How to Pray When You’ve Blown It

Avid notetakers told me Sunday was a note-taking frenzy. I hear you. Here are highlights from Sunday’s sermon. Take whatever you want, cut and paste it, and hopefully God will imprint it on your hearts. I love seeing pens and journals in hand–love it! You guys preach me to death!

  • Has it ever occurred to you that, when we sin, we hurt the people we love the most.
  • Sin will take you farther than you intended to go, keep you longer than you intended to stay, and cost you more than you intended to pay.
  1. Own your sin
    • Transgression—going beyond a limit that has been set
    • Sin—missing the mark because you deliberately aim at a wrong one
    • Iniquity—lack of integrity; failure to fulfill the standard of righteousness
    • God will not forgive what you will not forsake.
    • Have you ever owned the fact that you are a sinner by nature?
    • Are you intentionally aiming at the wrong mark—living in rebellion?
    • Are you right now going beyond a limit that has been set?
  2. Be real about your temptations.
    • Godly sinners pray.
    • No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV)
    • And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:13, ESV)
    • Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41, ESV)
    • And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! (Luke 17:1, ESV)
    • God will not redeem what you will not renounce.
    • Be real with God and others.
  3. Follow God’s counsel.
    • Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8, ESV)
    • 3 principles of sowing and reaping: You reap what you sow.  You reap after you sow.  You reap more than you sow.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!  (Psalm 32:1-2; 10-11)

How can David call himself righteous after everything he had done? Was it his righteous deeds? Not all all! He is only righteous, because God, through his forgiveness, has made him righteous. So it is with you. If you have trusted Jesus, if you’ve ever owned your sin, you must take it to the cross. There you will see Jesus hanging, bleeding, dying for you.  If you will renounce your sin, receive Jesus as your Savior, he will come immediately into your life. He will be your Savior and your Lord. He will declare you righteous. Only then will be you extremely happy (blessed).

When God Preaches to Me…While I’m Preaching

Sunday in the second service something remarkable happened. I’ve studied Romans 7 for years. God used this passage to rock my world many years ago and I have referred to it for years while counseling others. But God showed me something Sunday that I had never seen. It may be so obvious to you–but came to me near the end of Sunday’s sermon. The part in bold is what I’ve never before realized quite as powerfully as Sunday. (If you missed Sunday, you can hear the sermon here:

So, as strange as this, I’m gonna quote from my own sermon:

Unless you realize that there is a victor who lives within you now, because you belong to Christ, who is also outside of you–the victor is both within and without–you will never win the battle over sin. When did he become victorious?  Jesus came, sinless one, and died on the cross. On the cross he didn’t have just one of your sins attached to himself, he had all of your sins attached to himself. He didn’t just have what you’ve done and plays through your mind like a broken record that you can’t get rid of, but for every human being who’s ever walked on the planet–imagine the multiplied guilt–put it on Christ on the cross and on the cross he died for those sins–every single one of them–once and for all.

But listen to this. As awesome as that is, if it ended there Paul said, “we are of all people most to be pitied.” That would be horrible–that the weight of our sin crushed him and that was it.

Friday followed by Saturday. The disciples fled. Mary cried. Joseph and Nicodemus buried his body. Judas is dead. Peter denied. Hope seems lost until early Sunday morning. Because early Sunday morning your sin was not powerful enough to keep him in the tomb! It wasn’t! And if your sin was not powerful enough to keep him in the tomb then, is your sin powerful enough to keep him down in your life today? NO!

This is why Paul writes in Romans 8:11:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

So what is tripping you up? Wrecking your life? Derailing you? Jeremy Camp has put this brilliantly. Take a few minutes to listen:

O The Difference a Day Makes

Twins. Not one child, but two. And though they came from the same womb, they grew to be worlds apart. Their names are probably familiar to you. Esau, born first, loved to hunt. Isaac, his father, loved him for it. Jacob, riding out of the womb on the heel of Esau, hung out at the tents—a homebody of sorts. Rebekah loved him.

Esau could hunt, Jacob cook. Esau was passionate, emotional and sporadic. Jacob, cunning and deceitful. Isaac kept on loving Esau, Rebekah continued to favor Jacob.

One day. How a day changes everything. Esau, as the firstborn owned the birthright. He owned it for no other reason than the fact he was born first. As owner of the birthright, he knew that several privileges awaited him at his father’s death. First of all, he would receive twice as much of his father’s property as any other heir. His wealth was secure. Second, he received authority over the other family members. He became the new patriarch, the newly respected leader of the family. His authority would be in tact. Finally, he would receive the much-desired blessing from the father which secured his relationship with Almighty God. His spiritual heritage was pronounced. All because he owned the birthright.

One day. Esau came home from the field—exhausted, famished, weary. Almost home, he smelled lunch. Jacob was practicing his culinary arts again. The aroma of the freshly cooked stew floated through the dry desert air. Esau’s empty stomach screamed for food. His tired, aching body begged for relief. His mind listened to nothing else but their voices.

“Jacob, please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished,” Esau begged.

Jacob had plenty of time to fill his stomach and his heart with a devious plan. Seeing Esau’s desperate condition, he went for the jugular.

“First, sell me your birthright.”

Esau’s eyes grew larger than his stomach. Hunger overwhelmed him. Forgetting that in his father’s house was plenty of food, in his father’s house were servants who could have responded to his request for food, he chose a swallow of lentil soup— a simple stew of red beans. Where he could have enjoyed a leg of lamb, he gulped a mouthful of beans. When he could have feasted at Isaac’s table, he begged at his brother’s trailside soup kitchen. Overcome with emotion, Esau responded:

“Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?”

Jacob, wanting to clearly understand that he had so easily won the coveted birthright asked Esau for further assurance. “Swear to me.” The steam from the bean soup slowly wafted to Esau’s nostrils. Swearing that Jacob could have his birthright, Esau lunged for the bowl of soup.

Jacob served Esau for the last time. From now on, Esau would serve Jacob. With each swallow of the soup Esau’s birthright disintegrated into nothing. A full stomach gave way to an empty heart. Esau despised his birthright.

Family Discussion: What should Esau have done differently? What did Jacob do wrong? What kinds of decisions can we make hastily (like Esau) and end up making a mess rather than trusting God?


“Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth”— let Israel now say— “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me. The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.” The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked. May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward! (Psalm 129:1-5 ESV)

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 9.51.38 PMI must admit that I write this blog as a white pastor trying to understand the plight of a black pastor–a black pastor who was gunned down while pouring into ten of his parishioners Wednesday night. Ralph West is a black pastor from Houston, Texas whom I podcast. In January he preached a sermon on Psalm 129 called “Haters.” He says it better than I can. “Listen” in to a few excerpts.

It’s one thing to read about haters…it’s something else to be hated. Haters hate. And nobody’s off limits from being hated. Psalm 129 begins with the reality of haters. Ishmael derides the promised child Isaac. He’s a hater. What God blesses God always increases. You would think with all that blessing you would be off limits to any kind of ridicule. The enemies of Israel tried at every attempt to exterminate their existence. Egypt tries to drown them–in return they are drowned. The Assyrians come up against them to try to starve them and God breaks their back. The Babylonians exile them and God emancipates them. The Persians and their soothsayers throw Daniel into the lions den and God closes the mouth of the lions and opens their mouths to eat the very people who threw them in. Then in the 20th century six million Jews were exterminated and yet Israel became a nation again.

People are always looking for ways to handle haters. When haters come against you, read Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” Or Psalm 59: “the Lord delivered me from my enemy and gave me victory over their power.” Or read Isaiah who says, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.” You don’t defeat a hater by hating–you give the hater something they don’t know how to deal with: “The LORD is my light and my salvation!

When the Psalmist says, “They plowed my back…” he is talking about suffering and abuse, mistreatment and ill treatment. Here’s the line that needs your attention: but the Lord is righteous. Things were bad for Israel, yet they were able to say in the midst of ill treatment, “But the Lord is righteous.” Whatever evil and wrong comes your way, God may not make it right when you want him to, but according to his divine calendar, God will make it right.

Stop trying to fight haters with hate. God will uproot them and they cannot abide with you. Martin Luther King said, “Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It’s like abiding by the law, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ If we deal with haters the way haters deal with us, we’re going to have a blind and toothless society.” You have to let the Lord deal with the haters.

When hate comes your way don’t think God’s mad at you–He’s trying to make you. He’s not trying to break you, he’s trying to bless you. And remember you’ve got a Jesus who’s dealt with it.

To listen to the entire sermon (and it’s 40 minutes well spent), go to:

You’d Better Run!

Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14 ESV)

fts defines flee as to run away, as from danger or pursuers. Idolatry is dangerous. Fleeing is the only sane response. Making it practical, here are five ways to flee idolatry:

  1. End ungodly relationships. The right relationship with the wrong person is still the wrong relationship.  Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20 ESV)
  2. End ungodly habits. Stephen Covey said, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) What you do today will determine who you are tomorrow.
  3. Don’t just run from–run to. If you flee idolatry without running to God, you will replace your old idol with another one.  The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10 ESV)
  4. Begin godly relationships. You are not designed to walk alone. From the beginning, God knew Adam should not be alone so he made a helper for him. John called this walking in the light:  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 ESV)
  5. If you fall down, don’t freak out, ‘fess up.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 ESV) God is faithful when you fail. Run to him.

The Room

In that place between wakefulness and dreams,

filesI found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features save for the one wall covered with small index card files.  They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order.  But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and right to left as far as the eye could see, had very different headings. As I walked up to the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read, “People I Have Liked.” I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one. And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my entire life.  The actions of my every moment, big and small, were written in a detail my memory couldn’t match. A sense of wonder and curiosity mixed with horror stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content.  Some brought joy and sweet memories, others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching.

A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I Have Betrayed.” The titles ranged from common, everyday things to the not-so-common “Books I Have  Read,”  “Lies I Have Told”, “Comfort I Have Given”, “Jokes I Have Laughed At”. Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: “Things I Have Yelled At My Brothers And Sisters.” Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done In Anger”,  “Things I Have Muttered  Under My Breath At My Parents”. I never ceased to be surprised by the contents.  Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I had hoped.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had time in my 17 years to write each of these thousands or millions of cards? But each card confirmed the truth. Each card was written in my own handwriting. Each card was signed with my signature. When I pulled out the file marked “Songs I Have Listened To”, I realized the files grew to contain their contents.  The cards were packed tightly and yet after two or three yards, I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music, but more by the vast amount of time I knew that file represented.  When I came to the file marked “Lustful Thoughts”, I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch not willing to test its size, and drew out a card; I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think such a moment had been recorded. A feeling of humiliation and anger ran through my body.

One thought dominated my mind “No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!” In an insane frenzy, I yanked the file out.   Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards.

But as I took the file at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it. Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot.

Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh. That was when I saw it. The file bore “People I Have Shared The Gospel With”. The handle was brighter than those around it – newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than 3 inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.

And then the tears came. I began to weep. Sobs so deep that the hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.

Then as I looked up through my tears, I saw Him enter the room. No, please, not HIM.  Anyone but Jesus.   I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response. The few times I looked at His face I saw such sadness that it tore at my heart. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one?

Finally, He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again.

He walked over and put his arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me. Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file, and, one by one began to sign His name over mine on each card.

“No!” I shouted, rushing to Him. All I could find to say was “No, no”, as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn’t be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of   JESUS   covered mine. It was written in blood. He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said,


“I stood up, and He led me out of the room.
There was no lock on the door. There were still cards to be written…….

(by Joshua Harris)

The Unthinkable

When I heard the news I was floored. How could a pilot intentionally fly a plane into the mountain in the French Alps? And the tormenting final minutes the passengers endured–the agonizing attempt by the main pilot to get into the cockpit. It’s unthinkable. The experts are hard at work trying to figure out what could have motivated copilot Andreas Lubitz to kill himself and 149 others. Thirteen of the passengers were exchange students returning home from a year-long stint away from their parents. It is gut-wrenching.

What was going through his mind? We will never know the details, but we do know his human condition. And though we don’t like to admit it, apart from Christ we share that same human condition:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8 ESV)

Notice the qualities of the mind set on the flesh. Death. Hostile to God. Unable to submit to God’s law. Unable to please God. Lubitz adds his name to a list of people who fit that description. Saddam Hussein. Adolf Hitler. Osama Bin Laden. Kim Il Sung. Joseph Stalin. And, believe it or not, you–before Christ.

I know…it takes my breath away too. Our capacity to sin is only limited by God’s grace to save. What Lubitz did pains me, breaks my heart, and makes me angry. And I’m saddened to say that things I have done have pained me, broken my heart and made me angry.

Today, pray for the families of those who died.

And thank God for his grace–grace that saves us from doing the unthinkable.

Sin’s Dangerous Undertow: God’s Gracious Rescuer

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25 ESV)

Gary Smalley tells the story. He was in Cancun, Mexico, with his wife Norma, and two of their children and their families.

The morning was overcast and Norma and I were reading by the pool listening to the waves crash not far from us. I decided to take a break from reading and jump in the ocean to wake up. The water was as warm as the pool; temperature-wise it was the best ocean water I’d ever been in. However, something very serious happened to me during that swim that I certainly didn’t expect.

As I was walking toward the beach to enjoy a brief swim, I noticed there were some flags that were posted along the beach—some red, some yellow. There weren’t many people on the beach so I couldn’t ask anyone about them. I really didn’t pay any attention to them because the water seemed so inviting and shallow that I didn’t think there would be any problems. I didn’t know those flags were riptide-warning flags.

I eased into the water. The waves were large and coming every 5 seconds. I was frolicking, jumping up and down, but I was bouncing out further and further into the ocean. In a short time, I was up to my chest but still had my feet on the sand. When a big wave would come and cover me I was able to jump up most of the way. But with each wave there was a current that was pulling me further out; I didn’t really notice it, however, because I was walking away from the beach.

Suddenly I realized that the water was up to my chin and recognized that the current was pulling me out. I decided that I was going to start swimming back to shore, but I couldn’t get in. The current was so strong and the waves were coming with such force that I felt caught, and was being dragged out farther and farther. I didn’t think there was a problem at first, because I’m pretty strong, and even though I’m 60, I’m a good swimmer. However, the harder I tried, the more I saw that I was not making any progress. I tried swimming under water, but when I came up for air I was hit by a giant wave and I started to swallow water. I started to panic. I was getting tired and I realized I was in a mess. The waves crashed over me and I was taking in too much water. I had no energy left. I looked to see if anybody was around that I could scream to, but the waves were so loud that a scream wouldn’t have been heard. I waved my arm up in the air to see if somebody could see me, and I noticed in a split second a young lifeguard sitting in a tower that I never before noticed. He saw me and waved back. He then jumped out of the tower, ran to the ocean, swam out to me, and threw me a large red floating device with handles and a big rope.

Then Smalley adds:

Here’s what I learned: When you are struggling with food, love relationships, immoral thoughts, bad habits, any kind of addiction (from shopping to drugs), the current is pulling you out. And you can’t do anything about it in your own efforts. Many of us who have been addicted know the reason we get depressed is because we know it’s hopeless. We’ve tried to change, we’ve tried diets, we’ve tried disciplining ourselves, we’ve tried getting up early and praying, we’ve tried different things, but nothing seems to work. Jesus is actually the one who overcomes the addiction, the one who gives us the power to sustain. You have a lifeguard—Jesus Christ. He throws the floating device, grace, to you.

Paul had tried methods. He had tried almost everything. He answered the question with almost a sigh of relief: Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What a Ghastly Thought!

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:14 ESV)

In 1824, Peru won its freedom from Spain. Soon after, Simon Bolivar, the general who had led the liberating forces, called a convention for the purpose of drafting a constitution for the new country. After the convention, a delegation approached Bolivar and asked him to become their first president. Bolivar declined, saying that he felt someone else deserved the honor more than he did. But the people still wanted to do something special for Bolivar to show their appreciation for all he had done for them, so they offered him a gift of a million pesos, a very large fortune in those days.

Bolivar accepted the gift and then asked, “How many slaves are there in Peru?” He was told there were about three thousand. “And how much does a slave sell for?” he wanted to know. “About 350 pesos for an able-bodied man,” was the answer. “Then,” said Bolivar, “I will add whatever is necessary to this million pesos you have given me and I will buy all the slaves in Peru and set them free. It makes no sense to free a nation, unless all its citizens enjoy freedom as well.”

It didn’t make sense in 1824 and doesn’t make sense in 2015. Why free us from the penalty of sin (through the cross) and not free us from the power of sin? Paul had similar concerns.

Paul again affirms the truth—we are not under law but under grace. What does this mean? Let me illustrate. The law says, “The speed limit is 65 mph.” And since the law says this is the speed limit, if you go 66 mph you have broken the law. The state trooper pulls you over, points out that you were driving 66 mph. He can give you a ticket. Instead, he instructs you to slow down, gives you a warning, and you go. That’s grace. Now let me paraphrase what Paul is saying: “Speeding shall not be master over you, because you are not under the rule of the speed limit, when you are pulled over, you will receive grace.”

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! (Romans 6:15 ESV) Some translations render that, “What a ghastly thought!”

What then? Should I drive 75 mph because, when I get pulled over for breaking the law I will not be given a ticket? May it never be! Or, as we discovered last week, of course not! What a ghastly thought! God forbid!

Send Jesus to Answer the Door

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:13-14 ESV)

Sin comes knocking on the door of your heart. If you only crack open the door, sin will push it down. The writer of Genesis draws a vivid picture of the invasive nature of sin:

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7 ESV)

When sin knocks you have a choice. You can present your members (your body) to sin as instruments for unrighteousness. Sin wants your eyes, your tongue, your mind, your hands, your feet. Sin wants your entire body so that it can destroy you piece by piece and lead you down the road to destruction.

On the other hand you can present yourself to God as one who has been brought from death to life. You can present your members to God as instruments for righteousness. The reality is that sin won’t quit knocking. Becoming a Christian doesn’t stop the knocking of sin on the door of your heart. However, you don’t have to answer the door. You have a new king on the throne room of your heart. His name is Jesus. He is eager to answer the door of temptation when the world comes knocking, when the flesh rears its ugly head, or when the enemy assaults.

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

When Jesus answers the door, sin flees. When sin flees your heart is ready to be alone with God.

Send Jesus to answer the door…every time.