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Tag Archives: Andy Stanley

The Church is Soft

Dear God, I heard two different pastors today say, in essence, “The church is soft.” The first was Andy Stanley’s September 13, 2020 Sermon (Be Rich 2020). Here is a quote from it:

“[Questions regarding COVID-19 that ask if these are the end times or if God is punishing us and we need to repent] are not the kinds of questions that first-century Christians asked when faced with similar circumstances. And, just my opinion, I think our fascination with these kinds of questions reveal, in some cases a limited knowledge or a limited understanding of history and of the suffering that people in other parts of the world have had to navigate for generations, and that many people were navigating in this generation before the appearance of COVID-19. Which makes me wonder–perhaps the question we all should be asking is this one: Why, why do Americans, and I’m including myself, why do Americans have such a low pain threshold? Because we really do, don’t we? Me included. And part of the answer to this question is, ‘We are so blessed. We are so resourced. We’ve been so protected.’ And those of you who have traveled to different and difficult regions of the world, you know this to be the case. You know that us Americans have high expectations of how we expect or deserve to be treated. We don’t want to be told no. We feel like we have the right to do pretty much whatever we want. In fact, think about this. The fact that fights have broken out and guns have been drawn over wearing a face mask in Walmart, on airliners…I mean, that should tell us a little something about our low tolerance for discomfort.

Later, I was mowing the lawn and couldn’t decide what I wanted to listen to, so I pulled up some recordings I have of Chuck Swindoll teaching a survey of the different books of the Bible. This was probably recorded in the 1981-ish time period. In the one on Acts he said:

“May I interrupt this time to say something straight to all of us? I don’t think we are tough enough in this generation. Now there are some beautiful exceptions, and you who are tough, you who are resilient, you spur us on when we get weak. But for the most part the church is getting a little flabby. Getting a little lazy. We get a little persecution that washes over us and, oh my, we’re ready to close up the book, and walk away and say, ‘Leave it to somebody else.’ I long for that pioneer spirit that didn’t just simply make this country great, but it made the church great. Some of those soldiers of the cross. Those warriors of the land. Those who refuse to lay back and let the responsibility rest with just a few off there in the limelight. People who rolled up their sleeves. Stout-hearted Christian men and women who put it together and stayed to the task. If you find yourself a little lazy, a little laid back more than you once were. If it’s beginning to bother you get a big dose of the book of Acts.

The order in which this all came up for me this morning was first listening to Andy Stanley’s sermon based out of Acts while I was working out and then I decided to listen to Chuck Swindoll’s survey of Acts while I was mowing the lawn. It’s interesting that both of them, when comparing the modern American church to the church in Acts, said the modern American church is soft.

I still think back on an editorial I read for a Christian back in the 2016 election cycle. He said that Christians in America have made an idol out of the Supreme Court. We vote for a President who we think will nominate the justices we want, and then we sit back and wait for them to do our work for us. There are two problems with that strategy: 1.) We abdicate our need to get involved and 2.) the conservative-leaning court often votes against what the conservatives wanted (e.g. it was a conservative court that ruled on Roe v. Wade). For for pro-life Christians, are we ready to do the work to support women and help them NOT choose abortion and, should something happen and abortion be outlawed in parts of the nation, are we ready to step up and work to help those children and their mothers?

Another question is, should church leadership hide from religious persecution. Should we want a government that will protect us as Christians, or should we want to experience the struggle of the church against the culture because it is the struggle that makes us stronger? As Swindoll put it, we are flabby. Said another way, we are fat and happy, and that’s a dangerous place to me. And when I say, “We,” I’m right in there with the rest. One of my biggest weaknesses as a leader at work is that I shun risk for safety. How much does my desire for safety limit my willingness to hear what you might be calling me to do.

Father, help me to not run from risk, but to prudently determine your will for me. Help me to shun self-pity when it comes to how I (or my church) am treated by society. Help me to embrace the responsibility to innovate under your guidance and provision. Help me to accept personal failure if it means advancing your Kingdom.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
 

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What would Jesus say to this?

Dear God, I was having a texting conversation with a friend last night. He is someone I met on a vacation over three years ago, and we have kept in touch through Facebook.

Anyway, we were talking last night and he wanted to know what Jesus would have to say about a lot of the wrongs happening in the world. In this particular case, the thing on his mind was corruption he witnessed firsthand at a food distribution for the the poor. He saw volunteers taking food before the needy were able to go through the line, and it disgusted him. He finally walked away.

So what would Jesus have to say about all of this? My reply to him was to listen to Andy Stanley’s sermon from last Sunday called, “Not it it to win it.” This man isn’t a Christian so I know it was a tall ask. He’s very likely not going to listen to Andy’s sermon, but I’ve listened to it three times this week, and I plan to sit with it and pray through it over the weekend.

The big thing I think Jesus would do right now is rebuke the church. Andy told the story from Luke 9:51-56. Jesus was wanting to stay in Samaria, but the Samaritans didn’t want him and his entourage there. James and John then asked if Jesus wanted them to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans. Jesus’s response was to rebuke them and press on towards his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

Why do I think Jesus would rebuke the church right now? Because Andy is right. The church has fallen into the worldly trap of wanting to win. We want to win the battle for influence and power. We want the world the yield to our way of thinking. We want to exercise political power and defend it when it starts to slip away. We want our morality to be legislated throughout the earth, and to do that we need more power. To get that power, we need politicians who will do our bidding, whether we believe they are Christians or not. If they say they will support our morality then that’s all we need to know. In chess terminology, if they will give us their queen, they can have most of our chess pieces. Then the world will be the place we want it to me…Oh, I mean you want it to be (sarcasm implied).

What would be included in Jesus’s rebuke? Frankly, I shudder to think of what he might have to say to his church. What he would have to say to me. But I’m pretty sure he would start with something close to the parables he taught about the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is something that starts from the bottom and grows from a grassroots level through love, the receiving of your grace, and then the sharing of your grace with others. There are moral standards in there to be sure. There is a need for asking for forgiveness of you. But these are what we need to do to be free. The kingdom of heaven is also like people who don’t care about their own rights and delight in the progress of others (see the parable of the workers hired at different times of day, but all were paid the same amount). And the kingdom of heaven is like the man who found it and sold everything he had to attain it because it was worth more than all he held on to.

Father, I’m about to go and do a prayer walk around one of our school district’s campuses that includes the high school, the primary school, and the district’s administrative building. Put my head into the right place as I do this. And better prepare me to answer the question, “What would Jesus have to say to this?” I want to always be about pointing others to you. Oh, and forgive me. Forgive us as the church. Help us to turn loose of our quest for power and influence so that our morality might be forced upon people. Help us to turn loose of that idol. Help us to turn loose of the idol of the Supreme Court, the President, the Congress, and any other person we think will do our work for us. Help us to do the work you put in front of us for your glory’s sake and not our own.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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North Point Church Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall (Part 2 of 3)

Quotes from “Surviving COVID: An Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall” from North Point Community Church

48:15
Andy Stanley: So, Stuart, I want to wrap up with maybe the hardest question or the biggest question. One of the mysteries of our faith is the providence of God. Who’s in charge? The sovereignty of God. You know, what role do we have? And you touched on this earlier. Did God cause this to happen? Do you just respond to what happened? Just life, random. How has this event changed your view of the sovereignty of God or God’s activity in the world? I mean, how…the whole issue of certainty. Talk a little bit about that.

Stuart Hall: Well, Kellee and I had already been wrestling with that a little bit. We did have a window of time as empty nesters where she would travel with me when I would go and speak different places. The more we’ve been around the country, the more we’ve talked to people, the more I started feeling really antsy about this reality: That–and this sounds really harsh, Andy–but I feel like we’ve made an idol out of certainty. Like we…And an idol isn’t an idol because it has a particular property to it. An idol is an idol because of the value you place on it. And so much of our existence revolves around security and certainty. And I think what has happened in our life as a result of this is this unveiling of the fact that you’ve got your value on the wrong things. The only thing you can trust–you know, the writer of Hebrews says Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He doesn’t say your circumstances are. He doesn’t say your marriage will be. He doesn’t say your health will be. He doesn’t say your children will be. He doesn’t say your country will be. He doesn’t say the economy will be. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So the question becomes then, why would I lean my life on anything but him? Do I think that God made this happen? It’s such an interesting tension because to believe in an all-knowing God is to believe that God knows everything. I don’t know if God made it happen. I do know he wants to make it matter. And because he wants to make it matter, I think that she and I feel this, almost like this burden, that we’ve got a join him in whatever it is he’s trying to do because of the story. Because of what it is that he has done in our life. And what we don’t want to do…it’s interesting when uncertainty happens I think we all have this propensity wherever there’s a contradiction we’ll set up an opposition to it. If something contradicts our certainty–like with COVID, for example–it’s a contradiction in our certainty so when go, “Well, it’s a conspiracy theory.” Or, “It’s a political agenda.”

Dear God, the idea of making an idol out of certainty really struck me.

I heard this interview a few days ago and intended to pray to you about these quotes this morning, but while I was getting cleaned up and starting my day about an hour ago I watched this “Reaction Video” on YouTube.

Notice the title she chose for the piece was, “This one broke me.” She’s reacting to the song “Piece by Piece” from Kelly Clarkson. The video hit me on two levels. First, Clarkson’s song (which I happened to catch when she performed this life a couple of years ago) is so full of pain and determination that you can’t help but be touched by it. Second, the last words the “reactor” said in the video were, “The first person that ever broke my heart…the first man that ever broke my heart was my dad.” Wow. Heartbreaking.

As a dad who has had complicated relationships with my children, I wondered if they would use those words about me. I never left. I stuck it out through thick and thin. But did I inadvertently break their hearts?

Here are the lyrics to Clarkson’s song:

“Piece by Piece”

And all I remember is your back
Walking towards the airport, leaving us all in your past
I traveled fifteen hundred miles to see you
I begged you to want me, but you didn’t want to

But piece by piece, he collected me up
Off the ground, where you abandoned things
Piece by piece he filled the holes that you burned in me
Six years old and you know
He never walks away
He never asks for money
He takes care of me
He loves me
Piece by piece, he restores my faith
That a man can be kind and the father could, stay

And all of your words fall flat
I made something of myself and now you wanna come back
But your love, it isn’t free, it has to be earned
Back then I didn’t have anything you needed so I was worthless

But piece by piece, he collected me up
Off the ground, where you abandoned things
Piece by piece he filled the holes that you burned in me
Six years old and you know
He never walks away
He never asks for money
He takes care of me
‘Cause he loves me
Piece by piece, he restored my faith
That a man can be kind and a father could, stay
Piece by piece

Piece by piece I fell far from the tree
I will never leave her like you left me
And she will never have to wonder her worth
Because unlike you I’m going to put her first and you know
He’ll never walk away,
He’ll never break her heart
He’ll take care of things, he’ll love her
Piece by piece, he restored my faith
That a man can be kind and the father should be great
Piece by piece
Piece by piece

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Gregory Kurstin / Kelly Clarkson

Where I want to weave this song and the interview with the Halls together is the idea of trying to be that person of certainty for someone else. She is determined that her husband is going to be that source of certainty for their little girl. She is determined that she will be a source of certainty for her little girl. But as you get older you realize that not only does certainty not come from the economy, work, marriage, children, etc. It doesn’t come from me either. I am not the same yesterday, today and forever. I can die at any moment. I can make unintentional mistakes. I can say something cruel in the heat of the moment.

But you. You are there. Father/Jesus/Holy Spirit, you are there. You love me. You are the same. It made me so sad a couple of months ago when I saw that Clarkson and her husband were divorcing. I thought of this song immediately. I didn’t read any of the stories, so I have zero idea of the details, but I know there have been tears. I know every person involved has been hurt and cried over this, and with those tears might come feelings of rejection. And I’ll assume that everyone is doing their best. But we are not capable of being the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Father, help my children to heal from whatever has hurt their hearts over the years. Help them to find their certainty in your love and to rest in that peace. Help me to do the same. It’s not up to my wife to be my certainty, and it’s not up to me to be hers. Yes, I will do my best, but I will fail. She will do her best, but she can’t be the same yesterday, today, and forever. No one can. But you are the foundation of the universe. You love me. You only ask for me to turn loose of these transient things of the world (including my own selfish desires) and be part of your kingdom. Help me to do that today.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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North Point Church Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall (Part 1 of 3)

Quotes from “Surviving COVID: An Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall” from North Point Community Church

40:52
Stuart Hall: I read this week, and I think this parallels with what you’re saying–the writer posed this question: “Have you placed your trust in your theology or the God of your theology?” And that’s really easy for us to get confused. And the way that Kellee and our children have inspired me is exactly what you’re saying. The writer of Hebrews says that we can approach the throne of God with confidence and he’ll give us grace and mercy. But those are not the outcomes we really desire. What we want to do is go, “Well, no, we want him to live and we want him to be completely healthy.” And the writer of Hebrews goes, “You can have confidence that he’s going to give you grace to go through whatever it is that you are going to go through, and he’s going to be merciful to you in that process.” And it does, it pushes against this–if we get really honest I think all of us, we tend to live…our faith ends up being a churched up version of the American dream with just enough Jesus to make it seem legitimate. And what’s happened to us is that that’s been knocked out from under us, and now you go, “Okay, are we going to…are we going to trust Jesus? Are we going to lean the full weight of our life on him? Or are we going to trust what we think about him or what we believe about him? And those are two different things.

Dear God, before I get into this quote from Andy Stanley’s interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall, I want to just say that I’m sorry I’ve ha trouble stilling my mind lately. It almost feels like my brain and thought processes have become addicted to stimulation of thought, and not necessarily news. Maybe it’s just having a TV program, a podcast, or even music running. Whatever it is, I feel unsettled right now. I’m kind of wound up, and my brain doesn’t want to let go of being wound up. If it starts to hit a quiet moment than I look for something to wind it up again. I think that, today at least, I am going to concentrate on allowing for more silence. I’ll see if I can “detox” a little.

Now, back to the interview. Do I have faith in my theology or the God of my theology? Have I made an idol of my faith? By coincidence, Fred Smith’s weekly blog dealt with a similar concept this morning. He talked about how you worked with the Israelites in Numbers 21 when you sent the serpents after they grumbled a lot and then you had Moses craft a staff with a serpent at the top and if people looked upon it they were saved from death from the serpent bites. He said that 800 years later, worshiping the serpent staff became part of the Israelite culture. They took a symbol of you and ascribed your power to it. They made it an idol.

He then said that we still do the same thing today: ancient relics of the early church, crosses, and even the Bible itself. Of course, there are the other obvious things like Stuart Hall mentions in this interview. We put our faith in things that change instead of Jesus/you/Holy Spirit, which never changes. The economy. Our health. Our church. Our education. Our intellect. My bank account. A politician. I put my faith in all of these things at one time or another as I get distracted from you and what you are calling me to do.

Father, right now there is a particular fork in my road at work, and I need your wisdom and provision to carry us through both the short-term and the long-term. I need to be still before you. I need to rest in you. I need to listen for your voice and give you all of my worship and praise.

I pray all of this in Jesus’s name,

Amen

 

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North Point Church Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall (Part 3 of 3)

Quotes from “Surviving COVID: An Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall” from North Point Community Church

54:53
Andy Stanley: If you were sitting over a coffee table with our audience–either single men and women, married men and women, seniors, high school students, college students, and you had your, you know, your elevator pitch…the final moment–what do you say?

Stuart Hall: I would probably say that I think we have the wrong job description for love. As humans we are always trying to avoid pain. As parents we are always trying to protect our children from pain. As friends we are always trying to fix each other’s pain. And no wonder we always feel like failures because life is, it’s the human drama. It’s pleasure and pain. And the question I would have you wrestle with is just simply this: What are you going to trust in when that pain happens? When your certainty is made uncertain? Are you going to lean your life on your own understanding? Your own ability to reason? Your own ability to wrap this up and put a bow on it? Or will you trust your life to the only one that doesn’t change, that doesn’t move, and can actually heal you of your pain, can heal you in your hurt? The last thing I would say is that your love for Jesus doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be true. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be true. So I implore you–if you’re not a Jesus person, you don’t follow him–would you consider what you’re leaning your life up against? And if you are a Jesus person, you are…you do follow in the way of Jesus, how much are you trusting him? Are you trusting what you know about him, or are you really trusting him? That’s my prayer for people, that they will lean their life, the full weight of their existence on him.

Dear God, I was having lunch with a friend yesterday, and he said something I think is very true: Struggle is underrated. Struggle and pain are an important part of our human development–all of the way until death. If there is no struggle we will atrophy and die.

My wife has had a couple of specific stressors in her life lately, and she was talking about them with a friend. The friend asked if she had considered taking any antidepressants to help alleviate the stress, and my wife hadn’t considered it because she wasn’t trying to avoid the pain of the situation. She does things to care for herself through this time like prayer time in a chapel with you on a daily basis, exercise, and nourishing herself with a variety of Godly and intellectually stimulating things, but she isn’t trying to mask why is going on. And that’s not to say that there is not a time and place for antidepressants, but I do believe they are overused in our society. As part of that same conversation when she told me about what her friend said, my wife told me that 1 out of 6 Americans are on some sort of antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication. That means 17% of our country, including children, feel the need to mask their stress. I don’t know what that number should ideally be, but for what is supposedly the greatest country in the world, that seems like a high number.

One of the challenges I faced as a parent was trying to figure out when to mitigate the pain my children were experiencing and when to let them walk through it–albeit with my love and support. And there were times when I tried to not intervene when others would intervene and short-circuit any good that might have come from the struggle. It was a frustrating process, and I don’t think it’s a concept that is taught enough in parenting books.

And then there’s my own life. How do I face struggle and pain? Do I lean on you, or do I try to avoid it? Do I live in denial or do I live in faith (although there is a thin line between living in denial and living in faith). And to be sure, the struggles in my life are pretty mild when compared with other stories I know, but there are still times when I’d rather just curl up in my bed and not face the realities in front of me.

Lately, and I’ve told you this a lot in these journals recently, there have been times when I’ve let the COVID-19 news, the daily deaths, the depletion of healthcare resources, etc. get to me. I recently rediscovered a playlist I made of 15 songs I listened to in 2005 when I was unemployed for six months. They are a mixture of worship songs (“Forever” by Chris Tomlin) and songs about seeking you for comfort. The lead-off song is a guy who can’t get out of bed from the weight of his stress (“Staring at a Bird” by The Waiting). Another song has the line, “Sometimes he calms the storm, but other times he calms his child” (“Sometimes He Calms the Storm” by Scott Krippayne). A couple are songs about repentance like dc Talk’s cover of Charlie Peacock’s “In the Light.” I pulled this playlist out this week and listened to it quite a bit.

Father, I guess I’ll finish with this. If the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, kindness and self control (Galatians 5:22-23) then I want to lean into you/Jesus/Holy Spirit as much as possible to face the trials before me and to help others face their trials as well. I want to do it with transparency and vulnerability. And I want to be a person of action. I don’t want to just sit here and think thoughts that are useless unless they are activated. I want to be a person who sees a need, hears your voice about how you would have me respond, and then be your presence in that situation. Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can (and your blessing, wisdom, and power in that work), and the wisdom to know the difference.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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North Point Church Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall

Quotes from “Surviving COVID: An Interview with Stuart and Kellee Hall” from North Point Community Church

40:52
Stuart Hall: I read this week, and I think this parallels with what you’re saying–the writer posed this question: “Have you placed your trust in your theology or the God of your theology?” And that’s really easy for us to get confused. And the way that Kellee and our children have inspired me is exactly what you’re saying. The writer of Hebrews says that we can approach the throne of God with confidence and he’ll give us grace and mercy. But those are not the outcomes we really desire. What we want to do is go, “Well, no, we want him to live and we want him to be completely healthy.” And the writer of Hebrews goes, “You can have confidence that he’s going to give you grace to go through whatever it is that you are going to go through, and he’s going to be merciful to you in that process.” And it does, it pushes against this–if we get really honest I think all of us, we tend to live…our faith ends up being a churched up version of the American dream with just enough Jesus to make it seem legitimate. And what’s happened to us is that that’s been knocked out from under us, and now you go, “Okay, are we going to…are we going to trust Jesus? Are we going to lean the full weight of our life on him? Or are we going to trust what we think about him or what we believe about him? And those are two different things.

48:15
Andy Stanley: So, Stuart, I want to wrap up with maybe the hardest question or the biggest question. One of the mysteries of our faith is the providence of God. Who’s in charge? The sovereignty of God. You know, what role do we have? And you touched on this earlier. Did God cause this to happen? Do you just respond to what happened? Just life, random. How has this event changed your view of the sovereignty of God or God’s activity in the world? I mean, how…the whole issue of certainty. Talk a little bit about that.

Stuart Hall: Well, Kellee and I had already been wrestling with that a little bit. We did have a window of time as empty nesters where she would travel with me when I would go and speak different places. The more we’ve been around the country, the more we’ve talked to people, the more I started feeling really antsy about this reality: That–and this sounds really harsh, Andy–but I feel like we’ve made an idol out of certainty. Like we…And an idol isn’t an idol because it has a particular property to it. And idol is an idol because of the value you place on it. And so much of our existence revolves around security and certainty. And I think what has happened in our life as a result of this is this unveiling of the fact that you’ve got your value on the wrong things. The only thing you can trust–you know, the write of Hebrews says Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He doesn’t say your circumstances are. He doesn’t say your marriage will be. He doesn’t say your health will be. He doesn’t say your children will be. He doesn’t say your country will be. He doesn’t say the economy will be. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So the question becomes then, why would I lean my life on anything but him? Do I think that God made this happen? It’s such an interesting tension because to believe in an all-knowing God is to believe that God knows everything. I don’t know if God made it happen. I do know he wants to make it matter. And because he wants to make it matter, I think that she and I feel this, almost like this burden, that we’ve got a join him in whatever it is he’s trying to do because of the story. Because of what it is that he has done in our life. And what we don’t want to do…it’s interesting when uncertainty happens I think we all have this propensity wherever there’s a contradiction we’ll set up an opposition to it. If something contradicts our certainty–like with COVID, for example–it’s a contradiction in our certainty so when go, “Well, it’s a conspiracy theory.” Or, “It’s a political agenda.”

54:53
Andy Stanley: If you were sitting over a coffee table with our audience–either single men and women, married men and women, seniors, high school students, college students, and you had your, you know, your elevator pitch…the final moment–what do you say?

Stuart Hall: I would probably say that I think we have the wrong job description for love. As humans we are always trying to avoid pain. As parents we are always trying to protect our children from pain. As friends we are always trying to fix each other’s pain. And no wonder we always feel like failures because life is, it’s the human drama. It’s pleasure and pain. And the question I would have you wrestle with is just simply this: What are you going to trust in when that pain happens? When your certainty is made uncertain? Are you going to lean your life on your own understanding? Your own ability to reason? Your own ability to wrap this up and put a bow on it? Or will you trust your life to the only one that doesn’t change, that doesn’t move, and can actually heal you of your pain, can heal you in your hurt? The last thing I would say is that your love for Jesus doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be true. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be true. So I implore you–if you’re not a Jesus person, you don’t follow him–would you consider what you’re leaning your life up against? And if you are a Jesus person, you are…you do follow in the way of Jesus, how much are you trusting him? Are you trusting what you know about him, or are you really trusting him? That’s my prayer for people, that they will lean their life, the full weight of their existence on him.

Dear God, I should probably spend the next few days and separate out these three different sets of quotes from Stuart Hall.

I was riding my bike the other day and listening to this interview/podcast/sermon from North Point Community Church, and I’m so grateful for it. When I came across these three specific quotes, I looked at the phone and noted the time stamp so I could go back and find them. I loved them.

I guess, from a macro level, it was just so nice to hear from a couple that has been through trials, but their faith was solid throughout because their faith was in the right thing. They had the right perspective on you.

I haven’t always had that kind of faith. Sure, sometimes I have. Probably the high point of my faith was 25 years ago next month when my wife miscarried our first child, Sandra. I was 25 years old and kneeling beside her hospital bed and my prayer to you was that you knew my heat and you knew what I wanted, but I trusted you and I had faith in you. You were my God, and I put it all in your hands. Yeah, I look back on that and am grateful for the perspective that 25-year-old had.

But I haven’t always been that way since then. There were times when I was unemployed that I got really angry with you. There were times when things weren’t going the way I wanted them to with raising my children, and I was really disappointed in you. I could go on and on.

No, my life isn’t only failures. You have taught me through those times of lost faith. You used them to strengthen me. You used them to grow my faith. You made them count.

So now, father, before I spend the next couple of days thinking about these quotes individually, I want to say that I am grateful for the struggles. I am grateful for the humblings (is that a word?) you have given to me. There’s an old Amy Grant song called, “In a Little While.” Part of the chorus says, “We’re just here to learn to love Him.” I wish I didn’t need so much instruction, but I submit myself to the lessons you have for me. My utmost for your highest, oh, Lord!

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

 

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Colossians 3:16-17

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.
Colossians 3:16-17

Dear God, what is the richness of Christ that is supposed to fill my life and I am supposed to share? It takes me back to a great sermon I heard from Andy Stanley last December. He started with a thesis that he understands why people can’t bring themselves to believe in the Jesus of the Bible and that all of the things the Bible says happened really happened. He got that. What he couldn’t understand was why anyone wouldn’t want it to be true. The Jesus of the Bible and his message was so compelling, why wouldn’t you want him to have been real?

So what is it about Jesus that I should want to be real? What is the richness of him that should fill me? Well, how about forgiveness of all of my mistakes and a clean slate between me and you? How about the fruits of the Spirit that enter and grow in my life when I am in relationship with you? How about the standard he and you (and the Spirit) ask me to live up to, asking me to live a life that loves you and loves others, and going and sinning no more?

I think when it comes down to it, the richness comes from something I continually go back to–the fruits of the Spirit. When love, joy, peace, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, and self control (Galatians 5:22-23) are growing in your life and consuming the space that was once occupied by sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these (Galatians 5:19-21) then My life becomes richer richer.

Father, help me to be your ambassador. That starts with me being worthy of representing you. Help me to be worthy of people knowing I’m a Christian and evaluating a life spent submitted to you by looking at me. Let them see all of the fruits of the Spirit in me, and that will start by me actually giving you good soil in my soul where you can grow.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2019 in Colossians, Galatians

 

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Solomon — 1 Kings 11:1-13

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord. In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. On the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, he even built a pagan shrine for Chemosh, the detestable god of Moab, and another for Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. Solomon built such shrines for all his foreign wives to use for burning incense and sacrificing to their gods. The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord’s command. So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.”
1 Kings 11:1-13

Dear God, where do I compromise for the love and approval of others?

As the director of a nonprofit in a small town, I try to keep myself politically neutral. I work in a sector where people from all different types of political ideology can appreciate our work to serve the community. The trick becomes that I sometimes allow my desire for neutrality to keep me from supporting or not supporting some cause or political position.

I was actually talking to you about this topic this morning when I was walking the dogs, but more in the way of evangelism and being a witness for you. I was wondering how much more I should be doing to represent you and the 1.) mercy and love you have for us, 2.) the mercy and love you want us to show others, and 3.) the work we need to do to worship and commune with you that will help us to better understand numbers 1 and 2.

Then I got home and opened Facebook. I saw a post from a recently divorced acquaintance from high school who posted a meme about what women want in a man:

Every woman deserves a man who calls her baby, kisses her like he means it, holds her like he never wants to let her go, doesn’t cheat or lie. Wipes her tears when she cries, doesn’t make her jealous of other women, instead makes other women jealous of her. He’s not scared to let his friends know how much he really cares about her, and he tells her he loves her every day.

This harkened back to the sermon by Andy Stanley I was listening to on that walk that happened to talk about relationships. My favorite line in the sermon was (paraphrasing), “We all lie in bed thinking about what we are looking for in Mr. Right or Mrs. Right, but none of us lie in bed and think about how we ourselves can become Mr. Right or Mrs. Right for someone else to find.”

Anyway, I saw this post on Facebook and decided that this might just be a divine appointment, so I commented, “Awkward to post a sermon here, but I listen to this guy out of Atlanta every week, and literally 5 minutes ago I finished listening to this. It’s on the very subject.” And then I posted a link to the podcast. This might not have been the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and maybe no one will listen to it, but it was at least an attempt at sharing your love with a group of people who likely don’t understand it very intimately.

Father, make me the man you need me to be in every way. Both for my wife and children, and for your world. Make it the same man. Let there be no duplicity in me, but just a life that worships you for the grace/mercy you give me and then turns around and gives that same grace/mercy to others. Do it all of your kingdom and your glory.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2019 in 1 Kings, Solomon

 

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Hebrews 12:1-3

Hebrews 12:1-3
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Dear God, “the sin that so easily entangles.” What is that sin? Probably the easiest way to name it is to go to the “acts of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21a:

“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

That’s a pretty good list. These are, indeed the things that entangle us. I would add lethargy and self-indulgence to it as well. I don’t know that Paul intended this to be a complete list, just one that everyone could relate to.

So how do we “throw off” these things? Part of it is good old self-discipline, but it’s not about disciplining ourselves not to do these things as much as it is disciplining ourselves to pursue you. When I discipline myself to pursue you then I get the fruits of the Spirit that Paul goes on to mention in Galatians 5:22-23a:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The idea isn’t that I can discipline myself into these things, but that I “[fix my] eyes on Jesus” and “run with perseverance.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) That brings me to the question, what does fixing my eyes on Jesus look like in my everyday life?

About a month ago, I put a question out to friends on social media: What things do you do to pursue your relationship with God? Here are some of the answers I got back:

  • I like to study with my first cup of coffee in the morning. I make my coffee then sit at our old antique family table with my Bible study book. First, I put in my earplugs. I do this because I am easily distracted. Putting those plugs in my ears seems to take me to a different place. I begin with a sip of coffee and a prayer. In this prayer, I ask God to open my eyes as I study his word and be open to hearing his voice. I usually add in there that I pray that I would act on what he is teaching me through his word. I take this time to ask for special requests–i.e. persons that have asked for prayers. After praying and listening to him, I am ready to begin my study. I usually have a study book. I make sure I look up all the scriptures in my Bible and read them. I prefer to read a scripture out of the Bible instead of just reading it out of a book. It somehow makes me feel closer to God. I usually study anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. I end my study with a prayer of thanksgiving for his word and for his grace.
  • Weekend Mass–our family prefers Saturday, 5p at St Francis in Stonewall. But we attend Sunday Mass, too. We’ll try to catch the Life Teen Mass at St Mary’s more often since my son is in high school and that’s his cohort. And I enjoy the contemporary Christian songs their choir performs.
    Daily Mass: St Francis has noon Mass on Wednesdays. I attend first Wed of month because the priest has anointing of the sick and we also have a luncheon.
    When I’m in Comfort at noon time I catch Mass there but that’s infrequent –4 times over past year.
    I attend the school Mass at St Mary’s about once a month. And I catch the Tuesday noon Mass at St Mary’s about once a month.
    Bible studies: the one I started today is Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire (free videos emailed to me). This morning was an hour video about St Francis of Assisi. I think each day will be different…. I’ll find out.
    And we’ve done 2 recent Bible studies at St Francis through Formed.org. 6 week studies. Recent one was about St Paul’s letters to the Philippians.
    And… I’m trying to read the Bible more. After all these years of being a faithful Catholic I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I haven’t read the Bible cover to cover. I’m working on it.
  • This is what I have been improving on to pursue a closer relationship w Christ: I am early riser so I use this quiet time  for prayer in our parlor to thank God for another day of life and multiple blessings and then out the door for a 3 mile run, sometimes recite verses from memory or simply enjoy beauty and majesty of His creation and remind myself how incredible that God would take time to create me and know me even before I was formed in my mothers womb. After returning, my wife and enjoy reading our bible and share scripture readings while drinking our coffee. I think God delights in us when we reach out to him by quiet time, prayer, scripture reading or simply acknowledging him.
  • Not listing all the obvious answers, for me music and spending time in His creation help keep me connected. Small group Bible studies best help me grow, which is different for me than staying connected.
  • I have not been much of a person to get up and go to church these last few years.  But God has put me in the path of Al-Anon.  I believe my purpose is being filled by supporting that group and the fellowship.  It is a very spiritual program.   I have learned to meditate.
  • Prayer Walks…..both listening for His nudging and lifting up petitions.
  • I get up around 5:30 in the morning, get some coffee and sit in a chair in my living room. I read God’s word, sometimes I use a devotional, sometimes I don’t. Right now I’m doing a read through the Bible plan, but God has led me to a more intensive study of Romans 12. I pray, on my knees, beginning with the Lord’s prayer, and then for God to guide my day, then for my family (husband, children and grandchildren) and then for others as God leads. Sometimes I journal but not consistently and my journaling takes on various forms. For example, right now as I read through Kings and Chronicles I’m keeping a list of the Kings of Israel and Judah to keep it all straight in my mind. Aside from this very specific time. I try to listen for God’s voice and pray throughout the day. I try to read Christ focused books (both fiction and non fiction), listen to podcasts, listen to sermons. P.S. I’m not perfect at any of it.
  • I actually “wrestle” with God and talk to him very matter of factly…of course about why [my son] was taken from me.   I’m honest with him about my current emotional state…He knows anyway, so why not say it out loud…example “God I’m right now I’m more excited about getting to see [my son] again than you or Jesus…I know that’s not right, but I also know you are big enough and love me enough to work with me…help me feel differently and work through this feeling!”
  • I feel close to God when I work in my garden, because it is a vehicle for spiritual and emotional connection.. you are already on your knees… and you push a seed into the earth, add water, and wait, and in time the miracle unveils itself. It might not be as dramatic as being witness to the creation of the universe, but it is as close as most of us will ever get to witnessing a miracle firsthand when the green shoot unfolds out of the seed and pushes through the earth.  The whole process – from seed to fruition to dying-off and then renewal in the spring, is a metaphor for human life death and resurrection. It makes me feel close to God.  Oh, and also, sometimes I drink too much and lie on my back in the driveway and yell at him.

As for me, these nearly daily prayer journals are a big part of my fixing my eyes on Jesus and running to finish. I also pray with my wife almost every day. While I attend church, it’s one that ministers more to my wife than it does to me, so I don’t get as much out of that. But I think it is good for our marriage that we worship you together. I have found myself longing for a certain kind of challenging preaching, so I listen to Andy Stanley’s sermons through my podcast app while I’m exercising, driving, or getting ready in the morning. I have a Christian friend with whom I speak nearly every Friday morning and we talk about our lives. And my wife and I are in a couples group through our church that meets once a month.

Yet, with all of that, I still find myself sometimes in the middle of sin that entangles. And there you always are with grace for me. You love me. You forgive me. In fact, you are the one who is able to throw off that sin that easily entangles me and helps me to run to finish this great race.

Father, help me to be the embodiment of your child. Help me to be more and more like Jesus and the example he set for me. Help me to love richly in your presence, regardless of my physical circumstances. And use my life to bring your will and kingdom to Earth, as it is in Heaven.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2019 in Galatians, Hebrews

 

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Acts 15:28-29 (The Message)

It seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us that you should not be saddled with any crushing burden, but be responsible only for these bare necessities: Be careful not to get involved in activities connected with idols; avoid serving food offensive to Jewish Christians (blood, for instance); and guard the morality of sex and marriage. These guidelines are sufficient to keep relations congenial between us. And God be with you!
Acts 15:28-29 (The Message)

Dear God, while I was on a bike ride this morning, I listened to a series of four sermons. Reading this passage from the lectionary today made me think of part of one of the sermons.

The pastor, Andy Stanley, was talking about sexual sin and drawing a line. He said (paraphrasing) that when people go to a counselor or a pastor for counseling and they say, “I have something to tell you and I’ve never told anyone this,” it is almost never about a speeding ticket or cheating on an expense report at work. Instead it is almost always about a sexual nature—whether it was something they chose to do or something that was done to them. Sex is such an important part of the human experience, and one that has been adulterated almost from the beginning, so it makes sense that you (God) would have opinions on it and what is best for us.

Since homosexuality is not an issue for me, I’m not going to try to parse that issue here. But I have plenty of my own. He also said, “If I were to ask each of you individually what your biggest regret is that you wish you could go back and change something that you did, the vast majority would give me an answer of a sexual nature.” That would be me. I certainly have things from my past that I regret and wish I could change. I have people I wish I could apologize to. Sex has certainly been something I didn’t always do right.

It’s made me wonder what kind of person I would be if something happened to my wife. After 30 years of being monogamous in marriage, would I be able to live a life in terms of sex that would be pleasing to you, or would I grieve you out of selfishness? I truly fear the answer.

Father, help me to guard the morality of sex and marriage. And I am sorry. I’m sorry for the bad example I’ve been in the past. I’m sorry that I probably hurt people. I am ashamed. Thank you for my wife. Thank you for the last 30 years of knowing her and growing in my relationship with you through her example. I have learned so much from her. Help me to truly live into that person I’m becoming, and not just live a morality that I think I “have” to.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2019 in Acts

 

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