24May

The Black Heart of a Blacksmith

The following is a story from a mission trip to the Middle East. I wanted to share a better story than the basic itenerary. This story was from an interview we conducted while there and it was too incredible not to share. May God use our feeble words.

Her hands were shaking as she wrung them out. Her voice was feeble and cracked a few times as she told us how her husband’s fists crack her open.

Amira (real name changed) is a very small woman. She has an internal ferociousness that is not accurately displayed in her small frame. Yet she cowers around him.

It was not always this way. When they lived in Syria, their lives were simple but happy. They had friends and family and a decent paycheck. Their needs were met and they were hopeful for the future, especially when they looked ahead to all that lay before their two daughters, ages 6 and 4.

Then the war happened.

This war is unlike any other in our present day.

The civil war in Syria has grown increasingly complex with multiple “sides” that have several factions. In some ways, it is a faceless war because it’s often difficult to identify the real “enemy”. As Amira tells us her story, the war is no longer faceless. I’m seeing real tears roll down the face of a real woman whose life has been forever changed by this war, and not just in the way you might think.

Amira and her family fled Syria as refugees and settled in Lebanon. There’s growing racial tension between Lebanese people toward Syrian refugees so when Amira’s husband left each day for work, Amira stayed inside with her two daughters. Many Syrian refugees are denied access to Lebanese schools and most days Amira and the girls had nowhere to go.

She and her family were trying to make their way in a new country even as they watched their old country slowly being destroyed. Forever travelling but never arriving.

 Amira and her family are from a Muslim background. Being Muslim and Syrian were integral to her identity.

On one of the loneliest days in this new place, she met a Christian who invited her to attend a church. She was desperate for her and the kids to be a part of a community. She started attending, and found much more than casual friendships. She met Jesus and began to follow him! Her life was suddenly filled with purpose and joy. She learned about how Jesus is much more than a prophet, how he is the God who loves us and promises to never leave us.

She couldn’t wait to tell her husband about this new life she had found! But he was less than pleased. As a proud, Muslim man, her husband, Muhammad, forbid her to go to the church again.

One night, when her husband came home from work, she begged him to let her and their girls attend church tomorrow. He refused, again, but wanted to make it clear he was not going to have this conversation again. So he hit her, hard.

Muhammad’s a welder. At least that’s what he tells us. But something got lost in translation because we later learn he’s actually a blacksmith. He works 12 hours a day, six days a week with his hands, burning and shaping and pounding steel. He raised those hands against his wife to send a powerful message.

One night, with tears rolling down her face, Amira looked at Muhammad and said, “Even if you leave me I will never leave Jesus.” He hit her again.

 Unfortunately, this is a fairly common practice in the Middle East.

 As Amira tells us this part of her story, you can see the pain in her eyes. The pain is much deeper than the latest beating. It’s a pain that carries in her eyes years of strife, suffering, and unfulfilled dreams.

But there’s a joy that persists.

She smiles and says, “My blacksmith husband has a black heart…but I used to have one, too. Jesus changed me, gave me a new heart, and I believe he can change my husband.”

The men in our group took Amira’s story especially hard. There’s about a dozen total people listening to her story and all of the men are crying. Not just sad tears, burning, hot, angry tears. Some are ex-military and I’m wondering what is rising up in them from past trips to this region. Some are dads and are looking to protect Amira as they would their own daughter. Some are husbands and can’t believe a husband would treat a wife like this, especially a wife as sweet and tender as Amira.

After she finishes telling us her story, Amira and I have a chance to talk. I tell her that we are planning to visit people from the church and others who have shown interest.

Amira tells me her blacksmith husband, Muhammad, is off today and resting at home. She invites us to her house to meet him. I accept but then my heart starts racing. Racing with fear and fury, hatred and sadness.

Even as we’re walking up the steps to their apartment, I’m struggling to even pray for this man, much less for our team and how to interact. I simply muttered, “Jesus, help me see him how you see him.”

Their apartment is very nice. Many refugees live in difficult situations but theirs is the nicest one we’ll visit. Muhammad is very gracious and hospitable, proudly showing us his custom metal bars he made for their windows. They don’t look anything like what you might think. Their design is beautiful and 100% hand-fashioned.

The men sit on the couches with Muhammad and Amira sits in the corner with their daughters.

I have no idea what to do, so I just keep praying, “Jesus, soften my heart. Help me see him how you see him.”

As we’re making small talk, even a few jokes, their youngest daughter rises from the corner and runs over to her father. He smiles warmly at her as he scoops her up and put her in his lap. We continue talking, even as she’s playfully pulling on his beard and he’s tickling her. They’re doing Daddy-daughter stuff, just like many do here. He’s soft with her, even tender.

God answered my prayer. He humanized Muhammad for me. Even in that place, God was faithful to remind me how much I still need him, how far away all of us are apart from him.

This story does not end with Muhammad trusting in Jesus…yet.

But God reminded me what He is capable of. That he can use a war with seemingly no end in sight to displace a family to bring them to a new country to put them in the paths of Christians, and to one by one bring them to himself.

When we return to the church, I thank Amira for her courage, for allowing us into her home. She was so proud we came. I shared with her my prayer for her husband, that when we return next year, Muhammad will be a Jesus-follower, and that he can serve as our translator when we do the next round of house visits. Would you join me in that prayer? If God can save you, he can save Muhammad, and he can use him to save many more people. Even though they don’t have a home country anymore, they can have a home forever with Jesus.

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 2:10

8Mar

Is the Bible Trustworthy? 5 Thoughts

Is the Bible trustworthy? Is it a reliable source? If so, reliable for what? In today’s culture, do we really still believe this ancient book (assembled over the course of 1,500 years from dozens of different writers) is completely true?

1. The Bible claims to be perfectly authoritative. 

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Far too often, those making claims (for or against) about the Bible’s authority or reliability haven’t actually read much of the Bible. When we seek to answer the question of the Bible’s reliability and usefulness, the Bible’s actually a good place to start. Is the Bible perfectly true? It claims to be.

I understand the dialogue, especially with those who don’t follow Jesus, needs to be more than, “The Bible says so” BUT that does not negate the fact that within the Bible are claims about the Bible to which we must lend our serious attention.

2. The Bible claims to show the path to eternal life.

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13

Here, John clearly lays out the purpose of the Bible: that you may know you have eternal life by believing in the name of the Son of God.

The Bible does not claim to be a science textbook. The Bible does not claim to be a book of neat stories or fables filled with tidbits of morality. The Bible claims to be much more than that!

An important note: the Bible never claims to BE the path to eternal life. Jesus consistently scolds people for treating it as such (Luke 23:27, John 5:39). Rather, like John Piper notes in his book Peculiar Glory, the Bible is much more like a window than a masterpiece. The Bible is the window that points us toward the masterpiece that is Jesus!

3. The Bible is the baseline for the real Gospel.

(See: Galatians 1:6-10) – In Galatians 1, Paul is writing to a church that has quickly deserted the Gospel they received without even knowing they were doing so because they were adding to it.

The Bible serves as the baseline for the real Gospel, the real message of God toward and for humanity. Without it, we can spin off new religions, cults, spiritual ideas or revelations, etc.

4. It’s possible to know a lot of Bible and not know Jesus. 

In Luke 24:13-34, Jesus is walking on the road to Emmaus post-resurrection and comes cross these two travelers. Noticing their sadness, Jesus asks them why they’re so bummed. They don’t recognize Jesus but tell them they’re sad because they were putting all their hope in this Jesus guy who just ended up getting killed by Rome like so many others before him and even two others that same day.

Jesus (whose not recognized by these guys) asks them to tell them about this Jesus fella. These two guys end up sharing all these stories and facts about Jesus to Jesus all the while never recognizing that JESUS WAS RIGHT THERE WITH THEM.

Its’ possible to know a lot of facts about the Bible but completely miss Jesus when he’s right there among you.

5. It’s impossible to take the parts of the Bible you like (salvation from sin, etc.) and ignore what you don’t (the commands on how we live).

This one is simple to understand yet difficult to live.

I would argue that it’s not hard to validate the Biblical worldview. Take sin, for example. Sin is easy to spot in our world. The fact that the world is broken and standing in need of redemption is not hard to see. And I don’t need to check the latest news cycle to confirm the Bible’s claims about sin and our need for redemption, I merely look in the mirror.

So I love the parts of the Bible that mention God’s plan for redeeming us from the brokenness of sin, even thought it meant the sacrifice of the One who never sinned.

But go back and read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the same one who saves us (Jesus) starts telling us how to live in our day-to-day life and it causes noticeable friction in my self-centered life.

It’s reasonable to not believe the Bible. It’s also reasonable to believe the Bible.

It’s not, however, reasonable to believe, and even love, certain parts of the Bible that show us how to be right with God again, and ignore or reject other passages because they point out our sin and command us to a way of life that flies in the face of our sinful desires to put self above all else.

Once a young student asked the great theologian Karl Barth if he could sum up what was most important about his life’s work and theology in just a few words. Barth just thought for a moment and then smiled,

“Yes, in the words of a song my mother used to sing me, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’”

7Mar

“Belief” in God is Not Enough

In today’s culture, belief in God is not enough.

In a recent Gallup poll, 89% of Americans claimed to believe in God.

Yet less than 20% of Americans will attend church more than a few times a year. Of that group that does attend church more than a few times a year, only 10-25% give any type of tithe or monetary offering to the church. When they do give, Christians are only giving at 2.5 percent per capita, while during the Great Depression they gave at a 3.3 percent rate.

But this isn’t an article about money. It’s about faith. REAL faith. SPECIFIC faith. Our giving habits simply show that our faith isn’t always real, substantive, or specific. In other words, our faith is lacking because far too often the object of our faith is faith.

In today’s culture, belief in God is not enough because everyone “believes” in God. Around my church, we’ve encouraged people to stop identifying themselves as a “Christian” and instead say they are a “Christ-follower.”

Notice the difference?

In today’s culture, a Christian is merely a label, and at times, a fairly socially acceptable one. Even in today’s culture, in certain parts of the country, it can be socially and economically advantageous to identify as a Christian.

A “Christian” views faith as an accessory to their life. A Christ-follower knows that faith IS their life.

A “Christian” has faith in general (faith in faith). A Christ-followers has specific faith in Jesus Christ.

A “Christian” may think of their path as one of many to God. A Christ-follower trusts Jesus when Jesus claims to be the only way to know God (John 14:6).

A “Christian” compartmentalizes their faith, never allowing it to infiltrate too many other areas of life. A Christ-follower views their life as one compartment (Jesus) and only allows other areas of life to matter as they fit first into the Jesus box.

A vague belief-ism has infiltrated the “Christian” culture that needs to be addressed and expunged. Vague belief-ism is not a solid rock to lean on in seasons of suffering. Vague belief-ism can’t remind you that God does not owe you a long life, a happy marriage, or the ability to create children. Vague belief-ism has no ability to give concrete hope in the middle of a diagnosis that’s impossible to process.

In a devotional book on Jesus’ conversation with his disciples in John 14-17, Timothy Keller writes,

“In John 14, Jesus calls his followers to ‘Believe in God. Believe also in me.’ But not just any belief. Specific belief. Belief, or faith, in God. More than that, they are to have faith in Jesus. Belief in God isn’t enough. Vague monotheism isn’t going to help them. Jesus is.”

I have a friend that I visit with every few weeks and he does not love Jesus. Let’s call him Cody. Cody tolerates me talking about church (especially since it’s my job) and even God or faith in general. However, every time I steer the conversation toward Jesus as the particular object of my faith, stuff gets weird. Cody shuts down – starts looking around talking to other friends and begins to ignore me.

In today’s culture, mere belief in God is not enough, as if it ever was in any culture. What the world needs to see today are real, genuine Christ-followers who have sincere faith that changes they way we live, talk, think, spend time/money, etc. The world needs real Christ-followers who talk about Jesus specifically, not just vague monotheism in general.

19Jan

The #1 Question in Dating: WHO?

Some people call it “Illuminati Tinder.”

It’s a dating app called Raya that is fairly secret. It caters to an exclusive clientele who work in the “creative industries” aka celebrities. It’s Tinder for famous people. Amy Schumer met her boyfriend on Raya and he was the only person she ever talked to on the app.

The application process is intense and very exclusive. Us commoners need not apply. Just to apply, you have to give the app full access to all of your contacts and all passwords to your social media accounts so they can see who you follow but more importantly, who follows you. You really need a few existing Raya users to vouch for you and if you get denied, you can never apply again.

If you stumble across someone famous and you think you might want to screenshot their profile, think again. Raya automatically boots you off the app forever for a single screenshot.

Raya’s message is simple: there is a certain category of people that are acceptable for its followers to date but many more people who don’t make the cut.

Jesus followers should date like Raya followers, just with a lot less elitism.

Many people want to know the HOW of dating. I frequently hear questions like these:

  • How do I ask a girl out in the age of dating apps?
  • How soon should we be exclusive?
  • How do I know if a guy is actually interested in me?
  • How can I tell someone I want an actual date instead of just “hanging out”? (that’s a sermon for another day)

The HOW questions are important, and we’ll tackle some of them next week. But the most important question in dating is not HOW but WHO?

As a Christ follower, as important as it is to be wise and discerning about who to LOOK FOR, your primary concern in dating should always be to make sure YOU’RE meeting those same standards as well. Far too often, we hold others to a higher level than we are willing to extend to ourselves.

Ask yourself this question: Are you the kind of person that the person you’re looking for is looking for?

This article is an abbreviated version of a sermon in the series, “Wating, Dating, & Mating” from The Table Austin. The Table exists to be a Christ-centered, outward-focused, community of friends. Those three core values help frame who you should look for in a dating relationship as well as who you should be.

1.) Christ-centered

The first rule of dating is really the first rule of life: Jesus calls it the greatest commandment.

Deuteronomy 6:5, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT.”

I regularly get questions from Christ-followers about dating people who don’t follow Jesus. Some have called this “missionary dating.” The thought process goes something like this: my replies are in italics

  • “Well, they don’t believe yet..but they’re asking good questions!” – still not a follower, yet.
  • “Maybe God put me in his/her life to help lead them to Christ.” – God’s big enough to save people without needing you to sin in order to do so. 
  • This is the most common one: “But they are a Christian. They prayed a prayer when they were eight but have just been wandering since then. They don’t really go to church but they’re definitely spiritual.”

Now, with that last one, imagine we used the same criteria that was used to affirm their love for Jesus as the criteria used to affirm his/her love for you. It would go something like this.

  • “Yeah, my boyfriend is awesome! He just doesn’t talk to me very much, Actually, he never does. We actually don’t ever spend any time together either. But he talked to me once when he was eight! He even told me he loved me then. But that was the only time. And now, he actually spends all of his time with other girls. But yeah…he’s awesome.”

The person you’re looking for to date…they need to be more than cultural Christians who attend church.

We’re talking about living Christ-centered lives, not just attending a few church services a month.

  • Your person should be able to explain the Gospel to you. Briefly, in less than a minute…out loud…with words…without having to Google anything.
  • Your person should be able to articulate what God is doing in their life.
  • Your person should have other people (plural) speak about their passion for the Lord.

 

Is it sinning to date a non-Christian? YES 

  • 1 Cor. 7:39 – “marry only in the Lord”
  • 2 Cor. 6:14 –  “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
  • Genesis 1-2 – Garden of Eden (before sin entered the world) – How did God originally intend life to be lived? 
    • 1 man and 1 woman loving God and each other for life.

Now, if you follow up and say, “Well, Steven, listen if I’m honest Jesus isn’t the most important thing in my life right now, either.” Well then you’re not being Christ-centered (and we can work on that, certainly – I’ve been there) but if you’re not living a Christ-centered life you’re not living up to the standard by which you can date and still honor God.

 

2. Outward-focused

You care for others. They should care for more than themselves. A lot of times folks have a hard time dating or getting serious in a relationship getting past that 3-6 month mark because all of a sudden you have someone real in your life to take care of and someone else’s opinions and preferences to consider. You wake up and realize you don’t get to always and instinctively do whatever you want.

Guys, if your idea of a date is inviting a girl over to watch you watch video games, it’s gonna be a rough time.

Ladies, if your idea of a date is having a guy to tote around to all your functions and events and everything that you want to do and never consider what he might want, it’s gonna be rough.

If you’re pursuing someone who’s never concerned for others, why would you think they’ll ever be consistently concerned for you? If you’re dating someone who’s never concerned for others, what would make you think they’ll be a good parent?

What does an outward-focused life look like? (this list isn’t meant to be exhaustive – just a start)

  • Someone who knows that money isn’t everything
  • Someone who mentors someone or gives back to the community
  • Someone who cares about their family
  • Someone who’s willing to be there for a roommate
  • Willing to listen to someone older than them.
    • In his book Mingling of Souls, Matt Chandler talks about how dangerous a group of 24-year old guys talking about life and thinking they have it all figured out can be. But, he says, if one of those 24 year-old guys will also start connecting with a 38-year old married guy, that’s a sign of maturity. Humility.

 

3. Community of Friends

a) Accountable

  • maybe that word smacks of legalism or something that’s outdated or antiquated, but to be accountable simply means that you’re someone who is fully open, fully honest, and fully authentic with a small group of people.
  • Everybody doesn’t need to know everything about your life but a few people need to know everything about you.
  • Galatians 6:2 – truly bear one another’s burdens 

 b) Authentic

Don’t try and be a version of you you think someone else will like. Be the you God made you to be. Be like Jesus! – conform to HIS likeness but don’t try and be someone you’re not.

 

If you’d like more recommended resources on singleness, dating, and marriage or watch any of the sermons in our Waiting, Dating, & Mating series, click here. 

2Dec

Gift Guide for the Average Dude – 2016

Most gift guides aren’t really created for normal guys. The items are usually too trendy, expensive or impractical.

If you’re lucky enough to have an average dude in your life who doesn’t need a $300 leather bag or a $75 bottle of beard oil, this is the guide for you. Here’s my second annual Average Dude Gift Guide. (See: 2015 Edition of Average Dude Guide Gift Guide). Just click the pictures or titles to purchase.

 

Qalo Men’s Silicone Wedding Ring – $20

The average dude doesn’t have a private, personal trainer. The average dude does push-ups and burpees in a parking lot before fancy guys get out of bed. The ring allows your dude to let everyone know he’s happy to be your guy and not interested in anyone else, no  matter how much they spent on their Lulemon workout clothes.

(If you’re shopping for me, I’d like the black athletic one, size 9) 🙂

 

The Dude Diet: Clean(ish) Foods for People Who Eat Dirty – $17

125 delicious recipes that taste like real food with really big pictures.

Here come flattened beer bellies and fewer meat sweats!

And unlike some of our vegan, organic friends, the average guy can cook and eat this food without telling everyone about it.

 

Outdoor Exercise Mat – $65 

I started doing Camp Gladiator, an outdoor fitness group exercise, a few months ago. I thought I could get by with my yoga mat but it’s almost shredded through in a few places. The average dude needs an exercise mat that’s durable with water-resistant material that’s tough but comfortable. Strap included.

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2-Pack Apple Earpods OEM Original Stereo Headphones – $12

The average dude doesn’t have room or use for a $200 pair of name-brand “studio” headphones. Pick up this unbelievable deal on a 2-pack of the best headphones out there. They’re genuine Apple products that resist sweat, have a microphone that actually works and volume control.

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Amazon gift cards – $25 – $200+

I love getting Amazon gift cards because I’m not always best at coming up with lists like these. Nobody matches their combination of inventory, price, shipping speed, and service.

 

Apple Watch Sport 42mm Space Gray Aluminum Case with Black Band (Certified Refurbished) – $247

This one’s definitely on the pricey side but it’s the best if your guy is looking for a fitness tracker/smart watch, etc. All the others (FitBits, Garmens, etc.) definitely have pros but they also all have glaring weaknesses. The Apple Watch Sport is excellent at everything.

 

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis – $16

 

The Underground Railroad: A Novel, $16

16Nov

6 Marks of Good Evangelism

This post first appeared as a sermon I preached at The Table: a Christ-centered, outward-focused, community of friends (20’s and 30’s) in Austin, TX. You can watch or listen to that sermon by clicking here

When you hear the word “evangelism” what comes to mind?

  • TV preachers?
  • Emotionally manipulative end-of-sermon invitations?
  • Intrusive door-to-door visitors?
  • angry street preachers?

Evangelism done poorly by some does not negate evangelism as a command for all.

Evangelism is also not a spiritual gift that only some are good at.

Some Christ-followers have also criticized specific methods of evangelism, which is fine, as long as you’re actually telling people about Jesus as well. My hunch is that most of us realize that evangelism is just a churchy word for telling others about Jesus. However, I also have a hunch that most of us simply are not doing it.

Some Christ-followers have labelled things like evangelism as legalistic but it’s not legalistic to insist Christians obey the commands of Christ. 

Evangelism is among the final commands given to us by Jesus before he ascends into heaven. (See: Matthew 28:18-20)

When people we love speak their final words, we lean in to hear them and hang on to them. Why have we done the opposite with Jesus’ final words to us?

With all the confusion swirling around evangelism, what does good evangelism look like?

6 Marks of Good Evangelism

1. Friendship

1 Thessalonians 2:8, “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”The 1st century Greco-Roman idea of self was all encompassing. It meant something similar to what we mean now when we say “soul” – the very core of who you are.

Notice, too, that Paul notes that he didn’t just want to share a list of beliefs for the intellectual assent of the Thessalonians people. Even before they believed, they had become very dear to Paul and his team.

Do you have friends that don’t follow Jesus? If you don’t, find some new friends!

If you do have friends that don’t follow Jesus, don’t give up on them because they don’t believe at first. Allow them to become dear to you.

 

2. Personal Proof

You know who doesn’t care that you know a few verses from Romans? People who don’t follow Jesus. 

But if they care about you, they’ll be much more likely to listen to how Jesus ha changed your life. Furthermore, they’ll know you’re telling the truth because they’ll see the proof in your life, especially if they may have known you before you started following Jesus.

When describing how Jesus has changed you, speak in positives instead of negatives.

  • Example: Jesus has changed me so now I live for him by trying to think of others as more important than myself.
  • BAD Example: Jesus has changed me so now I live for him by not going to drinking parties.

Both statements should be true of people who follow Jesus but only one is primarily helpful in evangelism. It’s simply a matter of emphasis.

 

3. Saying “Jesus”

Times have changed. When sharing about your faith, if all you say is, “I believe in God” most of America will agree with you even though most of America does not in fact follow Jesus. But you say the name of Jesus – and it becomes more clear who and what you’re talking about.

When then topic of evangelism comes up many Christ-followers cite a quote that many have attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (although there’s rampant skepticism around the source), “Share the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.

That makes zero sense.

Let’s say a Christian, a Muslim, and a Mormon go on the same mission trip. They work on the same roof, pain the same house, help the same person – but none of them ever say a word. If they all looked about the same, how would you know who believed what? – YOU WOULDN’T!

To share the Gospel, you must use words and you must say “Jesus.”

4. Being prepared

The first part of 1 Peter 2:15 reads, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

Have you ever been in a situation where you knew the conversation was turning toward faith but you weren’t ready? Have you ever felt like God was pushing you to bring him up in a conversation but didn’t? We have to be ready!

Prepare now for a conversation you’ll have SOON. 

 

5. Humility

The second part of 1 Peter 2:15 reads, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 

“Bad evangelism says, ‘I’m right; you’re wrong; and I would love to tell you about it.’” – Tim Keller

Good evangelism says, “Jesus is right; we’re all wrong; and I would love to tell you about it.”

When you remember that before Christ, you were “dead in your sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1) you remember just how much God has saved you from. You remember how you did nothing to deserve grace so the only proper response to someone who has not yet experienced saving grace is not arrogance but humility.

 

6. Bible

Like we said before, a lot of times you can’t start here. However, you can never accurately share the truth about God if you don’t open the Word of God.

Click here to see 10 Gospel Passages that are great for evangelism conversations. I would suggest committing a few to memory so that you are always ready (see #4 above: be prepared).

 

What are other marks of good evangelism?

When’s the last time you told someone about Jesus?

12Oct

4 Ways to Pray

I had a brief stint as a Kids Pastor. It was both wonderful and frustrating.  See: Why I Love and Hate Kids Ministry

When I was teaching 3rd-5th graders how to pray, I used the prayers below. They’re simple, one sentence prayers.

I had a hunch awhile back that a lot of adults in church may not be super comfortable with prayer. Prayer can be one of those tricky things in the Church that you know you should do but once you’re around long enough you feel like it might be too late to ask someone to teach you how to pray. See: On Prayer: Pews & Plastic Tables

My hunch was proven right and I started introducing these prayers to adults a few years ago with remarkable results. They are simple yet profound. You can pray these prayers with a community, in a group of 2-3, or just by yourself.

If prayer is confusing to you, new to you, or you’re just ready to try something new, try these 4 ways to pray.

 

1.) God, you are __________________.

(Prayers of Adoration) – telling God how awesome He is.

Examples:

  • God, you are so gracious.
  • God, you are so faithful, even when we’re not…especially when we’re not.
  • God, you are always with us.

Notice: you can finish the prayer with just one word!

Some Biblical examples of prayers of adoration: Psalm 8, 19, 29, 33, 66, 100, 103, 104, 145

 

2.) God, thank you for _________________.

(Prayers of Thanksgiving) – recognizing that every good and perfect thing comes from our unchanging God (James 1:17).

Does your family do this around the table over Thanksgiving holiday? Mine often does and this prayer is simply turning that practice toward God.

Examples:

  • God, thank you for your beautiful creation.
  • God, thank you for family.
  • God, thank you for being willing to discipline your children when we wander from you. 

Biblical examples of prayers of thanksgiving: Psalm 18, 30, 32, 34, 40, 66, 92, 116, 118, 138

 

3.) God, forgive me for ________________.

(Prayers of Confession/Individual Lament)

These are the most under-utilized prayers in my life yet easily the most beneficial.

Examples:

  • God, forgive me for trying to control everything. I know that means I’m not trusting you. 
  • God, forgive me for thinking I deserve better than what you have deemed best for me.
  • God, forgive me for not seeing people how you do, as people equally created in your image.

Biblical examples of prayers of confession/individual lament: Psalm 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143

A note: try and be specific. Don’t say, “God, forgive me for my sin.” Name the sin. Be specific. Because of Jesus that sin has no power of you anymore and you walk in freedom!

 

4.) God, please ________________.

(Prayers of Supplication/Trust)

These are probably most of our default prayers. We don’t spend time adoring God, thanking Him, or confessing sin. We often treat God no different than Santa. We swoop in, read off our list of requests, and go on our merry way firmly expecting every request to be granted just as we asked.

These can be prayers for others or yourself. (It’s not bad to pray for yourself!)

Examples:

  • God, please comfort my Mom in her battle with cancer.
  • God, please show me how to make my life count for You.
  • God, please help me trust you even when my emotions say something different than your Word. 

Biblical examples of prayers of supplication/trust: Psalm 86, 143

 

What type(s) of prayer have been beneficial for you?

Has someone ever taught you how to pray?

2Oct

4 Reasons You Don’t Need a Sign from God

Surely I’m not the only one…

Have you ever asked God for a sign? Maybe to prove He exists or that He actually loves you.

Or maybe you believe but just needed some guidance or help out of a tough situation.

Whatever the reason, this is a common request from the people of God and there are at least 4 reasons we don’t need that which we often think we need most.

1. You’ll just need another sign…and another…and another…

In the book of Exodus, the people of God were delivered from slavery and oppression under the corrupt hand of Pharaoh. As the people of God began to walk in freedom, they realized how unfamiliar it was because of how used they had become to their past state of slavery.

Over the course of their wandering journey, they quickly lost faith…in God and in their leader, Moses, who God appointed.

Over and over again, God showed up in miraculous ways that these people saw with their own eyes.

  • They saw God keep His promise to bring 10 plagues against Egypt as long as His people were enslaved.
  • They saw God miraculously save His people once the Egyptians tried to chase them down.
  • They saw God provide bread each morning and meat each evening for them to eat.
  • They saw God guide them by a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud in the morning,

Even though they saw these incredible signs, signs that if we were honest we would love to see, they still doubted.

It’s easy for us to forget that even in 2016, we are the forgetful people of God.

We were delivered from slavery to sin and shame and as we began to walk in freedom, we realized how unfamiliar it was because of how accustomed we had become to our past state of slavery to sin.

 

2. You have the Bible.

Let’s say you did receive a sign from God, for the sake of argument. The Bible is the benchmark by which you would discern if that sign actually came from God, anyway. Consider this: how often have you, or someone you know, received a sign that didn’t confirm what they really wanted anyway. Far too often we ask God for signs and then “name and claim” anything that furthers our pre-existing confirmation bias.

Why not just stick to the sufficient revelation of God in the Scriptures? See: Bibles and Newspapers

Don’t ask God for a sign when you don’t read the one you have.

 

3. Hope that is seen is not real hope.

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” – Romans 8:24

I love my iPhone. It’s remarkable how simple the design is for such an incredibly complex tool. From what I understand, they’re quite easy to take apart, with just a few parts making up the whole. If you desired, you could take an iPhone apart and examine the pieces from every angle and then put it back together again, deciding to love it because now you fully understand it.

But that’s not why I love my iPhone. I love it because I can book a vacation and fire off 3 baseball-related tweets nobody cares about all before the stoplight turns green. I love it because I’ve experienced it. 

The 11th century theologian, Anselm, famously defined life with Jesus as “faith seeking understanding.”

Faith is not something you understand fully before you experience it. You have a genuine encounter with Jesus which gives you hope, then you spend the rest of your life seeking to fully understand that hope, a hope which is unseen. Some mis-categorize that as “blind faith” but the Bible points us to real hope, hope unseen.

4. Jesus is the only sign you need.

In Matthew 12, a group of people demand a sign from Jesus.

First off, anytime you see people demanding things from the only One who has the power to demand things…red flag.

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. – Matthew 12:39-40

You don’t need a sign from Jesus because Jesus is the only sign you need. 

At the cross, we’re reminded who God is, what He’s done for us, and who we are in Him.

That’s always enough. 

28Sep

3 Times Weakness is Strength

One of my favorite things about Jesus is how often he completely flips the script on people. It’s one of my favorite things when it happens to some of the “bad guys” in Scripture (i.e. the religious elite, the corrupt, and the power-hungry) but it’s one of my least favorite things when he does it to me.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s favorite move was the sky hook shot.

Jesus’ favorite move might have been this stunning role reversal, the Sixth Sense-esque twist at the end of the story where you discover everything you thought up until that point has been wrong.

This upside-down nature is how Jesus led his life and how He’s commanded us to live ours.

  • To gain our life, we must lose it. (Matthew 16:25)
  • When we die one day, it will be seen as a gain, not a loss. (Philippians 1:21)
  • One day, those who are last now will be first, and vice versa. (Mark 10:31)

As followers of Jesus, our lives should imitate this upside-down nature of the kingdom of God. This primarily expresses itself when the world calls our way of life weak, yet Jesus calls it strong.

 

When Weakness is Actually Strength

1. Love

Shortly after the Christmas decorations disappear from the store shelves each year, pink hearts and Cupid’s arrows take their place. Far too often, our culture sends the message that love is a mostly feminine, passive emotion.

In many ways, culture paints love as a very weak thing. The Bible, however, paints love as an incredibly strong decision, not a weak emotion.

The image of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is anything but weak or passive.

  • selfless
  • ever-enduring
  • hopeful no matter what

We’re also called to love our enemies, the very people who hate us. It takes incredible strength to love people like Jesus.

See: Loving Your Enemies (In a Drop the Mic Culture)

 

2. Humility

Today’s culture often sees humility as lack of ambition at best, and foolishness at worst.

To be humble means you must stop constantly promoting yourself and posturing for better and grander positions. True humility means that when your friends succeed, at times instead of you, you can genuinely rejoice with them instead of writhing in envy.

Humility and contentedness fly in the face of a culture that never stops screaming, “More!” Our upside-down Savior simultaneously screams, “Enough!”

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:12

See: No Capes! Serving in Secret

See: The Most Important Person in the World

 

3. Desperation

Have you ever seen a truly desperate person? Maybe you’ve been a truly desperate person.

There’s not much room in today’s “everything is fine” world for true desperation. It’s seen as embarrassing. Yet desperation is the one necessary precursor to genuine faith.

“Blessed are the rich, ones-who-have-it-all-together, successfulpoor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3

To ever gain the kingdom of heaven, you must first realize that you’re poor in spirit, spiritually bankrupt, desperate for God to move, save, and reconcile.

If you think you have everything together, one day everything will fall apart.

 

Today, let’s be people of love, humility, and desperation.

Some will find us weak. Jesus calls us strong. 

27Sep

Proverbs and Politics

Lately, it seems like we’ve bought into a lie that our words don’t matter, or at least that’s the only way I can explain how some of my friends, as well as myself, are acting on social media. Election season puts all of us in a bit of a frenzy but it seems like we’re furiously typing things on social media we would never have the courage to say/scream at someone’s face.

Below are 23 verses from Proverbs – a book all about wisdom in practical life. They’re broken up into 5 general categories – don’t miss the last one. It’s the most prevalent and possibly the most dangerous. 

See: How to Read Proverbs

I’m committing to read through all 23 verses before I post something on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Would you join me? Our words matter. Jesus says that what we saw reveals what’s in our heart. Remember, our first allegiance as Christians is to King Jesus. See: God Doesn’t Need America

 

On Putting Trust in Politics, a Party, and/or a Politician

“Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.” – Prv. 1:19

“but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” – Prv. 1:33

“Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.” – Prv. 29:26

 

On Engaging Political Opponents

“Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” – Prv. 9:7-8

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” – Prv. 10:12

“Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.” – Prv. 14:7

“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” – Prv. 15:18

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.: – Prv. 18:2

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” – Prv. 24:17

 

On Thinking/Knowing You’re Right and Humility

“Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” – Prv. 3:7

“Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” – Prv. 3:34

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” – Prv. 14:12

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” – Prv. 21:2

 

On the Power of Words

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” – Prv. 10:19

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” – Prv. 13:3

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Prv. 15:1

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” – Prv. 17:28

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” – Prv. 18:21

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” – Prv. 27:6

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?

There is more hope for a fool than for him.” – Prv. 29:20

 

On Lying 

This is by far the most pernicious. Think about it – every time you share an article that you’re not sure is really true but you like because it furthers your own opinion while pushing down your opponent, you’re lying. The Bible often calls that “bearing false witness” and it’s the 9th commandment.

See: Stop Breaking the Ninth Commandment on Facebook

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” – Prv. 6:16-19

“Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right” – Prv. 8:6

“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.” – Prv. 19:9

 

What verse(s) would you add to this list?

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