Thinking Out Loud

April 11, 2016

How Are You?

Daniel White turned off the car engine and just sat in his car for an extra 30 seconds before walking into the church. On entering the church lobby there was a rush of sound as children carrying Sunday School take-home papers ran through the lobby, a woman at a table spoke loudly selling tickets for an upcoming banquet, and people engaged in conversation while drinking coffee from the church’s new café, open five days a week besides Sunday.

Fred Smits, the director of mens ministry spied Daniel coming in and with a big smile and a firm handshake asked Daniel how he was doing.

“Fine;” Daniel replied. But Daniel was far from fine. As he said the words, he was looking at Fred and internally screaming, “Help me!” The mental scream was so loud he wondered how Fred could not hear it.

“Good to hear;” replied Fred before noticing another member of the mens group arriving through the same door.

There is better acting done in that church lobby than you’ll ever see on the great stages of London and New York. People saying things are ‘fine’ when inside they are screaming.

So what about Fred and Daniel? Is it up to people who are hurting to be more honest, or is it up to the people who ask the question to probe deeper, to spend more time beyond superficial greeting?

March 20, 2016

Why Go To Church?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:26 pm

 

Going to church

As I was driving to a worship service this morning, I heard a voice in my head asking, “Why are you going to church?”

I should explain that the voice wasn’t coming from someone with horns wearing a red suit and holding a pitchfork, but rather it was the voice of a repeated self-examination that I often do while making the ten minute drive.

I know there are various stock-in-trade answers to that question. To engage in corporate worship our creator and sustainer. To take time apart from the world and work. To honor God’s day. To fellowship with other believers. To partake of Communion. To give. To pray for those in need. To be prayed for.

Those are all good answers.

Ultimately the answer I find myself coming up with lately is:

Because it’s better than not going.

Let me say that (a) I know some will think that sounds lame, and (b) some will think that is simply an answer that is incorporating the collective aspects of the other usual answers, or the absence of experiencing those benefits. But I have to say that in my Christian life, I’ve seen the effect on people of choosing not to attend weekend services, and I’ve known in my own life the emptiness I feel during a week that didn’t start out with a gathered assembly of believers.

As you face the options of various Good Friday and Easter Sunday services in the week ahead, and consider factors like having to attend at a different hour, or facing parking congestion, or maybe just having visitors sit in your seat (!) let me suggest that the other option — staying home — is just not your best choice.

Go. Go expectantly. Ask God to meet you there. Ask what he has for you to hear. Ask him to show you someone to speak to that you can encourage.

And don’t just attend. Be all there; be all in.

February 16, 2016

So What?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:32 am

I had a weird flashback a few days ago to a brief period in my childhood when the phrase, “So what?” was considered the height of rudeness, especially in a child and parent context.

It came to mind for an entirely different reason however. I was thinking about the great host of scriptural teaching that we are now afforded through websites, blogs, podcasts, streaming and video-on-demand; not to mention traditional media such as books, radio and television.

Being cold or hot spiritually is a slightly different topic, but I thought I'd toss this graphic in to today's discussion salad.

Being cold or hot spiritually is a slightly different topic, but I thought I’d toss this graphic in to today’s discussion salad.

On Sunday I heard three sermons. One I was sitting in church. Two I was sitting at my computer. I actually had the option of watching full services; but chose just to track with the teaching portion. Otherwise, I could have technically been to three church services.

But for all the teaching I’m getting — and I am fairly stuffed most days — there are times when I observe a disconnect between scriptural truth and what is going on in the real world. When I look away from the pages in the book, or glance away from the computer screen, I see a Christianity that is totally messed up, at least in places, including my own.

I hear the reading, jot down the three points, but there’s a part of me that says, “So what?” This time though it’s not in the defiant tone that got me in trouble as a child, but it’s more of a cry of, “Why isn’t this making more of a difference in my life?” Or, “Why am I not seeing this lived out in my life and the lives of my acquaintances?”

A year ago, in a different context, I shared this analogy:

Last summer I purchase some clear wood stain as well as a gallon of opaque wood stain for another project. With the clear product, it took layers and layers and application before I noticed a difference taking place and it immediately struck me that this is what happens with sermons. Applied to our life in layers, the effect is initially invisible, but evidenced over a lifetime of faithfully attending to hear from God’s set-apart leaders.

That’s why I would never give up my listening/reading habits. But I do wish I could find more of a synergy between the idealized Christian life described by those authors, pastors and Bible teachers versus my everyday life in the trenches.

Am I looking for a sign? Longing to see a miracle? Wishing for a better batting average on answered prayers? Simply needing a vacation? Maybe that’s part of it.

Or perhaps my spiritual confidence is just becoming shaky. Not fragile to the point of nearing extinction, but just shaky in terms of where it ought to be proportionate to the years I’ve been on this faith journey, the people with whom I’ve interacted, and the material I have been privileged to have heard or read.

I don’t want to be SuperChristian, but I just want there to be more of a one-to-one correspondence between the spiritual ideals I can so easily espouse, and my usually stressed-out, burned-out daily experience.

Just being transparent, that’s all.


Related: September, 2011 – Faith Under Pressure

 

 

February 8, 2016

The Face of the Deep: A Refreshing Consideration of The Holy Spirit

Though I’m not usually at a loss for words, I have so many thoughts running through my head that I truly don’t know where to begin reviewing The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of The Holy Spirit by Paul J. Pastor (David C. Cook, paperback, 2016). So we’ll do this one a little differently.

The Face of the Deep - Paul J PastorOverview: The Face of the Deep is a consideration of different passages in scripture which evidence the presence of the working of what we sometimes term ‘the third person of the trinity’ or simply ‘the Spirit.’ Arranged in two sets of seven chapters each, the first set is more focused in the Old Testament, the second in the New (though there is some overlap) with each chapter beginning in the narrative but with the aim of highlighting some aspects of what we usually term the work of the Holy Spirit. These sections are categorized as Seven Stars and Seven Lampstands, though it is made clear that the terms are not being applied in the traditional manner.

The writing style: The book is just over 300 pages long. Normally, I would consider that piece of information superficial, but I raise it here only to say that many sections of the book could easily have been typeset as poetry, bringing it to around 500 pages; such is the care that has gone into the writing. One endorsement said it better: “…the elegance of the prose befits its strange and beautiful subject.” 

A sample:

“If you want to build a ship,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Many theological understandings of Pentecost see it as some pragmatic extension of wood gathering. The “power from on high” that Jesus promised is perceived primarily as a means to an end–the evangelization of the world. The thinking is that in the face of a humanly impossible mission (making disciples and baptizing unto the ends of the earth), a divine resource is needed to carry out orders.

Of course Pentecost is power-giving. But its means of power is not just the transfer of ability or capacity, but the lighting of desire. It was an act of God that taught us to yearn for the vast and endless deep. More than the Spirit as some impersonal fuel for our “gas tanks” or a yes-man helper for missionary workers, God the Spirit, as an intimate in the souls of Christ’s people, as breath in the lungs, teaches us to yearn, to desire, to burn alive with holy passion. (p. 219)

Subjectivity: The book is far from a theological treatise on God’s spirit, rather, I was taken by the degree to which Pastor wrote himself and his life experiences into the story. Minus the more journalistic style, it reminded me so much of Philip Yancey, one of my favorite writers, whose works are equal parts theology and autobiography. Which brings us to…

Take a deep breath: I’m sure that somewhere mid-University I stopped inhaling books for good, but with this one I flipped the pages, held it close, and took a deep breath. Why on earth did I do this? Paul Pastor is from the Pacific Northwest and you are reminded of this every chapter. I could picture the forest, the rocks, the waterfalls, and I wanted to smell the trees. The book did not disappoint, though the publisher could might have anticipated this and helped me out a little more. The use of the word refreshing in today’s header was intentional. Considering the associations of wind and breath with God’s Spirit, I guess I was in the right zone.

The author’s name: What is usually trivial must be addressed here. Paul was my Wednesday Link List editor at Leadership Journal for over a year, but in days prior, I had dismissed it as a pen name. After all, this was the same publication that gave us the unlikely Url Scaramanga, “adjunct professor of interdisciplinary pseudonymology,” so I felt I was on safe ground. Not so. As the back cover blurb states, “His last name is either providence or coincidence.” (You can hear him do some real pastoring at this link; fast forward to 9 min. mark.)

What I learned: It wasn’t so much that this book introduced new information as much as it brought a number of a-ha moments as I was reminded of things I had heard before but never deeply considered or tied together. Finishing the final chapter, I immediately flipped back to the beginning and started all over, having now better appreciated the full rhythm and cadence of the book.

Bonus cuts: Each chapter features full page iconography by artist Martin French. (View them online.) At the end of the book, Pastor and French annotate each of those. Normally, I skip over illustrations — that’s not true, I usually don’t even see them — but this forced me to go back over each and read the descriptions, which was part of my decision to start the book a second time. (I’m now in chapter five!) There are also some questions for group or individual discussion. 

Conclusion: Five stars. Borrowing yet again from another endorsement, “Thank you Paul J. Pastor for writing the book I didn’t know I needed…”

 


Thanks to Martin at David C. Cook Canada for allowing me to review this great book.

Previously at Thinking Out Loud:

Link: Paul J. Pastor on Twitter.

January 31, 2016

The Lord’s Prayer – Remix Edition

This was sent to me five years ago as an e-mail forward. (Remember those?)

It is in two parts, the prayer (in blue type)
and GOD (in red type) in response.

*********

Our Father Who Art In Heaven.

Yes?

Don’t interrupt me. I’m praying.

But — you called ME!

Called you?
No, I didn’t call you.
I’m praying.
Our Father who art in Heaven.

There — you did it again!

Did what?

Called ME.
You said,
“Our Father who art in Heaven”
Well, here I am..
What’s on your mind?

But I didn’t mean anything by it.
I was, you know, just saying my prayers for the day.
I always say the Lord’s Prayer.
It makes me feel good,
kind of like fulfilling a duty.
Well, all right.

Go on.

Okay, Hallowed be thy name ..

Hold it right there.
What do you mean by that?

By what?

By “Hallowed be thy name”?

It means, it means . . good grief,
I don’t know what it means.
How in the world should I know?
It’s just a part of the prayer.
By the way, what does it mean?

It means honored, holy, wonderful.

Hey, that makes sense..
I never thought about what ‘hallowed’ meant before.

Thanks…

Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.

Do you really mean that?

Sure, why not?

What are you doing about it?

Doing? Why, nothing, I guess.
I just think it would be kind of neat if you got control,
of everything down here like you have up there.
We’re kinda in a mess down here you know.

Yes, I know;
but, have I got control of you?

Well, I go to church.

That isn’t what I asked you.
What about your bad temper?
You’ve really got a problem there, you know.
And then there’s the way you spend your money — all on yourself.
And what about the kind of books you read ?


Now hold on just a minute!
Stop picking on me!
I’m just as good as some of the rest

of those people at church!

Excuse ME..
I thought you were praying
for my will to be done.
If that is to happen,
it will have to start with the ones
who are praying for it.
Like you — for example ….

Oh, all right. I guess I do have some hang-ups.
Now that you mention it,
I could probably name some others.

So could I.

I haven’t thought about it very much until now,
but I really would like to cut out some of those things.
I would like to, you know, be really free.

Good.
Now we’re getting somewhere.

We’ll work together — You and ME.
I’m proud of You.

Look, Lord, if you don’t mind,
I need to finish up here.
This is taking a lot longer than it usually does.
Give us this day, our daily bread.

You need to cut out the bread..
You’re overweight as it is.

Hey, wait a minute! What is this?
Here I was doing my religious duty,
and all of a sudden you break in
and remind me of all my hang-ups.

Praying is a dangerous thing…
You just might get what you ask for.
Remember, you called ME — and here I am.
It’s too late to stop now.
Keep praying. ( pause … . )
Well, go on.

I’m scared to.

Scared? Of what?
I know what you’ll say.

Try ME.

Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.

What about Ann?

See? I knew it!
I knew you would bring her up!
Why, Lord, she’s told lies about me, spread stories.
She never paid back the money she owes me.
I’ve sworn to get even with her!

But — your prayer —
What about your prayer?

I didn’t — mean it…


Well, at least you’re honest.
But, it’s quite a load carrying around all that
bitterness and resentment isn’t it?

Yes, but I’ll feel better as soon as I get even with her.
Boy, have I got some plans for her.
She’ll wish she had never been born.

No, you won’t feel any better.
You’ll feel worse.
Revenge isn’t sweet.
You know how unhappy you are —
Well, I can change that.

You can? How?

Forgive Ann.
Then, I’ll forgive you;
And the hate and the sin,
will be Ann’s problem — not yours.
You will have settled the problem
as far as you are concerned.

Oh, you know, you’re right.
You always are.
And more than I want revenge,
I want to be right with You . . (sigh).
All right, all right . …
I forgive her.

There now!
Wonderful!
How do you feel?

Hmmmm. Well, not bad.
Not bad at all!
In fact, I feel pretty great!
You know, I don’t think I’ll go to bed uptight tonight.
I haven’t been getting much rest, you know.

Yeah, I know.
But, you’re not through with your prayer, are you?

Go on.

Oh, all right.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Good! Good! I’ll do that.
Just don’t put yourself in a place
where you can be tempted.

What do you mean by that?

You know what I mean.

Yeah. I know..

Okay.
Go ahead.. Finish your prayer..

For Thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory forever.
Amen.

Do you know what would bring me glory —
What would really make me happy?

No, but I’d like to know.
I want to please you now..
I’ve really made a mess of things.
I want to truly follow you..
I can see now how great that would be.
So, tell me . . .
How do I make you happy?


…YOU just did.

January 19, 2016

The Good News and Bad News of Ministry Life

I posted this at C201 a few days ago, but felt I ought to share it here as well.

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, the verse played out in the KJV text that I first learned it from;

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

whereas today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. This weekend at church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t always know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (CJB) says,

…but where sin proliferated, grace proliferated even more.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.

 

 

 

 

January 17, 2016

Our Need for Affirmation

img 011716 TYA few weeks ago a guy came up to me after church and told me how much he was thankful for the leadership of my wife and I while I was on staff at that church for four years more than 20 years ago. It’s nice to know our contribution was appreciated and remembered after all that time, especially when the population of that church has changed so much over the years.

We all like a thank you every now and then. It reminded me of the story of the ten lepers. Most of you know this, but for those who don’t you can take 60 seconds to read it in Luke 17:11-19.

We tend to think of this as a story of Christ’s strength and power.

First of all, we see Jesus in his divinity. He cures the ten lepers with just a command; he speaks the word and they are healed, not necessarily instantaneously, but as they take the steps of traveling to show themselves to the priest. But it happens at his word.

Not only that, but when the one leper returns to give thanks, he turns it into a teachable moment.

But I wonder if, second of all, we also see Jesus in his humanity? While he didn’t need the lepers to head off to Hallmark after and buy a package of ten assorted thank-you notes, I wonder if it warmed his heart to be thanked for what he had done?

Leper #4: Here we go, boxed Thank-You cards.
Leper #3: We can’t all send the same card.
Leper #7: What if we all sign one card.
Leper #2: That’s cheesy.
Leper #8: Look this package has an assortment.
Leper #5: Ask if they take MasterCard.

And when you think about it, isn’t that verbalization of thanks, that opening of the lines of communication — don’t miss the similarity between that word and the word communion — not also a characteristic of his divinity? (Yes, I know, it tends to come full circle.)

Apply this →→ Is there someone who was instrumental in your life in past years who would appreciate a thank-you? Can you track them down on Facebook, or Twitter? Your words might minister to them today as their life did to you all those years ago…

…and also, do you owe the Lord a thank-you for something you haven’t actually expressed to him?

January 3, 2016

Making Spiritual Assumptions

Back in October, we introduced a new writer at Christianity 201, Josh Ketchum who blogs at Life in the Kingdom. I thought I would share one of his recent posts here, as this seemed like a good way to help kick off a new year! As we say almost every day at C201, click the title below to read this at source, and then take a few minutes to look around his blog.

Uncertain Assumptions You May Be Making

We make many assumptions as we go about our days.  Most of these are not a big deal if they do not turn out as we have assumed.  Our battery may be dead, our TV show may not have recorded as we intended, but we will live.

But when it comes to assumptions in the spiritual realm there are much more serious ramifications.  Our souls are at stake!

The Jews of Jesus’ day assumed that since they were the descendants of Abraham they were acceptable to God.  John and Jesus both try to blow apart this assumption, by teaching them their need to repent and enter the Kingdom of Christ (Luke 3:7-9; John 8:33-35).
Here are 7 Uncertain Assumptions You May Be Making:

  1. I am better than them.  The Apostles of Jesus were guilty of this assumption.  James and John wanted to bring fire down on the Samaritans, while Peter avoided table fellowship with Gentiles in the early church.  The root problem is arrogance or pride.  The sin we commit is one of partiality and turns people away from the message of Jesus, when we assume we are better then them!
  2. God wants me to be happy.  Many view God as a personal genie seeking to grant their wishes.  Our happiness is tied to our feelings and emotions, which are constantly changing depending on circumstances.  God desires our obedience and holiness. He wants us to be a representation of Him in this dark world (Rom. 8:28; 1 Peter 1:14-19).
  3. God made me this way, He will not hold me accountable. This assumption is used as a rationalization or excuse for all types of sins.  People say this about their temper, sexuality, drug addictions, and language.  God created us pure (Ezekiel 28:15; Mat. 18:3).  We sin when we are drawn away by our own desires and enticed (James 1:14-15).  Jesus teaches us all to repent (Luke 13:3).
  4. No one will ever see or know.  This assumption has been proved false over and over, yet Satan deceives people into believing they can partake in private sin and no one will know. Whether it is our online life, our perceived privacy on our phones, or activities on vacation at a distant place; we must remember our sins will find us out (Rom. 14:7; Nm. 32:23).
  5. I have plenty of time.  This is a huge assumption, we all make on a regular basis.  We assume we have plenty of time to teach our kids about Jesus.  We have plenty of time to mend struggling relationships.  We have plenty of time to get our soul right with the Lord.  Yet the Bible teaches us differently (2 Cor. 6:2; 1 Peter 1:24; James 4:13-16).  Our own experiences have shown this to be a false assumption as we have lost friends and family members suddenly.
  6. I am too young, or I am too old.  At times both of these are valid and true, but they must not become excuses.  In a society that is delaying adulthood, youth is used as an excuse to delay maturity and responsibility.  On the other end of the perspective, we should never retire from the Lord, or think we do not have anything to contribute.  Wisdom and age are esteemed in Scripture over physical prowess.
  7. Good people are saved.  We are not the judge, but this false doctrine is widespread.  This cheapens God’s grace, strips the blood of Christ of its power, and destroys the need to live a live of faithful obedience (Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-10; James 2:14-26). This assumption must be corrected with a conviction in ones’ heart that they are lost without the saving gospel of Jesus (Rom. 1:16).

What uncertain assumptions are you making?

December 30, 2015

Wednesday Link List

The creator of Veggie Tales and What's In The Bible has a thing for Truck Stop shopping.

The creator of Veggie Tales and What’s In The Bible has a thing for Truck Stop shopping.

Normally we take a week off around this time, but there were a few things in the file; and then we found a few more. And then a few more.

The Unofficial Bible for Minecrafters

November 17, 2015

Going Deeper

A couple of short items today originally from Christianity 201, never before published here.


Promise Box Theology

I’ve decided on some benchmarks that I think moving into deeper Christian living should contain:

  • getting away from prayer lists and focusing in on intensive prayer for God to something specific for an individual in a unique situation;
  • getting away from “promise box theology” and reading entire chapters or even 3-4 chapters at a time;
  • getting away from devotionals that begin with quick stories, and instead considering a topic or an idea and thinking about how that would play out in the life story of someone you know;
  • being consciously aware of ways for improvement in terms of manifesting the fruit of the Spirit;
  • being aware of things that are sin even though you didn’t consider them sin a few months earlier;
  • becoming genuinely excited about evangelism both in terms of personal involvement and hearing stories where “it’s working;”
  • finding yourself more deeply part of the picture as you read a New Testament narrative;
  • understanding your own brokenness and the brokenness of others, and how it draws us closer to God;
  • increasingly becoming an agent of grace and being drawn to others who are
  • feeling more and more “at home” with both personal Bible study and spending time in God’s house.

I’ve left many other possibilities out, I’m sure. Feel free to add to this list in the comments.


Before You Pray “Our Father…”

My wife adapted this from something one of our team members sent for a worship set we did in 2012.

If my religion and my life have no room for others and their joys and needs,

…I cannot pray “Our”

If I do not live as a child, beloved and learning,

…I cannot pray “Father”

If all my interests and pursuits are earthly things

…I cannot pray “Who art in Heaven”

If I — called to be holy as he is — am not holy

…I cannot pray “Hallowed be thy name”

If he is not King in my own life,

…I cannot pray “Thy Kingdom come”

If I will not listen for and obey his voice on Earth

…I cannot pray “On Earth as it is in Heaven”

If I will not make an honest effort, or if I ignore the immediate needs of others

…I cannot pray “Give us this day our daily bread”

If I choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted

…I cannot pray “Lead us not into temptation”

If I am not prepared to fight the spiritual fight with faith and truth and love

…I cannot pray “Deliver us from evil”

If I insist on my own rights and my own way

…I cannot pray “Thine is the Kingdom”

If I live according to what my neighbors and friends may say or do

…I cannot pray “Thine is the Power”

If I’m controlled by anxiety about every day’s problems and promises

…I cannot pray “Forever”

If I cannot honestly say ‘Cost what it may, this is my prayer’

…I cannot pray “Amen”

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