The Valley Of Vision

LORD, HIGH AND HOLY, MEEK AND LOWLY,

 

You have brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see you in the heights;

hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold your glory.

 

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

 

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from

the deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells,

the brighter the stars shine;

Let me find your light in my darkness,

your life in my death,

your joy in my sorrow,

your grace in my sin,

your riches in my poverty,

your glory in my valley.[1]

 

 


 

[1] Adapted from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. .

“I don’t have pockets in my shorts”

“I don’t have pockets in my shorts.”

That was the moment it hit me, I don’t fit in.

I was in second grade and playing on the handball courts– which, I think we can all agree, was the most awesome game ever.

I’m sure this moment at the handball courts wasn’t the first time I didn’t “fit in.” I was a pasty white kid growing up in sunny Southern California…I pretty much didn’t “fit in” from birth.

But for some reason the memory of the handball court is what sticks out to me. Maybe it was because at that point my elementary brain had developed just enough to be self-conscious of what I was wearing and what other people were wearing. Maybe it was because that was the first time I remember people staring at me, noticing the one thing about me that I didn’t want anyone to notice. Or maybe it was just because on that day I realized in a very real way that I wanted to be just like everyone else.

Unfortunately, this is where a lot of us still find ourselves today…“pocketless.” We’re conscious of the fact that we don’t have “pockets”…at least not the “pockets” we would like to have (or worse, think we should have). We covet other people’s “pockets.” We strive for our own “pockets.” We’re stressed about whether we’ll ever get “pockets.”  We’re angry or depressed when we lose hope of obtaining our “pockets.” All the while our pocketless selves feel like we just don’t “fit in.”

Sure, our now “mature” minds “know” that we don’t need the “pockets.” People should love us and accept us for who we are and not what we have. And that even if we did have the “pockets” we want, it wouldn’t “really” make us happy. Heck, it would only be a matter of time before we had a new desire for some new “pockets” anyway.

We know all this.

And yet, we still want the “pockets.”

Why is this?

One time Jesus was explaining to the crowds what the kingdom of heaven is like. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).

Apparently Jesus believed that the kingdom of heaven is so valuable that it’s worth sacrificing everything to have it. Maybe even our desire for “pockets”?

Now I’m not say we’re not in the kingdom of heaven if we still desire “pockets”…whatever that might be for you. I am also not saying that we’re definitely in the kingdom of heaven if we don’t have a desire for “pockets.”

What I am saying, and I think what Jesus is saying, is the desire for “pockets” and the desire for the kingdom of heaven are mutually exclusive. We still desire “pockets” only because we don’t desire (or desire very little) the kingdom of heaven. If we did desire the kingdom of heaven, as Jesus did, we’d be happy to live “pocketless.”

So how can we stop caring about/desiring “pockets”?

Step one, repent. Jesus says repentance is the only way we leave our “pocket”-demanding kingdom and enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4:17).

Step two, follow. Jesus says, “come follow me.” Let Jesus lead. Be a part of his community. A community that celebrates giving away “pockets” rather than accumulating them.

Maybe you’ve done these steps before. Maybe it’s time to do them again…and again.

The desire for “pockets” isn’t bad, it just shows us the state of our heart. What do we want more, the things of the world, or the things of God? Where do want to “fit in” more, the kingdom of the world or the kingdom of God?

One kingdom requires “pockets.” The other, celebrates being “pocketless.”

What Running A Half-Marathon Taught Me About Bible-Reading

Two weeks ago I ran a half-marathon. I use the term “run” very loosely. My pace waffled somewhere between slow jog and barely moving. Maybe it would be better to say I “completed” a half-marathon…then I don’t have to feel so guilty about taking a bathroom break just before the second mile.

Nevertheless, I did something that one year ago seemed impossible. At this time last year I literally (and I do mean literally) could not run/slow jog/barely move, more than a mile. So now on the other side of the half-marathon I’ve done a lot of reflecting on what it was that enabled me to be able to complete such a task.

Now switch gears with me for a second.

For many of us, consistent Bible-reading seems like an impossible task. Let’s face it, the Bible can be hard to read. It’s an ancient book written to people in ancient times, and, much like running, the activity, at times, can be boring.

So how can we motivate ourselves and those in our families to actually read it?

Here’s where three of my half-marathon reflections may be able to help us.

1. Get a plan

One big reason I was able to complete the half-marathon was because I had a running plan. The plan told me when to run and how far to run each day. It also started off super easy and gradually increased in difficulty as the weeks went on.

The same principles can apply to reading the Bible. You need a plan– one that tells you when to read and how much to read on each day. And you need a plan that starts at your currently ability. I love the “read through the Bible in a year” plans, but, let’s face it, for most people that requires a lot of reading each day. So why not start with a “read through the Bible in three years” plan, or five years. What’s the rush? It’s not about who can read the whole Bible first, it’s about  finding a daily routine that works for you where you are now.

2. Get a community

There is no way I would have stuck with my half-marathon plan if I didn’t have so many encouraging runners in my life. So many people who regularly asked me how my running was going. People who were “further along” that were available and very willing to give advice when I had questions.  And people willing to help and pray for me when training got tough.

When it comes to reading our Bible, we need a community that will encourage us, hold us accountable, answer questions, help us, and pray for us. Parents, be the community for your kids. Students, be the community for your friends. Christians, be the community for other Christians. Just like any other discipline, Bible-reading will happen when we feel we belong to a community.

3. Give yourself grace

During the half-marathon, I had a moment as I was running across the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit into Canada. I looked to my left and watched the sunrise coming up over the city and it was just beginning to reflect on the water below me. In that moment it hit me, “I am not running this for time. I don’t need to rush through this.”  At that moment, everything changed. Instead of trying to get a “good time” or concern myself with how I was doing compared to others around me, I just focused on enjoying the race.

We often need to do the same thing when it comes to reading the Bible. We need to slow down and give ourselves the grace just to enjoy the Word of God as the Word of God. It doesn’t matter if we don’t read as fast or know as much as others. It’s okay if we miss a day or two (or, God-forbid, a week) of our reading plan. It’s not about “winning.” God still loves us. The Bible is God’s gift of grace to us.  We don’t read the Bible just for facts or even just for life application. We read the Bible to know God more to enjoy God more.

I pray these principles will help you as you read God’s Word more. And I pray, whether you’re reading at what feels like a slow jog or even just barely moving, you would feel the joy of completing a plan, being encouraged by your community, and resting in the grace God has for you each day.

Why Is Faith a Good Thing?

In a recent interview, Bill Maher asked Ralph Reed,[1] “[If] faith [is] the purposeful suspension of critical thinking…why is faith a good thing?”[2]

How would you respond to Bill Maher’s question?

First, we should take Bill Maher’s question seriously, understanding that his understanding of faith is a popular one.

But next, we should redefine “faith”.  Because, contrary to popular belief, faith is not “the purposeful suspension of critical thinking,”…at least not Christian faith.

Christian faith actually depends on critical thinking. For example, Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines faith as “the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true…in accordance with the evidence on which it rests.”[3] From this definition we see that faith presupposes evidence.

What does this look like?

When I was 18, I needed an appendectomy—my appendix was about to burst. The idea of surgery made me nervous, until my doctor informed me that he had already successfully completed six appendectomies just that day. Upon hearing this information I felt better.

What changed? My faith. Specifically, my faith that arose from my critical thinking.

My critical thinking told me that if the doctor had already completed six successful surgeries earlier that day, then he knew what he was doing. This reasoning led me to have faith that my doctor would also perform my surgery well. My faith did not arise from the “suspension of critical thinking.” On the contrary, it came about because of my critical thinking.

Christian faith is the same way. As Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Yes, faith is hope in things not seen. But this hope comes with assurance and conviction. Where does the assurance and conviction come from? It comes from our critical thinking. Specifically, our thinking about and understanding of what God has revealed to us through his general and special revelation.[4]

Now that we’ve properly defined “faith”, at least Christian faith, we’re now ready to answer the question, why is faith a good thing?

Timothy Keller has written, “It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you.”[5] Faith for faith’s sake is not a good thing. But faith becomes a good thing when the object of faith is a good thing.

Go back to my surgery. Having faith before my surgery was, for me, a good thing. It led me not to freak out. But my faith was good only because my faith was placed in a good object—the experienced doctor. In the same way, Christian faith is good because, as Christians, we have a very good object of our faith—Jesus Christ.

So what does this mean for us today?

Well, if we really believe faith to be a good thing (and want others to believe the same), we need to ask ourselves some hard questions.

What are we communicating to others about our faith? Does it appear that our faith is a faith that suspends critical thinking? Or is it clear that our Christian faith is a faith that relies on critical thinking? And do we appear to value faith just for faith’s sake? Or is it clear to others that what is good and most valuable about our faith is the object of our faith, Jesus Christ?

I pray, that as Christians, we will show the world what true faith is all about.

 


 

[1] Ralph Reed is a conservative American political activist, best known as the first executive director of the Christian Coalition

[2] “Bill Maher Spars With Ralph Reed Over Literal Interpretation Of The Bible,” June 6, 2014, http://crooksandliars.com/2014/06/bill-maher-spars-ralph-reed-over-literal

[3] M. G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary.                                          

[4] General revelation is that which can be known about God through nature. Special revelation is that which can be known about God through Scripture.

[5] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

Abortion and The Gospel

Abortion is in the news again. I suppose, in some ways, it always is.

I don’t know about you, but at times I find the whole issue overwhelming. Every time I watch the latest video, read the latest news, or hear the latest personal story, I’m tempted to feel depressed, angered, frustrated, and overall hopeless.

It is at this point of hopelessness that it hits me, I have lost sight of the gospel.

So where is the Gospel in the midst of abortion?

As heinous and horrible as abortion is, I do believe that it is able to point us to the Gospel in at least three ways.

  1. Abortion shows us the idols of our hearts

Abortion itself is not the idol. The idol is what we think abortion will give us. Timothy Keller once wrote, “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshiping” [1]. Abortion shows us what we believe is an “absolute requirement” for our happiness. In most cases it has something to do with freedom. Freedom to pursue a better life. Freedom to pursue other relationships. Freedom from shame. Freedom from regret.

Freedom is good, but not when it becomes an ultimate good. Abortion reveals this idol within all of us.

  1. Abortion reminds us of God’s grace

Any one of us could have been conceived by someone who felt compelled to have an abortion. The circumstances of our birth were completely out of our control. A few changes in the living circumstances, the peer group, and the values of our parents and many of us would not be here to read this. From the moment of our conception our lives were hanging in the balance. Abortion reminds us of this fact.

This in turns reminds us that the only reason any of us are here is because of God’s grace. God, by his grace, allowed us to be conceived by people who valued our lives and allowed us to live.

  1. Abortion reminds us we all need a Savior

Abortion reminds us that we all need someone who is able to save us from death. All of us have used our freedom for selfish gain, in inordinate ways, and for evil ends. All of us are helpless to save ourselves from the judgment and consequences we deserve. Abortion reminds us of the evil in our hearts and in our culture. It reminds us as individuals and as a nation that we do not value what God values, we do not pursue what God pursues, we do not act as God would have us act. We are all very guilty. We all have blood on our hands. We are all in need of a savior.

The good news is that in Jesus Christ we meet that savior: The one who has overcome evil. The one who offers us forgiveness. The one who paid for our sins.  The one who can remove our guilt. The one who can change our hearts.  The one who poured out his blood, and gave up his life, so that you and I could live, now and for all eternity.

Abortion points us to this gospel.

The truth that our hearts are wicked, that we can not save ourselves, and that we are in need of a savior to give us life, now and forever.

 

I pray that by His grace God would enable you today to repent of your idols, receive his grace, and put all your hope in our savior Jesus Christ.

 

 


 

[1] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters.

 

 

 

 

The Need for Dominion

Have you ever thought about what were God’s first words to human beings?

In Genesis 1:28 we read “God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” God’s first words to Adam and Eve were a command. A command for them to exercise dominion over their world by filling it and ruling over it.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Sadly, when a crafty little serpent known as Satan entered their world they didn’t exercise authority over it. Adam allowed the serpent to tempt Eve and lead her to sin.

What should Adam have done?

He should have killed the serpent. Or, at the very least, thrown it out of the garden.

The results of Adam’s carelessness were tragic. Adam and Eve sinned and were separated from God. Sin entered and contaminated all of their world. Adam and Eve lost their perfect life—literally their perfect life.

What does this have to do with us today?

There are days when I know I should read my Bible first thing in the morning, but instead I check my email and Facebook. I’m completely aware that I if I read my Bible first I will experience peace and have focus for the day. I’m also completely aware that if I check my emails and social media first, often peace and focus are nowhere to be found.

Why do I still do it?

There’s something about email and social media that calls to me. It says “you need to do this first, to make sure you haven’t missed anything.” Or “you need to make sure you’re prepared for the rest of the day.” Or “if you do this you’ll be getting a head start, you’ll actually be more effective.”

Lies. Lies. Lies.

All for the Evil One… or least one of his henchmen.

So what’s keeping me from stopping? Dominion.

I lack dominion over my world. And my careless actions have led to my world having dominion over me. Change will come when I choose to do what Adam should have done: subdue my world and everything in it, including my phone.

That might mean turning my phone off completely (what? no!I know, I know, that’s drastic). It might mean asking someone to hold me accountable for how I use it (well, that would be awkward). If none of that works it could even mean getting rid of it (ok, now you’re just talking crazy).

In reality, none of those tactics will work until something else happens first. Dominion.

Not my exercise of dominion, but Jesus’s dominion over me. If I want to subdue my phone then I must first let Jesus subdue me.

It was supposed to work like this in the Garden. Adam and Eve were to rule as vice regents (little kings) under the authority and direction of The Great Regent, God himself. Their power to rule came from conforming to God’s rule, not by rebelling against it.

In the same way, our ability to have dominion over our world, phones included, comes only through the power and authority of Jesus Christ—the one true King over all creation.

That means I have to repent of my belief and actions that say “this little part of my life [my phone] belongs to me…and not Jesus.” Instead I must confess that if Jesus is my Lord, then he is Lord of all. Everything then, even my phone, belongs to him.

The story of Adam and Eve reminds us that the perfect life is found in the fully submitted life. A life completely submitted to God’s dominion. And it reminds us that apart from God’s dominion even the smallest thing—serpent, phone, or otherwise—is able to rob us of life and lead us to destruction.

 

Where or what in your life do you need to bring under dominion of Jesus Christ?

A Disciple’s Prayer

 

“O My Savior,

Help me.

I am so slow to learn,

So prone to forget,

So weak to climb;

I am in the foothills when I should be

on the heights;

I am pained by my graceless heart,

my prayerless days,

my poverty of love,

my sloth in the heavenly race,

my sullied conscience,

my wasted hours,

my unspent opportunities.

I am blind while light shines around me:

take the scales from my eyes,

grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief.

Make it my chiefest joy to study [you],

meditate on [you],

gaze on [you],

sit like Mary at [your] feet,

lean like John on [your] breast,

appeal like Peter to [your] love,

count like Paul all things dung.

Give me increase and progress in grace

so that there may be

more decision in my character,

more vigour in my purpose,

more elevation in my life,

more fervor in my devotion,

more constancy in my zeal.

As I have a position in the world,

keep me from making the world my position;

May I never seek in the creature

what can be found only in the Creator;

Let not faith cease from seeing [you]

until it vanishes into sight.

Ride forth in me, [you] King of kings

and Lord of lords,

that I may live victoriously,

and in victory attain my end.” [1]

 

 


 

[1] The original title of this prayer is “A Disciple’s Renewal”. It is taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. I slightly edited the original (updating “thee”, “thy”, and “thou” with [you] and [your].

What our world needs…

One day I will react the right way in the right moment–but yesterday I missed that moment.

Meredith had just received some news from a friend and wanted to share it with me. The news—her friend’s eight-year-old cousin had been walking across the street to get the mail when he was hit and killed by a car.

My reaction–repulsion (wrong move). Anger (wrong move again). And distance (wrong move again again). In that moment my mind and body shot up every defense. I did not want to let in the tragic death of an eight-year-old.

In that moment I couldn’t. Because I knew it would make me think about my own soon-to-be eight-year-old. And the nightmare it would be if she was killed by a car in front of our house. (Just typing that last sentence makes my hands shake, and my insides want to vomit.)

Sometimes (particularly when I’m not consciously wearing my “pastor” hat) it is difficult for me to enter into another’s pain. Outside of “work” my flesh does not want to do it.

I think I’m just scared of pain. Real pain. Overwhelming, now-I-feel-helpless, hit-you-in-the-gut, came-out-of left-field kind of pain.

When I’m prepared (like when someone says “can I talk to you?”) I’m fine. Pastor hat on. Silent prayers for guidance check. Eyes forward, ears open—let’s go. But if it comes out of nowhere, and it hits close to home…my gut response is to push it away.

It’s a reaction based on fear.

I’m very thankful Jesus is not like this. In fact I am down right amazed at how Jesus enters into our pain.

Condescended from heaven, he entered our world as a helpless child. His heart was full of compassion for every person who came to him. He never shrunk back or ran away. No defenses. No anger. No distance.

Instead he humbled himself, entering into the pain of others all the way up to the cross. And then on the cross he entered into and was covered in the pain of every human being ever to exist.

I can’t help thinking as I scroll through my Facebook feed, and read news headlines, how unique Jesus is. I also can’t help thinking that what our world needs now is not more people proclaiming what is right and wrong (in their own eyes). Not more people mocking what they see or hear. And not more people being repulsed by what they see or hear.

All of that is just our defenses against the pain.

What our world needs is more people who will take the very unpopular and self-debasing action of entering into the pain of others.

We need people of real courage, full of compassion, who are not afraid to get covered in pain. People who are not afraid to feel overwhelmed or helpless by the stories and actions of others.

We need more Jesus-like people.

I confess, I need help in this area.

Maybe you do too.

Let us confess our fears to God. And let us pray that we, like Jesus, could have the courage to enter into the pain of others.

 

 

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8)

Who’s My Neighbor?

I’m reading a very convicting book right now. It’s called The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. It begins by asking the reader to play the following game:

Think about your eight closest neighbors. To do this just imagine a Tic-Tac-Toe game piece. Then put your house in the middle. Next think about the eight houses in the sounding boxes. (Need a visual? Click here).

Now try to answer the following questions about each of your closest neighbors.

1. What are the  names of the people who live in the households represented by each of the other boxes?

2. What are some relevant facts about the people in each house? For example, where were they born? What is their job? What do they like to do?…etc.

3.  What’s something personal you know about each person in each of the houses? For example, what are their dreams? Do they believe in God? What do they fear? Or some other meaningful bit of information that you could only know after a meaningful interaction with them.

 

Take your time…

 

Now, how did you do?

 

Yeah, my sheet was mostly blank too. Turns out we’re not alone. The authors of the book report the following:

  • About 10 percent of people are able to name the names of all eight of their neighbors.
  • Only about 3 percent of people can share any facts about their eight neighbors.
  • And less than 1 percent of people know any personal information about their eight closest neighbors.

 

I’m not even in the 10 percent group.

 

Here’s the hard news (and the whole point of the book). Jesus said to love our neighbors. And there is no reason to believe that Jesus didn’t mean love our actual neighbors—people who physically live next door to us.

Which means if you’re like me, (you actually want to follow Jesus) then you need to make a change. So let’s do it together.

This summer let’s commit to praying for our eight closest neighbors. Let’s commit to building relationships with our neighbors. Let’s commit to learning something meaningful about our neighbors.

We all desire to see our neighbors have their lives transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news is, so does God. That’s why he led you to live where you live.

God has put us in our houses so that we can represent (and be ambassadors for) Jesus to our actual neighbors. God wants us to step out in faith and begin to pray for our neighbors so that we might get to know our neighbors. So that God might open a door for them to one day hear and respond to the gospel.

I’m not gonna lie, this makes me nervous. I’d much rather share the gospel with 100 strangers then the person living 100 feet from my door.   But hey, if Jesus said “Love your neighbor” then I guess we ought to actually love our neighbors.

Who’s up for it?

 


 

To learn more about how you can love your neighbor join me this summer in reading the book, The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door

Or check out their website http://artofneighboring.com/

Or watch this video for a little inspiration: