Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Augustine on the Aims of Preaching

In his famous book, On Christian Doctrine, Augustine writes the following about the proper aims of preaching: 

“Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour [sic], does not yet understand them as he ought. If, on the other hand, a man draws a meaning from them that may be used for the building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception. For there is involved in deception the intention to say what is false; and we find plenty of people who intend to deceive, but nobody who wishes to be deceived…Nevertheless, as I was going to say, if his mistaken interpretation tends to build up in love, which is the end of the commandment, he goes astray in much the same way as a man who by mistake quits the high road, but yet reaches through the fields the same place to which the road leads. He is to be corrected, however, and to be shown how much better it is not to quit the straight road, lest, if he get into the habit of going astray, he may sometimes take cross roads, or even go in the wrong direction altogether” (Book 1, Chapter 36). 

It's not the Augustine underestimates the dangers of error in interpretation. Indeed, he goes on to argue that if a preacher of the Word allows error and then “evil to creep in, it will utterly destroy him. ‘For we walk by faith, not by sight.’ Now faith will totter if the authority of Scripture begin [sic] to shake. And then, if faith totter, love itself will grow cold. For if a man has fallen from faith, he must necessarily also fall from love; for he cannot love what he does not believe to exist. But if he both believes and loves, then through good works, and through diligent attention to the precepts of morality, he comes to hope also that he shall attain the object of his love. And so these are the three things to which all knowledge and all prophecy are subservient: faith, hope, and love. But sight shall displace faith; and hope shall be swallowed up in that perfect bliss to which we shall come” (Book 1, Chapter 37). 

Augustine believes so strongly that love is the end of teaching, and of Scripture itself, that he writes, “And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others” (Book 1, Chapter 39). I understand what he’s saying and concur that in the age to come, there will be no copies of Scripture because the Word of God will fully be written upon our hearts. However, I must add that while we sojourn here, we are more desperate of the written Word of God than Augustine implies. 

Still I take his admonition to heart: the aim of our teaching and preaching must be love or it is not true preaching; it is not honoring to God; it is not edifying to the people; it is not a blessing to the world. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Augustine: Temporal Joy Diminishes but Eternal Joy Increases

Here's an interesting and moving thought from Augustine for the week: 

"For there is this great difference between things temporal and things eternal, that a temporal object is valued more before we possess it, and begins to prove worthless the moment we attain it, because it does not satisfy the soul, which has its only true and sure resting-place is eternity: an eternal object, on the other hand, is loved with greater ardour when it is in possession than while it is still an object of desire, for no one in his longing for it can set a higher value on it than really belongs to it, so as to think it comparatively worthless when he finds it of less value than he thought; on the contrary, however high the value any man may set upon it when he is on his way to possess it, he will find it, when it comes into his possession, of higher value still" (On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapter  38). 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Enjoying God in All Persons and Things

It seems that Wednesdays have become Augustine's days on my blog! So here it goes, here's Augustine on the enjoyment of God in all other persons and things. 

"But when you have joy of a man in God, it is God rather than man that you enjoy. For you enjoy Him by whom you are made happy, and you rejoice to have come to Him in whose presence you place your hope of joy...But if you cling to [any other thing], and rest in it, finding your happiness complete in it, then you may be truly and properly said to enjoy it. And this we must never do except in the case of the Blessed Trinity, who is teh Supreme and Unchangeable God" (On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapter 33). 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Augustine on the God-Centeredness of God

The following quote from Augustine is a little thick, a little hard to follow, but it's well worth the time and effort. In short, in order for God to be for us, he must be for himself. 

"And on this ground, when we say that we enjoy only that which we love for its own sake, and that nothing is a true object of enjoyment except that which makes us happy, and that all other things are for use, there seems still to be something that requires explanation. For God loves us, and Holy Scripture frequently sets before us the love He has towards us. In what way then does He love us? As objects of use or as objects of enjoyment? If He enjoys us, He must be in need of good from us, and no sane man will say that; for all the good we enjoy is either Himself, or what comes from Himself. And no one can be ignorant or in doubt as to the fact that the light stands in no need of the glitter of the things it has itself lit up. The Psalmist says most plainly, 'I said to the Lord, Though art my God, for Thou needest not my goodness.' He does not enjoy us then, but makes use of us. For if He neither enjoys nor uses us, I am at a loss to discover in what way He can love us. 

"But neither does he use us after our fashion of using. For when we use objects, we do so with a view to the full enjoyment of the goodness of God. God, however, in His use of us, has reference to His own goodness. For it is because He is good we exist; and so far as we truly exist we are good...That use, then, which God is said to make of us has no reference to His own advantage, but to ours only; and, so far as He is concerned, has reference only to His goodness" (On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapters 31-32). 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Why Christians Love Their Enemies

Enemy love. This is a controversial and unique feature of Christianity that is often misunderstood. Recently I came across a quote from Augustine that explains why Christians love their enemies. May we read and meditate on his words, allowing the Lord to teach us his will and ways. 

"Now...what does it become us to do who live in the fellowship of the love of God, the enjoyment of whom is true happiness of life, to whom all who love Him owe both their own existence and the love they beat Him, concerning whom we have no fear that any one who comes to know Him will be disappointed in Him, and who desires our love, not for any gain to Himself, but that those who love Him may obtain an eternal reward, even Himself whom they love? And hence it is that we love even our enemies. For we do not fear them, seeing they cannot take away from us what we love; but we pity them rather, because the more they hate us the more are they separated from Him whom we love. For if they would turn to Him, they must of necessity love Him as the supreme good, and love us too as partakers with them in so great a blessing" (On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapter 29). 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Holy Spirit and the Priestly Spirit

Yet another gem from Andrew Murray: 

"As the blood [of Jesus] gives the right, teh Spirit gives the power and equips us for believing prayer. He breathes into us the priestly spirit: burning love for God's honor and the saving of souls. He makes us so one with Jesus that prayer in His name is a reality. He strengthens us for believing, persistent prayer. The more the Christian is truly filled with the Spirit of Christ, the more spontaneous will be his life of priestly intercession. Beloved fellow Christians, God needs priests who will draw near to Him, who will live in His presence, and by their intercession bring down the blessing of His grace on a waiting world. The world needs priests who will bear the burden of the perishing and intercede mightily on their behalf" (Teach Me to Pray, Bethany House 2002, page 211). 

Amen: are you will to lean on the Lord and take up the challenge? I pray you will join me in answering "yes," for this world is in desperate need of intercessors. 

Friday, April 08, 2016

What Does it Mean to be a Priest before God?

Oh how I love Andrew Murray! He wrote about prayer as a man of prayer, and those who seek to spend as much time as possible in the courts of the Lord can smell the aroma of Jesus on his writings. Here's another gem regarding what it means to be a priest in the priesthood of all believers. This is for all of us, not just super-Christians, so please read his words prayerfully and carefully. 

Murray writes, "So a priest is a man who does not live for himself. He lives with God and for God. His work is as God's servant to care for His house, His honor, and His worship, and to make known to men His love and His will. He identifies with others and serves them (Hebrews 5:2). His work is to discover what sins trouble people so that he can bring them before God and offer sacrifices and incense in their name in order to obtain forgiveness and blessing for them, and then to bless them in His name. 

"This is the high calling of every believer. 'This is the glory of all his saints' (Psalm 149:9). They are redeemed for the purpose of being God's priests in the midst of the perishing around them. In conformity to Jesus, the Great High Priest, God's priests are to be the ministers and stewards of his grace" (Teach Me to Pray, Bethany House 2002, page 209). 

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

To Love our Neighbor is to Point Our Neighbor to God

I so appreciate Augustine’s insight into what it means to love the Lord with all of us, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Let me get out of his way and encourage you to listen carefully to what he has to say. 

When the Lord commands us to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, he “means that no part of our life is to be unoccupied, and to afford room, as it were, for the wish to enjoy some other object, but that whatever else may suggest itself to us as an object worthy of love is to be borne into the same channel in which the whole current of our affections flows. Whoever, then, loves his neighbor aright, ought to urge upon him that he too should love God with his whole heart, and soul, and mind. For in this way, loving his neighbor as himself, a man turns the whole current of his love both for himself and his neighbor into the channel of the love of God, which suffers no stream to be drawn off from itself by whose diversion its own volume would be diminished” (On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapter 22).

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Take Time to be With God

Oh how I cherish Andrew Murray’s words about spending time with the Lord. Please read and savor them with me today, and more importantly, take time today to be with your Father. 

“Take time. Give God time to reveal himself to you. Give yourself time to be silent and quiet before him, waiting to receive, through the Spirit, the assurance of his presence with you, his power working in you. Take time to read his word as in his presence, that from it you may know what he asks of you and what he promises you. Let the word create around you, create within you a holy atmosphere, a holy heavenly light, in which your soul will be refreshed and strengthened for the work of daily life.” 

Quoted in Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (OMF Books 2010, page 177)

Friday, April 01, 2016

Long to See the Glory of Christ? Pursue Holiness

For many years, I’ve highlighted the biblical relationship between holiness and the sight of God. That is, whereas we normally think of morality and behavior when we think of holiness, the more profound core of it is preparation to behold the glory of God in the face of Christ. Unsullied eyes have undistracted sight. 

Of course, I’m far from the first to see this truth. Consider, for example, the words of Augustine from fifteen-hundred years ago: 

“Wherefore, since it is our duty fully to enjoy the truth which lives unchangeably, and truth for the things which He has made, the soul must be purified that it may have power to perceive that light, and to rest in it when it is perceived. And let us look upon this purification as a kind of journey or voyage to our native land. For it is not by change of place that we can come nearer to Him who is in every place, but by the cultivation of pure desires and virtuous habits” (On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapter 10). 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Comfort or the Cross? Cross-Lovers Needed

Hudson Taylor is one of the most important non-biblical heroes in my life. Thus, it was with joy and trembling that I read his call to cross-bearing, a call made credible by his cross-bearing life. I invite you to ponder his words with me, and more importantly, our way of life before the Lord. 

“Hudson Taylor stopped at no sacrifice in following Christ. ‘Cross-loving men are needed,’ he wrote in the midst of his labors in China, and if he could speak to us today would it not be to call us to that highest of all ambitions: ‘that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings’ (Phil. 3:10). Can we not hear again the tones of his quiet voice as he says: ‘There is a needs-be for us to give ourselves for the life of the world. An easy, non-self-denying life will never be one of power. Fruit-bearing involves cross-bearing. There are not two Christs—an easy-going one for easy-going Christians, and a suffering, toiling one for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are you willing to abide in him, and thus to bear much fruit?’” 

From Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (OMF Books 2010, page 177) 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Word, the Spirit, and Answered Prayer

In a chapter based on 1 John 5:14-15 and entitled "Our Boldness in prayer," Andrew Murray writes of the relationship between the Word of God, the Spirit of God, answered prayer, and our boldness before God. His words are simple yet penetrating, and I encourage you to join me in pondering them well. 

"Many do not understand this union of the teaching of the Word and the guidance of the Spirit, so that there is a twofold difficulty in knowing what God's will may be. Some seek the will of God by an inner feeling or conviction and want the Spirit to lead them without the Word. Others seek His will in the Word without the living leading of the Holy Spirit. The two must be united--the Word and the Spirit--so that we can know the will of God and learn to pray according to it. 

"The Word and the Spirit must be joined in our hearts. Only by their indwelling can we experience their teaching. The Word must abide in us. Our life must day by day be under its influence. Not from without but from within comes the quickening of the Word by the Spirit. Only he who yields himself entirely to the supremacy of the Word and the will of God can expect to discern what that will is and to boldly ask in prayer. He who through the Word and the Spirit lives in the will of God by doing it, will know to pray according to that will in the confidence that he hears us." 

From Teach Me to Pray, Bethany House 2002, pages 202-03.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Augustine on Enjoying God

In our times, John Piper is famous for advancing what he calls “Christian Hedonism,” that is, the biblical call to enjoy God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. I once asked Pastor John, “If this point of view is indeed biblical, why did it take so long for someone to articulate it?” His answer was that many others had articulated it, most important of whom for him was Jonathan Edwards. But even Jonathan Edwards was far from the first to point believers in this direction. Carefully consider the words of Augustine from his classic fifth-century work, On Christian Doctrine. It’s a little hard to follow but worth the effort. 

“The true objects of enjoyment, then, are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are at the same time the Trinity, one Being, supreme above all, and common to all who enjoy Him, if He is an object, and not rather the cause of all objects, or indeed even if He is the cause of all. For it is not easy to find a name that will suitably express so great excellence, unless it is better to speak in this way: The Trinity, one God, of whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things. Thus the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and each of these by Himself, is God, and at the same time they are all one God; and each of them by Himself is a complete substance, and yet they are all one substance. The Father is not the Son nor the Holy Spirit; the Son is not the Father nor the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is not the Father nor the Son; but the Father is only Father, the Son is only Son, and the Holy Spirit is only Holy Spirit. To all three belong the same eternity, the same unchangeableness, the same majesty, the same power. In the Father is unity, in the Son equality, in the Holy Spirit the harmony of unity and equality; and these three attributes are all one because of the Father, all equal because of the Son, and all harmonious because of the Holy Spirit” (On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapter 5).

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

We Will Make Progress in Prayer

In his book Teach Me to Pray (Bethany House, 2002; ISBN: 0-7642-2596-0), Andrew Murray offers us such a hopeful word. Please read these words carefully and then take some time to sit in the presence of Jesus and give him thanks for this amazing work which he will surely complete in us. 

Murray writes, “We can have the fullest confidence that with such a teacher [Jesus Christ] we will make good progress [in prayer]. Let us not only meditate but also pray and wait at the foot of the throne to be trained for the work of intercession—in the assurance that even with our stammering He is beautifully carrying on his work. He will breathe into us His own life, which is prayer itself. As He makes us partakers of His righteousness and of His life, He will make us partakers of His intercession. As the members of His body, as a holy priesthood, we shall take part in His priestly work of pleading and prevailing with God for men. Ignorant and feeble as we are, Lord, teach us to pray” (15).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Heavenly Art of Effective Prayer

In his book Teach Me to Pray (Bethany House, 2002; ISBN: 0-7642-2596-0), Andrew Murray writes, “Amid the painful consciousness of ignorance and unworthiness, and in the struggle between believing and doubting, the heavenly art of effective prayer is learned” (14). 

Oh how I love this quote! Growth in prayer is not about our strength but about God’s strength. It’s not about our perfection but about God’s perfection. It’s not about our faithfulness but about God’s faithfulness. 

And as if this was not enough, Jesus has promised to finish the work he began in us until the day he returns. In other words, he has promised to make us intercessors even as he intercedes day and night in the Father’s manifest presence. 

The heavenly art of effective prayer is born of the grace of Christ, for the glory of Christ, and for this we give him much thanks and praise!

Friday, March 18, 2016

What is the Heritage of those who Seek the Lord?

The words of David in Psalm 61:5 have been precious to me of late. He writes, “For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.” We don’t know specifically what was happening in David’s life when he wrote this Psalm, but it’s obvious enough that in a time of difficulty and suffering the Lord comforted and delivered so that he learned anew the nature and certainty of his heritage.

Since David was the King of Israel we might be tempted to conclude that his heritage had to do with land, possessions, position, power, and the like. However, as we carefully examine his own words, and the NT teaching about his words, it becomes obvious that the Lord himself was David’s heritage.

For those who fear the name of the Lord, and seek his face in the midst of life’s difficulties and sufferings, the Lord not only sustains and delivers in his time and way, but also grants them the unfathomable joy of deep, satisfying, and eternal fellowship with him. And this fellowship is a much better heritage than any amount of physical property or social position, for it is truly satisfying and eternal.

So may the Lord give us hearts to seek after the great heritage of the Lord today. May he give us eyes to see and hearts to rejoice in the fact that he himself is the great Treasure of all who seek him.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Strange but Glorious Joy - AN UPDATE

Two days ago I re-posted a blog I wrote in July 2014 about our need to move—again! In that blog I mentioned the strange and glorious joy of receiving assurance from the Lord in prayer and living with the joy of his answer, even when we have yet to see his answer with our eyes.

By God’s grace, Kim and I lived with that joy for fourteen months until the day we heard that the house had sold and we had 28 days to find a new place and move. For several reasons, we decided it was best for us to lease a new place, however, that is easier said than done in our neck of the woods. We had to stay in a particular price range and we had to find a place that would welcome our beloved dog, Bella.

When we first began to look, there was literally nothing on the market—not a single place within 15 miles that matched our criteria. But during a meeting with some colleagues at a local non-profit, I said, “You watch, the Lord will provide for the glory of his name.”

And sure enough, the next day when I looked again there were three places. One of them didn’t work out. Another of them technically would have worked but the place was a wreck and the landlord didn’t seem interested in addressing some serious issues with the house. We drove away from that place praying, “Lord, we’ll go there if you call us but please open another door.” The third place, which at first we thought we would not like, turned out to be the place God had provided for us.

It’s a little over half the size of the house we were leaving, which was fine with us, but it had about 3 times the yard…and the yard is filled with big, tall trees and lots of bushes and flowers and feels something like a retreat center to us. Kimmy, who loves gardening, was sold right away, and so was I. We took another trip to the house with Rachel and she liked it, too, so we sat in our car and prayed, “Lord, we want to live here but we want your will even more, so please lead the way.”

And he indeed led the way! Long story short, all the doors opened, and we were able to move in on October 1, 2015. The Lord provided for the glory of his name.

And now we see in part what he saw from a distance. We see the house. We see where we park our cars. We see where we walk the dog, and where she chases squirrels every day of her life! We see where our furniture goes, although we still have yet to decorate all of the rooms. We see the places where we love to spend time with the Lord, and where I love to work on sermons and doctoral project and books and blogs like this one.

We now see with our eyes what the Lord saw almost two years ago when we prayed and he gave us assurance. Now our joy is not so much in the place the Lord provided as it is in the God who provided and taught us to rest in him and trust in him and rejoice in him while we wanted.

O my friends, trust the Lord! Pray and ask for his help and provision. Stay in his presence until you know he’s heard your plea, and then you will know the joy about which I write. And when you see his answer with your eyes, you’ll rejoice more in Him than in “it.”

Indeed, may the Lord continually grant us the gift of that strange and glorious joy of assurance in prayer; of faith to lay hold of what our eyes cannot see; of heartfelt thanksgiving to our God before and after the request has been granted; of knowing that despite what we don’t know, we know the One who knows. 


All praise and glory and honor be to his holy and happy name, amen! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Strange but Glorious Joy – A REPOST

In July of 2014 I posted the following blog. Now that we're getting settled in our fairly new place, I thought I'd repost it today and then give an update in couple of days. So here we go...

Kim and I are in a season of transition. Due to some health and financial problems, we have to move from our home, get into a more affordable living situation, and otherwise reduce our expenses as much as possible. We’re staying in the same area, and staying at Glory of Christ Fellowship, but we have to move. We’re okay with this, life happens and God is good, but it would be less than honest to say that this season has been easy.

For example, though we’ve only lived in our house for six years, we’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in our lives. We’ve both been transient people for a long time, but now that we’re in our late 40s, it’s starting to wear on us a bit. And furthermore, we’ve made some significant advances with our neighbors, most of whom don’t believe in Jesus, and we’re sad to have to walk away from them before we see with our eyes the fulfillment of our prayers.

But here we stand, knowing that our gracious God is calling us to leave (again), not knowing where he’s calling us to land, and not knowing the details of what life will be like once we get there. We’re in a season of transition, of limbo, of mystery, of the unknown

And we’re in a season that holds much potential for a strange but glorious joy, if only we’ll have eyes to see and hearts to receive.

I find it difficult to explain what I mean, but let me give it a shot. When we have a serious and genuine need and we bring it to Jesus in prayer – not briefly and superficially but regularly and fervently – he will often grant us an assurance of his answer such that we experience a joy that’s usually reserved for those who see the answer with their eyes. To be sure, we do experience a sweet joy when God answers our prayers and allows us to receive what he’s supplied. But it seems to me that we experience a sweeter joy, a strange and glorious joy, when God gives us the assurance that he’s answered our prayers without allowing us to receive what he’s supplied – at least not yet. I find it nearly impossible to describe what it’s like to have such confidence in God’s answer, that we’re filled with joy before we see God’s answer.

When I was little, my daddy would sometimes tell me that he was going to give me something in a day or a week or a month. I believed him. I trusted him. I rested in his word. I had peace and joy in waiting, because I knew that my daddy would provide what he promised, in his time and in his way. And he did.

These experiences were but the smallest glimpse of the strange and glorious joy that’s ours each time we pray, receive assurance, and wait on our Father’s timing. And I think that the essence of this joy is love, trust, and the unshakable hope that our heavenly Father will provide what he has promised, in his time and in his way.

Indeed, Kim and I have no idea where we’re going to live, and how it’s all going to work out, but we know the One who knows. We know that he sees our new home. He sees where we’ll park our cars and walk our dog. He sees where all of our furniture, decorations, dishes, and things will go. He sees the place or two where Kim and I will spend the majority of our prayer time, and surely he rejoices at the thought of meeting us there.

We know next to nothing, he knows everything, and the strange and glorious joy we’re experiencing right now comes from resting in what he knows rather than stressing in what we don’t know. O how the words of Paul in Romans 15:13 have ministered to my heart in recent days, please savor them with me: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing [literally, “in faithing”], so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Indeed, may he do that, not only for Kim and I, but for all who call on his name and rest in him by faith. I look forward to writing a follow up to this blog in a few months and giving glory to our Father for all that he’s done!

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Beginning of the End - Day Four

Ministry & Missions Research Class, March 2016
In some ways yesterday was just another day. We studied qualitative research methods and looked at so many theories, strategies, and charts that by the end of the day I felt as though my brain literally couldn't take in another piece of information! It's amazing how sitting and studying for nine hours, even with a few breaks in between, can exhaust a person. 

In other ways, yesterday was a monumental day. It was my last day of classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and since I started in 2009 that feels pretty big. It was also Dr. Martin Crain's last day of classroom teaching after a seventeen-year run, and I can't explain how privileged I feel to have been part of his final classroom session (Marty's the man in the middle, sporting the grey beard and maroon shirt). 

Further, yesterday was the last bit of instruction I will receive before embarking on the eighteen-month process of researching, writing, and defending my final project. Today has been a day of reflection, synthesis, and planning, and at several points along the way I've gotten that "pinch me because this can't be real feeling." 

It's kind of strange that after so long I'm both sad to be done with classwork and glad to be done with classwork. 

Well, anyhow, enough about me. I've had a wonderful time today thinking about the nature of preaching in the life of the church, memorizing the rest of John 1, and worshiping Jesus along with the amazing musicians at Sovereign Grace Music (via mp3s). I'm so eager to get home and see my Kimmy and Rachel tonight, and to awake tomorrow to serve Jesus in the northewest Twin Cities which I love. 

Thanks so much for praying for me this week; it means more than you know. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Beginning of the End - Day Three

Yesterday was the beginning of the “second half” of my final week at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I didn’t sleep well the night before and thus I had to fight to stay awake during the day, but the Lord was good and faithful and helped me at every turn. 

Our class time started with a very helpful devotional from 2 Peter 3:14-18. The most helpful aspect of it for me was putting the command to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” in the fuller context of the chapter. When put in context, this famous decree is a call to let go of the world and the things of the world to pursue the higher, greater things of Christ and his Word and his world. Indeed, as Peter says in v 14, “Be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” Be intense; be serious; be devoted; be focused; be happy to know Christ and to feast on Christ every day of your life. 

Again, this was a very helpful call, both for the enormous project that lies ahead of me and for life in Christ in general. 

From there we covered many topics having to do with literature reviews and what is called qualitative research (interviewing, observing, etc.), and we closed out the day in small groups talking about our particular projects and how we might improve, shape, and execute them. When the day was done, I was ready to be done, but it was a good day. 

After a hearty nap, I met up with ten fellow students and went to Chicago’s famous Portillo’s and had a feast and lots of good fellowship. Then I crashed! 

It was a very good day and I’m grateful to the Lord for it. It’s hard to believe that my formal time at TEDS is fast coming to an end, but I am grateful for the time I’ve spent here. Hope you all have a wonderful Thursday! 

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Beginning of the End - Day Two

Yesterday was a good but straightforward day. In class we covered the intricacies of quantitative research, the challenges of dealing with statistics, and advanced literature search techniques. 

However, the highlight of the day was not in but out of class. When the class sessions were done, I traveled to the north side of Chicago (Humbolt Park) to visit with my friends and fellow church-planters, Craig and Elizabeth Priestly. After a nice dinner and brief time of prayer, Craig and I headed out to a vigil where a few community leaders gathered to commemorate the life of a young man who was recently shot to death, and to pray and plan for an end to the violence that has recently plagued this area. 

In fact, last fall, while some of these same people were gathered at a similar vigil in the same neighborhood, someone was shot to death right across the street, scattering the participants and ending the vigil. And in fact, while we were gathered, 5-6 shots were fired a block or so away from us. 

Parts of Chicago are war zones--literally war zones--and so we gathered in faith, hope, and prayer, knowing that the Lord hears those who humbly call upon his name. 

Please join me in lifting up the precious souls who not only visit this neighborhood but who live and work for a better future there. The Lord hasn't called everyone to live in places like Humbolt Park but he has called us to be one Body and to care for one another and pray for one another. 

Also, please pray for Craig and Elizabeth as they labor in faith to plant a beacon of hope in this neighborhood. They have many crucial decisions to make at this time and they need guidance from the Lord and support from prayer warriors and wise men and women of God. 

Lord Jesus, please let your light shine in Humbolt Park for the glory of your name and the blessing of those who reside there. Amen. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Beginning of the End - Day One

As I mentioned in my post Sunday afternoon, I'm at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) this week going through a week-long workshop designed to commence the final phase of my Doctor of Ministry degree. Since it's my last full-week here, I've been trying to take note of everything, to see and remember what the Lord is doing, and I saw so much yesterday that it's hard to take in and process in such a brief time!

Having said that, two things stood out. At the beginning of every week-long very session at TEDS, the staff has brand new students stand and say a few words and they have finishing students stand and say a few words. This week, ten of us were finishing and the one word that stuck out to me from all that was said was "remember." The man who shared this word mentioned Deuteronomy 32:7, "Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you." So, in short, I'm trying as best as I can to notice and remember the big things this week; to see and honor what the Lord has done and is doing. 

Second, Dr. Martin Crain, the current Director of the program who is retiring after nineteen years in this position, shared a devotional from Ephesians 5:13-21 and highlighted the theme of wisdom. He noted: (1) Wisdom engages all of life with the light of Christ; (2) Wisdom takes opportunities; it seeks the Lord and seizes the moment; and (3) Wisdom maintains priorities, and always puts this first--"be filled with the Holy Spirit." 

It was a real privilege to hear Dr. Crain's final, formal message to the students, and it was fuel on the fire for some things Jesus is doing in my life right now. 

The class session was great, although I'll leave the details aside, after which several of us went out to dinner and talked theology, sought to share the gospel with a few people, and just enjoyed each other's company. I got in late feeling very tired and overjoyed in the Lord, and so I awake today eager to seek and serve Jesus, learn from my class session, and then visit a friend in inner-city Chicago tonight. 

For now, would you please continue in prayer for my family and me? It really means a lot, so thanks in advance! 

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Heading to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School - Will You Pray with Me?

Even as this blog-post goes live, I'm on the road to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL (just north of Chicago). This week is the beginning of the end, if you will, for the class I am taking is designed to commence the final project for the Doctor of Ministry degree. Seminaries avoid calling this project a dissertation because it's different in nature from what Ph.D. candidates are required to do, but be that as it may, the project has to be implemented in my actual ministry and then reported on via a 200-300 page written document. 

I'll write more about the specifics of the project later in the week when one of my three proposals gets approved, but for now I simply want to say that I'll be writing about my time at Trinity each day this week and that I'd really appreciate your prayers in this final phase of a seven-year journey. Specifically...

1. Please pray that my eyes would be fixed on Christ, that I would delight in his presence and promises, and that I'd be awake to what he wants to do in and through me this week. 

2. Please pray for my professor, Dr. Martin Crain, as he teaches the class and leads the Doctor of Ministry program. 

3. Please pray for my fellow students and me as we discern the specific project the Lord would have us do in the coming 1-2 years. 

4. Please pray for Kimmy and Rachel in my absence, that the Lord would protect, provide, and prosper them in faith and hope. 

Thanks so much for your partnership in prayer. I look forward to writing about what the Lord does this week. 

Friday, March 04, 2016

Fervor in Prayer and Fruitfulness in Life

Yesterday I read a most-interesting quote from the nineteenth-century evangelist, Charles Finney. He said that whereas he had never seen someone pray so fervently that he sweat drops of blood (as did Jesus), he had seen someone pray so fervently that his nose bled. 

Wow! I'm not sure how that worked, but as I pondered this quote an important thought came to mind: as is our fervor in prayer so shall be our fruitfulness in life. 

We may not pray so intensely that our noses bleeds, but are we willing to sacrifice anything to press long and hard into the courts of the Lord? Are we willing to make the time to read our Father's will and discern our Father's heart and pray according to his purposes and promises for whatever he brings to mind? 

These are open questions but this much we should know: as is our fervor in prayer so shall be our fruitfulness in life. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

What Does it Mean to "Have Faith" in Prayer?

In Matthew 22:18-22 we’re told a story about Jesus and his disciples that teaches us something important about receiving answers to prayer, namely, that we must have faith to do so. 

Matthew writes, “In the morning, as he [Jesus] was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once. 

“When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.’” 

At first glance, this story seems odd. It presents Jesus as one who is focused on his own hunger and upset when a common fig tree can’t feed it, so much so that he uses his extraordinary powers to kill the tree. The disciples, however, were more focused on Jesus power than his character and thus asked how the tree so quickly withered. 

I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t directly answer their question but rather took the opportunity to comment on their prayer lives. Specifically, he said that, if they would only have faith and not doubt, they would be able to do much greater things than this in prayer. This statement obviously puts faith in a very high place, but what exactly does it mean? Was Jesus saying that if we only believe enough we can literally get whatever we want—a car, a house, a good bill of health, success at work, or a pile of cash? 

To the contrary, I think Jesus was saying that we must have the kind of relationship with the Lord whereby we discern his will through his Word, and then stake our whole lives upon that in prayer. Indeed, Jesus himself only said what he heard the Father saying and only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19-20; 8:28). This implies that he did not impulsively rebuke that fig tree but rather did so as an act of obedience. 

Therefore, when Jesus says that we will be able to move mountains in prayer, as long as we have faith and do not doubt, he means that by virtue of our union with him we will be able to discern the Father’s will, praying according to the Father’s will, and receive answers according to the Father’s will. To have faith in prayer, then, is to confidently believe what God has said and pray according to it without doubt.

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will help us understand the relational nature of prayer and the extent and power of his words. Pray that he will teach us to pray with the strong belief that he will do whatever he has said he will do.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ask and it Will be Given to You

Over the last several weeks we’ve been meditating on the question, why must we ask of Jesus in prayer? I have suggested eight answers to this question which you can find on an earlier post on my blog. For now, I’d like to turn our attention to the promises Jesus makes to those who will in fact ask of him by faith. We begin this six-week journey with the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:7-11. 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or 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!” 

The promise Jesus makes in these verses is extreme. The one through whom all things were created, the one who sustains all things by the word of his power, has said that if we ask of him, seek him, and knock on his door, if you will, he will respond to us, he will be found by us, and he will answer us. 

To help us process his hard-to-believe statement, Jesus uses the metaphor of a parent and child. He’s right in what he’s saying—what parent worth their weight in feathers would give a stone for bread or a serpent for fish? Only the most hard-hearted or mentally unstable among us would even think of doing such a thing, and therefore, how much more is God our Father disposed to give good things to those who ask of him, who seek him, who knock upon his door? 

The logic is as hard to escape as the promise is to believe but as we meditate upon it we see that it implies something that precedes answered prayer. The proper context of Jesus’ stunning promise is a Father-child relationship in which there is genuine love and warmth, regular contact and communication, clear leadership from the Father and humble submission from the child. The context is one in which the child who asks, seeks, and knocks wants the Father himself more than anything so that his help and blessings are but icing on the cake of knowing him. 

Understanding the relational nature of prayer and its answers is of utmost importance but as we grow in this understanding we must also grow in the refusal to minimize the extent of Jesus’ promises. Jesus meant exactly what he said and we would do well to receive and live by his words. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” 

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will help us understand the relational nature of prayer and the extent and power of his promises. Pray that he will teach us ask, seek, and knock at all times and in all things.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Why Must We Ask of Jesus in Prayer? Part III

In John 15:7-8, Jesus promised, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (emphasis mine). Over the last two weeks we have seen that this promise assumes something very basic but extremely important, namely, that we must ask of Christ in prayer or our prayers cannot be answered. 

I see at least eight reasons why Jesus commands us to ask of him, five of which I have shared over the last two weeks. Specifically, I have said that we must ask of Jesus in prayer (1) because he commanded us to do so, (2) because we’re in a relationship with him and communication is key to the health of any relationship, (3) because it teaches us childlike dependence upon him, (4) because it teaches us to think, feel, and ask like Jesus, and (5) because it teaches us how to counsel and bless one another. This week I add three more reasons. 

Sixth, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because it is God’s means of glorifying himself by proving that we are in Christ. As Jesus said in John 14:12-14, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (emphasis mine). Indeed, the process and outcomes of a praying life are proof-positive that the gospel has worked; that light has overcome darkness; that life has overcome death; that communion with God has overcome alienation. 

Seventh, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because it forms faith in us as we speak to God and he acts on our behalf. There is no better way to grow in trusting God than to walk in intimacy with God and see him guide, answer, direct, and rebuke along the way. And the more we walk with him and ask of him in Jesus’ name, the more we will see various sorts of answers and grow in the sure knowledge that he is with us and that he is for us in Christ. 

Finally, then, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because the process and outcomes of a praying life serve to make our joy full in Christ. As Jesus said in John 15:11 and 16:24, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full…Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” 

So, Beloved, for at least these eight reasons, let us make a life of walking with Christ in prayer and of asking of him in prayer, as we abide in him and his words abide in us. Next week we will begin to ponder some of Jesus’ great promises to those who call upon his name.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why Must We Ask of Jesus in Prayer? Part III

In John 15:7-8, Jesus promised, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (emphasis mine). Over the last two weeks we have seen that this promise assumes something very basic but extremely important, namely, that we must ask of Christ in prayer or our prayers cannot be answered. 

I see at least eight reasons why Jesus commands us to ask of him, five of which I have shared over the last two weeks. Specifically, I have said that we must ask of Jesus in prayer (1) because he commanded us to do so, (2) because we’re in a relationship with him and communication is key to the health of any relationship, (3) because it teaches us childlike dependence upon him, (4) because it teaches us to think, feel, and ask like Jesus, and (5) because it teaches us how to counsel and bless one another. This week I add three more reasons. 

Sixth, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because it is God’s means of glorifying himself by proving that we are in Christ. As Jesus said in John 14:12-14, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (emphasis mine). Indeed, the process and outcomes of a praying life are proof-positive that the gospel has worked; that light has overcome darkness; that life has overcome death; that communion with God has overcome alienation. 

Seventh, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because it forms faith in us as we speak to God and he acts on our behalf. There is no better way to grow in trusting God than to walk in intimacy with God and see him guide, answer, direct, and rebuke along the way. And the more we walk with him and ask of him in Jesus’ name, the more we will see various sorts of answers and grow in the sure knowledge that he is with us and that he is for us in Christ. 

Finally, then, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because the process and outcomes of a praying life serve to make our joy full in Christ. As Jesus said in John 15:11 and 16:24, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full…Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” 

So, Beloved, for at least these eight reasons, let us make a life of walking with Christ in prayer and of asking of him in prayer, as we abide in him and his words abide in us. Next week we will begin to ponder some of Jesus’ great promises to those who call upon his name.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Why Must We Ask of Jesus in Prayer? Part II

In John 15:7-8, Jesus promised, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (emphasis mine). Last week we saw that this promise assumes something very basic but extremely important, namely, that we must ask of Christ in prayer or our prayers cannot be answered. I see at least eight reasons why Jesus commands us to ask of him, three of which I shared last week. Specifically, I said that we must ask of Jesus in prayer (1) because he commanded us to do so, (2) because we’re in a relationship with him and communication is key to the health of any relationship, and (3) because it teaches us childlike dependence upon him. This week I will add two more reasons. 

Fourth, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because having to form specific requests teaches us how to think, feel, and ask like him. As good and necessary as it is to read, study, and even memorize the Bible, it’s even better to press on from the reception of truth to the articulation of it. We know that we’ve come to understand something when we’re able to accurately repeat it in our own words. For the Christian, this journey from reception to articulation begins in prayer when we speak God’s truth back to him from our hearts. As we do this, our Father further refines our prayers until they more perfectly align with his truth, and when they align with his truth he grants an answer for his glory and our joy. But even when the answer comes, the deeper work of God in us is that he’s using this process to transform into the image of his Beloved Son until we think, feel, and ask like him. 

Fifth, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because learning to speak to God teaches us how to counsel and bless others. When the Word of Christ dwells in us richly—when it teaches us and guides our thoughts, feelings, and actions; when it molds the words we speak to God in prayer—then we come to a true understanding of it and an ability to teach and admonish one another, to instruct and correct one another according to the will and ways of our Father. As we learn to speak to God, we learn to speak to one another in such a way that he is exalted and we are helped by his wise counsel and our mutual love. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will persuade us that we must ask of him in prayer, and that he will teach us to actually do so day by day. Pray that he will teach us how to form and articulate our thoughts and affections in such a way that he will be glorified, that he will be pleased to answer our prayers, that others will be blessed, and that our joy in him will be increased.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Why Must We Ask of Jesus in Prayer? Part I

In John 15:7-8, Jesus promised, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (emphasis mine). Last week we saw that this promise assumes something very basic but extremely important, namely, that we must spend time with Christ. For the next few weeks we will meditate on another basic but important assumption, namely, that we must ask of Christ in prayer or our prayers cannot be answered. 

In Matthew 6:8 Jesus said, “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” which begs the question, Why then must we ask of Jesus in prayer? If the Father already knows what we want and if he is disposed to give us what we want when we ask according to his will, why then doesn’t he just give us what we want? I see at least eight reasons. 

First, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because he commanded us to do so. As those who have become his children by grace through faith, we begin with obedience and not questioning. As we do what he says and learn to walk in his ways, he increases our understanding and joy in him. The flesh must understand in order to obey; the spirit obeys in order to understand. 

Second, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because we are in a relationship with him and communication is central to the health and growth of any relationship. Of course, he knows us much better than we know ourselves but the sound of his children’s voices is surely among the greatest delights of his heart. Think about the great lengths to which Jesus went to save us, bring us to himself, and make us children of the Father. Think then of how precious it is to him to see us actually relating with our Father through his blood and by the power of the Holy Spirit. So we ask of Jesus to delight the heart of Jesus because we’re in a blood-bought relationship with Jesus. 

Third, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because it teaches us to live in childlike dependence upon him. It teaches us that he is the vine and we are but branches. It teaches us that he is the bread and fountain of life, and that we are but hungry and thirsty souls who need a source from which to eat and drink. And it also teaches us that he is eager to give the food and drink of himself to all who believe and ask in his name. So we ask of Jesus because it helps us to understand and feel our proper relationship to Jesus. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will persuade us that we must ask of him in prayer, and that he will teach us to actually ask of him in prayer day by day. Pray that he will teach us how to form and articulate our thoughts and affections in such a way that he will be glorified, that he will be pleased to answer our prayers, that others will be blessed, and that our joy in him will be increased.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Making Time to be with Jesus

In John 15:7-8, Jesus makes a stunning promise: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (emphasis mine). The call to abide in Christ, to allow his words to abide in us, and to ask for whatever we wish assumes something very basic but extremely important: we must actually spend time with Christ. We must actually speak with him. We must actually ask. Prayer is a vital part of a relationship, and relationships require time and speech.

Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) received a call to serve as a missionary to China early in his life. Although he didn’t know it, his parents had devoted him to the Lord for this very task but then wisely allowed the Lord to work in his life and clarify the call without their direct intervention. Almost as soon as he received his call from the Lord, Hudson knew that he had to be a man of prayer in order to bear fruit. But like all of us, he struggled with the practical, daily aspects of it. 

“Hudson Taylor was a normal boy living a busy life. Whether as a clerk in a bank or assistant in his father’s store, he had many temptations, and when a lively cousin came to be his roommate, it was not easy to keep first things first and make time for prayer. He knew, though, that without prayer there could only be failure and unrest. Taylor had to learn that there is no substitute for real spiritual blessing” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Littleton, CO: OMF Books, page 13).

It’s a mistake to think that the heroes of our faith did not struggle with prayer, for every one of them did. What separates them from most of us is that they simply would not give up until they learned what it means to pray without ceasing. They read the Bible, listened to the words of Jesus, fought, failed, and pressed on in grace day by day. 

In the coming months, we will hear many stories of faith and answered prayer from some of the leading lights of the last two centuries, but among the most important lessons we will learn from them is this: to be a house of prayer requires personal and corporate intentionality, discipline, and community. It requires personal and corporate focus, tenacity, and encouragement. We must help each other learn to make time for Jesus day by day and to ask for God-exalting things from Jesus day by day. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will help us see the importance of time and speech in our lives of prayer. Pray that he will give us a spirit to fight this good fight until we know what it means to pray without ceasing.