One thing that I really like reading is anything to do with spiritual formation or practices. I think the reason for this is because I really like not just understanding the practices fellow Christians have adopted, but seeing how they have been transformed by the practice. Yet, I haven’t really read too many books on any particular practice. Most often these books come as a long-winded version of “just do it.” However, I now have a few books sitting on my shelf that dive into the practice of prayer. I think I’ve been shying away from these books because prayer is just simply a practice that I’ve not been very good with; not because I don’t believe in it, but because it’s not usually my go-to move throughout my day. So I decided it was time to change all that and picked up The Possibility of Prayer by John Starke. This book was published in February of 2020 by InterVarsity Press. Starke is the pastor of Apostles Church Uptown in New York City. While I was certainly apprehensive about starting this book, it ended up not being the same, flat, “how-to” sort of book that I’ve read many times before.Continue reading “The Possibility of Prayer: Finding Stillness with God in a Restless World”
I have been sitting here for weeks trying to think of something to write. It’s not that I don’t have any ideas. I have a bank of things ready for me to develop, but no of them are particular interesting to me at the moment. I feel cursed with this desire to say something, but have nothing to say. So I sit here and stare at this blinking line. Taunting me. Chiding me. Telling me that I am worthless since I have nothing to say. Why in the world would I start writing a blog when I have nothing to say?! There is no way that this is something I am supposed to do. God didn’t call me to write, otherwise I’d have something to write about. This cursed blinking line has become to me what the snake was to Eve. It is my distrust of God. It is my adversary in this battle for a path forward.Continue reading “This Cursed Blinking Line”
“What’s the point of praying?! It never does anything!” There are times in our lives when the disciplines that we practice seem to carry no weight in our lives. We know that we should do things, like praying, because we’ve been told our entire church lives that that is what Christians do. Yet, prayer feels meaningless when life doesn’t change or we do not recieve a response. Does this mean that we should be prayering? What if it means that our expectation of prayer has been wrong all along.Continue reading “Why Should I Pray?”
Have you ever been sitting in a church service, hear something from the pastor and think, “I’m not sure that’s right”? What do you do? If you are are visiting or “church shopping,” the solution seems pretty easy. However, this same problem can still arise from your regular pastor. Below are a few suggestions that I find helpful when this issue occursContinue reading “What to do When You Disagree with the Sermon”
As I promised last week, the “Christian Living” posts are going to be about spiritual disciplines as we make moves to be closer to God in the New Year. You can type “list of spiritual disciplines” into your favorite search engine, and everywhere you look will have a different list; some are the same, some are different. The opinion that I keep is that a spiritual discipline is an action we do to become more like Christ, that we need God’s help to accomplish. They may start out easy, but like any type of discipline, they will become harder as you mature in their practice. This week we will look at a couple disciplines that probably appear on most (if not all) lists that I have seen: prayer and meditation. Continue reading “Are You Even Listening?”
Continuing His messages towards the nations, God addresses Damascus and the Northern Kingdom (Israel). The people had fallen away from God. They had been assimilated into the Assyrian Empire, which lead to a cultural change for the Israelites. They began worshiping pagan idols and Asherah poles. Which is directly against warnings found in the Bible (Deuteronomy 12:3; 16:21). He tells them, for their abandonment, they will be destroyed along with Assyria. Several years later, God delivered a message to Ethiopia. This message was given because Ethiopia had asked Judah to be in alliance to repel the oncoming Assyrian threat. But Isaiah responded by telling the that Judah only need God to withstand Assyria. This message comes as a message that God will overcome Ethiopia and use the Assyrians to destroy them. Next God addresses Egypt. He tells them, “What fools are the officials of Zoan! Their best counsel to the king of Egypt is stupid and wrong. Will the still boast to Pharaoh of their wisdom? Will they dare brag about all their wise ancestors? … The officials of Zoan are fools, and the officials of Memphis are deluded. The leaders of the people have led Egypt astray.” (19:11 & 13, NLT). However, God tells them that they will leave behind their human leadership, and look to God for help. “In that day Egypt and Assyria will be connected by a highway. The Egyptians and Assyrians will move freely between their lands, and they will both worship God. And Israel will be their ally. The three will be together, and Israel will be a blessing to them.” (19:23-24, NLT). The final message given in this section was to both Egypt and Ethiopia. Isaiah walked around naked for 3 years, because this is what Assyria was going to do to them when they were conquered by Assyria.
How many times to we honestly seek wisdom? For me, I feel like I do it everyday. But where do we look? I think most people look to a role model, a professional (therapist, counselor, etc.), or even people like psychics. The problem with this is that they are all humans. Human wisdom is fallible and temporary. It doesn’t really help us in the long run. It may help us feel better in the moment, but one day it will no longer help us. True wisdom comes from God. James wrote in his letter, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5, NASB). We should turn to God for wisdom. He shows us here in Isaiah that human wisdom can be disastrously wrong, yet “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” (Psalm 147:5, NASB). God’s wisdom knows no bounds.
So I ask, where do we go to seek wisdom? Would we rather ask someone for their opinion, or do we ask God? This isn’t to say that people can’t help us get God’s wisdom. God brings up men and women that can do this. Typically they are found as pastors, church leaders, Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, etc. Not all men point you away from God. I’m just saying that we should pay attention to where our advice comes from. People who do not follow God, can only give opinions according to their worldly view. Yet someone who follows the Lord, can give you His advice. But you should spend time in the Word and in prayer on your own. DO NOT rely solely on someone else’s thoughts and opinions. God has a message for you, and you can’t hear it if you are not listening to Him.
Psalms to Pray: Psalm 101
Also in this Series
I had a request for a Bible study to do in May, but I think I will go ahead and start it today. We will be starting the book of Isaiah. However, this will be a little different from the ones we have done in the past. Since Isaiah is 66 chapters long, we cannot take it one chapter at a time. We will be doing at least 2-3 chapters per post, in hopes we can get it done in May. So let’s pray that God opens our hearts to hear the words He has for us through this book.
Isaiah’s ministry lasted through four different kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He spent his time teaching Judah the need to repent and turn back to God. He spoke about their faithlessness, and the coming judgment upon Judah. However, he also taught about a coming Messiah to save God’s people. So his messages of pain and destruction were also coupled with hope and salvation.
Isaiah opens his book by describing the rebellious nature of the people of Judah and Jerusalem. God says to these people, “Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care — but Israel doesn’t know its master. My people don’t recognize my care for them.” (1:3, NLT) He is letting the people know how far they have turned. They have even gone so far that their worship has become a ritual by rote, rather than a meaningful expression to God. But God still offers the people of Judah hope, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool. If you will only obey me, you will have plenty to eat.” (1:18-19, NLT). Isaiah then begins to bring on the terror to come on the day of judgment, to those who do not come back to God. Isaiah writes “When the Lord rises to shake the earth, his enemies will crawl into holes in the ground. They will hide in caves in the rocks from the terror of the Lord and the glory of his majesty. On that day of judgment they will abandon the gold and silver idols they made for themselves to worship. They will leave their gods to the rodents and bats,” (2:19-20, NLT). The Lord than promises to make the people humble and realize their need for Him by saying, “[I] will take away from Jerusalem and Judah everything they depend on: every bit of bread and every drop of water,” (3:1-2, NLT). But God does promise a restoration for the people who survive. He promises to bring Israel back as a great people, with Him as their comfort and shelter (Isaiah 4).
I think if we all set and think about it, the warnings found in these opening chapters not only apply to the world we live in now, but to some degree every society since Creation. We have all felt that the world is “going to hell in a hand basket” at one point or another. I say this because I don’t want anyone thinking, “Oh no! Our time sounds exactly like this!!!!!” While the promise and threat are very real, we live in a time where God has already given us our salvation. We simply need to accept it as our own. There will always be unbelievers driving the world in a direction contrary to the way Christ teaches us to be. They are even some believers that get it wrong (including me, I definitely am not the fore-most expert on the Will of God). But so long as we are not reading Scripture and praying, we are not following either. We know a few lines, and we think that is all we need. Honestly, that’s how we have some really bad teaching out there.
To turn this and make it more personal, have you had a time when you have not sought God’s will for your life. Let’s be honest, I don’t think many of us are in that practice. I think most people (who are in the practice of prayer) are more of the mind “I’ll make the decision then ask God to bless it later.” The truth is that it works the opposite way of that. If we want to do our best, and make sure our life is in line with God’s will, we consult Him first then make the decision. Often times, I’ve found, He takes forever to get back with me. But I think it is to help us realize what we are about to do. In these open chapters of Isaiah, the people of Judah stopped consulting God. They did whatever they pleased. That can become us when we have the “do now, bless later” approach to running our lives. God promises us, “For I know the plans I have for you. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT). I’d much rather choose a path that I can trust, and leads to good, than to forge my own path and lead myself into destruction.
So we lift up our eyes to Heaven and says these words that the psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2, NIV).
Psalms to Pray: Psalm 97-98
Today’s post is quite simple. I forgot my Bibles at home, so I could not write a post from there. I, instead, turned to a magazine I have for Worship Leaders, and inside was an excerpt from The Case For The Psalms: Why They Are Essential by N.T. Wright. In this passage, Mr Wright poses an argument for praying through the Psalms.
The basis for his stance is that we cannot fully understand Jesus if we do not have a complete understanding of the Psalms. Jesus, and his disciples, were Jews that had a deep knowledge of Scripture which is what led to the common quoting of Psalms. When we learn these passages, we get a better look at God and the whole story of Jesus Christ.
So I will now be posting Psalms for us to pray through each day. You can choose to join me if you’d like, but as the Heart Man, I am seeking to know God even deeper. According to Wright, this is possible by praying the Psalms.
Psalms to Pray: Psalm 1
The last letter written in John’s Revelation was for the Church at Laodicea. This church had a problem that I believe most of us get into at some point in our faith journey. Laodicea was “lukewarm”, meaning that they had no passion for God, yet they still had faith. Jesus says to them, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.” (Revelation 3:15, NASB). Jesus is using cold to describe a dead faith, while hot means one that is alive. Jesus tells them towards the end of the letter, “I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” (Revelation 3:19, NLT). Jesus and John really wanted to send this church the message that their indifference is not okay.
What does this mean for us today? DON’T BE LUKEWARM!!!!!! There I said it, post over.
I’m just kidding. Just saying that is easy, but how to we keep our passion for Christ. So many of us are fired up when we first meet Christ, but somewhere along the line the fire dies down a bit. I believe the biggest cause of this is our expectation when we enter into this Christian lifestyle. Many people think that life will be easy, but it’s not. Being a Christian is a life of hardship, and when we discover this we draw away from God instead of running closer to Him. The second reason I think this happens, actually comes from one of my cures for the problem. I think people also lose their fire when they realize that the Bible actually teaches things that are against the world’s view. It makes it hard for people because then you come to a decision; do I follow Christ, or the world? When we choose the world, our passion for Christ dies a little, and when we chose it enough, the light goes out entirely.
So open up your Bible and read it. That is the best way to hear God’s word, reading it! Also spend time in prayer. How can you expect to hear from God, unless you talk to Him? These two activities are essential in the life of a Christian. If you aren’t doing even one of these, we run the risk of being exactly like Laodicea. This is what help us light our fire again, and keep us from being cold or getting lukewarm. So friends, let’s pick up our Bibles and spend time in prayer everyday, for the rest of our lives!
Over the weekend, my wife and I were having a conversation with my sister. I caught myself saying something that is embarrassingly true, “I have the tendency to act like a Pharisee and not apply Scripture to life. Rather I use it to read and understand, but I have a hard time living it.”
I believe that this stands to be true for far too many people. We all have our moments where we say, “The Bible says…” but we are just as quick to do the opposite. My biggest concern is for those people we can affectionately call “Bible Thumpers”. These are the people who take the Bible and use it as Law, especially against those sinners. I try my hardest not to do this because I view the Bible to be our guide through life. It is what shows us how to live a Godly, holy life. The issue here is that you have to choose this life. No one can make you live this life, and if someone is, I’d say they have become a lot like the Pharisees.
This is a hard life, being a Christian. It’s not something we are born into. It’s not something we receive from our ancestors. It’s not based on our own abilities. It is solely based on God’s love for us, that we can even be forgiven of our sins.
I read a passage today that got me thinking about my life. Jesus says “Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.” (Matthew 15:17-18, NASB).
Am I showing Jesus with my actions and speech? Jesus is telling the Pharisees, and us, that when we speak (or do anything really) we are showing what is within us. If we have the Spirit within us, we can’t help but show Christ to everyone. This will keep us from acting like that Pharisees and Bible Thumpers, and bring the love of God to our friends, family, and others.
I pray for myself and for you that we can all learn to have a heart like Jesus. If you have a hard time with this, like me, please join me in this prayer.
Heavenly Father. Help me to be more like Your Son. Soften my heart to Your Word, and allow it to fill me up so that I may show the love of Christ to others. This Christian lifestyle is difficult and requires me to do things I don’t really want to do. It’s when I go into it dragging my feet that I shut myself off from You, and whatever opportunities you have for me today. Help me to change my heart to what is good and holy. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” In Your Son’s holy name I pray. Amen.