On many occasions I was moved to tears as I read Michael Catt’s book, the Power of Persistence. Through story and scripture Catt elevates the necessity of prayer and urges the Church to get on her knees – the place where her true power lies – and seek God with urgency and conviction. The book is a challenging reminder of the truth of Jesus’ words in John 15, “apart from Me you can do nothing.”
I hope your enjoying the reading as much as I am. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, we started a one year Bible reading challenge that we’re calling Encounter. Our prayer is to Encounter God through His word, as we read and respond. We’re nearly through Genesis, and this morning a couple of thoughts hit me that I thought I’d pass along.
The first is in chapter 46, verse 5, as Jacob and his family are on their way to Egypt, get this: "in the wagons Pharaoh had provided for them." Granted, that may not seem significant all by itself. But if you think ahead, about 430 years, to the time of another Pharoah, it seems ironic that it was Pharah who rolls out the red carpet for Jacob and his decendents (Israel), and it is Pharaoh who makes their lives a living hell – both as slaves in Egypt and on the way out, chasing them all the way into the Red Sea. Time changes things.
I also highlighted some verses in chapter 43. They center around Joseph and his brothers. Here’s what it says, "they bowed low to the ground before him" (v26 NLT). And again in verse 28, "they bowed low again." I smiled. Remember the dreams Joseph had about 22 years before this? In one, Joseph and his brothers are in the field tying up bundles of grain, and (this is Joseph speaking), "suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine." In another, "the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me." They all understood the implications of Josephs dreams. They all mocked him. Even Jacob was skeptical. But here they are, years later, acting out the fulfillment of those dreams. Time changes things.
One more. As Joseph rachets up the pressure on his brothers, testing them, you can almost feel the difference. There’s a humility, a tenderness, that wasn’t there before. They have compassion on their aging father. Judah’s speech in chapter 44 is especially moving: "If he sees that the boy is not with us, our father will die. We, your servants, will indeed be responsible for sending that grieving, white-haired man to his grave. I couldn’t bear to see the anguish this would cause my father!"They demonstrate personal sacrifice that was not characteristic of their former selves. "So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy." Time changes things. More importantly, time changes people.
So be encouraged. There are likely things, and people, in your life that need to change. In God’s time; in God’s way, they will. Hang on. Believe. Stay faithful. Time will come and change will occur.
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In this age of technology I fear we’ve lost sight of the importance of reading. The harm done in the process is incalculable.
Forgive me if that opening line sounded a bit too pessimistic, or if I’m too much the alarmist for your comfort. Truth is, all of this is personal as I fight my own battles against indifference, mental weakness, and sloth. To cite just two examples: I’ve cut out all cable and/or satellite television because it was costing my family far more than the $50 per month subscription fee. And, we’ve put limits on cellphone use, video games, and movie watching because we would like out children to have a modest degree of literacy when they reach adulthood. Those things (like television) tend to shift the mind into neutral and lead to soft, flabby brains, and shallow thinking.
Now I don’t want to sound disingenuous. So, before I sing the praises of reading, let me pause just long enough to say I’m a big fan of technology – properly used. I spend a lot of time on my computer (a MacBook Pro), am hoping for an iPad mini for Christmas (so I can read more), and am the proud owner of an iPhone. Furthermore, I don’t hesitate offering my kids the same technological advantages. These things don’t necessarily make my life simpler, but they are things I enjoy, and in some way they do make me more productive. However, they cross the line when they take the place of reading, and I am resolved to guard that line with renewed fervor.
- Because reading stimulates my mind, and stirs my thinking in a way that nothing else can!
- Because reading expands my horizons of knowledge, giving me a greater database of information from which to draw. Please don’t miss my use of the technological term, ‘database’ 🙂
- Because reading takes me places I can’t othewise go, and introduces me to people I won’t otherwise meet.
- Because reading makes me wiser, more interesting, more versatile, more conversant.
- Because reading challenges me to be better, to live better, to love better, to listen better.
- Because reading keeps me humble by reminding me how small I am, how little I know, how far I have to go.
- Because…. (what reasons would you list here?)
I could go on…and on…and on.
I’m setting some reading goals for 2013. I’m starting with a book a week, but I believe I can do better than that. I want to read just as much as I possibly can. I want to learn more, grow more, gain more. But the goal isn’t the number of pages read, it’s the benefit earned, and the insight gained, from those who’ve taken the time to put their thoughts in writing.
I hope you’re a reader. If not, why not accept this as a challenge, and join me in reading more in the coming year!
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I’m reading a book that is both energizing and convicting!
I first heard about Vertical Church at a pastors conference in May, it came out in August, and I picked it up over the weekend. Written by James MacDonald, the book focuses on the core conviction that the purpose of the church is not primarily soteriological (salvation of men), but doxological (the glory of God). In other words, church must be distinctively marked by the manifest presence of God. Otherwise it is just another civic organization or social club. When the goal of church is the glory of God, the things we might otherwise seek – evangelism, spiritual maturity, vibrant Christian community, effective ministry – will naturally take place, because God is here!
This get’s to the heart of worship. The thing we were talking about Sunday!
Here are some of MacDonald’s convicting quotes:
"No model of church as ‘work for God’ can ever replicate or come remotely close to church as ‘encounter with God.’"
"Whether you attend a megachurch, a large church, a medium or small or micro-church — when was the last time God took you to the mat and pinned you with a fresh awareness of His size compared to yours?"
"We have created a Creator in our own image who weeps, cares, and longs to help, but in the end we doubt He can because we have made him so much like ourselves. In making God our buddy, we find Him nice for cuddling, but not much help when the hurrican comes."
"When we ask people what they want in church instead of giving them what they were created to long for, we play into the very idolatry that church was created to dismantle."
"The answer to Moses’s persistent pattern of ‘I can’t’ was not ‘Yes, you can, Moses,’ but "I can, I will, I AM.’"
Quoting Don Cousins, he writes, "[God] wants to do the inconceivable, the uncommon, the unexpected, the remarkable, the incomprehensible, so that He — God — is the only explanation for what occurs in our lives."
"When the precepts of God are used to block the triune person of God from active participation in His church — that is a problem."
Speaking of the church distinctives, he writes, "when you don’t have the thing that makes us distinct, you have nothing, no matter what you have. And if you do have it…you have everything you need, no matter what you lack."
"Good speakers and great music are nothing unless God breathes into them."
"Someone has said that the past twenty-five years have been about ‘church done with excellence in the flesh is better than church done poorly in the flesh,’ but both are pathetic substitutes for God’s manifested glory in church."
"The reason so many churches are mired in mediocrity is that glory descends only as the fullness of Jesus is seen in grace and truth."
"Vertical Church reaches as many or more people with the gospel than horizontal church, but it’s God revealing His glory, not us revealing our ‘stretegory.’"
"The reputation of Jesus Christ, and our facilitating the revealing of His glory, is the only focus that gets us to the finish line fruitful and fulfilled in our ministry."
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Several of the most compelling examples of commitment, spiritual depth, and intimacy with God are recorded in the pages of the Old Testament. None is more dramatic – more inspiring – than the one I read again this morning.
Prior to Genesis 22, Abraham has already demonstrated great courage and faith. But NOTHING matches his response to the almost inexplicable command of God to sacrifice his son, his ONLY son, Isaac on an altar at Mt. Moriah.
A.W. Tozer imagines Abraham wrestling under the burden of such a command. And I suppose the idea of such a struggle is helpful to those of us who recognize a similar calling in our own lives. (Because we too struggle with God about such things, don’t we?) But as I read Genesis 22 this morning, and witnessed again the unwavering faith and dedication of the old patriarch, I only did not see a struggle, I didn’t even sense a struggle. Incredibly, in spite of the circumstances of Isaac’s birth, and the promise of a great nation to come through him, Abraham was unhesitant to make the trek, build the altar, bind his son, and raise the knife to slay him! It wasn’t that the task wasn’t difficult, certainly it must have been. (If it wasn’t, Abraham would have been heartless and cruel.) However, Abraham had learned…
- That God could give him a child (at 100, Sarah being 90) when most of his peers were expecting great, great grandchildren.
- Through Sarah’s pregnancy that "nothing is too hard for God."
- That God always keeps his promises, and would do so even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead. (Check out Hebrews 11:17-19)
- That no matter the outcome, God would always do the right – and best – thing.
As I reflect on Abraham’s obedience I can’t help but conclude that I want to know God the way Abraham did. See, though Abraham didn’t know why God was asking this of him, or just what the outcome would be, or just how God would provide, or use this test in his life, here’s what Abraham did know – he knew God! And in knowing God everything else, for him, was settled.
May our decisions be that straightforward and clearly defined. May we have the faith of Abraham!
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I was reading this evening from John Ortberg’s book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, and got caught up in a chapter talking about ‘hurry’. It is convicting to me and I thought I’d allow you to share in my guilt. Here are a few quotes.
“Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.”
Those who have hurry sickness “are haunted by the fear that there are just not enough hours in the day to do what needs to be done. We will read faster, talk faster, and when listening, nod faster to encourage the talker to accelerate. We will find ourselves chafing whenever we have to wait.”
The lives of the hurry-sick people lack simplicity.
Hurry results in what Lewis Grant calls sunset fatigue, which is when we are just too tired, or too drained, or too preoccupied to love the people to whom we have made the deepest promises. And,
- You find yourself rushing even when there’s no reason to;
- There is an underlying tension that causes sharp words or sibling quarrels;
- You set up mock races (“OK kids, let’s see who can take a bath fastest”) that are really about your own need to get through it;
- You sense a loss of gratitude and wonder.
Ortberg’s conclusion is that those afflicted with hurry sickness must learn to slow down, seek solitude, and quiet their soul. He urges us to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives.”
OK, it’s time to be honest. How’s your marriage these days? Is it better than ever? Or, in the language of present-day politics, are you looking for a bailout? I read a really practical article this morning, I’ve linked it here, so go check it out and take some time to revitalize your marriage.