Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Favorite Prayer Resource

So far this year has started off with a focus on prayer in my life and church. The message I preached Sunday was on prayer from Philippians 1:3-11. Our church began a women’s prayer group that went very well from what I heard. The first book on my reading list is Tim Keller’s book on prayer. And in my personal Bible reading, I have been encouraged by Ezra and Nehemiah’s prayers. It is remarkable how God hears and responds to human words in his sovereign power. 

I wanted to suggest one of my favorite resources for personal prayer. Other than the Bible, the most helpful resource has been The Valley of Vision

This is a collection of Puritan prayers from previous generations. Those who appreciate antiquity and depth in the Christian faith will treasure it; others who are prone to novelty and naiveté may not. The language may take some getting used to, but I believe anyone who sticks with it will have a deeper prayer life. 

Several ingredients make for good prayer: contrition, joy, humility, courage, and faith. The Valley of Vision combines all of these in doctrinally rich prayer that makes us think greater thoughts about God. 

Here is one example of the spiritually rich prayers found in this devotional. It is best read slowly, meditatively, and obviously prayerfully.  

The Deeps
Lord Jesus, give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach. Help me chastely to flee it and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be Thine alone.
Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in Thee, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being. Give me a deeper knowledge of Thyself as saviour, master, lord, and king. Give me deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in Thy Word, more steadfast grip on its truth. Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action, and let me not seek moral virtue apart from Thee.
Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly husbandman, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until Thou alone art seen in me, Thy beauty golden like summer harvest, Thy fruitfulness as autumn plenty.
I have no master but Thee, no law but Thy will, no delight but Thyself, no wealth but that Thou givest, no good but that Thou blessest, no peace but that Thou bestowest. I am nothing but that Thou makest me. I have nothing but that I receive from Thee. I can be nothing but that grace adorns me. Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water.

I came to faith in a culture that taught me pretty shallow prayer, so the Valley of Vision has been a great help to move beyond. I’m not sure how long I’ve been using it. I did find a receipt dating back to April 2011 in it as a bookmark, so I know that I was using it before then. 

My practice is to use the prayers in the book as a framework. I don’t just repeat the words, but think through them and pray accordingly in my own words. If you are looking for a new devotional resource to help in your prayer life, then check this classic out. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pornography Use and the Christian

The following statistics are taken from Covenant Eyes website 
  • 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women say they are addicted to pornography. 
  • 75% of pastors do not make themselves accountable to anyone for their Internet use. 
  • Regular church attendees are 26% less likely to look at porn, however self-identified “fundamentalists” are 91% more likely to look at porn.
  • 9 out of 10 boys were exposed to pornography before the age of 18.
  • 6 out of 10 girls were exposed to pornography before the age of 18. 
  • The first exposure to pornography among men is 12 years old. 
  • 71% of teens hide their online behavior from their parents. 

The problem of pornography use then in regular church attenders is real. Looking at porn regularly makes it extremely difficult to feel close the Lord. Addiction to porn makes is near impossible to worship and serve in the church in a healthy and pure way. 

Regular use of porn will shape how men and women view others: as objects to be used instead of people to love and serve. And yet the Bible teaches us it is essential to have a pure thought life, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).

Although the problem of regular pornography use cannot be broken easily, the Bible does give us instruction on how to approach sexual sin of any kind, and this is especially true of pornography. The few words from the Apostle Paul are fitting for a highly sexualized culture, “Flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18).

There are two Old Testament illustrations of this. One is positive (Joseph), the other negative (David). One was able to flee sexual sin, the other did not. Both of their lives can be instructive to us.

King David: The Failure to Flee 

2 Samuel 11 is the low point in King David’s life. This is the account when David sees a woman bathing, seeks her out, and then sleeps with her. There is a discernible pattern of sight, seeking, and sin that applies here also to porn use. Often there is a porn trigger. Maybe it is some ad on a website that is sexually arousing, or a word pops up after a Google search. Either way if it leads to seeking more out, then sin is at the doorstep. 

David’s failure to flee teaches us several things about what went wrong that can offer help to those who truly want to flee porn use. 

Prayerlessness At his high moments, David is found praying. We get many psalms from him that show his closeness to God. But here prayer is absent. I’m not sure if that is intentional in 2 Samuel or not, but it does stand out. D.A. Carson said, “A prayerless Christian is a disaster waiting to happen.” David was not always prayerless, but here he is and disaster falls in his life. 

Curiosity The bathing woman catches David’s eyes and like any man he is tempted by what he sees. But he takes it further. Again, instead of inquiring of the Lord, he inquires about her. This curiosity leads to David seeking sin out instead of keeping a safe distance. Porn use begins with curiosity. The turning point in fleeing sin seems to begin at the place of curiosity. That is where the proverbial fork in the road appears. We will look at this next time with the example of Joseph.  

Greed The striking thing about David’s adultery with Bathsheeba is the greed it is wrapped in. To understand this better we listen to what Nathan the prophet tells David in 2 Sam 12. He confronts David with a parable about a rich man who steals a poor man’s lamb. David is outraged until he understands the parable is about him! Then he is broken by his sin. Porn is also wrapped in greed. It is not satisfied in the spouse God has given (or will give to those single). Porn always says, “I need more.” 

Next time we will look at Joseph in Gen 39 as a positive model of fleeing sexual sin. For now, we can strive to become those who are more prayerful, less curious and less greedy. Cultivating those traits will certainly aid anyone who truly desires a pure heart that gazes on God and not porn images (Matt 5:8). 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Are You Amazed?

When it comes to church music, I can be kind of old school. I prefer older hymns to newer contemporary praise songs most of the time. An older hymn usually has more depth and is overall more thoughtful on biblical content. Some of the more contemporary praise music in my opinion can sound like something teens write when they are in a superficial dating relationship that does not last long. Again, this is my opinion. 

But whether it is an older hymn or newer praise song, there is a way which all of our songs ought to be sung: with amazement. 

Two older hymns steer us in this direction. Amazing Grace by John Newton, which is familiar to most, and also Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed by Isaac Watts, which may be a little less familiar, but rich with Christ-centered content. Here are the words of amazement that have been sung by throngs throughout generations in the church,  

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, 
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I’m found, 
was blind but now I see!
(Amazing Grace)

Was it for crimes that I had done, 
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown! 
And love beyond degree!
(Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed)

Both of these hymns connect human amazement to God’s grace and mercy poured out on the unworthy sinners who sing. This is how we are to sing about our Savior. The problem with the default setting of our heart is that we can begin to sing without amazement. 

But the gospel should always amaze us! The fact that Jesus Christ came to this world to save unworthy sinners like you and me should never cease to amaze us (1 Tim 1:15). So a good question for us to ask ourselves when we are getting ready to sing: are we still amazed? My generation values transparency in worship. A greater value should be amazement though, for that is when worship is truly directed toward Christ and the gospel.   

And that is the legacy that a couple of dead hymn writers wanted to leave to us. They are now singing in genuine, transparent, perfect, and undistracted amazement. And we are preparing to sing with them in eternal amazement as we sojourn on this earth. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Recovering the Sufficiency of Scripture

One thing that is vital for Christians to recover in order to be faithful to God is a firm belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. There are many passing fads. Sometimes Christians get hyped up about them. But only one thing remains necessary for truly knowing God: a commitment to his revealed truth in his Word. 

In other words, the Bible is enough. We don’t have to spend time going to see the latest movie about heaven to learn about it; we already have truth revealed in the Word of God. It is critical that we recover a firm belief in the sufficiency of Scripture to avoid chasing down every passing fad. I believe that a firm adherence to the sufficiency of Scripture is most pleasing to God. 

The following exhortations from Book 1 of John Calvin’s Institutes are helpful reminders of the sufficiency of Scripture, 

“...let us use great caution that neither our thoughts nor our speech go beyond the limits to which the Word of God itself extends....And let us not take into our heads either to seek out God anywhere else than his Sacred Word, or to think anything about him that is not prompted by his Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from the Word...let us remember here, as in all religious doctrine, that we ought to hold to one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak, or guess, or even seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by God’s Word. Furthermore, in the reading of Scripture we ought ceaselessly to endeavor to seek out and meditate upon those things which make for edification. Let us not indulge in curiosity or in the investigation of unprofitable things.”

and a final word for pastors,

“The theologian’s task is not to divert the ears with chatter, but to strengthen consciences by teaching things true, sure, and profitable.”

Sounds like the same advice an older, godly mentor once gave to his successor,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV).

Obviously, recovering the sufficiency of Scripture means that we spend a lot of our time actually reading, studying, meditating, delighting--and most importantly--obeying the Word of God.    

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Recommendation: Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies

The summer seems to be officially closing (top of the 9th inning maybe) as my kids started back to school this week. With the summer ending, I wanted to mention one of the best books I finished this summer: The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies. I am usually cautious to say there is a book that every Christian needs to read (since that should be only true of the Bible), so I will just say this book is highly recommended. 

There is not much written on the topic of biblical discernment. A lot of books are published on great topics like evangelism, church leadership and prayer; these are certainly all needed. But nothing much has been written about the topic of spiritual discernment, which is a biblical responsibility for Christians and evidence of maturity, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:14).

Challies reminds Christians that we have the responsibility to “test everything” (1 Thess 5:21). If you are not certain what that means or how to do it, I suggest his book. 

Also, I highly recommend Challies blog: challies.com

His blog is one of the few that I am certain to visit often. You will find a lot of good stuff there. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Encouragement for the Small Church

This marks the end of my summer blogging hiatus. I took a few months off from writing to devote more of my attention to my kids, which will probably be my typical pattern. Thirty years from now my blog posts will be long forgotten, but time spent with my family will not. 

During my summer hiatus I have been reading Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Most are familiar with Bonhoeffer for his heroic stand against Hitler, which ultimately cost him his life. Many have been impacted by his classic work The Cost of Discipleship. But few probably know Bonhoeffer as pastor of a small congregation. I really appreciated the picture of Bonhoeffer as a faithful shepherd to a small flock. Metaxas describes his work: 

“Bonhoeffer was responsible for two congregations, neither of which was large enough to support its own pastor. The Sydenham congregation numbered between thirty and forty...and the St. Paul’s congregation numbered about fifty, mostly tradesmen. Despite the small numbers, Bonhoeffer prepared his sermons as if he were preaching to thousands.”

Bonhoeffer approached his pastoral work, regardless of the size, with the principle that Paul lays out in Colossians: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23-24 ESV). 

Hopefully this is an encouragement to all smaller congregations. I am thankful to serve a smaller flock and many of my pastoral friends in ministry are in the same boat. Many believers in Christ faithfully attend smaller congregations for decades as well, without the prospect that their church will ever grow much in size. In all of this, the Lord deserves our best efforts. I’m certain that Bonhoeffer has no regrets that he gave his.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A World Without Heroes

There has been a recent resurrection of the male role model in 7 Men by Eric Metaxas. The book gives short biographies of seven men who have significantly left a mark in history by what they did with their lives. Some of the men include George Washington, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson and Charles Colson. I was inspired after getting to know more about their lives. 

But as I thought about the world I am living and raising my son in, there seems to be a real void of the type of men that have the characteristics of the role models I read about. There are probably some exceptions, but overall I have a sense that the world we live in is a world without heroes.

Metaxas describes this problem in the introduction to his book:

“Young men who spend their time watching violent movies and playing video games aren’t very easily going to become the men they were meant to become. They will drift. They will lose out on the very reason they were brought into this world: to be great, to be heroes themselves.”

I would add that we have moved from a culture of heroes to a culture of celebrity. Celebrities are centered around popularity. Heroes never live to be popular but to do the right thing. Celebrities are self-focused. Heroes are self-sacrificing. There is a world of difference between the two.

So are we without hope? Will male role models eventually be extinct in the culture? Metaxas wrote the book (and I read it) to create an awareness of the problem and hopefully return to where men take responsibility, live courageously and sacrifice when called. 

There was one common thread among all the men that needs mentioned. They all surrendered to something bigger than themselves. Metaxas describes why he chose the individuals for the book, 

“I was looking for seven men who had evidence of one particular quality: that of surrendering themselves to a higher purpose, of giving something away that they might have kept. All of them did this in one way or another. Doing this is noble and admirable, and takes courage and it usually takes faith.” 

After reading that, I can’t help but reflect on the Lord Jesus Christ, 
“the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2 ESV). 

So I don’t believe that we have to cave into a world without heroes, since many ordinary men by faith can look to the One who modeled a mixture of selfless sacrifice with courage and triumphant joy.