He Knows Your Name…So Pray Like It!

Today (Sunday) I touched on something that I never realized in Matthew 6.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6, ESV)

What does it mean that God is in secret? You may recall that I said that we also see this word in Romans 2:28-29: “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” (ESV) The word “inwardly” is the same as the word “secret” in Matthew 6:6. Paul is saying that you are who you are inwardly. Your outward appearance is just that–an outward appearance. It may, or may not, be reflective of the heart.

The only man who ever lived who had absolutely no distinction between his heart and his outward appearance is Jesus. In other words, you could take Jesus’ words and say them like this: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is who he is all the time, inside and out, never changing.” In theology this is call the immutability of God–the reality that God never changes.

Prayer takes us into the very heart of God. And he will let you know Him. This a tremendous thought. The king of heaven knows you and is willing for you to know him. How should this affect how you pray?

Pray intimately. Tell God your deepest needs and your greatest desires. Go into your inner room and be yourself with Him. He knows what you need before you ask him. A few months ago I was headed to preach at chapel at Fruitland. On my way, God sat down in the Jeep beside me (not physically of course). But his presence was so strong, his grace so great that I couldn’t stop crying. I was listening to this song. Let God speak to you too.

Getting Into the Word

A habit (good or bad) begins with the first step. The goal of spiritual disciplines is not for you to turn over a new leaf or make a New Year’s resolution: spiritual disciplines begin with a single step, and then another…and another. If you don’t have a practice of daily time in the Word, these simple next steps can get you there.

man facing road

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. (Chinese Proverb)

Pray
Pray for God to give you a hunger for His Word. If you don’t have a desire that causes you to turn off Netflix or get out of bed earlier, pray that God will give that to you. He will answer that prayer.

Start small
The Bible is a large book (actually it’s 66 books in one!). Choose a book of the Bible and decide to read one chapter a day. (John is a great place to start in the New Testament; Proverbs in the Old Testament).

Start soon
Start today. Not tomorrow. Today. You’ve probably heard the Chinese proverb: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Choose a time. Choose a place. Start today.

Succeed
Know what success is and isn’t. Success in Scripture intake isn’t understanding everything you read. As a matter of fact, you seldom understand everything you read in any book you pick up. Before you begin to read ask God to speak to you. He will. I promise. He speaks through his Word.

Success is reading the Bible. Success is taking that first step, and the next, and the next.

Make Room for One More

After the early service Sunday, Zach Gaddy, who now lives in Charlotte and attends a dynamic church there, said that his church has this focus right now: make room for one more. I love that! If you’ve ever enjoyed a meal around a crowded table, filled with family and friends, you know the feeling of warmth and togetherness.

woman preparing christmas tableSo we’re asking you to make room for one more. That’s the focus of the “Who’s Your One?” initiative. Who can you bring to the table? Who will you set a place for?

Today, I’m officially beginning my 30 days of prayer. Here is the prayer from day one:

God, I know there is only one way to salvation. Jesus is clear; He is the only hope for a lost and dying world, and that includes ________________. His/Her salvation depends on acknowledging Jesus is who He says He is, and He alone is the source of salvation. Use the people and circumstances in _______________’s life today to point him/her to the reality of Jesus. Give me courage and boldness to call ___________________to faith in Jesus when the opportunity arises, and help me make it clear there is no other way to be saved.

I honestly can’t wait to see who is going to slide up to our table here at Grace in the next 30 days…and especially on Sunday, October 6.

When You Fast

Fasting is sacrificial. It is giving up something of value for something of greater value. Technically in Scripture fasting always referred to going without food for a certain period of time. Fasting, by extension, can refer to giving up certain foods, specific comforts, or oft-used technology.

Kinds of Fasting

Normal: abstaining from food, solid or liquid, but not from water (Jesus in Luke 4)
Partial: restriction of diet but not total abstention (Daniel)
Absolute: abstaining from food and water (Esther, Paul’s conversion)
Corporate: public (Day of Atonement); people in sorrow and affliction over their sins; times of distress (2 Chronicles 20:1-4)

Why Fast?

Fasting reveals what controls us. (Psalm 69:10)
Fasting reveals what sustains us. (Matthew 4:4)
Fasting reveals what balances us. (1 Corinthians 6:12, 1 Corinthians 9:27, Psalm 35:13)

Where to Begin

Partial 24-hour fast from food: lunch to lunch
24-hour fast from anything: social media, sugar, etc
Fast with someone else: they will provide strength and accountability

Justin Earley writes, “Fasting is a way to resist the original sin of trying to eat our way to happiness and to force ourselves to look to God for our fullness.” Here’s my encouragement. Choose one of the beginning points above, share your commitment to fast with a good friend or family member, and do it. Fill your fasting time with a focus on God, especially during the time you would normally eat. Sing. Pray. Serve.

Watch God work.

Better Together: The Why and How of Christian Accountability

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13, ESV)

Two surprising phrases occur in just one sentence: brothers and evil, unbelieving heart. Brothers (and sisters) in Christ can have an evil, unbelieving heart. Gradually, over time, you can come to believe something else entirely. Sin has a numbing effect, a hardening of the heart and the conscience. Or a sudden disappointment, an unexpected life-changing circumstance can rock your world and wreck your faith. This isn’t a new development. In the early church people were “prone to wander, prone to leave the God they loved.”

What do you do? Exhort one another. Every day. An exhortation is an encouraging warning. In order to carry out this command of Scripture, two realities have to be present: you must be in the position to give an encouraging warning, and you must be willing to receive one. You need an accountability partner (or partners). Here are three simple principles.

Relationship

Is there anyone in your life who makes you better? (Men with men, women with women). Who is willing to be bold enough to ask you difficult questions and transparent enough to answer difficult questions? The best accountability partners are those who, in C. S. Lewis’ words say to one another, “What! You too? I though I was the only one.” Accountability and friendship go hand in hand. If you don’t have this person, pray for this person. Discern God’s will. He is able and willing to send someone to walk with you.

Rhythm

Once you have someone willing to hold you accountable, you must establish a regular rhythm of accountability. Notice that the writer of Hebrews says, “every day.” Perhaps you need daily accountability. That isn’t a sign of weakness–it is a sign of strength, a willingness to know and be known, to grow and help someone else grow. Establish a rhythm of checking in with one another.

Real Questions

Ask one another questions pertinent to your walk with God and your areas of struggle. Rather than providing a list, here’s a link to a blog by Ed Stetzer. (https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2008/may/accountability-questions.html) It is the most comprehensive list of accountability questions I’ve ever seen. Choose from these questions. If none are specific enough to your own struggles, make them specific. For example, if you struggle with gossip, have an accountability question about it. If you worry, make sure someone checks you on it. If you battle lust, be specific about both your thoughts and your habits.

Start today. That’s the urgency of Hebrews 3. Waiting until tomorrow gives sin another day to harden your heart.

Laughter in the Walls…A Vision for My Home, a Prayer for My Kids

Yesterday (June 16, Father’s Day) I shared a poem and a prayer. The poem was written by Bob Benson, an architect. The prayer, I wrote, as a prayer for dads for our families. Enjoy them both.

Laughter in the Walls

I pass a lot of houses on my way home—
some pretty,
some expensive,
some inviting—

But my heart always skips a beat
when I turn down the road
and see my house nestled against the hill.

I guess I’m especially proud
of the house and the way it looks because
I drew the plans myself.
It started out large enough for us—
I even had a study—
two teenaged boys now reside in there
and it had a guest room,
my girls and nine dolls are permanent guests.
It had a small room Peg
had hoped would be her sewing room—
The two boys swinging on the dutch door
have claimed this room as their own.
So it really doesn’t look right now
as if I’m much of an architect.

But it will get larger again—
one by one they will go away
to work,
to college,
to service,
to their own houses,

And then there will be room—
a guest room,
a study,
and a sewing room
for just the two of us.

But it won’t be empty—
every corner
every room
every nick
in the coffee table
      will be crowded with memories.
Memories of picnics,
parties, Christmases,
bedside vigils, summers,
fires, winters, going barefoot,
leaving for vacation, cats,
conversations, black eyes,
graduations, first dates,
ball games, arguments,
washing dishes, bicycles,
dogs, boat rides,
getting home from vacation,
meals, rabbits, and
a thousand other things
that still fill the lives
of those who would raise five.

And Peg and I will sit
quietly by the fire
and listen to the
laughter in the walls.
Bob Benson

A prayer from a dad for his kids…

Father, I come to you as the ultimate Father and I only an earthly representative. I pray for my family. They are yours, a gift from you to me. I pray that they will know the gospel, live by grace, and grow to love you even more. I pray your bright future for them. Give me wisdom beyond my years, strength beyond my capacity, and grace beyond what I deserve, that I may be to them, in my limited way, who you are to me in your unlimited way. In Jesus’ strong and saving name. Amen.

Truth in Love: Pictures from Africa

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… (Ephesians 4:15, ESV)

We all need truth-tellers in our lives. Accountability. Someone who is willing to tell us the hard things. Here Paul tells us that truth-telling is directly connected to growth. The tense of the word “speaking” implies two things: we will never arrive at a place where we do not need “truth-telling” in our lives. We are a work in progress. The finish line is on the edge of eternity, not at some maturity stage here on earth. Second, truth-telling and growth happen simultaneously. While others speak truth to us and we listen, we grow. It is synchronous, not sequential.

Last Sunday I shared about the Beersheba Project (http://beershebaproject.org), a place in Senegal, Africa unlike any other I’ve seen. The Senegalese believe their land is cursed and therefore won’t yield crops. However their land is barren because animals, mostly cows and goats, roam the land and eat everything. In 2002, a man had a vision to do something about this misconception. He built a large fence around a large parcel of land and waited. Sure enough, the growth came.

DSC_0176

Notice the barrenness of the desert…but the green on the horizon. That’s Beersheba

DSC_0169

A look from a tower inside Beersheba

I shared that truth-telling works just like that fence: it keeps out the goats that would devour the vegetation in your life and allows your life to grow, to be lush and green, to be vibrant. You will never grow without the truth. But with the truth, sunflowers bloom in the desert. Green grass grows in the once barren soil of your life. Birds sing. Life makes sense.

Today I came across this prayer. You might need to pray it too…like I do.

          I need the power of the gospel to grant me greater and quicker freedom when people need to share stuff with me. I want to own, grieve, and repent of my defensiveness, Lord Jesus. Help me welcome feedback from my spouse about my attitude, choices, and excesses. Help me to hear your voice in things my children want to share with me about the past and the present.
May my friendships be an environment in which we love each other enough to do ongoing heart work. Grant us fun, but grant us growth. Don’t let me ignore concerns and corrections, from mentors, “underlings,” neighbors, even “angels” you send to me.
I want the Bible to read me (and not just me read it), exposing my sin and brokenness, and revealing more and more and more of the riches of the gospel. There’s no way I’ll make “my home among the wise” without having my heart at home in your mercy, grace, and peace.
Lord Jesus, it’s because you made yourself of no reputation, becoming sin for me on the cross, that I don’t have to live for my own reputation. Because I’m no longer guilty or condemned for my sin, I can live in the freedom of convict-ability, teach-ability, and humility. So very Amen I pray, in your gracious and tenacious name. (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/scotty-smith/a-prayer-for-becoming-more-teachable-and-less-defensive/)

(A special thanks to Emilie Gaddy for the photographs)

The Valley of Baca

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy

to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah

(Psalm 84:1-4, ESV)

Our souls were made for God and only He can satisfy them. Whether we realize it or not, we long for God. We may fill the desire for God with earthly pursuits, good and bad, but at the end of the day we are still left longing for God. The Psalmists say that “even the sparrow” finds a home in God’s house. If they do, so should you. When God’s presence becomes your dwelling place you will be blessed.
The word blessed at a minimum means happy, to its fullest extent means satisfied.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose hearts are the highway to Zion. (verse 5)

Highways cover the map of every human heart.

Highways to possessions. Highways to relationships. Highways to bank accounts. Highways to addictions. Highways to acceptance. Every human heart has deep roads to oft-traveled destinations. If you want to be satisfied, if you want to be happy, your heart must have an often traveled highway to God.
As they go through the valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs.
The early rain also covers it with pools. (verse 6)
This is the only time in Scripture the valley of Baca is mentioned. Scholars can only guess its location. Its meaning however is clear. Baca means tears. The valley of Baca is the valley of tears.

The highway to the heart of God sometimes travels through the valley of tears.

Sometimes the detour of disappointment brings a flood of tears. At times the difficulties of death, of unexpected divorce, of unbelievable diagnoses, bring us to our knees. It is in these times that well-worn paths to God become life-giving. Rather than being cesspools of disappointment, the tears become springs of hope. They are early rains promising a later harvest.
If you’re in the Valley of Baca today, don’t lose sight of Zion. Stay on the well-worn highway to the presence of God. Go from “strength to strength.” Don’t be afraid to ask God to “hear your prayer” and “look on your face.” (verse 8) God does not lose sight of you–even though you cannot see Him. Claim the promises and restate the affirmations of the Psalmists:
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Psalm 84:10-12, ESV)

What Makes Good Friday So Good?

If you’ve lived into your teenage years, you have regrets. The definition of regret is “to be very sorry for.” We all have things we are “very sorry for.” Some are more costly than others. Some cause us to grimace, others bring us to tears.

Regrets are like an overdrawn checking account. Every time you think you’ve gotten the balance out of the red, another consequence, another ripple effect, another thought, puts you below the line. You sink into despair, wondering if you will ever get this charge off of your account?

in 1865, sitting in a choir loft with head bowed while her pastor was praying, Elvina Hall came to terms with her regrets–and ours too:

I hear the Savior say, thy strength indeed is small.
Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in me thine all in all.

Chorus
Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow.

For nothing good have I, whereby thy grace to claim.
I’ll wash my garments white, in the blood of Calvary’s lamb.

And now complete in Him, my robe, His righteousness,
Close sheltered ’neath His side, I am divinely blest.

Lord, now indeed I find, Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots, and melt the heart of stone.

When from my dying bed, my ransomed soul shall rise,
“Jesus died my soul to save,” shall rend the vaulted skies.

And when before the throne I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down, all down at Jesus’ feet.

Good Friday is good because the only good man who ever lived took your regrets and nailed them to the cross. He didn’t pay part of your bill, he paid it all. He didn’t die for some of your sins, he died for all of them.

Grace forces you to feel the pain of your regrets, but never asks you to pay for them, because the price has already been paid by Jesus.—Paul David Tripp

If on this Good Friday you’re feeling the pain of your regrets, that’s grace. If you’re trying to pay the bill yourself, that’s impossible. Peter, who had a list of regrets, even denying he ever knew Jesus, later wrote:

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:22-24, ESV, emphasis mine)

Take five and half minutes and listen to this song. Two minutes in I was in tears. Four minutes in I was covered with goose bumps. Good Friday is so so good.

But Now

Introduction

I did not grow up in the thick of the racial divide that created separate schools, that required black people to ride on the back of the bus, that prohibited black people from drinking from the same water fountains as white people and using the same bathrooms, that painted black people as less than human. The very idea of such a society is unthinkable to me—yet it existed, not too many years ago.

I could not imagine our worship services without people of all colors of skin and socioeconomic backgrounds. I’m so glad you’re here. Why do I begin by talking about that? Because it is the closest I can get to understanding the divide that existed in Paul’s day between Jews and Gentiles.

And I must say that the divide wasn’t created by God. It was created by an exclusive understanding of the law. Yes, God chose Israel. Yes, they were his people. But he clearly said for them to love and care for the orphan, the widow and the foreigner.

God promised that, through Abraham, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. By Jesus’ day, the leaders of the Jewish faith had taken those promises and created an exclusive class that excluded anyone but them. Listen to how Paul describes the plight of Gentiles—non-Jews.

The divide was also created by the Gentiles. They did not seek after God. They worshiped their own gods. As a matter of fact, Paul is writing to the Ephesians who had the massive temple for the worship of Diana.

Who was Artemis The supposed goddess of fertility
Who worshipped her? She was probably the most worshiped deity in Asia and perhaps the world during Paul’s time.
What was worship like? Hundreds of eunuch priests, virgin priestesses, and religious prostitutes served her. Worship rituals were quite erotic.
By what other names was Artemis known? “Queen of Heaven”, “Savior”, and “Mother Goddess”
What role did Ephesus have in Artemis worship? Ephesus was considered neokoros for Artemis, which meant the city was the center for Artemis worship and responsible for maintaining the cult’s purity of worship.
How did Ephesus benefit financially from the worship of Artemis? The cult brought great wealth to the citizens of Ephesus because the temple of Artemis became the world’s largest bank during that time.
What were Artemis festivals like? Devotees came from all over the world to worship and celebrate during her festivals. Huge processions honored her statues. Celebrations were held with music, dancing, singing, dramatic presentations, and chanting of allegiance.
What were Artemis statues like? They portrayed Artemis as having many breasts–a symbol of her fertility. The main statue in her temple may have been a black meteorite because she was said to have fallen from the sky.
What was the Artemis temple like? The temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
What attracted the people to Artemis? The promise of fertility, long life, sexual fulfillment, and protection during pregnancy and childbirth; the seductive sexuality of her worship.

 

Who we were.

Paul describes the condition of Gentiles, all non-Jews, with five different terms. None of them are hopeful.

  • Separated from Christ—at least the Jews had the promise of a Messiah
  • Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel—estranged; no possibility of relationship
  • Strangers to the covenants of promise—Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic
  • Having no hope
  • Without God in the world—Gentiles in Paul’s day believed in all kinds of gods.

The absence of hope is a powerful thing. I will share two stories, one that illustrates hope’s presence, the other that shows its disappearance.

Elmer Bendiner tells the remarkable story of a B-17 bomber that flew a bombing mission over Germany in the latter days of WWII. The plane was hit several times by shells and flak, with some of the hits directly in the fuel tank. Miraculously, the bomber did not explode. When it landed, eleven unexploded 20mm shells were taken out of the fuel tank! The shells were dismantled, and to the amazement of everyone, all were empty of explosives. Inside of one shell was a note written in Czech. Translated, it read, “This is all we can do for you now.” A member of the Czech underground, working in a German munitions factory, had omitted the explosives in at least 11 of the 20mm shells on his assembly line. That worker must have wondered often if the quiet work he was doing to subvert the Nazi war effort was going to make any difference whatsoever to the outcome of the war.

On Decmeber 12, 1927 an S-4 submarine was rammed by a ship off the coast of Massachusetts. It sank immediately. The entire crew of 40 was trapped underneath. Every effort was made to rescue the crew. In the awful December weather, crews made heroic efforts to get to six known survivors. Near the end of the ordeal, a dee-sea diver, who was doing everything in his power to find a way for the six survivor’s release, thought he heard a tapping on the steel wall of the sunken sub. He placed his helmet up against the side of the vessel and realized it was Morse Code. The message being tapped from within: Is…there…any…hope?”

Someone has said, “We can live forty days without food, eight days without water, four minutes without air, but only a few seconds without hope.”

Before Christ we were without hope.

What Jesus did

But now.  I know what your tendency is. Your past life plays through your mind like a broken record. You can remember the ridiculous things you did, the people you hurt, the disappointments you caused.

The prevailing word in the middle of this section is “peace.” Notice what Jesus did. You who once were far off have been brought near.

The same phrase “far off” describes the boy who was a long way from his father.

(http://blueridgeheritagetrail.com/explore-a-trail-of-heritage-treasures/chapel-of-the-prodigal-ben-long-fresco/)

For he himself is our peace. Peace is well-being in the widest sense; harmony between individuals; wholeness, particularly within human relationships.

Peace is not simply getting along with someone else. That’s tolerating someone. Peace is overwhelmingly positive.

So how is Jesus our peace? Notice his actions. Jesus did something to bring us peace.

  • Jesus broke down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.The dividing wall was the ceremonial and moral law that we could not keep. It was thrown up in our faces.
  • Jesus annulled the law. Jesus certainly did not abolish the moral law as a standard of behavior; but he did abolish it as a way of salvation. Whenever the law is viewed in this light it is divisive. For we cannot obey it, however hard we try. Therefore it separates us from God and from each other. “But Jesus himself perfectly obeyed the law in his life, and in his death bore the consequences of our disobedience.” John Stott
  • Jesus created a new humanity. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11, ESV)Racial, religious, social and cultural barriers have been abolished in Christ. A new human race.
  • Jesus reconciled both Jews and Gentiles to God. “Christ in his death was slain, but the slain was a slayer too.” Armitage Robinson
  • Jesus preached peace. Post resurrection appearances (Peter!)

Who we are

  1. We are citizens of God’s kingdom
    • So then you are no longer aliens but you are fellow citizens with the saints. (Ephesians 2:19, ESV)
    • We no longer live on a passport, but we really have our birth certificates, we really do belong.”—D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones
  2. We are children in God’s family.
    • And members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:19, ESV)
  3. We are stones in God’s temple. 
    • built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22, ESV)
    • Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets—foundation is most important; teaching role. You cannot worship who you do not know.
    • Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone—a cornerstone holds up two walls, Christ joins both Jews and Gentiles and keeps the building in line.The temple had massive cornerstones. One excavated stone measured almost 39 feet! Jesus Christ is essential to both the unity and the growth of the church. Unless the church is constantly and securely related to Christ, the church’s unity will disintegrate and its growth either stop or go wild.
    • Into a dwelling place for God—a habitation; an abode. A temple. The temple in Jerusalem had for nearly 1,000 years been the focal point of Israel’s identity as the people of God. Now the focal point is the people of God.

God is not tied to holy buildings but to holy people.