Faith

8Feb

Giver > gifts

It may have been the most awkward moment of the night.

Lecrae won Best Contemporary Christian Song/Performance for his track “Messengers.” He should have won best rap album, too!

As he walked up to accept his speech, he pointed the entire room of songwriters, artists, musicians, producers, etc. (the majority of which I can safely assume are not Christians) to Jesus while at the same time celebrating their own artistic accomplishments (many of which are not passable examples of actual music).

Lecrae celebrated the giftedness of the entire room but then pushed past that, claiming that it is essential to celebrate the Giver above the gifts.

6 people clapped.

Watch Lecrae’s brief acceptance speech below:

Our church spent the month of January in a series called “Custom Made” as we unpacked Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12.

We arrived at the same conclusion, Giver > gifts. Ultimately, gifts don’t really matter unless we can honestly say something like, “Lord, have your way in me.”

You can watch or listen to the “Custom Made” sermons here.

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Question: How has God gifted you?

1Feb

God Doesn’t Care If Your Team Wins

The big game just ended.

The losing team’s players are heartbroken. They poured everything they had into that game and walked away empty-handed.

The winning team is rejoicing. Confetti’s falling. Awards are being presented on the very field they just conquered.

As the post game interviews begin, a few common phrases are being rehashed from seemingly every post game interview on big stages like this.

I’m just so blessed.

God is so good.

I just wanna thank God because he was on our side tonight.

Many players think God has an active role in determining the outcome of the game.

According to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Religion News Service, one in four American adults would agree.

Twenty-six percent of Americans and 27 percent of self-described sports fans believe God plays a role in determining which team will win a sporting event.

Some players are consistent. A small handful really do want to give credit to God for everything they do, in wins and losses. But these are the very few. Tim Tebow comes to mind.

However, the lion’s share of athletes who want to give credit to God for helping them win never give God credit for helping them lose.

I have little hope of athletes changing their ways, though. I am also not sure we should expect anything but ridiculous statements from them seconds after they finish a game. The adrenaline alone can explain away half of what they spew in the immediate aftermath.

I am much more concerned about the way Christians view God’s role in sports on a smaller level:

on the rec field with friends

on the court of a pick-up basketball game

on the college intramural field

at your kids’ game (No, for real…AT YOUR KIDS’ GAME) See: An Open Letter to Little League Umpires

There is nothing I can see in Scripture that points to a God who cares about the outcome of any sports game.

When it comes to sports, God cares about all people from both teams. God cares that both teams play to their best ability, showcasing all their hard work, practice, and preparation.

I had the wonderful blessing of playing four years of high school baseball for the same godly man. He was a tremendous influence in my life, a stable presence consistently pointing me to Christ in very unstable years.

It was obvious to all of us, Christians and non-Christians, that he cared a lot more about the type of men we were becoming than our skills as baseball players.

Before every game we played, we all prayed together. It was always simple, the Lord’s Prayer. Before and after every game. Win or lose.

He helped me realize that while God did not care if we won or lost that day, he cared deeply about the way we played. God cared, as our coach did, about the type of men we were becoming.

God does not care if your team wins or loses. But that does not mean he does not care about you.

Losing does not negate God’s goodness.

God really is good all the time, in wins and losses.

29Jan

Every Christian Needs a Budget

15 months ago we owed a mountain of it. Now we owe half a mountain of it.

It used to be the only thing we ever fought about.

Now it’s possibly what we’re in the most agreement about.

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The turning point for us was not adding up the total carnage our student loans (a necessary evil) had caused. It was also not the months and months of not really knowing where our money was going because we always seemed to have what we needed.

The turning point for us came when we realized that managing our money was not primarily a financial issue but a discipleship issue.

In our journey through Dave Ramsey‘s Financial Peace University (which my wife now teaches at our church, like a boss) we realize that we were doing an okay job of honoring God in every part of our lives…except our finances. (Click here to find out where FPU is offered in your area).

We were being selfish, ungrateful, poor stewards of what God has entrusted to us.

The Bible has a lot to say about money, but this one passage has been burned in my memory since the day God started convicting us about the way we were failing in this area. We were sitting at our kitchen table and it hit me like a ton of bricks:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations? – Proverbs 27:23-24

My mom has sheep in her backyard. Like…actual sheep. Every couple of months she has some new lambs born and she bottle feeds them until they can take milk from their mom.

I, unlike my mother, am not a shepherd. I do not have flocks and herds but I do have debt and income that at times feels like it’s burning a hole in my pocket.

As we looked at the numbers that were looking rather menacingly back at us, I realized I did not “know well the condition of our flocks.”

We didn’t have a budget. I wasn’t “giving attention to our herds.” When we wanted something, we just bought it. We didn’t have extravagant tastes and we didn’t shop a ton, but a bit too much is still…too much.

So we got on a budget. A strict one.

But we didn’t get on a budget because it was the wise thing to do. We didn’t get on a budget because we needed structure. We didn’t even get on a budget because Dave Ramsey told us too.

We got on a budget because we are Christians.

We got a budget because we started living what we said we believed, and what the Bible says is true:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” – Psalm 24:1

We both make more money now than we did the day we first discovered we needed a budget. We both plan to continue to make more money as we gain more experience and skill in our respective careers.

However, we will never make enough money to not need a budget because we will never stop being borrowers of that which God is eternal owner.

Even if you make truckloads of money, you will one day be held accountable for how you managed it. You and I don’t really own anything as long as God owns everything. We’re managers at best.

It’s been said before, but can you imagine what the world would be like if the Church was debt-free and lived on a budget?

Think of the problems that could be eliminated as a direct result of the way Christians lived in the world, refusing to stockpile treasures in this world.

Nobody in the world would be hungry. No orphan would go neglected and unloved. Churches would not need to have capital campaigns to pay off buildings they can’t afford because they would be filled with people who were more concerned with loving people and furthering the kingdom of God than building bigger barns and fancier buildings.

We all (especially me!) need budgets so we can best manage that which God has entrusted to us.

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You can click here for the zero-based monthly cash flow budget template we use every month.

Question: Do you use a budget? If so, how has your experience been? If not, are you pleased with the current state of your finances?

27Jan

Even GQ Knows Porn is Bad

Pornography Usage Statistics – Updated February 2014

  • Right now 30,000 people are watching porn.
  • More than 20% of all Internet searches are for porn.
  • Americans watch more porn than any other country in the world.
  • 70% of the spouses of porn addicts meet the criteria for a post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis.
  • 83% of college males and 57% of college females have seen group sex online.
  • 32% of college males and 18% of college females have seen bestiality online.
  • 18% of college males and 10% of college females have seen rape or sexual violence online.
  • 71% of teens have done something to hide what they do online from their parents (this includes clearing browser history, minimizing a browser when in view, deleting inappropriate videos, lying about behavior, using a phone instead of a computer, blocking parents with social media privacy settings, using private browsing, disabling parental controls, or having e-mail or social media accounts unknown to parents).

I have written about porn several times before. There are links to those articles at the end of this one. I guess I’ll stop writing about it when I stop hearing about how Satan is using it to cripple the Church.

I’ll stop writing about it when I no longer see my own failure as a high school and college student in the faces of the men I get to walk through life with now as they share their struggles with me.

The direct connection between our porn consumption and the bolstering of the sex slave industry is now irrefutable, both inside the Church and outside of it. Praise God that it is now a well-known fact that every time someone clicks on a porn video the sex slave industry is strengthened.

That “18-year-old” you think you’re watching is likely 15, legally unable to consent in many countries, including our own, to what is happening to her.

“Fighting human trafficking and then watching porn is like protesting a corrupt politician but then donating to his campaign.” #refusetoclick

Everything written thus far is all 100% true, proven facts. But they’re facts published and promoted by Christians and Christian organizations, which makes perfect sense to those inside the Church.

But what about those outside the Church? What about those that would say Christians are being too oppressive, that by crying out against porn we are actually limiting the full expression of human sexuality?

Below I’ve posted some of the most overwhelming evidence of the destructive nature of any level of porn consumption, all from sources outside the fold of Christianity.

“Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions.” – U.S. Department of Justice

“I have also seen in my clinical experience that pornography damages the sexual performance of the viewers. Pornography viewers tend to have problems with premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction. Having spent so much time in unnatural sexual experiences with paper, celluloid and cyberspace, they seem to find it difficult to have sex with a real human being. Pornography is raising their expectation and demand for types and amounts of sexual experiences; at the same time it is reducing their ability to experience sex. – Dr. Mary Anne Layden, PhD, Psychotherapist

“Research reveals many systemic effects of Internet pornography that are undermining an already vulnerable culture of marriage and family. Even more disturbing is the fact that the first Internet generations have not reached full-maturity, so the upper-limits of this impact have yet to be realized” – Dr. Jill Manning, Sociologist

As helpful and informative as this information is, it is not what caught my eye this week.

A survey of 73,00 Reddit users did.

Sam Deford and his team over at www.projectknow.com polled an internet community called “NoFap” a large online community of Reddit users committed to abstaining from porn and masturbation. There is no emphasis or leadership from any faith system in their group.

Deford analyzed the group’s answers to questions about their experience with porn and masturbation and the research is startling. I won’t recount it all here but the short story is this:

an online group of 73,000+ people are united by nothing else other than their shared experience that pornography and masturbation are woefully unsatisfying and have serious, damaging effects on them as human beings.

As of 1/27/15 the NoFap community has nearly doubled in size, currently boasting a membership of over 138,000 users.

The story caught the eye of GQ writer, Scott Christian. Christian has a great article based on Deford’s findings and lists in his article on GQ (!?!) 10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn.

1. For those addicted to porn, arousal actually declined with the same mate, while those who regularly found different mates were able to continual their arousal. It’s known as the Coolidge Effect, or novelty-seeking behavior. Porn, after all, trains the viewer to expect constant newness.

2. One in five people who regularly watch porn admitted to feeling controlled by their own sexual desires.

3. 12 percent of NoFappers report watching 5 or more hours of Internet porn every week. 59 percent report watching between 4 and 15(!!) hours of porn every week.

4. Almost 50 percent of those on NoFap have never had sex in their lives, meaning their only experience with intimacy is purely digital.

5. 42 percent of male college students report visiting porn sites regularly.

6. 53 percent of the NoFappers developed a regular porn habit between the ages of 12 and 14. An alarming 16 percent said they started watching before they were 12.

7. 64 percent report that their tastes in porn have become more extreme or deviant.

8. Among 27-31 year olds on NoFap: 19 percent suffer from premature ejaculation, 25 percent are disinterested in sex with their partner, 31 percent have difficulty reaching orgasm, and 34 percent experience erectile dysfunction.

9. After committing to no masturbation/porn, 60 percent of those on NoFap felt that their sexual functions had improved.

10. And 67 percent had an increase in energy levels as well as productivity.

So there it is: The anti-porn movement is something Christians should absolutely whole-heartedly embrace. But it must start first in our own hearts.

But be encouraged, we are not alone in this pursuit. Others outside the faith are exposing the lie that porn peddles.

While many sources are pointing us away from porn and its destructive nature, only Christians can point toward the only real hope, Jesus.

For more, click on the pictures below:

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22Jan

Why It Matters How We Think about Heaven

Last week, 16-year old Alex Malarkey made headlines when he publicly retracted his story that he had been to heaven.

Malarkey’s book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven: A True Story details the events of a car crash that left Alex paralyzed at just 6 years old. The book ic co-authored by has father, Kevin.

Last week, Alex released an open letter to Christian publishers and bookstores confessing that the entire account of his journey to heaven was fictional, and implored them to remove the book from their stores.

“Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short. I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough. In Christ, Alex Malarkey.”

The “heaven tourism” genre has unfortunately taken off in force. Books like Alex’s are innumerable and seem to come from a new, but same, experience every month. And people cannot get enough.

Yet Christians have not been utterly silent. Phil Johnson, executive director of Grace to You Ministries, wrote a critique of the entire genre of heaven tourism books, including Malarkey’s book, over two years ago.

David Platt completely disarms the entire genre in this 4-minute video from a Secret Church simulcast in August 2013.

Yet while we could discuss our opinions on these books and the publishers that have so handsomely profited from their stories, I am not interested in such a discussion.

I am extremely interested in their effects on others, especially those outside of Christianity.

These books, coupled with Malarkey’s brave and honest confession that it was all a hoax, has fueled a barrage of “I told you so’s” from the atheist community.

Why it Matters

What’s even worse is the effect it has had on agnostics and skeptics alike, pushing those who at times are open to exploring faith in Jesus, further and further from the very faith they so desperately need. That is why it is so important how we think about heaven.

I would love for the Church to have a higher level of discernment when it comes to books and phenomenon such as this. In fact, I have committed my life to serving the Church so I am more than interested in seeing Christians get this right.

However, it is a far greater thing to see those far from God be brought near to God by the blood of the Lamb. And frankly, our team’s response to these books has not helped that in any way and we need to own that. We need to get heaven right because it is a glorious thing that is worth talking about.

I was glad to see Alex Malarkey’s retraction but I initially had no plan to write about it. I was glad to see it but I am not usually in the business of turning other Christian’s shortcomings into blog fodder. That changed yesterday.

Yesterday NPR ran an op-ed piece entitled, “What if Heaven is Not For Real?” It is a well written, and heart-breaking, article. Here’s the author’s conclusion,

I’m not concerned about the many years of my nonexistence before birth. Why then should I be concerned about the many years of my nonexistence that will follow death?

Granted, the author, Adam Frank, is a staunch agnostic (oxymoron?), especially about matters of the afterlife. He simply does not care. So a solid book on heaven would probably not change his mind regarding the afterlife anyway but the heaven tourism genre of books, movies, and merchandise simply gives people like Frank that much more of a reason not to believe.

Recommended Resources on Heaven:

Life After Death: A New Approach to the Last Things,  by Anthony C. Thiselton

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Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N.T. Wright

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The Glory of Heaven (2nd Edition): The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life, by John MacArthur

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14Jan

Louisville Sluggers & Spiritual Gifts

While many of you see the New Year as a time of renewal and a fresh start, I consistently find myself stuck in what some of you call “basketball season.” I just refer to it as those dark months between football season and baseball season.

I love baseball in just about every form but I hate college baseball. Don’t get me wrong, I love the purity of the competition at the collegiate level. I love that most of these guys never get a chance to play at the next level so this is their last stop. They’re giving it all they’ve got.

They don’t sign endorsement deals or get distracted by multi-million dollar contracts like in the pros.

But I hate the sound of college baseball. It’s anything but pure. It’s changed some over the years but there’s always been this unmistakable ping of some type of metal bat whereas any baseball purist can tell you you’re supposed to hear the crack of a wooden bat.

Louisville Slugger has been making bats since 1884. One day a young woodworking apprentice went to an amateur baseball game and watched one of his favorite players fail to get a hit as he broke several bats during the course of the game. The young apprentice approached the player after that game and invited him to come to his woodworking shop to receive a custom made bat to use in tomorrow’s game. The player went on to collect 3 hits the next day and then immediately sent all his teammates to the wood working shop for their own custom made bats and the legend of the Louisville Slugger was born.

Ever since then the company has almost exclusively made their bats for professional baseball players, each one custom made to the player’s exact specifications, even down to the type of wood used.

Up until 2002, each bat was hand carved. A skilled craftsman could take the seasoned log of wood used to create the bats and carve one in 15 minutes to the exact specifications of the player with expert, precision detail.

However, now the work is done by a computerized process yet the custom, precision work has never changed. The computerized carving machine is still only operated by the most skilled craftsmen and can carve a bat in 42 seconds.

Louisville Slugger makes almost 2 million bats a year and no two players have ever requested the exact same specifications. However, every Louisville Slugger bat comes with the exact same brand stamp burned into the wood.

The types of wood used to create the bats have changed over time. The weights and specifications have evolved too.

Yet one thing has never changed, the brand stamp unifies the bats Louisville Slugger has made in parts of three different centuries.

God has done an even greater work in creating you and me. We are each custom made by God, created with unique gifts and talents. Our gifts can very different from one another but they are given to us by the same God for the same reasons, to serve one another and to glorify God.

Even though our gifts are different from one another we too have been given a divine brand stamp that unifies us all. While we are indeed custom made, we are also made in the image of God. Our different gifts should serve as a constant reminder of all the different ways God has loved us and made himself known to us yet it is the source of our creation, God himself that holds us together.

Resources:

Our church is currently preaching a mini-series called “Custom Made” on spiritual gifts as we journey through 1 Corinthians.

You can watch the sermons here.

Click here to see the spiritual gifts assessment we used in our home groups to start discovering the ways God has custom made us.

15Dec

Exodus: Gods and Kings – Movie Review

Personally, I am not a fan of movies like Facing the Giants, God’s Not Dead, etc. I am just not willing to waste money or time to see these low budget movies with sub-par acting simply because they are produced for/by Christians. I appreciate their intentions and many of my friends enjoy them. They’re just not my cup of tea.

However, as a Christian, I can deeply enjoy recent blockbuster movies like Exodus and Noah that stray from the Biblical narratives in many ways because they are done with excellence, and it’s a movie. I expect to be entertained. I want to see what liberties and interpretations the director takes. If you want something that’s 100% accurate, you cannot even enjoy Charleston Heston as Moses in the wildly popular Ten Commandments (1956) which tells an exodus story that is almost 90% fabrication. (See: Noah: Movie Review)

The Good:

  • Christian Bale is an awesome Moses. Bale really tried to connect with what Moses would have felt and thought during all the crazy stuff that Moses did and experienced. The film is highly emotional and Bale portrays, in some ways, a very realistic Moses, one that has doubts and could have grown up as  a functional agnostic. Moses’ faith in God, as it develops, seems like it is hanging on by a string that almost snaps a few times.
  • The movie is much more Biblically accurate than Noah. While there are definitely some interesting deviations from the Biblical text, Ridley Scott seemed very focused on adhering to the text when he felt able. The overarching narrative is preserved: God enlists Moses to help free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and lead them on their journey toward the Promised Land.
  • Joel Edgerton, an Australian, plays a great Ramses. An interesting casting choice but it works. Ramses is portrayed as this evolving character who moves from a playful general who laughs off many of his father’s leadership decisions to a brutal, punishing dictator who embodies the mantra: absolute power corrupts absolutely. When Moses returns to the ancient capital of Egypt after years in the desert, the city looks like Tolkien’s Mordor, as the corpses of dead Hebrew slaves burning all day and night.

The Bad:

  •  Diversity? I am not the first one to point this out but there sure are a lot of white people playing Egyptians and Israelites. An Australiam Ramses? Sigourney Weaver laughably attempts to play an Egyptian queen. Ridley Scott’s only response when pressed about the incredibly lack of racial diversity, “get a life.”
  • The Plagues – The film’s representation of the plagues is fantastic, bone-chilling at times, which is probably what it was like to endure them. I appreciated how much time Scott spent on conveying just how inconvenient and eventually, lethal, that plagues were. However, they never find their firm source in God. They are all explainable and even presented for most of the film as related natural disasters/phenomenon.
  • The End – There’s no extra-Biblical plot twist at the end like in Noah. But the ending seems really rushed and tacked on. Moses escapes Pharoah, receives the 10 commandments and grows very old in about 3 minutes. But the film is plenty long enough as is so the rushed ending is not the end of the world. I personally just did not care for it.

The Interesting:

  • The 8-year old God. The movie portrays God as an 8-year old boy, the same age as Moses’s son at this point in his life. It is an interesting take but we obviously do not think of God in this way. But this raised some questions for me. Why am I more comfortable with an older, more James Earl Jones-esque personification of God than I am with an 8-year old British boy God. The theology of this 8-year old boy God is pretty consistent with the God of Scripture. He promises to be with Moses. He is clearly in control and he has fierce affections for the Israelites and desperately wants to free them from slavery.
  • The brotherhood of Moses and Ramses is the main story. Right after the movie finishes a tribute briefly pops up, “For my brother, Tony Scott.” Ridley Scott’s brother, Tony, was also a very successful Hollywood director (Top Gun) who committed suicide in 2012. This is a great reminder of how our theology is greatly impacted by our experience. Ridley Scott spends  aa great amount of time building a story not out of an overarching narrative of God rescuing his people but of Moses and Ramses in conflict. The main story and battle lies between them. One cannot help but see his personal connection to the personal connection Moses must have shared with Ramses.
  • Moses doesn’t seem to know he’s Hebrew. This was fascinating, and in my opinion, a fair and Biblical option. The Bible never fully reveals what Moses does and does not know about his childhood in his early years. Even when he kills the Egyptian slave master for hurting “one of his own people” (Exodus 2:11) the reader does not know if Moses is aware that the person being beat was his own people of if the narrator simply lets the reader know that which Moses does not yet know.

 

Conclusion:

This review is far from exhaustive and it is not intended to be. I appreciated the virtual absence of bad language and zero nudity. However, the violence is definitely there to make it earn it’s PG-13 rating, yet as my friend Frank Gil notes, it pales in comparison to the violence in today’s video games.

I hope you see this movie if this type of movie interests you. I think it can spark great conversation and cause more and more people to turn to examine the God of the Bible and hopefully decide to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

9Dec

When I Refuse to Pray for Church People

There is a time when I refuse to pray for church people.

This may seem odd, especially since I am a pastor. And I am a pastor who genuinely enjoys praying for people, both inside and outside the church. I am no expert by any means and I appreciate how even the Bible recognizes that prayer is hard. This is Paul’s plea to the church in Rome,

“Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:30

Paul had seen better days. Life was hard and persecution was real. Yet notice how Paul asks for help. He asks the people God to join him in his struggle by sending money, selfies, good thoughts, casseroles, praying to God because they love him.

Tangible expressions of love are great. Who doesn’t love a timely delivered meal? But we have to drop this idea that prayer is some lower level of ministry, not really as effective as doing something.

Tragically, I think prayer has become a lost part of the pastorate in many ways.

One of my largest spiritual influences, Eugene Peterson, tweeted a similar thought a few weeks ago that has been careening off the walls of my heart ever since,

The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.

Yet for all the importance of prayer in the pastorate, there is still a time when I refuse to pray for church people.

It’s at my kitchen table, coffee in hand, every morning before my wife and I leave for work.

Just before the hustle of the day begins, we both take time and pause. We read Scripture together and pray for one another. ONLY one another. Some days it is 30 minutes and others (like yesterday) it is 5 minutes. I cherish this time for one main reason: we pray for nothing but each other.

This has nothing to do with me being a pastor and everything to do with being a husband.

In marriage, praying together is like sex. When it’s happening, life is good. Each person knows their spouse generally cares for them. Extra effort is usually made and usually noticed and appreciated. However, when it’s not happening, little things can turn into big things in a hurry, causing to fights out of literally nothing.

How to Pray WITH Your Spouse FOR Your Spouse

1.) The WITH is important. The goal isn’t to just pray for your spouse, but to join in the struggles of each other through prayer because of the love you have for one another

2.) Ask, “How can I pray for you today?”

3.) Listen.

4.) Actually listen.

5.) Pray about the stuff you heard.

Even if you’re not super comfortable at first, the effort is not just helpful; it’s imperative.

How well do you really love your spouse if you are unwilling to pray for/with them?

1Dec

The One Where I Almost Killed My Wife in the Desert at 3 A.M.

I’ll never forget the time I almost killed my wife in the middle of the desert at 3 A.M.

It was our first Christmas as husband and wife and we were driving in a tiny Hyundai Accent (henceforth referred to as “Betsy” – may she rest in peace) from Waco, TX to San Diego, CA to visit my wife’s family.

We were too poor to afford a hotel room so we decided to make the 1,361 mile journey without stopping.

My wife had made the trek a few times with friends and assured me we could do it no problem…

As the hours ticked off we found ourselves on a long, remote section of highway in New Mexico in the middle of the night. It was snowing and my wife was fast asleep. I remember thinking how incredibly blessed I was, seriously. As a newlywed who had just completed my first semester of seminary and was working at my first real church job, life was good.

But then life wasn’t good.

As we were driving, I noticed the gas gauge needle had started to make some rather flirtatious advances toward the “E.” Much like Dorothy, I realized I was not home anymore and there was not a gas station at every exit. Not out in the desert.

I tried to stay calm but it just wasn’t working. As I thought about how my wife and I would be remembered once they found our frozen bodies (if they ever did), I only prayed my mother-in-law would somehow know it was never my intention to kill her daughter before we celebrated our 1st anniversary. That’s just inconsiderate.

So I white-knuckled the steering wheel and started to pray, “Lord, I really need to find a gas station.” When I looked down, much to my dismay, the gas needle was already bumping uglies with the “E.” It was not long until their relationship would be fully consummated.

I started to formulate a Plan B. If we couldn’t find a gas station, surely there must be a place for us to at least take cover from the cold. But I started to realize I hadn’t seen a diner, a store, or even a house in a long time. Looooong time.

I was popping Betsy in neutral any chance I could get as we rolled on to our imminent deaths. We had actually just rescued a beautiful Labrador, Zoe, from the humane society and she was on the journey with us as well. Now I would be remembered as a wife and a puppy killer. Great.

As I continued to pray and rack my mind for Plans C-X I kept having this one thought, “There’s no way I can make it over one more hill. There’s no way I can make it through one more valley.”

Until finally, the most glorious sight appeared. This was no ordinary gas station. No, at the bottom of the next hill I saw a 24-hour truck stop, blazing with light and food and clean restrooms and ultimately…gas!

As we pulled in my heart began to slowly exit my throat and descend back to its normal resting place. My wife slowly awoke, pet our sweet new dog, Zoe, and sleepily asked, “Everything going alright, sweetheart?”

“Yes, dear” I replied. “Go back to sleep.”

Imagine my dismay if, after coasting into the truck stop on the last bit of Betsy’s fumes, there was no gas. I knew this place was a gas station and not a Chuck E. Cheese because I had seen millions of other gas stations just like it. Imagine what it would be like to pull up and find it closed. No longer fit for service.

A lot of people in my part of the country look like Christians, at least on the outside. You can tell they’re not anarchists or brothel operators. We talked about this in depth in my home group tonight. There’s a cultural form of Christianity that is alive and well. I say this a lot in my church but I think it’s worth repeating:

Whatever it means to love Jesus has to be something categorically different than what it means to love college football and sweet tea.

Remember, I was never confused about what the gas station was; I just needed to make sure it could provide for me what it appeared to offer from the outside. Christians have the only real version of what the whole world needs, hope. If you’re celebrating the season of Advent you probably talked about hope yesterday. One of my big takeaways from yesterday was the responsibility each one of us have to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

Sometimes, Christians can get caught up in some form of cultural Christianity where they go to church because they think it helps them be good people or it makes them feel encouraged, which is all good but none of that’s Gospel. None of that’s hope. That would be like me coasting up to the station needing gasoline and only being offered a cup of coffee. It would make me feel good for a minute but it does not solve my fundamental problem.

Christians have a tremendous opportunity, especially during the Christmas season, to be stations of hope to people simply running on fumes.

Life is tough, no matter what belief system you adhere to. That feeling of being overwhelmed and beaten down is a universal one. People all around you are struggling through life, looking around for help, thinking there’s just no way they can make it through one more valley or over one more hill.

So how do we help? How exactly are we supposed to give hope to a hurting world?

This largely depends on the situation. Honestly, I don’t always know how to specifically help, but I know when I can never help. Imagine if we had coasted up to the pump, lights are on, workers are present, but the pump does not work. So one by one we check and none of the pumps work.

Why? They lost connection to the true source, to the reservoirs below the ground.I can never really help people find hope when I forsake my only connection to real hope.

This is incredibly encouraging, because it means we don’t have to be the hope people need. If someone were depending on me for that they would be mightily disappointed. No, we are simply called to point them to the hope we have found and to which we are connected. You can’t point people to a hope you don’t really have.

Stay connected to Jesus, the true source of hope. How? Lots of ways! I have friends that remind me how important things like prayer, Scripture reading, meditation, silence, and service are to staying connected to Jesus. There are lots of ways to stay connected but almost all of them require you slow down in a season where we feel we’re supposed to frantically hurry up.

How do you stay connected?

24Nov

The Single Struggle

Guest Post: Today’s post comes from one of my good friends, Rachel Dishner. She blogs over at Sweetly Southern Hospitality and you can follow her posts by clicking here. Rachel has a ferocious heart for the Lord and writes today about the struggle of being a single Christian in the South. Her words are vulnerable, powerful, and can be encouraging and challenging to us all.

You can read her original post, “The Single Struggle” on her website here.

At this moment there are 7 wedding invitations on my bulletin board.  I look at them everyday and 6 days out of 7 the only thing I think is how excited I am for my friends to get to share their lives with the ones they love, but on that 7th day I start the comparison game.

They say comparison is the thief of joy and they are right.  It is when we start focusing on the things in our life that seem to be missing rather than the incredible amount that we have, that we tell ourselves we don’t have enough.  That we aren’t enough.  That Christ isn’t enough.

That’s my struggle.  6 days out of 7, I live this life that is so full of joy I can hardly stand it.  I am so fulfilled in my job, in my family, with my friends, with my God at this stage in my life that the don’t haves start to fade, 6 days out of 7.  But it’s on that 7th day when I get really lonely and start wondering why I’m not enough.  What do I need to change to find love?  Why hasn’t God sent (insert name) into my life?

But you know what, those 6 days out of 7 are what I am going to put my effort, my attention, my focus on.  Because I have so much more to offer than my insecurities point out that I don’t.  I want to strive to live the life that God created me to live and you know what, if He has different plans for me than I do myself, why would I want anything different for myself?

That is easier said than done, I know.  Trust me, I know.  At almost 24 years old, the southern culture I am surrounded with screams that since I haven’t found anyone I will be alone forever.  They are wrong.  I am choosing to believe they are wrong.  But I struggle daily with saying that Christ is enough for me and meaning it.  But maybe, just maybe that is where Christ wants me.  Maybe He knows that I struggle with that and that I also am striving to mean it and He is going to push me until I get there.  I am choosing to find happiness and choosing to see beyond the single struggle into a struggle towards the heart of Christ.

You can let Rachel know what you thought by leaving a comment below.

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