Category Archives: Spiritual Life

The Most Important Habit of 2017

The new year brings new opportunities for change.  Over the years of personally following Christ and helping others do the same, I have consistently found one habit produces more change than any other.  One habit that transforms marriages, helps parents, fuels evangelism, sparks prayer, and brings new life to a dry and weary soul.  If I could encourage you to start any new habit in 2017, it would be the habit of reading and responding to God’s Word every single day.

Our lives are full of noise.  So many voices compete for our daily attention.  Where do we prioritize the voice of God?  How do we listen first to what God wants us to do each day?  Jesus commands us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”  But how do we seek Jesus first?  How do we make our relationship with the Lord our highest priority?  The answer is simple and yet remarkably difficult to do: open your Bible and prayerfully read it every day.

Let’s get really practical: what’s required to start AND maintain this habit in 2017?

  1. A quiet place.  Jesus took the time in Luke 5:16 to get away from the crowds and the disciples to be alone with God.  He taught us in Matthew 6:6 to go into our room and close the door when we pray.  Why?  So that we could find a quiet place to be with the Lord.  Remove distractions.
  2. A good time.  Look at your calendar and find your best time of the day.  This is actually harder than you think to do.  Consider when you are most alert, have some free time, or can use existing time for connecting with God (lunch hour).  Whatever time your choose, mark it on your calendar and stick to it.
  3. The right tools.  Get a Bible translation that you can read and understand.  Don’t consume your time reading devotionals (other people’s words about the Bible).  Read the Bible itself.  Make sure you have a journal, a good study Bible, and an accessible commentary if you get stuck.  Come to the table ready to dig!
  4. A doable plan. Once you find a time and place and bring the right tools, the questions is then what to read. There are so many good Bible reading plans you can choose from.  Find one that works for your schedule and your daily routine.  Start small if you never done anything like this before.
  5. A soft heart.  When you read the Bible, don’t approach God with an arrogant heart, looking for problems and reasons not to obey.  Come with a soft heart that desires to submit to the Lord and follow His ways.  Be ready to apply what God says to you each day.  His Word is living and active and will change your forever.

My friend, 1 Timothy 4:7-8 teaches us to train ourselves for godliness.  Why?  Because training ourselves (having personal discipline) is essential to spiritual growth.  Is it hard work?  Yes – there is no doubt.  But everything of value in life requires discipline.  You want 2017 to be different?  Start the new habit of spending time every single day in God’s Word.

Five Tips for Studying the Bible

Open BibleAs we think about our goals for the new year, many of us want to become more regular in reading, studying, and applying God’s Word to our lives.  Here are five tips to help you become a better student of the Bible:

1- Have a plan!  After following Jesus for the last 20 years, I can confidently declare that your Bible reading will be better and more disciplined if you have a good plan to follow.  Without a plan, your reading will be sporadic and disconnected.  Reading the Bible faithfully is a lot like the discipline of exercise.  It requires you to do it when you feel like it and when you don’t feel like it.  The best way to push through the low times is to have a good reading plan that you can stick to.  There are a variety of great plans available online.  However, if you are looking for a great one to start with, sign up to journey with our congregation through the four NT gospels in 2016.  You can sign up at http://cityview.jointhejourney.com/.  You will receive a daily email with a passage to read and a short devotional with reflection questions.

2- Read prayerfully!  Make sure to remember that Bible study is not purely an academic exercise.  Our goal is not to master information or learn new facts but to walk under God’s authority.  We believe that the Bible is living and active and that the Holy Spirit uses the Scripture to speak to our hearts and change our lives.  For that reason, make sure you pray before you read and then meditate on what you have read.  Give the Spirit room (and time!) to speak into your life, comfort you, convict you, change you from the inside out.

3- Read in community!  One of the biggest mistakes that American believers make in 2016 is reading the Bible in isolation from other Christians.  We need to listen to the voices of other Christians (in history and our own times) who have wrestled with the meaning and application of the Bible.  When you find something new and powerful in the Bible, run it past a mature Christian who can help you process your insights.  By God’s grace, you have what you need to study and grow in the Scripture, but God never intended for you to do so in isolation.

4- Study the context!  Most errors in Bible interpretation and application flow from one source: reading Bible verses out of context.  We have all made this mistake, so I’m definitely not throwing stones.  But I do want to encourage you to study the words of the Bible in the context of the sentence, in the context of the paragraph, in the context of the chapter, in the context of the book, in the context of the whole Bible.  This process is so important to make sure you understand what the original author actually intended to say with what they wrote.  You wouldn’t want anyone to read one sentence of your email apart from the context of your whole message.  Don’t do that to the biblical authors either!

5- Read honestly.  The Lord of the Bible knows your heart and mind as you read the Bible.  There is no value in faking your response to the Scripture.  The psalmists model for us a brutal honesty with God as we process His promises in the midst of our own struggles and circumstances.  I think Bible-reading is so much more powerful and life-changing when we are honest with the text, when we argue with it and celebrate it and cry through it and get mad at it.  If you really study the Bible and seek to apply it to your life, you will experience the full range of human emotions.  Be honest about it, and ask the Lord to shape you according to His will as you read.

No other spiritual discipline has helped me grow as much as spending daily time in God’s Word.  I pray that you will experience God in fresh ways in the Bible in the new year!

“For the Word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

The Cross and Our Shame

When the Bible describes the condition of Adam and Eve before their choice to sin against their Creator, it says something remarkable about their relationship with one another.  Genesis 2:25 records that they were together in complete vulnerability (they were naked) and that they felt no shame.  They knew each other intimately and yet were not ashamed in each other’s presence.  hen, in Genesis 3, right after Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s commands, they experienced shame.  They hid from God and from one another.  They covered their nakedness and were no longer being completely transparent before the other.

What is shame?  Shame is the humiliation or distress caused by awareness of wrong-doing.  It is the dishonor that we feel when we have done something wrong.  In other words, before sin entered the world, there was no shame.  There was nothing to feel ashamed of.  But once disobedience occurred, shame resulted.  This is true even today.  After we commit a sin, we feel shame.  Some feel more shame than others based on the sensitivity of their conscience and their view of God.  But at the core, we all experience shame.

You know the feeling and the look of shame.  You have had that experience where you couldn’t look someone in the eye because you knew that you had hurt them.   You didn’t want them to know who you really were, what you had really done.  Why?  Because you felt ashamed.  You may have experienced that in your relationship with your parents or your spouse or your best friend.  You most definitely have felt it in your relationship with God.  If you are aware of His perfect holiness and your own moral failings, then you feel unworthy to be in his presence, a sense of shame over the sins in your life, the choices you made that has brought dishonor to His name.

This is not unique to you.  Listen to the writer Ezra describe his personal shame in Ezra 9:6.  “And I said: My God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face toward You, my God, because our iniquities are higher than our heads and our guilt is as high as the heavens.”  In the next verse, he describes the national shame of his people.  Verse 7 reads, “Our guilt has been terrible from the days of our fathers until the present. Because of our iniquities we have been handed over, along with our kings and priests, to the surrounding kings, and to the sword, captivity, plundering, and open shame, as it is today.”  In other words, Ezra is ashamed of his sin before God, and he is ashamed of the sin of his people before the Lord.  Sin leads to shame before God and before others.

What does the cross of Jesus have to do with our shame?  Well, Isaiah 53:3 tells us that Jesus took our shame when he hung on the cross – “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.”  Even though Jesus had nothing to be ashamed of, he faced the humiliation and dishonor that we deserved.  He felt the dishonor that we should have experienced.  Why?  So that he could take our shame from us!

In Hebrews 12:2, the Bible says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him, despising the shame.  What does that phrase mean?  It means that he even though he endured our shame on the cross, he despised the shame.  He didn’t deserve to be humiliated in that way.  He deserved honor and yet received dishonor.  He deserved praise and adoration and yet received cursing and shame.  Why?

2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us what happen transactionally when Jesus died on the cross.  “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  Here’s the truth I want you to get in your heart and mind.  He endured your shame so that we could receive His righteousness.  He took your shame, my friend, so that you could receive His honor.  So that you could approach God as your Father and not your enemy.  So that you could be freed from condemnation and shame, walking in God’s love.  Lift your eyes, child of God.  You are His beloved! Jesus took away all of your shame.

 

Four Steps to Consecrate Yourself before the Lord

After the Lord rescued the people of Israel from brutal slavery in Egypt and delivered them from the powerful hand of Pharaoh, He called them to consecrate their lives.  The consecration was not a prerequisite of Israel’s salvation, but a commanded response to God’s faithful love for His people.  The Lord commands the nation of Israel to “be My holy people” in Exodus 22:31, to set themselves apart for worship and devotion to God.  The command has not changed now that we are under the blood of Christ.  Our salvation is still a work of total grace, based on the perfect righteousness of Jesus and not our own.  At the same time, Jesus has commanded those who have been purchased by His grace to “obey all that He has commanded us” and to “be holy as His Father is holy.”  In other words, we are still directed to consecrate ourselves before the Lord, not as a means of earning His favor, but as the appropriate response to His favor.  What does this process of consecration look like?

First, we need to remember God’s grace in our lives.  One of the most common commands in the Bible is to “remember” all that God has done for us.  The festivals in the OT and the sacraments in the NT are means of remembering the gracious work of God on our behalf.  A drift in our commitment to holiness is usually connected to a lack of awe and wonder at all that God has done for us.  Start your process of consecration by writing down all the good gifts that God has given to you that you do not deserve.

Second, we need to remove our idols and distractionsAs the people of Israel moved into the promised land, they found it full of other nations who worshipped other gods.  This is a helpful picture of the church’s position in the world today – surrounded by people who worship everything and everyone else other than the one true God.  And because our hearts are naturally bent away from devotion to God, we will drift naturally drift toward idolatry.  This is why Jesus commands us to “seek first” the Kingdom of God ahead of everything else, and why God warned His people to not adopt the gods of the peoples around them.  To consecrate ourselves before God, we need to recognize where we have adopted the idols of our surrounding culture and remove them from our lives.  Continue your consecration by writing down the distractions that keep you from loving God first and most in your life.

Third, we need to repent of sinful attitudes and actions.  When we turn from our idols to seek the Lord, we must confess the sins that have become second-nature to us.  We must be mindful of the sins that we most easily excuse – the selfish attitudes, evil thoughts, and harsh words.  We need to agree with God that our laziness and spite and lust and greed and apathy are sins against His holiness.  We need to repent of our flippant attitude toward our own sin, and recognize the damage that our sin causes to our relationship with God and with others.  As you consecrate yourself before the Lord, ask Him to show you the sinful attitudes and actions that are offensive to Him, especially those that you cannot see.  And turn from those sins back to the Lord.

Fourth, we need to recommit our hearts to God.  Consecration is not ultimately about clean living.  It is about worship.  We consecrate ourselves before the Lord not to prove ourselves to our neighbor or feel good about ourselves.  We consecrate ourselves before the Lord for the Lord.  We pursue holiness as an act of worship, out of a deep love and awe for the worthiness of God.  In this way, true consecration seeks to bring the Lord the glory and honor that He is due.  Finish your consecration process by declaring your love and devotion to God as your highest and greatest pursuit.

Don’t Stifle the Spirit

Deuteronomy 4:24 says that “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” Hebrews 12:28-29 tells us to “serve God with reverence and awe because our God is a consuming fire.”

BurningCampfire2We’ve all seen the power of a consuming fire – a powerful image describing our powerful God.

When John the Baptist announced Jesus’ ministry in Matthew 3:11, he said that One was coming who would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

In Acts 2:3, on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God fell on the original disciples, the Scripture says that the Spirit rested on each one “like flames of fire that were divided.

This same God is present within our church today in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  I think it is helpful to imagine our church as the kindling for the fire – we are putting the pieces of wood together in such a way that is most conducive for the fire to burn.  But we are not the fire.  Only the Holy Spirit can bring the fire and set us ablaze for the glory of God.  And He is doing that.  He is with us.  He is igniting us.  He is burning within us and among us.

With that image in mind, I want to turn your attention to a key verse for NT spirituality: 1 Thessalonians 5:19.  It is a short one – only four words – don’t stifle the Spirit.

The verb translated ‘stifle’ means to “extinguish a fire” to “stop something from burning.” So here’s the picture – the mental image that the Scripture is putting before us:

The Spirit is a fire, and He is setting His church on fire to burn brightly for Him.  But if we are not careful, we can take a bucket of water and douse the Spirit.  We can stifle the Spirit, quench His work in our midst.  And when we do that, we just go back to being a pile of wood without any heat or power.

So, we don’t want to stifle the Spirit.  What does that look like?

What are the things that we do that pour water on the fire of the Spirit in our midst?

We might not even realize what we are doing – we are just doing what comes natural to us.

But we are so desperate for God.  We need Him more than we need air and water.  Without His empowering presence, we are simply going through the motions.  But with Him, all things are possible.

To understand how we are stifling the Spirit, we must first know what He is doing in our midst.  Only then will we see clearly how we are opposing Him and quenching His fire.

As I have studied the Scriptures, I see four areas where the Spirit seems to be powerfully working:

1-      He is leading us toward dependence on God (prayer)

Scripture:  Romans 8:26-27

“In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.  And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit’s mind-set, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

The moments in the Scriptures where the Spirit moves most powerfully in the church is through prayer – Acts 2 (Pentecost), Acts 4 (place was shaken, they were filled, spoke boldly), Acts 6 (devote ourselves to prayer), Acts 10 (Peter’s vision as he was praying), Acts 13 (praying when the Spirit set aside Paul and Barnabas for missions), Acts 16 (Paul and Silas in prison praying)…

The Spirit’s fire burns where there is faithful prayer.

2-       He is convicting us of sin and turning our hearts toward Jesus

In the gospel of John, Jesus talks about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to Jesus’ words in John 14:25-26

“I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit —the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”

Listen also to His words in John 16:7-8

“Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment.”

A couple of thoughts on these passages:

  • The Holy Spirit is working among us to point our hearts back to Jesus.
  • He is leading us to study and read the Word of God.
  •  And the Spirit is convicting our hearts where our lives are out of line with the Scriptures.
  • His conviction is not one of shaming us, but one of changing us.
  • He desires us to trust in Jesus, to follow Jesus, to live like Jesus.
  • And He is speaking to our hearts toward that end.

3-      He is gifting us for making disciples (living for others)

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12-14

We just recently preached a five-week series at our church through these chapters, and we learned some important truths:

ONE, that the Holy Spirit has gifted every Christian for the work of ministry, and

TWO, that the gifts are given for two reasons:

  • First, that the name of Jesus would be lifted high among all peoples (mission)
  • Second, that the church would grow in maturity

The fire of the Spirit comes to the church not just for the good of the church.  It comes also to equip the church for the work of the ministry.  The Spirit wants us to live for others.   The Spirit gifts us to make disciples – both inside and outside the church.  The Spirit is not just at work inside your congregation.  He is Lord of the whole earth and calling the church to go into the whole world.  The NT is clear: the Spirit gifts believers to accomplish the mission He has given us – to serve one another (to build up the church) and to reach the world with the gospel

4-      He is bringing unity among brothers and sisters in the church

Jesus prayed in John 17:20-21 for us.  Here’s what He prayed:

“I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.”

I think we are safe to assume that the Holy Spirit is working to accomplish the prayer of Jesus in the world today.  He moves as the people of God are unified and love one another.

Listen to Paul’s encouragement to the Christians in Ephesus in Ephesians 4:30-32:

“30 And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. 31 All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.”

A couple of thoughts:

  • We grieve the Spirit when we don’t get along with each other.
  • Jesus wants us to be unified as His church – under One Master, One Savior, One Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit is working to build one church with one mind and one heart.
  • The church is powerful when we work together as one people with one heart.
  • We honor the Spirit and stoke the fire of His work when we love one another.
  • But we grieve Him when we don’t – when we can’t get along and are divided.

All of that being said, here’s the real question I want us to wrestle with:  how does Satan work in our midst to tempt us to stifle the work of the Spirit?  Remember, Satan is a liar.  He works to deceive God’s people so that they do not believe the truth.  And if we are not careful, we will fall right into his traps. Here’s what Satan is doing to lead us to stifle the fire of the Holy Spirit:

1-      Satan is feeding our self-reliance and causing us to doubt God’s goodness.

If we are not on guard, this leads us to a lack of prayer.  Now God is sovereign and He will do as He pleases, but He has set up this world with a key spiritual principle in place – if we do not pray, He will not move.

It is time to check our hearts and minds when it comes to prayer.  Are you praying at all?  Is it sincere?  Is it consistent?  Are you and I declaring our dependence on God for all of life and ministry?

Or do we simply go through our daily routine without God?  And then when the bottom falls out, we run back to the Lord in prayer.  If that is our routine, we are stifling the Spirit in our midst.  We need to return to prayer as the church.  We need to cry out to God and lean on His strength.

Not as an afterthought, but as our heartbeat.

2-      Satan wants us to justify our sinfulness and ignore the voice of the Spirit.

I wrote earlier that the Spirit is convicting us of sin and leading us back to Jesus.  But Satan doesn’t want us to respond to the Spirit’s conviction and repent and find healing.  And so we are tempted to excuse our sin and give up on the pursuit of holiness.

This is one of our biggest struggles.  The church doesn’t look any different from the world in our value and practices.  This grieves the heart of God and stifles the work of the Spirit. We need to return to a place of holy sorrow for our sin.

We need to not just acknowledge our sin, but see it for what it is and turn from it.  The temptations don’t change – to run to sex and money and power and substances for our pleasure, to treat our spouses and kids with hateful words, to lie and steal and betray.

But our attitudes toward them need to change.  God’s grace is sufficient to cover all our sin, but that doesn’t mean we should keep on doing it!

3-      Satan seeks to convince us to pull away from ministry and mission

In most churches, a small percentage of the people do most of the work.  That is terrible and dishonors the gifting of the Holy Spirit.

At its core, it takes the gifts of the whole church to build up the church.  And it takes the witness of the whole church to reach the whole world.

I don’t think a church that is full of people who are sitting on the sidelines will ever see God honor that and bless it with His powerful presence.

When we live selfishly (it’s all about me) and fail to live for others (both inside and outside the church), we quench the fire of the Holy Spirit.

4-      Finally, Satan plants seeds of distrust and division inside the church (lack of unity)

This is the one that the Lord has been speaking to me the most about recently.  I think this is the area where Satan does his greatest damage and hurts the church.

Relationships are hard.  They are challenging for so many reasons.  In the church, you will experience some of the greatest friendships and community anywhere.

Talk about the challenges of relationships here…

  • Lack of love
  • Unkind words
  • Disrespect
  • Lack of communication and follow through
  • Forgetfulness

Satan uses all of this to plants seeds of distrust and division in our midst.  And instead of reconciling as we should when we are hurt, we hold on to our pain and gossip about one another.

And we dump bucket after bucket of cold water on the fire of the Holy Spirit.  We need to work on this as the people of Jesus.

We need to move toward each other in love and forgiveness.  We need to stop blaming others for our relational difficulties and take responsibility.  We need to be unified and be the one body that God has called us to be.

Jesus died for us all – every one of us.  Not so that we could create factions and divisions, but so that we could love one another.

So that we could be ONE body – unified under the banner of Christ..

With all of that being said, what do we need to do to stoke the fire of the Spirit rather than stifle His work?

1-      We need to welcome Him and express our dependence on Him for our life and ministry.

2-      We need to confess our sin (both of omission and commission) and turn back to God.

3-      We need to use our Spirit-given gifts to serve others and reach the world.

4-      We need to repair relationships in the church that are strained.

My prayer is that every church would repent of stifling the Spirit and get in step with the Lord again.

The Meaning of the Cross

Here are my notes from tonight’s Good Friday service on the meaning of the cross:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Roman Empire these days and their use of the cross.  They used the cross as a weapon of execution to demonstrate their power of their subjects, a way to dominate and instill fear in the hearts of men.  And they used it to great effect.  For a time.

One of the men that the Romans crucified was a rabbi from Nazareth, the son of a carpenter.  Jesus was his name, and though He was the Son of God in the flesh, He wielded His power differently.  Instead of murdering those who opposed His reign, Jesus laid down His life willingly on the cross.  He didn’t use the cross to intimidate others.  He surrendered to the cross for the sake of others.

At the time of His death, the Romans surely looked like they had the stronger kingdom, that their approach to the cross was more effective in building a following.  But 2000 years have a way of providing clarity.  The Great Roman Empire sits in the dust-bin of history while the followers of Jesus only continue to grow.  The way of Love has overcome the way of death.  Jesus’ way remains.

But what exactly did Jesus accomplish in His crucifixion?  The Bible uses four words to describe the impact of Jesus’ death on the cross, and I want us to meditate on them tonight before we take communion.  Each gives us insight into the profound spiritual realities that have changed with the death of our Savior on the cross.  It is important that we meditate on these truths so that we fill up the cross with meaning in our hearts.  If we don’t, the cross will simply become background noise in our busy lives.  It fills our jewelry, our walls, and our clothes, but does it fill our hearts?

The first word is propitiation.  1 John 2:1-2 says “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father —Jesus Christ the Righteous One. 2 He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.”  Propitiation is a temple word, one that describes a sacrifice that satisfies the anger of God against sin.  In Jesus, God has fully satisfied His own wrath against sin.  By the cross, we are no longer objects of God’s wrath, but objects of His love and care.

Do you feel like God is angry with you?  If you are in Christ, He is not – because the cross satisfied God’s wrath.

The second word is redemption.  Mark 10:45 says “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”  What is a ransom?  It is a price paid for the purchase of something or someone.  God has purchased our redemption through the cross of Jesus.  The price of our salvation was infinitely high, costing God the price of His precious Son.  And Jesus willingly paid this price to redeem us from our sins – to set us free from bondage.

Do you feel like you owe God a debt you must pay?  If you are in Christ, you do not – because Jesus paid your debt.

The third word is justification.  Romans 5:18-19 says “ So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone.  For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  Whereas propitiation comes from the religious world and ransom from the business world, the idea of justification comes from the legal world.  To be justified means to be declared righteous before a court of law.  In this way, Jesus has not just paid for our sins, but He has made a way for us to stand righteous before a perfectly holy God.  This is what Romans calls a life-giving justification.  We are not just forgiven, but made righteous by Jesus’ work on the cross.

Do you feel guilty before the Lord?  If you are in Christ, you should not – because Jesus forgave your sin.

The fourth word is reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19 says “Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.”  Jesus accomplished our reconciliation with God the Father on the cross.  He purchased our relationship with Himself.  We are no longer His enemies, but now His children.

Do you feel lonely and separated from God?  If you are in Christ, you are not alone – you have been adopted by God.

This is what the cross means, and why today is called Good Friday.

HT: John Stott, The Cross of Christ

A Call to Prayer

How does spiritual awakening come to a city?

There are many answers to this question, many commands from Scripture placed on us as believers who hunger for God to move powerfully in our midst.  We know that Christians must get busy loving their neighbor, sharing the gospel, repenting of sin, and unifying under the name of Jesus.

However, we also know that nothing of eternal significance will happen in our city if God isn’t in it.  The greatest requirement for spiritual awakening in our city is the supernatural move of the Holy Spirit of God.

How do we tap into the supernatural power available to us in Jesus Christ?  The answer to that question is simple: we humble ourselves before the Lord and pray.  Our prayers don’t dismiss our responsibility to repent and serve and preach and share and strategize.  But all of our repenting and serving and preaching and sharing and strategizing will amount to nothing unless we pray.

I am spending this week at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, NC.  I have come here for personal spiritual renewal, to simply sit at the feet of the Master and listen to His voice.  I have been reminded of this powerful truth while reading and praying this week (and learning more about the ministry of Billy Graham): we need to work, to plan, to advertise, and to make combined efforts to share the gospel with the people in our city.  But our greatest need is for prayer.

As spiritual leaders in Greater Austin, we long for the day when every man, woman, and child in our city would have a relationship with the One True God through His Son, Jesus Christ.  To that end, we have agreed to come together as churches in Greater Austin for the Explore God campaign, with the hope that thousands of spiritually mature Christians will have intentional gospel conversations with spiritually curious people in our city.

But we know that our strategies and efforts are empty if the Lord doesn’t move, don’t we?  He will not share His glory with us.  He will only move when we as a united people of God in our city commit to seek Him in prayer, to call on His name, to humble ourselves before Him and admit that we need Him.

This is why I am inviting you to join me in praying for the Explore God campaign every day between now and September 8th.  We are 60 days away today from the beginning of the Explore God campaign.  Can you commit to pray daily with me for the people in our city to experience the power of God in such a personal way that they can’t deny the reality of Jesus Christ?  Here is what I am praying for…

  1. That God would bring spiritual renewal to the believers in our churches.
  2. That Christians would repent of sin and grow in holiness.
  3. That Christians would grow in sensitivity to the Holy Spirit to guide them daily, especially in their evangelism.
  4. That Christians would love people sincerely and meet needs as they are able.
  5. That Christians would be clear when sharing the gospel of grace.
  6. That God would speak to the hearts of unbelievers and show them their need for Christ.
  7. That churches would be unified in their love for God, love for people, and proclamation of the gospel.
  8. That God would bring awakening to our city and region.
  9. That God would be glorified in all that we do so that no person can boast.
  10. That the Spirit would move through the Explore God campaign to bring many people to saving faith in Jesus.

Will you join me in prayer over the next 60 days?  More than we need air to breathe, we need God’s Spirit to move.

May His Kingdom come.

Managing a Gift

higheat

Tim Wendel’s book on the history of the fastball in baseball is a great read for several reasons.  One, the guy obviously loves the game.  His zeal for the history of the game and the people he interviews is evident on every page.  Two, he has done his homework.  He travels and talks to current and former players and managers.  He reads newspaper accounts of games and players.  He digs through reports from the Hall of Fame archives in order to put each pitcher in perspective.  Third, he knows how to write.  Baseball books can be boring if the author simply spouts stats.  Wendel captures the highs and lows of the game, and the fan’s ongoing fascination with comparing players from different eras with each other.

High Heat describes Wendel’s personal search for the fastest pitcher of all-time.  The book is part-biography (looking at the lives of Walter Johnson, Bob Fellers, Nolan Ryan, and others) and part-history (understanding how the game has changed over the years) and part-science (trying to explain the mechanics of the fastball and what happens to the pitcher’s arm when he throws it).  Interwoven with these different perspectives on the question is Wendel’s own personal journey.  This is what gives the book coherence and intrigue.  He isn’t simply writing about fastball pitchers.  He’s trying to answer a personal question (can he discover the fastest pitcher of all-time?), which is impossible to answer at the outset but worth discussing.

I enjoyed the journey immensely and would recommend this book to anyone who likes baseball, especially baseball trivia.  I was especially intrigued by the answer that Wendel gives in his concluding chapter.  He names Nolan Ryan the fastest of all-time, not based solely on MPH, but on stewardship of the gift of speed.  After studying the question, Wendel came to the conclusion that some may have thrown harder, but no one managed the gift as well as Ryan.  So many fastball pitchers pitch only for a short time (because of injury or destructive behavior).  Many others aren’t able to harness their speed to actually pitch well against hitters.  But Ryan didn’t only throw hard.  He worked hard and pitched well for a very long time.

This book reminded me of the fact that being good at something is not enough.  Wendell acknowledges that throwing the ball hard is a gift from above.  Some people simply have it.  The key question is what they do with it.  What do you do with the gifts you have been given?  Do you manage those gifts well or squander them?  We can get laziest in the areas where we are most naturally talented.  We know we shouldn’t, but we do.  The difference between being great and average may only be found in how hard we work in the areas in which we are gifted.

The Importance of Self-Control

baberuth

Robert Creamer shares the good, the bad, and the fascinating in his wonderful biography of Babe Ruth.  As part of my reading in light of the new baseball season, I wanted to learn more about the life of baseball’s most famous player.  It is hard to overstate what a larger-than-life figure he was during his baseball career, not just in the game but also in the country.  Before Ruth, the common belief about baseball hitters was that they could either hit for power or for average, but not both.  Ruth disproved this misconception by swinging for the stands and hitting for average at the same time.  The results were monumental to the form of the sport and produced some of the best baseball records of his generation – homes runs in a season, home runs in a career, total RBIs and bases, and more.

While describing Ruth’s baseball accomplishments in great detail, Creamer also shows us the man behind the sports hero.  We learn about his upbringing in a Catholic boys home, his first marriage, his personal generosity to others, and his total lack of self-control.  This last point is the one that stayed with me after I finished the book.  Ruth’s life was one that was full of too many women, too much food, and unending excess.  What should we make of that?

What I took away was the danger that comes with unbridled desire is combined with financial resources.  At the height of his baseball career, Ruth was making more than twice as much money as the next highest paid player.  His money opened doors for excess at every turn. He could sleep with as many women as he wanted, gamble as much as he desired, and eat as much as his stomach could hold (which he did).  But of course, self-control is a virtue for a reason.  When we allow ourselves to go after whatever desire we have without any limits or boundaries, we are destined to destroy ourselves and others along the way.

And that must be the final lesson of Ruth’s life.  More important than our physical talent or financial gain is the kind of people we become.