-It Person
“I’ve been thinking about you. I’ve picked up this brand-new organic, all-natural ointment that will surely heal your disability. My grandmother used it for her foot pain, and it went away in a week. It should heal you too!”
The truth is, nobody wants another treatment, ointment, acupuncture reference, or diet that is 100 percent guaranteed to get their hopes up higher than they’ve ever been before. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been handed another bag full of exotic creams in some language I couldn’t understand. I can’t count the number of times people have given me something that they claim has healed someone with the same ailment that I have. When you make these claims and guarantee healing, it may highlight to the one who is hurting that you have no idea what kind of issues they are actually dealing with. It’s in our nature to want to offer a solution for a problem—and that’s great! We yearn to help and often have great intentions by wanting to fix things. The heart behind this is wonderful, but sometimes the best help is a listening ear to the problems that a person is really facing. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” A better approach would be to ask more questions and grow in your understanding of another’s pain rather than offering solutions for something you know very little about. Sometimes the best thing you can do is say, “I’m sorry, can you help me better understand what you are going through?” And then listen.
2. Don’t Play the Comparison Game
“Oh, wow, you have arm pain. I had tennis elbow one time, and it was really rough. I couldn’t play any sports for a couple of weeks. I know exactly what you’re going through.”
Unless you’re Jesus, it almost never helps to tell someone that you know exactly what he or she is going through. We think we’re encouraging others by proclaiming we’ve gone through something similar, when in reality what they’re going through may be much different from our past experience. It is certainly not exactly the same. Another way you might play the comparison game is to point out other people who have it worse than your friend. We might think we’re helping when we tell someone who has a hurt leg, “Well, at least you still have a leg. There are thousands of people around the world who don’t have any legs, and they can’t walk at all. Praise God for the leg you have!” But how is that supposed to make the person feel? Not better, that’s for sure. When you do this, you minimize another person’s suffering. You are making your suffering friend feel like his pain is “no big deal.” To people in pain—whatever their issue is—it is a big deal. A person’s suffering is no small suffering to that person in that moment. If you minimize a person’s pain, it will compound his hurt even more. And when a person’s experience of his real pain is invalidated, then he is not pointed to Christ for hope and help. Why bother Jesus with something that’s really no big deal? A better way forward is to say, “I love you,” and “I am so sorry,” and to pour out your heart in compassion for the one hurting because what he’s going through is difficult and unique to him. Rather than working hard to remember your distant relative who went through something similar and sharing those stories, show sympathy and love for the hurting person who is right in front of you. Instead of comparing your friend to someone you know, you might say, “I don’t pretend to understand what you’re going through, but I want to try. Help me understand how you are feeling.”
3. Don’t Make It Their Identity
“Hi, nice to see you. How’s your back? Is it feeling any better? Have you gotten any rest? Are you in a lot of pain right now? How is it compared to how you were last week? You really don’t look very good right now, maybe you should sit down.”
Another of the ten commandments of what not to do for your hurting friends is to bring up their pain so much that it becomes their identity. If you talk about it all the time, you are at risk of defining them by their struggle and pain as if that’s all they’re about. We need to be careful to not constantly bring up their suffering. At the same time, we want to show we care, so this is a tough balance to keep. As you care for your friend, it is important to remember that if your friend has a disability, he is not fundamentally a disabled person. If he is a Christian, then he is a Christian who has a disability. If your friend has lost his job, he is not fundamentally an unemployed person. If he is a Christian, then he is a Christian who is unemployed. As a Christian, his primary identity is as a son of the living God. He is a human being who has an immortal soul, redeemed out of the kingdom of darkness.
The apostle Paul understands this truth but goes even further and says that the fundamental identity of Christians is that they are in Christ. That despite our sin and wickedness, God did the following: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:4–7). A believer now lives in light of a completely new reality. Our sinful condition is reversed. We have gone from being enemies of God to being “in Christ” (v. 7). This is the reality for the Christian. Now that we are saved by grace, God views believers as he views his Son. This is remarkable. When God the Father looks at us, he sees Jesus. When he looks at a Christian who has a disability, he doesn’t primarily see disability; above all, he sees his Son. When he looks at a Christian who is weak or sick, he doesn’t see sickness—he sees our Savior. As we interact with believers who are hurting, realize that their identity is that of being in Christ Jesus. When you speak to them, help them draw their gaze to Christ so they can see things from an eternal perspective, and consistently remind them that their identity is not in their circumstances, but in their Savior.
4. Don’t Promise Deliverance Now
“Oh, I just know you are going to get healed. You love Jesus and are faithful to him, so he will definitely heal you. Just be patient and think positive and keep the faith and you’ll be healed in no time at all.”
When we 100 percent guarantee that God will deliver our friends from their suffering in this earthly life, we make God out to be some type of cosmic vending machine. Your prayer requests become command central for getting God to do the exact thing you want, when you want it. When you give the promise of healing to the hurting, you inevitably overpromise and underdeliver. Eventually this message lets you down. If you see God as a vending machine, then you will become disillusioned when your candy bar doesn’t drop after payment has been submitted. When you promise healing for your friend, he will be crushed if it doesn’t happen. Instead of promising deliverance, promise the presence of God.
A Christian worships God for God, because God is more precious than anything this world has to offer. God is the beginning and the end. He’s the goal—more of him, not more of the stuff you think you can get from him. Over the past decade or so, various well-meaning people have kindly told me that God was going to heal me. They have tried to encourage me that since I am a man of faith and I love God, I’ll be healed. Some have said that because I am a pastor and am doing the Lord’s work, I will be healed. Many have said that God would bless my faithfulness by giving me good health. Others have said, “It’s all going to be okay.” Now, they’re right and they’re wrong. God will one day heal me, but it might not come here on earth. I may never get to pick up my baby in this life. However, in the next, I will not shed another tear as I ponder whether I will ever be able to play ball with my sons. In this life I may not be able to button my shirt and put on my shoes by myself, but in the next life I will be perfectly dressed in Christ’s righteousness. Instead of promising deliverance in this life, point them to God’s presence and a future hope that will never let them down.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Gifts Of The Wilderness


Good words for those of us going through wilderness times -  Gifts of the Wilderness by Carolyn Arends
Wilderness seasons are bewildering and lonely. Sometimes it’s easy to identify how you arrived in a desolate place—down paths with names like Diagnosis, or Loss, or Depression. Other times you find yourself in a malaise or a spiritual wasteland seemingly out of nowhere. You were making progress, arranging your life appropriately, and then you took a left turn at Albuquerque and the landscape became fiercely inhospitable.
It’s natural to want to avoid wilderness experiences. Yet the biblical writers suggest that the wilderness is an expected and even necessary part of walking with God. Nowhere is this made clearer than in the life of Jesus.
Matthew’s Gospel lays out for us a vivid depiction of Jesus’ most prolonged wilderness season. First, Jesus’ public ministry is launched with a dramatic moment of affirmation: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’”(Matthew 3:16–17, NIV).
If I were scripting the story, I’d move Jesus from that profound confirmation of his identity directly into his mission. But, instead, the plot takes a sharp twist: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (4:1).
Theology professor Ross Hastings says the phrase “led by the Spirit into the wilderness” reminds him of the day his parents led him by the hand into a hospital ward for a tonsillectomy. The kind of love that wants us to be well is not the kind of love that always leads us somewhere easy.
So why would the Spirit lead Jesus to the wilderness? And why might the Spirit lead us there as well?
The Boot Camp Theory
Pastor Mark Clark loves to picture Jesus’ time in the wilderness as Navy Seals training. Like an elite soldier, Jesus had to endure the most extreme regimen imaginable to prepare him for his mission. The mandates and methods of the Kingdom of God needed to be so deeply ingrained that he could stay true to them under any degree of pressure.
Clark jokingly imagines implementing a radical discipleship program in which recent converts are put through the wringer like marine recruits until they can recite Scripture under highly stressful conditions. It’s a silly—and scary—proposal. But there is something to this theory of the wilderness.
Read the rest at the link 

Friday, September 9, 2016

^ Ways To Pray For Our Country

Six Ways You Can Pray For Your Country - by Daniel Darling at the ERLC
This has been one of the most tumultuous years in recent decades. America is riven by racial unrest, violence and terrorism. We’re in the midst of a distressing presidential election marked by division, even among Christians. Key institutions in public life have disappointed.
Much has been written about this moment and how Christians should engage, but what about how we should pray? Stewarding our influence in the public square is important, but not nearly as important as our prayers before a God who hears because of the access purchased by Christ.
How do we pray for America? Here is a prayer guide that you might find helpful for individual, family or group use:
1. Pray for elected and appointed officials (1 Tim 2:2). We talk and complain a lot about politicians, but do we pray as often as we should, as often as we are compelled to pray by scripture? We should pray, not only that our leaders would be use their power well on behalf of the people (Rom 13), but also for the well-being of their families. My suggestion is that pray for all leaders, not just the ones with whom you agree.
2. Pray for candidates running for office (1 Tim 2:2). Regardless of your feelings about the candidates running for local, state and federal offices, you have to admire anyone who is willing to risk public criticism and humiliation in stepping forward. Running for office takes a toll on candidates’ families, opens them up to unprecedented scrutiny and enacts a physical and mental toll.
3. Pray for public servants and first responders. Around the country, at this very moment, millions of men and women wear a uniform and have pledged to protect us from harm. Police officers, fire-fighters, paramedics, search and rescue teams and others put their lives on the line every day in an oft-thankless task. Pray for wisdom and discernment, pray they would use their power well, pray for the wives and husbands and children who kiss them goodbye, not knowing if their loved ones will return.
4. Pray for racial justice. It is clear that there is still much work to be done in our country to heal from our racial wounds and to see more racial progress. We should pray for more unity in our communities and in our country and for leaders who unite, rather than divide. Pray for minority populations who continue to experience prejudice and injustice. Pray for just laws to address racial disparities. Pray that the church will lead the way, showing by its steps toward racial reconciliation, a glimpse of the kingdom, where God will gather every nation, tribe, and tongue.
5. Pray for the recognition of human dignity. Everywhere we look, we see violations of human dignity, from abortion on demand, to the horrific rhetoric some leaders are using to talk about immigrants and refugees, to the violence erupting in the tough neighborhoods in our cities. Pray for laws that see value and worth in every human life, from conception to natural death.
6. Pray for the church. The most powerful institution on earth is the church of Jesus Christ, made up of people from every nation, tribe and tongue. Pray for God’s people to unite together around the good news of the gospel and to commit to living on mission for him in each community. Pray the church would embody the kind of other-worldly values of the Kingdom and point people to the hope found only in Christ. Pray for pastors to boldly preach and teach the word of God and to courageously call their people to Christlikeness.
We don’t always have the answers for the vexing problems that face our country. This should not drive us to despair, but to our knees in humble prayer and repentance. Let’s pray that our hearts will be broken afresh by the fallenness of our world and pray that we’d be obedient to share the good news of the gospel of the Kingdom of God with those who are desperate to hear.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Storm is Coming

A storm is coming. We are facing a cultural, moral, spiritual and political storm. In fact, I think it is already upon us. Are you ready? Read Love: Our Shelter in the Cultural Storm by Trevin Wax
“I’m not sure the people in my congregation are ready for what’s coming.”
That’s the sentiment of many a pastor who sees how the cultural tides are turning against those who adhere to Christianity’s sexual ethic. The tide is bringing to shore a number of challenges, including social ostracism and the potential loss of income, status, or opportunity.
Some of these fears are overblown; but more than a few of them are real. Four dissenting Supreme Court justices just sounded the alarm.
The questions follow: How do we fortify believers for this cultural moment?
How do we ensure that Christians remain steadfast, committed to Scripture, and immune to activists whose ideologies threaten schism concerning issues that the Church has always been united on?
How do we prepare people to bear the stigma of the world?
The simplest, most profound answer is: through love.
In the passage where he calls New Testament believers “sojourners” and “exiles,” the Apostle Peter starts off by addressing them as beloved (or loved ones, or dear friends – depending on your translation). Beloved. There are two senses of “being loved” that prepare us well as sojourners and exiles.
Loved By the Family

At the first level, Peter is speaking about being part of the beloved family of God. This is the love that we have for brothers and sisters.
Thus, one of the ways we equip believers to bear the stigma of standing for Christ is by doing so together – as the family of God. It’s one thing to be a lone individual taking a stand. It’s another thing to know that there are others are with you.
The last thing we need are believers who adopt a “run for the hills!” mentality and then, like Elijah, bemoan the fact that there are so few who are faithful. There are millions of Christians who have not and will never bow the knee to Ba’al. We belong to this people, and we stand in a long line of men and women who have rejoiced to suffer for the name of the Savior.
The more our world fractures and polarizes, the tighter and stronger our churches must be.
Loved By the Father
At a second level, and more fundamental, Peter is speaking about being beloved by the God who has demonstrated His love through the gift of His Son. We are beloved by God.
It’s common for Christians to think being “in exile” implies God’s displeasure or punishment. This is because we have wrongly applied the exile of the Old Testament people of God to our situation today. The fact that Peter can address “exiles” as beloved means that being a beloved child of God is not at odds with being in exile. And even in the Old Testament, where the exile was in fact a disciplinary moment from God toward His people, the exile did not communicate God’s hatred or His disdain.
Exile is not an accident. In Jeremiah 29, when the prophet wrote his letter to the exiles, he spoke of them as being “sent” to Babylon, as having been “deported” by God Himself. Exile was not an accident back then, and being “in exile” is not a coincidence now. In both cases, God loves His people.
Here’s why this matters for the fortifying of Christian faith and witness in our day. If you fail to get this truth deep down into your heart, if you fail to recognize God’s unfailing, unchanging love for you no matter your circumstances, you will not be able to represent Him well in exile.
The only way you will ever be able to withstand the hatred of the world is if you are immersed in the love of God.
The only way you will ever be able to live without the approval of others is if you are assured of God’s approval of you in Christ.
The only way you can stand against the world when everyone is jeering you is when you know God is there, cheering you on, calling you His beloved child.
Unless we are overcome by the love of God, we will be overcome by the fear of man.
Fortified Faith
Our task is twofold. First, we must strengthen the bonds of the Christian community, creating an oasis of faith, hope, and love in the midst of a decadent culture. A place of love that makes rejection from the world more tolerable because of the embrace we receive from the church. Secondly, we must immerse ourselves again and again in the inexhaustible fountain of God’s love for us in Christ. A fountain that refreshes us with our free and full salvation through Jesus.
Perfect love casts out fear. So, when you look to the future, don’t be afraid. You are beloved.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Most Beautiful People

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

     - Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross

Monday, September 5, 2016

One-Way Trip

“Jesus sends us out on a one-way street: away from ourselves and towards others. It is a one-way trip, with no return ticket. It involves making an exodus from ourselves, losing our lives for his sake,” finding ourselves in God and in others."

      - Pope Francis