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Category Archives: Christian Living

Raw Honesty in Prayer

When we read Psalms, there are times sections when we struggle with the content.  Imprecatory Psalms are those that invoke judgment, desire calamity or pronounce a curse on someone.  They are often vengeful and appear void of grace and mercy.  One example of these challenging sections is Psalm 137:8-9:

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,

    blessed shall he be who repays you

    with what you have done to us!

Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones

    and dashes them against the rock!

How do we understand these passages, and what do we learn from them?

Psalms as Prayers

We must first understand the nature of the Psalms.  Each one is a response to God.  As the psalmist experiences things in life, he responds to God in different ways. There are psalms of lament, psalms of praise, and psalms that cover a wide range of experiences and emotions.  

Consider the first part of Psalm 137.  The people of Judah are in captivity after the Babylonian invasion.  Zion is Jerusalem – their capital – a place where the glory of God was displayed among God’s people as a testimony to the nations around.  Falling into the hands of the Babylonians was more than just a military failure, their identity and hope were lost.  This event was God’s judgment on his people.

For the Babylonians, the mighty God of Israel had fallen to their gods.  They boast in verse 3 as they request songs from their captives about the glory of Zion.  They are asking for praise songs of God – they are taunting their prisoners – “Where are your songs of how great Zion is now?  You were deceived!  Where is your God?”  That is why the people of Israel have hung their harps on the trees.  Do they have reason to sing?

The psalmist turns to God amid these circumstances.  The prayer is honest and pours forth from the anger, hurt, and disappointment that weave in, around, and through the heart.  There is a desire for the enemy to pay for what has happened to the people of Israel.  Psalm 137 is a raw and honest prayer.  

We often forget that God knows what is in our hearts.  He knows the desired vengeance, the anger, or any other festering emotion.  When we come to the throne of God, we can be sincere, because of God’s knowledge of our heart, mind, and soul.  He is the one we turn toward and before whom we lay all of our vileness – God is the only one that can handle it.  He is the only one who brings the remedy for such heinous thoughts through the atonement of Christ.

Prayer becomes an Encounter

The act of praying, even such a vile thought, is an act of faith because we seek God during the prayer. We desire to comprehend life’s circumstances, and through prayer, the psalmist acknowledges that God is the only genuine source of understanding.  

As we read Psalm 137, we do not see God’s response to this prayer.  We are left with only one side of a conversation.  Therefore, we judge the final verses as inhumane and evil, never getting to see the encounter the psalmist sought.  Perhaps the one-sided conversation does not bother us, because we consider prayer to be a one-voice conversation?

When we approach the throne of God, we should not desire him to do anything other than change our hearts. We cannot trust the wants that we lay before his throne, but we can trust the one who sits on the throne.  It is for this reason we come – wanting more of him.  We want to see things the way he sees them and walk faithfully through every experience. This aspect of the prayer found in Psalm 137 is absent.  However, if we turn to Psalm 37, we see a clearer picture.

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!”  Psalm 37:1 reads as though it is a response to Psalm 137.  In our raw and honest prayers, we know that we have encountered God when we arise from our knees with five changes of the heart seen in Psalm 37:3-8.

  • Trust (v 3) – We trust that God has us where we are for a specific reason and His glory.  In our act of trust, we continue to walk faithfully through the desire of our heart may try to lead us astray.
  • Delight (v 4) – As we delight in the Lord, he becomes our desire.  As we gaze into his grace and mercy, the things of this world grow pale and dim.  The circumstances that surround us lose their gravity in the light of God’s glory.
  • Commit (v 5) – Our profession of trust must have action.  If we truly trust God in our current circumstances, we will commit to his ways and desire to walk in them.
  • Be Still (v 7) – We stand in awe of the overwhelming majesty of God the Father.  Though we might enter prayer overwhelmed by our circumstances, we leave our time of prayer shaken but strengthened by the holy and just God that provided salvation in Jesus Christ.  
  • Refrain (v 8) – We stop. The anger and envy that controlled our heart as we knelt to pray are conquered by our desire to trust in, delight in, commit to, and be still before God.  We put to death the sinful desires of our heart through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

I pray that as you approach the throne of God, you will not only seek to speak, but you will desire to hear.  Be honest before him.  As you pour out your heart to God, I pray you will find that he changes your heart in accord to who he is.   May your prayers not only be one-sided conversations but encounters with the Creator.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2019 in Christian Living

 

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Like A Glass Hammer

Like A Glass Hammer

They were powerful words that commissioned the climax of the creation account, “Let us make man in our image.” (Gen 1:26) It was at this point, God breathed life into dirt, and the image bearer of God walked through creation. Humanity was meant to uniquely display God’s glory, bearing an image to which the rest of creation only testified.

All was well until the moment of deception when they ate of the fruit. Bearing the image of God was no longer the desire of their heart. As the serpent enticed, the lie became more believable – perhaps they could be like God (Gen 3:5). With straying affections that led to an act of disobedience, sin marred the image of God in man. Guilty of and broken by sin, mankind was removed from the garden.

Bearing an Image

A small glass hammer sits on a shelf in my office. Though it looks a little abstract, it was the best glass hammer I could find. When most people look at it, they can tell it is a hammer, but they also clearly see it is not something one might buy at the local hardware store. There would be consequences in using the glass hammer in the same manner as the one in my toolbox. To remove it from the shelf and strike it against anything would prove destructive – not for the object, but the glass hammer. Made of glass and of little physical use, the object on my shelf merely bears the image of a hammer.

A Reminder

This hammer stays in my office to remind me of Genesis 3. Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the image of God is restored from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor 3:18). I am a work in progress that God is faithful to complete (Phil. 1:6). Though this is a great promise, I also struggle with the same desires as Adam and Eve. Sin wells up within as I begin to be dissatisfied as an image bearer and seek to be God.

When we think of someone trying to be like God, we picture a prideful and controlling attitude. They may be domineering, wanting everything done their way. We may even use this idea when thinking of a “know-it-all” or narcissist. In using these mental pictures, we are often comforted because we create a scenario that does not resemble us.

A desire to be God, or act like God, most often takes place in our rebellion against his Word and his working in our lives. When we walk outside of the parameters God designed for us, by default, we try to take his place. We act as if our knowledge is more excellent than his and our desire is purer than his. We may not demand that people do what we say or try to control the lives of others. We dethrone the God of the universe to bow down to our own will.

Consequences

We are not all-powerful, and our vision of life pails to the eternal perspective of God. We take matters into our own hands, following our indecisive hearts and minds. Walking in rebellion of God’s design and desire, we end up a shattered glass hammer. Not only are we broken, but we make a mess of everything around us. Shards of broken pieces and destruction replace the beauty and glory we are designed to bear.

The hammer sits on my shelf to remind me that God’s desire and design is better than my own. In times of doubt and struggle, I can trust what he is doing. He desires to do something more beautiful in me than I want for myself, and no matter what means he uses to accomplish his work, it will be what is best. He protects my soul and guides my path for his namesake. I am to be an image bearer, not a god.

 
 

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In His Image

It is a statement that did not pertain to any other living being in the creation account.  This declaration would separate man from beast, allowing dominion over the creation.  However, with the establishment of authority, there would also be a responsibility to treat the creation as a gift from God, meant to display His glory.  What was this declaration?  “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . “ (Gen 1:26)

In fashioning the man out of dirt and the woman from the flesh of man, humanity bore a distinct mark from the rest of creation.  Christendom has stood fast on the truth that human life is valuable, because of its creator and its design.  Life is meant to be esteemed and seen as the opportunity to glorify God because it is a gift that bears the image of the giver.  If we adhere to this biblical truth, it must change the way we seek to uphold human life.

The Obvious

Sometimes an opportunity to stand for life comes in obvious situations.  We mourn over the fact that abortion is the leading cause of death worldwide – innocent humans killed in the place where they should be safest. We fight against the aberrant practices of human trafficking where humans are treated as objects for sinful, personal satisfaction.  These evils call us to action, and we rightly stand against those injustices based on a biblical view of the unique creation of humanity.  

The image of God in humanity stirred the hearts of those that fought against racial injustices and the immoral and unethical view of racial superiority.  Any attempt to lessen the value of human life, treating them as property or like livestock affronts the design and desire of God. These atrocities get our attention and call us to stand for life, and rightfully so.  However, there is something else that calls us to degrade life, and sinisterly holds us as we justify its presence.

The Hidden

If we claim to uphold the sanctity of life because humans are created in the image of God, then it means all life should be treated with dignity – even those that oppose a biblical worldview.  It does not take long to find in any form of social media, those that claim to hold a biblical stance on the value of life degrading a person created in the image of God. If the church is going to stand for life, we must stand in a way that holds all life as valuable.

In argumentation, this personal degradation is called an ad hominem attack.  It happens when the opponent begins to attack the person instead of the idea.  In this form of assault, mocking and juvenile retorts replace solid arguments and refutation of ideas.  It is something that is common among the discussions of the world and sadly it has become like a cancer in the life of professing believers as they engage opposers.

It is subtle at first. It creeps into emotional topics that rightfully shake us to the core.  We are so overwhelmed by the issue that we lose control of thoughts and composure. At that moment, the idea is no longer the topic we address – we attack the person.  

This sinful action hides because the magnitude of other atrocities committed against human life act as a justifier.  Jesus brought light to this reality in his teaching.  Jesus was addressing the presence of anger in the heart of man (Matt 5:21-22).  It was anger which he told them bore the same judgment as murder.

How many times in our discussions with the world do we resort to the ways of the world thinking we can convince the world of a godly manner of thinking.  If we hold to the sanctity of life, we must not just uphold the value of life in the womb, but also the image of God in our opponents, no matter how marred that image is by sin.

The Fight

Sometimes we get so focused on the fight; we forget there must be holiness and integrity in our methods.  How do we keep ourselves in check when we engage in social media and conversations about emotionally charged issues?

  1. We keep the Gospel at the forefront.  In our battle, we often forget that we are called to be ministers of reconciliation.  We are called to bear the message of the Gospel to the darkest places on this planet, and those dark places are often in the minds of people who disagree with a biblical worldview.  Yes, we engage in the issues, but the problems should never take the place of speaking the Gospel.
  2. We ground our conversation in Scripture.  Our discussions should never be void of the truth of God.  I am not telling you to quote Bible verses, but I am telling you there should be a Scriptural understanding of the position you hold.  Why do you believe abortion is wrong?  Why is human trafficking wrong?  Every reason you give should be rooted in Scripture.
  3. Battle the issue, not the person.  The way we treat our opponents is often a more significant argument for our position than the ideas we speak.  There is no need for memes on how funny a person looks or to compare them to livestock.  In everything we say, we uphold the image of God in all of humanity.  

Yes, Jesus turned over tables and made a whip.  Yes, he called his opponents out on the sin.  However, Christ never denied the value of life.  He never degraded the value of life in another person.  He wept over Jerusalem and mourned over their lostness. We are called to be voices of truth, but we must do so in a way that holds to the sanctity of life. Let us speak God’s Word, trusting it not to return void (Isaiah 55:!1) and to be the sword needed to fight the good fight (Ephesians 6:!7).

One may say that Jesus called the Pharisees and Sadducees names (Matthew 12:24; 23:33). However, I would like to make two points of clarification. First, He was talking to a religious establishment that claimed to represent Yahweh, God the Father. They were claiming to hold to the teachings and practices of the Old Testament, but instead were transgressing its precepts. Second, Christ always exercised holy anger. The testimony of Scripture is that man's anger is, more often than not, sinful (James 2:20). This is why we are called to be quick to listen and slow to speak. In these statements by Christ, he never degraded the value of the life of the Pharisees and Sadduccees.  
 
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Posted by on February 19, 2019 in Christian Living

 

A Million Other Places

The moment was here.  People were entering the auditorium filled with a mixture of emotions.  Each one had come for a different reason, but all arrived with heavy hearts.  As I stood at the back of the room, waiting for the service to start, a person came to me. The words they shared made the wheels of my mind engage and slowly turn.  “I’m sure there are a million other places you would rather be right now.”

I understood what they meant.  The situation was heartbreaking.  As a pastor, these are the rare, quite possibly, once in a lifetime situations that you dare not even imagine . . . but there I was.  They were acknowledging the physical, emotional, and spiritual stress of the situation, and in some way, their comment was meant to be a statement of comfort – “I’m praying for you.”  At that moment, I coveted that prayer and the prayers of others.  Since the moment I knew the event was coming, I had been in a state of fasting and prayer.  I needed God to work; I needed him to walk me through that service.

Where Am I?

There are moments in our lives that we find ourselves in a place that is less than desirable.  They are not necessarily times of great turmoil, but we long to be elsewhere.  Maybe it is a period of suffering, a period of sorrow, or a point where our theology is being put to the test.  That day, it seemed like these three periods were colliding.

We must acknowledge that evil exists in this world, and because of this evil, there is suffering. People do horrendous things, and we enter into situations that inflame our sinful nature.  Sometimes the events that fan the flames of our fleshy tendencies are small, and in hindsight are inconsequential.  Jesus told his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)  Can you imagine what was going through the disciples’ minds? They had no idea of the suffering and persecution they would face.  At that point, they did not know the sorrow and disappointment that would come on the day of Christ’s crucifixion.

The truth is, when we read through Scripture, we understand that we live in a fallen world that stands opposed to God.  The accounts of Abel, Job, Daniel, Noah, Joseph, Paul, Peter, and Stephen affirm that suffering is real.  This list is but a small representation of the people of God suffering in a world condemned by sin.  This world is the world in which we live.

Where is God?

The psalmist writes in Psalm 139:7-11 that there is no place we can escape the presence of God. Jeremiah 23:23-24 reads, “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away?  Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.” God is present.  However, he is not just present; God is active.  God is not a being that stands idly by, observing his creation.  He is actively involved and intimately acquainted with every aspect of our lives.

We learn in Scripture that Christ upholds everything (Heb 1:3, Col 1:17).   The idea that he upholds all things is accompanied by the truth that he directs all things (Eph 1:11).  It is only by the power of God that the grass grows (Ps. 104:14) and there is no chance or coincidence – “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Prov 16:33)  God is intimately involved in everything that takes place on earth.  There is nothing that escapes his vision, and there is nothing that occurs out of his control.  

We have fancy words for this in theology.  We tend to talk about God’s sovereignty and his providence.  The first attribute means he is the ultimate authority and over all things; the second addresses his intimate involvement in all things. We trust in these two ideas because we also uphold that God is good and righteous in all that he does.

What About Where I Am?

It is easy to teach concepts, but our circumstances often challenge the truths we hold.  This situation is where I found myself that day. Were there a million other places I would have rather been?  Yes.  I long for a day there is no more suffering and death is no more.  I want evil to be vanquished once and for all.  My desire is for the New Heaven and New Earth – encompassed by the glory of God, unhindered by the presence of sin – but that is not today.

Today I will face suffering and sorrow, pain and agony.  The reality of a sinful world will challenge the longing of my heart.  The theological truths I hold will be forced into action by the presence of evil and deception of sin.  So where do I want to be? 

As the gears of my mind and heart continued to turn over the statement made, I realized I desired to be where God wanted me to be.  There was a reason I was in that place, at that time.  This reason did not remove the pain, and it did not lessen the suffering. The physical reality of the situation did not change because of the spiritual truth of the situation. However, when we embrace the spiritual truth of the circumstance, there is hope in our physical conditions.

What is that hope?  It is the hope of a loving Father bringing all things toward his good and perfect purpose through the Gospel.  It is this hope (an expectation of certainty) that enables me to trust him.  It is this hope that lets me see a purpose in every circumstance of life.  At times, there are a million other places I would rather be, but being where God desires is a desire that deafens all others.    

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2019 in Practical Theology

 

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The Delight of the Eyes and the Desire of the Heart

It sneaks into our vision and traps our eyes as if they are held captive. The characters remind us of people we know, and we awkwardly relate to their situations. Perhaps we even find a sense of community as we laugh at the same time as the “studio audience.” How does this happen? How can we so quickly be pulled into a place where we weep and laugh over the lives of people that do not exist? True, the actors are real, but our minds and emotions are held captive by fictitious characters in fictitious situations. So much so that we will express heartbreak when the season ends, our favorite character is killed, or the show gets canceled.

It is no secret that we are a society of entertainment and amusement. Movies on demand, amusement parks, hobbies, social media, and video games offer us a means of escape. We find comfort in being distracted from reality and being able to elude the problems of the world, if even for only an hour or two. Most find it amazing how quickly time passes as they scroll through a newsfeed.

As a believer, husband, father, and pastor I often find myself asking why I find certain activities entertaining. Accosted by endless mediums of amusement, we effortlessly lax the mind, forgetting there is a battle for our thoughts. Peter writes to the church and urges the believers to “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Is it possible that our entertainment is affecting us more than we know?

A State of Mind

Peter’s call to the church is for them to stay alert. There is a sense of urgency and awareness because of the presence of an enemy that is prowling for destruction. Therefore, we are to be mindful of our present circumstances. That seems to stand opposed to the idea of amusement. We need to look no further than the meaning of this word to understand why.

One author explained it this way: To muse, means to be absorbed in thought. It is a verb that involves the engagement of the mind in an activity. The suffix -ment means “to be in the state of.” Putting these two things together means that “musement” is to be in the state of thinking. (No, musement is not a word, as I sit here and type, the spell check is notifying me that I have again misspelled another word.) What begins to make sense is that when we add the prefix a- to the beginning of the word it negates the word. For instance, if we said someone was amoral, it would mean they have no morals or seem to be unconcerned with morality. When we place a- and -musement together we learn that we are in the state of not thinking.

If Peter calls us to be mindful, it seems that a state of amusement stands in opposition to the urging of Apostle. My purpose is not to make sure you never ride a rollercoaster again or are never entertained. Instead, I want you to realize the danger of letting our guard down. It is no secret our entertainment often involves actions we publicly profess as being immoral and wrong.

A State of Heart

We know our heart better than anyone else. As a believer, we are often keenly aware of the cesspool of sin that our heart and mind fall victim to as the fleshly desires of the world ooze up from depths we would like to keep hidden from everyone. We work hard to tame our actions so that no one knows the wickedness that creeps out on occasion. Yes, the heart is deceitful, and our salvation does not change the struggle, it makes us aware of it. As we are brought into the holiness of God by the work of Christ, the light of glory shines in the hideous parts of our lives – that place is where the entrapment lies.

When the state of our mind is lackadaisical, our depravity pours forth. Could it be that the focus of our amusement is the sinfulness of the heart finding a safe place of refuge? Is it possible that the lessening of our guard not only allows the lion to attack freely but shows us that within the clenches of his jaws are parts of our heart that we gladly surrender?

Sobering the Mind

Not all entertainment is spiritual poison, but we would be foolish to deny that poison lies within some of its forms that we enjoy. How do we stay on guard? How do we watch for the footprints of sin and listen for the footsteps of the one that desires to steal, kill, and destroy? I want to give you three questions to ask as you delight in entertainment:

        Is this the delight of the Lord?

The fictitious characters and fictitious circumstances are intended to portray something that is real. If it was real, would it be something in which the Lord delights? Do actions of the characters resonate with the glory we are saved to or the sin we were saved from? When we are scrolling through our newsfeed enticed by the “click-bait” that pervades the pictures of our friends, it is often pretty easy to tell if God delights in the content of the link from the image and the title.

Am I asking people to participate in things that lead to death?

Often, we are delighting in the actions of the unregenerate. They are fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and we are enjoying their journey. Two people entertain us in a sexual encounter, and we applaud the love story that we know dishonors the beauty of marriage, as given to us by our heavenly Father. We know the wages of sin is death, but it is not us; therefore, we treat it as no consequence. The characters and circumstances may be fictitious, but the actors are real people. Even their “pretend” actions are having an eternal impact on their souls – and ours.

Is there something better?

No, I am not telling you to turn off your Netflix and read your Bible. (Though that might not be a bad idea!) We know that as we participate in these forms of entertainment we are feeding the fleshly desire found in Galatians 5:19-21: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I am challenging you to see if there is something that helps you exercise the holiness to which God calls you: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Is there something you can be doing that will help you in your journey, becoming more like Christ.

Cultivating a Desire

I do not expect the questions I have given to be a solution for keeping our eyes and hearts from sin – that is an impossible task this side of glory, yet one to which we should still strive. However, I do hope that it allows you to join with me in staying sober-minded in moments of entertainment – to be entertained with our minds in a state of “musement.” As believers, we should delight in the things of God, which also means we delight in the things which he delights. May God grant us the desire to align our desires with his.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2019 in Christian Living

 

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