What Would Jesus Say To Us After the Orlando Tragedy?

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Orlando

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

 

Early Sunday morning, a man stepped into an Orlando night club and gunned down over a hundred fellow human beings.

To date, forty-nine of them have died.

No matter how many details emerge about the shooter or his motives, we know that they cannot help us cope with this tragedy. The shocking loss of life has ripped open the heart of our country, and left us all reeling with questions.

Why did this happen?

What could have stopped it?

How can friends and family cope with such unbearable loss?

The questions that fill our minds in times like these are natural and reasonable. Yet as we ask them, we ought not do it alone. This is a time for walls to come down and doors to be opened for conversation. Yet, while we speak with one another, it must also be a time for us to look up and ask, “what would Jesus say to us at a time like this?”

Does God see what has happened? Does He care? Where was He while this wicked man murdered so many people who had done him no harm?

What would Jesus say to us after the tragedy in Orlando?

 

1. Jesus says, “I weep with you.”

God was not absent when the gunman went on his rampage. He sees murder in the heart of oppressors (Genesis 4:6-7) and vows to avenge it (Nahum 3:1-6). He hears when the blood of the innocent cries out to Him from the ground (Genesis 4:10).

God is not only aware of murder, but He also weeps over it. God is moved by tender compassion for people when they are struck down by evil people (Exodus 3:7; Psalm 106:44). Jesus showed this sort of compassion throughout His ministry as He wept with friends next to the graves of loved ones (John 11:35).

Jesus created each of the people who died inside that nightclub (John 1:3). He knit them together in the wombs of their now weeping mothers (Psalm 139:13-14). He created them to be image bearers of His glory (Genesis 1:26-28). God has loved and cared for them every day of their lives (Matthew 5:45) and now, He reassures us who remain that we do not weep alone—He weeps with us.

 

2. Jesus says, “I will help you.”

 The sorrow the shooter has laid upon so many is staggering. Tears have run dry and have left behind hearts filled with disbelief, fear, and anger. Many are blessed to have good friends to help them in their dark days, but even those friends will lack ultimate answers.

Yet, the Lord speaks into our pain and says to His people, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). God has ultimately shown this kind of helping love by sending His Son Jesus to rescue us from our sin, and if He has done this, we can trust Him all the more to help us now (Romans 8:32).

So dear family member who prepares to bury your loved one, hear this, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Grieving friend who is left reeling with sorrow, know this, the Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

News watcher who feels your heart breaking with those whom you don’t know, find help in this promise, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8).

Look to Jesus, He offers broken hearts the help they need, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

 

3. Jesus says, “I warn you.”

While some might find it cruel to speak strong words in such a time as this, we see that Jesus does not think so. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus speaks to a crowd after an eerily similar string of tragedies in the city of Galilee.

Pilate (who ended up ordering Jesus’ execution) had murdered Jewish worshippers while they were offering sacrifices to their God. After hearing the news, Jesus said to them, “do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5).

To those who find comfort in pointing out the fact that the victims of this tragedy were gay party-goers who have received the judgment of God, hear what Jesus says to you. Be warned that it is dangerous for you to spend time looking down on others to the detriment of looking at your own perilous position. Jesus promises that unless you repent, you will likewise perish.

To the many more who weep and mourn over those who have fallen, we must hear what Jesus says to us as well. Jesus speaks to people who have witnessed a tragic mass murder at the hands of an evil man and says to them that there is a lesson for their grieving hearts. What is that lesson? We must all realize that one day, it will be us who people weep over. We certainly pray that our end will not be as tragic as the forty-nine fallen in Orlando, yet Jesus says that during such tragedies, we must examine ourselves.

There are many ways that the fallen will be remembered and their lives will echo in meaningful ways. Jesus tells us that one of those ways is that it ought make us pause and examine the brevity of our own lives. They did not suspect that their lives would be so short. They did not know that June 12 would be the day they would leave this earth.

Jesus sees tragic events like Orlando as a time to weep, but also as a time to consider eternal realities and ensure that we are ready to stand before God—because some day we will. Today is the day to consider Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God who died for our sin and rose from the dead to give us life. He calls us all to leave behind our lives of sin and find life in Him (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38, 4:19-20).

Jesus loves us enough to speak into our suffering and warn us to prepare for the day when we too will be laid to rest. Ask Him to help you understand what this means and take time to read through Jesus’ own words about it.

 

4. Jesus says, “I will soon make all things new.”

We are all weary of the tragedies that seem to continually pound upon us like waves on the sea shore. We must know however that these waves of weariness will not roll forever. Jesus promises that one day soon He will shake the world in judgment and bring all evil into the light. There He will expose all injustices done in His world and remove them from His presence forever.

On that day, pain will no longer prevail for God’s people. Death will be done. Evil will be extinct. Terrorists will be terminated. Justice will reign and mercy will fill the skies of heaven.

God lays before His people the promise of a world that will be emptied of evil and filled with joy. In that land “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:4–5).

This promise is laid before us all and it is for you as well, if you will only receive it by faith.

 

In the wake of one of our nation’s most anguishing events, we must know that we are not left alone. This kind of deadly tragedy must move us to listen to one another’s stories and weep with one another. But it must also move us to turn the ear of our heart toward Jesus and hear His life-giving words.

 

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If God is a Good Father, Why Does He Allow Our Pain?

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Holding Finger

My wife recently gave birth to our fifth child. He’s pretty awesome, though I’m a little biased. In a mysterious way, I love him despite having only known him for a short time.

But my love could have been called into question in his first days of life. How so?

I saw my son being hurt, and I did not stop it.

A nurse came into our room to draw his blood for a round of tests. From my chair, I watched as my son laid sleeping more peacefully than most days he’ll ever know in his life. As the nurse approached him, I knew what was about to happen. So I stood up and took his hand as she uncovered his newborn skin. A small needle was readied and I watched as it pricked him.

And there I stood, right next to him, not doing anything to keep it from happening.

My son awoke with a shriek. He shook and screamed and squeezed my finger as tears ran down his peach fuzzed cheeks. I was larger than the nurse, and I could have made her stop; but because I love my son, I let her wound him.

Moments like these can often be overlooked, but for whatever reason, God helped me see that He loves me in a similar way.

 

Good, Good Father

The Bible tells us that God is a heavenly Father for all who have faith in Jesus (John 1:12; 1 John 2:23). Our Father sees all, knows all, and is more powerful than all. Yet we too have experiences in life where someone or something swoops in, uncovers our peaceful rest, and pierces us in terrifying pain. And all this happens before the eyes of a Father who says He is good.

While the problem of suffering and evil cannot be resolved in this brief piece (or in any of the massive volumes that have attempted to do so), I want to share a few truths I was reminded of as I held my son during his introduction to the pain of our world.

 

  1. God is there.

Few things are as isolating as pain. When we suffer, we feel like no one can really understand what we are experiencing. And the fact is, no one does. Proverbs 14:10 is correct in saying that “the heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.” People can weep with us, but no one can really enter into the depths of our sorrow.

Yet, no matter how alone we feel, we are never ultimately alone. Our heavenly Father is there.

King David knew much suffering as many of his Psalms testify (Psalm 13, 27, 38, 40, 61-63). But in His pain, He had peace because He knew that no matter where he went, He could not escape God’s presence.

“Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in the grave, You are there!…If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.’” (Psalm 139:7-12).

Even the darkness is not darkness to God. This means He is present in your pain. No pit of despair is too deep. No sea of sorrow is too vast for Him to find you. He is not far off, though He may feel that way. He is there, not just holding your hand, but your very life (Psalm 54:4).

Do you doubt His presence? It is understandable if you do. I have doubted it before.

Most of us who have walked with God have had moments (or long seasons) of wondering if He has abandoned us when we needed Him most. The path of sorrow has led us all into the dark forest of fear. Yet God gives the light of His Word to help us travel through that place. He tells us that He is with us (Psalm 23:3), that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39) and that He will never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).

So when you feel like He is not there, tell Him (Psalm 13:1-4). Admit when you question His love (Psalm 77:7-9). Cry out to Him knowing that He catches each of our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). Ask Him to prove that He is “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Pray honest prayers in the darkness. As you do, remember that our peace comes not from us seeing God, but from knowing that God sees us.

 

  1. God could make it stop.

One of the most hopeless feelings we can have is when we recognize that we can do nothing to stop our pain. The clouds are too dark. The storm blows too strong. The valley runs too deep. Suffering stands with its immovable foot on our neck.

But hear this truth: God could make it stop.

God could, at any time, tell whatever is piercing you to cease, and it would. He has that kind of authority (Psalm 115:3). He oversees every falling bird (Matthew 10:29-31) and tells the oceans where to stop (Job 38:8-11). He is the all-powerful and completely-in-control Ruler of all things.

This means that when the storms of suffering surround us, we know that God could say “Peace! Be still!” and the winds would cease (Mark 4:39). God could end your pain at any moment. There is no one or no thing stronger than He is (John 10:28-30).

Though some doubt His power, a day is coming soon when it will be seen. One day soon, He will crush cancer and terrorize terrorists and heal wounds and open graves and sew up sorrows. Yes, on that day, all His tear-catching bottles will be put away for they will be needed no more (Revelation 21:1-5).

Now, it is at this point that some will mock and say, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:10). If He is real, then why does He sit back with the power to stop your pain, but not use it now? This is an essential question and one that has an all-important answer.

 

  1. God is doing good to us in our pain. 

If my son could have spoken when he was being pricked, he may have looked at me and said, “Father, why have you forsaken me? Why do you just stand there and say you love me and hold my hand, but not stop the hand that is hurting me?”

I have asked God these kinds of questions before. Have you?

God is not surprised or offended by our questions. Yes, we ought ask them with humility and reverence, but do not doubt that God desires His children to look to Him with their wondering hearts.

But as you look, know to Whom you are looking. Psalm 119:68 says “You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes.” 

Did you hear that? God is good and does good. Good is who God is and good is what God does. These truths are the foundation on which all hope is built. God is not only there with you in your pain, but He is doing good to you through your pain.

This is why I arranged for tests to be done and blood to be draw. This is what kept me from pushing away the nurse and her needle. I love my son and wanted to do good to him, so I allowed him to be hurt.

Listen to how Jesus explains the way our heavenly Father does this perfectly, “which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:9-11)!

God perfectly knows how to give good things to His children.

This means that if it is good for us to have bread or fish, then He will give it. And if it is not good for us to have them, then He will not give them to us. But we can rest in this fact: because He is good, He will never give us what is ultimately bad for us (stone or snake).

This passage (and the whole Bible) teaches us that God knows what is good for us, in a way that is far and above our ability to comprehend. His love is a purifying love that always aims at us knowing His peace and holiness (Hebrews 12:3-11).

God the Father not only sees, but also ordains and arranges and allows and orchestrates and oversees every bit of pain and adversity that come into our lives. He does not merely react to evil or pain. He is not merely a reacting God!

God is the author and orchestrator of all things. He does no evil, but He oversees all evil in such a way that He uses it to bring about ultimate good for His beloved children (Genesis 50:20; Job; Psalm 33:4; Romans 8:28).

How could God use your spouse’s grueling battle with cancer for good?

How could people hurting you for so many years be used for your good?

How could Him not answering your prayers for help or healing be for your good?

I do not know.

There are many mysteries which God claims are His secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29). The gap between my wisdom and God’s is infinitely wider than the gap between my son’s understanding and my knowing that the pain of his pricked heel was ultimately good for him (Isaiah 55:8-9).  I trust that one day we will have insight into His wisdom, but we rarely have it in full in this life.

I realize that many of you who read this have and are facing unspeakable pain. I trust that you know I do not mean to make light of any of it. I too have known much pain in this life. I write this as a fellow sufferer, not an expert on what exactly is happening to you.

Rather, my hope is to help you come to the place where you believe that in Christ, we have a good heavenly Father who is wise enough to ordain our pain and loving enough to use pain for our good and strong enough to stop our pain when it ceases to be good for us.

This kind of assurance helped a man named John Calvin in the days following the death of his own son. Though tears Calvin said, “God is a Father and He knows what is best for His children.” This has been the testimony of many of God’s children.

This kind of assurance flows from a display of love in the midst of suffering that puts all other suffering into perspective. God shows that He is a good Father ultimately by giving His Son to suffer in the place of people like us (Romans 8:32). The cross and empty tomb are the supreme examples that God cares about evil and is able to over come it. In your dark days, look to the One who shines light into our darkness and take courage that One day soon we will be with Him (John 8:12; Revelation 22:1-5).

 

Oh Father, help us to trust You and know that You are good and You do good. Help us to believe that You are present in our pain, strong enough to stop it, and wise enough to use it for our good. Help us to not lose heart, but to give our broken hearts to You to sustain it. Send Your Son soon and end all our anguish. Amen.

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How Christians Can Pray for Muslims During Ramadan

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As Muslims around the world observe Ramadan, Christians should cry out to the true God of heaven on their behalf.

As Muslims around the world observe Ramadan, Christians should cry out to the true God of heaven on their behalf.

Many of us have Muslim friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers we hope to see trust in Jesus. We know they consider Jesus a prophet, but we long to see them believe in Him as their Lord and Savior. As Ramadan approaches, we are provided with a fresh opportunity to pray for them and hopefully engage with them in spiritual conversation.

What is Ramadan?

On the evening of Sunday, June 5, 2016, billions of Muslims around the world will begin observing Ramadan. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is considered the holiest month of the year for Muslims.

The observance of Ramadan is one of the 5 Pillars of the Islamic faith, which requires all Muslims who are physically able to fast each day of the month, from sunrise to sunset.

This time of fasting from food, drink, and other physical needs is intended to purify the soul, practice self-restraint, and refocus one’s devotion to their god, Allah. This is also a time when many Muslims increase their alms giving to the poor, which is another of the 5 Pillars of their faith.

The evenings are spent enjoying time with family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the Quran. The observance of Ramadan concludes, according to the western calendar, on the evening of Tuesday, July 5th.

How Can We Pray During Ramadan?

Father, we pray that as they set their hearts to worship their god Allah, that You might make them to “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Help them see that Jesus is Your eternal Son through whom they can have eternal life.

Father, we pray that as their bodies hunger and their tongues thirst, that You would show them Jesus who promised “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Help them see the insufficiency of their works and lead them to hunger and thirst for the righteousness that only Jesus can give.

Father, we pray that as they practice self-restraint that You would show them Jesus who, before He was crucified for sinners, denied Himself and “prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matthew 26:39). Help them believe that He truly died on the cross and drank fully from the cup of Your wrath.

Father, we pray that as they give alms to the poor that You would show them Jesus who “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Help them see and treasure the eternal glory of Your Son Jesus.

Father, we pray that as they gather together to feast in the evening, that You would show them Jesus who invites sinners of all sorts to abandon their false gods and by faith join “those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 16:9). Show them the resurrected and ascended King of Glory who desires them to draw near to Him in faith.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church love for Muslims across the world. Make us like Jesus who “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Guard us from self-righteousness that would lead us to having hard hearts toward those who do not know You.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church opportunity and courage to proclaim the Gospel to Muslims throughout the world. Lift our eyes to Jesus who promised to empower us when He said “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Let us not fear any consequence of faithfully taking the Gospel to those who desperately need Your grace.

 

May this season of Ramadan be marked by the faithful intercession of God’s people who long to see many Muslims come to the saving knowledge of Jesus, the Son of God.

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Is the Transgender Discussion Exposing Our Hypocrisy?

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Transgender Bathroom Kids

 

This article is co-authored with our associate pastor John Henderson, PhD.

According to a recent New York Times article, the Department of Justice is planning to issue the following statement to public schools across the United States:

“A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.”[1]

According to this thinking, chromosomes and biology should not determine the sex, gender, and bathroom assignment of a person. Rather, each person is to lean upon his or her own understanding to make the determination.

Another New York Times article reports that gender binary thinking, which assumes there are only two distinct genders, male and female, is becoming a thing of the past.[2] People can now decide to be whatever they sense they really are. Apparently, when it comes to gender and gender identity, biological determinism is being shown the door.

This should raise questions for all us. For many years now we have been told that biology actually determines a ton of stuff. Alcohol abuse, according to various scientists, has “key biological causes.”[3] Scores of scientific studies claim that Bipolar disorder, Major Depression, and other experiences we call mental illness are in some way caused by our genetic and biochemical makeup.

Most notably, the argument that homosexuality is not a choice or preference, but a genetically and biochemically determined reality, saturates the scientific literature today. Each new study along this vein is simply, “the latest in a growing scientific literature suggesting that sexual preferences may be not simply a matter of personal preference but part of our ingrained biology.”[4]

Am I the only one who finds this confusing? If gender and gender identity is no longer biologically determined, but a matter of choice, then we have some questions to answer.

  1. Do we plan to say the same about sexual identity?

Are we now saying we choose to be heterosexual or homosexual? Previously we accepted a direct link between genes, biological, anatomy, and gender, but now we’re saying that link does not matter when it comes to gender. Perhaps this is fine, but for the sake of consistency, do we plan to say the same about sexual identity, which has no direct genetic or biological link anyway? Are we saying that just as we choose gender preferences, we choose sexual preferences?

  1. Do we plan to say the same about alcohol and drug abuse?

No reasonable person doubts that biology plays a role in alcohol and drug abuse. Biochemistry is involved. But the social sciences have taken this concept much farther. Alcohol and drug abuse, as taught in hundreds of psychology, sociology, and psychiatry programs all over the world, has biological causes. Not merely influences, but determining forces inside the body and somehow connected to genes. Is this no longer true? Again, for the sake of consistency, are we supposed to apply the gender identity rubric to the abuse of substances?

  1. Do we plan to say the same about Bipolar Disorder and Major Depression?

Once more, there are scores of studies and articles placing responsibility for various “mental illnesses” at the doorstep of biology. According to those studies, the experience of mania and depression are not about the conscious thinking of the person or layers of life decisions, but almost solely about underlying biochemical forces. Is this approach to understanding mental illness now wrong and cast aside?

  1. Or do we plan to use biological determinism only when convenient?

In other words, do we apply biological determinism when talking about something for which we do not want to be held responsible and then reject biological determinism when talking about something for which we want full control?

Are we far more interested in moral flexibility and political convenience than fidelity to the truth and consistency?

Among the various things discussed on this page, none is more biologically determined than gender. There are actual chromosomes (XX, XY) that link directly to actual anatomy (ovaries, testes, etc.) that we call “female” and “male.” If we’re saying those links no longer matter, then it only stands to reason the less tenable links in other areas of human experience be severed in the same fashion.

If this is the case, then everything that has no direct link to genetics and biology should be left to preference as well. If a person can go against their genetics and biology when it comes to gender, then how much more able is a person to go against any and all genetic or biological forces when it comes to sexual identity, drug abuse, and mental illness?

  1. Do we just make stuff up so that we can do what we want to do?

I mean, this seems like what is really going on. Is it that we just don’t want someone, anyone, telling us how to live if it goes against what we desire? Do we just want to do what is right in our own eyes? I’m not sure how familiar you are with history, but cultures where everyone did what was right in their own eyes always ended in a pile of rubble. Can we just admit that our desire to do what we want might be driving this brave new world agenda? And is it possible that it is driving it off a cliff?

  1. Do we want our children to be the experimental guinea pigs while we figure out these kinds of questions?

One of the most terrifying things in all this is how flippantly we are treating our children. We are heading down a road of experimentation and using our very own children as lab rats. We have no idea what kinds of affects these measures and others like them will have on young, developing, and perplexed children. Are we really willing to drive political and personal agendas at the expense of a confused child who is trying to figure out their bodies and desires and sexuality? If this open-ended experimentation isn’t child abuse, then I’m not sure what really is.

  1. Can we admit we have no idea what we are doing?

Is it possible that we have reached a point where it is blatantly obvious that we have no idea what we are doing? Can we admit our hypocrisies, even as it has been displayed in our contradicting approaches to biological determinism? Are we really just using science as smoke and mirrors to allow us to justify whatever we feel like doing?

Is it possible that our culture’s mantra of do not judge has caught up with us and led us to the place where we can receive no instruction, even if it would rescue us from the destruction of our own lives and the lives of our families? At the end of the day, is self-determinism really our god?

Might it be time for us to humble ourselves and realize that leaning on our own understanding has taken us down a dangerous road and that we need help? My hope for us is that God might show us mercy and that we will stop being wise in our own eyes and look to Him who made us and loves us and stands ready to rescue us.
Friend, this is the hope God promises in His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is no flip-flopper. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever more (Hebrews 13:8). He came into our world and proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Let us step out of the darkness and into the light. We may not know what we are doing, but He does. Look to Him.

 

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/13/us/politics/obama-administration-to-issue-decree-on-transgender-access-to-school-restrooms.html?_r=1

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/fashion/pronoun-confusion-sexual-fluidity.html

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/1984/08/14/science/scientists-find-key-biological-causes-of-alcoholism.html?pagewanted=all

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/25/opinion/gay-at-birth.html

Picture courtesy of Nick Cimarusti | Daily Trojan

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16 Things to Pray for T4G 2016

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Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.22.34 AM

 

During this week, some ten thousand Christians from all over the world will descend upon Louisville, Kentucky. What brings them together? They come together for the Gospel. This bi-annual conference is an interdenominational gathering of Christians who certainly have various differences, but what they have in common is much greater—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Whether you are at the conference or not, I ask you to pray for what God is doing, and will do, through this gathering of believers. To help give you some ideas of how to pray, here are sixteen suggestions.

 

  1. Pray for pastors to be encouraged.  

Pastors spend most of their lives pouring out for the good of others. This conference provides a unique opportunity for pastors to be poured into. Pray that weary pastors would be encouraged by the fellowship and instruction they receive.

 

  1. Pray for the speakers to have power.

The speakers at T4G are some of the most gifted pastor-teachers in the world. But they are just men. They struggle with the same things everyone else does. So pray that God would give them strength in their weaknesses and that He would speak powerfully through each of them for His glory and the good of all who hear their messages.

 

  1. Pray for Gospel witness in the community.

As these many Christians come into the city, they come in contact with hundreds of cabdrivers, restaurant servers, hotel employees, protestors, and business owners. Pray that Christians would embody the Gospel they come together to celebrate by being good tippers, kind with their words, and not demanding on those who serve them. Pray this kindness would open doors for Gospel conversations and for many to come to know the Lord.

 

  1. Pray for the singing.

 One of the most unique things about this gathering is the singing. Try to imagine ten thousand unified voices singing about the wonders of God’s mercy to us in Jesus. Pray for believers to not only sing with hearts of faith, but also to be encouraged by the chorus of voices proclaiming the glories of our heavenly King.

 

  1. Pray for friendships to be born.

This conference was birthed out of friendship among the speakers. And this is one of the main reasons they put on the conference. Pray that God would kindle relationships among like-minded brothers who would be able to develop life-long friendships in Christ.

 

  1.  Pray for wisdom in partnerships.

This conference affords the opportunity for ministry leaders from all over the world to spend time together to pray, dream, plan, and orchestrate great things for the Kingdom of God. Plead that God would help His people have wisdom about ways they can work together for the spread of His glory among the nations.

 

  1. Pray for sisters to be strengthened

T4G is not a men’s conference, but because it is aimed at pastors, a large percentage of the attendees are men. But there are many sisters in Christ here who are in need of your prayers. Ask that God would build them up through His word so they can go back strengthened to bless their churches, families, and communities.

 

  1. Pray for believers to be protected.

Satan hates Jesus and He hates God’s children. Pray that his sinister schemes to hinder Gospel work would be thwarted. Pray for protection from lust and pride and comparison and envy and discouragement and whatever other fiery darts he will launch at the hearts of those who have come.

 

9.  Pray for the families of attendees. 

Most of the people in attendance leave wives and children behind at home. This can be a strain on many families who covet your prayers. Ask the Lord to give strength to wives and mothers, for children to be obedient and not get sick, and for all other chaos on the home front to be held to a minimum.

 

  1. Pray for the logistics.

To pull off a gathering of ten thousand people, you need a logistics miracle. Pray for disasters and distractions to be at a minimal and that everything from registration, to sound, to security, to book store stocking, to meals and beyond to go smoothly.

 

  1. Pray for the volunteers.

Over three hundred people travel to this conference, not simply to be served by the Word, but to serve those who are coming to hear the Word. Pray for them to serve others with the joy of Christ.

 

  1. Pray for churches to be edified. 

Hundreds upon hundreds of local churches have pastors or members in attendance this week. Pray for these congregations to be edified by those who will return with fresh vigor. Pray for delight in Jesus to spread among these churches and for great revival to occur among God’s people because of what happens here.

 

  1. Pray for unity.

At a conference where there is such a diverse group of believers, there is always opportunity for the evil one to stir up squabbles. Pray for brothers and sisters to humbly hold their convictions and aim to make much of Jesus who is the hope of all believers.

 

  1. Pray for people to love the Word.

This year’s conference focuses on the glory of the Protestant Reformation. This Reformation was birthed when God stirred a fresh understanding of His Word among His people. Pray that as the Word is preached and read and sang, that the Holy Spirit would stoke fresh fires of love for the Scriptures in the hearts of His people.

 

  1. Pray for attendees to long for heaven.

One of my favorite parts about the conference is seeing old friends. I delight in seeing their smiles, hearing their stories, and in sharing meals together. But then, we are forced to say good-bye. Some will leave early because of unplanned tragedies, and others will head home as they had planned. But there is something that saying sad “good-byes” does for us…It makes us long for that Land where we will never say good-bye again. Pray that God would use T4G to cultivate a longing for heaven where we will be gathered together once and for all with our heavenly Father. O Come Lord Jesus! Come!

 

  1. Pray for the Great Commission to be aided.

Between now and that Great Day when faith will be made sight, we have been called to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Pray that God would not allow this to just be another conference where we take home our books and notes and nothing changes. But rather, ask that God would use all the equipping and teaching and singing and planning to produce a movement of Spirit-empowered people who risk everything so that the Good News about Jesus will be taken to those who have never heard.

 

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16

 

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When I was young, we took a family vacation to Maine. My father spent his summers there as a kid and wanted us to experience the beauty of its wooded wonderland. During our stay we did some fishing, went sailing, and ate as much lobster as you can before turning into one.

Near the end of the week, dad told us he had something to show us. So we piled into the car and drove along a dark, windy, pine tree-walled road that led out to an open field. The field was home to a tall, black-ironed fence that enclosed a well-kept acre of tombstones that dated back to the 1800s.

We were confused (and a little concerned) about why dad was taking us to a graveyard near the end of vacation—but we followed as he led us down a well-worn path that steered into the heart of the cemetery.

Gravestone - My Dear Young FriendWe watched as he and my aunt scanned tombstone after tombstone until they found the one they were looking for. As we made our way over to the sunken grave he asked us to gather around as he read from a gravestone that had nothing on it but this inscription:

“My dear young friend as you pass by,

remember you were born to die;

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now, so you shall be,

prepare to die and follow me.”

On that day, a no-named dead guy delivered a message that has never escaped my memory: you will die.

Of course that wasn’t the first time I’d heard this fact of life, but ever since that afternoon in the graveyard I have remembered the message and a few lessons from it.

Lessons from the Tombstone

1.  Death is coming.

“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

Death is the one appointment that all of us will keep. When it comes, it comes without discrimination. Death comes for the rich and the poor, the weak and the strong, the light-skinned and the dark-skinned. Death takes Democrats and Republicans, men and women, young and old, married and single—death comes for us all.

Our date with death was secured for us long ago in a garden quite unlike that graveyard. It was a perfect Garden, one whose name meant “delight of the Lord.” But it was there in Eden that our first parents turned away from the Giver of Life.

God responded to Adam and Eve’s sin by placing a curse on them, and on all people who have come after them. The LORD told Adam that life would be interrupted and that he would “return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Since that day, life has a black cloud hanging over it reminding us that we were born to die.

2.  Death should stir reflection.

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2

Despite the fact that we know death is coming, we seem to do all we can to avoid considering it’s impending arrival. We prefer to turn up the volume of distraction and numb ourselves with entertainment. Wisdom however, teaches us to approach our deaths differently.

In what could be seen as morbid counsel, King Solomon prescribes his listeners to fill their time attending funerals instead of fiestas. Why? Because when you sit in a room with a casket and a lifeless body, your soul has an opportunity to be sobered.

In the quietness of that mortuary, you hear sniffles of sorrow similar to the ones that one day will be cried over you. You see flowers that lay on a box similar to one you in which you will be laid to rest. Your mind is given opportunity in those moments to consider that as they are now, so you shall be.

One of the oft-forgotten ministries of Moses was that of a funeral conductor. As he wandered in the wilderness for forty years, he buried an entire generation of people and wrote Psalm 90 as a reflection upon it. After remarking about the brevity of human life, Moses asked God to, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Wisdom is birthed out of an awareness that the sands of time are sinking from the hourglass of our lives. Every moment that we have sinks into a unretrievable arena that will one day be evaluated before God Almighty (Hebrews 9:27, Revelation 20:11-15). Our mortality ought move us to be wise with the days we have, which must include preparing for what comes after we die.

3.  Death is not the end.

“An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” John 5:28-29

During a later trip to the graveyard, my uncle found a note attached to the base of our memorable tombstone. The note read like this, “To follow you, I will not yet; Until I know which way you went.”

The witty chap who left this note was on to something. Our fallen friend had invited us to prepare to follow him, but before we follow him in death, it is important to know which way he went. You see, death is not the end—for any of us.

Death does not end our existence, it merely serves as a gateway into our next existence. Death is the doorway that leads to our final, eternal dwelling. While we cannot know which way our fallen anonymous friend went when he died, we can know which way we will go.

How? 

Because there is Another who was born to die, and born to live and give life to others. While He lived on the earth Jesus gave this promise, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me though he die yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Jesus was the Son of God who came to earth to die on a cross for sinners and then raise from the dead. Jesus calls us, while we have time, to repent of our sins and follow Him in belief. For those who do this, they are promised a future day of resurrection.

One day soon, “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command…and the dead in Christ will rise first…then we who are alive…will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

 

And that is the hope of those who trust in Christ. We know that one day we will escape the grave’s grasp and be taken up to be with our Lord forevermore. This too can be your hope if do not know Jesus.

His message is similar to the one on that gravestone.

As you are now, so once was I,

As I am now, so you shall be,

prepare to die and follow me.”

Jesus came as we were so that we might be as He is. He is coming soon, so let us prepare for our day of death by trusting in the One who died and rose and promises to raise us from the grave to be with Him and like Him forever more (1 John 3:2).

Come soon, O risen Lord Jesus!

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Followed by The God of Grace

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God's pursuing love followed me to Panama City Beach and drew a gracious line in the sand.

God’s pursuing love followed me to Panama City Beach where He drew a gracious line in the sand saying, “You are either for Me or against Me.”

It was early in my junior year at Virginia Tech—and I felt like everywhere I turned, God was following me around.

It all began a few months before, when a friend came to a Halloween party and talked to me about Jesus. And ever since that night, it seemed like I couldn’t escape what he had said. I believed God was real, but I was not ready to surrender my life of drugs, drinking, or dating. Yet at the same time, I couldn’t escape the sneaking suspicion that my friend was telling me the truth.

Several times that semester I found myself smoking a blunt, only to become compelled to flush it and pick up the Bible. One early morning I was reading and became so overwhelmed, I printed out portions of Revelation and nailed it to the apartment door of “the white devil” who had long been my cocaine dealer (yes, that freaked him out). On the weekends, I would party hard, but somehow attend a church on Sunday, regardless of how strung out I was from the night before.

My soul was conflicted. I loved the fleeting pleasures of sin, yet I felt as if I was being pursued by the One I later heard affectionally called “The Hound of Heaven.”

It was in the middle of all this soul searching that my buddy Adam suggested we take a trip to Panama City Beach for Spring Break. I wasn’t sure if I should, but it didn’t take much convincing for me to agree that I was just stressed out and that I needed a little fun in the sun to help clear my mind.

Redemptive Road Trip

As we drove with windows down and music blaring, we talked about life and school and girls—and about what I had been reading in the Bible. I told Adam that I was seeing things in a new light and I was feeling like God was showing Himself to me everywhere I went. Adam was a good friend and he listened, but I’m sure he thought I was going crazy.

As we neared Panama City Beach I noticed a plane flying overhead pulling a banner behind it. As it drew closer I could make out that it read, “Jesus Loves You – John 3:16.”

I pointed my arm out the window and told Adam, “Look, God is following me around.”

Once we arrived at the hotel, we dropped our bags in the room and headed to the beach. We anchored our chairs in the sand and cracked open a pair of cold ones. After a while I noticed what looked like a small herd of students talking to people around us and handing out little booklets. A couple guys came over to where we were sitting, gave me a pamphlet and told me that “God had a wonderful plan for my life.” After we talked for a few minutes, they made their way down the beach and I turned to Adam and said, “See, I told you, God is following me around.”

We laughed it off and headed back to the room. That evening we went to a club until closing time when we made our way out to the curb to call a cab. But no sooner than we got there, three vans pulled up with holy roller graffiti on the side that read “God loves you!”, “Believe the Gospel!” and “Jesus saves!” The drivers got out, offering free rides for anyone who needed it. We declined the ride, but as we walked away I looked over and said, “Adam, I’m not making this stuff up, I think God is following me.”

The next day was a little rainy and we decided to lay low at the hotel. At some point in the night, I found some weed and smoked myself hungry. I found Adam and we made our way to the Waffle House across the street. I told Adam that I felt like God was making me feel bad for the way I was living and I didn’t know what to do. As we scarfed down our waffles he looked at me and said, “bro, I think you need to stop doing the drugs, they’re messing with your mind.”

Within minutes, the door to the Waffle House opened up and a flood of about 30 loud and laughing people carrying Bibles came into the restaurant and took seats all around us. One of the guys walked straight up to our table and said “hey, my name is Shelby, do you go to Virginia Tech?” We said yes, introduced ourselves and then he asked me, “have I ever seen you at a church in Blacksburg?” I told him I had visited a few and that it was possible.

He explained that he was with a group called Campus Crusade for Christ and that he would like to meet up with me when we got back to school to talk about God and the Bible. We exchanged information and he headed off.

After he was gone, Adam turned, stared at me in the eyes and said, “Dude, God is following you around!”

A Line In the Sand

The next day I took a walk on the beach before dusk. As I did, I saw a girl sitting by herself staring at the ocean. I wasn’t sure why but I felt like I was supposed to go over and talk to her. I said hello and asked her how she was and if she had been in the water. She kindly replied and said the water was a little too cold for her.

I said something stupid like, “yeah I’d have to have a case of beer before I got in there.” She looked at me and said, “you know, I don’t know about that, but God has taught me that Jesus is all I need to be happy.” It was a pretty serious Jesus juke, but it didn’t surprise me.  I told her that I had been thinking a lot about God and asked her to pray for me.

As I walked toward the hotel, a lady in a beach wheelchair and another guy my age signaled for me to come over to them. I knew this was another divine set up, but I felt like it would be bad to run from a woman in a wheelchair, so I made my way over to them.

The lady’s name was Stacy James and after a few get to know you questions, she looked at me and said, “Garrett, what do you know about Jesus?” I don’t remember much else that she said except that God wanted me to know that I had to choose to either be for Him or against Him because I could not be both (Matthew 12:30).

That beach trip proved to be a true line in the sand for me.

When I returned to school I began meeting with Shelby and he helped me to understand the basics of what it meant to walk with Jesus. And since that trip, I have been for Jesus. This is not because of something wise or wonderful in me, but rather, for some eternally mysterious reason, God had set His affections on me and chased me down.

I tried to run, tried to hide, tried to explain His pursuit away, but in the end, I found His grace to be irresistible.

I’d like to leave you with two thoughts…

  1. God follows you because He loves you.

If you are reading this and know God has been following you around too, I plead with you to stop your running. God chases you down, not to do you harm, but to rescue you.

One of God’s prophets named Isaiah once described our running this way, “we all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Following our own way seems like it leads to life, but in the end it is quite the opposite. Proverbs 14:12 says “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Running from God leads only to judgment by God (Revelation 20:11-15).

Yet because God loves running rebels, He sent His Son Jesus to come and rescue us from our wandering toward destruction. Jesus came as the “good shepherd” who “lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11).

What that means is that Jesus came to earth to die on a cross and receive the judgment we deserve for the way we sinned against God. But then Jesus rose from the dead and now calls all people, including you, to turn from their sin and receive forgiveness from Him (Acts 2:38, 17:30-31). God follows you because He loves you. So stop your running and surrender to the One who watches over your soul (1 Peter 2:25).

  1. God uses you to follow those He loves. 

Do not underestimate how important it is to always be throwing Gospel seed wherever you go. Whether we are on a beach, in a Waffle House, flying a plane, driving drunk people home, or doing normal life; remember that God is working to call His people to Himself—and He is using you to do it.

My wife regularly reminds me that “every brief encounter is from the Lord.” It may be a full Gospel conversation on a short-term mission trip or it may be simply asking a cashier how you can pray for them. God uses all sorts of “brief encounters” to awaken Gospel interest in the hearts of His elect.

The question is, are you actively seeking ways to help others hear the good news of the sinner-seeking Savior?

The year after my trip to Panama City Beach, I went back, but this time it wasn’t to party. Instead, I went with the same group whom God used to reach out to me the year before. I share that only to illustrate that God loves to use the most unlikely of people for His purposes.

So if you feel inadequate in sharing the good news about Jesus with others, do not allow that to stop you. Remember that God is the great Evangelist, He is simply allowing you to share in the joy of helping others come to know Him.

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Love is a Risk Worth Taking

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coffee-shop-mug

I was reading in a coffee shop recently when I noticed a young man sitting across from me who was speaking angrily under his breath. His head was tilted downward and his body was tense and trembling. As I watched, he began hitting himself in the arm and the chest. Then he bit his hand so hard that I grimaced.

There I sat with the Bible open in front of me, but completely unsure of how God wanted me to respond.

I prayed, asked for wisdom, but continued to sit, trying not to stare. The man seemed out of control, and I wasn’t sure how he would respond if I approached him.

While I remained paralyzed with uncertainty, a lady walked over to the man, knelt down next to his chair, looked him in the eyes and said, “Hello, my name is Lori, what’s your name?”

She carried on a short conversation with him, asked him what his name was, what he was drinking, and then mentioned that she noticed he seemed to be upset and asked if he was OK.

He smiled, looked away with a touch of shame, and shared that he had Tourette Syndrome and that he was just having a hard day. She thanked him for talking to her and encouraged him to be careful and not hurt himself. She walked out the door and headed toward her car.

I was moved by her courage and compassion, so I caught up with her in the parking lot (trying not to be creepy) and thanked her for the way she showed such love to the man she didn’t know.

She said, “I saw everyone staring at him, but I couldn’t just watch him struggling like that. I was afraid he might hit me, but I thought it would be better for me to risk being hurt than for me to just let him hurt alone.”

I don’t know if Lori was a Christian or not, but her love reflected Christ’s love—and I was deeply rebuked.

I thanked her for her kindness, and went back to my table. After a few minutes, I saw the young man hitting himself again. Encouraged by Lori’s example, I went over, introduced myself and began talking with him. As he struggled, I asked him if there was anything I could do to help. He lifted his teary eyes to mine and said, “pray, if you are the praying kind of person.”

Brian turned out to be a Christian. Rebuked, again.

I had withheld love from a brother in Christ because he was acting in a way that wasn’t “normal.”

We talked for a little while about what God had been teaching him recently. He shared about his love for God and how faithful the Lord had been to him despite what he faced each day. His words were sincere and I could tell they came from a grace-filled wound. When we finished, we prayed together, he thanked me, and after a few minutes, he headed on his way.

And I was left to sit with my open Bible, lukewarm coffee, and a few lessons I hope never fade.

 

  1. Love is a risk worth taking.

Lori reminded me that love is willing to risk. She was willing to risk a punch to the face because she knew that Brian needed to be loved rather than ignored or stared at. Love is often risky, and always worth it. Having an open Bible and acknowledging that every page is God’s inerrant word is good, but if it does not move me to love, it means nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

The Lord Jesus used a similar scene to rebuke the Pharisees in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). There we find that being a good neighbor is marked by proactive love that overlooks all racial, political, cultural, and social barriers in order to extend love to those in need. Should safety be taken into consideration? Certainly. But as David Platt has said, “Because Christ has died and risen from the dead, safety is not our priority.”

Lori took the risk of loving Brian, and in the process showed me the lesson Jesus taught through the Good Samaritan. Her love was risky, but it was worth it.

 

  1. Love is good medicine.

I have a history of mental illness in my family, so I am keenly aware of the complexities that so many people deal with each day. That being said, I have often seen how God uses gracious displays of tangible love to bring peace to people, regardless of where they are on the mental health spectrum.

Ligon Duncan once shared a story of twin eighteen-month-old boys who had been passed through the foster care system. In their first year and a half of life they had been in nine homes, almost all of which had been abusive. That was until a couple from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School agreed to house the twins. After a difficult first few days, the parents were told by psychologists that the children would never be “affectively normal” because of terrible abuse they had suffered. Despite the warning, they kept the boys in their home for nearly two years. During this time the boys developed remarkably and the doctors could find no other explanation for their turnaround other than the love they had received. God brought healing to those young children through the Christ-like love of their foster parents.

We live in a cold world filled with broken people who feel they have little reason to rejoice. But God uses various acts of kindness to lift the spirits of the suffering. Kindness is not a throwaway Hallmark idea. It is fruit of the Holy Spirit that can break through brokenness to strengthen suffering souls (Galatians 5:22-23). Brain was strengthened by kindness that day, and so was I.

 

  1. I’m glad Jesus loves better than me.

I am increasingly thankful that Jesus does not show love to “normal” people. Why? Because none of us are “normal” before God.

The fall has marred us all. And though we may not suffer with the illness Brian does, we are all broken like Brian is. No part of our being is “normal.” We are emotionally, sexually, mentally, physically and spiritually broken. Sin has ravished us and made us far stranger to God than Brian’s illness did to some “normal” people in a coffee shop.

But it is into that brokenness that Jesus entered. He left the peaceful palace of glory and stepped down into our world of pain. He came to show compassion to sinners and to rescue us from all our self-destructive behaviors.

Jesus came to love people who could do nothing in return for Him. Romans 5:8 says it like this, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God loves sinners like us by forgiving us for all the ways we withhold love from those we think are unworthy or unapproachable. But it is through this forgiving love that we are also compelled to show God’s love to the people He places in our path (2 Corinthians 5:14-21).

This love is often risky, but it is a risk worth taking.

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The Sweet Freedom of Ditching My Smartphone

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Andrew Sherwood is a personal friend whom I asked to write a reflection about why he ditched his smartphone. I hope his words serve you as you pursue “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

 smartphone

 

“You want a phone that doesn’t get the internet? You mean you have an iPhone but want to go back to a flip-phone? Can I ask why?” You could tell the wireless salesman thought I was pranking him.

“I’m addicted to my iPhone,” I replied.

I pitched my iPhone for a basic no-internet flip phone a few months ago. First, let me say plainly: I believe getting rid of my iPhone is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my adult life.

That’s not because I believe it is wrong, sinful, or always unwise to have a smartphone, but because I discovered I was too immature and too undisciplined to use it well.

Perhaps you’re wrestling with some vague sense of dissatisfaction from a technology addiction and hopefully the below is helpful to you as you think about what to do next. Personally, I overestimated what my iPhone would give to me and I underestimated what it would take from me.

Here is some of fruit I’ve seen since pitching it:

Purity

“Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned” (Proverbs 6:27). Praise God if you don’t struggle with sensual temptations on your smartphone. But if you do, why carry constant temptations around with you 16 hours a day? For years, I made lame and unwise excuses about keeping my phone rather than pitching it. But the flame from these things is real and the burns run deep. You can lose your soul to an iPhone. Your soul. For a phone. Deepak Reju’s article on this aspect of temptation is 
fantastic.

Increased Focus on Things that Matter

Do you ever get a nagging sense of conviction when you’re supposed to be paying attention to your wife, kids, discipleship companion, pastor, sermon, etc. and you ever-so- quietly click on the power button to check your phone? I did. Thousands of times, actually. My daughter would happily run over from the playground and find me nose down, buried in some sports equivalent to People magazine. Truthfully, I’m sickened over the memories I should have made with my family that were instead empty moments spent with my 
iPhone.

In Psalm 90:12, Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days carefully, so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” The sands of time are sinking – and I will give an account on That Day of the grains of sand wrongly given to frivolity instead of stewarding the good gifts God has graciously provided me through the people in my life.

Increased Prayer

I used to check my iPhone at stoplights, carpool lines, walking someplace — anywhere I had even a moment’s downtime. Without my smartphone, there are new opportunities to pray throughout the day. The ant principle seems to apply here (Proverbs 6:6) – over time, the small windows to pray pile up into storehouses full of brief prayers to my heavenly Father.

Living Without the Low-Pitched Hum of Anticipation

Being plugged in to a broader world of Twitter, e-mail, and instant news made for a precarious idol in my life. Even when physically putting my phone away for a few hours during family time, my heart was often going through the motions when eating a family meal, putting my kids to bed, or talking to my wife. It wasn’t just distraction I was dealing with: it was a problem of dissatisfaction that nothing but “plugging back in” would satisfy.

After getting the kids down to bed, I would sit down on the couch and immediately light up my phone, checking emails and social media. I was getting my fix (though my desires were never satiated). My wife might interject a kind comment like “Hey, how was your day?” and my immediate emotional response was one of annoyance or worse, anger. I noticed that I was frantic for updates when being without my phone for even a few hours. Have I ever honestly yearned for God’s Word or His presence as much as my phone? Just check my phone log of time spent on Twitter vs. my time in God’s Word and you’ll see what I really cared about. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Reading More (Actual) Books

I underestimated the time I would spend reading junk on my phone. Every night in bed, every morning when I woke up and the countless slivers of stolen time in between. There has been such refreshment in keeping my Bible and a few library books near me to read whenever I have free time. I’m sure there’s some way to usually read really good stuff on your smartphone that feeds and waters the mind and soul but I’m far from disciplined enough to do that.

“This is the greatest gift you’ve ever given me”

“When you had your smartphone, you were a walking vending machine of whatever you’d ingested that day. It was difficult to talk about deeper things that mattered because you were constantly distracted by internet litter. You’re now able to focus and give necessary attention to deeper issues. More of what we talk about comes from your heart rather than your Twitter feed.” – My Wife

Healthy Connection to My Humanness

I’m not anti-technology (I’m writing this post on a computer). I’m a graduate student and use technology for a lot of what I work on—and I’m thankful for it. But I also feel like I’m sort of an idiot. If Google Maps doesn’t tell me how to get somewhere, I’m lost even if I’ve driven to the place ten times before. And remembering something? Forget it—I have to put it into my phone.

There’s something about that neuro-rewiring that leaves me puzzled (read “The Shallows” for more on this) and unsure about what it’s ultimately doing to my ability to think. These days, I’m actually looking around at the streets I drive on, figuring out how to get places and forcing myself to remember things people tell me. There’s nothing inherently virtuous about these changes but there is a palpable sense of freedom when I do them.

I was taking a walk with my daughter a few weeks ago when she looked up and said “Daddy, I like having conversations with you. You’re good to talk to.” The irony. Sad thing is, I’m not that great to talk to. I’ve trained myself to zone out and to communicate to others “My phone and whatever it has on it is more important than you.” I don’t want that to be true another second of my life.

The Puritan preacher Thomas Watson once wrote “Sin hangs weights upon us so that we move but slowly to Heaven.” Those weights are often placed upon us slowly, over time, so that we get used to the pressure of them before sin adds more. And then the slower …and slower………and slower we move.

Is your phone a weight slowing your path to Heaven? A coal you’re heaping in your lap? A thief you paid $500 to steal things that matter?

Prayerfully ask God and those around you.

What is your phone for you?

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Why I Plan to Read Less of the Bible This Year (2016 Edition)

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“Let us strive, every year we live, to become more deeply acquainted with Scripture.” ~ J.C. Ryle

Open Bible

 

Regularly reading God’s Word is one of the most important things we can do. We live in a world that constantly lies to us, and our hearts are prone to believe those lies. But in His mercy, God has given us His Word to guide and guard us. He has “granted to us His precious and very great promises” to renew our minds and refresh our hearts (2 Peter 1:4). As much as we need food to live physically, we need God’s Word to live spiritually (Matthew 4:4).

The turn of the New Year offers a natural time to reset (or recommit) to regularly reading God’s Word. Of course there’s nothing magical about the New Year, but it serves as a natural time to make changes in our lives as we seek to grow in Christ-likeness. For me, one of the changes I’ve made over the past years is that I plan to read less of the Bible each year; and I’ve found that less can actually be more.

For most of my Christian life (since 1999), I’ve been following a Read the Bible in a Year plan. I was introduced to this idea early on as “the thing to do” and ever since I’ve found it to be a pretty typical goal for many Christians. I’ve enjoyed this plan, but to be honest, I’ve never finished the plan in a year. There, I said it. I’ve never finished the Read the Bible in a Year Plan.

Some years I’ve made it further than others and by God’s grace I’ve never gone more than a few days without spending time in the Scriptures. But over the years I’ve been riddled with guilt for failing to finish the plan and for rushing through some portions of the plan just to check it off. In my younger years as a Christian, this guilt was more debilitating, but even today I know my propensity to commit to something like reading the Bible in a Year plan and then fell guilty when I fail to do it.

To be clear, I’m not taking a flamethrower to spiritual disciplines. If we don’t “discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7-8) we are in sin and our hearts will grow cold toward God. Reading the Bible regularly won’t make you more godly, but you won’t become more godly if you don’t spend time in God’s Word. It is wise to make humble plans that are aimed at helping yourself and others grow in godliness.

I also want to be clear that I’m not against the Read the Bible in a Year Plan. It’s an excellent goal and very achievable. In fact, I had one friend who after his conversion read through the Bible deeply twice in just under a year. So, what our plan is seems less important to me. What is most important is that we commit to deeply reading God’s Word in the hopes that we will grow in our love for Christ.

Thomas Brooks, in his classic work Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices gives helpful instruction here, “Remember, it is not hasty reading—but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee’s touching of the flower, which gathers honey—but her abiding for a time upon the flower, which draws out the sweet. It is not he who reads most—but he who meditates most, who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.”

With that in mind, here are a few ideas for your consideration.

Make a plan.

As Don Carson rightly said, “no one drifts toward holiness.” If we just go with the flow, we will eventually be swept away with the current of idleness and sin. In light of this, it is wise to make humble plans to draw near to God and fulfill His purposes (Prov. 6:6-8, 21:5, 24:27; Matthew 6:33, 25:1-13; Luke 14:28; James 4:13-17). As you think about what plan you intend to use, I’d encourage you to look at this excellent post by Justin Taylor. As for me, here’s the three-fold path I’m planning to take this year.

       First, I plan to read the passage that will be preached on the next Lord’s Day. If I’m preaching this will be a necessity since I’m hoping to live better than I preach, but if I’m not preaching, I plan to study ahead to get the most out of the sermon. Our church publishes what we’re preaching on in advance with the hope that our congregation will come having already soaked in the text, hungry for more.

       Second, I plan to pick one Bible book a month to study deeply. In January, a few friends and I are studying Ecclesiastes. For the month we will read and re-read it. We plan to outline it, chart it, and memorize portions of it. Then in February, I’ll select another book with a similar approach, though hopefully improved by January’s attempt. By doing this I’m able to meditate deeply on one book, something I felt I was missing in other seasons of my life. Some months I may do multiple books if they are short (i.e. In November I did 1, 2 and 3 John).

       Third, I plan to read other books of the Bible in one sitting throughout the year. To avoid neglecting other portions of the Scriptures, I have a list of the books of the Bible in my journal and plan to regularly step away for an hour or two throughout the year and just read them straight through. In January I’ll plan to read through 1 & 2 Kings and the pastoral epistles. Though I have not finished my Bible Reading Plan in a year, it is rare for me to not read most / all / more than the whole Bible in a year.

Partner Up.

I encourage you to not keep your plan by yourself. Find another brother or sister in your local church who you enjoy spending time together with and ask them to join you in this journey. Commit to a month or two or whatever works for you, but don’t do this alone.

As I mentioned above, a few guys I’m discipling and I are going through Ecclesiastes together in January. We will get together a couple times during the month to discuss what we’re reading, but we’ll email or text or talk on the phone more regularly about what we’re learning and what we are struggling to understand. You don’t have to work out your plan with someone else, but I’ve certainly benefited from it.

In case your’e wondering, I plan the first 6 months and then plan the rest of the year’s reading in June. We’re planning to read Galatians in February, Isaiah in March, 2 Corinthians in April, and Nehemiah and Ezra in May.

Remember Why You’re Reading.

The reason we read the Scriptures isn’t just to check off boxes and make ourselves feel like we’ve accomplished something for God. The Scriptures aren’t an end in themselves, God is the end. As we plan to seek Him, however we do it, we must come with the supreme goal of loving Him more and obeying what He teaches us when we do read. If our plans become traps for guilt and discouragement—then plan to scrap your plan and do something else.

The most important thing in this moment and in the moments that make up next year is that we draw nearer to God through His Son Jesus. His Word teaches us how to do this, so let us plan to draw near with great hope because of promises like these from the Prophet Isaiah,

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight ourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…” Isaiah 55:1-3

May the Lord bless us with His rich and gracious supply as we read His Word in 2016.

 

 

 

Picture courtesy of Keith Ferrin.

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