Pray Like Children

*Here's an excerpt from tonight's Foundations Class at Redemption Church on Spending Time with God in Prayer.

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"I find your lack of faith disturbing." –  Darth Vader

Jesus said

"Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).  

Not theologians. Not missionaries. Not rabbis. Not church planters. Not millionaires. Not geniuses. Not famous. Not scholars. Not busy bodies. Not know-it-alls. Not power-hungry authorities. Not grumpy nit-picky religious folks.

Children. Let that sink in. “Become like Children.” Isn’t that what you always wanted anyway? To be a child. Isn’t that what you want today as a busy urban-dwelling resident of Seattle? 

Childhood that includes finger paint, Superman ice cream, grubby sneakers, light sabers, bath time, and the joy of asking billions of questions. 

When it comes to prayer, I’ve found that moving towards a place and posture of claiming my identity as Abba’s beloved child is when I say my most honest and perhaps my most effective prayers. As a child, I am needy. As a child, I am vulnerable. As a child, I am dependent. As a child, I sometimes throw a fit. As a child, I get really excited. As a child, I am trusting. As a child, I don't know it all. As I child, I can be taught. As a child, I can say that "I'm sorry" from my heart. As a child, I can say what I'm really thinking. As a child, I know where I belong and to Whom I belong.

When I embrace my childhood that I receive through the Spirit by the Lord Jesus, crying out to my "Abba!" (Gal. 4:6), I find that I’m not worried so much about getting my technical theological language just right. Sure, theology counts big time. But in those moments I just want my Abba. As Abba’s child, I really don't find myself doing all the talking, telling God what I want him to do for me.

As a child, I am there because I am at peace. I am there because I want a relationship. I am there because I know I'm genuinely liked. Yes, my Abba is quite fond of me and has moved heaven and earth to be with me. In this space and understanding, bland monochrome monologue fades out and creative, colorful dialogue, conversation, intentional presence and loving stillness happens. I think this is closer to the heart of what the Lord Jesus had in mind as he reconciled the world to God. 

 

 

This Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is not in Scripture but rather was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and it was recognized as a holiday in 1914 in the United States. Long before 1914, Moses commanded the people of God are to “honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12).

This Sunday is Mother’s Day and I plan to be honoring my wonderful mother, Bevy, and my beautiful bride, Jana, of 13 years who partners with me in the raising of our two precious children. I have tremendous respect for the role that mothers occupy in this world. As a kid, I didn’t know what I had being raised by Bevy. Now, as a 37 year old, I can see that I was graced in more ways than I’ll ever know. With Jana, that blessing is multiplied again. Grace upon grace. 

"An excellent wife, who can find?” asked King Lemuel (Prov. 31:10). An excellent woman, an excellent friend, and an excellent mother really is a treasure. 

As a pastor preparing to preach on this special day, I’m very conscious of the fact that not everyone shares in the same joy that I have when thinking about Mother’s Day. There are all kinds of women in our church here in Seattle that feel very differently about this day and to roll past my sisters without stopping to listen, to think, and to pray for them betrays the very fact that they’re my family in Christ. 

I want to encourage my brothers and sisters and others who, like me, will be ministering on Sunday to stay mindful that not everyone is jumping up and down to celebrate. This doesn’t mean that we don’t celebrate. It simply means that in our celebrating, we’re also thinking of one another and that is a beautiful expression of the gospel.

Some women:

  • have never married and are without children, 

  • are single mothers,

  • have gone through miscarriage,

  • are widowed,

  • are infertile, 

  • had terrible childhoods and no longer speak to their mothers. 

 

For some ladies, Mother’s Day is a trigger that digs up deep pain and our God has a close eye on each moment, memory, and heartache (Psalm 56:8; 1 Peter 5:7). The Holy Spirit is the Great Comforter (John 14:26) and would have us "comfort one another” (2 Cor. 1:4). Paul tells us that we are to “Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). 

 

As we head toward Sunday, may we keep our eyes on Jesus and seek to bless one another... be it with flowers or tears. 

 

 

 

Why and How to Go to Church

 

 

A post on Why and How to Go to Church may seem like a silly thing to write on. However, after serving as a pastor over the last ten years, I’ve seen that it’s the simple things that matter. Just as Jesus emphasized the power of faith even as small as a mustard seed (Matt. 17:20, Luke 17:6), a simple thing like a lack of church participation will grow into stagnated disciples. Stagnated disciples result in churches being less effective in their communities, because the focus is skewed away from the glory of God and our enjoyment of Him.  

 

So, here’s a few things on going to church.

 

Actually Go to Church

I know the word “commitment” scares us. However, we are all committed to certain people, places, and practices. Who and what you’re committed to reveals your priorities and values. When it comes to worshiping with the whole church on Sundays, those who faithfully, regularly, and consistently participate do so because they’ve likely met Jesus. 

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that Christians are to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). Interestingly, he points out that some folks in the early church fell into the “habit” of the neglecting corporate worship. One thing we know about habits is that they are hard to break. What's even more frustrating about unwanted habits is that we know that they became habits by willful, intentional repetition. The Scriptures clearly admonish us not to fall into the habit of skipping out on gathering with the family of God but to make it a regular part of life. 

 

Go to Church with a Purpose

Notice that part of coming together is to “encourage” each other because there’s coming a “Day” that will end all Sundays. Christians worship a God that rose from the dead on a Sunday, and the day that he returns will be the last “Day” as we know it. Can you imagine if this past Sunday was the last Sunday you’d ever gather with the church? Some may roll their eyes at this question, but it’s a real question because of a real promise. You see, every Sunday when we leave corporate worship we all head back to a tough world with real pain, real sin, real questions, real frustrations, real doubts, and so on. We need all the encouragement we can get from one another. So, one of the major reasons for going to church is not for ourselves only but to build one another up, to point out the wins, to pray for each other, and to remind one another of our God who loves us, is with us, and will return for us.

 

Go to Grow

As followers of Jesus, we go in order that we might grow. Paul reminds us that we are to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:1). This is done as we gather with other brothers and sisters around the preached Word of God and the sacraments of communion and baptism. We grow as we pray with and for one another. We grow as we confess our sins. We grow as we worship. We go to church because we cannot grow alone. There’s a common statement here in Seattle (and in many other places) that is utterly foreign to the Bible, and indeed to many persecuted Christians all over the globe today, that says “I can grow in my faith without being committed to the church.” There’s so many things wrong with this kind of thinking, but for the sake of brevity—that is simply self-righteousness at its peak. As you thumb through the pages of the New Testament, you won’t find any lone rangers seeking God devoid of the church. God himself dwells in community (i.e. Trinity), he created human beings to be in community, and he’s rigged the whole Christian faith to be one in which we are interdependent upon each other. Yes, God meets with us privately in Bible study and prayer, but this is not to come at the expense of the “Body of Christ.” Paul tells us that the church is like a human body in which every part is needed. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don't need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don't need you!’” (1 Cor. 12:21). 

 

Is church frustrating sometimes? Yes. That’s because it is a gathering of sinners in need of the grace of God. Remember coming in from recess in school when everyone’s dirty, sweaty, thirsty, and dying to get to the water fountains? There’s pushing, shoving, name calling, and waiting our turn that tests our limits. Church can feel like that. Everyone is coming for a drink of water and we can be quite selfish about getting our needs met first and foremost. However, God says that we’re family and that we need each other and should put others interests ahead of our own (Phil. 2:3).

 

3 Practical Things on Going to Church:

 

1) Prepare on Saturday

Many simply pop up out of bed on Sunday morning and scramble to get to church without being too late. However, Jesus gave his life for your soul. So, think it through. Go to bed earlier. Pray with your family for a moment the night before about getting good rest and that God would meet you on Sunday morning. Pray for the Sunday School teachers and Kids workers, pray for your pastor, and pray for your time in what I grew up calling “Big Church,” aka the “Worship Service.” 

 

2) Be on Time

Every day of the week we are expected to be on time to jobs, appointments, practices, and so on. Rather than scramble in while the first song is going, be there a few minutes early to get kids checked in, settle in, and talk to a few folks. 

 

3) Stay for the Whole Service

This may sound silly, but it’s necessary. Here at Redemption, we put some serious time and energy into our liturgy, which literally means “work of the people.” We believe that the entire worship service is vital for our growth as a church family. Thus, to leave right after the sermon and skip communion, giving, prayer, worship through song, and the benediction indicates that our consumerism has crept in and is in need of repentance. So slow down, and make some space, because the God who loves you wants to commune with you.

 

***My friend Virginia Spotts edited this post for me. Hit her up! 

 

Jesus Remembered

Can you be saved from your sins and receive eternal life on your deathbed? Does it even count?

We sometimes hear about “deathbed conversions,” in which someone repents of sins and confesses faith in Christ in the final moments before their death. Some might question whether such a “last-minute” conversion is legitimate being that the person has supposedly lived a life of sin and is now asking for a “free pass” to heaven. Does God actually save people like that? 

What happens when someone repents of their sins on their deathbed, and they don’t get to live out a life of repentance, take communion, be baptized, join the church, or live a life for the glory of God? What happens to that person?

THE DYING THIEF

To find an answer to these questions, we can look at the example of “the guy on the cross” next to Jesus on Good Friday.

When Jesus was crucified, there were two other men crucified alongside of him (Matt. 27:28Mark 15:27-2832Luke 23:33John 19:18). Luke’s Gospel is the only one that tells us about one criminal crying out for salvation:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”
— Luke 23:39-43

In his last dying moment, Jesus promised the one repentant thief that he would be with him that day "in paradise."

How do we know this man underwent a real change, a real conversion, and was given a new heart there on his cross? We can actually look at what Luke records him saying there next to Jesus as evidence that on his cross, Jesus gave the dying thief a new heart.

Let's look at what the thief says in his rebuke of the other criminal scoffing at Jesus:

“DO YOU NOT FEAR GOD?”

Most people in their dying moments are reflecting on their life, relationships and this is accompanied oftentimes by thoughts of fear and God. This man had is in utter agony experiencing death at the hands of men. However, he was not merely looking at men, he sensed the presence of God in Jesus. 

"OUR DUE REWARD" 

In his rebuke of the mocking thief, the now redeemed man confesses that their punishment is "just." They had broken the law and this was their punishment. He was aware of his moral failure. He knew his own sin. 

“THIS MAN HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG”

We also observe that the man testified from his cross that Jesus did not deserve a criminal’s death, for he had done "nothing wrong!" In making this statement, the criminal was acknowledging that Jesus was “without sin” (Heb. 4:15) and that his punishment was unjust. 

 

“JESUS, REMEMBER ME WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM.”

He acknowledged that Jesus is King of God's Kingdom, but he took it a bit further and made a request of Jesus. He asked Jesus to "remember him." The people of God often use the word "remember" throughout the Old Testament in prayer to God. Interestingly, when it the word "remember" is used it is always in the context of petitioning the God that they know will act on their behalf! The man was asking Jesus for more than to think of him–he's asking for Jesus to act on his behalf! That's exactly what Jesus is accomplishing on his cross! Acting on behalf of his people – bearing our sins and taking them away.  

So, can someone be saved from their sin and be given eternal life on their deathbed? Yes! 

The grace of God is so vast and amazing that if the thief on the cross and the Apostle Paul were to ever bump into each other in heaven, and the question they were asked, "What did you do to get in here?" Both could reply, "Nothing. Jesus remembered me. Jesus acted on my behalf." That, my friends, is grace and grace alone.

 

Installed as a Pastor at Redemption Church

This past Sunday I was installed officially as Pastor of Preaching and Theology here at Redemption Church in Seattle, Washington. Jana and I are overwhelmed with joy over where God has placed us and what he has called and empowered us to do by his Holy Spirit and for his glory. 

I became a Christian at the age of 15 and within the first 90 days of knowing Jesus I was convinced that I was called by God to serve him vocationally for as long as he would have me do so. It’s hard to believe that was 21 years ago! Over the last two decades I’ve gotten married --and happily staying that way! 😃, started a family, finished almost 3 post-graduate degrees, planted a church, written a couple of books, served as a pastor in other places, and most certainly, I’ve partied the whole time.

There’s a few of the highlights but there’s a bunch of lowlights, too. My story, like yours, isn’t flawless and I’ve had the wind knocked out of me in some ways that has, by grace, shaped me into the man I am today. 

To be installed as a pastor is a tremendous honor and there’s a whole lot of things I could say about the office of pastor and I plan to do so in the future. For now, I just wanted to say that I’m humbled and more thankful, rested, and excited about Jesus and his work here at Redemption Church than ever before! Serving alongside Pastors Drew and Ben is a lot of fun. Seriously. And we’re eager to see God continue to do great things amongst as we focus on Enjoying Jesus, Loving People, and Making Disciples. 

Jana and I so deeply appreciate the people in our lives who have prayed for us, encouraged us, and stood by us along the way. You are the ones who make a sunny winter Tuesday afternoon in Seattle really special. 

Much love, everyone! 

 

Psalms: Orientation, Disorientation, & Reorientation

The largest book in the Bible is the Psalms. You would be hard–pressed to find a book throughout the Scriptures that speaks more clearly to what it means to be a human being than the Psalms. This worship book is packed with an incredible breadth of emotion that oftentimes comes across as shocking to those who think that prayer and worship is all roses. The writers of the Psalms face real circumstances in the real world that try our patience, our stamina, and our faith; they speak out of their own lived experiences in a Godward direction. The people of God have benefitted for thousands of years because of the raw, vulnerable places to which the writers give poetic expression. 

 

 

A Book of Books

The Psalms are broken in major sections, or books. The section breaks are: 

  • Book I Ps. 1-41,
  • Book II Ps. 42-72,
  • Book III Ps. 73-89,
  • Book IV Ps. 90-106,
  • Book V Ps. 107-150)

 

Authors and Timeline

Contrary to what many assume, David is not the only person to pen the Psalms. Rather, there are many other writers that contribute such as Moses, Asaph, the sons of Korah, Solomon, Ethan, and Heman. Additionally, there are many who bear no author’s name whatsoever. It would do us well to be reminded that the Psalms are not the result of one generation of writers but many, many generations went into this enormous "project." Scholars tell us that it took approximately 1,000 years for the Psalms to be penned throughout Old Testament history.

 

Genres

Just like in your local music store (Sonic Boom!), the music is arranged by genre, so also the Psalms have seven genres into which they fall.

They are psalms of

  • lament
  • thanksgiving
  • enthronement
  • pilgrimage
  • royal kingship
  • imprecatory cursing
  • wisdom

Old Testament scholar and theologian, Walter Bruggemann points out something that I’ve found very helpful over the years and now it makes more sense than ever. He helps readers see that the Psalms basically depict three experiences we face as human beings in relation to God and he describes them as psalms of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.*

 

Orientation

Psalms of orientation speak of things like creation, wisdom, and the favor of God. An example would be Psalm 8 -

I look up at Your heavens, shaped by your fingers, at the moon and the stars you set firm – what are human beings that you spare a thought for them, or the child of Adam that you care for him?
— (v.3-4, New Jerusalem Bible)

Here we see David totally oriented toward God. He's thinking clearly and full of worship and wonder at God in light of his creation. He not only knows who the maker is, he knows the maker himself... and his maker knows him, too. He is at peace in this beautiful world knowing that he’s not just part of creation in general, but that he uniquely belongs to God. He’s humbled in light of this reality and worship pours from his mouth. David is genuinely impressed with God.  Have you ever felt that way? Where were you? On a retreat? In your living room? Last Christmas? Yesterday? 5 years ago? How did you feel then? Here in Seattle, I run the Discovery Park loop trail a few times a week (weather permitting). Every time I come out of the forrest and get to the bluff, I'm stunned, totally in awe of what God has created and usually say something to God about what he's made.

"The sand is fantastic!"

"The mountains are peeking out behind the clouds."

"The black sail boat on the choppy slate-grey water is just perfect!" 

That's orientation. 

 

Disorientation

Unfortunately, remaining oriented toward God is not our only experience as Christians. (Oh, one day it will be!) Rather, not unlike the saints of the Old Testament, we go through sometimes extended seasons of feeling totally disoriented in our relationship with God, ourselves, and the world around us.

During times of disorientation we get a better grip on what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. To believe in spite of not feeling or experiencing the powerful presence of God gives the word “faith” a bit more grit, doesn't it? It is in the seasons of disorientation that life just doesn’t make sense. Things have fallen apart at work or at home or in a relationship and we're left in a thick fog, full of questions and doubts.

Psalms of disorientation are both corporately and privately sung in the Old Testament. These honest words of anger, hurt,, depression, despair, and deep questioning of God permeate the psalm. An example would be Psalm 13 – 

How long, Yahweh, will you forget me? For ever? How long will you turn your face away from me?
— (v.1, New Jerusalem Bible)

Feeling disoriented can go on for hours, days, weeks, months, and for some, even years.


Before moving on to reorientation, let’s sit in this fog one more second. What has caused disorientation in your life? When did God stop making sense to you? When did your faith start to wither up? Disorientation can happen in valleys or on mountaintops. Did tragedy strike your life and thus faith went through a whirlwind? Or did you succeed at something and forgot all about God? Are you expressing yourself to God in heartfelt, honest prayer? Or are you tempted to smother your true feelings because you think God is disinterested or annoyed by your complaints? Did you buy into that “fake it until you make it” nonsense that flies in pithy evangelicalism? Does anybody know that you’re feeling disoriented? How are you coping with it? Take it to somebody today who you love and can be trusted that will listen patiently and pray diligently for your soul. 

 

Reorientation

Thanks be to God that for the believer, disorientation is never the final word! Rather, over and over again we see Psalms of reorientation. These are where the psalmist has experienced God as his Rescuer! Listen to the words of Psalm 73 –

My heart grew embittered, my affections dried up, I was stupid and uncomprehending, a clumsy animal in your presence. Even so, I stayed in your presence, you grasped me by the right hand; you will guide me with advice, and will draw me in the wake of your glory. Who else is there for me in heaven? And, with you, I lack nothing on earth.
— (v.21-25, New Jerusalem Bible)

 

Can you feel the joy in his soul as he emerges from the fog and has clarity again? His heart and mind are filled with praise and gratitude that God came through! God made a way! Just when things got their darkest, God’s grace burst onto the scene in brilliant light! Have you ever been there? What was that experience like for you? Who did you celebrate with? What kind of images come to mind? What kind of language would you use to describe your experience of being reoriented?

 

Perhaps today you feel oriented around who God is and what he has done.  Maybe today is another day for you to walk in faith feeling fairly disoriented. Today might be the day that God reorients your perspective and heart around his ferocious love for you.  Whatever the case may be perhaps a look into the Psalms may be just what you need.

 

 

*Bruggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Facets)

 

Top 9 Books | 2016

Loads of pastors post their favorite reads that they engaged throughout the year. So here’s my top 9. 

Jesus Isn't Superman

Here’s a short excerpt from my newest book, The New Believers Guide to the Christian Life.

 

In the Old Testament, God's people understood him to be their Savior and Lord. The same is true in the New Testament. Jesus's dominion expands far beyond the borders of Israel, As he is declared to be the Lord and Savior of the entire world! To titles Savior and Lord are quite provocative. One of the titles test to ruffle our feathers mildly and the other feels like we're getting our feathers plucked out! Some come out when they hear that they need a Savior are immediately offended because they believe they are sufficient in and of themselves. Others actually love the idea of a Savior! In fact, this is why we have superheroes. And the typical Superman moment, a building is on fire and the man of steel–with perfect teeth–fly then, rescues the woman in distress, and gets her to the ground safe and sound. The savior is praised and flies off to save someone else; the woman goes home, back to life as usual, thankful for Superman.

But Jesus isn't Superman. In Christianity, Jesus not only saves us, but remains with us and takes on the role of being our Lord for every moment of every day starting with the present moment and extending throughout all eternity. Lordship implies that someone else is in charge, leading, and in total control.