indexSome friends began sharing the top ten books that influenced them on social media this week. One of them asked me to post my ten most influential books and it took a while to trim down the list. Good books tug at your heart and make you think. My list includes some Christian classics you would expect and a couple of fiction books that helped me understand human more completely. I was tempted to add Laura Hillenbrand’s amazing book Unbroken to this list, but I just finished it yesterday and time will tell how I’m impacted by it’s amazing story.

Jayber Crow
Wendell Berry’s Port William novels impacted me in many ways as I read through them this Spring. Jayber Crow is the story of the Port William’s barber. Both parents died when he was young and he never married. Through this work I saw again the importance of community, place, and living life where you are. Jayber Crow also showed a great attentiveness to the people around him that has reminded me not to be distracted when I am around other people. The entire series is great, but this stayed with me the longest.

Chosen by God
Early in my Christian life I began wrestling with the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace. Even though a plain reading of Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 supported these doctrines, my heart resisted and my head threw out objections. R.C. Sproul’s classic look at the sovereignty of God in salvation helped me see the goodness of God in election. He also shattered my objections through his discussion of the fall on the human will.

Gospel Wakefulness
This book by Jared Wilson still affects me even almost daily even though I read it over two years ago. He shows what it means for us to be awakened to the realities of the Gospel. The chapters on depression and spiritual rhythms constitute some of the best thoughts I’ve read on the subjects. This book is a good to read at the beginning of the year to orient your heart and affections.

Knowing God
Some books are meant to be savored. This is one of those books. I’ll never forget reading Knowing God on a mission trip to Scotland in 1997. Packer talks about God in way that is real. The biblical text has saturated his thinking and he has spent time in the presence the Bible’s God. This book opened my eyes not only to who God is, but to who we are in Christ. The chapter on adoption is worth the price of the book.

The Cross of Christ
If you tell me that I need to recommend one book for Christians to read, I think this would be it. John Stott walks through the Bible explaining the nature of Jesus’ death on the cross. He shows the need for the atonement and how Jesus gave his life in our place bearing the wrath of God for our sins. Then he discusses how Jesus’ death brings forgiveness and redemption.

The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger narrates this classic through Holden Caulfield. Reading the thoughts of this fictional character walking through struggles no one could see reminded me of the battle going on in the minds of many people. His struggles with identity, depression, and rage are not different than what many of the people we encounter on a daily basis deal with. This book reminded me that people are often dealing with inner turmoil and talking to no one about it.

Desiring God
“God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.” These words taught me an approach to Christianity I had never heard. “Satisfied in God.” Those words had never entered my mind. Reading the Bible after reading this book showed me that this theme was everywhere. Desiring God so revolutionized my thinking that I’m constantly saying things I’m sure came from the book, but now they are such a part of me that I don’t feel like I’m quoting John Piper.

The Art of Neighboring
“In this life, we can do only a few things really well; I think it’s a good idea to make certain that one of those things is what Jesus says is most important.” Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon write this referring to Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. They give their readers a test to determine how well they know their neighbors and then give practical steps to help us understand how to love our neighbors well.

The Deliberate Church
The Lord has used Mark Dever to shape my thoughts on church life in a profound way. One of the most helpful things I did in Seminary was to go spend a weekend at Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington to learn about their leadership and church life. Deliberate Church shares everything we learned that weekend and then some. Dever and Alexander talk about how elders are gathered and what they do when they gather as well as how the congregation is gathered and what they do when they gather. The chapters on elders meetings are worth the price of the book.

Knowing Scripture
This is another R.C. Sproul book I read early in my Christian life. This book helped me understand how to read and interpret the Bible. He walks through the different genres of Scripture and how we should interpret them. One especially helpful chapter gives some basic rules for interpreting the Bible. My well worn copy of this book has a sentence highlighted in almost every paragraph of that chapter.

The GirlsLast week the oldest of our three daughters turned nine and today she told me she will be twenty in eleven years. I nearly stuck my fingers in my ears and ran away screaming. Before she came along, I was convinced I would be a great parent and had all the answers. Then that seven pound baby girl was born and I suddenly forgot everything I though I knew. Parenting has been difficult and immensely rewarding. It revealed areas of sin in my life I didn’t want to face, but also has been a tool God has used to make me more like Jesus. Parenting together has strengthened our marriage and helped us learn how to work as a team. Also parenting has been a joy to me. Our girls make me smile and laugh everyday.

As our youngest is now a toddler and we have another child on the way, I’ve been reflected on some things the Lord has taught me through this journey. This list is not intended to be exhaustive as there are more things that could be said, but here are nine things I’ve learned from our nine years of parenting.

Work on Your Marriage
Yes I realize this is a post about parenting, but if you are married with children you don’t have the option of putting your marriage on hold to raise your children. Get your children in bed so you can have some time together before you go to bed. Do everything you can to have date night at least a time or two per month. Spend time together talking about something other than the kids. Laugh together and have fun together. A healthy marriage often leads to healthy parenting.

The Family Dinner Table is Your Friend
If you were to ask me to name an overwhelming image from my childhood it would be sitting around the dinner table laughing with my family. Naturally this was something I wanted for our children as well and the benefits of trying to eat several meals together around the table at night have been legion. At the table we talk with our girls, laugh with our girls, tell stories to our girls, teach our girls, and enjoy our girls. Some of the best times of connecting we have with our girls are around the table.

Ask for Forgiveness When You are Wrong
We do not enjoy admitting when we are wrong. This can be especially true when it comes to our children. We don’t like to admit when we have wronged them because it possibly gives our children the upper hand against us. As hard as it may be, if you have falsely accused your children of something, made a mistake that negatively affected them, or lost your temper with them; apologize to them and ask for their forgiveness. Don’t use it as a time to correct their behavior or point out how they contributed to what you did. Just say you were wrong and ask them to forgive you. This models repentance for your children, teaches them to own their own sin when they are wrong, and builds trust with them.

Losing Your Temper is Lose/Lose
Write James’s words, “the anger of man cannot achieve the righteousness of God” over all of your parenting. When you lose your temper with your children, it undermines whatever good you may have been trying to do in disciplining them. They stop listening to what you are saying to them and only think about the fact that you are angry with them. Work hard from the heart to keep control of your temper, modeling for your children how to love your neighbor and how to exercise self-control. This way they can focus on what they need to learn instead thinking about how much your tone scares them.

Discipline for Disobedience, but not Mistakes
One of our children loves to sneak into the refrigerator and pantry to get food when we are not looking. We have warned her not to do this repeatedly and even child-proofed the pantry to keep her from getting in. Then one day we heard her teaching her sister how to get around the child-proofing. We know she sneaks food when we are not looking because she always makes a mess. The first few times she got in trouble for sneaking food when she wasn’t supposed to, I think she believed she was getting in trouble for making a mess. We learned to say to her specifically why she was being disciplined. Spilling milk is not disobedience; it’s an accident. Pouring milk when you’ve been told not to do it without permission is. Make sure you are clear with your kids that mistakes are okay, disobedience is not.

Teach the Gospel in Everyday Life
The temptation when we think about teaching the Gospel to our kids is to only think about family devotions and taking our kids to church each Sunday. Teaching our children the Gospel does take place through family devotions and our local church body, but it takes place in other ways as well. Talk about the Gospel with your children as an everyday part of life. This is what Moses had in mind in Deuteronomy 6 when he tells us to talk of these things when we sit in the house and when we walk by the way. When you want to encourage your child to be kind, remind them of the kindness God has shown to them through Jesus.  Use the love of God to teach about loving your neighbor. Talk about your own spiritual life, listen to good Gospel-centered music together, and let the language of the Gospel shape the language of your home.

Answer Their Hard Questions
My children ask many questions I would prefer not to answer. Either the answer is complicated or uncomfortable to talk about. They are going to get their questions answered somewhere though and I want them to know they can come to Mom and Dad with their questions. This means we have long repeated talks about spiritual truths, explaining them the best way we know how. The hardest conversations are the ones that bring up the ugly side of life or the pain of this world, but these subjects must be discussed. We’ve had many talks about death, divorce, war, poverty, and a host of other issues I didn’t think we would talk about before a tenth birthday. The conversations are not always comfortable, but they build trust and allow us to help shape our daughters’ view of the world.

Stop Freaking Out About Them
I meet many parents who are afraid they will unalterably damage their children before they are old enough to speak. The truth is that you are not going to “screw up” your child if you love them, teach them, and treat them with respect. These fears come from our desire to control everything and parenting shakes our control issues like few other things in life do. God is in control and you aren’t, so raise your children in the way he has laid out in his word and trust him. He’s good and he does good. (Closely related to this is the ridiculous list of things we believe we must provide for our children so they can have a magical childhood. Release yourself from the pressure of having to provide your child with amazing experiences all the time. It’s nothing but guilt-inducing madness created by burdens that God hasn’t put on you.)

Have Fun with Them
This is closely related to my last point. Sometimes we get so caught up in doing things for our children that we forget to do things with them. In most communities, there are so many children’s activities to choose from and you can end up spending your days taking your children to things you watch them do. I’m not saying to pull your kids off all of their sports teams, but maybe you should dial it back some. Take a walk, go to the park, or play a game. Do fun things with your children. They’re funny, fun to be around, and these years go by faster than I can bear to admit. Enjoy it with them.

Related Posts:
‘You’re Going to Be Broke:’ Some Thoughts on Having Three Daughters
Teaching Proverbs to Your Children

For Further Reading:
The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

photo credit: Light Brigading via photopin cc

photo credit: Light Brigading via photopin cc

The recent events in Ferguson, MO have reignited discussions about white privilege in our society. Many people misunderstand what is meant by the term “white privilege.” No one is saying white people should repent for being white or that individual white people do not struggle against systemic difficulties in our culture. It simply means that in our society there are ways people benefit from being white that others do not have. The reason people call it privilege and not racism is because often those in white culture are blind to the privileges they enjoy. (Before you start yelling about reverse racism. Yes it exists in some quarters, but that is not the purpose of this post. Plus we have to be honest that much of what we call “reverse racism” is in response to the reality of white privilege and our inability to admit its existence.) For example, I have been pulled over double digit times for traffic violations in my twenty-one years of driving. (Thankfully there have only been two in the last decade.) During those times I was never questioned about anything other than the offense in question. My car was never searched and I was not asked why I was in the neighborhood I was in. Often men of color who are the age I was when I was pulled over would have faced a more diligent interrogation. Also, I have never had to worry that my words or actions would validate or invalidate an entire ethnicity in the minds of the people around me. No one has heard me speak and act surprised that I was “articulate.” When I was hired for a job, I’ve never wondered if I was a token hire. Simply put, this privilege exists and I never noticed until people told me I should think about it.

What I find most interesting is why many white conservative Christians want to deny this reality when it seems to be so plain. The only explanation I can come up with is that we refuse to acknowledge any facts which might give an inch to our adversaries in today’s polarized political culture. To acknowledge white privilege exists means we might have to admit that Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton have been right about something. If we admit they are right about something it validates them and gives them more political power. Therefore we must oppose them on this issue. We refuse to speak, refuse to acknowledge, and get angry about this because we don’t want our side to lose.

Conservative Christians in America need to face a stark reality and ask ourselves some difficult questions. Have we allowed conservative talk radio to shape our thinking and agenda more than the Bible? You may wonder what the Bible has to do with acknowledging white privilege. When we fail to admit our part, even if it is not purposeful, in a system that marginalizes and oppresses others, we are failing to practice repentance. And the truth is that white Christians in America still have issues with ethnicity we must work through. We hold latent attitudes that we must repent of. We need to listen and learn from our black brothers and sisters so we can learn how to love them in a way that brings glory to Jesus. We want to see our lives and churches begin to reflect the beautiful diversity of the Kingdom of God. This will not happen while our worldview is being shaped by combative voices with agendas to gain power instead of the Bible.

This is important for Christians to think through because ethnicity is a Gospel issue. All men and women are created in God’s image and possess dignity and worth. Every person from every ethnicity has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, standing under his judgement. Jesus died in the stead of men and women of every race, color, language, and tribe. We come back to God the same way- through repentance and faith in Christ. Those who trust in Christ, of every race and ethnicity, are the adopted children of God and joint heirs with Christ. How can we for one second stand silent about issues that treat our brothers and sisters in Christ as less than us? To see the existence of the vestiges of racism and to nothing about them is to deny in practice the Gospel we claim to believe. Is the Kingdom of Jesus not of greater value than the Republican Party winning the midterm elections?

For Further Reading:
Bloodlines by John Piper
White Like Me by Tim Wise

1 Samuel for You

August 17, 2014 — 1 Comment

1-Samuel-for-YouMost Christians struggle when they read the Old Testament. The causes for this are many- lack of understanding of the biblical storyline, lack of familiarity with the culture, and lack of knowledge about how to apply the message of the Old Testament to their lives now. This is why I’m thankful for resources that help Christians understand the message of the Old Testament and live their lives in light of its truth. 1 Samuel for You by Tim Chester is such a resource. The “God’s Word for You” series, of which this is the latest offering, gives insight into the message of the biblical text while providing practical insight from the text of Scripture itself.

Chester explains and applies the message of 1 Samuel in 31 chapters. Each chapter begins with a walk through the passage, explaining some interpretive issues and thinking through the theological message. When Samuel anoints David as King in chapter 16, Chester explains the details of the text and shows the parallels with other sections in the Old Testament and the New Testament. For example, Chester shows the links between the passage and Ezekiel 34, as well as the commonalities with Micah 5 and Jesus’ birth narrative. He closes the section with a practical word about what it means to represent Jesus the King.

Chester’s treatment of David and Goliath provides the high point of the book. Seeking to apply the message of the passage to our hearts, he encourages readers to identify with the Israelite crowd instead of David. The Israelites did not win the victory. They watched their God sent deliverer win the battle against their seemingly unbeatable foe. The crowd enjoyed the benefits of their deliverer’s victory. In the same way, Christians bask in the glow of Christ’s victory. Rather than needing to summon up the courage to be David and fight against the giants in our lives, we labor through the strength God supplies. Chester makes it clear that this does not make us passive, but that it changes the way we fight our battles. “We often find ourselves facing the hostility and scorn that David faced. But we can fight bravely because the victory is ours in Christ. We can have faith because of the faithfulness of our Champion.”

1 Samuel for You could best be described as a devotional commentary. It avoids many technical discussions that are addressed in other commentaries because that is not the purpose. He introduces the reader to the contents of 1 Samuel and provides some hooks for working through how to live in light of the passage’s truth. A Christian who had never read through 1 Samuel could read this book along with it and it would help them not only understand what the text means, but how it is meant to change them.

wpid-527a7f8b953253.56203309.jpgI did not choose this title for shock effect. My sermon today was a real stinker. Granted, deciding whether a sermon was “good” or not is a subjective exercise. Yet as I sit on my back porch at 10:40PM, I cannot help but think that this morning’s sermon greatly missed the mark I was shooting for.  I’m not sure if I made my main point clear enough, explained the text well enough, applied the text clearly enough, or illustrated it well enough. This was the Washington Generals of sermons.

In light of this, here are a couple of things I am going between this Sunday and next Sunday.

Trust the Holy Spirit
Recently I have discovered that I enjoy doing yard work. When you are doing yard work you get to see immediate, visible results. “I spent all morning pulling weeds and now the flower bed looks better.” You don’t get to say things like that often when you are a pastor. Most of the results are invisible. You preach a sermon and don’t know what the effects were. You meet with a struggling couple and have no idea how things will work out for them in the future.

Not knowing what the Lord might be doing in someone’s heart at a particular moment encourages me to trust that he can work in people’s hearts in spite of my pitiful effort. In fact, there have been times that God used what I believed was a “terrible sermon” to do a tremendous work in someone’s life. This is not an excuse for laziness or a lack of preparation, but a great reminder that “our sufficiency is from God.”

Examine My Motives
“I can’t wait until next week so I can redeem myself.”Yes, these were the words that went through my hear as I climbed into the car after our worship gathering was over. We all struggle with finding our identity in our work and pastors are no exception. My temptation was to find validation in how I felt like I had preached and wanted another opportunity so I could feel better about how I had done.

It’s gracious of God to give me seven days before I preach again because it gives me seven days to remember why I preach God’s word each Sunday. This week I get to study and pray through Romans 6:1-14, preaching its message to my own heart before I preach it to others. I’ll remind myself that the glory belongs to the Lord, the church belongs to the Lord Jesus, and the power comes from the Holy Spirit. Then next Sunday by God’s grace I’ll proclaim His word again.

Related Posts:
Why I’m Using a Full Manuscript Again

For Further Reading:
The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson

photo credit: Diamondduste via photopin cc

photo credit: Diamondduste via photopin cc

The countdown started on January 7th and now we only have three weeks left. College football begins soon and you can feel the excitement in the air in the South. Momentum begins to pick up with SEC media in July and now that camps have started, there are daily updates about how quarterbacks look and what players might be moving up the depth chart.

I’ve loved college football my entire life. Some of my favorite memories involve Saturday trips to Auburn with my Dad. There are so many positives from this great sport- it’s fun, builds a sense of community, and provides common ground for talking with people that we barely know. For the Christian, we also need to be aware of the dangers that accompany our favorite sport. The greatest danger for the Christian college football fan is the tendency to over identify with our football team. The temptation can be to find our identity in our football rather than Christ. Think about it, how often have you reached exuberant levels of joy over football that you have not experienced reflecting on the things of God? How many times has your team losing demoralized you so that you could not even find joy in the things that really matter? Have you ever heard someone insult your football team and taken it as a personal insult against you?

Southerners have long found a sense of pride in the performance of their football teams. In the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Roll Tide War Eagle, former Auburn head football coach Pat Dye, former Alabama head football coach Bill Curry, former Auburn running back and Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson discussed some of the cultural reasons why Southern men gravitated towards college football. In the first half of the twentieth century, Southern men believed their Northern counterparts looked down on them. Rather than going to college, many Southern men worked in the fields, steel mills, and coal mines. They had been mocked because of their lack of education and accents. Then the region had embarrassed itself with slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, and violent resistance to the Civil Rights Movement.

There was one area where the South could not be looked down upon- college football. During the tumultuous decades of the 1950’s and 60’s, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, and Ole Miss all claimed national championships. “You may look down on me, my way of life, and my accent, but my football team will beat yours when if they play each other.” This ethos continues to this day with Southeastern Conference fans proclaiming loudly that they have best football teams in the country and have a recent streak of seven national championships to prove it. It is so prevalent that sports talk radio personality Paul Finebaum has just written a book called My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football.

This background provides Christians with an opportunity to demonstrate the precious worth of Christ in our culture. We must remember that our identity is wrapped up in who we are in Christ. This identity is sure and it cannot be shaken. So for the Christian football fan, our team losing should not shake our ultimate joy. We should not confuse our team winning with us succeeding in the things that really matter. And above all, we should not mistreat others because they identify with a different team than we do.

This fall enjoy college football as a gift from God for your recreation. Invite your friends over to watch a game. Cheer for your team, remembering eternity doesn’t hang in the balance in whether they win or lose.

photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc

photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc

When you think about places that need new churches, heavily Republican leaning counties in Alabama probably aren’t at the top of your list. Shelby County, located to the south of Birmingham, has been growing rapidly since 1990. During that time, the county has become the most unchurched in the state of Alabama, with only one in six people attending a worship gathering each Sunday. While some areas would consider this a revival, in the Bible Belt this represents the church losing ground in our culture and presents a significant opportunity for Gospel ministry in an area that is “Christ haunted.”

Our family moved here from another corner of Alabama to plant Chelsea Village Baptist Church in the Summer of 2009. By God’s grace, we have seen people come to know Jesus, new leaders trained, and people grow in their faith. This has not happened without learning a lot along the way in the midst of many ministry challenges and my own personal failures.

I did not walk into this endeavor unaware of the challenges I would face. Friends recommended books, offered advice, and pointed me to audio training. My denomination sent me through a three-day training process. While this was all helpful, it could not prepare me for the myriad of challenges that church planting presents. I’m sure people told me about what I would face along the way, but I wish I had been known three things more clearly before walking through the process of church planting.

You will be tempted to forget who you are.
Most of the challenges a church planter faces are not external, but internal. One of the greatest is the temptation to find our identity in something other than who we are in Jesus. This temptation presents itself in all ministry, but it is particularly strong in church planting.

I was simply not prepared for how easy it is to live and die based on the Sunday morning attendance. Your friends and family want to know how your new church is doing. Reports need to be sent to financial sponsors and your denomination. These questions and reports mean you start counting heads each Sunday. Then you start comparing the attendance this Sunday to the attendance last Sunday. “Oh my goodness. Our average attendance this month was less than it was last month. What am I doing wrong? I’ve got to do something to turn this decline around.” These thoughts can be overwhelming and crippling. At the same time, when attendance begins to grow there is the temptation to be self-sufficient and proud of what you are “accomplishing.”

Apart from remembering who we are in Christ, church planters will label themselves either as successes or failures. The root is the same; finding our identity in something other than Jesus. We need to be reminded constantly of the truth that Tim Keller stated so well when he said, “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” This perspective reminds us that we are sinners. Left to ourselves we would have no hope of acceptance before God. Remembering this truth humbles us out of our tendency to believe we are a big deal. At the same time we are more loved than we ever dared to imagine because of Christ. This encourages us and reminds us that we belong to him no matter what kind of visible results we are seeing or not seeing.

You will get discouraged.
Since we began our church planing journey, I have decided that I like doing yard work. I particularly like pruning bushes and digging up weeds because they produce immediate, visible results. Immediate, visible results happen rarely in church planting. Most of the work we do is slow, and the fruit will ultimately only be seen on the Last Day. The lack of visible results mixed with financial pressure and people leaving the church has derailed many church planters.

I had experienced discouragement before, but there is something different about church planting discouragement. It feels like you make progress in centimeters and go backwards in inches. John Stott’s comment that discouragement is the occupational hazard of Christian ministry rings truer for me now than it ever has.

Church planters must learn to let discouragement drive them to prayer. I had the privilege of talking with Dr. Frank Barker, the founding Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, a few months before we started the process of planting and asked him what advice he would give to a man who was going to plant a church. He did not hesitate and immediately answered that a church planter must pray. He shared encouraging stories of answered prayer in the early years of Briarwood.  While many of us acknowledge the importance of prayer, how many of us actually do it? How many of us actually pray until we have prayed? We are so results driven that prayer does not feel like getting things done, but doesn’t Acts 6 teach us that it is one of the most important aspects of the work?

Church planters also need men around them who are walking where they are walking. Find other church planters in your area and get together often. Eat together, pray together, work together, and laugh together. I have several friends who are church planters that I talk to each week. We usually talk a little bit about the previous Sunday and then talk about life and ministry in general. These men have been a tremendous encouragement to me personally. If you don’t have people around you like this, find them.

God’s grace will be enough.
This last one could be filed under “things you should have known already.” We often forget about the power and presence of God’s grace in the pastoral ministry. We are self-sufficient creatures who like to imagine that we can do God’s work in our own power.  Church planters must remember that we are who we are by grace. This keeps us from the comparison trap and it reminds us that all of our labor is done in the strength that God supplies.

This also reminds us why God allows his servants to God through times of testing and difficulty. He told Paul that his grace is sufficient for us and that his power was made perfect in weakness. It is in hard times we remember to seek God and his grace. We find his grace meets us there at every turn. We want to be seen as strong and we often want credit for the work we do, but when that happens his power is not on display. His power and his grace is on display when we are weak and when we are humble.

This list could be much longer. Fellow church planters, what do you wish you would have known before you got started?

Related Posts:
Another Big Mistake Young Preachers Make“”Wanted- Anonymous, Plodding Church Planters

For Further Reading:
Church Planter by Darrin Patrick
The Church Planting Wife by Christine Hoover

photo credit: Skakerman via photopin cc

photo credit: Skakerman via photopin cc

Interpersonal conflict is part of life. It would be nice if everyone got along all the time, but we don’t live in a world where this happens. Relational drama seems to follow us wherever we go, invading even the things that should be a distraction for us. Think about your social media timelines. How many of the posts have something to do with people and their relational difficulties and inability to get along? At least once a day I see a post that reads something like this, “I learned my lesson today about trusting people. I do my best to help them and they just stab me in the back. Well I may forgive, but I don’t forget and this won’t happen again.” Sound familiar?

The constant bickering and relationship strife we see serves as a stark reminder that the Bible’s words are true. The Bible roots our relational difficulties in our sin and separation from God. Genesis 3 records the first instance of human sin again God. Adam and Eve ate from the tree even though God told them not to eat from it. Through this one act of disobedience sin entered into the world. This action’s consequences begin to play out in the next chapter. Adam and Eve’s sons Cain and Abel went to offer a sacrifice to God. God expressed his pleasure with Abel’s sacrifice, but he was not pleased with Cain’s. The Lord addressed Cain and his fallen countenance, reminding him that sin is crouching at his door. He did not heed God’s warning, but instead invited Abel out to the field with him where he murdered him.

The pairing of these two events cannot be coincidental. They show not only the relational separation between people and God, but also between people and each other. Every conflict we have with another person is both a result of the existence of sin in the world and because of our own personal sin. The book of James speaks in particular about our desires that cause conflicts between us and others. Our wanting to get our own way, our desire to be first among the people around us, and our desire for revenge when we are wronged all caused what James calls “quarrels and fights.”

How the Greatest Separation Was Bridged
However high it may seem the sins of others may stack up against us, our sin against God is far greater and higher. We have offended him by sinning against him and we rightly stand worthy of His judgment. Thankfully the story did not end with our sin against God. Paul says in Romans that while we were sinners, Jesus Christ died for us. This reminds us that God sent His own Son to pay the debt we owed to Him. He stepped in as our substitute so we might no longer live under sin’s curse.

The Bible speaks of our salvation as a reconciliation to God. The one who has faith in Christ has his sin covered and receives the perfect righteousness of Christ. Through faith in Christ we are reconciled to God. We were once at enmity with him, but now we have been brought back to him. We have peace with God through Jesus and now we know him. We do not stand at arms length, but he invites us in. We have an audience with him, he hears us, and he is for us. When we come to Christ, God is not longer our enemy, he is our friend.

How This Affects Our Other Relationships
If our separation from other people mirrors our separation from God, then doesn’t it follow that our reconciliation to God can point a way forward to reconciliation with others? For the person who is a Christian, all of life should be lived in light of what God has done for us in Christ and in light of who he is for us in Christ. If God has provided redemption for our sins and forgiven us all of our trespasses, then that truth should begin to filter down into the way we think about our broken relationships with other people.

Take the issue of forgiveness for example. So many of our broken relationships come from holding grudges over past wrongs. Forgiveness does not mean that these experiences were not painful or that the other person was not wrong in what they did. It does mean we will let go of our anger and bitterness towards them, no longer holding their sin against them. If another person wrongs you, remember the forgiveness God has extended towards you and offer that same forgiveness to others as well. You may wonder what to do if the person will not admit they have done anything wrong. Forgive them anyway. If they don’t admit their wrongdoing it may mean the relationship cannot be mended, but it will not be because you continue to hold a grudge. If they do admit their wrongdoing, forgive them and you have regained a friend.

We should write over our lives the words of Paul in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” We cannot control how other people respond to us, but we can, because of the Gospel, let go of our anger and hostility towards them.

Related Posts:
Learning to Watch Our Words
A Bible Verse That Changes All of Our Relationships

For Further Reading:
Forgiveness by John MacArthurThe Cross of Christ by John Stott

Planning to Pray

July 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

praying-hands-blackwhiteThere have been many times in my Christian life when I struggled with my prayer life. Sometimes this happened because my prayer life began to feel stale, but the other times this happened because of a very different problem. Instead of working at my prayer life, I was drifting through my prayer life. D.A. Carson addresses this issue in our prayer lives in his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. In doing so, he shows why we should put a greater emphasis on planning our prayer lives.

We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer. We will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray. That means we must self-consciously set aside time to do nothing but pray.

What we actually do reflects our highest priorities. That means we can proclaim our commitment to prayer until the cows come home, but unless we actually pray, our actions disown our words.

This is the fundamental reason why set times for prayer are important: they ensure that vague desires for prayer are concretized in regular practice. Paul’s many references to his “prayers” (e.g., Rom. 1:10; Eph. 1:16; 1 Thess. 1:2) suggest that he set aside specific times for prayer—as apparently Jesus himself did (Luke 5:16). Of course, mere regularity in such matters does not ensure that effective praying takes place: genuine godliness is so easily aped, its place usurped by its barren cousin, formal religion. It is also true that different lifestyles demand different patterns: a shift worker, for instance, will have to keep changing the scheduled prayer times, while a mother of twin two-year-olds will enjoy neither the energy nor the leisure of someone living in less constrained circumstances. But after all the difficulties have been duly recognized and all the dangers of legalism properly acknowledged, the fact remains that unless we plan to pray we will not pray. The reason we pray so little is that we do not plan to pray. Wise planning will ensure that we devote ourselves to prayer often, even if for brief periods: it is better to pray often with brevity than rarely but at length. But the worst option is simply not to pray—and that will be the controlling pattern unless we plan to pray. If we intend to change our habits, we must start here.

Related Posts:
Another Big Mistake Young Preachers Make

For Further Reading:
A Praying Life by Paul Miller

photo credit: j / f / photos via photopin cc

photo credit: j / f / photos via photopin cc

How much damage do we do to other people with our words? We leave a scorched earth with our careless words as they cause mountains of hurt. Unfortunately we think we can excuse ourselves because “we didn’t mean for it to come across that way.” That’s the problem though isn’t it? The hurtful, careless words that come out of our mouths say more about who we are than the words we speak with intentionality. This is why Jesus says “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Since we will stand before the King and answer for every careless word, how do we cultivate speaking words that build up and encourage rather than destroy and tear down.

Pay Attention to Your Heart
Jesus said, “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.” Since our words reflect what is in our hearts, we should cultivate hearts that produce healthy and helpful words. This begins with prayerful meditation on God’s word. Read a portion of the Bible everyday, giving attention to thinking about it and praying through it. Thank God for what you read in the passage. Understand who this passage teaches that you are in Christ. Ask God for the strength to live out what He calls you to in the passage. Do this everyday and over time it will produce a real change in your heart.

Repent Quickly
Often we say things we shouldn’t say and defend ourselves instead of repenting. Our pride often will not allow us to simply admit we were wrong. Instead, be quick to admit when you are wrong. Repent to the Lord, honestly confessing your sin before Him. Then go to the person you have offended and ask them to forgive you. I’m not talking about telling them you are sorry that they got their feelings hurt. No, honestly admit your failure to love them well and the wrongness of speaking carelessly. Then ask them these words, “will you forgive me?” Paul says in Romans 12 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” You cannot control whether another person forgives you or not, but you can do your part to right the relationship.

Weigh Your Words
The last thing to do might be the most difficult. The Bible speaks frequently of being “slow to speak.” This imperative calls us to think about what we are going to say before it comes out of our mouths. This runs counter to everything was are accustomed to, but wisdom demands this. Imagine how our words could be used as a positive force to help people if we thought before we spoke. Think about the hurt you could avoid by simply weighing the words you speak before you speak them.

Related Posts:
A Bible Verse that Changes All of our Relationships

For Further Reading:
Resisting Gossip by Matthew Mitchell