Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Circle this one!

Every now and then, I come across a quote that helps me go deeper in my walk with Christ. The quote below challenges us to bring the biggest and most impossible things before God in prayer. It comes from Pastor Mark Batterson's newest book, The Circle Maker. You can also visit his blog and learn more about his ministry and teaching.

Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God. Why? Because they don’t require divine intervention. But ask God to part the Red Sea or make the sun stand still or float an iron axhead, and God is moved to omnipotent action. There is nothing God loves more than keeping promises, answering prayers, performing miracles, and fulfilling dreams. That is who He is. That is what He does. And the bigger the circle we draw, the better, because God gets more glory. The greatest moments in life are the miraculous moments when human impotence and divine omnipotence intersect — and they intersect when we draw a circle around the impossible situations in our lives and invite God to intervene. Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20

Going against the grain

A prophet is first and foremost God's mouth piece. They are called by God to speak the words of God to the high and mighty and to the low born.

They cannot simply speak from their mind; the prophet speaks God's words. Sometimes the words are words of comfort; other times the words are words of rebuke and coming judgment.

No one in their right mind aspires to be a prophet. Faithful prophets never live long enough to collect a pension. One becomes a prophet through the call of God.   

During times of national crisis and moral breakdown the prophet must courageously step to the front and speak an unpopular word of truth. The prophet is always going against the grain of conventional thinking. This is why most people hesitate to have the prophet over for dinner or desserts. They are afraid that the Servant of God might say something that crashes the party.

One of the saddest cries in Scripture is the Lord lamenting the spineless antics of the prophets in Samaria and Judah:
Among the prophets of Samaria I saw something disgusting: They prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray. Among the prophets of Jerusalem also I saw a horrible thing: They commit adultery and walk in lies. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, and none turns his back on evil. They are all like Sodom to Me; Jerusalem’s residents are like Gomorrah. Jeremiah 23: 13-14

Instead of being part of the answer to Israel's crisis, they became part of the problem. They gave the people what the people wanted to hear. So the Lord warns, “This is what the Lord of Hosts says: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They are making you worthless. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the Lord’s mouth. They keep on saying to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said: You will have peace.’ They have said to everyone who follows the stubbornness of his heart, ‘No harm will come to you." Jeremiah 23: 16-17

These prophets were concerned about job security and popularity instead of obeying the Lord. Could it be that a similar lack of courage has afflicted today's pastors, preachers, teachers and church leaders? What must be done to turn this around? Tomorrow I will continue my reflections on Jeremiah 23 and share the path of faithfulness to which God is calling all who lead, teach and preach God's word.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What to do when you don't know what to do!

Have you ever faced a personal problem that out sized your capacity to solve the problem? If you have, how did you deal with it?

Some people are energized trying to find order out of the chaos of life; finding the key to a seemingly intractable riddle empowers them.

For others it can be an excruciating experience where a problem backs them into a dead end; their options are limited and hope fades.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Do what King Hezekiah did in Isaiah 37: 1-20.

Jerusalem was surrounded by the mighty Assyrian army. This reigning super-power had never lost a war. For them, defeating Judah was a simple thing.  Isaiah 36:8

Hezekiah lacked the military firepower to engage Assyria. He was outmatched, out-sized, defeat and death seemed imminent. What did he do?

He waited on the Lord: Isaiah 37:1
Waiting is not passivity or denial of the problem. Waiting is an active process of discernment. The danger we all face when dealing with problems is to find quick solutions to as to escape the pain. But a rash solution will often create bigger problems.

Solomon said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

He listened for God’s word: Isaiah 37:2-7
Waiting and listening are inseparable practices. God is always speaking but we must be still long enough to hear what the Lord says. God’s words provide sustaining hope; God’s words provide direction and God’s words instill courage for the journey.
Psalm 119: 24 is worth memorizing: Your testimonies are my delight, they are my counselors. When you don’t know what to do seek counsel with the Lord.

He took his problems to God in prayer: Isaiah 37: 14-20
One of the things I like to do is read through the prayers of the bible. Hezekiah’s prayer is near the top of the list of great prayers of the bible. In his prayer he does two things:

1.     He reminds himself of God’s character and works. This is important because when we are overwhelmed by a problem the first casualty is memory. We forget what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do.
2.     He recited God’s promises. David said in Psalm 103:2 bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all his benefits.

Whatever you are going through today, or this week, the Lord is saying to you: stand still. Wait on me. I have not forgotten you. I have heard your prayers. Trust me for your days. In an acceptable time I will come and save you. Isaiah 35: 3-4

Question: When you are overwhelmed by a challenge, share some of the steps you take to deal with the problem.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Essential: absolutely necessary and indispensable

Last Tuesday night at our monthly Session meeting(governing board of our church), we spent significant time praying and thinking about essential tenets of our faith.

The word essential means something that is absolutely necessary, indispensable, or basic.

When our church ordain elders, deacons and pastors we ask them to affirm this question:

“Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?”

Essential tenets of our faith address some of the following themes: God Creation
Sin and fall
Grace and Redemption
Jesus Christ/Incarnation
Jesus Christ/Redemption
Salvation by Grace
Faith Alone
Authority of Scripture

Essential Tenet #1: Authority of Scripture
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2Timothy 3:16-17)

When you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers. (1Thessalonians 2:13)

[Jesus] answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.. (Luke 24:44-45)

Scripture and its inherent authority are indispensable to the growth and preservation of the church.

Healthy congregations never try and bend Scripture to fit their experience, but they humble themselves and seek to conform their lives to the bed rock of God's Holy Word!

Those who lead, teach, preach, must also hold a high view of Scripture.

One of my favorite parts of the worship service comes after the reading of Scripture. The Scripture Reader says, "This is the word of the Lord." 

And the people respond, "Thanks be to God!" Within our Reformed heritage we rejoice in the truth and the power of God's holy word.

Question: What role does Scripture play in governing your life?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Loving God with your hands!

As Isaiah stands in the presence of the terrible and awesome God, he overhears the heavenly council discussing a great need: And I heard the voice God saying, whom shall I send and who will go for us? Then I said, here I am, send me.  Isaiah 6:8

There is an outward dimension to worship.

Hebrews 13: 13-15 provides a definition of Christian worship: Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. 

Notice the balance: adoration or the sacrifice of praise, and also action, doing good and sharing with others.

Along these lines, Miroslav Volf says: “There is something profoundly hypocritical about praising God for God’s mighty deeds of salvation and cooperating at the same time with the demons of destruction whether by neglecting to do good or by actively doing evil." (
Miroslav Volf: Reflections on a Christian Way of Being-in-the-World, in Worship: Adoration and Action 203-11)

And then Bonhoeffer’s scathing critique of cowardly Lutheran Christians who sided with Hitler: "Only those who help the Jews may sing the Gregorian chant."

Worship is upward, and inward, but we can’t stop here. Without action in the world, the worship of God is empty and hypocritical and degenerates into irresponsible and godless quietism.

Through this week, take one part from Isaiah 6:1-12 and extend it into your week. Maybe you could focus on worshipping God, praising God, meditating on the holiness of God.

Maybe you need to take the inward section of the text and ask God to search your heart and see if there is any rebellion or sin reigning in your heart.

And then for some of us need to respond this week and serve God beyond this church. You might be too inwardly focused and God now wants you to look at people around you and allow the Lord to send you. Take one part and and expand on it. And then share what you have learned with your fellow believers. Amen

Question: How are you engaged in loving God with your hands?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Take a look inside

Each week at First Pres time is given in the service to offer a prayer of confession. 
Ideally, it’s a time to look inward and examine our hearts before the holiness of God. 

We ask the uncomfortable question: God, what do you expect of us? Such a question is step number one in understanding the inward dimension of worship. 

Worship involves self-examination. Before the brilliance of God’s holiness we discover gaps; the awareness that we are not doing what God expects of us.

Cornelius Plantinga, in his book, Not the way it’s supposed to be: A Breviary of Sin, talks about what happens when we fail to look at ourselves in the light of God’s holiness. Without an acute sense of the holiness of God,

“... morality is simply a matter of personal taste, that all silences need to be filled up with human chatter or background music; that 760 percent of the American people are victims; that it is better to feel that to think; that rights are more important than responsibilities, that even for children the right to choose supersedes all other rights, that real liberty can be enjoyed without virtue, that self-reproach is for fogies, that God is a chum or even a gofer whose job is to make us rich or happy or religiously excited, that it is more satisfying to be envied than respected, that it is better for politicians and preachers to be cheerful than truthful, that Christian worship fails unless it is fun.”

John Flavel, an old Puritan writer, used to say: "You cannot think highly of God and yourself at the same time." Once you've truly seen God, you must humble yourselves before him.

What's Isaiah’s response after encountering God? Conviction of sin. "Woe is me, for I am undone." The closer we  walk with God, the more quickly we feel our sin and realize how much we need God. Isaiah 6:5-7

It's like a huge mirror with a great big light over it. Stand away from the mirror, things look pretty good: suit looks in order; tie looks straight; the hair, what's left of it, is combed.

But move towards the mirror, things begin to show up. The suit has a spot on it. The tie is a bit wrinkled. The hair is out of place. Get closer to the bright light, and the clearer the defects. 

Same way when we get close to God. Get close to God, and suddenly we realize how much we need him and how far we are from him. We're convicted of our sin. And to be convicted of one’s sin is a good thing. Remorse over one’s sin is the prelude to repentance and forgiveness. This is what happened to the prophet. He was cleansed of his sin. When was the last time you felt undone in the presence of God?

Question: Has there ever been a time when worship moved you to repentance?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What's your worship style?

Be honest. Isn't this THE question people like to ask? Or they may ask, what kind of worship does your church have? Blended? Contemporary? Traditional?

Embedded in this question is an inner yearning to experience worship in a personal and satisfying way. Worship, when framed this way, feels like going to the movies.

When I hear a buzz about a certain movie, I want to go and see it because movies are entertaining. So I will ask, "What kind of movie is it?" If it's a chick-flick, no thanks!

I want you to take a different approach. Instead of thinking about worship style, think about worship through Isaiah 6: 1-12

Here, the question is not about style, or buzz factor, but about the subject and object of worship.

In Isaiah 6 worship is about God.

Worship is upward
Worship is not worship unless it has an upward dimension.

What did Isaiah see when he entered the temple?

I don’t think he saw the band’s instruments? Are they going to play organ music or contemporary music?

He wasn't watching the clock. Am I going to be able to get in and out in 60 minutes of less?

When Isaiah entered the temple, he said, “I saw the Lord.” Isaiah 6: 1-4

He also noticed that others were worshiping God. Worship is not restricted to human beings. There are others worshiping God right now; and today isn't even Sunday.

The angels worship God too. And I can guarantee that they are not asking each other what’s your worship style? Revelation 4: 6-11

In the courts of heaven God has no rival. In heaven, worship is an unending expression of adoration to almighty God.

If there is such a thing as a worship style, Isaiah would say, my style is to see the Lord when I enter the temple; that's all I want. What's your worship style?

To the reader: How would you answer the question if you were asked about worship style?

Monday, January 23, 2012

True Spirituality according to the bible

Lots of people responded to my sermon on Sunday about being a spiritual person. People are hungry for something more than what the material world has to offer. This is the cry of the human soul.

Many in attendance were encouraged to go deeper in their walk with Christ and to set clear boundaries around spirituality.

Others were not so positive; which is quite fine. I have never tried to present sermons in order to attract positive responses.

Biblical spirituality is markedly different from any garden-variety spirituality.

Here are the basic points from Sunday's sermon:

A spiritual person is centered on Jesus Christ I Corinthians 2:3
If you say you are a spiritual person but Christ is not Lord of your life, Lord of your tongue, Lord of your money, Lord of your body, question your spirituality.

A spiritual person is led by the Spirit into all truth  1 Corinthians 2:12
Anyone can read and understand truth but unless the Spirit of God engenders love for God’s truth, they can never, ever, know God’s ways. God’s ways are revealed through the Spirit who searches the deep things of God.

A spiritual person is submitted to the things of God 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 
One of the clear signs that you are spiritually grounded is that you have a desire to give more and more of your life to the things of God. You want to know Christ.
The ultimate goal of the spiritual life is to become more like Christ! I Corinthians 2:16

For reader: In what way/s is your church or your spiritual disciplines helping you become more like Christ?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

John Piper: 15 things to consider about abortion

Given that today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, here are 15 things to consider about abortion:

1. Existing fetal homicide laws make a man guilty of manslaughter if he kills the baby in a mother's womb (except in the case of abortion).

2. Fetal surgery is performed on babies in the womb to save them while another child the same age is being legally destroyed.

3. Babies can sometimes survive on their own at 23 or 24 weeks, but abortion is still legal beyond this limit.

4. Living on its own is not the criterion of human personhood, as we know from the use of respirators and dialysis.

5. Size is irrelevant to human personhood, as we know from the difference between a one-week-old and a six-year-old.

6. Developed reasoning powers are not the criterion of personhood, as we know from the capacities of three-month-old babies.

7. Infants in the womb are human beings scientifically by virtue of their genetic make up.

8. Ultrasounds have given a stunning window on the womb that shows the unborn at eight weeks sucking his thumb, recoiling from pricking, and responding to sound. All the organs are present, the brain is functioning, the heart is pumping, the liver is making blood cells, the kidneys are cleaning fluids, and there is a fingerprint. Virtually all abortions happen later than this date.

9. Justice dictates that when two legitimate rights conflict, the limitation of rights that does the least harm is the most just. Bearing a child for adoption does less harm than killing him.

10. Justice dictates that when either of two people must be inconvenienced or hurt to alleviate their united predicament, the one who bore the greater responsibility for the predicament should bear more of the inconvenience or hurt to alleviate it.

11. Justice dictates that a person may not coerce harm on another person by threatening voluntary harm on themselves.

12. The outcast, the disadvantaged, and the exploited are to be cared for in a special way, especially those with no voice of their own.

13. What is happening in the womb is the unique person-nurturing work of God, who alone has the right to give and take life.

14. There are countless clinics that offer life and hope to both mother and child (and father and parents), with care of every kind lovingly provided by people who will meet every need they can.

15. Jesus Christ can forgive all sins and will give all who trust in him the help they need to do everything that life requires.
 This post is adapted from Pastor John's article on Desiring God.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dealing with Conflict

I am currently leading our congregation through a study of I Corinthians during morning worship. Even a cursory reading of Paul's letter signals to the reader that this church had major problems. 

The first problem Paul addressed was the way they handled conflict. This got me thinking about the wisdom of Proverbs in dealing with human conflict. 

Conflict can actually be good if handled in a godly and honest way. Some of us come from homes and relationships that avoided conflict and fostered a peace at any cost relationship. This is not a helpful way to live. Like compressed steam without a release valve, conflict avoidance eventually explodes, destroying a marriage, a friendship, even a church. 

Conflict is a given. But how do we process our differences in a manner that is constructive? Is this even possible? The writer of Proverbs seems to think so. 

Anger Management
The greatest source of strife and conflict comes from an inability to control one's feelings. Move your cursor over the following verses and you will see what I mean:
Proverbs 10:12
Proverbs 13:10
Proverbs 15:18
Proverbs 17:14  (I love the imagery behind this text)
Being angry is not a sin; but Scripture's advises be slow to anger and be quick to listen (James 1:19; Proverbs 16:32).

Filled with the Spirit
Scripture commands us, "Be filled with the Spirit!" Signs that the Holy Spirit is in control are evidenced through attitudinal fruits of the Spirit. 
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

God did not give us the power to control how another person might act or react toward us. But God has given us the power to control how we respond in given situations. Being filled with the Holy Spirit and managing our emotions goes a long way in handling every imaginable conflict. 

To the reader: What other steps should be considered when dealing with conflict?  

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bringing delight to God?

Is it grandiose to think that frail mortals can bring delight and praise to God? After all, God is all together holy, self-existent, and full of perfect glory. Why would God need us? 

However, God who is--self-existing, perfect, and independent--would nevertheless create and enter into covenantal relationships with creatures in freedom and love!

Karl Barth makes the point that the God who is God without us has nevertheless determined to be God with us. 

This sense of God with us affords the privilege of bringing delight to the heart of God. In what way?

First, God’s delight is not in the strength of the horse,
          nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
          but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
          in those who hope in his steadfast love.
(Psalm 147:10-11)

A related passage cautions, 
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom 
   or the strong boast of their strength 
   or the rich boast of their riches, 
    but let the one who boasts boast about this: 
   that they have the understanding to know me, 
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, 
   justice and righteousness on earth, 
   for in these I delight,” 
            declares the LORD. Jeremiah 9: 23-24

How might we take our ordinary, every day lives and bring joy and delight to the creator of the ends of the earth? The Psalmist says when we stand in awe of, and put the full weight of our existence, not in ourselves but in God's steadfast, unfailing love. In an infinitesimal way, I also feel delight when my three children trust me, or come to me for advice, or look to me for help and protection.  

Jeremiah says we bring delight to God by refusing to boast about our accomplishments as if we got to where we are by ourselves. God takes delight when we graciously thank Him for all his gifts. Boast only about the fact that we know God as the epitome of kindness, justice and righteousness in the earth. 

Paul asks a provocative question:  What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? I Corinthians 4:7

Today and through the coming weekend shift the focus from yourself, your problems, your shiny toys, and center your thoughts on delight. Center your thoughts on pleasing God, saying thanks, finding a quiet place to pray, or acting courageously on behalf of someone who needs your help. Bringing delight is reciprocal; we also experience happiness and deep, inner joy. Why not try it?

To the reader: What are some other practical ways one might bring delight to God?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Soul's Desire

Psalm 105: 3-4
Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!

This is the longing of my heart. Something about these words have captured my heart
and thankfully will not let me go.

Seeking the Lord? Is the Lord lost,or is he hiding and now I have to find God, the way  I seek for my lost keys? Of course not!

I seek the Lord because he first sought me.

I seek the Lord because his love captured my heart.

I seek the Lord because I am lost.

I seek the Lord and his presence because I am weak. Remember the line in that hymn,
prone to wander, Lord I feel it; 
prone to leave the God I love...

I seek the Lord because knowing God keeps my feet at home in his courts.

I seek the Lord because His exquisite joy fills me up.

More than food, more than movies, more than books, more than anything in this world,
I seek the Lord and I am satisfied with good things and my strength is renewed.

I seek the Lord because I am a pastor. And being a pastor is complex.

I seek the Lord because God helps me unravel the complexities of being a pastor,
a husband, and a dad.

I seek the Lord because I love God. Religious showmanship diminishes integrity of heart.
God is not present in those moments when I succumb to religious pretensions.

God is not present when I focus on impressing people.

Seek the Lord and His strength.
Remember the wondrous works that he has done!

To the reader: Why do you seek the Lord? What difference does knowing God and being known by God make in your life?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

4 ways to pass faith along in your home

The family is the central place for nurturing faith. This is the place where prayer, reading scripture, and the language of faith is best formed. 

What about church school? Discipleship classes at church do help but they really only supplement what is happening at home. Think of it this way: there are 168 hours in the week. Your child will spend at the most two hours per week at church.

If all of the family’s spiritual nourishment happened at the church, that family would starve to death!

The church cannot provide all the spiritual nourishment that a family needs. What is happening with the remaining 166 hours in the week?

Families are busy with many pressing demands: career, grocery shopping, sports, dance lessons, attending worship, chores, and many other activities.

Unfortunately, these pressing activities tend to displace faith formation and spiritual rhythms in the home.

I am always saddened when I hear a parent lament their adult child’s rejection of church and faith. “I don’t understand,” the parent says, “I raised them in the church.”

Such statements signal an imbalance between spiritual formation in the home vs. faith formation in the church.

So what should you consider as you develop deeper spiritual rhythms at home?

1. Know and model truth Psalm 78: 1
Since we can’t depend on the church to supply all the spiritual insight needed to develop faith, it’s very important that parents invest themselves in knowing and modeling God’s truth. Faith is more caught than taught. Children will treasure what their parents treasure. Psalm 78: 1-3

2. Teach God’s ways Psalm 78: 4
Deuteronomy 6: 5 says that the essence of true faith is to love God with everything that we have.

Loving God is not a Sunday foray into a sixty-minute worship experience. Loving God is an every day, all encompassing relationship.

Notice Deuteronomy 6: 6-9
First, loving God is a priority of the heart; then teach your children how to love God in the natural ebb and flow of life. When going on walks; when doing chores; while driving in the car, as you go to bed at night. Don’t give them twenty minute sermons. They won’t remember your lectures, but they will remember encountering God’s truth in Scripture and in the ordinariness of life.

3. Take the long view Psalm 78: 5-6
Here’s the reason why we are committed to passing faith along to our children: so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God but keep his commandments. This is not a quick fix that happens overnight. Discipleship takes time.

Taking the long view also means influencing the next generation. My good friend asked me years ago, “Ray, how many generations do you want to impact?” Psalm 78: 6-7 envisions the next generation knowing God, even their children and that even the yet unborn might one day arise and teach their children! That's at least four generations!

4. Remember the grace of God
If you are reading this with sighs and feelings of guilt, you have missed the point. No parent is perfect. I am asking you to do something as opposed to nothing. God is gracious and can take the seeds we plant at home in our family and cause them grow and bear fruit. May the Lord help us as we reach our families for Christ.

To the reader: What else would you suggest to those seeking to nurture faith at home? Write your thoughts below.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Be Encouraged

God is speaking. Are you listening?
God speaks through the wonders of creation (Psalm 19: 1-6).
It's cold outside but take a walk and listen to the voice of God.

The heavens declare the glory of God.... 
Day to Day pours out speech, night to night reveals knowledge. 

The Lord is speaking through his precious word.
You started 2012 with the goal of going deeper with God through Scripture.
 How's that going?

Those stubborn, ingrained habits are hard to overcome.
Developing and sustaining a spiritual discipline is never easy.

Be encouraged.
Persist in your desire to dwell in God's word.
God is speaking. He loves when you walk in his will.

Be encouraged.
God desires that you know him.
Ask and you shall receive. Pray for Scripture desire; God will grant it!

Be encouraged.
Remember all the benefits that will be yours when you walk with God
in the light of Holy Scripture:

        The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
(Psalm 19:7-11 ESV)

Be encouraged.
The Lord is present for you now.
Ask for ears that actually hear. The rewards are great!

Question: What are you discovering in your reading of Scripture?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lessons for Christians from Christopher Hitchens?

Christopher Hitchens, the man who energized the New Atheists movement, died on December 15th. Here's a well written article by Dr. Al Mohler where he outlines 5 key lessons that Christians can learn from Mr. Hitchens.

Here's an excerpt:
In Letters to a Young Contrarian, published in 2001, Hitchens had written that he was “not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.” Hitchens did not want to be confused with amateur atheists or with “the generalized agnosticism of our culture.” No, he was the enemy of religious faith and any claim of belief in God.

Click here for the rest of the article.

Question: Why do you believe in God? What difference does knowing God make in your life?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Goodness, Love and Mercy

Reading Job raises questions about the goodness, love and mercy of God. Job's story is well known: in a rather short time, Job experienced a virtual tsunami of horrific tragedies that overturned his well ordered life. He lost his ten children, his homes, his health, his reputation, his marriage almost splintered under the strain and he lost his accumulated wealth.

Question of the ages
The question that is asked repeatedly is why? Not just why people in general suffer, but why do the righteous suffer?

No definitive answers are given, even though his "friends," with their "cause and effect" view of morality, insist that Job committed an unrighteous act against God and is therefore suffering for the wrongs he has done. This is view is prevalent in the minds of people today. It's another version of works-righteousness.

His "friends" were supposed to provide comfort to him (Job 2:11), but Job ends up calling them miserable comforters with simplistic answers ( Job 21:34) because they prodded and lectured him with their self-righteous ways. The ignorance of Job’s friends shows how small a part of any situation is the fragment that they see. 

Life is hard
The only real answer given is the mystery of God. Job illustrates for the believer that life is tenuous. Every material thing and possession has stamped on it temporary. We live in a fallen world where suffering and pain abounds on every hand but Job reminds us that God is present, not absent; God is redeeming the world through Christ.

Only God has the answer
In the end, only God is constant. Our responsibility is not to unravel the mystery of God's ways but to trust, obey and submit our lives to the eternal plan of God (Job 42:1-6).

Calvin emphasized that whatever God has decreed that has not yet been publicly revealed through God's prophets is beyond our capacity to know. We must not try to figure out God's ways; that's an exercise in futility (Isaiah 55: 8-9). Rather we must trust in the revealed will and ways of God---goodness, mercy, and love. In the end this is only truth that comforted Job.

Question: In the times you have suffered what have you  learned about yourself and God?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Get this book to help you pray!

K.K. Yeo and his family are members of First Pres. Evanston. He is a prolific author, the Harry R. Kendall Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, but most importantly,  K.K. Yeo loves God.

His love for God is evident in his most recent book. K. K. just finished a book of prayers centered around parts of the Old Testament. I have been praying these prayers. These are prayers of a man seeking after God. I commend this book to you as a way to pray when you can't pray, or want to pray in fresh and dynamic ways.

I have used this book to pray at home, begin my meetings, and also for personal meditation. Are you interested in deepening your prayers and your love for God? The Spirit Hovers: Journeying through Chaos with Prayers, will help you. K.K., thank you for helping us walk with God! Buy a copy through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Dear Lord,
When your children are too consumed with the instant now,
help us to remember the beginning,
so that our narrow vision
might be healed by your creativity and power.

Help us to transform
that which is formless void and darkness
into meaningful existence and beauty
through power of your Holy Spirit.

When your children are too cynical about the future,
help us to know the beginning
that creates the future,
so that our vision and wonder
might be assured by our coming hope

Help us to trust in you,
knowing that you are the God who raises the dead
and the God who creates out of nothing
all that is good, beautiful, and truthful.

speak to us
so that we learn to embody grace,
and view life in the present
but live towards the end.

Dr. K.K. Yeo

Question: What are some of the challenges you face with prayer? Post your answer below!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This lesson probably saved my ministry

If I am to pastor God’s people with integrity and spiritual insight, prayer has to be the foundation of my life.

I wrote these words in my spiritual journal over 26 years ago. I was days into my first pastoral call. I always wanted to be a pastor. From the age of 18 years old I was already discerning a “burden” on my heart to serve God as a pastor. Back then, I thought the main tasks of a pastor centered around leading congregational meetings, doing activities in the community and preaching sermons.

The Problem
But within the first year I was convinced I was not pastor material. I was stressed, overworked, underpaid, busy trying to nurture my young marriage while consumed with growing this wonderful church on the city’s south side.

I expended tremendous amounts of physical, emotional, mental energy but couldn't figure out how to replenish and nurture my inner life. I was busy doing the work of the Lord and forgot the Lord of the work!

Two biblical solutions
Thankfully, the answers started coming.  In the book of Acts a potential conflict was brewing (Acts 6: 1):

Now in those days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (Acts 6:1). What would they do to solve this problem? Instead of panicking or being stressed by the complaints of the people, the apostles devised a plan.

First, clarity: they were not called to wait tables. “And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2 ESV)

It’s not that waiting tables was beneath them. They could have taken on this project. But given limited time, limited resources, and the need for the whole body to share in the duties of the ministry, it was not proper for them to wait on tables. Their priority would be the preaching and teaching of Scripture (It’s not right that we should give up preaching the word of God).

Second, shared ministry: they selected seven proven, trusted leaders to lead this emerging ministry, while they devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6: 4 ESV).
The next verse sealed it for me:
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7 ESV).

By doing less, or better yet, by doing what only they were called to do, they actually accomplished more. The church grew, disciples multiplied, the people were blessed, God’s word was preached with depth of insight and with power. The apostles took a decisive step to not dissipate their energies with many directions and competing tasks. God honored them with growth.

A key question
Would I use God’s methods or rely on my measly plans? Would I shift my timetable so that prayer and time in the word became the cornerstone of my life, or would I continue being dragged along like a tin can at the back of the car of ministry? This is always the question every servant of God has to answer.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Keeping the main thing, the main thing

One of the sad realities of our time is the loss of confidence in preaching and teaching Scripture. Not just on the part of those who hear, but also for those called to deliver God’s word.

Why is this so? Preaching and teaching Scripture are diminished and muted by the narrative of our own feelings and opinions. What we think or what our favorite authors think is more important than what God says.

Nehemiah 8:1-3 is a refreshing reminder of the importance of Scripture for God's people.

Nehemiah's project was to rebuild the wall and he was successful. After almost 6 months of hard, vigilant labor, the walls of Jerusalem were in place. The people had security.

But something was missing. They also need to rebuild their spiritual walls. This is where Ezra comes in.

Having new walls is nice; but having a new heart is more important.

Nehemiah restored the physical walls; Ezra would restore spiritual walls. Nehemiah brought the people back to the land; Ezra would now bring the people back to God.

How did he do it? He used the Words of God. Are you sure? What about music? What about programs? These things have their place. But they are not central, or even essential.

Here's what Ezra the priest did (See Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 8:

1. He gathered the people as one
2. He brought the book of the Law of Moses, the word of God before the assembly.
3. Everyone, men and women, gathered to hear God's word
4. They took the time to engage with Scripture: from early morning to the middle of the day (not very Presbyterian if you ask me!)
5. People gave their attention to the Word of God
6. After reading from God's word, the sense, or the interpretation was given, so that people could understand and apply what was read.
7. The response was moving: all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 

God’s word, changing lives, restoring spiritual brokenness, and building up God’s people.

Oh that God's word would be as powerful in our midst today as it was in Ezra’s day. 

Question: Can you remember a time when God’s word touched your life?