10 Great Questions for the New Year

8B663066-E743-4531-B9F1-2BBEA10E2327In a couple of days, the sun will set on 2019 and 2020 will dawn. Whether it is rational or not, it is part of our experience in much of Western culture to feel a small dose of extra hope when we reflect on the year to come. We cannot help but think, “Who knows what good might come my way in the upcoming year?” There is nothing wrong or anti-Christian about having such thoughts. A renewed sense of hope is wonderful regardless of the avenue through which it comes (with a few exceptions, of course).

With this renewed sense of hope that things might improve, there is a window of time around the new year when people seem more willing to introspect, consider what changes need to be made, etc. We take stock. This is a good practice for Christians so long as this introspection is graciously and truthfully guided by the Holy Spirit. After all, introspection by itself can be quite brutal and hopeless. All of this to say, this is a time when we look ourselves in the mirror, make resolutions, and ask ourselves questions. The other day, I came across an article on http://www.desiringgod.org and I was shocked by how good the questions were. Honestly, most questions and exercises around the new year seem lame and futile, but these questions were refreshing for their honesty and Christ-centeredness. Tonight, my wife and I are discussing the first one (and maybe the second) and will continue until we are done. I strongly encourage you to do the same with someone you care about. The questions are taken from the article titled, “Ten Questions for a New Year.” Here are the questions:

  1. What’s one thing you can do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
  2. What’s an impossible prayer you can pray?
  3. What’s the most important thing you could do to improve your family life?
  4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year?
  5. What’s the single biggest time-waster in your life, and how can you redeem the time?
  6. What’s the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
  7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently?
  8. What’s the most important way, by God’s grace, you will try and make this year different from last?
  9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
  10. What single thing can you plan to do this year that will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

I hope that you will take these questions to heart, share them with someone you care about, and allow the Holy Spirit to begin working in you as we prepare for another year.

 

 

 

 

Finding Peace in the Midst of “Insignificance”

“Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.”  

~Luke 3:23

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Christmas is upon us. Hopefully you are finding time to slow down, drink a cup of coffee or Earl Grey tea, and reflect. Don’t let the season pass you by. How sad is it when you find yourself thinking (or hear someone else saying): “I am just ready for this to be over.” Don’t live like this. Carve out a few slow and quiet slices of time that you can sit still and reflect upon the birth of Jesus Christ (or a nice walk in nature).

While working on other things this morning, I was reminded of the fact that Jesus did not begin his ministry until age 30. How could this be? He is the Son of God. I mean, he had some really important stuff to accomplish. Yet, he was born in typical fashion, blood and all, and then lived as a son, brother, and carpenter until the age of 30 (he obviously did not cease to be a son or brother when his ministry began). God himself, the only Redeemer, the one hope for humanity, was surrounded by sawdust and wood for the majority of his life. From my perspective, this work was very unimportant in comparison with what he came to do (Matthew 1:21). Yet, he was in no hurry. He lived a quiet, humble life, and waited on the Father’s release.

He didn’t strive to be important. 

He didn’t stive to be seen. 

He didn’t strive to accomplish something significant. 

He didn’t strive to people’s approval. 

He didn’t strive to make ministry happen (woe to us in our social media age).

Jesus, our Lord and Savior, was very content working with wood. In light of his human nature, this surely was one of the places where he learned patience. In light of his divine nature, this surely was one of the places that his patience was manifested.

The point in all of this is that we can be at peace being “unimportant.” Maybe you feel like your life is buried away in some small shed, working with something that seems unimportant like wood. But it is important. You can do anything with a heart turned to God (Colossians 3:17 and 1 Corinthians 10:31). You can do anything with a heart to please the Lord. You can do anything with an attitude of worship. You can take the mundane stuff and use it to serve others.

What I am trying to say is this: Because Jesus Christ spent the majority of his life hidden, we can be at peace with God, ourselves, and others when it seems that the current season of life we are in is not as significant as we feel it should be.

If you want to feel important, look at Jesus.

If you need peace, look to Jesus.

May the “Wonderful Counselor,” “Might God,” “Everlasting Father,” and “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) give you peace in your heart and communicate a sense of great value and importance to your soul.

Merry Christmas.

 

Being Offended (with additional reading links)

girls-3764702_640It is easy to think of big issues when we talk about Christian morality. But here is one that one of our pastors mentioned in a sermon this last week that really stuck with me: “Am I someone that is easily offended?”
Offense can take root and leak poison into your entire heart and life. It is TOO STRONG to keep locked away in a compartment. You cannot do it; nobody can. It cannot be restrained for long. It cannot be “compartmentalized.”
If this is you, then the offense must be brought to Jesus in prayer and most likely talked through with someone that you trust. Allow the Lord to speak into this broken, out-of-line area in your life. Bitterness and offense is a great thief and can absolutely prevent us from fulfilling our purposes in Christ. A bitter root can keep someone from wanting to serve in their local church, make a phone call to someone in need, read the Bible, share their money, pray, worship, etc.
A bitter heart will result in a disobedient life.
What we need as followers of Christ is tough skin and a tender heart. This a remarkable combination, and results in a person that can take hits but remain “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17 NRSV). 
Besides, if you are always being offended, then there is a good chance that you are focusing too much on yourself or thinking too highly of yourself (Pastor Allen Hickman use to always say this).
Now, don’t read this last comment as me saying that there are not real offenses. Oh my, there definitely are, ones that hit at our core and hurt everso deeply. Let’s face it: people can be so disappointing at times. But what if we allow these moments to bring us to the cross so that we can admit what we should be admitting with every breathe: our utter helplessness in dealing with anything. The bottom line is that we need the Lord to perform any good act with the right heart.
Allow the Lord to come, love on you, remind you of his forgiveness toward you, and then help you take the same step he takes. After all, Jesus commands us to pray like this: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NRSV). 

Further Reading: 

“but I am a man of prayer”

Psalms 109:1-4 reads:

My God, whom I praise,
    do not remain silent,
for people who are wicked and deceitful
    have opened their mouths against me;
    they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me;
    they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me,
    but I am a man of prayer.

This last line gripped my heart years ago. I still long for it. I still pray for it. I can’t shake it. In response, this is my prayer today. Will you make it yours?

I want to be a man of prayer.

One who delights in prayer.

One who relishes prayer.

One who loves to pray for others.

One who believes in the efficacy of prayer.

One who loves others in prayer.

One who grows in love for others in prayer.

One who worships through prayer.

One who supports my pastors through prayer,

One who weeps in prayer.

One who laughs in prayer.

One who gets angry in prayer.

One who receives God’s burdens in prayer.

And finally, one whose life makes my kids want to pray.

Oh Mighty Lord, my prayer life is so feeble. Make it yours. 

Your son, B.J.

 

“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

I have got too much on my plate right now to spend more than ten minutes writing a blog, so this will be short (and hopefully sweet). I read a passage in my Bible reading today that brought tears to my eyes. The story is found in Mark 10:46-52. If you grew up in Sunday School or something, you have heard about “Blind Bartimaeus.” But all cliches aside, one particular line struck my heart.

As Jesus was leaving Jericho, Barimaeus was on the side of the road. He heard that Jesus was nearby and he started to yell for him. People began telling him to shut up. I can hear their voices now: “Be quiet. Stop it. Don’t you know how important Jesus is?” As it says in the childrens’ book, Little Blue Truck, “I haven’t got time to pass the day with every duck along the way.” But he kept yelling. Pain, disappointment, and suffering have a way of pushing someone to the point that they no longer care about their dignity. Who cares what people think when those same people are the ones passing you by and you have a chance to get into contact with Jesus. Bartimaeus didn’t care. He yelled even louder.

All of the sudden, Jesus tells a few people who are close by to go get Bartimaeus. When they approach him, they say:

“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

This is the line that brought tears to my heart today. What a sweet, personal moment between Jesus and one man. Can you imagine what happened in Bartimaeus’ heart? The words, “Take heart” are so powerful.

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Translation: “There is reason to hope. There is reason to not give up. There is reason to not quit. You are not forgotten. He has heard you. He will see you. He is waiting. Things will now be differnet for you as you move forward.” Take a moment and breathe this in. This is fresh, clean air for the soul. He sees you today. He hears you today. He is willing to stop and engage you.

Bartimaeus’ response is priceless. In a wonderful, exhuberant, undignified manner, he throws off his cloak, spring to his feet, and goes to Jesus (Mark 10:50). Bartimaeus, the day has finally come. The Creator of the universe is not ignoring you. He has power, and he is willing to use it for your good and his glory. Today is your day. Cry no longer; your time of laugher and color has come.

So raise your head, fix your eyes on Jesus, and let your heart swell with hope once more. And hurry, your addiction to reason and past experience may already be at the door trying to convince you why faith and hope are silly.

Every person needs a personal, life-altering, break-your-heart-open, “Take heart” moment with God. So listen closely. The Lord is faithful.