Wednesday, June 1, 2016

5 Lifeline Lessons on Prayer

At the end of James, an entire section is devoted to the importance of prayer (5:13-18). Prayer is encouraged in all occasions, must be fervent, and persistent. Followers of Jesus Christ know that sustained prayer can be difficult at times. That is why there are so many admonitions in the Bible about prayer. But for faithful discipleship, ongoing prayer is vital. It is the disciple’s lifeline. Here are five lifeline prayer lessons to encourage a stronger prayer life. They only work if you put them into practice, as a doer of the word (Jas 1:22). 

1) Pray Scripture constantly.  The best way to stay connected in prayer is to connect it to your daily Bible reading. Take a verse or a theme from what you read and turn it into prayer. The Psalms work well this way. Also, a helpful book that encourages this is Praying the Bible by Don Whitney. 

2) Have a widening circle of prayer.  One of the easiest ways to get stuck in a prayer rut is to pray with a short daily routine that only includes trivial needs. Christians should aim at a widening circle of prayer concerns and prayer groups. Practically, get outside of yourself in prayer; pray about, with, and for others. Pray for what God is doing in the world through global missions. Get past the sick list. Pray for spiritual growth for yourself and others. Join in prayer groups if you can. This is the nature of basic discipleship.

3) Keep a prayer journal.  This is not for everybody, but it can be useful for many. My wife has kept something of a prayer journal for years, and it is encouraging to look back and see what God did through prayer a decade ago. The prayer journal can be used to record prayer requests, answered prayer, Scripture, encouragement, and trials of faith. A prayer journal may be the added accountability for personal discipline that some need. 

4) Remember that sin is the stumbling block to a vital prayer life.  I don't need to go into much detail on this one. One example of this is found in 1 Pet 3:7. If husbands don’t treat their wives well, God will not hear their prayers. Simple enough. You cannot have an amazing prayer life if you are not submitted to Christ in obedience (Jn 15:7). 

5) Don’t ever stop praying (Lk 18:1).  Jesus told his disciples a parable “to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” This seems to be the point of another parable Jesus told in Luke 11:5-13 (ESV): 

 “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

Prayer is so vital to discipleship. For it to mature and work, perseverance and persistence are needed. So keep on praying. Don’t let go of your lifeline. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Forms of Pride

James teaches us how dangerous pride is since we are reminded that “God is opposed to the proud” (Jas 4:6). Here we get a general statement about how God views our pride, but the Bible gives some specific examples of what forms our own pride can take. The problem with our pride is we are often blind to it. We don’t realize that pride exists in us because we are not aware of the forms. 

Here are a few of the forms pride can take.  

Moral Pride: Moral pride is a feeling or attitude of superiority towards others. It can take the form of condescending words directed at those we think are morally below us (Jn 9:34). The Pharisees are the clearest example of moral pride in the Bible. To see how God is so opposed to moral pride, we have the parable Jesus told about the Pharisee and Tax Collector (Luke 18:10-14). It’s worth reading and meditating on. 

Intellectual Pride: This form of pride is found in those who think that knowledge is supreme at the expense of love. Intellectual pride begins to creep in when we think we’ve arrived at spiritual maturity simply for reaching a certain level of knowledge. It is found in 1 Cor 8:1 “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” It takes place whenever knowledge is prized above love (1 Cor 13:2). 

Independent Pride: There are several variations. Independent pride can be refusing to look to God for help or seek him for strength (Obadiah 3). Not praying is a sure sign of independent pride (Ps 10:4). It can also be found in a rebellious, unteachable attitude, what the Bible calls “stiff-necked” (Ex 32:9). 

Pride has no place in the disciple’s life, so let’s be sure our aim is to seek Christlike humility. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Best Path to Leadership Growth

Over the past few years I have spent a good chunk of time pursuing leadership growth and development. I’ve read leadership books, invested time perusing blogs, articles, and listening to podcasts. My desire has been to grow as a leader in order to be a better servant of Christ’s church. My guess is that the time investment has been helpful at some level. 

I think leadership growth can be boiled down to growing in wisdom and knowledge. Leadership takes a certain level of skill, and that skill is built on wisdom and knowledge. Fools lack knowledge, do not make not good leaders, and therefore should not be followed (Prov 14:7). So it makes sense that leaders, especially spiritual leaders, should want to grow in wisdom and knowledge.

In my Scripture memorization I came across Colossians 2:3 recently. It reminded me that it is Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” What a relief and hope this word is for leaders! We don’t need to read all the bestselling leadership books on the market to be effective leaders. We don't need to be connected to all the popular leadership podcasts or blogs. Those things may be helpful, but they are not essential.

It hit me later on as I thought about church history. God used many men in great leadership roles, from Athanasius and Augustine, to Luther and Calvin, to Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones. The surprising thing is that they all actually lived in the days before the current leadership buzz. They ministered before there was a mass push to publish and produce leadership material from the “experts.” These godly guys somehow greatly influenced the world with the gospel, and yet never attended a conference or breakout session on coaching, mentoring, or organizational leadership. But these men had access to all the leadership material that God saw they needed: wisdom from above (Jas 3:17) found in Christ. These men studied Christ and he was sufficient for their personal leadership growth and development.

I’m thankful that the same is true today. Truth be told, all the leadership stuff out there has a pretty short shelf life. Blog and podcast content quickly disappear from memory, at least for me. The latest leadership bestseller will eventually be sold at steep discount on Kindle for $2.99 when the new stuff rolls out. On the other hand, the eternal and enduring Word of Christ does not have a short shelf life. It has been powerful and effective to lead leaders throughout church history (Col 3:16). Simply put, the source of wisdom and knowledge in Christ has proven the test of time. It is still the most certain way to grow gospel-centered leaders who trust God that their work has eternal rewards. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Jerry Bridges: a gospel-centered author to read for discipleship

A gifted Christian author went home with the Lord recently. On March 6th 2016, Jerry Bridges went to be “with Christ” (Phil 1:23). In case you are not familiar with him, I wanted to introduce you to a few of his writings by tracing when I was introduced to them, and how they shaped my life over the years. 

The first book I read was The Discipline of Grace. Someone recommended this to me when I was a young Christian. It was remarkably helpful since I didn’t fully understand the true depths of grace. He has a principle in that book that I love and try to live by: 
“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace” (p.18). 
In other words, every day we desperately cling to God’s grace. This helps us keep our focus each day on the gospel. This is the foundation for a life of discipleship. 

The second book I picked up was The Pursuit of Holiness. There was a study for college students that I was part of, and this was the book that we tackled. His basic call is for Christians to take the practice of holiness very seriously. This is probably his most popular book and I think and a good place to start if you are not familiar with his writings. Holiness is essential for discipleship growth. 

The final book of significance was Trusting God. The timing of this was fitting. I was just finishing up my undergraduate work in South Carolina. I was newly married and my wife was pregnant with our first child. At that time she was working full-time to get me through school and I was a full-time student. When our son was born, my bride had to stop working and we literally had zero income for several months until I graduated. Our small group at church studied Trusting God and it became a great theme in our life during that season. We saw God’s amazing provision as we learned to trust him. Trusting God was another essential discipleship lesson I needed to learn.  

Although I have not read them, other popular books of his are Transforming Grace and Respectable Sins. I have never been disappointed with any of his books. They are great for both personal study and small group discipleship. I thank God for Jerry Bridges and how his writings have helped so many in their Christian growth as they have for me.

*I originally wrote this for our church's monthly newsletter to honor Mr Bridges and to introduce others to his writings. Since then I have picked up Respectable Sins and in my opinion it is probably one of his best writings. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Your Identity in Christ

James begins his letter by introducing himself, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1).” As we make our way through the letter, James shows us what it looks like for us to live as servants of God and Christ. 

Some English translations (HCSB & NLT) translate the word servant as slave. This may actually be more helpful in understanding how we are to see ourselves. John MacArthur has an excellent book devoted to studying that single word. The book is called Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ. In it he lists five truths about what it meant to live as a slave in first century Rome. So people who were reading James would have made the connection to what it looks like to be a slave of Christ. Here are the five (p.44-53 in the book). 

  1. Exclusive Ownership. According to Roman law, a slave was considered “property in the absolute control of another.” Servants of Christ know they are not their own, but have been purchased by the blood of Christ and he has exclusive ownership. 
  2. Complete Submission. Slaves were to give their master unquestioning obedience. In the same way, disciples give Christ unquestioning obedience. There is no part of his Word that can be taken lightly. 
  3. Singular Devotion. Jesus told his followers how impossible it is to serve two masters (Matt 6:24); he warns the many people who call him Lord but do not really know him by their actions (Matt 7:21). To be Christ’s follower is to be singularly devoted to him and his will.  
  4. Total Dependance. Slaves were able to be confident that everything they needed would be provided for them. They simply did not have to worry about basic provision in life. Those who are in Christ can trust their Master with everything from salvation to sustenance. 
  5. Personal Accountability. Slaves understood that they worked for the pleasure of the master. They all had to give a personal account of how they lived and labored. In the same way all believers will give personal account, down to the very use of words (Matt 12:36-37). 

The main hope for all true followers of Jesus is tied up with the words they will hear someday, “Well done good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your master (Matt 25:21).”

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bible Reading in 2016

There is an overwhelming number of choices out there when it comes to Bible reading plans. Anything from chronological, one chapter a day to 10 a day, one year up to three years to competition. If you want a good iPhone app to sort through the choices, try this one

For the past 10 years or so, I have predominantly used the M'Cheyne plan that is set up by D.A. Carson.  It is free online and a great way to learn how to do biblical theology and get a solid grasp on the storyline of Scripture. 

This year I'm changing it up a bit and trying the plan that Faith Baptist College put together. What I like about this is that it takes you through the entire Bible, and each day's reading is something from the OT, NT, and Psalms (Monday-Friday). For the NT readings I'm following along in the ESV Men's Devotional Bible. I'm just throwing this out in case anyone is still looking for a way to approach God's Word this year. 
As with any Bible reading plan, the goal is not just to get through the Bible in a year, but to store up God's Word in our hearts so that we live for his glory and the priority of the gospel. 

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt 4:4). 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Genuine Humility

Yesterday, preaching on the humility of King David, I shared a quote that offers a wonderful definition of humility. It is found in the book Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney, 

“Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness” (p.22)

That is short, to the point and biblically informed, just like the book.  

At the end of Humility, there is a list of suggestions on how to weaken pride and cultivate humility in our lives. These suggestions are connected to the definition of humility that has God’s holiness and our sinfulness at the core. I offer this helpful list to go over if you want to take the pursuit  of humility serious.   

  1. Reflect on the wonder of the cross. 
  2. Begin each day by acknowledging your dependence upon God.
  3. Begin your day expressing gratefulness to God. 
  4. Practice spiritual disciplines—prayer, study of the Word, worship. 
  5. Seize your commute time to memorize and mediate on Scripture. 
  6. Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you. 
  7. At the end of the day, transfer the glory to God. 
  8. Before going to sleep, receive this gift acknowledging His purpose for sleep. 
  9. Study the attributes of God.
  10. Study the doctrines of grace. 
  11. Study the doctrine of sin. 
  12. Play as much golf as possible* 
  13. Laugh often, and laugh at yourself often. 
  14. Identify evidences of grace in others. 
  15. Encourage and serve others each and every day. 
  16. Invite and pursue correction. 
  17. Respond humbly to trials. 

*A personal favorite from the author of this blog