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Monthly Archives: December 2011

What to do on New Year’s Day

For over 20 years now, I have greeted the New Year with a friend.  Sometimes we don’t get much time together; sometimes we have an hour or so.  But most every year for the last two decades, I have gotten together with my friend, and he has helped me greet the New Year.  Tomorrow, once again, I’ll be spending some time with Moses, the man of God.

Moses wrote one Psalm, just one, and it ranks right up there with some of David’s best.   It is Psalm 90, and it is at once worshipful, sobering, realistic and hopeful.  I won’t take time to point out all the glories of this portion of God’s word, but I will say that it is my New Year’s Psalm because of three particular prayers within it.

First, Moses considers how long life is, and then prays a prayer for wisdom:

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:10-12 (ESV)

So, on January 1st each year, I consider the years remaining.  I turned 47 in 2011, which gives me 23 years more according to Moses’ clock, or 33 if I have strength (and if I can get my cholesterol down).  Of course, these years are not guaranteed – I know that – but just thinking about limited time is sobering.  23 years?  Heck, I was just getting going on life when I turned 23 years old.  But Moses says the years of our life are seventy, and Moses is a man of God.

What will I do with the 23 years I (may) have remaining?  Try to devote myself to my family, maybe including some grandkids?  That would be cool.  Write more sermons?  I hope so.  Love the body of believers called Edgewood Community Church that God has asked me to shepherd?  All of this is good, and each year I need to relearn that there is limited time.

Secondly, there’s joy. Moses acknowledges that days of sorrow have come, and he prays for days of gladness in their wake:

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.

Psalm 90:14-15 (ESV)

This all dovetails nicely with the last verse, and the last prayer:

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:17 (ESV)

Finally, as I gain a heart of wisdom, I ask God to take the work of these remaining 23 years, and do something wonderful.  I want Him to establish the work of my hands.  I don’t want wood, hay and straw (1 Corinthians 3:12) left at the end.  I want years that last to His honor and praise.  So I pray for that.  When it comes to the end, whenever it is, give me joy…and a life that counts for the glory of God.  That will be enough.

See you tomorrow Moses.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Is it okay to ask God for personal, “selfish” things?

A friend of mine saw my post on a daily prayer list in 2012 and sent me this note:

“Roger, I tried writing a list of 10 – 50 prayers and I am finding difficulty in doing this.  Specifically, I am finding difficulty in praying for specific things for myself.  Any help with this will be appreciated.”

It’s a great question.  On the one hand, there are people who refuse to ask anything for themselves, and some of these even announce somewhat proudly that this is their stance, and then there are others like my friend, who feel, well, wrong about presenting personal needs and desires to God.

Here are a few thoughts in response:

  1. Delight yourself in the Lord, and then pray for whatever your heart desires. (Psalm 37:4)  The Lord is my chief good.  He is my great desire.  I want to know Him and walk with Him and delight in Him all of my days.  With this in mind, then, I think we should pray boldly for our needs and desires, but ask God to make our desires, His desires.  I prayed for a godly wife for a long time, and after we had two miscarriages, I’m sure I got serious praying for children.  I have certainly prayed for money along the way in life.  I suppose these were selfish requests, but God “…knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  (Psalm 103:14 ESV).  So confess your weakness and ask boldly.
  2. Never ever ask with a demanding spirit.  This seems to be one of the problems with the Israelites’ petition for a King (1 Samuel 8:5 – 7), which displeased God. And though Job was a godly man, he too got a little overzealous in demanding an audience with the Judge of all the earth, so God answered Him out of the whirlwind.  Therefore, whatever you ask the Lord for, ask with faith, that is, knowing God can answer; but also ask with humility, remembering that He is a loving Heavenly Father Who knows whether or not your request will be a blessing to you and His Kingdom.
  3. Pray the Lord’s Prayer.  If you organize your prayer times like Jesus taught us to, you will always ask for Kingdom-minded and God-oriented items first.  The Lord’s Prayer is a guide to asking, and I’ll be writing a post on how to pray The Lord’s Prayer before too long, but suffice it to say that the first three requests are 1) …that people would honor God, 2) …that His Kingdom would be advanced, and 3) …that His will would be done. That said, if you use another form like ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication), no problem – you don’t have to pray in the form that Jesus taught, but it sure works well for me. It is the basic form for prayer I use every day, and I do think it keeps our hearts oriented on what’s important.
  4. Pray in the spirit of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not my will, but Yours be done.”  This dovetails with not having a demanding spirit.  There are some things I pray for in particular, and I frankly wonder if they are God’s will, and when I get to these on my list, I have that sense, whether I say it or not, “Lord, I certainly hold this with an open hand, and I’m not sure I’m in your will here or not, so work it out according to Your infinite wisdom.”
  5. The bottom line is, pray for your needs and desires, just like a child asks His father, and trust Him to answer according to His will.  No one is so mature that they can always know what they are asking is purely unselfish.  My motives are a mixed bag, and I’m sure that’s true for all of us.  So just pray – pray, pray, pray…and glorify your Heavenly Father when He answers!
 
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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The Blessing of a Daily Prayer Time in 2012…

Let’s agree that all true Christians pray.

Not trying to make you feel guilty – just trying to help you know if you are saved.  Prayer is what Christians do, plain and simple.  Jesus tells us in Luke 18 that the elect cry out to God day and night.  So, one of the ways that you know you are a true follower of Christ is that you just naturally pray.

Paul wrote in Galatians…

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

–          Galatians 4:6 (ESV)

Christians naturally pray on the fly through the day, whether it’s…looking for a parking space at the mall at Christmastime or…when a moment of fear comes as you think about your daughter away at college or…as the teacher says, “Put your books under your desk and get out a pencil and paper for a pop-quiz.” or…wanting for the words to say to your unsaved cousin at a Thanksgiving gathering.

We pray…we just do.

As J.C. Ryle, points out, you cannot be a Christian if you do not pray, because the Christian life starts in prayer…

“I hold salvation by grace as strongly as anyone.  I would gladly offer a free and full pardon to the greatest sinner that ever lived.  I would not hesitate to stand by his dying bed, and say, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ even now, and you shall be saved.’ But that a man can have salvation without asking for it, I cannot see in the Bible.  That a man will receive pardon of his sins, who will not so much as lift up his heart inwardly, and say, ‘Lord Jesus, give it to me,’ this I cannot find.  I can find that nobody will be saved by his prayers, but I cannot find that without prayer anybody will be saved.”

–          J.C. Ryle, A Call to Prayer

So we pray…at first, and then throughout life.  Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and I’ve gotta…pray.

Now, that said, though prayers throughout the day are as natural as breathing, I have become convinced that as followers of Christ, we need more than just prayers “on the fly.”  We need to have some time of seeking the Lord in a systematic way…every day.

I think that this daily prayer time is one of the main differences between a victorious Christian life, and a defeated Christian life.

Jesus modeled a “setting aside” of prayer in his own life (Luke 5:16), and we see it also in the prayer He taught His disciples: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  But even more than that, I think that in setting aside a daily prayer time, we show that we value what our Lord values…that is, “importunity.”  Importunity is a King James word that we find in Luke 11:8, translated also “persistence” (NASB), “boldness” (NIV), “impudence” (ESV), and most gloriously, “shameless persistence” in the NLT.

It is a word that is difficult to translate, but is best understood by the context: the story of the man who needed some bread and kept knocking at his neighbor’s door until he got it.  Pure and simple, God values a “repeated coming”.

I think this is because in repeatedly coming to Him until He answers, we demonstrate faith, and God loves it when we show our faith.  So I’ve always been encouraged by this quote (can’t find a source) based on a powerful story found in 2 Kings 13:14 – 20…

“Let it be said to his shame that he did not believe enough, so he did not obey enough.  It is what happens in the secret chamber that determines the amount of victory we have in the actual battle of life.”

–          Author unknown

So, what do you think?  Will you consider joining me on a daily prayer time journey in 2012?  To start, come up with anywhere between 10 – 50 things that you want to knock on heaven’s door for in the New Year, and then decide that you will come to God for them each and every day.  I’ll be saying more about “how?” in days to come, but for now, how about just deciding to do it, by the grace of God?

“…if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Luke 11:8b-10 (NLT)

 
5 Comments

Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Reading the Bible is like driving a car

When I first started driving back in 1980, an intersection in Antioch, Illinois could make me quite afraid.  The reason?  There was a traffic light, and I often had to turn left there, which scared me to no end.  Turning left at this light was much more difficult than turning right.  There were so many potential complications, most specifically, nosing into the intersection while you awaited the oncoming traffic with the right of way.

Turning left made my palms sweat.

I mention this because of what I read this morning in John Piper’s book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God: 

“…learning to drive a car is tense. You have to remember so many things at the same time, especially if the car has a manual transmission—look both ways, take foot off accelerator, apply brake, push in clutch, change gears, let out clutch, put on blinker, turn wheel, push accelerator, and so on. It all feels uncertain and scary. But if you give up, you will forfeit the joys of driving where you please and being able to carry on a conversation while doing so, which happens only when driving has become second nature.

“So it is with piano playing, and fly casting, and throwing a ball, and knitting, and learning a foreign language, and reading great books. At one point these tasks were all difficult and awkward. Learning the skill and practicing it was not fun. The joy is on the other side of the hard work…”

“So it is with reading the Bible. The greater riches are for those who will work hard to understand all that is really there. There are hundreds of connections and meanings and implications in the Bible that do not leap off the page at first reading—at least not for me. I have to slow down and start asking questions about the words and the connections. That is, thinking has to become intentional.”

When you first start doing it, reading the Bible is hard, somewhat like time travelling 2,000 years previous and being dropped into a totally different culture.  Everything is weird, and a lot of it doesn’t make sense.

But it will make sense eventually, and when it does, all the left turns and sweaty palms will be worth it.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

            Psalm 1:2, 3 (ESV)

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Tattoo regrets

One Wednesday night, I was wandering through the church during youth group, and a small group of guys were in the midst of an interesting powwow, to which they tried to pull me in:

“Hey Pastor, what do you think of tattoos?”

I made some semi-funny (at least to me) remark, and then scooted out the door.  But that turned out to be one of the many moments in life that I wished to have back, and upon reading this article on the booming tattoo removal industry, it seemed like now might be a ripe opportunity to make some comments.

I’ve personally never been tempted to get a tattoo, but then again, they weren’t popular in my day, and stats now tell a different story:

“According to the Pew Research Center, more than 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 26 and 40 have at least one tattoo. Getting a tattoo, once the province of sailors rather than suburbanites, is so mainstream that tats are inked at the mall and seen on everyone from Middle American mothers to H Street hipsters to Hollywood starlets.”

I’ve talked about this topic on and off again with my kids – my word to them has always been that you can love God and get a tattoo – I never want to needlessly create a Romans 7 rebellion; but I have always advised against it, because the image you love today may be the image you hate, or at least, couldn’t care less about, tomorrow.

So the potential of deep regret – not a Bible verse – has always been the driving force behind my advice to hold off on the ink, and I’m wondering if any of you have stories of tattoo regret, or perhaps you would like to fill me in on plans for your up and coming tat?

 
4 Comments

Posted by on December 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Christopher Hitchens is dead

Christopher Hitchens died last night.  The man – whose invective against the Deity surely swayed at least some to unbelief – has now met God.

Douglas Wilson, who debated Hitchens in print and in person, has written an obituary where he considers the possibility that Hitchens believed in the last hour.

In defense of Wilson, Hitchens drove him to this consideration.  Before he succumbed to esophageal cancer, the outspoken atheist knew there was at least a possibility that he would grow weak in his resolve against God and call out to Him in his dying throes.  Hitchens spoke early to assure people that if this happened, it would not be the real Christopher speaking, but some weakened shell of a man:

Even if my voice goes before I do, I shall continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it’s hello darkness my old friend. In which case, why not cancer of the brain? As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be “me.” (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumors or fabrications.)

I would rather not dwell on the eternity of this man, but I love to consider the possibility that a life time of blaspheming the Savior could be wiped out with one deathbed cry.  The conversion of the thief on the cross tells us this is gloriously possible.

Moreover, in Matthew 20:1 – 16, Jesus tells this story of a Landowner who hires some workers at the start of the day: “Come work with me and I will give you a denarius.” He hires others throughout the day, up to and including the last hour, and then proceeds to hand out a denarius…to everyone.

As expected, the early-hired workers object, but the Landowner retorts:

“…‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:13b-16 (ESV)

This is grace.  The fact that any sinner goes to heaven is glorious, and it matters not whether we have been laboring for the Savior from childhood or we have trusted Him with our last breath. Eternity with Jesus is always undeserved.

So, will we meet Mr. Hitchens in heaven?  I’m thinking no…but then again, I would love to be surprised.  I, for one, do not begrudge the Landowner His great generosity.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on December 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

The Wisdom of Going to a Funeral

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:2 (ESV)

As I write this morning I am preparing to go to a graveside service of a dear and godly woman in our church.  My text for the funeral yesterday was Ecclesiastes 7:2.  It’s a curious verse, and it begs the question: how could it possibly be true? It is better to be happy than sad, is it not?  A house of feasting is full of joy; a house of mourning is full of sorrow. Give me the house of feasting any day, no?

Maybe, maybe not…if there is something about the mourning that will lead to feasting, maybe I should choose the mourning. In other words, what do you prefer, a day of surgery or a day of Disney?  Well, a day of Disney of course, unless the day of surgery will make it possible for me to enjoy Disney another day, and another after that.

If I skip the surgery to go to Disney, I may be the world’s greatest fool.

Mourning makes me think.  At a visitation, I view the body of the elderly and now-departed saint, and I see pictures that the family has displayed of their loved one, joyous in his prime, and I remember that, though I am in my prime now, I will not always be. Someday it will be my turn.  And I am motivated to get ready. If mourning makes me consider my end and consequently prepare for it by believing the gospel, then a funeral is a very wise use of my time.

For those who believe the gospel will be treated to an endless feast.  The living should lay this to heart.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 
 
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