Surely You Know

“Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!” (Proverbs 30:4, NIV)

Yesterday at LakeView I felt led by the Lord to give an invitation for people to repent and declare their faith in Jesus, to be saved. In some churches I’ve attended something like this would be handled through an “altar call.” That is, we’d have had prayer partners at the front, and we’d have invited people to step out and come forward to pray and receive Christ. In a couple of churches, they even had an actual altar, a bench at the front of the church before the stage where people could come and kneel to pray.

I didn’t give an altar call yesterday, I did the old “every head bowed, every eye closed” routine and two people raised their hands to receive Christ. PRAISE THE LORD! However, I keep wondering if I should’ve challenged the people gathered to take a more declarative step…

I’ll be transparent. My church background, with its dysfunction, has put fear of altar calls in me. There have been a few times at LakeView when I felt nudged to invite people forward for prayer for one reason or another but chickened out. The culture of our church is not an altar-call culture. What if no one comes forward? Will it seem like the service was a failure? Will people think I’m not a good pastor? Hello, pride, there you are again. I’d sure like you to be crucified in me so that Christ can live in your place!

This morning, when I read Proverbs 30:4, I felt the challenge from the Lord. (Sidenote: It’s amazing how God can give a rebuke without condemnation. He is incredible!) Why do I let fear and pride influence my actions? “Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!”

As I reflected on these words, the last line held my attention. “What is his name, and what is the name of his son?” His name is Jesus, and His son’s name is… me. I’ve been born again into His household. My confidence and sense of self-worth shouldn’t come from whether or not people respond to an invitation. Neither should I be afraid (whether afraid of failure or wounded pride) to be obedient when God stirs my heart. Our job is to obey faithfully and let God produce the fruit. If we do what He tells us to do, then we cannot fail because the definition of success is obedience, not results.

My prayer for the week is for those who accepted Christ yesterday (please join me in that), and for God to remind you who He is what His son’s or daughter’s name is, yours. Be humble, yet confident in who you are in Jesus.

Music, Revelation, and Instruction

“Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.” (Proverbs 29:18, NIV)

Every now and then, I come across a worship song that is so rich in its music and lyrics that it feels like a feast. When an artist is able to match the revelation of God in Scripture with music that fits the message in tone and emotion, something amazing happens. Some of these songs become timeless classics, like Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Because He Lives, and How Great is Our God. Others may be less well known or less often sung, but are no less moving. Some of my favorites are Great Are You Lord, This is Amazing Grace, Christ Be All Around Me, and This I Believe (The Creed).

Music has long been recognized as a powerful tool for instruction. It brings together mind and heart, word and emotion, and it seems to stay with us–ever had an annoying song stuck in your head? I believe the power of music to serve as an expression of our hearts, a reinforcement of our faith, a remembering and retelling of the great saving works of God in the world, and a tool for instructing new believers in the faith are all reasons why God tells us to sing (see Ps. 5:11; 33:1-3; 101:1; and too many others to list here). Music is a powerful medium of God’s revelation and wisdom’s instruction, and we are blessed when we participate by singing in worship.

Here’s a new song I found recently by Chris Tomlin. The style is a little different and the lyrics are a wealth of truth, revelation, and wisdom that bring glory to the One who is worthy. Take a few minutes to listen and let the Spirit soak your soul as you do. My prayer this week is that this song will bless you as much as it has blessed me in recent days.


Guilty Conscience?

“The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”

Proverbs 28:1 NIV

Ever get called into the principal’s office? Or have your boss leave you a message: “I need to chat with you for a few minutes when you get in”? Then you probably know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, when you know you’ve done something wrong, but you can’t figure out what it is. You have a guilty conscience. Or maybe your spouse or a good friend suddenly becomes sickeningly sweet and does something too nice. Immediately, you think, I wonder what they did? They must have a guilty conscience.

All of us struggle with feelings of guilt from time to time. If you don’t, beware! You may be infected with the sin of pride more deeply than you realize. A guilty conscience can come from three sources, and it is important to discern the source so that you can deal with it appropriately.

The first source of feelings of guilt (also known as conviction) is the Holy Spirit (see John 16:8), who convicts us of sin that we need to confess. The Holy Spirit is never wrong, and He often brings to my mind sins that I had forgotten about, or areas of my life that I haven’t ever fully surrendered to God. We feel guilty because we are guilty, and God is bringing that conviction to our hearts so that we can confess our sin and be set free (see 1 John 1:9). If we don’t confess the sin in our lives, we cannot receive His forgiveness, and that will lead to worse things in us than just a guilty conscience.

One way you can recognize the conviction of the Holy Spirit is that He will bring specific things to you to confess. He will remind you of an unkind thing you said to someone, reveal a pattern of pride, show you that you’re not generous, or bring to light a hidden sin or habit. This most often happens when worshiping, listening to a sermon, reading your Bible, or praying–God speaks directly to your heart with conviction. Now, God is not in the business of convicting us for no reason. When He convicts, it’s for the purpose of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and freedom. His conviction will never come with condemnation for those who belong to Jesus (see Romans 8:1). So, when He convicts, it will be specific and will put in your heart a desire to come to God, rather than run from God.

The second source of a guilty conscience is our own conscience! God has given us all a conscience to detect sin in our lives, but we must remember that our conscience is not always right. Sometimes my conscience detects “sin” that isn’t really sin. And sometimes my conscience doesn’t pick up on sin in my life because I’m blinded by pride. When you’re feeling guilty about something, it’s important to process that with the Lord in prayer, and turn to Scripture for guidance. A pastor I know once said, “Your conscience isn’t always right, but it’s always wrong to violate it.” Often, my conscience isn’t very specific, but when I pray about what’s bothering me, the Lord reveals the specific sin causing the guilt. In this way, our conscience really can be a guide that brings us to God.

The third source of guilt is spiritual attack. The name Satan literally means “accuser,” and he loves nothing more than to accuse us so we feel guilty and unworthy of God’s love. He will bring up past sins and try to convince you that you haven’t been forgiven and God could never love someone like you. He may try to falsely accuse you, but he doesn’t have to–we’ve all sinned enough that he has plenty to work with! The surest way to detect this form of spiritual attack is that it comes with condemnation and leads you away from God. Rather than inviting you to come to God, confess, and be free, it pushes you away from God into a pit of despair that leads to further sin.

Whatever the source of your guilty conscience, the answer is always the same: bring it to the Lord. If you’ve already confessed that sin, thank God for His forgiveness and walk boldly in your freedom. If you haven’t confessed that sin, thank God for the conviction (whatever the source), confess, repent, be forgiven and set free.

My prayer for the week is that you get to walk in the freedom of forgiveness that cost Christ so much.

Tested by Praise

“The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise.”

Proverbs 27:21 NIV

Although I don’t have any firsthand experience with refining metals, my secondhand understanding is that they are refined by fire. You take a piece of ore, which is rock or sediment that has traces of the gold or silver in it, or a chunk of metal with impurities, and throw it into a smelting furnace. The metal melts into a liquid, and the impurities (also called dross) can be separated out resulting in pure gold or silver.

Gold’s and silver’s impurities are revealed by the fire in the furnace. Your and my impurities are revealed by praise. Compliments test our humility and can expose such dross in us as pride, selfishness, vain ambition, jealousy, and more. It’s not wrong to take pride in a job well done or to receive a compliment from someone else. The question is, what do I do with that praise? How does it cause my heart to react? Do I return the praise to God, giving thanks for the work He has done in and through me?

Remember James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” Nothing we have is from our own hand. God gave us the skills, talents, abilities, and opportunities. Receive a compliment for being faithful with what He’s given, but don’t forget that He’s the one who gives–and takes away.

Perhaps the most telling test of praise (in my experience) is how a person reacts when someone else receives praise, but they don’t. We’ve all been there. Someone comes up and compliments the person standing next to us, but neglects to give us the same regard. When someone else is praised and you aren’t, what happens in your heart? Jealousy? Anger? Discouragement?

Here’s the thing. As Christians, we should really only care about the praise of One: our great God and Savior. If we never receive a single nice word from another human being, but the Lord says, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” then we have received the highest praise of all. So, when someone else is complimented and you aren’t, give thanks that God allowed that other person to be encouraged, and remember that one day the One who alone is worthy of all praise will tell you just how proud of you He is.

My prayer for the week is that some praise or compliment will reveal to you an impurity so that you can confess and be free.

Choice Morsels

“The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts.”

Proverbs 26:22 NIV

Writing devotional thoughts from every chapter in Proverbs means sometimes hitting the same themes more than once. And, since gossip is a major topic discussed throughout the book, it’s no surprise that here in chapter 26, gossip comes up again. As I’ve written before, one of the best definitions of gossip I’ve come across is this: gossip is sharing sensitive or confidential information with someone who is not part of the problem or the solution.

One of the biggest challenges with finding victory over the sin of gossip is that it can often be hard to identify. Of course, there’s the really obvious gossip that is clearly wrong and everyone knows it. “Did you hear about so and so? Let me fill you in…” But, there’s another kind of gossip that’s much more subtle. It’s described in Proverbs 26:22 as “choice morsels” that “go down to the inmost parts.” It’s gossip that doesn’t look or feel like gossip. It’s disguised as a prayer request or expressing concern for the well-being of a friend who’s headed down the wrong path. It’s sharing inside information that may seem harmless, but is still confidential and shouldn’t be shared.

Choice-morsel-gossip doesn’t feel sleazy like blatant, obvious gossip. We’ve all had those conversations where we knew we were gossiping, did it anyway, and left feeling like we just swallowed a rock. Choice-morsel-gossip is different. It feels good at first. We’re helping someone pray for a friend in more specific prayers. We’re bringing someone into the know so they won’t be caught off-guard when they find out the news. Doesn’t it feel good to have knowledge someone else doesn’t, and then to share that knowledge in a way that encourages that person to pray more? Not only am I helping the person who needs prayer by recruiting more prayer partners, but I’m also helping the person I gossip to spend more time with God! How can that be wrong?

Gossip is a sin. No matter what motivates it, it’s a sin. Even when I gossip with good intentions, I sin. Sooner or later, those “choice morsels” turn into rocks in the pit of my soul. Thank God for His continued grace! My prayer this week is that God will nudge us with conviction as we are about to share a choice morsel, and we will hold our tongues.

Moderation

 If you find honey, eat just enough— too much of it, and you will vomit.

Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house— too much of you, and they will hate you.

Proverbs 25:16-17 NIV

Is it safe to say that many of us struggle with moderation? One soda isn’t bad for you, but two or three? One glass of wine might even be good for your heart, but four or five? Occasionally eating a few caramel M&M’s won’t kill you, but a whole bag for breakfast? (Okay, it wasn’t really a whole bag. The bag was already 1/2 empty by the time I finished it off for breakfast.) Even good things that would normally be healthy can be harmful when not practiced, used, or consumed in moderation. I love smoked meat, ribs, brisket, pork, chicken… Eating a well-balanced diet that includes those kinds of meat in moderation is healthy. But gorging on too much meat can be very unhealthy. Sleep is good, but too much sleep leads to poverty (see Proverbs 6:9-11). No doubt there are many more examples coming to your mind.

A lack of moderation has a subtle way of sneaking into our Christian faith as well, turning good things into idols that steal glory from God. The church I grew up in was so obsessed with living a moral life according to “holiness standards” that they went overboard with rules and regulations, adding far more than was ever in Scripture. This resulted in a brittle, easily broken faith that was based on keeping the rules, rather than a strong, enduring faith built on the foundation of a personal relationship with Jesus.

Many Christians idolize their spouse or their family, often putting family ahead of God in an effort to be a good spouse or parent. But, making God a lower priority never results in greater godliness! In our churches today, we highly value friendship. But sometimes we take it to an unhealthy level and become codependent on one another when we really should only be dependent on God. Of course, the opposite can also be true–sometimes we idolize solitude to the point of neglecting life together, and that can be unhealthy, too. Church is great, but being too busy with church is not. We need space to rest, spend time with the Lord and our families, and interact with unbelievers who need to see Jesus in us.

The point of all this is self-control and the worship of God alone. God is our “magnificent obsession,” and He is the only one worthy of our unceasing worship and devotion. For everything else, even the good things, even the church things, we need to exercise appropriate self-control. My prayer for the week is that God will bring to our hearts an area where we struggle with self-control and moderation, so that we can become less dependent on that and more dependent on God.

True Riches

“Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”

Proverbs 24:4-5 (NIV)

Granted, this Proverb is talking specifically about money. And, money (or wealth of some sort) is a universal idol for people of every culture throughout history. Jesus said that the love of money is so strong it threatens our relationship with God to the point where we must choose who will be our master–God or money (see Mt. 6:24). As I’ve heard more than one pastor say, “You will either love God and use money, or love money and try to use God.”

But it wasn’t financial wealth that God brought to my attention when I read these verses in Proverbs 24. God reminded me this morning that I need to trust and rely on him for success in ministry. “Rich” doesn’t just mean money. For a pastor, “rich” can be any number of things, but it’s most often numbers. It’s a struggle for pastors to avoid the comparison game, looking at other churches to see how many people they have and what they’re doing to get those people through the front doors. We are very tempted (and it’s not easy to resist) to slightly exaggerate our average attendance when we meet other pastors and they ask, “How big is your flock?”

In my time with the Lord this morning, I was praying for LakeView, thinking about the direction God has called us and the transition coming as we begin to follow his lead. As with any big decision or course change, there is always a little anxiety. What if it doesn’t “work”? What if we’re not at 500 in five years? Did we hear you correctly, Lord?

I prayed, “Lord, don’t forget your servant.”

And he replied, Servant, don’t forget your Master.

I remembered something Dr. Mathews said in one of my classes at Moody Theological Seminary. “You worry about the depth of your relationship with God. Let God worry about the breadth of your ministry.” My role, and our role as a church, is to remember our Master, to worry about the depth of our relationship with God. We’ll let him worry about the numbers as we faithfully worship, pray, meet with him in his Word, and share his love with others in our lives (both inside and outside the church).

What do you wear yourself out to obtain? Where do you find yourself tempted to trust your own cleverness? Money? Reputation? Your position at work? Success? Experiences in life? However you define “rich,” my prayer for this week is that we remember our Master. God’s love is true wealth, and we have it in infinite abundance. Let’s focus on spending time with him and let him worry about the “riches” of this life.

Childish Hearts

“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.”

Proverbs 22:15 (NIV)

If ever there was a verse that seemed outdated in today’s supposedly “progressive” society, this is it. Most parents of young children I know don’t spank their kids and consider spanking to be borderline abuse. It seems like the popular parenting strategy these days is “empower the child” to make decisions they are unable to make and become ever more entrenched in the belief that the universe really does revolve around their precious little faces.

However, this blog post isn’t about spanking, or even how we should raise our kids. When I read Pr. 22:15, God plucked a string in my soul that harmonized with several other things I’ve recently been learning–but not about parenting.

A few weeks ago I read The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero. His thesis in the book is “it’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” This is a simple, yet profound truth. God is not just interested in my (or your) spiritual growth, but in my growth and development as a whole person. If I only focus on spiritual development, yet remain emotionally immature, I become a Christian full of knowledge with the appearance of being a mature disciple, but I am prideful, petty, selfish, insecure, passive-aggressive, and filled with vain ambition. In many ways, I have only been empowered to think that I’m indispensable and the church bubble really does revolve around my precious little face. I am childish in my faith (childish faith is not the same as childlike faith, but that’s a different post).

While children can be sweet and funny, we all know how embarrassing it is to see a teenager act like a toddler. A little discipline helps our kids learn and grow, and teaches them to make wise decisions. It’s no different with us. Childish Christians abound in churches today, but our Father loves us too much to let us stay the way we are. Unfortunately, this often involves disciplining us to make us aware of the folly bound up in our childish hearts, and to help us mature not just spiritually, but emotionally, intellectually, and socially.

All of us will be disciplined at some point if we are indeed God’s children. My prayer for the week is we will learn and grow, even when it hurts.

Who’s In Control?

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.

Proverbs 21:31 (NIV)

Control. It’s probably one of the most significant spiritual strongholds evil has used to deal out destruction and mayhem in America, including in our churches and our families. We think we need control. We think we have control. We think we can control. And therein lies the snare.

The truth is, control is and always has been an illusion. God is in control, and he suffers no rivals. True, we can influence some minor outcomes in our lives through our decisions. But let’s not fall into the folly of believing that we control those outcomes. As soon as we start thinking we can control, it’s almost impossible to not try to gain control. Struggles for power and control are often brutal, trust-breaking, relationship-straining, and deeply saddening. They can also be violent, abusive, and dangerous.

The moment we begin to grasp for control is the moment we reveal a lack of trust in God; and the moment in which we start to lose our peace, our confidence, our security, our joy, and our freedom. There is no exultation in playing God. There is only anxiety, fear, insecurity, pride, and despair.

As I read this verse, the Lord reminded me to trust in him. He is sovereign. He is good. He is wise. He’s never failed me, and never will. He’s saved my bacon more times than I can count–and those are just the times I know about! Slow down, fix my eyes on Jesus, breathe, and let go. That’s my prayer for this week.

Prayer? There’s an app for that…

I just spent five minutes rocking Graham for his afternoon nap. In the past, I would’ve piddled that five minutes away scrolling through my Facebook feed, “liking” things I don’t really like and watching videos of people making neat things out of a bunch of old junk. Granted, sometimes a little veg-out time between other things is good for my brain. However, it might be more beneficial if I spent at least some of those transitional moments during the day in prayer.

Enter PrayerMate. This free app, available on iOS and Android, has really helped me pray for specific things and people in short little conversations with God throughout my day. I created several lists like Family, Church, and My Spiritual Growth. To each list, I added a number of cards. These are people and things to pray about. Some cards are temporary–after I pray through them a set number of times or length of days, they are archived. Others are perpetual, like praying for Corinne. To some cards, I add notes, specific things to pray for that person, or Scriptures to pray for them.

PrayerMate has a number of prayer guides and resources available, so I don’t have to create all this content myself. When I created a prayer card for Corinne, it suggested several things a husband can pray for his wife, including verses and short prayers from a variety of books and prayer guides. I can add whatever I want to her card, and add my own prayers for her as well. For my own spiritual growth, I’m planning to use a daily prayer guide designed for 2019 that guides a conversation with the Lord about where I need to grow and submit to him.

After getting the app set up (which is super easy), it does my favorite thing. When I sit down to rock Graham or have a few minutes between appointments, I can start praying with a swipe. I set mine to randomly pull up five cards from my lists. Just now I swiped and it pulled up a prayer from Matthew 9:38, a prayer to confess sin, a card to pray for my mother-in-law, a card from The Gospel Coalition’s “18 Things to Pray for Your Church,” and a prayer for my next door neighbor. In five minutes, I will have prayed for several things I wouldn’t normally think to pray for on my own.

That’s much better than scrolling through my Facebook feed!

Even though the calendar turns another year this week, we’re only halfway through our year of prayer at LakeView Church. Maybe we’ll turn it into a lifetime of conversations with God! Whether it’s an app like PrayerMate, a reminder on your phone, or the accountability of a good friend, my prayer for you is that you will find time to spend just five more minutes a day talking or listening to God in 2019.

Timing is Critical

“Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time they look but find nothing.”

Proverbs 20:4 (NIV)

On the surface, this wise saying is about lazy people failing to take the opportunities they have to earn a living. The sluggard doesn’t get up and go to work during planting season–he’s too lazy. By the time he finally gets around to plowing his land and planting his crop, he’s behind the curve. When harvest comes, his crops have yielded nothing because they haven’t had the right growing season. The lesson: Don’t be lazy! When it’s time to work, go out and work so that you can earn a living. Don’t wait around and procrastinate until the opportunity passes you by.

I think that’s a good word for all of us (especially me, since I am by nature a professional procrastinator and it takes a lot of oomph to overcome that). However, as I reflected on this verse and why it “wiggled” on the page I was reading, I realized there was more here than just a warning against procrastination–at least for me. 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know much about farming, even though I grew up in a small town where almost everyone was a farmer and I married into a farm family. My father-in-law and brothers-in-law are incredible farmers, and being in their family I have learned that farming is a lot more scientific than putting seeds in the ground and waiting for them to grow. Every spring, I ask my father-in-law when they will start planting, and his answer is different every year. It depends on the weather, the ground moisture, the soil conditions, and many other variables. Just like waiting too long to plant yields a poor harvest or no harvest, planting too soon has the same effect. The point is not to plant early or late, the point is to plant in season. For farmers, timing is critical to success.

The same is true for many things in life. Timing is important to success. Jumping the gun before you’re ready often leads to failure. Waiting too long out of fear or laziness often leads to miss opportunities. My prayer for the week is that God will give us the wisdom to know when the season is right, when the opportunity is ripe, and when the timing is good.

Alignment

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21, NIV).

Recently our church did a painting event, where an artist walked us step-by-step through how to paint a Christmas tree with a cross as its trunk. I was helping my six-year-old son, Jack. We could see what the goal was for our painting, yet as we painted the artist often said, “If you like this, do this. If you want to do something else, go ahead and put your own style into it.” As we painted, Jack expressed his own interests and desires in what his painting should look like, and when I walked around the room, I saw many, many different Christmas trees with crosses for trunks. The variety was incredible, and yet the purpose of the artwork was the same every time.

This is a beautiful picture (no pun intended) of God’s purpose in our lives. He doesn’t just dictate his will to mindless slaves to obey or die. He invites us into the process. He created us with thoughts and emotions, dreams and aspirations. He is interested in what our hearts long for, and he makes space for us to express our own “style” as we go along the way. God works with us to accomplish his purpose, and that is profoundly amazing.

Yet, we must remember that ultimately, it is God’s purpose that prevails. If our plans go against his purpose, we will surely be frustrated. As I was reading and praying through Proverbs 19, the Lord brought verse 21 to my attention. I distinctly sensed him say to me, I want your plans to align with MY purpose. I think when that happens, we experience the fullest sense of meaning, freedom, and joy. We are painting with our Father, who is showing us the purpose while allowing us to be who he created us to be in the process.

This brings to mind Psalm 37:4, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (NIV). May the Lord forgive me the times when my plans have not aligned with his purpose!

My prayer for this week is that our hearts will sync with God’s heart, and we will find the sheer delight of aligning our plans with his purpose.