Posted in Blog, Life, Remembering

You want me to pray???

Recently I saw a Facebook post reminiscing about the times in youth group when the youth leader asked for a volunteer to pray and there was dead silence. I can certainly remember those moments, and often I was one of the silent ones. On the off chance that the youth leader called on me or I volunteered, there was a brief moment of panic. If I’m honest, there’s still that moment of panic when I’m asked to pray aloud today. My question is “why?”. Why are we afraid to pray aloud? It’s just talking to God after all. I do that frequently, so what am I afraid of?

After some soul searching, I have come to the conclusion that I think for me it’s a fear of the people listening more than a fear of talking to God. I panic that others will think my prayer isn’t “holy” enough or long enough. Maybe I won’t use the right words, or maybe I won’t have any words at all.

This morning I was reading the passage in Matthew 6 where Jesus teaches the crowds how to pray. If pointing out that pagans pray so that others can hear them wasn’t enough explanation, Jesus follows up with an example prayer of his own. Guess what? Jesus’ prayer isn’t long and drawn out. It uses fairly simple words and has a pretty straightforward message.

This example gives me courage that when I feel like talking to God, I should do so freely whether out loud or in my head. After all, when I’m praying aloud, it’s God’s ear that matters, not the ears of others.

Posted in Bible Study

Restart

January 1st often brings about resolutions and promises which the pessimistic side of me says are often broken before the end of January. The optimistic side though always looks forward to a new year because it feels like a new opportunity to restart. Maybe I’ve gotten slack on reading my Bible or maybe I’ve become lazy about getting some form of exercise. Maybe I just need a mental swipe to know that it’s an opportunity to make this year better.

God saw that the Israelites needed this sort of clean swipe. The Israelites weren’t living the life God intended for them to live, and Jeremiah spends his book mourning their behavior and pleading for change. In Jeremiah 25, God allows the Israelites to go into captivity by the Babylonians. I’m sure some of the Israelites were upset with God at this point, but God had a plan. This is exactly the sort of opportunity God was presenting to the Israelites in Jeremiah 29, but he didn’t just present the opportunity. God presented the opportunity with a promise.

In Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon who were following God. He relays the words of God that basically tell them to keep heart. In the well-quoted verse eleven, God says, I have “plans to proper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.” Later he adds that the people will seek him and find him when they seek him with all of their heart (vs. 13). In this, God is saying that he is giving the people a chance to restart. He allowed them to go into captivity as an opportunity to seek him with their full heart. Some of the Israelites needed that.

This set of verses gave me hope in a world and country that seems to be going topsy-turvy. Sometimes I wonder why Jesus hasn’t returned yet, but then I remember that he has promised that he will return. The Israelites probably wondered why he didn’t rescue them sooner, but he promised them 70 years in captivity. God hasn’t given us a specific time frame to be on this earth, but he has promised that he will return and that he has plan that is good. In the meantime, we must continue living out the commands he has given us. If you’ve gotten slack in keeping the commands or even in your relationship with God, take this fresh year as an opportunity to restart. God forgives any time of the year.

 

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40

Posted in Bible Study

Temptations

Sometimes when temptations come our way, we tend to think something is terribly wrong with us or with our relationship with God. Based on the time when Jesus was tempted, this is not necessarily true. Luke 4:1 says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” when he was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil for forty days.” Matthew’s telling says that Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Now let’s clarify one thing before going any farther. God or the Holy Spirit are not doing the tempting here. The scripture only says that the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness. In fact, James reminds us that God does not tempt us because “temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away” (James 1:14).

The first thing to notice here about the temptation of Jesus is that it comes immediately after Jesus is completely obedient to God’s will through baptism. Jesus knew he needed to be baptized, and even though John protested, Jesus insisted. God said that he was well pleased with his Son. I was young when I accepted Christ, so I don’t remember all of my feelings, but I do remember occasionally thinking that I should be automatically able to overcome any fear. Of course that didn’t happen. Likewise I also wasn’t able to overcome every temptation, nor did the temptations stop coming. Temptations don’t even always come when we’re spiritually empty, though that’s not to say that they won’t come then; temptations can also come when we’re spiritually full. The difference is that when we’re spiritually empty, the temptations seem grander because they’re harder to fight. Jesus was spiritually full, yet he was tempted for 40 days and 40 nights. God used this time of temptation to bring glory to himself. Luke tells us that immediately following this time of temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee, where people were curious and praising of him (Luke 4:14-15).

Now let’s turn to the three ways that Jesus was tempted. All of these are temptations of the flesh. 1 John 2:15-17 reminds us that we should not love the world and what it has to offer.

“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.” (vs 16).

  1. The first thing Satan says to Jesus is, “Tell these stones to become loaves of bread” This is a temptation for physical pleasures. Jesus had been fasting so food probably sounded really good. His response was that people don’t live by bread alone. He knew that God’s will is greater than our natural needs. When we’re tempted to want the next big gadget or a bigger house or car or whatever earthly possession tempts us, we should stop to consider how we can use that thing as a tool to bring glory to God or to share God’s love. That should always be our primary goal when acquiring more “stuff.”
  2. Secondly, Satan told Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, jump,” This is the temptation to take pride in our achievements and possessions. Satan tempted Jesus to do something miraculous and call on the angels. It was true that angels would protect him if he called on them, but Jesus knew that Satan wasn’t doing this to bring glory to God. By doing this feat, Jesus would only be showing off and thus falling prey to the temptation of pride. It’s okay to acknowledge that we have done something or are able to do something, but we need to be sure that we firstly acknowledge that God gave us that ability. God has to receive the glory first or it’s prideful.
  3. Finally Satan shows all the kingdoms to Jesus and says, “I will give it all to you if you will kneel and worship me.” This is the craving for everything we see. This is a Lion King moment when everything is shown to the Son, except this time it’s not the Father showing it to the Son. Jesus knew that he already had all of the kingdoms and did not need to worship Satan in order to gain glory. Likewise, we have so much through our relationship with God and don’t need to give in to the world’s offer of riches and wealth.

In all of these, Satan always began by questioning Jesus’ identity by saying “if you are the Son of God.” Satan does this to us as well when he puts lies in our heads about our relationship with God. He makes us wonder if God is even real or if God cares about us. Satan knows that if he can get us to question our security and identity, we will be Play-doh in his hands. This is why we must be grounded in the truths that God says about us.

Also in each of these temptations, Satan uses God’s Word to tempt Jesus. He twists the scriptures very subtly so say what he wants them to say. Jesus knew enough about God’s Words to refute Satan. Our strongest tool to resists Satan’s temptations is scripture. We must make sure we know the Words of God well enough so that when scripture is used to try to convince us to sin, we can point out the flaws in that thinking.

Temptations are meant to humble us and test us. They remind us that we are fragile and easily persuaded without the strength of God. They also prove our commitment to God by proving our obedience to his commands even in tough situations. James 4:7 reminds us to “humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” On the contrary, the next verse says to “come close to God, and God will come close to you.” We choose who we’ll follow, so next time temptations come your way, resist the devil and come close to God.

Posted in Bible Study

Feeling Salty: Part Three

Once again the verse in question is Matthew 5:13, but today I’d also like to add its counterparts, Luke 14:34-35 and Mark 9:50. If you’ve been reading my previous thoughts, you know I have discussed how Christians are supposed to point people toward God and we do that by living lives set apart from this world. This final post will ponder what happens when Christians find themselves feeling a little less than salty.

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.” Matthew 5:13

“Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” Luke 14:34-35

Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.” Mark 9:50

Less Than Salty

If we are honest with ourselves, I think we can all find times in our lives when we are less than salty. These are our less-than-proud moments when our actions and words don’t point back to Jesus. For me, these moments happen when I let myself get a little too bothered by what people think about me. Someone will say something that strikes me as a bit abrasive or look at me in an odd way and I’ll just snap back with a sarcastic or angry statement. I feel guilty immediately but for me asking for forgiveness is sometimes harder than getting a cat to bark. Without even trying I’ve finished two actions that are less than salty; not only did I snap back at what could have been an innocent comment or glance but I also failed to show humility. While one situation like this probably doesn’t mean that I have lost my saltiness entirely, it was one opportunity where I could have pointed someone toward God. If I’m not careful those instances pile up quickly and I lose track of what I’m really here on Earth to do.

So what do we do when we’re feeling less than salty? Something must be done because Matthew bluntly reminds us that flavorless salt should be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Luke gets a bit harsher and says that flavorless salt isn’t even useful in the manure pile and should be quickly thrown out. Yikes! We better get our act together.

Mark mentions the qualities of salt which I think can most easily be summed up by looking at the fruits of the spirit found in Galatians 5.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. Galatians 5:22-26

Firstly, when we find ourselves feeling less than salty, we should plead with the spirit to renew in us these gifts given so that we can be salt to the world. Thankfully, these are not attributes we have to produce within ourselves because we have the Holy Spirit to guide us toward these gifts. All we need a heart willing to be molded. We must give our desires over to Jesus and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As this set of verses finishes, we are reminded to be humble, kind toward one another, and not jealous. These are tall orders but thankfully there is Someone who can help us in these endeavors.

Secondly, Mark tells us to live in peace with one another. In Romans 5, Paul gives a few hints as to how to live at peace with one another. He says to “be honest in your evaluation of yourselves” (12:3) meaning that we should realize that as individuals we have faults. I equate this evaluation with humility. Pride would be thinking that your way is always the best way, so humility realizes that your way could be wrong. Paul also tells us to “really love one another” rather than just pretending to love each other (12:9). This may be harder at some times than others. Somewhere I have read or heard that when working with someone, always assume that the person has the best intentions. Many of our conflicts come about when we assume that someone else is out to get us. Not only is this prideful but also malicious. Many times these conflicts could be avoided if we assumed that the person’s intentions are honorable until they prove to be dishonorable. Finally Paul says to let God handle the revenge (12:14-21). Our response to injustice should be to bless those who persecute us and remember that God is in charge of delivering discipline and justice.

Can we be made salty again? I think so. The Bible gives many examples where someone falls prey to human desires and sins but God forgives that person and draws him/her back into the fold.

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9

Thank God for his mercy. Now go be salty!

Posted in Bible Study

Feeling Salty: Part Two

A couple of days ago I made a post about Matthew 5:13. As promised, I will add more thoughts on this verse. To recap, I previously discussed how Christians are supposed to bring glory to God through our lives so that others crave more of Jesus after seeing us. The question left standing is “how?”.

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.” Matthew 5:13

Being Salty

Christians best maintain their saltiness by being set apart from the world. If you’ve spent any amount of time in church, you’ve probably heard the phrase “you should be in the world but not of the world.” I know I have. But what does that mean exactly? Where is the line? When praying before his crucifixion, Jesus asked his father to protect his current and future disciples from the devil.

I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. John 17:15-16

Jesus makes two points here: his followers are to remain in this world for the duration of their time and they don’t belong to this world. The same is true for modern believers as well. God has each of us in our current situations for a reason. He doesn’t want us to run from the world, but he also doesn’t want us to live like the world. We are called to live in this world, but if we begin to act like we belong to this world, our salt starts to lose its potency. In each individual life that non-conformity may look different, but it always calls for the individual to examine his/her actions in accordance to God’s word and glory. This may mean speaking out when you feel uncomfortable, wearing different clothing, or missing a ballgame for church. Your actions, when your heart is seeking to please God, should make people crave God.

Paul pleaded with the Roman church to set themselves apart for the world by comparing their bodies to a sacrifice. That word may mean little to us, but for a group of people reading the Old Testament as recent history, the system of sacrifices was easily understood.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

We remain salty by setting ourselves apart from the world. We do that by following the guiding of the Holy Spirit placed within us. It won’t necessarily be easy always because it is a battle, but God always gives the strength necessary to persevere.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. Galatians 5:16-17

So don’t worry about losing your saltiness if you’re remaining plugged into God and listening to his direction for every aspect of your life, whether it’s a job offer, a grocery line, or a movie to watch. Let God guide you in the big and little things of this life.

There will be one more part of this small series of blog posts about what to do if you find yourself feeling less than salty.

Posted in Bible Study

Feeling Salty: Part One

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.” Matthew 5:13

The Salt of the Earth

Through my short time thus far as a graduate and a campus missionary, God has been teaching me about living for him. In this verse, Jesus says that Christians are the salt of the earth, meaning that we must bring the good flavor to the bland French fries. Our lives must be so different that it provides a flavor to the earth, a good flavor that others want more of. God has been showing me that I can’t compartmentalize my life. Everything I do must be for his glory, whether that’s sitting at a prayer table, leading a Bible study, buying my groceries, or reading a book. This life does not belong to me because I gave it over to Him, so I must strive to live that way. By doing that, God’s flavor invades the world.

Salt makes us crave water. Think about the last time you downed an entire order of French fries from McDonald’s (I use them as an example because they have the saltiest fries). You probably wanted something to drink sometime during the middle. Likewise, if Christians are the salt of the world, our lives should cause people to crave water. Who gives the water? Jesus. In John 7:37-39, Jesus tells the crowds that he will provide the living water so that no one will ever thirst.

37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” 39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given,[f] because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)

Our lives should be so salty that people seek God. Our lives should point to Jesus. Every part of our lives.

Stay tuned for thoughts on the rest of the verse about what happens when we lose our saltiness.

Posted in Bible Study

Re-imaging Christmas

Imagine a scene with me for a moment. There is a young couple named Mary and Joe in a jalopy riding down the interstate heading to somewhere, anywhere but where they come from. They’ve been sent on this journey because the government tells them they must register their identity in their hometown. They don’t have much money to travel and just hope and pray that their beaten up car will make it to their destination. Mary is pregnant, but the father is not Joe. At first Joe was angry and threatened to leave Mary, but a dream convinced him otherwise. The dream of an angel confirmed Mary’s story that she was carrying the son of God. Mary wasn’t one to lie, so he asked for her forgiveness and supported her. It had been a crazy few months that brought them to this moment in the middle of the night on the interstate. They’ve been shunned by many of their friends and hope to find a new start and some forgiveness after completing this requirement from the government.

At Mary’s insistence, Mary and Joe drive late into the night in hopes of avoiding the cost of a hotel. They arrive in the town of Bethel where they will complete the required paperwork the following day. Joe realizes that asking his pregnant wife to sleep in the car would not be kind so he begins looking for a hotel open late. All the hotels he checks are either closed for the night or full. Finally he comes to a small bed and breakfast that he would not be able to afford, but he decides to check since it’s his last option. The kind lady at the desk tells him that the rooms are all full but there is a small bed in the barn where her husband sometimes takes naps in the afternoon. She gives him several warm quilts and a space heater and apologizes for the inconvenience. Joe offers to pay, but the lady will not take any money from him.

When Joe and Mary step in the barn they are grateful for the warm quilts and space heater. The barn is smelly and drafty, but the small bed will be much better for Mary’s aching back than the cramped car. Shortly after Joe dozes, he awakes to hear Mary groaning in pain. He turns from his position on the floor to see Mary bent over double and realizes immediately that she is in labor. After Mary speaks a few calming words to him, he runs to the house to get the landlady and call an ambulance. The landlady comes and tells Joe that Mary will have that baby before the ambulance can make it. She quickly and efficiently gathers rags and water and prepares to act as midwife to this young girl. The baby arrives and the sweet face smiles so beautifully that the landlady knows this will be special child. Mary and Joe tell her their story and that the baby’s name is Jesus. He will save the world from their sins. It’s a special night.


The story above is not entirely Biblically accurate because Jesus was born in a different time when there weren’t ambulances and space heaters, but during this Christmas season I encourage you to take some time to reflect on the miracles that surrounded his birth. This year as I read the accounts of Jesus’ birth given by Matthew and Luke, I was reminded of how God worked out every little detail to bring his son into the world. He used a poor couple who had to work through a tough situation. He showed a resolved struggle between the couple even before they were married. He supplied a place of humility for the baby to be born.

Many times during this season, we search for the most expensive gifts we can afford because we want the time to be special. We decorate our house with plenty of lights and light up our fires. We plan extravagant parties with more food than we could ever consume. We hope that just for a few moments there will be no fights. In reality, even the most humble of accommodations or gifts are special. Jesus was the example of that. He was born to poor parents in a barn where there was probably low light, stench, and a lack of fresh air. His parents almost split before he was even born or they were married. This year take some time to reflect on Jesus’ first Christmas as you go through the hustle and bustle that has become our modern Christmas. When your snacks don’t look like the ones in the magazine or your wrapping paper gets ripped on the way to the party, remember that it’s the time that matters the most. Take the time to thank God for his wonderful gift and for the people he keeps giving to you.

Merry Christmas Season!