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Prayer

4 Apr

PrayerOver the years, prayer has become increasingly important to me. I once prayed simple-to-the-point-prayers, and now I pray simple-to-the-point-prayers. Even so, the discipline of prayer is not so ‘simple’. Usually, when one does something, or anything for that matter—let’s say running or knitting or something—that person usually grows in proficiency and skill. As time passes, I pray with greater frequency, devotion, and fervency, and yet I do not feel particularly proficiency or skilled in prayer; to consider one ‘good at prayer’ is dubious at best. Then again, maybe it isn’t. What I have learned is that prayer is not just a matter of doing it, and I don’t really pray like I should.

Once upon a time, I assumed the disciples to be rather dim for asking Jesus how to pray; I mean, they had the Messiah with them, modeling prayer constantly, just do what he does, right? How hard can it really be? Now I feel stricken with the same dimness I once thought the disciples to possess—Lord, how do I pray?

Sometimes, Christians inquiring about prayer only receive exhortations more akin to a Nike commercial than Jesus’ instruction to his disciples. I understand prayer can be made into an impossible labyrinth of genuflection, ritual, and technique, which is damaging. And while prayer might be as simple as the ABC’s, it must be realized that the ABC’s were not so easy at one point in everyone’s life.

The words of J.I. Packer & Carolyn Nystrom in their book Praying were rather comforting as I recently struggled through a difficult season of prayer. “Let’s be realistic where we are and where we are not in this matter of praying. Deep down all of us have found that prayer isn’t as easy as some people make it sound, or as easy as we ourselves had hoped it would be once our technique was straightened out.

While prayer is not merely a heartless technique, it is also more than simply talking to God. Prayer is a unique path to relate to God where one can seek him in all things. In the end, this is an inadequate description of prayer; thus the importance of taking the time to reflect upon what prayer is, what prayer is not, and the importance of growing in the discipline of prayer.

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Judson Part III

18 Mar

Judson

If you haven’t read the previous posts about Judson, here and here are the earlier posts. Apologies are necessary for the long hiatus between post two and three. My excuses are abundant and valid—all five children were sick, some of them more than once, along with my wife and me. There is nothing like passing around an enduring little bug that makes everyone miserable. Anyway, now that we’ve recovered, I’m back to scribbling and scratching in blog-land.

As mentioned in my earlier posts regarding this aberrant missionary extraordinaire, I want to consider a few questions. What led Adoniram Judson to give up everything for the sake of the gospel? Why didn’t he faint in adversity? What upheld him? Did they–whoever they are–make better people back then? What fortifies a person enough to endure such hardship and pain?

I ask because I need to guard against the admiration of another transforming into comparative analysis, which leads paralysis. Not trying for cutesy humor here, comparisons are dubious, leading to all manner of depressive-malcontent. Second Corinthians 10:12 warns that comparisons with one another demonstrate a lack of understanding.

Here is where I err. When reading about great men, like Judson, I often ask myself why am I not like him? I believe that question was posed in an early blog. However, through stark wake up calls intermittently in life it became obvious; I’m just mediocre-me. This was a shot to the ego. A humble accepting of who I am is still hard. Even so, the acquiescence of my identity was not what set me free from the bondage of comparisons.

Men like Judson don’t set out to do great things by striving to be like all the great men before them; they simply set out to serve their Lord. Judson went out not to conquer the world, gain recognition, or achieve ministerial glory, but to be an obedient servant of Christ, fixing his desire upon the Lord of glory. Judson was not promoting himself, comparing himself to others, or agonizing over how history would tell his tale—what he did was endeavor to be faithful.

Back to my questions, lest I unduly heap up comparisons… What would lead a man to give up everything for the sake of the gospel? The answer is plain, yet profound. The goodness of the gospel, whereby man finds life satisfying joy in Jesus Christ, is what leads one to give up everything for the sake of Jesus Christ. What fortifies a person to endure such hardship and pain? It isn’t toughness, or that some are cut from different cloth. Rather, it is those who, like the apostle Paul, build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, according to the grace of God given; these will have work that will withstand the fires of of final judgment (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-15).

Maybe a better question to ask–what propels/supports a person in his/her ministry/missionary endeavors? I answer this question in three ways. Maybe there are more, surely there are; nevertheless, here are three straightforward truths:

  1. Hope in the world to come and not this world. (Hebrews 11:24-28; John 12:25)
  2. Have confidence that God is sovereign and good in all things. (Daniel 4:34, 35; Psalm 84:11, 12; Romans 8:28, 11:33-36)
  3. Grasp the magnitude of Christ’s love. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

These truths firmly support and propel the minister of the gospel in any setting. Ultimately, it is not about what we do or even who we are, but who God is and what he has done. It’s not about what Judson did that made him great, but it’s what God did in and through him that makes his ministry memorable. God’s glory and grace were manifest in his life. He merely set out to serve God, and the produce of his life is only explicable by divine grace

We mustn’t seek validity as people by doing great deeds, worth is not found in how successfully we do what we do. Contrarily, worth is found as children of God beloved of Jesus Christ. Love the Lord God with fullness of heart, soul, mind and strength; do not shoot for greatness, just faithfulness.

In the end, I still want to meet Judson. I long to sit at the feet of the saints recounting the mighty deeds of the inscrutable God over all.

Anonymity

14 Mar

A friend and I were having a conversation the other day about anonymity. We discussed the idea that total anonymity is impossible. While we can maintain an anonymous status for a while, he who perverts his way will be found out; and he who does good will also be discovered, but it will not bring as much recognition. Relieving anonymity is about selling goods, products, and a story; people browse, search, purchase, and comment on the Internet thinking they are anonymous, but we are not. Money is to be made in the discovery of secrets, people’s history, and what they want. In the name of commerce or social intercourse, it is increasingly difficult to remain anonymous.

Here is a link to an article about being watched, studied, and monitored for any and every reason with the expansive-increase in surveillance. Surveillance is not just a camera watching us anymore. Now, I know it smacks of conspiracy theory, however, George Orwell’s 1984 is not what’s in mind. After reading the first part of the article the point is clear—we’re being watched; and there is good money in the information gleaned by the watchers. Identifying consumers or criminals is highly useful, so as to best categorize them according to their record, so that the right product will be presented to them or the proper authorities will be called.

After reading the article I immediately began to think about being watched, I experienced a strange, yet all to common desire to behave better—I think I even sat up strait and looked over my shoulder. This impulse is normal, but is it good? Another article presents the idea that we will be better and perform better if we act as if the world were watching. A familiar Thomas Jefferson quote presents the idea of the article, “Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.” Through scientific study they determined that people are more ethical in behavior when they think they are being watched. How true, but we don’t need an article like this to prove that people behave differently when others are watching. Ill deeds are done in the dark for a reason—no one can see them, or so we think.

As I wrestled with my flesh the Scriptures bore witness to my soul that it is more important to reckon that Gods is watching. Psalm 139:8 states that, “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! ” The ‘I’ in this verse is the indomitable God over all. God is watching and always has been. In other words, there is no place that we can get away from God. He is everywhere, and His eyes see all things. 2 Chronicles 16:9 teaches us that God looks over the whole earth to discover the faithful, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” So, who should we be more concerned about watching us? Big Brother? God? The world? Are we to fear man or the One who can destroy both body and soul and cast both into hell?

After all, a knee jerk reaction of self-reform, when we think someone is watching, can be damaging to our soul, as we place the hypocrite’s mask on our face; the motive to behave rightly stems not from love of God and faith in Christ, but out of self-exaltation and self-preservation. In life aren’t the eyes of God–The Judge–greater cause for fear and repentance than the dim eyes of man?

The Gospel

13 Feb

A few years ago, I began the discipline of preaching the gospel to myself daily. Consistency has lacked at times. Repetition has led to some stagnation, thus forcing me to deal with my heart. Nonetheless, preaching to myself has been a valuable discipline to remind me of my need of God’s mighty provision of grace. The following is one of many journal entries where I meditate upon the gospel. It has been edited to improve readability, but it still maintains the original flow of thought.

“Today, as I do most days, I ask about the gospel. What is the gospel? The gospel is God’s good news for sinners—for a sinner like me: the good news that though I’m a sinner, by faith in Jesus Christ I am no longer an enemy of God; it is the good news that I am rescued from impending doom, and that I will be rescued; this salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ—faith in who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and the promise of what he will do; this faith is self-perpetuating, as the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, a present-continuous belief and trust; this faith is in the creator God who came in the flesh and is named Jesus—a name above every name; this faith is in Jesus who is the God-man who came according to prophetic promises uttered long ago; this faith is in the Jesus who came and lived fully pleasing to God the Father; this faith is in Jesus who suffered an un-just death upon a cross, so that whosoever believes in him will not perish, but have imperishable joy both now and forevermore; a faith in Jesus as a substitute for sinners; a faith in him who saved us to a holy calling, not because of works but because of his grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”

“Sinners (I) deserve death and hellfire, but Jesus took the place of sinners (me) and paid the debt sin, our sin, has earned; this faith rests in the atoning work of Jesus on our behalf—children of God walk in this faith. Faith is ever outward and dependent upon God. Children of the Father seek to be well-pleasing unto him because of this faith; his children are not perfecting themselves by the law, but simply living in the faith that desires to do good, which we’ve been prepared to walk in beforehand.”

The daily reminder of God’s gospel in Jesus Christ reminds of the grace in which I stand, as I rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Focusing upon the grace of God in the gospel directs us to the truth of the Word, in which all those who have faith in Jesus Christ live.

Do you think of the gospel daily?

Where is My Identity?

31 Jan

In Mike Gorski’s recent post, “Who Am I?“, he raised a marvelous question regarding our personal identity. Mike wrote, “…The majority of people ignore the fact that they are constantly appraising their personal value based on what they do. It’s engrained in our nature to long for recognition of some kind, anything to feed our longing to be either known or loved. Surprisingly, this is no less true among Christians.”

The indictment fits. This is me. I’m seeking to be identified by what I do, I always have. This is no new revelation for me, but a continual struggle. My identity is in Christ, but I seek it else where. ‘O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ Romans 7:24, I cry out like this more often than not, but thanks be to God! My worth and identity are in Jesus Christ.

I too would like to ask, as did my friend Mike, where is your identity? Where do you find your value, worth, and importance? If it is in the things of the world they are fading and will fail. If your identity is in Jesus Christ then you have an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance in Him. Lord, grant us the strength to understand the greatness of your Love.

Here is a good video to continue the conversation from Desiring God Ministries. Jonathan Parnell conducts an interview with Paul Tripp regarding pastoral ministry and the blindness that we suffer in the midst of this work. I found this highly useful and hope that you will as well, even if you are not in the pastorate.

I Want to Meet Adoniram Judson Part II

21 Jan

This is the related post

My favorite movie of all time is Brave Heart. I’m not exactly sure why, the epic battles scenes are cool. Maybe it is the ultimate story of a man not letting others mess with his woman. More than likely I like the movie because it depicts a man doing something great, while not fainting in the face of adversity. Brave Heart is a movie that typifies the struggle of good against evil where good triumphs through the clouds of difficulty. It also portrays living life with a purpose for the sake of others. In the end, I don’t want to romanticize war and the combating of tyranny. However, perseverance through difficulty always makes a good story.

Yet the very qualities I revere in men like William Wallace (the 13th-century Scottish warrior portrayed by Mel Gibson in Brave Heart) seem ever so deficient in me. The frailty of the human heart is no surprise, but the frailty of my heart always shocks me. If a biography was written about me it might don the title, ‘Brian Johnson—Noodle Heart; Among the Many Who Die so Easy.’

That is why I like Judson; he didn’t faint in the face of adversity. A short book written about him is titled, “Adoniram Judson; How Few There are Who Dies so Hard” written by John Piper (you can find the book here). Now that’s a title to a book, I mean, it projects the making of a good story. Yet the glamour of his story, as one of the first long term Christian missionaries in Burma, is filled with great woe.

He was injected into impossible circumstances that would have led many to quit. Actually a few missionaries came and went before Judson arrived on the scene. In 1814 he entered Burma as a Baptist missionary. He entered a country that would be regarded a ‘closed country’ by today’s standards. That might also explain why William Carey, another great missionary, counseled him to not enter Burma. Political unrest, religious intolerance, constant rebellion, and every missionary who came before him left or died; yet Judson went—and stayed.

In his work Judson lost two of his three wives, not because of divorce, but due to health and harsh living conditions. Judson also buried seven of his thirteen children. He only had one furlough after thirty-three years into his missionary work, which was taken because of illness. He spent a total of 38 years in the field giving his life for the sake of the gospel. I’m not wanting to rewrite Piper’s work here, rather I want to engage with the fortitude that was present in this man. Judson, like Moses, considered the reproach of Christ to be greater wealth than all the wealth of New England. He lost his life for the sake of the mission of Christ and the church. I want that. Neither because I’m a masochist, nor because I’m ‘Mr. Super Spiritual.’ I want this kind of intestinal-spiritual fortitude because I know that Jesus is better than everything.

Yet with all the blunt-candor I can muster, I’m relatively squishy. When it comes to rubber meeting the road I often become Mr. Ninny. These are not references to my mid-section, though there might be a corollary, but it is a reference to my spiritual toughness. As a rule, I’m a child of my generation; weak and selfish. I’m not trivializing a serious topic; we live in an era of trivial things, in which I often succumb to the trivial. And when I acquiesce to the inconsequential that which is truly consequential seems mountainous.

Instead of trivializing I’m contemplating the fortitude of faith necessary to sustain a man 38 years in an agonizing ministry. Judson leaned into the fight entrusting himself to Jesus. He didn’t seem to feel sorry for himself, but always resolved the difficulty of his work by fully trusting in the Lord. Maybe Judson did feel sorry for himself, I don’t know fully. The evidence of a life lived where he didn’t extract himself from Burma, but pressed on in his call to ministry doesn’t speak of self-pity. We have the overwhelming tendency to run to comfort rather than lean into the fray. Judson teaches us by his life that Jesus is better than life. This is why I would like to meet this man.

I want to leave you with these considerations:

  • What would lead a man to give up everything for the sake of the gospel?
  • What fortifies a person enough to endure such hardship and pain?
  • Is Jesus Christ truly better than everything?

We will consider these questions in another post.

Listen

18 Jan

After six frustrating hours, of laptop updates, I finally had to concede to the bitter-sweet loss of information. On the sweet hand I can more readily blog and upload sermon audio, but on the bitter hand this week’s sermon audio is lost. So much for continuity of information. Nevertheless, I press on. Literally I press on, as in I’m going to post–or ‘press’ in the WordPress world–a little bit of edification for you, the reader.

If one cannot listen to my sermon, then I want to provide an article that is especially useful. The article is written by Dr. Ted Tripp. It can be found here on the Ligonier Ministries website. listen

The subject of Dr. Tripp’s article is on Listening at Home. To listen is truly a lost skill in our culture. We hear many things, but often at the expense of those to whom we should listen to the most, our family. Proverbs 18:2 teaches that, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. ” The problem with much of what we hear is that it’s a fool’s expression from those whom listen little and give many opinions. In turn we are conditioned to listen poorly; thus much information is spewed out at record breaking levels without much true listening. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not innocent victims, but willing participants in this cycle. Also, I’m rather sure I’m the pot calling the kettle black as a pastor and writer.

Take the time today to listen before offering up opinions, especially to those whom you love. The art of listening is something that must constantly be worked on. It is only shameful folly to hear and not listen, or to speak before really considering what the other person has to say. That same chapter of proverbs v. 13 reads, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. ” To write no more, take the next few minutes and read, Listening at Home. 

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