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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Simplify


I'm sure there are many ways you and I need to simplify our lives. Perhaps this is a way you have not considered. I like the way John the Baptist is simply described and I like the clear and simple statements he makes. 
John 1:6–7 (ESV)  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.
I want to be sent by God. I want to actually be a witness. I don't want to talk about it, though I guess i'm doing that here. I have always been a little put off by the word and by those who throw around the word. I just want to be one. I want to do this simple task, come as a witness, bear witness about the light, and toward the end that all might believe through the light, Jesus.

Then I want to be able to make simple statements. John neither stuttered nor muttered, He knew who he was, he knew who Jesus was, and he knew how to express such things in unmistakable ways. 
John 1:15 (ESV)  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”)
Later in the same chapter John said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." 

This is part of my prayer to simplify as i begin a new year and a new work. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Right means for wrong ends

I am reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis at the encouragement of my daughter. Though I am not qualified to say so, I believe that it is brilliant and thought provoking, though since I have not yet completed it, I cannot yet offer final impressions. Adler would not be pleased with such premature conclusions.

It's fun to be reading a book and discover quotes that you've heard previously and think, "So this is is the source of that!" But the most staggering statement I've seen in the book so far is the following paragraph, which I don't recall hearing quoted, but I am very familiar with the ailment it exposes.
“There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself . . . as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist!  There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ.  Man!  Ye see it in smaller matters.  Did ye ever know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them?  Or an organizer of charities that had lost all love for the poor?  It is the subtlest of all the snares.”  (C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, [New York: MacMillan], 71-72)
 This "subtlest" of all the snares" I think, is a prideful and tragic missing of the point of any activity, that in the doing of it get's lost in the activity itself and forgets its real object. For me, my greatest danger of getting caught in this "snare" is in engaging in my morning disciplines for the sake of being able to say that I have taken care of my most important responsibility first, rather than actually longing for and seeking a real encounter with God. How silly it would be if I added to my task list, "tell Kat I love her," or "give the kids a hug." and then mechanically see those actions as little more than boxes to be checked. It's an encouragement to do something good. But something about the need to schedule it in such a manner, messes up the real experience.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Expectations

This morning reflecting on some verses from Luke's version of the Christmas event, provoked the following the thoughts. Here's the verse:
Luke 2:15 (ESV) 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  
Is there something more that God should do for us to make known to us that something huge has taken place that warrants an investigation? Do we suffer from being jaded so that we have no expectation that anything would ever be different than it has ever been before? Most of us live our lives with the practical understanding expressed in 2 Peter 3:3-4, that everything is just as it was from the beginning of time, but when we think like that we deliberately forget Peter says that everything is not as it has always been in the creation. Do we ever have any expectation that anything new, anything remarkable is going to take place? Our lack of faith in the reality that there is a God who created everything that exists, but who then invaded that world in dramatic fashion, and that angels filled the night sky and sang to shepherds, our lack of practical every day belief that this God is real and alive and moving and working in this life, in some respects blinds us to be able to see when he does work, and may, and I want to be careful here, may affect what God will or won't do through us, because we don't ask and we don't expect.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Healing and Pride

I listened to an excellent sermon yesterday by John Ortberg called Healing . . . All My Soul. In it he speaks about three kinds of sin that infect us. There are individual sins we commit at the most superficial level. Second, and deeper is that we don't just commit sins, we are sinful; we are prone to sin. Third, and deeper still we have all inherited, what some theologians call, original sin which traces back to Adam and Eve. Ortberg speaks of our tendency to not be willing to confess our sin at an honest level, perhaps not even between us and God. He then spoke of our need to be healed at a deeply profound level. It led me after listening into a time of confession that provoked me toward confessing pride. C.S. Lewis speaks of pride as the worst of all sins, perhaps even the root of all other sin. I realized while praying, not for the first time, that one of the reasons I crave being successful is so I will feel better about myself. This is opposed to resting in the love and the grace of God and knowing that I am loved and accepted by God right now, whether i am "successful" or not. That led me to this thought. I have often thought about how much pride and boasting are a part of much of the sports we see on TV and so I said this about myself. "I am as full of pride as a 350 pound defensive lineman strutting around the backfield after sacking the quarterback on a third down late in a close game."

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Deepening the Ground of our Gratitude


Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. I am more balanced in my enjoyment of it this year having just finished reading, The Hole in our Gospel by Richard Stearns. In the book, Stearns tells how he became the president of World Vision. It ranges from his difficult upbringing, determination to acquire an Ivy League school education, struggle to come to Christ from atheism, to becoming a committed follower of Christ, to CEO of the Lennox Corporation, to reluctant president of World Vision. His call experience reminds me of Moses’ reflectance to follow God’s call as recorded in Exodus 3. The book is worth reading for the sake of his story, but there is much more in the book than that. The second half is a tremendous challenge for American Christians to see the world from God's perspective and live out the full implications of the gospel toward the needs of the world. I did not take as a guilt inducing, but as a challenge and stiff reminder, that to whom much is given much is required.

I certainly believe there is a place for celebrations like Thanksgiving. But we could stand to elevate what provokes our gratitude. The things for which we are grateful reveal what we value and what is the aim of our lives. It seems there is a tendency to focus on material blessings and God's provision for material needs at Thanksgiving. But does that mean that those without many material blessings have little for which to be grateful? Why do some of God's people suffer, i.e. believers in many third world countries, while others, many American believers, live in relative comfort and affluence? Does God love those who are affluent more than those who suffer? Does God pour out blessings only on those who are obedient and withhold them from the disobedient? Can we discern who is obedient and disobedient by a person’s financial wealth? I think we know the answer to these questions, gleaned from the book of Job and other sources.

In Ephesians 1:15-23 Paul expresses gratitude for people and for the work of God within them at the beginning of a tremendous prayer. Perhaps we would be living with a better awareness of God's work in the world and could elevate our purpose in the world by taking note of what provokes Paul's gratitude. Perhaps this would block us from a mere recounting of gratitude for our relative wealth, if set our sights similarly to Paul's on what generated gratitude in him. Tomorrow, I will post further reflections on this text regarding this theme.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chesterton and the joy of God


Below is one of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotes from his book Orthodoxy, expressing a fascinating thought about God's exuberance and creativity. I''m pretty sure that I first read it in a John Ortberg book or maybe Dallas Willard, but since I subsequently read Orthodoxy for myself, I get to call this one of my favorite Chesterton quotes, right?
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (1994-05-01). Orthodoxy (p. 38). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Using Written Prayers


Why is it that most evangelical believers grow up thinking that the only way to really pray is to pray spontaneously? This is the only sort of praying I ever experienced growing up. The only prayers that were not spontaneous were intercessory prayer lists either for people who were sick or for missionaries. Other than that, I never heard anyone talk about praying something that was already written out. A little more than 20 years ago, a wonderful professor of mine at Southwestern by the name of Bruce Leafblad taught me better. The class was spiritual formation, and among many other things, he taught us two things about this kind of praying that has drastically altered my approach to prayer. First and most important, was the practice of praying the prayers recorded in scripture. We will never improve on the words of scripture. When we are praying the words of scripture, we can know that we are praying according to God’s will. Furthermore, in the act of praying these words, they are working on our souls for the renewing of our minds as Rom. 12:2 discusses. I will be preaching soon on one of those prayers that I have used nearly every day for the last twenty years, Eph. 3:14-21. Second, he taught us to write out specific things we know that we need to pray for ourselves daily such as specific character issues. I began this practice then and continue to do so to the present. The material I use most every day to pray for my own spiritual formation stretches for more than a page. Yes, there is a danger in this becoming legalistic and mechanical. From time to time, I have to put it aside to correct my tendency toward “checking the box.” But I find myself returning to it and using it most of the time.

That said, I’ve recently added two items to this prayer material. One is from J.D. Greear’s book Gospel, which I’ve recently mentioned. In that book, Greear challenges his readers to pray the following daily.
Gospel Prayer
1. “In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.”
2. “Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.”
3. “As You have been to me, so I will be to others.”
4. “As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.” [1]
I’ve also added this simple prayer, recommended by Craig Groeschel. You will have to see the 12th chapter of his book to see more of what he means by this short outline:
Stretch me, ruin me, heal me.
Do you have any such material that you pray daily for the development of your own soul? I’d love to hear about it.

Gene

[1] Greear, J.D.; Keller, Timothy (2011-09-13). Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (pp. 40-42). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Listening from the front and Developing Character

In worship at Seaford today, I had the benefit of getting to simply listen to my daughter Hannah solo. She was in from college for the weekend. I've always been behind the piano when Hannah has sang at Seaford in the past. But today she had a friend from college in with her who played for her. I know that I am biased, but wow! She sounded amazing on the Nicole Nordeman song, Every Season.

The audio from today's message on Daniel 6 can be found here on the Seaford Baptist sermon page under today's date, October 30, 2011.

If you are interested, you can see my very rough sermon notes here.

Gene

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reacting to bad news

Below is a fantastic quote from the Word Biblical commentary on Daniel's response to bad news in Daniel 6:10 (ESV) 10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.

There is no fuss or rush about his stand, such as characterizes every action of his assailants. Nor is he a man who has lost his true human freedom. He retains that, while neither civil servants nor king behave as free men. He cannot hide the fact that he prays. When prayer is fashionable, it is time to pray in secret (Matt 6:5–6), but when prayer is under pressure, to pray in secret is to give the appearance of fearing the king more than God: one must “render to Caesar …” (Matt 22:21; cf. Acts 4:18–20; 5:29) (Hippolytus). In fact, Daniel’s “seemingly innocuous act” was “more … revolutionary than outright rebellion would have been. Rebellion simply acknowledges the absoluteness and ultimacy of the emperor’s power, and attempts to seize it. Prayer denies that ultimacy altogether by acknowledging a higher power” (Wink, Naming, 110–11).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Praying the Gospel

J.D. Greear wrote a few days ago concerning Tim Keller’s comments (see below) regarding the effect of the gospel on making us more winsome evangelists. I’ve thought much in the past year about how to reflect on the gospel in such a way that it consistently moves me toward the sort of humility and confidence to which Keller alludes. This morning I found myself praying following a suggestion I heard many years ago. The suggestion is to take a familiar passage and make it personal in the following manner. In my journal this morning I wrote and prayed, “Father, I give you praise because I was spiritually dead and yet you caused me to come alive.” (from Eph. 2:1) “I was unrighteous and would never have sought you on my own (from Rom. 3:10-11) but you demonstrated your love for me in this, that while I was still a sinner, Jesus died for me. (from Rom. 5:8) I also prayed the verse I can remember my early pastors talking about using this practice with the most. “God you so loved me that you gave your one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (from John 3:16) Though this practice may seem simple, perhaps even simplistic, I think that such honest prayers are a way of meditating on the gospel and cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit in such a way that it results in the transformation that results in greater humility and greater confidence, two critical character qualities in effectively sharing the gospel. I’m copying in Keller’s words below from Greear’s blog: Plus I’ve ordered Greear’s new book on this topic.
 “When the gospel ‘comes home’-humbling and affirming you, it turns every believer into a natural evangelist…Evangelism happens because of a) the humility of the gospel. The gospel (unlike religious moralism) produces people who are not disdainful and contemptuous towards those who disagree with them. Also, it happens through b) the affirmation of the gospel. Because of the reality and joy of Christ’s love, we are not as concerned what others think. The gospel brings a gentle boldness.” 
“The gospel makes us neither self-confident nor self-disdaining, but both bold and humble at once. To the degree I am still functionally earning my worth through performance (i.e. to the degree I am still functioning in works-righteousness), to that degree I will be either operating out of superiority or inferiority. Why! Because if I am saved by my works, then I can either be confident but not humble (if I am living up) or humble but not confident (if I am not living up). In other words, apart from the gospel, I will be forced to be superior or inferior or to swing back and forth or to be one way with some people and another way with others. I am continually caught between these two ways, because of the nature of my self image.
 So the gospel humbles me before anyone, telling me I am a sinner saved only by grace. But it also emboldens me before anyone, telling me I am loved and honored by the only eyes in the universe that really count. So the gospel gives a boldness and a humility that do not “eat each other up” but can increase together.” 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Danger of Comparing

This week we have the privilege of having my new friend Matt Wilkins leading revival services at Seaford. Matt is a fellow Kentuckian. I grew up in the southeastern part of the state and he in the western part. It’s been a joy to get to know him this week and to hear him preach. I can’t remember exactly how he described himself last night, but let’s just say the boy is intense. I didn’t know someone from Kentucky could talk that fast! I love it.

So after listening to him for a couple of days, it just so happened that I needed to listen to a bit of my most recent sermon from last week from Hebrews 13. I don’t listen to myself often, it’s actually a good practice for the sake of evaluation. But after listening to Matt, I sound, well, different than Matt.

At any rate, my good friend Rick Lin asked about my sermon’s being recorded so here’s my message from last Wednesday evening. It took us a few days to get it posted due to some computer issues and in fact, it starts about a minute or two late, so it misses the intro. The recording level is also a little strange at the beginning, but that gets adjusted within the first minute.


I’m also posting in my notes from the sermon here. They may not make a lot of sense, as they are just my bulleted points, but they are there if you want to see them.



Friday, October 14, 2011

Serving the world from home

Sitting this morning in my very comfortable home office, I am shaken by my reading in Operation World of the obscure (to me) ethnic and religious diversities of the regions around Chechnya in Russia. The tremendous poverty and unemployment, along with ethnic and religious violence among people’s of which I’ve previously never heard have captured my imagination. I don’t want to be guilty of what David Brooks speaks of, that is, Americans enjoying and complementing themselves on having sympathetic feelings toward people who are hurting but doing nothing whatsoever to make a difference in those circumstances. The first step I am taking is to get more serious about praying using the Operation World guide and signing up for the daily email from their site. I don’t know what else to do today, but I draw some encouragement from today’s entry from Oswald Chambers that it is up to God’s sovereignty to determine from where I am to minister.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A prayer for effectiveness


The best way that I know how to learn to pray is to prayer the prayers contained in scripture. Recently, I discovered Heb. 13:20-21 as a prayer to add to my arsenal of scriptures to use in learning to pray and in praying for people.
Hebrews 13:20–21 (ESV) 20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
It is actually a benediction, which is a form of prayer, spoken by the writer of Hebrews over his readers. It begins and ends with a word of worship, as I think much good praying does. This prayer can be prayed word for word or just like the Lord’s Prayer, can also be used as a pattern, launching you into more prayer from the outline it provides. In that manner, you could use it as a guide, first to worship God specifically as the God of peace and to mediate through prayer on what the means. Then, moving to the next phrase, focus on the action of God raising Jesus from the dead. This rehearsal in your mind of things you already know is not a mindless rote activity. Rather, it is where worship begins. Our hearts cool to the stupendous reality of who God is and what he has done. But as we rehearse these truths, the ground is set for our minds and hearts to reawaken to the glory and power of what we often so easily pass over. This creates the possibility of generating new love and fresh awe of God, which leads to more worship and more trust in the one to whom we pray, which provides powerful motivation to continue. You can further mine each phrase of the prayer as a source for mediation and worship.

However, the specific thing I want to note here is the crux of his prayer for the people in v. 21 that God would “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.” If you stop on the first phrase of the prayer that God would “equip you with everything good,” that could easily slip into a shallow prayer essentially for the American dream, “God, please bless me with everything good.” However, that’s not what it says. Rather the writer prays that God may, “equip you with everything good that you may do his will.” (italics mine) It is a prayer that God would provide everything needed to be able to accomplish what he calls us to do. This text is a reminder that you and I should not presume that God is doing this, but rather we are to ask for it. Jesus said in John 15:4-5 “without me you can do nothing.” This prayer in Hebrews 13 is a practical outgrowth of Jesus’ statement in John 15 and praying the Hebrews prayer faithfully for each other is the right action to remind us of that reality. If God does not provide what we need in spiritual power, ideas, giftedness, and initiative, “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” then we cannot please God and we cannot accomplish his kingdom purposes. We may be doing activities that look like ministry, but in the end they will burn up  (1 Cor. 3:10-15) and will accomplish no kingdom good.

So, we need you to take up this weapon of prayer and pray it faithfully for those within your sphere of prayer responsibility. The need has never been greater for God’s people to not just be busy doing church, but to be effective in ministry for God’s sake.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gratitude as a conflict management strategy


Why is it that in some cases it is not until a person dies before we are genuinely willing to reflect on what they mean to us? It's easy to get frustrated with people, to be irritated at folks because of both little things and big things. Then, when that person comes to mind, it’s the irritations we remember and not the things we value about this person. In contrast think about how remarkable Paul’s brief statement is about the Ephesians recorded here in chapter 1 of his letter to them. Ephesians 1:16 (ESV) 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,

Following Paul's example could greatly alleviate most any relational problem. Try this: For the sake of shocking your system, when you are frustrated with someone, imagine their funeral, and reflect on what we would say if called upon to speak on this topic: “here is what I will miss about my friend.” Whatever that is, that is the very material for which we you can now express gratitude to God. Let's focus on those things about each other, let’s not cease giving thanks for the people in our life and what they bring to our lives that we would miss and let us not cease remembering them in our prayers.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Baseball and spiritual disciplines


I was finishing Tim Challies’ excellent book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment and came across this paragraph:
Roy Halladay is the Toronto Blue Jays' ace pitcher and is one of the top players in baseball. Halladay has a well-established routine that begins as soon as a game is complete and continues until the next game has begun five or six days later. He has another routine that takes him from the end of one season to the beginning of the next. And, like many players, he has a routine that takes him from pitch to pitch. His off-season regimen, which prepares him for a long and grueling season of baseball, is legendary, and it readies more than his arm. To prepare his mind he reads The Mental ABC's of Pitching seven or eight times every season. To hone his concentration he carries with him a series of laminate grids filled with a hundred randomly numbered squares that he crosses off in order, from 00 to 99, with an erasable marker. "Every day that I'm not pitching, I'm doing something that's going to help me when I'm out there, not just vegging on the bench or in the hotel room," he says.[1]
This paragraph deeply challenges me. I have spoken of this matter in sermons and other occasions as I have previously read of and reflected on the example of professional athletes. Many are hugely disciplined individuals that have rigorous practices in their life that lead to their tremendous effectiveness. It always challenges me to think that if they can do that to more effectively play football, basketball or baseball, then why am I not more disciplined in my pursuit to be like Jesus. Why am I not more disciplined in my pursuit to transform this world for Jesus Christ? This provoked my to a great deal of writing and praying about how I might most strategically structure my life to accomplish God’s purposes.

For Roy Halladay, it’s pitching (or was, I don’t follow baseball enough to know if he is still active.) Is there one primary thing that God has created you to do, for which you need to structure your life to achieve your greatest possible effectiveness at this task?


[1] Challies, Tim; John MacArthur (2008-03-31). The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (p. 153). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Feeding a Hunger for Spiritual Progress, Part 2


Richard Foster argues in Celebration of Discipline that many believers do not experience transformation because they will not, don’t know how, or for whatever reason have not taken up the discipline of study. Even a person who honestly seeks to follow Christ may struggle with persistent areas of defeat because they will not take up this primary tool that God uses to transform our minds, which is another way of talking about whole life transformation.

As a young believer, I was often mystified by how I was to make spiritual progress. I attended worship, prayed, read Christian books, went to revival services, led worship, and even served on a church staff. However, I did not seem to make discernible progress toward growing in my love for God or my love for people, nor did I see much progress in the growth of the fruit of the Holy Spirit within my soul. Two primary spiritual disciplines made a substantial difference, both which I began to practice in my late twenties. One of these was the discipline of bible study.

I’m not talking about a small group bible study, or using a bible study guide as important as those things are. Rather, I am speaking of the systematic study, usually of a book of the bible over several weeks, primarily using just my bible and a notebook, or now my bible study software and a word document. I learned a simple verse by verse analysis method of study from a book written by Rick Warren in the mid 80’s.

The method has five steps:
  1. Summary
  2. Observation
  3. Interpretation
  4. Cross-reference
  5. Application

It’s often said that the difference between bible study and bible reading is a pencil, in my case a computer. Writing down observations and thoughts possesses surprising power. So I actually write a brief summary, either a paraphrase or a simple sentence diagram. Then I write observations. At this stage, I am asking, “what does the text say?” It’s not safe to answer what it means until I’ve looked carefully at what it says. Once I’ve done that step, then I can begin to interpret, asking the question, “what does the text mean?” I do this by bombarding the text with questions, which I write down and seek to answer if I can. Even if I can’t answer them immediately, there is value in  writing down the question. Then I look up some cross-references for the verse and paste them into my notes, to seek to allow scripture to interpret scripture. Finally, I ask, “how does this text apply to my situation?” Often when a person reads the bible, they are jumping straight to this step. I believe that God often blesses our bible reading with encouragement, challenge, or insight. However, if we never study at a more deliberate level, we are in danger of only engaging the text at a superficial level or worse, taking a text out of context and applying it to our lives in inaccurate ways.

This process seems to "make a movie of the text in my mind." I don't make the Bible come alive, it is alive, it makes me come alive. This process doesn't make the bible relevant for me now, it is relevant. This process of study more often not, makes the relevance evident to me in a way that transforms my life. For the past 20 plus years, the above steps have been my primary approach to studying a passage, whether for my own personal study or for preparing sermons. I hope to follow this post in two days with a recent example of a brief study I did and its results as I spoke with a group about the value of written bible study. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Motives and worship


I’m studying the Old Testament book Zechariah. This morning in chapter 7, I encountered an interaction that contains a strong challenge regarding motives and worship. The prophet reports that the people sent men to “entreat the favor of the Lord,”
saying to the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to (Zechariah): “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?
Through the people’s 70 year exile in Babylon they had fasted regularly in the 5th month. God answers using a style Jesus would use so often, answering their question with a question of his own, “was it for me that you fasted.”

Such a simple string of seven words, all of them one syllable except one, but they cut sharply and convict powerfully.

This text has recalibrated me this morning. I spend quite a bit of time doing “spiritual” things: praying, reading scripture, studying scripture, attending worship, preaching, leading worship, and reading books to name a few. Over those activities this morning, I’ve sensed God saying to me. “Is it really for me that you are pursuing prayer? Is it really for me that you are attending worship? Is it really for me that you are reading the bible, that you are studying my word? I understand that this means, are you doing these things so that you may know me, are you genuinely seeking me, are you longing for me, is that why you are doing these things, or is it for some other reason?

The text goes on to imply that the people had not been fasting to seek God, rather it was an exercise in self-pity. These words from one of my commentaries on this text are tough:
God shifted the focus by questioning the sincerity of the people’s fasting and responding with a series of rhetorical questions. What had begun as a time of genuine contrition for sin and the suffering that ensues had deteriorated into a mere ritual performed legalistically. As commanded in numerous other passages, God enjoined the people to focus again on the heart-felt repentance that should mark any such commemoration. Barker adds, “They had turned it [the fast] into a time of self-pity for their physical condition, devoid of genuine repentance and moral implications.”[1]
Obviously, God is not against these activities, nor was he against fasting in speaking to the returned exiles. But this short incident shows, as do many other passages, that real religion, real Christianity first seeks God, to know him and to honor him. Second, such encounters must result in justice and mercy shown toward others, but that’s a subject for a different day. 


[1] George L. Klein, vol. 21B, Zechariah, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2008), 215-16.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My comments in worship on the 10th anniversary of 9/11


Today is Patriot Day, a day set aside for remembering the 9/11 attacks and of course today is the 10th anniversary of that awful day. The day provides a great opportunity for us to honor first responders, those who run into places and situations from which most of us run away. That day changed all of us individually and collectively, I think it’s fair to say, it changed the world. I suspect that over those days, we all felt a little less invincible, a little more wary, but I also remember great determination. It was a horrific day for everyone, but certainly more so for those who lost loved ones. But as God specializes in doing, he takes the absolute worst man has to offer and uses it for good. Perhaps many have forgotten the lessons of 9/11. I don’t claim to know them all and won’t attempt to list them, but I will mention one tipped off to me today in a blog post by John Piper. There he quoted C.S. Lewis who said that a time of war causes all to be more aware of death. That may seem morbid, but its actually very wise to have that awareness. We rarely have greater clarity about what matters in life than when we are at a funeral. It’s then that we remember what matters and what doesn’t. Most of the time we try to pretend that everything will always go on as it is now. But its not wise to live that way, because its not true. What is mature is to live life fully aware that everything we hold dear will one day change. The only way to face such a life with peace and joy is through a rock solid faith in the God who sees the end from the beginning.

John Piper quoted heavily from C.S. Lewis words on this subject in his blog post Saturday. I quote his entire post below. 
C. S. Lewis's words from his classic essay “Learning in War-Time," written during World War II, captured some of the powerful effect 9/11 had on those of us living half a century later. There is no question of death or life for any of us, only a question of this death or of that — of a machine gun bullet now or a cancer forty years later.  What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent; 100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. It puts several deaths earlier, but I hardly suppose that that is what we fear. Certainly when the moment comes, it will make little difference how many years we have behind us.  Does it increase our chances of a painful death? I doubt it. As far as I can find out, what we call natural death is usually preceded by suffering, and a battlefield is one of the very few places where one has a reasonable prospect of dying with no pain at all.  Does it decrease our chances of dying at peace with God? I cannot believe it. If active service does not persuade a man to prepare for death, what conceivable concatenation of circumstances would?  
Yet war does do something to death. It forces us to remember it. 
The only reason why the cancer at sixty or the paralysis at seventy-five do not bother us is that we forget them. War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right. 
All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centred in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realize it. Now the stupidest of us knows. 

We see unmistakably the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it.

 The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses  [New York: HarperCollins, 1949], 61-62, paragraphing added.

Powerful encouragement for spiritual growth

A friend noted that my previous post dealt with the past tense aspect of sanctification and alluded to the reality that there are past, present and future aspects to it. I am currently studying Heb. 10 in preparation for a sermon next week. The early parts of that chapter speak to each of these aspects of sanctification. (You can see a detailed definition of the term “sanctification” at the end of this post if you are interested.) The following verse alludes to at least two of the three aspects.

Hebrews 10:14 (ESV) 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

By a single offering Jesus has perfected for all time, that’s a finished and settled work. He identifies “those perfected for all time” as “those who are being sanctified.” The first action “perfected for all time,” is already completed, the second, “those who are being sanctified,” is clearly ongoing. However, Christ followers can take great comfort in that the outcome of their life is assured because it’s already completed, “he has perfected.” There is tremendous confidence in this. The outcome of the believer’s life is assured. This is the only real ground of hope that we could make any spiritual progress. Believers still have a responsibility to pursue spiritual growth. The promise that the job will be ultimately completed gives us confidence that we can make progress.

This is another place in scripture that cuts away at the thought with which many believers suffer that somehow they need to make themselves better or to perform better so that God will be more pleased with them. That’s not the way it works. Christ’s single sacrifice has perfected “those” for all time through a single act (his suffering on the cross) completed in the past that accomplished this purpose. In the sense of how God sees the believer, this perfecting work is completed already.

However, Jesus’ work does not result in immediate perfection in a believer’s life. A proper appreciation of these truths would never lead to the conclusion that “it doesn’t matter what I do now, sense I’m assured a happy ending.” No, or as Paul would say, “God forbid.” The more a genuine believer presses into these truths, the greater the longing created within him or her to grow in sanctification, to make spiritual progress, to grow in holiness. Perhaps it could even be said here, based on this text, that an evidence of genuineness in the faith is that this “being sanctified” is taking place. Spiritual growth in Christ is evidence that a person is truly in the faith. One way to detect spiritual growth is to see if there is growth in the fruit of the Holy Spirit, since only the Holy Spirit could produce those qualities listed in Gal. 5:22-23 love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

If you want to read more . . .

A key to understanding the above verse is to know what the word “sanctified” means. I’m pasting in two articles below copied from Logos.

A comprehensive definition of sanctification by the New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833) states: “We believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness; that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Sealer and Comforter, in the continual use of the appointed means—especially the Word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, and prayer” (Article X).[1]

Here follows the entry for the root word of the word translated “sanctified” in the Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. You may be put off by the Greek words, but I;m copying this in for the sake of those who might want to see the whole article. You don’t have to know Greek to understand what this says here, when you encounter a Greek word just skip over it, knowing that whatever follows it usually defines the term. 

ἁγιάζω hagiázō; fut. hagiásō, from hágios (40), holy. To make holy, sanctify.(I) To make clean, render pure.
(A) Particularly in Heb. 9:13.
(B) Metaphorically, to render clean in a moral sense, to purify, sanctify (Rom. 15:16, “being sanctified by the Holy Ghost,” meaning by the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit on the heart. See 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:26; 1 Thess. 5:23; 1 Tim. 4:5; Heb. 2:11; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:12; Rev. 22:11). Hoi hēgiasménoi, those who are sanctified, is a reference to Christians in general (Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor. 1:2; Jude 1:1). In 1 Cor. 7:14, the perf. tense hēgíastai, has been sanctified, refers to an unbelieving husband or wife who is sanctified by a believing spouse. The word “sanctification” here should not be construed to mean salvation. The unbelieving partner is set apart on account of the believing partner. The unbeliever comes under a special and direct spiritual influence and benefits from divine favor in the life of the believer. As long as there is contact, there is hope that the unbeliever will turn to faith in Jesus Christ. The point of the passage is that in such a marriage the believer is not defiled by the unbeliever, rather the unbeliever is sanctified by the believer.
(II) To consecrate, devote, set apart from a common to a sacred use since in the Jewish ritual, this was one great object of the purifications.
(A) Spoken of things (Matt. 23:17; 23:19; 2 Tim. 2:21; Sept.: Lev. 8:10f., 30).
(B) Spoken of persons, to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will (John 10:36, “whom the father hath sanctified, and sent into the world”; John 17:17, “Sanctify them through [or in the promulgation of] thy truth” [cf. John 17:18, 19]).
(III) To regard and venerate as holy, to hallow (Matt. 6:9; Luke 11:2; 1 Pet. 3:15; Sept.: Is. 8:13; 10:17; 29:23). Thus the verb hagiázō, to sanctify, when its object is something that is filthy or common, can only be accomplished by separation (aphorízō [873]) or withdrawal. It also refers to the withdrawal from fellowship with the world and selfishness by gaining fellowship with God.
Deriv.: hagiasmós (38), sanctification.
Ant.: koinóō (2840), to profane, call common or unclean; miaínō (3392), to stain, pollute; molúnō (3435), to besmear, defile; spilóō (4695), to make a stain or spot, defile; phtheírō (5351), to corrupt.[2]



[1] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988), 1898.
[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary : New Testament, electronic ed. (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

Thursday, September 8, 2011

strong medicine for shallow thinking about God's forgiveness


Hebrews 10:9-10 contains an interpretation of an Old Testament quote the writer of Hebrews assigns to Jesus in describing his work of sacrificing himself. In verse 9 Jesus states that I have come to do your will, then verse 10 says, Hebrews 10:10 (ESV) 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

There is something huge in this text. In our moments of immaturity, or perhaps just in moments of drifting away from God, and when we are tempted to sin, we can toy with this thought: “It’s ok if I go ahead and sin, I know God will forgive me anyway.” Understood properly, this section of Hebrews blocks that incredibly shallow and shortsighted thought. The entire book of Hebrews is the medicine to cure that sort of goofed up thinking, especially chapters 7-10 that are likely read through quickly and not thought about deeply, at least in my experience. These passages highlight the glory and the power and the effectiveness of the death Jesus Christ and greatly magnifies that to our hearts and minds. To simply jump to this wonderful verse that shouts, “we have been sanctified once for all,” may create the danger of drawing the terrible conclusion that it no longer matters what I do because I’ve been sanctified, I’ve been cleansed once for all. However, the deep reflection on the sacrifice of Jesus and the connection to the centuries of repeated sacrifices as prescribed in the Old Testament and the way that that magnifies Jesus act on the cross seems likely to effectively block that thought. It is true, those in right relationship with God have been sanctified, cleansed and set apart for God’s use, once for all with a clean conscience. This is all accomplished through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ. It is a wildly encouraging truth. But without the deep reflection that leads up to this verse, it could lead us to a shallow and disastrous understanding of the verse.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A connection between scripture work and worship


Worship remains a broad term in the minds of most. If it were possible to extract what we honestly think of worship, our answers would differ significantly. The reading, studying, or mediation on scripture both sharpens worship and sets it on fire. I am currently studying Hebrews 9 for a message I’m preparing to give next week. It’s a part of scripture I have quickly read through in times past so that I could get to the “good” stuff. However, I have been surprised, I should not have been, that I find myself burning with new worship toward God through my meditation on material that previously had seemed like background without much meaning. (It's possible that you need more background to follow what this text is talking about, but I'm taking the risk to throw it at you as is.)
Hebrews 9:1–7 (ESV)  Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.
Why does thinking about this passage move me to worship? The precise details of how God instructed worship in the temple to take place impresses on me the holiness of God and my own sinfulness. This is especially true when I ponder verse 7-8 and their description of the priests entering into the holy of holies only one time per year. All of this sets up a contrast with how wonderful the good news about Jesus who made one sacrifice for all time and then sat down at the right hand of the father. Lingering over these verses doesn’t give me new information about God, but it presses their significance onto my heart in a fresh way that generates worship.

Serving effectively as a worship leader, requires a growing worship life.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Imaginary Deadline - LifeChurch.tv : swerve

The Imaginary Deadline - LifeChurch.tv : swerve:

'via Blog this'

i really like this short post by Craig Groeschel on setting deadlines early. It reminded me of something I'd red in Poke the Box that had gotten me thinking similarly but i can't find the right quote now.

Feeding a Hunger for Spiritual Progress: Part 1


There are basics to spiritual formation that anyone who wants to make spiritual progress in Christ must learn and practice. Some spiritual disciplines don’t need to be practiced by everyone, but the two core disciplines, which all other spiritual disciplines use and enhance, are prayer and bible reading.

I like the hand illustration by the Navigators regarding the bible. The five fingers of the hand represent five ways to get a grip on the bible: hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating. All of these are important. They don’t need to be practiced in any particular order. I have found that the third step of Bible study is critically important for my own development. But hearing the word is fundamental to all the others. Numerous methods provide opportunity to “hear” the word. Faithful participation in corporate worship and then listening intently to the word being preached is primary. Participating in small group bible studies is another. It is relatively easy, and in many cases free, to listen to scripture being read. Free options include the online ESV bible and Bible Gateway. I own the ESV audio bible ,which I have uploaded into Itunes and onto my itouch.

Stunning resources are available for hearing the word through listening to free podcasts. My favorite are Tim Keller, John Ortberg and John Piper but there are many others.

Why is this particular step of hearing the word important? If I understand Romans 10:17 it is how faith it is developed. Romans 10:17 (ESV) 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Here is how that works. Hearing the word of Christ directs our attention to God’s faithfulness instead of on the circumstances that trouble you or frighten you.

The question remain is then will you, will I, be intentional about hearing the word of Christ? There’s no way to make spiritual progress without it. As I heard John Piper say in a message some time ago. “I can’t promise you that if you will get faithful to hearing God’s word that you will grow. But I can promise you that if you don’t, you won’t grow spiritually.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Core Productivity Decision in an Age of Infinite Input : What's Best Next

The Core Productivity Decision in an Age of Infinite Input : What's Best Next

A couple of days ago I wrote about Seth Godin's book, Poke the Box. Matt Perman's short post above captures another important take from that book.

Here's the gist of it from my perspective. There is now an endless supply of content that we can take into our minds. But we are not just meant to be consumers of information, or of anything else. What we take into our minds and hearts must result in output.

Are you balancing what you take in, with what you put out? For instance, does your bible reading result in obedience? Does your time on Facebook lead to positive output from you toward others? Does your reading of email, blogs, books, and other websites  result in real writing or other output that benefits other people?

These are the questions i'm asking myself this morning. 



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A prayer for help to be productive

Studying through Zechariah I came upon the following verse this morning, Zechariah 4:6 (ESV) 6 Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” My reflection on the verse eventually led me to pray this:
God, I need you. I know that I cannot make a kingdom difference in this situation unless you cause that to come about. I cannot encourage this person I am about to speak to on my own. I cannot prepare this presentation in a God honoring way without you. I cannot effectively lead these people without you. I cannot effectively manage this process unless you work through. Would you work through the abilities that you have developed in me? Help me to see and understand how to develop my skills and offer my best, while learning to actively depend on you through the responsibilities of this day.
Here’s the reflection that led to that prayer: Whatever I am trying to do, whatever my hand finds to do, my ultimate confidence is not in my abilities. (I really like the new song and video by Steven Curtis Chapman that brilliantly emphasizes the point of Colossians 3:17 (ESV) 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.) It is not in my might, it is not in my position, it is not in my wisdom, it is not in my gifts, it is not ultimately in my ability, rather my confidence needs to be in the Holy Spirit affecting the circumstances I face. In this text this is a solemn acclamation of the Lord of hosts. This does not mean that there is not a place for my gifts and abilities. Clearly there was a role for Zerubbabel to play. If this is about the rebuilding of the temple, then he would have had to use his skill in either leadership or building to bring this about. So our gifts and abilities have a role to play. But our ultimate confidence does not lie in our abilities. The problem seems to me that our pride keeps us moving toward confidence in ourselves, confidence in myself. It is always a bit of a dance, a bit of an inward challenge to keep these things in mind and to live with this real awareness. On the one hand, I’m completely dependent on God. On the other hand, it seems that I am clearly responsible to develop competence in every arena.

This brings up for me the subject of productivity, which is the area of expertise for Matt Permann, Director of Strategy at Desiring God ministries, who is writing a book on productivity, which I will read as soon as it is available. He regularly probes the issue of the development of competencies in effectiveness and productivity from a biblical perspective.

Where does my confidence lie? It lies in the power of God to actually make a kingdom difference through me. I cannot make progress otherwise. It is somewhat like our physical bodies in that we have responsibility to care for our bodies, to exercise, to eat well, and to get rest. Furthermore, we are responsible to take unique actions. There are many things within our choice to accomplish. Yet many systems in our bodies function without our choice. We depend totally on God for these systems. When they stop, we stop, ultimately.

In the spiritual realm, and in the realm of accomplishing work it is similar. We have a responsibility to learn and grow and it would seem we are to do this aggressively. But there is the constant danger then for our confidence to be placed in our own strengths. But that is not what will make the ultimate difference. We grow, we work wisely, but ultimately it is God at work through us that will make the difference. It seems easy to go too far in either extreme here. So what do we do practically? As simplistic as it sounds, I believe that it means that we have a greater need to pray. My experience is that we don’t really pray that much at this practical level. Perhaps too often, we work and serve and go about our business as if it all depends on us. What needs to happen is that often throughout the day we find ourselves praying along the lines of the prayer at the top of this post.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Thoughts on Poke the Box


I find myself wanting to ask several people to read this book, Poke the Box by Seth Godin, some who are very close to me personally. However, I don’t know that I’m going to be able to get them to do that, so I want to summarize what I believe are the some of the key points that I would want another person to grasp from this book.

I've been following Godin's blog for about a year and have been impressed by his insightful brevity. Plus the titles of his books are excellent. The other of his I've read is called, The Dip.As far as I know, I don’t believe that Godin is writing from a specifically Christian perspective. That’s not a problem, all truth is God’s truth, and Godin’s worldview would not be possible outside of a culture not richly marked by the teaching of the bible. That’s the point of the book I’m reading now.

Part of the reason this book appeals to me is that I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the thought that I gradually have become the status quo. I’m tempted to think its because I’m getting older, but now I think it’s a sort of human tendency to “settle in.” There are many positive benefits to staying in one place for a long time, (I’ve served my current church for 19 years) but growing overly comfortable seems to be a danger, as well as becoming defensive when someone challenges an idea or a process in place that I’ve developed. This is why his statement that we might develop “an obsession with changing the status quo merely to see what happens,” got my attention.

Here’s another quote that resonates with me strongly:
Risk, to some, is a bad thing, because risk brings with it the possibility of failure. It might be only a temporary failure, but that doesn’t matter so much if the very thought of it shuts you down. So, for some, risk comes to equal failure (take enough risks and sooner or later, you will fail). Risk is avoided because we’ve been trained to avoid failure. I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance…and if you have anxiety about initiating a project, then of course you will associate risk with failure.
His argument here reminds me of the parable of the talents (Mat. 25:14-30) which seems to me mostly about takings risks with whatever God has given us. The point of the parable is not that God demands success, but that God insists that his good gifts to us be invested and put into play. Holding back what God has given you whether in abilities, opportunities, finances or relationships out of fear attracts a strong rebuke by Jesus in this text. Part of what I like about what Godin says in this book is that we should expect failure, that we need to be trying lots of things, knowing that some of them won’t work. His definition of anxiety is very good, “experiencing failure in advance.”

Godin goes on a few sentences later to say that, “I’m not surprised to discover that many of these people are stuck. Stuck with the status quo, stuck defending their position in the market.”

I may have more to say about this book in days to come. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Off the cuff recommendations

Yesterday, a friend asked me for some book recommendations to help him grow spiritually. That’s a dangerous prospect to ask me for a list of books. A person could come away from the experience thinking, “I need to be more careful what I ask for.”

So I scrolled through my books database for suggestions that I had read in the last couple of years or so. (Yes, I have a spreadsheet that lists the books that I have read in the last fifteen years.) Here is my list, improved a bit from what I recommended to him, in reverse chronological order as to when I read them.

King’s Cross by Tim Keller

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Life with God by Richard Foster

When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper. I just noticed that this one has a study guide for use
with small groups or as a personal study. It is also available free as a pdf file from the Desiring God website which I recommend highly. I read the free version of this book while holding my laptop in my hands and walking on my treadmill.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

This has got me seriously thinking though about what books I would genuinely recommend of the books that I have read. I hope to write about that soon.

Would you comment below and list books you’ve recently read that made a significant difference in your life?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Making the Most of Every Opportunity—When You Can’t Sleep

Perhaps its an age thing, but its not unusual for me to wake up after a couple hours of sleep and not be able to get back to sleep. Of course, I’ve tried all kinds of things including laying there for hours staring at the ceiling, trying to sleep in a recliner, trying to pray—with varying success, getting up and starting the day in the middle of the night, listening to music, listening to a book on my kindle, reading a book on my kindle, among other things. Incidentally, what I really don’t like doing is trying to watch TV in the middle of the night.

I’ve hit upon a combination of a couple of the things above that you may find useful. I have used a devotional system called The Daily Tryst for more than 20 years. I hope to write a series about that here in days to come. This Tryst document I use contains numerous prompts for prayer with supporting scriptures as well as personal and intercessory prayer lists. For many years, I worked from an actual notebook, but for the last several years I’ve used a Word document and my Logos Bible Software. This morning, when I couldn’t sleep, I was reminded of an article I recently read (and now can’t find) that listed about 50 different uses of Dropbox. I already had the program installed on my laptop, itouch and blackberry and realized that I had stored my Tryst document in a Dropbox folder. (This could also be done by using Google docs, but I don’t think that that is quite as effective.) This morning I used my itouch, (the blackberry would have also worked) to pull up my document and pray through it without having to get up. From my itouch I could also look up scripture from my Logos application for that device.

The low tech method still works, getting out of bed and getting on my knees in another room. Sometimes that happens as well. There are unique dangers in keeping a smart phone close to your bed. Reading email in the middle of the night seems to be a guaranteed way to help you not be able to get back to sleep, for instance. However, I have mostly broken myself of that habit.

The biggest difficulty with going back to sleep is that I can’t seem to stop my mind from beginning to work on what is most pressing, or on the 1st 100 things most pressing. This is why I often find it difficult to pray and stay focused. However, with my Tryst materials in my hand, I can move through my prayer disciplines. This enables me to focus, which seems to enable me to pray more effectively. This is a practical way of accepting Jesus invitation in Matthew 11:28–30 (ESV) 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It is a practical way of doing what Philippians 4:6 instructs, resulting in what verse 7 says will happen. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In some cases, this results in falling back asleep, but I don’t really see that as the goal. Genuinely encountering God is the goal. In times past, when I have managed to really pray in the middle of the night, sometimes the opposite takes place, because real prayer often results in getting more stirred up, rather than less. Regardless, I’m comforted in the night to be reminded of

Psalm 121:1–4 (ESV)
  1    I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
  2    My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
  3    He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
  4    Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.