Day 7: This Christmas, Give Me Jesus

Published on December 11, 2011 by CT in Blog, Kindling

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The English have the 12 days of Christmas in song.  The high churches have the 24 (ish) days of advent.  Here at Crave Something More, I’ll be writing a series called the “21 Days of CSM Christmas.”  Starting December 5 and finishing on Christmas Day, I will write once a day about all things Christmas, in the hopes that we will all continue to see Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings.

Day 7:  This Christmas, Give Me Jesus

Tonight, I went to my buddy Dan’s birthday party, and we spent part of the evening singing worship songs, and the guys played this one song I had not heard before called Give Me Jesus.  It’s not a Christmas song, but it might as well be.

Let the simplicity of these lyrics magnify the simplicity of Jesus’ love for us, a love that surpasses all human knowledge, but a love even we can understand.  There’s great glory in this kind of love.

Give Me Jesus

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
Give me Jesus

Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus

When I am alone
When I am alone
Oh, when I am alone
Give me Jesus

Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus
Give me Jesus

When I come to die
When I come to die
Oh, when I come to die
Give me Jesus

Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus

Here is Jeremy Camp singing this beautiful song:

Be encouraged this Christmas to say:  You can have all the good things of this world—just give me Jesus.

*If you cannot see the video on RSS or email, you can do so by clicking through the post title.

For the rest of the 21 Days of Crave Something More Christmas, go here.

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Day 6: Beautiful Christmas Gifts

Published on December 10, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The English have the 12 days of Christmas in song.  The high churches have the 24 (ish) days of advent.  Here at Crave Something More, I’ll be writing a series called the “21 Days of CSM Christmas.”  Starting December 5 and finishing on Christmas Day, I will write once a day about all things Christmas, in the hopes that we will all continue to see Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings.

Day 6:  Beautiful Christmas Gifts

We know this:  Christmas is about giving.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Jesus was the greatest of gifts.  But God still gives gifts today.

He gave Christopher Duffey, born premature, blind, and autistic, and adopted at 15 months, the gift of singing.

And He gave us the gift of Christopher Duffey.  Enjoy.

HT:  Justin Taylor; John Knight

For the rest of the 21 Days of Crave Something More Christmas, go here.

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Day 5: The Christmas Word Game

Published on December 9, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The English have the 12 days of Christmas in song.  The high churches have the 24 (ish) days of advent.  Here at Crave Something More, I’ll be writing a series called the “21 Days of CSM Christmas.”  Starting December 5 and finishing on Christmas Day, I will write once a day about all things Christmas, in the hopes that we will all continue to see Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings.

Day 5:  The Christmas Word Game

What words or images do you associate with the Christmas story? Let’s make a list (here’s mine, in order, off the top of my head):

Bright star.

Dark blue sky.

Cool evening.

Angels in song.

Hay.

Shepherds.

Sheep.

Shepherd stick (staff, right, the crooked one?).

Dark streets in town.

Mary on a donkey (was she on a donkey?).

Wreath (??).

Cows.

Mary in blue with a white sash.

Joseph in the dark (kinda obscured).

Manger.

Baby Jesus (but just because I’ve felt guilty for not including Him so far).

So this is craziness.  I suspect much of my Christmas imagery comes from some movie I’ve seen or a sprawling imagination.  Some of these things aren’t in the Biblical accounts, and I’m not sure how the wreath made it into my mind.  But I do find it telling that the words I associate with Christmas do not quickly bring up the one Word the whole story is about.

John tells us beautifully:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Question:  What words do you think of when you imagine the Christmas story?

For the rest of the 21 Days of Crave Something More Christmas, go here.

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Day 4: The Sacred Conspiracy of Christmas

Published on December 8, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The English have the 12 days of Christmas in song.  The high churches have the 24 (ish) days of advent.  Here at Crave Something More, I’ll be writing a series called the “21 Days of CSM Christmas.”  Starting December 5 and finishing on Christmas Day, I will write once a day about all things Christmas, in the hopes that we will all continue to see Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings.

Day 4:  The Sacred Conspiracy of Christmas

Let’s be conspiracy theorists for a moment.  Say you are a guy (let’s call you Joseph), and you’re engaged to this sweet hometown girl (let’s call her Mary), and you have watched this girl for years and years and have finally mustered up the courage to ask her to be your wife.  And then she goes to visit relatives for a few months, and she comes back pregos, and you’re wondering what you should do.

The law gives you the right to have her killed, but you are a just man, and you love this girl, and she swears she has broken no law, so you resolve to break the engagement quietly.  But then an angel comes to you and tells you that the conceived child belongs to no man, but to God, through the work of His Holy Spirit.

Now let’s say you start to get this devious plan in your mind.  You remember your teacher telling you that there was this Coming One, the Messiah who would restore Israel to its former glory, and that this Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, because the prophet Micah foretold it.  And you also remember a story about the coming one being born of a virgin, because the prophet Isaiah foretold it.  And you have watched foreign occupiers suck the life out of your village and your people, and you want to see your nation restored.  More than that, you want power yourself.

So you come up with this plan to take advantage of Mary’s situation, and your family happens to be from Bethlehem, so when Caesar issues a decree that everyone should return to their hometown for the census, you see this is your chance.  You can work the situation into fulfilling a couple of prophecies by going to Bethlehem and having Mary deliver this child there.  And then you could start telling people that your son is the long awaited Messiah!  And then you’d coach your son into fulfilling other prophecies, and as he rose to power, you’d rise along with him.

You could do all of that right? I mean, it would be really strange, and you’d be a megalomaniac, and it’d be a super long shot, but it’s possible, right?

Clearly, Joseph and Mary do no such thing.  They probably had no idea that any of these prophecies were actually being fulfilled—they were likely just dealing with the really difficult situation they found themselves in.  But what strikes me most in this story is the impossibility of any power-hungry man fulfilling Micah’s prophecy himself.  You can maybe ride into Jerusalem on a donkey because Zechariah said the king would come into the city in this way, but you can’t control your birth.  You can’t, as a child in the womb, control where your mom and dad go to deliver you (or control that pesky star).

Unless, of course, you’re God.  And this is the wonder of Christmas.  When Micah, facing the prospect of siege, spoke hope into the crumbling heart of Israel, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient of days,” it meant that the deliverance of Israel was going to be of God.

This is why Christmas was God’s doing.  It was the sacred conspiracy, a plan formulated in secret before the ages began, and not one of evil (as conspiracies are), but one of holy origins.  Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem, and He would be a ruler in Israel who would “shepherd his flock” of God’s people, and He would be “their peace”, all because God planned it long ago and promised it through His prophet, Micah.

Let us wonder at the delight God has in taking small things (Bethlehem, a manger, a baby; us) and making great things from them (a Messiah who would shepherd His people and be their peace; a redeemed people who are conformed into the image of God’s Son).  Let us realize that Christmas was promised long ago, in the midst of great trial, by a God who has our good in mind, and loves to use the weak in this world to shame the strong.  And let us feel the love God has for us in this promised Messiah, a love that was made clear some 33 years after that miraculous birth, and a love that gives the substance to our Christmastime today.

For the rest of the 21 Days of Crave Something More Christmas, go here.

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Day 3: The Sign of Christmas

Published on December 7, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The English have the 12 days of Christmas in song.  The high churches have the 24 (ish) days of advent.  Here at Crave Something More, I’ll be writing a series called the “21 Days of CSM Christmas.”  Starting December 5 and finishing on Christmas Day, I will write once a day about all things Christmas, in the hopes that we will all continue to see Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings.

Day 3:  The Sign of Christmas

If you had to pick just one symbol or sign for Christmas, what would it be? If Google Images is of any help, then Christmas is symbolized by the Christmas tree, or bells, or snow fall against a lit home, or Santa, or ornaments, or gifts, or candy canes, or Homer Simpson on a rooftop in a Santa costume.

But God’s sign was much simpler than all of this.  God’s sign was a baby.

“Ask a sign of the LORD your God,” the Lord said to King Ahaz of Judah, “let it be deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.”  Ahaz was facing a great threat when he heard this from the Lord.  Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the king of Israel were at the foothills of Jerusalem, readying an attack.  And the hearts of Ahaz and his people “shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”  There was no steadiness of heart; there was no resolve.  There was only the unsettling fear that blew gusts of dread among the people.

So the Lord sent Isaiah to calm Ahaz and his people:  “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint…It shall not stand, and it shall  not come to pass…If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”

Ahaz’s faith must not have been firm, because this is where the Lord came to Ahaz to tell him to ask for a sign—an impossible sign!  How deep is Sheol?  There is no depth to speak of.  How high is heaven?  There is no height to measure.  God was basically saying this:  My word will stand, Ahaz.  What I have promised, I will bring about.  I will deliver My people.  In fact, you can ask anything you can think of as a sign to prove it—anything at all.  Because I have power and control over all things.

And when Ahaz refused God’s offer, saying “I will not put the Lord to the test,” God promised a sign anyway.  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (which means, “God is with us”).”  This is a strange sign to be sure.  I’m not sure how Ahaz would have felt at hearing this sign.  Great, who is the virgin?  Is she conceiving soon, because those two armies are still encamped against us?

But God’s story was greater than Ahaz’s story, just as God’s story is greater than our own.  And God’s sign was the impossible sign.  Virgin’s don’t conceive and bear sons.  No one would think to ask for a sign like this.  But all things are possible with God.  And wrapped up in this sign, for Ahaz and for us, is the promise of God for deliverance, the promise for salvation from our enemies, the promise that God has our good in mind.

Jesus is this sign.  He is this promise.  He is our deliverance from sin, and our salvation from Satan’s grasps, and our promise of God’s goodness to us.  So when we see the symbols of Christmas in our homes and on our streets and in the public squares this month, let us see through them to the impossible sign that God promised, the glory of a helpless baby who would be our great Deliverer.

For the rest of the 21 Days of Crave Something More Christmas, go here.

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Day 2: The Hint of Christmas in the Garden

Published on December 6, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The English have the 12 days of Christmas in song.  The high churches have the 24 (ish) days of advent.  Here at Crave Something More, I’ll be writing a series called the “21 Days of CSM Christmas.”  Starting December 5 and finishing on Christmas Day, I will write once a day about all things Christmas, in the hopes that we will all continue to see Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings.

Day 2:  The Hint of Christmas in the Garden

If you consume any sort of media these days, you’re likely party to the sport of Christmas.  By sport, I mean the struggle that rages on the field of a slowly dying religious society between those who seek to destroy Christmas (or so one team says) and those who seek to shove Christmas on everyone whether they like it not (or so the other team says).  Just as businesses have come to count on the massive revenues generated during this season, so too have talk radio hosts and bloggers and reporters come to expect the instant fodder that’s created every year as December rolls around.

No matter that much of our Christmas celebrations—the tree, decorations, gift-giving, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, feasting, carols, card-exchanges—have no Biblical significance at all.  Even our most religious traditions—the Christmas hymns, special worship services, nativity scenes—have no Biblical basis.  From the Bible’s standpoint, the celebration of Christmas as a holiday doesn’t exist.

But that doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t tell a Christmas story.  It just means the Bible doesn’t tell our kind of Christmas story.

The story begins where most good stories begin:  at the beginning.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  Here is the word of God, or more accurately, the Word of God, doing something amazing.  His Word is making something out of nothing.  He’s making everything out of nothing.  As humans, we can create things, but we also created out of something that already exists.  God, God’s Word, creates out of things that do not exist.  So already this story starts with a bang, with a hint of mystery, almost with a sense of otherworldly power.

John and Paul (not those ones, but the other ones) clarify something important for us:  That this Word is not a force, it’s not a power, it’s a person!  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.” John writes.  And Paul chimes in:  “All things were created by Him and through Him and for Him.”

We need John and Paul to help us make this connection, but we don’t need them to meet the Word.  Moses introduces us to this Person back at the beginning of his story. God has created all things through His Word, including people and a garden.  And God puts those people in a garden, and He loves them, and lavishes them with beautiful things, and enjoys His relationship with them.  But they soon fall prey to the same thing we all fall prey to:  they sought to satisfy themselves with something other than God.

“Where are you?”  God calls to the man.  “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  And the man points his finger at the woman, and the woman points her finger at the serpent, and the serpent has nowhere to point.  All three are responsible, and all three bear the burden of their sin.

This is where we see the Word.  “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” God says to the serpent, “and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  A seed of woman would one day come, and while Satan would win a skirmish, he would lose the battle.

Christmas marks the arrival of this seed, the beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy, the first shots of the Battle at Calvary, and we are free from their burden because He came.  Let us be grateful today, as we look forward to the Christmas story we will write with our families this year, and let us remember that God’s story is the best of stories.

For the rest of the 21 Days of Crave Something More Christmas, go here.

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Day 1: My Top 5 Favorite Things About Christmas

Published on December 5, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The English have the 12 days of Christmas in song.  The high churches have the 24 (ish) days of advent.  Here at Crave Something More, I’ll be writing a series called the “21 Days of CSM Christmas.”  Starting December 5 and finishing on Christmas Day, I will write once a day about all things Christmas, in the hopes that we will all continue to see Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings.

Day 1:  My Top 5 Favorite Things About Christmas

This past week, I thought of the five things I love most about Christmas.  Here they are, in no particular order:  food (particularly Mama T’s fudge and chex mix), physical warmth on a cold day (to include fires, warm slippers, thick plaid shirts, and the like), aesthetic warmth (soft lights in a cozy room, the greens and reds and golds and silvers about the house), candle light services (although I’m partial to the now-rare old-school, long-burning, multi-song services), and being with family.  (Oh, and A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and, my favorite of all, The Night They Saved Christmas).

You’ll notice that Jesus isn’t on that list.  I love Jesus, and I want to celebrate His birth, but for whatever reason, when I think of Christmas, I don’t first think about Jesus.  Which, of course, is puzzling, since this day is set aside to celebrate His birth.

In some senses, that’s not a huge problem.  Feeling affections towards family traditions or food or worship services is all fine and well.  And the passage of time helps here as well—memory tends to chip away the bad and polish the good, so that when I make up a list of Top 5 Christmas Memories, they are all idealized versions of what actually happened.  But in another sense, this is a huge problem.  “All things exist,” Paul tells us, “for Him.”  He is the center of the universe and the peak of history, so surely His birthday should be about Him too.

You’ll also notice that gifts aren’t on that list either.  I’ve never been a big gift kind of guy; I always feel a little awkward as the center of attention, which every gift-opener always is, I’m not very good at coming up with things I want.  Of course, this leads to all sorts of problems, because I tend to treat others as if they were just like me, because I think being just like me is great and all, so I struggle with giving gifts as well.  And I can rationalize that all that I want, saying Christmas isn’t about the presents, and we should all be content with what we have, but really, I’m just masking the part of my heart that doesn’t think of others as more important than myself.

It’s a little strange that we celebrate Jesus’ birthday by giving each other gifts.  I guess that’s in part because we can’t physically hand Jesus a gift, and He owns everything in the universe anyway and doesn’t need anything from us.  But there’s clearly a connection between this idea of giving and Jesus.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,” John writes, and perhaps we give to each other as a reminder of the Gift God gave to the world two thousand years ago.

I know that this year, I want Jesus to be number 1 on my list.  Or to say it more accurately, I want Jesus to pervade the other 5 things on my list, to be the means for enjoying them, and the cause for joy in them, and the ultimate end of them.

Question:  What are your Top 5 Favorite Things About Christmas?

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The Mother-ness Of The Holy Spirit

Published on October 19, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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I never thought of this before.  At least not in this way.

John 3:3, 5-6 :  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

John 6:63:  “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”

We are born of the Spirit (or we are birthed by the Spirit, spiritually speaking).  It is the Spirit who gives life.  This kind of sounds like a mother, doesn’t it?

I’m not saying the Holy Spirit is Sarayu (of The Shack fame).  He is not our heavenly mother any more than He is our heavenly father.  The Spirit is referred to as a “He” throughout Scripture, and He’s clearly a distinct person in the triune Godhead.  But God created both male and female in His image (Genesis 1:27).  And Jesus promised that the Father who send another helper (the Spirit), reminiscent of the helper given to Adam in the garden (Genesis 2:18).

So I find some comfort in contemplating the mother-ness of the Holy Spirit.  I’m grateful that His nourishment, the Bread of Life, is indeed life giving!  And I’m amazed that I have a flesh birthday, thanks to my mother, and a spiritual birthday, thanks to the Spirit.  I wonder if that means two cakes?

Question:  What’s your take on being born of the Spirit?

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Don’t Just Hear…See!

Published on October 10, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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Job:  “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).

Here was the most righteous man of his day, steadfastly withstanding the condemnation of his three close and misguided friends.  These friends came to Job in his misery and waited with him in silence for seven days.  Then they began their escalating (in directness) and diminishing (in effectiveness) arguments against Job, trying to show him that wickedness produces suffering.  And Job was right to fight this argument by maintaining His innocence.  God was not bringing suffering on Job because of his wickedness.

But then Elihu came to Job, and he spoke of God’s purpose in suffering, to bring sinners to repentance.  “If they are bound in chains and caught in the cords of affliction, then he declares to them their work and their transgressions…he opens their ears to instruction and commands that they return from iniquity” (Job 36:8-10).  And Job realized that, despite his righteousness, he was still a sinner before a holy God.

There is a kind of hearing of God that produces pride in man.  And there is a kind of seeing God that reduces a man to his knees in repentance.  Don’t just hear of God, or think of God, or consider God.  See, and behold, and delight in Him, that He is a God who is good, and just, and sovereign, and loving, and full of mercy, all for His great glory and our great joy!

Question:  Do you ever find yourself hearing of God without seeing Him?

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Godly Marriage In A World Gone Wild

Published on September 28, 2011 by CT in Blog, Questions

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As Anna and I prepare to celebrate 5 years of marriage, I’ve been thinking about what marriage means and why it exists.  This past week, one of our small groups broke up into guys and girls and wrote out a biblical theology of marriage—in 20 minutes.  The girls wrote eloquently, and the guys, perhaps predictably, came up mostly with bullet points.  But the exercise was a useful one in examining the what and why, and who, of marriage.

An unmarried reader, who has been affected by someone else’s addiction to pornography, wrote to ask about the why of matrimony in a world that has destroyed most semblances of a Biblical view of marriage and sexuality.  I’ve included an edited version of the admittedly long response below.  I hope it serves as an encouragement to you as well, whether you are hopeful to be married, are in preparations for marriage, or are living out the profound mystery of Christ-like marriage:

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Thank you so much for writing and for sharing your heart on this issue.  I hope what I write will be of help to you–as an encouragement, as a reminder of the goodness of God, and as a loving push towards an answer rooted deep in God’s word.

First, I’m sorry you’ve had to experience the consequences of someone else’s addiction.  Pornography, much like any addiction, feels like a personal thing to the addict–something we deal with ourselves, something that needs to be fixed ourselves, and something that doesn’t hurt other people.  But this kind of sin always affects others–it reaches into our relationships, and clouds our judgment, and hurts those we love in ways we don’t understand.  I don’t know if it’s simply the consequence of sin that has the ability to affect others, or if by sinning, we invite our enemy to take a large role of influence in our relationships.  But either way, there’s grace from God to heal these situations.  Pray for him, that he would find his ultimate satisfaction in intimacy with God, not in the false intimacy of pornography.  And pray for yourself, that God would continue to heal your heart, helping you to forgive.

Your question–How can a marriage be special in a world where temptation is so prevalent–is a poignant one.  And the answer is simple, and complex.  The simple answer is this:  marriage is not about you, or me, or any of us; marriage is ultimately about God.  So it is special, and holy, because of Who it came from and What it’s meant to show.

If you are interested in the complex answer, my understanding would go something like this:  The design of marriage in the beginning, and our view of marriage today, are two mountain peaks separated by an impassible gap.  Our human view of marriage, particularly a worldly view of marriage, has been cheapened to such a degree that we are numb to the gloriously high view of marriage in the Bible.  Today, marriage is often reduced to a business contract–if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, then I’ll leave the partnership and go find someone else who will.  Or marriage serves as a means to serve ourselves–to find someone who will do things for us, to take care of our needs.  When marriage gets hard, we’re far too prone to blame, too quick to leave.

So how high is the Bible’s view of marriage?  Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).  And when he describes the conditions of marriage, and the prohibition against remarriage, His disciples respond by saying, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (19:10).  In other words, if God’s view is that marriage is meant to last until death, and that man should not separate what God has joined together, then aren’t we better off not even marrying?  The standards are just too high!

Of course, we don’t see God’s standard for marriage as this high, and part of the reason is that we misunderstand the nature and purpose of marriage.  I mentioned earlier that marriage is special, not primarily because of us, but because of Who it came from and What it’s meant to show.  The way John Piper says it is like this:  “Most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God.  And ultimately, marriage is the display of God.”

What Piper means when he says that marriage is the doing of God is this:  marriage was designed by God (Gen 2:24-25), and the one-flesh union in marriage is a work of God.  Jesus, in Mark 10:8-9, first quotes Genesis 2:24 (“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”) before saying: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”  This is the Who part of marriage.  So the first thing we say about marriage is that it is something God does, not something we do, and because it is a work of God, it is good.

When Piper says that marriage is the display of God, he is pointing to Paul’s statement in Ephesians 5:31-32.  Paul also quotes Genesis 2:24:  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  But then he makes a truly remarkable statement:  “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”  This is What part of marriage.  And the second thing we say about marriage is that it is a display of God.

How is marriage a display of God?  For Paul, the profound mystery points to the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church.  “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor…that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).  And it is in this display of God’s faithfulness to His people, His continual forbearance and sacrificial love towards them, and His forgiveness of their sins, that we see the true meaning, and the sacred calling, of marriage.

This isn’t all the Bible has to say about marriage.  There are other good things that the Bible points to in marriage:  help, companionship, sexual fulfillment, procreation, enjoyment.  And these good things should be received from God as gifts–good gifts from a loving Father.  But ultimately, marriage is a picture to the world of the relationship Jesus has towards His people.  This is why marriage in any setting, and Christian marriage in every setting, is not about us:  it serves, alongside all other things, to point to Jesus (“all things were created…for him…that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:16, 18)).

So how do we deal with the gap in our view of marriage?  How do we cross from the peak of human understanding to the peak of divine understanding?  It happens first through Jesus, by God’s grace, as we persist in faith, believing in God to guide us into marriage (if He so leads) and to redeem our marriages, in spite of our sin, for His glory and our joy.  And it happens second through our battling our own notions of marriage with the armies of Scripture–to let God define what marriage is, why it exists, and how it means to work.

This is all fine and well, but what does it practically mean for us?  How does all this help you to consider marriage in a world that has made it worthless?  To answer, we have to go back to God’s word.

Part of the result, and curse, from the Fall is that sin and death entered the world.  “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  The reason men look at pornography, and women sell their bodies, and the world worships sexuality, is that sin has corrupted God’s design for marriage and healthy sexual relationships.  Another curse from the Fall is that men and women now have conflicted desires.  Genesis 3:16 says to the woman, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing…[and] your desire shall be for (against) your husband, and he shall rule over you.”  In God’s original design, the husband and wife lived together in the Garden of Eden in a unique relationship–to one another and to God.  The man was made to tend to the garden, and the woman was made to help him.  Both enjoyed fellowship with God and a right relationship towards one another.

But after the fall, these relationships broke.  God was no longer their primary source for love; now Adam and Eve sought to satisfy their desires in each other, rather than in God.  For the woman, her desire was for (or against) her husband.  She desires to rule over him, but he will rule over her.  And she feels incomplete in this battle.  The identity she finds in him does not satisfy her soul.  The love she looks to him for does not satisfy her soul, because she was created to be satisfied by Another.  And the man likewise feels incomplete.  He rules over his wife, but he is wont to abuse this.  He begins to see his wife as existing to serve His needs, but she cannot satisfy his soul, because he was created to be satisfied by Another.

Recognizing this will go a long way in helping you overcome your fears of the sin that might arise in marriage.  If you see God as the Great Satisfier of your soul, you will not go into marriage expecting something of your husband that he cannot fulfill.  And because your identity is in Christ, first and foremost, rather than your husband, then his sin, if and when it shows up, will not destroy you.  And also know that a man, by God’s grace, can join alongside Job, who made a covenant with his eyes not to look upon a young woman with lust (Job 31:1).  God’s Spirit can give men new desires, desires to love and serve their wives, and desires to honor them as women worthy of the greatest kinds of love.

Let God sanctify your marriage.  Let God tell you that it will be special.  Battle your fears with faith–believe God when He tells you that marriage is good, and for His glory, and for your joy.

One of the books that helped my wife understand the temptation that men (not only men, but mostly men) face in this area was Every Man’s Battle.  If you haven’t read it, you might consider doing so.  But it may be a bit of a jarring experience for you.  If you read it, read it to understand the nature and heart of a sinful man–that all men are sinners, and all face temptation, but that many are made righteous by God in Jesus and experience freedom from the bondage of lust.  Be wary of despair in reacting to what you read; this despair will not from God, but it may come as other fears or insecurities arise in your heart.  There is grace from God to heal those as well.

Another book I commend to you is This Momentary Marriage by John Piper.  It gives, from what I’ve read, the best Biblical articulation of what marriage is meant for and how it should work.

If and when God leads you into marriage, he will be leading you into a life of loving and serving your husband, not yourself.  That will mean praying for your husband, and helping him to be a man of God, respecting him, and submitting to his leadership, and forgiving him when he sins, and encouraging him in his walk with God.  And God will lead your husband into a life of loving and serving you, not himself.  That will mean his praying for you, and helping you to be a woman of God, and loving and leading you with a sacrificial kind of love, and forgiving you when you sin, and encouraging you in your walk with God.

But in even preparation for marriage, and in the midst of marriage, remember Asaph’s words in Psalm 73:  “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  God is your portion, not your husband.  God is your greatest treasure, not your husband.  God is your first love, not your husband.  If we put these first things first, as CS Lewis says, we get second things, like joy in marriage, thrown in with it!

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Question:  How would you write the purpose of marriage in one sentence?

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Where Is God In Infant Sickness or Deformity?

Published on September 20, 2011 by CT in Blog, Theology

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One of the great aspects of blogging as a medium for writing is its form, particularly for a student and proponent of the Bible.  Blogging holds the potential for one of Christian writers’ dearest pastimes, a practice that is far too easy and far too enjoyable to pass up without intentional avoidance.  I’m talking about proof-text posting.

After all, blog posts are relatively short in nature (not this one).  Why build a doctrine in a post when you can cite a verse and, BOOM, make your point?

I suspect we’re all guilty of this to some degree.  Our beliefs are precious to us, and we want to hold tightly to them, probably for the sense of security and control they give to us.  I know there are certain aspects of my faith that I would literally die for, so if someone wants to challenge them, it only seems natural that I would fight for them in the easiest way possible.

I was asked to contribute to another blogger’s Theology Week, and I was more than happy to oblige, so I posted a call for topics.  Each response was thoughtful and creative, and each was attractive for its proof-text posting (PTP) potential.

@hockeypreacher suggested “[a Christian view of] self-defense.” This was an intriguing topic, one that I hadn’t thought much about, and one that seems particularly relevant given the global violence we see playing out in our day.  It’s also ripe for a left jab and an uppercut PTP response:  “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).  BOOM.  Question answered; problem is down for the count.

@justantinople suggested “cannabis in relation to Judeo-Christian theology and the modern believer.” Another interesting topic given the national debate on the merits of medicinal usage of marijuana.  And this is another topic that has PTP potential wrapped tightly around it just waiting to be lit:  “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” (2 Kings 4:40).  BOOM.  You could take that response and smoke it.

But then @matthammitt suggested a topic that you can’t just drop a proof-text post on—at least not if you have any sort of heart.  He suggested “Psalm 139:13-16 in relation to children who are born sick or deformed.”  If you don’t know this Psalm right away, you’ve likely heard it before.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.”

So what are we to make of this question in light of this testimony of Scripture? My initial reaction was I would be a fool to comment on such a sensitive subject given my lack of exposure to it.  I have a good friend from college whose son has had years of medical issues, but I’ve only seen him once in the last 7 years, so it’s not like I’ve had to face this issue regularly.  And while I am a father of one, our daughter has not had significant issues so far in her first year.  So it feels as if I shouldn’t comment until I’ve walked through a hard season of life like this.

The difficulty of this question doesn’t make speaking to the issue any easier either.  I would like to just cite Genesis 3 and Romans 8 and say that creation has been groaning since the Fall, and then point to John 12 to show that Satan is the rule of this world, and conclude in Revelation 21 by saying God didn’t mean for things to be this way and that He is making all things new, and simply be done with it.  But then we’d be left with the testimony of other parts of Scripture that would challenge my conceptions of this God we serve, and I would be faced with explaining them away or ignoring them altogether.

As the global priesthood of believers, we are given the privilege of speaking on behalf of God—or more accurately, we are given the privilege of passing along the words of God in a way that is faithful to them and glorifying to their author.  But, of course, that’s the trick, and we do well to offer Biblical counsel with the praise Luke gave to the Bereans who “examin[ed] the Scriptures daily to see if [what they were told] was so” (Acts 17:11).

So with the Berean mindset, and with the willingness to allow Scripture to test and approve our own beliefs about God, perhaps we could begin by reflecting on some of the things God is telling us about Himself in Psalm 139.  In this passage, we see that:

  1. God formed him from conception.  “You formed my inward parts…you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”  The actor in this creation was God; the psalmist’s parents conceived him, but it was God’s hand that formed him with deliberate care and purpose.
  2. God formed him with great care.  The psalmist was not simply made—he was “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  He was a miracle from God, formed in mystery and wonder by a God who inspires awe in every act of conception, and he was fashioned with the attention of a careful creator.
  3. God saw him clearly as He made him. “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret.”  Nothing was hidden from God in the making of this child.  He knew everything about him and even saw into the secret places as he was being formed.
  4. God authored the formation of his days.  “In your book were written…the days that were formed for me.”  The psalmist’s life was a book written by God Himself, and his days in his mother’s womb were the opening chapters.  God saw his unformed substance like a blank page, and with careful creativity, He molded and shaped the words of his life into a story with a purpose.

It’s not in the nature of an infinitely perfect being to err, and it seems clear that the psalmist is testifying to the great intentionality and thoughtful care with which He was made.  God formed Him, and He made no mistakes in doing it.

The psalmist was not alone.  God said to Jeremiah:  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5).  Isaiah testified to God’s hand on his life before birth in saying, “The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name” (Isaiah 49:1).  Job tells of God’s care in creating him:  “Your hands fashioned and made me…you clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinew” (Job 10:8, 11).  And the psalmist also testifies to us:  “Know that the LORD, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his” (Psalm 100:3).

So we see that God is the creator and caretaker of life from the very beginning.  But what does this show in relation to the sick or the deformed?  Could not God be the creator of life in one sense, but sin has corrupted His creation in the here and now?

The Bible doesn’t tell us explicitly about the formation of the deformed or sick in utero.  But three passages come to mind as pressing on this discussion, and they reveal for us some truths about God that we may not expect.

The first passage is from Exodus 4 and addresses God’s active hand in deformities.  Moses is making excuses for why he won’t go to Pharaoh and the people of Israel to lead them out from Egypt, and he is appealing to his slowness of speech and tongue.  God replies with this:  “Who has made man’s mouth?  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11).  Here, God tells us that He makes men mute, or deaf, or blind, or gives them sight.  These deformities are not oversights on God’s part, nor are they out of His control.

The second passage is from 2 Samuel 12 and addresses God’s active hand in sickness.  David has committed adultery with Bathsheba and has murdered her husband.  The prophet Nathan comes to David to convict him and to reveal God’s judgment.  After David confesses to his sin, Nathan says, “Because…you have scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.”  The writer goes on:  “And the LORD afflicted the child [born] to David, and he became sick…[and] on the seventh day the child died” (2 Samuel 12:14-15, 18).  Here we see God afflicting the child from birth—and this is noteworthy—and doing so irrespective of anything the child had done.  It was the sin of David that led to this affliction at the hand of God, but it was God’s hand and purpose nonetheless.

The third passage is from John 9 and addresses God’s purpose in deformities.  Jesus and His disciples passed a man who was blind, and John tells us this man was “blind from birth.”  The prevailing notion of the day was that the deformed were born as a result of sin, and the debate was over whose sin it may be.  Jesus’ disciples asked Him:  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).  Jesus passes on His disciples’ initial question because He recognizes it as the wrong question to begin with.  Instead, he points to the point:  This man was born blind so that God might be glorified in him.

All in all, we see God’s hand and purpose in creating us from our very beginnings, carefully authoring the pages in which we live out our lives, and purposefully bringing about our circumstances, whether we consider them to be good or bad, in order that He might be glorified.  These are hard truths, and this question is worth far more time and exploration than these humble thoughts.  For many, the question may seem of little relevance if our lives aren’t touched by these sorts of challenges.  But I would suggest that we are all impacted by our own answers to this question.

Do we believe that God is sovereign over sickness and deformity, and that His purposes in them are good, for His glory, and for our joy?  If He is not, then is He sovereign over our broken family, or our lost job, or our estranged child, or our broken friendship?  As His caring hand molds and shapes us from our first beginnings, and as His narrative plays out in our lives, are we to assume He is not authoring the peaks and valleys of our stories?  Does He not intend to “work all things together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose?” (Romans 8:28) and that these “all things” must include all things?

May we approach these kinds of questions with great humility and trepidation, seeking to find what God testifies about Himself, and careful not to come to any conclusions without great searching and prayer.  May we see that life is not about us, that we are created in order to magnify the glory of God, and that we are to go to war with our conceptions of fairness and good.  May we find ourselves with great empathy for broken vessels in any way we find them, whether in utero or in person, recognizing that we are all spiritually broken as well.  And may we all seek to embrace God’s loving sovereignty as He carries out His own good purposes in our lives, so that He might be glorified in us as we find the contentment of joy in every circumstance, knowing that our Father and Creator never makes mistakes.

Question:  What do you see as God’s role in the hard parts of life?

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Just Gimme One Verse!

Published on September 19, 2011 by CT in Blog, Twexplanation

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Sometimes, 140 characters need more explanation…

Tweet: I tire of debates about Calvinism and Arminianism; then I tire of growing tired of them. Truth, in love, does matter.

One chapter of the new book I’m writing deals with the sovereignty of God, so I’ve been searching the Scriptures and reading others’ thoughts on how God’s sovereignty works, specifically in the salvation of His people.  I tend to read Reformed authors with a high view of God’s sovereignty, but I know that if I am to answer my own question, I need to read the Bible for myself and read other people’s thoughts on a different side of the issue.

So one of the things I read through was a long line of testimonials of people who have “left” Calvinism to see why they feel the way they feel.  And while I noticed some trends across these testimonies, many of which would be well known to folks who have engaged on these matters for some time, the comments ended with a man who posed this question:

“I have repeatedly asked [Calvinists]…to give me just one scripture, get this, only ONE scripture that implicitly states that God died ONLY for a particular group and said to hell with all the rest.  Just one.  Needless to say, I haven’t received that verse yet.  Wonder of wonders, don’t you think!!!”

With a desire to be helpful, I wrote him this response, which I’ve reprinted, with some edits for clarity, for your consideration and encouragement.

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I haven’t taken the time [here] to share my experience with growing up Arminian, later tending towards Calvinism, and continuing to wrestle with Scripture and questions along the way.  But as a brief response, here are a few verses you might consider as an answer to your question—whether Christ died only for a particular group and said to hell with the rest.

I know few followers of Jesus, Calvinistic or otherwise, who would say it in this way, and you of course reject it as well on good grounds!  If it’s acceptable [to you], I’d ask your question this way:  Did Jesus’ death accomplish something specific or general; if specific, did it accomplish something for some or for everyone; and if for some, is the attitude of God towards the rest “to hell with them,” or a grieving over the sin of man?

Here are a few verses for you to consider, with an eye towards Jesus’ death accomplishing something particular for some.

  1. Christ’s blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9).  This shows that only some here are ransomed, though this verse in isolation does not yet say that individuals are in view.
  2. The promise to Mary was that her son would save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21).  The life, and death of Christ, promised here to Mary, had a particular outcome, and that was the salvation of some (his people).
  3. Jesus laid down his life for His sheep, sheep not only of the fold of Israel, but sheep from the rest of the world as well (John 10:15-16).  Jesus laid down his life for His sheep, not all, and they are particular, for they hear his voice and He knows them (v. 27).
  4. Jesus made many to be accounted righteous in his death (it was the will of the Lord to crush him), and he bore their iniquities…and the sin of many (Isaiah 53:11-12).
  5. For our sake (Paul to the church), God made Christ to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (1 Corinthians 5:21).
  6. Christ died (decisively) for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
  7. We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son while enemies (Rom 5:10), such that being justified by faith (v. 1) is the result of our being reconciled by His death (the for in v. 6 explains the reason why we have been justified and now have peace with God and why God’s love has been poured out to us through the Holy Spirit (vs. 1, 5).

There are others, but perhaps these will suffice for the one verse you were looking for.

Bind these together with the glorious truths, that “God desires all men to be saved,” that Jesus is the Lamb who “takes away the sin of the world,” that “whosoever believes in Him will have eternal life,” and I come up short in being able to explain in full how God works in the hearts of men, choosing to express with Paul:  “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!  For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.”

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If there be any encouragement to you, let it be this:  This stuff does matter.  Theology matters.  Right thinking about God leads to right relating to God which leads to right living for God.  But unity matters as well, and Jesus as the head of the body matters too, and living at peace with one another, in the bonds of love, matters.  And perhaps most of all, abiding in Jesus matters.

So if you are intimidated by what you consider to be harder theology, there is grace for you to grow in understanding.

If you are contentious over matters of truth, there is grace for you to learn how to speak the truth in love.

If you are self-righteous in your wisdom and understanding, there is grace for you in which to grow humble.

If you are frustrated by seemingly endless divisions in God’s church, there is grace for you to grow in unity.

Let’s embrace the hardness of Scripture with a life-long view towards God’s unveiling of His truth to our eyes, in the time He chooses, as we seek Him above all other things, but let’s also embrace the beautiful person of Jesus, who is head of one body, and who loves us and tells us to love others with His kind of love.

Question:  Have you gotten deep into theology before, only to become frustrated?  What have you found to be helpful in response?

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Taking Calvin Off The Shelf

Published on September 15, 2011 by CT in Blog, Kindling

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My bookcase is filled with hundreds of books.  I have not read all of them; in fact, I’ve probably read only half of them.  Some are there because I was overambitious in my book purchasing.  Others are there because I still intend to wade my way through them over time.  Still others are there because, sometimes, it’s just easier to impress people with books on your bookshelf than to actually read them.

One such book is Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.  The way I’ve thought about it, it’s a really thick book, which he wrote when he was maybe six years old, and it’s had more of an influence on Western thought than perhaps just about any other book, so I assumed it was a book written by a genius meant to be read by geniuses.  Honestly, if I want to know what Calvin wrote about, I can get the basics from Wikipedia.

But I’m working on a book now, and I cracked open the Institutes for a little research.  And by the time I’d read two pages, I realized these were two really good pages.  In fact, there’s a section on God’s sovereignty that I just want to reprint here for you in order to awaken your wonder at the beautiful way in which God worked for His glory in creation.

The context is this:  Calvin is making the case for the sovereignty of God, specifically pointing to God’s role as creator and sustainer of all things meaning that nothing occurs outside of His providence (what he calls the secret counsel of God).  And to those who would suggest that God has acted in creation to make everything out of nothing, and to infuse it with the energy and natural cause to run apart from His sustaining work, he offers this:

“No created object makes a more wonderful or glorious display than the sun.  For, besides illuminating the whole world with its brightness, how admirably does it foster and invigorate all animals by its heat, and fertilize the earth by its rays, warming the seeds of grain in its lap, and thereby calling forth the verdant blade!  This it supports, increases, and strengthens with additional nurture, till it rises into the stalk; and still feeds it with perpetual moisture, till it comes into flower; and from flower to fruit, which it continues to ripen till it attains maturity.  In like manner, by its warmth trees and vines bud, and put forth firs their leaves, then their blossom, then their fruit.”

Now here’s the kicker:

“And the Lord, that he might claim the entire glory of these things as his own, was pleased that light should exist, and that the earth should be replenished with all kinds of herbs and fruits before he made the sun.  No pious man, therefore, will make the sun either the necessary or principal cause of those things which existed before the creation of the sun, but only the instrument which God employs, because he so pleases.”

It’s true.  I looked for myself.  I knew there was light before the sun, but I never made the connection as to why this may be.  Calvin offers an interpretation, but it’s one that bows my knees in awe at the marvelous providence of God, working for His glory, which He will give to no other, and how this working is the greatest gift we could ever receive.

Question:  What’s one book sitting on your shelf that you’ve always meant to read but haven’t yet?

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I’ve Decided To Pray In Church Of All Places

Published on August 15, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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As I have been contemplating prayer of late, I’ve found my times of prayer to be growing in both occasion and place.  I find myself before God in prayer as I face a decision that needs to be made, or to ask Him wisdom as I read His word.  Or I find myself offering bursts of praise as I see His hand in a sunrise, or asking Him for grace when I need help with a hard conversation.  But I have also realized there is one place where I’m pretty certain to not be praying:  church.

You’d think this is all mixed up, and you would have a point.  But our church doesn’t have a specific time for congregational prayer.  We have corporate prayer, but I can just listen to a pastor pray over the service or the congregation without doing much of anything other than listening to him pray over the service or the congregation.  We also have prayer over the Word, and prayer over our singing, but again, I find it far too easy to watch rather than pray.

But Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, and I want to connect more deeply with God, so I’ve decided that I’m going to pray at church.  And short of disrupting everyone throughout the service with constant, outspoken prayers, I’ve realized there are plenty of opportunities to be praying.

  1. Pray as we drive in to churchGod, do a work in your people this morning, to open our eyes to Your glory and to awaken our affections for You above all other things.
  2. Pray as we walk in the doorGod, may I be a minister of grace to someone in need, and may You bring someone to minister to my needs as You see fit.
  3. Pray as the band begins to playGod, grant us to worship you together with united hearts of praise and adoration for Your name!
  4. Pray as we begin to sing:  [Insert song lyric, and mean it rather than mouth it].
  5. Pray as we shake each other’s hands for 15 secondsGod, love this person through me right now.  Give us words to build a relationship of mutual love and encouragement.
  6. Pray as the pastor prays for our service:  [As he prays], God, may this be so.  Do this, for Your glory and our joy.
  7. Pray as the teaching pastor walks on stageGod, grant His lips to speak and our ears to hear the wisdom and beauty of Your word, and awaken our minds to understand and our hearts to feel the weight of Your truth.
  8. Pray as the Word is being taughtGod, shine the light of your Word deep in my heart; show me my sin, reveal to me Your grace, teach me Your truth, and do this for all who are here.
  9. Pray as the gospel is being sharedGod, awaken faith in those who don’t know You.  Help them to see their sin and delight in Your mercy, and help them to respond to the gospel and receive Your Son as their righteousness, their Lord, their Savior, and their Treasure.
  10. Pray as we giveGod, I give because You own everything I have.  Multiply this offering to expand Your kingdom and the reach of Your name.
  11. Pray as we leave the sanctuaryGod, give me eyes to see friends to encourage and loners to befriend before I reach the door to leave.
  12. Pray as we talk to a friend in need:  [Stopping to pray during a discussion rather than saying “I’ll be sure to pray for you.”]
  13. Pray as we walk out the doorGod, consecrate this day for Your sake.  Help me to rest in You, obey Your Word, follow Your lead, and love others today while I have breath.

Pray with me this Sunday. And each day until then.  May God help us to see our need for Him throughout each day, and may we be found in unceasing prayer before His throne.

Question:  When do you pray at your church gathering?

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