Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Time for Change?

I am considering a new blog. You can check it out at http://breakingthrough.tumblr.com/ and let me know what you think. Be sure to read why I am thinking of changing. What needs challenged/change in your life?

More thoughts for young leaders from Ed Young

The Cussing Pastor

Advice from Pros

As a young preacher, I actively look for and soak in as much advice from more experienced preachers and pastors as I can. And I am thankful when they share. James MacDonald is someone I have a lot of respect for and he shares a few tips for young preachers here.

If you've got experience, who are you sharing it with?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Inside Out Living

I just finished my first ever sermon series. It was a three-parter that was entitled "Inside Out Living." It was a great series to be a part of and to see how it impacted people. Here's the short version: we are to have three priorities in life: #1 is a relationship with God, #2 is our family, and #3 is community. We talked about one priority each week. The first week I focused on John 15, in which Jesus says "you must remain in Me, apart from Me you can do nothing." God has invited us to have a 24/7 personal, deep, relationship with Him - and if we don't have that as our first priority in life, everything else will be more difficult. Our other relationships will be more difficult, coping with stress and trials will be more difficult - because we will not have a solid foundation built under us to support and strengthen the other areas of our life. I invited folks to try using a watch or cellphone (something that will beep on the hour) to remind them every hour just to notice God's presence with them, as a way to begin remaining in God. Brother Lawrence called it practicing the presence of God.

In week 2, we explored the family. Our family is to be our next highest priority - above all else besides our relationship with God. We talked about how important it is to make our marriage a priority, and I shared my own story of struggling with that (from one of my previous posts entitled "Quality Time." This resonated with quite a few people. Why do we assume no one else is struggling and that everyone else does marriage without any effort? EVERY marriage relationship takes a ton of TIME and COMMITMENT, as well as a lot of love. We also talked about how raising your kids needs to be a priority as well (in front of hanging with friends, golfing, etc.). As a family, we have to plan God into our everyday lives. Deuteronomy 6:4-7 tells us that we should impress God's commandments upon our children and discuss them at all times. It should be a part of the family's life (how we spend time, how we use our finances, maybe setting up family values). Healthy, functional families are incredibly important in this day and age, and both the aspects of marriage and raising our kids right have to be a priority.
The final week, we talked about community, or in essence everyone else. As a corporate body, we the Church have a responsibility to build community. Acts 2:42-47 tell us what that looked like in the early church - they spent all their time TOGETHER, and they shared every good thing they had with anyone in need. The 2 results were that they found favor in the eyes of all the people, and the Lord added to their number daily. If we want similar results, we have to adopt a similar desire to come together to help people. There is SO much more that every church could be doing, without a tremendous effort. And when we are not invested in helping those who are hurting, addicted, and lonely in the community, we are essentially saying "You don't matter, and I don't care." Jesus said "if you want to be great, you have to be the servant of all." As they did in Acts, we must serve others in our community, and that is what will make our church something special. Also, as individuals and families, we need to make community a priority too, and we do that by committing to missional living. This means being intentional in what you do every day. Getting to know people in your neighborhood, at work, at the coffee shop, building relationships with them, praying for opportunities to help and to have discussions - not just living every day for yourself, but for others.

Our jobs are important, as are many other things in life - but those other things CANNOT take PRIORITY over God, Family, and Community. When we cram other things into those priority slots, our worlds get messed up. If you have more than 3 priorities, you have no priorities. Inside Out Living works like this - it begins on the inside with that relationship with God, but it isn't meant to stop there. We have to begin to bring that out into the rest of the areas of our lives and show people every day the difference it makes to us. Later on in Acts, those folks were not known as Christians, but as The Way. The reason for this is because they didn't just believe in a set of principles, they had a unique and entirely different way of life that stood in contradiction to the mainstream culture. Are you just a Christian or are you following The Way?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sermon Prep - In the Trenches

As I have gone through life, especially in the last 5 years, I have grown more and more confident that God IS out there, and He IS involved in my life directly. There have been so many "coincidences" that I just can't call them that anymore. The sermon series that I am working on right now has been an amazing experience. The first week I was struggling to get my direction for my first sermon. I had a lot of stuff gathered in front of me, but it just wasn't coming together. I did something I've never done before - I literally got down on my knees, bowed down and said "OK God, I NEED your message, and I'm not getting up from here until I have it. What do they need to hear You say tomorrow?" And I stayed there for a while. Eventually I heard "Remain in Me" and knew I had finally found my direction. I got up and prepared my sermon.

I struggled the day of that first sermon and was attacked with thoughts/ideas of me having bombed the sermon and being a loser - to the point that I didn't even want to preach the second service. But I worked through it, finished the day, but felt lousy. I have told myself and others many times - if I know I preached what God wanted me to, that's all I need to feel satisfied. But, this week, for the first time in a long time - not one single person said a positive or encouraging word to me after the services. No one! It was silent. People were talking, but no one approached me at all. For the first time, I had to deal with whether I really believed what I said - if I did what I know God wanted me to, am I really ok if no one responds in any way? It was TOUGH.

I struggled to get back on track for the next week's sermon, but once I began thinking through it and spending a little time with it, I was totally re-energized for the message of this series. God lifted me up and helped me know that I WAS on track, and it didn't matter what people said or not. The second sermon was delivered and a lot of people were positively affected by it and told me so. Coincidently, after my second sermon, several people told me how much they got out of my last sermon. One person even said - I meant to call you this week and tell you, but I just didn't. I think God was preventing that so I could work through it the way I needed to. Momentum is picking up now, and I KNOW I'm on target with this series and I am so thankful to be used by God in this.

I began last night preparing the final sermon in this series. As soon as I sat down, several key things came together with an awesome passage of Scripture, and even some things I was working on several years ago are going to play in huge with this week's message. I put together a rough 4 pages last night almost effortlessly. I got some key phrasing in place to tie the whole series together really well. The Holy Spirit is really carrying me now. I am SO excited to wrap this up - not because it will be over, but to see it come to completion. I got up today and looked again at the Scripture passage I'll be using this week - love it! I got to work today, turned on iTunes to listen to some sermons while I work today (normal habit). I went to Elevation Church podcast from two weeks ago - the Scripture he's preaching on is the very same one I'll be preaching on this week!

I don't enjoy preaching for me, but I can say that I am SO blessed to be allowed to do it, and I enjoy more than I can explain watching God work in my life to prepare messages in me. If I ever used to doubt his direct involvement in my life, I don't anymore. The key is to keep allowing it to be His leading and not moving to far forward on my own. Any of this resonate with you other pastors/leaders out there?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jon and Kate: A Case Study

I've been preaching through a sermon series called "Inside Out Living" and the basic premise is this: You have 3 priorities. God first. Marriage and family next. Everyone else. This past week, I preached on the family. I shared a personal story (from my blog a couple weeks ago) about how my marriage was struggling because we hadn't made it a priority, and how difficult it is with busy schedules, and children, etc. Thankfully, God helped both of us see the path we were headed down and we got things turned around and are kind of doing a self-counseling thing together now by going through the book "The Love Dare" - HIGHLY recommend it to ANY couple! As I shared and really pushed the idea that a relationship with God MUST be your first priority in life, and right behind that your relationship with your spouse, and right behind that your relationship with your kids - then comes everyone else. I then spoke to the fact that you have to put tons of time and commitment into your marriage, as just loving someone may not be enough - as my wife and I never stopped loving one another, but weren't spending enough quality time together. I had a lot of young folks coming up saying things like, "good to know we're not alone" and "I'm in the same situation you were/are." There are tons of people out there who are struggling in their marriage relationship and they have no idea why.

Enter Jon and Kate. They have been smeared all over the tabloids and internet for months now. They were the happy little, or is it big, family that even went to church on TV at first. Now, tonight was the season premiere and they never even looked at one another and it seems like divorce is a real possibility in their future. They both talked about feeling alone in what they were doing, and they both also said, "I'll keep doing this for the kids." "As long as the kids are happy that's what's most important." My wife and I just felt horrible watching it unfold before our eyes tonight. Regardless of what has or has not happened with Jon and Kate individually, here is yet another couple who has the same problem - their priorities are messed up. I'm sure they both have a relationship with God, but it doesn't seem like it's the FIRST priority in either of their lives. And also, it doesn't seem like they've made their marriage a priority either. They have put their kids (and careers) before their marriage - trouble city!!

We prayed for them tonight during our Love Dare time. I got online to see about sending them an encouraging note. Their personal website was crashed because it had so much traffic. Their TLC site was up, I linked to her blog and read her most recent post (a week ago) and there were 640 comments to her post - MOST of them in response to watching tonight's episode. Hundreds of people are wrecked after seeing what's going on between the two of them. I was going to leave a comment, but the folks who had been there before me had more than covered what I would have said. So I went to my blog instead. SO many people were calling them out on not putting their marriage first, and also trying to persuade them that what's "best for the kids" is a mom and dad who stay together and work it out. I HOPE they get the message.

I'm praying for big things for the two of them. Not because they're celebrities or because they deserve it, or because they have a lot of kids. I'm praying for God to do big things in their relationship because SO many people NEED to see that reconciliation can happen in a marriage. It doesn't have to always resort to separation! What an amazing thing it would be if by the end of this season, they were working it out in front of millions of viewers. Truth be told, I hope they stop the show altogether as I think that is one of the main problems, but before they do, I'd love for God to work a miracle and use them to hammer down this point, and I hope they get God involved in it.

It's not easy, but it is clear - you HAVE TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AS YOUR FIRST PRIORITY IN LIFE. John 15, Jesus says, "Remain in me," "without Me you can do nothing." We will have a horrible time with all other relationships in our life until we get this one where it needs to be. Then right behind that has to be your relationship with your spouse - and it takes love, time, and commitment. And parents, we have to raise our kids right - plan God into your family, make Christian living a part of your everyday life. And of course, we have a responsibility to everyone else around us as well. If you can get your priorities straight, it will change your life, for the better. Without these priorities set, you're in for a long, hard road.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Christians are Judgmental

I include myself of course. It's one of our worst traits, and a major contributor to the bad reputation Christians have today. We're judgmental. Why are we judgmental? Because we're fractured, fallen people just like everyone else. But there's more to it than that. There's this group of ideas that go something like this - they're the world, we're the Church; we're saved, they're not; and the ideas go on from there until we basically see the world as us vs. them and when we see it like that, we simultaneously put ourselves on the right side of the tracks, and everyone else on the wrong side. We're the stuff, everyone else needs help. And then (this is the worst part), THEN - we criticize them for being where/who they are in life.

I just can't get over this. And the sad part is I hear it every day - not from a couple Christians I happen to know as friends that just aren't good people - from Christian radio, from Christian leaders, from pastors, from people who you would HOPE wouldn't be like that. The local morning radio personality here whenever the birthdays of the day are read there is always some "joke" to be made about non-Christian celebrities. My TH morning men's Bible study is thick with put downs for the Democrats, especially since the election. Anytime there are big things on TV, like last night the American Idol finale was on, people begin taking up sides for someone (which is fine), but to the extent that there is namecalling and insulting put out on social networking sites like Twitter and blogs that put down the person they "don't like." I have heard preachers in the pulpit criticize and make fun of other denominations than their own (and those folks are Christians too!). It all SMACKS of pride and hypocrisy, and we tell the world by the things we say that we are judgmental and see them as less than we see ourselves.

I HATE THIS. When we look to the example of Jesus, was this what He modeled? Absolutely not. He always reached out to, befriended, healed, helped, and loved the outcast - those who the religious type of His day wanted nothing to do with because of how "sinful" they were. This judging that we do every day is not what we are supposed to be about, and it certainly isn't making a convincing case for people who look at us claiming to love and accept everyone, and then not living up to it. Are we perfect? No. But are we responsible for our words? Yes. Are we ruining the witness of the Church and of Christ's Gospel by being judgmental of others? Yes.

I encourage everyone to read Gabe Lyons and Dave Kinnaman's book "unChristian." It addressed the main problems Christians are facing right now with our identity, and being considered judgmental is one of the main ones. We're also seen as hypocritical, narrow-minded, old-fashioned, and hating homosexuals. This is what we've done to ourselves, because people listen to what we say and they watch what we do. Our creed doesn't match our deed. And it's going to take a lot of work to get our reputation back. And one of the places it starts is by choosing to use our words to love people, instead of criticize them - even if you don't really mean it, it still comes across the same. Again, I don't exclude myself from this charge - I need to do it just as much as everyone else. So let's encourage one another and start living and speaking in truth and love.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Some of My Favorite People

I think one of the biggest benefits I enjoy by being connected to the people I am through blogs, Twitter, etc. is all the stuff I am exposed to that makes my life better that I otherwise would never have known about. So, to keep sharing the love, here are some of my favorite people, and why you should check them out:

If you want to learn how to be an amazing leader, you gotta check out Andy Stanley and John Maxwell. I also am going for my second time this October to a great leadership conference called Catalyst - I highly recommend it!

Something I am really coming to love and need in my life is authentic living - as defined by speaking and living in truth. Two people who really add a unique perspective to my life, who both live in truth moreso than a lot of others are Carlos Whittaker and Anne Jackson. These two keep it real in a way we all need to be exposed to.

Some men who I highly respect as preachers, because they are unashamed of the Gospel, bold in their Biblical preaching, and model integrity and holy tenacity as church leaders are Steven Furtick, Matt Chandler, and James MacDonald. I also recently came across Tullian Tchividjian and am very interested in some of his ideas and highly admire him.

My wife and I are really striving toward living a lot cleaner and greener this year, and also in light of saving money on electricity and water, etc. we are looking for lots of ideas to help us out. These guys have TONS of ideas: http://www.carbonrally.com/ Also I encourage you to read Matthew Sleeth's story and see his ideas for how we can be more responsible for God's creation.

And the guys at Evernote have changed my life in such a great way I can't possibly not mention them as some of my favorite people. They offer a FREE service that you can put on all your computers and phones, and that is also on the internet that allows you to store tons of notes, documents, pdfs, etc. and sync them up to all other locations you have set up so that you can make a note on your phone while on a trip, and send it to your database where all your other notes are that you will access on your computer when you get home. You can also check the internet site from wherever you are and access the stuff you worked on at home last night. I don't know what your needs are - but there was a big hole in my information transfer needs that they filled - so check them out!

That's it for now. If you're not on the list, trust me, you're one of my favorite people too. I'll do a round 2 sometime, so look for your name there. Anything you've really enjoyed in your life you'd like to share with me?

Oh, and if you couldn't tell, everyone's name is a link to their site. Click.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Love Dare

My wife and I just shared our 5th anniversary. We went out to eat for dinner at one of our favorite places, and as a gift for both of us, I picked up a copy of a book that my best friend Kevin recommended. It is called "The Love Dare." The book is designed for couples to go through together for 40 days. Throughout that time period, the book challenges the couple in many ways. You are asked to examine the things that make you upset, to begin to control your anger and have patience, to share your feelings.

We started today. The very first thing we read about was having patience - especially when your spouse does something to make you angry. Our challenge is to use patience whenever we get upset for the next day and then talk through what that was like tomorrow night. We also spent some time talking about some of the things that make us upset, in an effort to stop doing the things that make us mad to begin with.

As you might expect, the things that she was doing that made me mad - she did not know it was making me mad. Now that she knows, she can take steps to stop putting me in that situation. One thing we talked about was navigation in the car on trips. I thought she was criticizing me in the moment while I was driving - she thought she was helping by suggesting something I could do that would be better. Now that we've talked about it, it'll be better.

The whole point of the book (I assume, since I'm only on day 1) will be that if we as husbands and wives would take time - real, quality, regular time - to sit down and get real with each other and talk this stuff out, we would have healthier, stronger relationships. But so often we just try not to make waves, or we think it will get better, or we think they will pick up on the subtle clues that we leave (THEY WON'T!). In order for a relationship to become unshakable, it first has to be shaken. It's not easy to talk about this stuff through, but it is absolutely essential to any relationship that wants to last.

What has been going on in your relationship that you need to talk about? Will you commit to practicing patience when you're upset and talk through the things that make you angry later when you're calmed down? Is your relationship important enough to do whatever it takes to make it last? Mine is.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Old Self Wants to Party

When I was in college, I spent many weekends out at bars, parties, etc. Mainly drinking, dancing, being loud, hitting on girls, trying not to get in a fight - but feeling ready for one at all times. There was a sense of excitement and adventure leading into a Friday night. Everyone was getting cleaned up and putting on nicer clothes - everyone was in a good mood. You go out and get your buzz going and the night just swept you away. I'm just going to be honest - I loved it. I don't know why really, maybe it was the anticipation of feeling good, the possibility of "romance," and the bravado associated with going out with your friends. But I definitely enjoyed it and did it a LOT.

Fast forward 5 years after I graduated from college. I am still drinking a lot on the weekends, and also pretty much every weeknight too. Except now I am living alone in a different state and I am noticing an ever-increasing rise in the amount I am drinking. I had very little to no self-control. Whatever amount or type of liquor was in the house, as soon as I started drinking I wanted to go until it was all gone, and then some. Thinking back, I was like this in college too. In college there were nights when one friend and myself could drink over 40 beers together. I was once asked by a psychological counselor if I knew that amount of alcohol could have killed me. Oh yeah, I had to see the counselor because I got in trouble numerous times for underage drinking while in college and came within inches from being thrown out of college. I had to see a counselor as part of my punishment. I didn't see back then that I had a problem, only that I was just doing what I wanted to do.

Nice flashback, now back to the future. I was drinking large amounts of beer and also starting to desire hard alcohol more often (stronger buzz). I got married, and she didn't partake hardly at all, but didn't ask me to stop. It was part of who I was when she married me, but I always felt guilty to myself. Maybe because I knew she deserved and expected better but it hadn't caused any real problems yet so it wasn't an issue. I began to realize just how much I was drinking and desired to quit. I started buying smaller amounts, so the opportunity wasn't there. I'd buy a six pack for the whole weekend. But I would also buy another six pack and drink it real quick when I got home (before my wife got home) and then have one from the other pack open when she arrived so if she smelled alcohol on my breath I was covered - but I had 7 when it seemed to her like I had only had 1. I was lying to my wife. I finally stopped buying it altogether because I couldn't even have it in the house, but if we were out somewhere I would have some. Same problem - once I got started I didn't want to quit. I could go for 6 months and not have a drop, and be okay with that. Then we'd go to a work party or something and I'd have one, and another, and 3 more, and - well you get the idea. I couldn't stop.

Finally it all came to a head when I was back in Ohio for a friend's wedding (a Friday night). I was preaching that Sunday at my church. I hadn't had a drink in months, but I decided to just have one with the reception dinner to celebrate. It was over as soon as I had the first drink. I can't tell you how much I had that night, but it was a lot. I was told the next day how obnoxious I had been and also how rude to my wife - I was told this by my wife. I felt...devastated. How was I ever going to get up the next morning and stand before a church and tell them how God wanted them to be living when my life was in shambles. I finally realized I was an alcoholic. I don't know anything technically or officially like to what degree I was one or anything - I only knew that when it has control of you and not vice versa, and when you do things like lie to the people you love in order to get away with it, you have a serious problem. Driving back to Virginia I was a wreck. I cried, I apologized to my wife and to God. I begged Him for forgiveness, to do something to allow me to preach the next day - although I was the most unworthy person ever to do it. On the 6 hour ride, I got a lot straightened out. I received forgiveness and grace, slowly, but it came. I remembered reading something recently about where had all the strong men of the Bible gone - men who would vow things to God and live their lives resolutely. The next day, January 1, 2006, I took a solemn vow to God never to drink again. I knew it was the only thing I could do that I would take serious enough to keep me in check in the future. If I vowed something to God, I could not break that - I wouldn't allow myself to. So I sealed it in Him, and have not had even one sip since.

I have slowly been experiencing healing from my past experiences. That weekend I reconciled with my wife for what I had done, and I reconciled with God. There was one other big thing looming that took more than a year to face - my parents. I had lied to them all the way through college. They had no idea I was drinking and when they asked, I denied it. They never knew I came within inches of being thrown out of college and was on probation for a year. I knew I needed to confess to them, and finally one day I did. It wasn't easy, but a huge weight left me once it was over, and I feel like my relationship with them is better now for having done it. Also, this past January 1, 2009, I had two neat experiences. First, I celebrated being alcohol free for 3 years. Also, on the very same day, my boss (whom I have known for a while now and who I have had many deep talks with) told me that he was giving up alcohol for life, and it had a lot to do with me. I didn't know this, but he went on to tell me he had been having a very similar problem to what I struggled with, and he felt it controlling him. He didn't want this and he knew my story and struggle and how I handled it, and he chose to stop as well. It hasn't always been easy for me, and it hasn't for him either as a lot of what we do as a company is take people out for drinks to celebrate. I just enjoy my never-ending free refills of Diet Coke and the conversations. When people finally realized he wasn't drinking anymore, they were confused and it was hard for him to try to explain, but he's stuck to his guns now for over 5 months. I ask him from time to time how he's doing and we both enjoy sharing the experience of freedom and talking about it.

It wasn't until I was out to dinner last night with my wife that this thought hit me - I struggled with alcohol so I could help someone else who was struggling quit. My struggle had a purpose, and my striving to conquer it and being open and sharing about it with others has made a difference to at least one other person. Actually more than one - we both have a wife and children. The healing continues.

Also when we were out last night, we went to a place that serves good dinner, but after a certain hour is basically a nightclub for young folks. As we were leaving around 9pm, tons of people were beginning to trickle in. They were all dressed nice, coming in with their friends - you could see the sense of adventure in their eyes and the willingness for the night to sweep them away. I still remember that feeling, and for a few moments I longed for it again. That part of me is still there - it's the old self who wants to cast off all responsibility, and go headlong into the night. But instead I walked back outside to the car with my wife and we enjoyed driving around town that evening with the windows down and having a great conversation.

I don't give in to the old self anymore. Since I finally got drinking out of my life and regained control, God has been using me in big ways. He is teaching me and preparing me for big things - as He is you. I know that if I let the old self start partying again, I would head off the path and down a ravine as far as my journey through life. As for me, I'm going to stay on course, and take joy in knowing I'm the person God wants me to be - imperfections and all. I'd much rather be following Him than my old ways. I think this is the first time I have written about my story. Thanks for listening.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Eyes Wide Open (review)

I was recently given a copy of Jud Wilhite's new book "Eyes Wide Open" to read and review. The first page of the introduction says "Too many of us live with a distorted perspective of God." This book goes on to address the many ways our view of God becomes distorted and what we can do to begin to change that perspective and begin living with 'eyes wide open' - really seeing our relationship with God as He sees it.

There are four areas in our lives that our vision needs help in - in relation to God, our identity, change, and influence. Jud starts out working on the way we see God, which in turn affects the way we see ourselves. Once we have corrected the way we see those two things, our lives begin to change and as they do it is our responsibility to have an influence on those around us - to help bring about the same in their lives.

The book is filled with stories from Jud's own experiences as well as those of people he has had interactions with. The stories all illustrate problems we have in our own lives and help us to begin to see the problem. What is the problem? We (for the most part) see God as someone who demands perfection or else, and so we try to live our lives by being as perfect as possible (which ALWAYS fails and leaves us hurt, guilty, and feeling worthless). This is what the devil wants - he wants us to think we couldn't possibly do anything for God - at least not until we become better individuals. That's living with our eyes shut to the real reality of God and what He has done/will do in our lives. When we open our eyes to the way God sees us, and get our sense of identity from Him and Him alone, in His grace - then we will begin to understand that there's so much to do right now, even while our lives aren't perfect. There is a life to be lived that's bound up in God's promises, not in us striving for perfection. "You may still feel like a mess, but... you'll be God's mess."

In and among the many stories, you will also find life-changing insights. Here's how we're living - here's how God wants us to live. Here's something we struggle with - here's how to get past it. One of my favorite parts was towards the end where Jud was discussing authenticity - which is a popular word in Christian culture today. He shared that Jim Gilmore had mentioned to him that "the Bible...doesn't talk about authenticity as we do today. The Bible talks about truth. Living in the truth and sharing the truth." This was a big insight for me as I have been talking about authenticity a lot lately. I have a new perspective on that now - a more Biblical one - we find authenticity in truth. I now challenge myself with how can I live in truth?

The book is a relatively short one and is very easy reading, but don't go too fast through it as there are life-changing words on every page. Regardless of who you are or where you are in your walk with God (whether you have one or not) - there is something in this book that you need to hear. You may not even realize it, but everyone is struggling in one way or another and while Jud doesn't address every problem out there today, he does take you through a process that will help you at least get to where you need to be with God and with yourself in order to begin living out life the way it was intended. Each of us is has our own unique responsibility and path to influence the world around us, but it begins by having our eyes opened to the realities of God's grace and acceptance, and finding our identity in Him and Him alone. "No matter how shaky your life may seem, God is still working.... He has plans for you.... Plans to live with your eyes wide open and fulfill your unique calling."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Why Do We Bother With Prayer?

I have been thinking about this a lot lately - why do some prayers that people pray get answered and some don't? More importantly, if there are prayers that don't get answered, then perhaps God picks and chooses what He wants to do. And if that's the case, why would we even bother with praying? And if God is influenced by our prayers, then that would seem to indicate we have some power over God - that we can in some way tell Him what to do. This would hurt the idea of God being sovereign though. If God's in entire control, which I believe He is, then we can't actually move God to do anything (we have absolutely no power to influence Him) - and again, why would we bother to pray?

So, I am actually teaching on this tomorrow and I've had some time to do some reading and get more information from some other folks. There are three main criticisms we have for prayer. First, that it's just a ridiculous idea. Why do we have to tell God what to do - doesn't He know? Do we really think He cares about our tiny problems? Isn't prayer essentially bullying God into what we want Him to do? All of these things boil down to - it's ridiculous to think this works at all, for numerous reasons. Second, prayer is unnecessary. Look how many people get along just fine without prayer - they have jobs, make money, good health, etc. They get through life without prayer just as well as we do with prayer, sometimes better. You're just wasting your breath - you'd get that stuff even if you didn't pray - it's totally unnecessary. And third, prayer is unproductive - it doesn't always work. What about all the things people have prayed for and NOT gotten? Tests that were failed, aunts who never got better, lotteries that were never won by you, peace in the world that hasn't happened. People pray about that stuff and it doesn't happen, so prayer doesn't really work. Let me address each of these individually.

First, prayer is ridiculous.
Us getting what we ask for depends on us asking first. But this isn't because God is dumb and needs to be told, or that we coerce Him to do our bidding. It's more that He's always ready to give, but we're not ready to receive. When we pray and ask God for things, it is our way of submitting to Him and acknowledging that we are ready to receive from the only One who can give. It's us reminding ourselves and God that we are totally dependent upon Him. God doesn't just drop tons of gifts all over the place regardless of whether people are ready - He waits for them to ask. So, it's not ridiculous, it's the way we let God know we are ready to receive what we know He can give and wants to give.

Second, prayer is unnecessary.
There is an important distinction to note in this discussion. There are two types of gifts - creation gifts and redemption gifts. Creation gifts are bestowed by God as the Creator, and to all creation. Whether you are a believer or not, because you were created by God, He bestows gifts upon you - life, air, rain, food, and the rest of the benefits of being a part of His creation. Redemption gifts are given out to those who have been redeemed - those who have accepted Christ. These gifts are wisdom, hope, increasing faith, strength to get through tough times, forgiveness, etc. These things are not given to all, but to those redeemed.
Creation gifts we get without asking, so yes, there are things that all people get whether they pray or not. But there are other things that people definitely do not get unless they pray, and these are the things we REALLY need to get through life. Those people who make money and have families, but are not redeemed, they have a much tougher time getting through life than a believer because they don't have access to the redemption gifts, except through other people who are believers who touch their lives. So prayer is necessary.

Third, prayer is unproductive.
In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus says "Ask and it will be given to you....everyone who asks receives." But this isn't true, is it? Tons of people ask for things they don't get. This statement is not to be understood as an unconditional, no-strings-attached, offer to anyone in any condition. Prayer is not magic. It's not, 'well I prayed it so God has to do it.' You can't control the sovereign God of the universe, regardless of how much you wish it was that way. If you got everything you asked for, do you really think that would be a good idea? Are you so smart that everything you ask for would REALLY be for the best? Or, since you're not the only person who's praying, what if everyone got what they wanted? Looking further into verses 9-11 of Matthew 7, Jesus uses the illustration of parents and children. If a child asks for something (like something to eat), what parent would give them something useless like a stone, or harmful like a poisonous snake? The parent knows what's best for the child based on what they ask. How much MORE does the all-knowing, good God know what is best for us? Regardless of what we ask Him for, or how often we ask, or how persuasive we try to be - God is not going to give us something that is harmful or useless. He is only going to give us what is good for us - or for the situation we are praying about. God wants what is best for everyone, and this is evidenced through the way He answers prayer. So, when our prayers seem to be unanswered, it's because God knows it's better not to do that (it's for your own good) - it's not that He doesn't hear. Jesus assures us of that in verses 7-8.

So, if you've stuck with me through to this part, you might be thinking - well then what's left to even pray for? Why even bother if God is so picky? He's only going to do what He wants anyway... Yes, He IS in control - He's sovereign and that's far better than us being in control. He will give you good things, when you are ready to receive them. Prayer is necessary for us to let God know that we're ready and we're depending on Him. Prayer also shows God that we trust Him - that we believe He CAN do what we ask.

Prayer is our conversation with God, and it's important, necessary, and it works. But we have to understand how it works in order to benefit from it.

*Many of my thoughts in this post are based on John R.W. Stott's "The Message of the Sermon on the Mount."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Talk Yourself Down

Today Anne Jackson put up a post on her blog that talked about the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other shoulder. Her question was, what do you do when the devil latches on and screams at you that you're not good enough, you're worthless, etc.? You can check out her post and the ton of great responses by clicking here.

I had a similar problem this past year - the devil on my shoulder was leaning on me real hard and tempting me to the breaking point...almost. He was in my thoughts, all the time, working out tons of scenarios that could happen. My inside voice was saying the way wrong things I didn't want it to even be thinking. I was being tempted big time and I wasn't sure how to stop it or what to do to get past it.

Then, the answer came to me as I was reading Chapter 8 of Oz Guinness' book "God in the Dark" one day. He had a few quotes by several different men in there, and I found a few similar ones at the same time too. I'll share them:

"Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?" - Martyn Lloyd-Jones

"Unless we train our emotions, they will lead us around by the nose, and we will be captives to every passing impulse or reaction." - Oswald Chambers

"For my part, I run with a clear goal in front of me; I am like a boxer who does not beat the air; I bruise my own body and make it know its master." - The Apostle Paul

"We have to take ourselves by the scruff of the neck and shake ourselves, and we will find that we can do what we said we could not." - Oswald Chambers

"Moods never go by praying, they go by kicking." - Oswald Chambers

The main point is that we need to take control of the situation. Whether it's a foul mood, temptation, not feeling good enough, or just feeling like the world is getting too overwhelming - we need a new perspective. We need to stop listening to ourselves (because we know our minds can race 100 mph and come up with all sorts of nonsense and fantasy) and begin talking to ourselves. Not in the straight jacket rubber room sense, but speaking truth into the volley of lies and deceptions. Speak Scripture to yourself. Have a couple memorized that specifically deal with a situation you're struggling with and when it comes up, repeat those and ponder them for a while.

You can also call a friend to get some encouragement or a reality check - again, getting a different perspective. You literally can also take over the conversation raging in your head - NO, I'm not like that, I won't do that, it's NOT over. Resolve to think on what you DO want to happen, not what you think could happen in the worst case.

And if you're in a foul mood, sometimes you just need to kick your own butt - snap out of it, watch a funny movie, go for a run, lift weights - go get it out, but take the bull by the horns. Stop letting life run you down and start running your life again. Help is available to you through the aid of God and His Holy Spirit - you're not in this alone. And God is bigger than anything else. Get Him in on your side and the opposition will shrink away.

One last thing - I'm not peddling some you-can-make-it-so-life's-always-easy method. It's not. Life can beat the ever-loving crap out of you sometimes and you just want to crawl in a hole. That's real. But don't let that rule your life - you can bounce back, you can fight it, you can get past it, over it, through it. I know it's not easy, but He's there.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I got to see something pretty cool while I was at work today. Some of my fellow Twitter-ers are in India right now for Compassion International and are doing some really cool work with a lot of children there. If you don't know what Compassion is, check it out here. It's only $32 per month to sponsor a child, and if you can't do that but want to do something still they have an unsponsored children's fund that you can donate whatever amount to.

If you would like to know what this group particularly is up to, check them out at http://compassionbloggers.com/. There are many folks over there, but I am only familiar enough with two to recommend where to find their own personal blogs, which have a lot of stuff about this project too. They are:
Anne Jackson http://www.flowerdust.net/
Pete Wilson http://withoutwax.tv/

They are posting videos and all kinds of other links this whole week and next. Here's a video from Anne Jackson:

There are SO many people in this world that need help. If you're able to, help more. There are millions of people trapped in sex trade, millions who need clean water, millions who need food, millions who need warmer clothes. And many of those people live in your area too. I don't have a strategy for how to figure out who to help - I just go by what I'm able to do when I hear about it or see it. The main point is - DO SOMETHING. As citizens of a wealthy country, we have more than enough resources to route these problems, if we only will.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Natural Selection

We all know that the theory is that evolution occurs via the process of natural selection. The stronger, more healthy animals survive, and the weaker, sickly ones die. Hence animals continually evolve into better, stronger animals. Now, I'm no scientist, and I don't have a textbook in front of me, so excuse the lack of exact correctness, but I think I at least captured the gist. You want the good genes to be passed on, and the bad ones to die with the weak. This is called natural selection.

So here's a question - why do we as a society spend literally billions of dollars trying to cure cancer, or AIDS, or tons of other things that humans contract? Doesn't it stand to reason that nature is selecting these folks so they can be taken out of the equation and humans can continue with the passing on of good genes and evolve? For all the people out there who BATTLE to find cures and who spend their lives donating to and researching for these causes - how do you reconcile the fact that we as humans have an extremely strong urge to fix people when something goes wrong - although natural selection would say that's just how it is, so let it be.

There's something wrong with this system, and we all know it - we feel it and recognize it every time we see it. When someone we know gets sick, we just know it isn't right. When we hear of someone getting cancer that makes us uneasy. When we see on the news people in Africa suffering it bothers us. It feels at times as if humanity is being attacked and we have to defend ourselves from these things. We don't like the idea that the weak and sick should just be picked off - as a society, we resist the natural selection process.

Why do we resist? Because we love people. We feel compassion and empathy. Sure, it's fine to stand up for natural selection when it's out there in the world, but when your mom or your son, or your spouse gets cancer or has a heart attack - it's a lot hard to say, 'well, looks like it's just your time.' We love those people and we find natural selection severely lacking as a sufficient worldview in these instances. Nature selects to be sure. But there's more going on here than just biology.

When you seek your answers simply within the realm of biology, it leaves you short - there are times when it doesn't make sense and we fight against it. That's because biology isn't the only thing going on, so seeking answers within biology will always leave you short. God created this world and everything/everyone in it. It is only when we go to God for answers does it start to make sense. God is where love and compassion come from. And it is only through a relationship with God that we will begin to understand more fully what is going on in the world around us. Biology is present and active to be sure, but there's more to it - and the proof is in these instances above. If nature gets her way, that's not a satisfactory answer to us. But when God gets His way, the answer is always good. When the question involves influence that supercedes science, you have to look to the One who supercedes all else for the answer - God.