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Thursday, July 30, 2015

#18. What does it mean to pray "in the Spirit?"

Christian Prayer Catechism: Question #18

Q. What does it mean to pray "in the Spirit?"

A. To pray "in the Spirit" is to pray knowing God is present and active in my life.


God the Spirit is on site and constantly at work in every believer’s life. We need to pray, therefore, in dependence on Him and His work. It’s not some "spooky" trance, but it is supernatural. Wayne Grudem says, "To pray ‘in the Holy Spirit’ then, is to pray with the conscious awareness of God’s presence surrounding us and sanctifying both us and our prayers" (Systematic Theology, pg. 382).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Second Printing for "Resisting Gossip Together!"

Rejoice with me!

CLC Publications has had to order a second printing of Resisting Gossip Together, the participant's guide and Bible study.

To learn more about Resisting Gossip Together, read this interview I did with the Biblical Counseling Coalition.

I also have a page on this blog dedicated to extra resources that fit with RGT and each lesson in the book also has a corresponding video that teaches the essential message of each chapter.

It's wonderful to hear stories of people who are using RGT to deepen their understanding of the biblical teaching on gossip and also bring together a study group to work through the material with one another.

Pastor Brad Bigney of Grace Fellowship Church in Florence Kentucky recently said, "A+++ I would use them again." So encouraging!

A great place to purchase Resisting Gossip Together is Westminster Bookstore who also has a starter pack of 5 books and study guides at 35% off the list price.

Monday, July 27, 2015

"I Hate My Guts" - Surgery Wednesday

Unflattering Photo by Robin Mitchell
Both readers of this blog will have noted that there hasn't been much fresh content here this Summer as I've been dealing with diverticulitis and other intestinal difficulties.

As I said in church a few weeks ago, Heather has started saying to me, "I hate your guts!" And so do I. It's been a difficult Summer with office visits, "listening to my body" (which apparently speaks a foreign language I haven't learned), and trying to estimate my limits.

At the same time, I know that so many more people have gone through so much worse than I have. I am grateful for each and every day and the gifts in each and every day. God's mercies are daily served up fresh and hot. I've been trying to learn spiritual lessons from our Lord's School of Affliction and lean on Him for peace, joy, and wisdom.

This path led me to the hospital again over the weekend because of increased pain even while on  antibiotics. And now we've confirmed a surgery (a bowel resection, sorry for the gory details) on Wednesday.

This is a great relief to me because, while painful to undergo and to recover from, it should solve most of the problems I have been experiencing this Summer.

So if you have been praying for me--thank you--this is an answer to them!  I feel very loved and cared for by my friends, family, and church family.

Pray for me as I continue in the hospital being prepared for surgery. I feel better today than I have in some time. Pray also for Heather and the kids and for our loving church family.

My friend and author photographer, Schenley, captioned the above photo as "This is going on the back of your next book, Resisting Diverticulitis: Winning the War of the Leaking Gut (or, What Happens When You Ask God to Teach You Through Your Suffering.)"

I hope that's not my next book title, but I think it's pretty funny. Maybe I shouldn't hate my guts after all...

Now at CCEF: Keeping Gossip Out of Prayer Requests

CCEF has published my article "Keeping Gossip Out of Prayer Requests" on their blog.

I'm looking forward to sharing a breakout session at their upcoming national conference "Side by Side: How God Helps Us to Help Others" in October.

My talk will be: "Behind Their Backs: When Side-by-Side Ministry Is Distorted by Gossip"  and is described this way in the conference schedule:
Gossip is notoriously hard to define and even harder to resist. It is as alluring and addictive as it is dangerous and hurtful to others. This workshop will equip those involved in personal ministry to grow in their ability to recognize gossip when they encounter it, to resist gossip when they are tempted to listen or pass it on, and to respond in faith and love when they are the unwitting target of harmful clandestine talk.
I love the ministry of CCEF (I call myself a "CCEF-Junkie") so it's a great privilege and deep pleasure to partner with them in this conference. I can't hardly wait.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Thursday, July 23, 2015

#17. What does it mean to "pray without ceasing?"

Christian Prayer Catechism: Question #17

Q. What does it mean to "pray without ceasing?"

A. Praying without ceasing is living our lives "on speakerphone" with God.


Praying "without ceasing" is not being constantly on our knees and disengaged from the rest of the world. It is, however, maintaining a vital connection with God through directed thoughts, meditation, simple spoken and unspoken prayers, and conscious and unconscious dependence on God in Christ throughout our days (Neh. 2:4, 1 Thess. 5:17).

Sunday, July 19, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "Encounter the God of the Universe"

“Encounter the God of the Universe”
Family Bible Week 2015
July 19, 2015 :: Psalm 147

As you’ve seen today, the theme of our Family Bible Week was “To the Edge,” and the subtitle of our theme is our title for today’s message, “Encounter the God of the Universe.”

And by that, we don’t mean encounter the god that the universe is. We mean encounter the God who made the universe in which  we live. Encounter the  God Who created everything that there is.

That’s the God our kids have been learning about all week long.

And when I thought about that theme, my mind went to the 147th Psalm, especially verse 4 which Marilynn put on the cover of your bulletins today.

Psalm 147 is about encountering the God of the universe. And more than just encountering Him, worshiping him, and more than just worshiping Him, wondering at Him, and more than just wondering at Him, putting our hope in His unfailing love.

I have just three short points this morning. All are application.

This psalm wants us to encounter and respond to the God of the universe in at least three ways.
Worship, Wonder, and Hope.

Let’s take those one at a time.

#1.WORSHIP!

Did you hear all of the worship words in this psalm?

It starts and ends with the call, “Praise the LORD!”

Praise YHWH!

Do you know what the Hebrew is for that?

Hallelujah!

V.1 “Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!”

It’s just right to praise God!

And to sing to God. V.7 “Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp.”

And the guitar, and the bass, and the keyboard, and the drumset!

Verse 12. “Extol the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion...”

Praise, Sing, Extol. Those are worship words.

This psalm wants us to encounter the God of the universe and bring Him the worship that He deserves.

Let me ask you a question.

Does the psalmist give us any reasons to worship God?

You bet he does. This psalm is just loaded with reasons to worship God.

And they turn on two different points.

One is that God is the amazingly powerful creator of everything and Lord of the universe and the other is that God lovingly cares for His people, in this case, the Old Testament people of Israel.

V.2 “The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

This psalm was probably written after the exile of Israel when they were being restored to the land. The story covered in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah which the adult class talked some about this week.

The LORD cares for His people. Verse 13 has the same theme.

“He strengthens the bars of your gates and blesses your people within you. He grants peace to your borders and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.”

God provided for Zion, for His covenant people. Including giving them the Law. V.19

“He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws. Praise the LORD.”

Again, that’s in the age of the Old Covenant. God had a special relationship with Israel, and the psalmist says that because of that God’s people should worship Him.

But most of the verses talk about how powerful He is over all of creation and how that should lead us to worship.

V.8  “He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.”

V.15 “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes [remember snow and frost?]. He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast? He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.”

Do you see how God is credited with being responsible for nature?

How God is in control of everything, including the weather?

Everybody cares about the weather, but none of us can control it.

But God can!

And because of that, God deserves our worship.

More than that, God deserves our wonder.

#2. WONDER!

Our praise should be full of marveling at God’s majesty.

This theme is so clear in verse 4.

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”

This is a God who deserves astronomical praise!

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.”

That is a mind-blowing statement.

Do you know many stars there are?

Cody asked the kids that question during Family Bible Week, and one of them said, “There must be a least a hundred!”

Without Googling does anybody want to take a stab at how many stars there are?

It’s not millions.

It’s not billions.

It’s 70 billion trillions.

That’s 7 times 10 to the 22nd power.

If I’m doing the math correctly, and that’s always a possible concern, 70 billion trillion is a 7 with 22 zeroes after it.

And that’s just the stars in what astronomers call the "Observable Universe."

There may be and most probably is more than that out there.

Now, get this and get ready to wonder:

Our LORD determines the number of those stars.

And the psalmist says that He calls them each by name.

Now, I don’t know if that means that God has His own pet name for each individual star, but it does mean that He created each one and is Lord over each one.

Doesn’t that make your brain bubble?

Wow!

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”

Wonder!

When Heather and I were in California last month, we walked on the beach in Carlsbad each night.

And one night while we were there, Heather was taking pictures, and I just watched the waves come in and go out. Come in and go out.

And I thought about how many grains of sand there are and how I could never keep track of them, coming in and going out.

And right now, that same spot I was standing in the waves are still coming in and going out. Pounding away.

And I thought about how God knows every wave pounding that spot on that beach for however long.

Pound, pound, pound.

And more than that, He knows every spot on every beach in the world.

Pound, pound, pound.

The Lord Jesus said that every sparrow that hits the ground is known by God the Father.

“He determines the number of the stars [more than 70 billion trillion!] and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”

Wonder at the God of the Universe!

But not just at how big God is.

Wonder that that God wants a relationship with you!

That’s what’s been so amazing for our kids to think about this week.

The God of the universe who is not impressed by anything or anyone, wants us to enter into a personal relationship of faith and followership with Him.

This psalm wants us to know that it’s because we’re so wonderful ourselves.

V.6 “The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.”

He’s not impressed with the proud.

He’s not impressed by anyone or anything. V.10

“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

He’s not looking for help.

He’s not look for strength.

He’s not looking for strong people to join His team.

He just wants us to fear Him and hope in Him. V.11

“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

#3. HOPE!

You know when I first read this psalm this week, it seemed a little proud.

Especially in verses 19 and 20.

“He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws. Praise the LORD.”

It sounded a little snooty to me.

But it’s not like that. This is WONDER. This is amazement.

This is the psalmist saying, “He paid attention to us? Little old Jacob? Little old Israel? He loved us? He reached out to us? The God who made everything. Who just says the word and it rains or snows or frosts or burns, or hails or blows or flows?”

That God has reached down to us?

Not the strong? But the humble?

Not the powerful but those who fear Him and put their HOPE in His unfailing love.

That’s who?!

That can be me.

That can be you.

That can be us.

Hope in God’s unfailing love.

The God of the universe is worthy of our worship.

When we encounter Him, we will wonder and praise and extol and sing.

And that God has invited us to put our faith in Him and Him alone.

Hope in His unfailing love.

And you and I know so much more about this God than the psalmist did.

We know that this God who names the stars humbled Himself and came to earth as  a little baby.

Jesus.

And then lived a perfect life and died on the Cross to save us from our own sins.

And then came back to life to give us life.

That’s unfailing love!

And it is our own only hope.

“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Friday, July 17, 2015

Re-Reading "Resisting Gossip"

Allison Bies, a Christian and a busy reader from the Chicago area, wrote me this encouraging note this week:
I wanted to connect with you because I just re-read Resisting Gossip, and I was convicted afresh of the power of our words.  Resisting Gossip is on my personal "re-read" list.  I have some Christian books that I read every 1-2 years for reminders, encouragement, and fresh conviction.  God's Word is alive, and His teaching impacts us in fresh was as we find ourselves in different circumstances. 
As I read the book for the second time, I was especially struck by the statement that I do not need to say something just because I think it.  I realize that I have been using careless words lately, feeling justified speaking them without considering their negative impact.  Also, I love how RG consistently brings readers back to the gospel.  Ultimately, we as Christians do not need to be overwhelmed with self-hate or wallow in disappointment since we have the tremendous privilege of access to Christ's power as we apply 1 John 1:9.  I was also reminded about how important our heart condition is, since words flow from our heart (Matthew 12:34).  
Thanks, Allison, for reading, then re-reading my book, but thanks even more for putting what you learned into practice!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

#16. What has God promised us to do with our prayers?

Christian Prayer Catechism: Question #16

Q. What has God promised us to do with our prayers?

A. God has promised to answer our prayers!

We need to remind ourselves again and again that God has told us to persevere in prayer and that He will faithfully answer (Matthew 7:7, Luke 18:1ff).

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Loving My Children: Embracing Biblical Motherhood by Katie Faris

Katie Faris has recently launched her first book, Loving My Children: Embracing Biblical Motherhood (paperback with a e-book version coming soon) with a corresponding Facebook page.

I've read it, and it's really good.

I'm not a mother, but I'm married to one and pastor a church full of them. Moms will definitely profit from reading this book.

Here's my short review and endorsement:
What do diapers, lullabies, laundry, and cleaning behind the baby's ears have to do with the gospel? Everything! In this gem of a book, our friend Katie Faris winsomely shares biblical wisdom on seeking the best for the children God has loaned us. Katie knows what she's talking about--we've seen her mothering in action--and she writes well. Sweet but not sentimental, direct but not demanding, Loving My Children helpfully connects the Bible's teaching on grace, sovereignty, and sanctification to the everyday hard work of being a mom. Heather and I highly recommend it.
In future days, I hope to offer a giveaway contest for a free book, but don't wait for that to get your copy. Buy one for you and for a young mom you love.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

[Matt's Messages] “Sent”

“Sent”
July 12, 2015
John 20:21

You can open your Bibles to John chapter 20, if you want to, but today’s message is going to be very brief. I wanted to give you a chance to hear fully from your team that was sent this week to Pittsburgh to share the gospel with people who need to hear it.

And really, for the message today, I just want to wrap up all of what has been said into one word. A biblical word that I think we should give some more thought to in our lives.

It’s the word “sent.” Or “send.” And it appears in the gospel of John chapter 20. There are actually two different Greek words in that verse that are both translated with the same English word “sent” because the idea is basically the same.

We have been given a mission.

John 20:21 is part of that great story of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s one of His appearances after He was raised, the one right before He encounters Thomas.

And I’m not going to read the whole thing to you. I’ll just say this: the doors were locked and then Jesus appeared and said, “Peace be with you!” and then He showed his hands and side to the disciples and they were overjoyed.

And then he gave them this commission. “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

One of the things that grabbed me while we were on our trip to Pittsburgh was that the people at the host homes kept calling us, “the missionaries.”

“We’re hosting the missionaries this week.”

“The missionaries are using that room.”

And I thought, “That’s not right. That’s not me. I’m not a missionary.”

And I’m not. I’m not a foreign missionary. I’m not really a cross-cultural missionary. I’m not one of those folks across the back of our wall that we pray for and send money to, may their tribe increase!

We need more foreign missions cross-cultural language-learning take-the-gospel-where-it-hasn’t-been-yet workers to go out into the world and share the good news.

I’m continuing to pray that God will raise up career missionaries from our midst here.

But there is a very real sense in which I was a missionary this week.

I was sent.

I was sent on a mission.

I was sent on a mission with a missions team.

You’ve heard all about it this morning and seen some of our 1,800 pictures.

These folks up here were missionaries. They were sent on mission.

Just like Jesus said to the apostles, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Who was the greatest missionary ever?

It wasn’t William Carey, the father of modern missions.

It wasn’t Jim Elliot who gave his life for the mission. Or Elizabeth Eliot who went back.

It wasn’t Hudson Taylor or David Livingstone, as great as those missionaries were.

It wasn’t even the Apostle Paul.

It was Jesus. He was on a mission from His Father.

He came to be the Word. He came to be the Savior.

He was sent!

And after He died and came back from the dead, He sent His people on a mission.

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Now, of course, there are ways in which Jesus was sent that we never will be and the apostles weren’t either.

He was sent to be crucified, and I’m pretty sure He didn’t mean here that all of His followers would be, too.

And there is a sense in which John 20:21 applied most directly to the apostles and not to us. They were all sent as authorized representatives, apostles, who had an authority that we do not.

But still.

I think this is true for every Christian, no matter who you are. No matter where you’re from or where you live.

You and I are sent.

We are to live our lives “on mission.”

Some people are saying we need to live a missional lifestyle.  And by that they mean we are supposed to see our lives today as missionary lives.

Whether or not we ever move.

I put this picture up today for this text because it’s what we normally think of with “sent.”

On the road again.

And your team hit the road this week. We were only 2 hours down the road but it’s different world there.

And we’re not all called to go down the road.

But we are all sent.

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

We have a mission–to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

We have a message–the gospel.

And we are sent to share it.

Do you see yourself as sent?

I believe that the church in America needs to increasing grow in understanding that we are missionary church sent to America.

For a long time, because of the rich heritage of Christianity in America, we have had a kind of “home-field advantage,” and have even thought of America as some kind of a Christian nation, if such a thing could exist.

And we’ve gotten comfortable and thought of America as our home.

But we are not home. We are guests here even if we have American citizenship.

We are citizens of heaven.

Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

He’s our King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And we are to be ambassadors for Him.

We are sent.

Even if we never move an hour from where we were born, if we are Christians, we are SENT to where we are.

Sent on a mission and sent with a message.

And that should increasingly affect the way we think about ourselves and how we should act.

How do missionaries act when they arrive in a new land?

What do they do?

They learn the culture, don’t they?

They learn the language, the customs, and they begin loving the people there.

And they constantly look for ways to bridge the divide with their new neighbors and provide a bridge for the gospel. And it might look like Family Bible Week and the Good News Cruise.

Do you see yourself as an ambassador?

Ambassadors have to live with the values of the land they are from in the land they are visiting. That’s us.

We live the values of the kingdom of Jesus while we live in the world. And we try to bridge the gap.

We give no offense that is not necessary for our mission and our message.

We don’t give personal offense if we can help it. Only that offense that comes with the mission and the message.

We are sent.

I was talking yesterday with Tim & Kelly Beck about their move. They are here this week and then next week, and they’re off to the Harrisburg area.

They’ll come back to visit, I’m sure.

But this couple has a deep and growing sense of how God is calling them to be SENT. God is sending them to that area.

Not to be professional missionaries but to be ambassadors of Jesus over there.

Next week, I’ve asked for them to share a little of their story of how God has confirmed this calling on their lives again and again.

The point is that we are ALL sent.

Whether you go over the ocean (and I’m praying for more of you to go!) or over the 3 rivers to Mount Washington in Pittsburgh (and I’m praying for more of that) or if you don’t even go over the mountain to State College, that you would see yourself as ON MISSION for the Lord.

Sent on a mission to make disciples.

Sent on with message to see people’s lives changed now and forever.

The gospel!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Thursday, July 09, 2015

#15. Does God hear the prayers of nonChristians?

Christian Prayer Catechism: Question #15

Q. Does God hear the prayers of nonChristians?

A. God hears all prayers but has only promised to bless the prayers of His children.

Nothing goes unnoticed by God (Hebrews 4:13). And God in His common grace has used the prayers of nonChristians in the Bible and in human history (ex. Acts 10:31). God has not, however, promised to bless the prayers of nonChristians like He has for His children (Matthew 7:9-11).

Sunday, July 05, 2015

[Matt's Messages] “Lessons from the School of Affliction”

“Lessons from the School of Affliction”
July 5, 2015 :: Psalm 119:71

I was as surprised as you probably are that we aren’t opening our Bibles to Romans again this morning. However, it’s clear to me that we should take a brief break from Romans for the next three weeks and then come back to it at the end of the month.

Don’t worry! I still plan to finish Romans in less than a year. I promised not to be one of those pastors who go into Romans and never come out, and I’m still doing my best to lead you through.

But for now, we’ll take a break. This week, Psalm 119, verse 71. Next week, we’ll get the report from our Pittsburgh Ministry Team, and then 19th will be our Family Bible Week finale–and I’ve got a special message to go with our theme for this year.

Today, Psalm 119, verse 71.

Do you know much about the 119th Psalm? It’s the longest Psalm in your Bible. 176 verses! I’m not going to read them all to you today. Maybe some day, we will!

And Psalm 119 is elaborately and carefully written to celebrate the psalmist’s relationship with God through His word. If you have the NIV, you’ll see that there are  22 sections of the Psalm, one for every letter in the Hebrew Alphabet. And most of them have 8 verses each that all start with a different word that begins with the letter of that section. A-B-C and so for, so to speak. It’s truly a literary work of art–and we don’t see some of how ahmazing it is because we have to translate it into English.

But verse 71 is in a section of the psalm the “Teth” section, verses 65-72 that don’t all start with a different word with a Hebrew “Teth” on it, but instead, 5 of the verses begin with the same Hebrew Word “Tov” or our word for that is “Good.”

In fact, the Hebrew word for “good” appears 6 times in these 8 verses, and I don’t think that that is a coincidence.

There is something good going on in these 8 verses.

But what we find out is good might be a little surprising to us!

Especially in verse 71.

I quoted it, kind of badly, from memory last Sunday in the message, and it’s been on my mind all week. So, I thought we might study it more closely this morning together.

I want us to focus on the peculiar perspective of verse 71.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71).

That’s a peculiar statement if you understand what “afflicted” means.

To be “afflicted” is to be troubled, pained, distressed, ailed, bowed-down, humbled, pushed, oppressed.

Does anybody here like to be afflicted?

I don’t think so.

But the psalmist says, “It was good [tov] for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your [God’s] decrees.”

Now, we’re not sure who the psalmist was. It might have been David, many of the psalms are by David, but they have his name attached to them. This one has no attribution.

And we don’t know what this psalmist’s affliction was.

Verses 69 and 70 describe how some arrogant enemies had slandered his name–perhaps it’s likely that’s the affliction he is referring to.

But it doesn’t say that is so many words, perhaps so that we can apply this principle of affliction to lots of different areas in our lives, as well.

Troubles. Hardships. Adversities. When things are going against us and it hurts and it’s hard, so hard.

Here’s the testimony of this writer after times like that: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

Today’s message is entitled, “Lessons from the School of Affliction.”

We could say, “Good things to learn from the school of hard knocks.”

“Lessons from the School of Affliction.”

And here’s the first point of two:

#1. IT CAN BE GOOD FOR US TO BE AFFLICTED.

Now, that may not be what you wanted to hear this morning.

At first, that sentence is not very comforting.

Nobody wants affliction, and those few that act like it, masochists, are crazy.

Affliction is painful and difficult and harmful and grueling.

And it’s important to note that this verse does not say that the affliction was itself a good thing. It was a bad thing. It came to this poor guy because the world is fundamentally broken.

The Bible is a realistic book. It describes things the way that they are.

It doesn’t paint this painful experience in deceptive rosy terms.

The psalmist is not saying that it felt good to be afflicted.

“It didn’t even hurt a bit!”

The psalmist is saying that the end result of that painful affliction brought a benefit to him. It was worth it. In the end, it was good.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

It can be good for us to be afflicted.

Now, I’ll tell you why I was attracted to this verse for today.

This year has been a year of affliction for me, health-wise.

I’m a little sheepish to say anything about this because I know that many of you have suffered much more than I have. Some of you have had the same things as I, and many of you have had much more difficult health problems.

So, I’m hesitant to talk about it, but because I’d been relatively healthy for the first forty some years of my life, these new health battles, one after another, have really set me back on my heels.

And they have caused me to think.

As I said last week, I want to learn what I’m supposed to learn from these illnesses.

From my diverticulitis. It flared up again this week. I’m on two antibiotics this morning. Not one, but two. Back in May, I had a perforated colon to go with it. I was worried this week that it had happened again. I missed prayer meeting because I was sick.

And from my gallbladder attacks. If that’s what they were. I’ve had several tests now and some of them came back quite normal. My last one was a HIDA scan, a nuclear test where they lit up my gallbladder with stuff that has a half-life and took a video of it in operation. I hope to find out something from that soon and see what else is needed.

As we said last week, Heather likes to say, “I hate your guts!” And I do, too, right now!

But I want to learn what I need to learn from this experience of affliction.

The other day, after they injected the radioactive stuff, they also injected some chemicals that simulate eating a greasy meal.

And, oh, was that painful!  Ouch! And I hadn’t eaten for several hours beforehand or slept for some reason so I was just miserable when my test was over.

And I’m not yet feeling 100% yet.

But I don’t say that to complain. I say that to say that I want that affliction to be GOOD for me.

I want to learn the lessons God has for me in the school of affliction.

All of us who are Christians can give this testimony, too, can’t we?

I’ll bet that every one here has a story or two or two hundred about what God taught you through a painful experience. Am I right?

It seems to me that God often teaches more courses in the school of affliction than He does in the school of blessing!

C.S. Lewis in his little book The Problem of Pain says that God uses our pain to get our attention.

He writes, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

We’ve all had those experiences.

That’s why James can say, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds...”

Because we all know that it can be good for us to be afflicted...

...if we are willing to learn from it.

That doesn’t mean that the suffering is good in and of itself.

Suffering is bad. It’s a result of the Fall. It’s not good. And one day it will end.

This also doesn’t mean that the suffering stops when we learn our lesson.

Sometimes we joke that we want to learn the lesson of this school of pain so that we don’t have to repeat the course!

But that’s not how this school works.

Sometimes we learn plenty and yet the pain persists.

But it does mean that God can redeem the pain of any affliction.

Remember what we learned back in Romans 8:28–“And we know that in all things [including the afflictions] God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

It can be good for us to be afflicted.

That’s actually comforting when you think about it. That God can use the most painful things in our lives for our good.

Whether they be illnesses, or attacks, or setbacks, or losses.

God doesn’t waste pain.

That’s comforting to me.

Now, I wouldn’t share that truth with someone else who is suffering. Not right away.

Don’t run to the hospital today and go up and down the halls saying, “What is God teaching you in your affliction?”

That’s heartless and insensitive.

Job’s counselors had it right when they just came and sat with him. And were silent. That’s when they acted like his friends. When they opened their mouths, they got in trouble.

We don’t lead with this when someone is suffering.

But we who are Christians still need to know it.

It can be good for us to be afflicted.

Here’s why? The second half of the verse.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

#2. WE CAN LEARN GOD’S WAYS.

We can learn God’s ways in the school of affliction.

That word “decrees” in verse 71 can also be translated, “statues” or “inscriptions.”

It means written down instructions.

The 119th Psalm is amazing in how it contains so many different synonyms for the Word of God. The psalmist must have worn out his thesaurus trying to come up with different words to mean basically the same thing–God’s holy Word inscribed in His Law.

And the emphasis isn’t on the promises of God here but on God’s commandments, God’s instructions, God’s decrees of how a believer should live.

We could say, “God’s ways.” God’s paths to walk in.

When you study at God’s school of affliction you can learn how God operates and how God wants His followers to live their lives.

And that, of course, includes believing His promises!

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

The New Living Translation says it this way: “The suffering you sent was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your principles.”

Are you getting that out of your sufferings?

I’m trying.

I’m trying to learn God’s ways in the middle of mine.

Verse 67 says that the affliction got the psalmist back on the right track. V.67

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.”

Sometimes God sends us affliction to discipline us and to get us back on the right track.

Sometimes it’s a 180 degrees, sometimes it’s just a 1 degree course correction, but the painful nudge is what it took.

I’m not saying that all suffering is discipline. But that that we can learn God’s ways from all suffering.

Here are some things I’m learning, or think I’m learning from my present affliction.

- It’s not all about me.

My life is not all about me.

Do remember when we studied the book of Genesis and we learned that God was the main character in the book? It wasn’t Abraham, or Jacob, or Joseph?

We said, “You’re not the main character in the story of your life.”

That’s what’s coming to me recently.

My life is not about me. It’s about God.

So in pain or out of pain, what matters is the Lord and living for Him.

Am I doing that?

And the same is true for ministry.

This Pittsburgh Ministry Team is not about Pastor Matt.

They will do just fine today and tomorrow without me.

And if I end up not going on tomorrow or Tuesday as I’m now planning to, they’ll do just fine without me, then, as well.

Because it’s not about me! It’s about the Lord.

Here’s another things I’m learning in the school of affliction.

- God meets you in your waiting.

I’ve been in a lot of waiting rooms recently. Every doctor’s office has a waiting room.  And some have more than one. And often even after you get to the last room, you still have to wait.

So, I’ve been trying to learn to wait.

I’ve never been much of a wait-er.

I’m always pushing, trying to get the next thing done.

I love to be productive.

But I’m trying to learn patience in this season of my life.

It’s not about productivity right now. It’s about patience.

I’ve made an idol of productivity, of getting things done.

I’m trying to learn to enjoy the right here right now.

Look at all of the gifts God has given me. Let me enjoy each one in the moment. Not after I lose weight, after I get that next test done, after I feel better.

Right now.

And let me give thanks right now to that God that meets me in the waiting.

I’ve been in too much of a hurry to get somewhere else when God was right here.

Now, I’m trying to learn those things, I’m not saying that I have it down.

But I think God is teaching me His ways in the school of affliction.

I could tell you other things I’m learning: about love for others, about how much I’m loved by God and by His people, about how trustworthy God is, about good God is.

Verse 68, “You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.”

But the point I’m trying to make is that in the school of affliction, the curriculum is God’s precepts, God’s decrees, God’s statutes, God’s law, God’s command, God’s word, God’s way.

And it’s so GOOD! V.72

“The law from your mouth is more precious [more TOV, more Good!] to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.”

I’d rather be wise than rich.

That’s what he’s saying.

I’d rather have God’s wisdom, know God’s ways, than to have riches untold.

And one of the best ways to get that is to be enrolled in the school of affliction.

Not to enjoy the classes themselves but to wring out of them every bit of the knowledge of God that you can.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

Are you suffering right now?

What might God be trying to teach you?

It might hurt too much right now to think about that.

Perhaps you just need to have your hand held and be told that God loves you.

You are beloved of God.

He is going through this with you right now.

You are not alone.

He hates evil and suffering. And one day He will wipe away every tear from your eyes, Christian.

Maybe that’s what you need to hear right now.

But when you have a chance and can think about it, think about whether or not there might be deeper lessons for you to learn from that painfulness.

Is He trying to wake you up? Have you been going astray, and this is a wake-up call?

Make verse 66 your prayer.

“Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.”

Verse 68, “Teach me your decrees!”

I want to learn from this school of affliction!

I want to be able to say when my life is over and pain (which has been very little in the grand scheme of things, I must say again). But when my life is over, I want to be able to sing this verse with the psalmist in the new heavens and the new earth.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Thursday, July 02, 2015

#14. What makes prayer effective?

Christian Prayer Catechism: Question #14

Q. What makes prayer effective?

A. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

God responds to who I am, not just formally to what I say (James 5:16). He listens to the totality of my life, not just my words. I am not righteous in myself (thankfully!), but in Christ and in His “positional righteousness,” I am to grow in practical righteousness. The more I grow in Christ through repentance and faith, the more conformed I am to the image of Christ and the more I pray according to His will. The more I pray according to His will, the more effective my prayers become. W. Bingham Hunter has called this “The Prayer/Obedience Cycle” (The God Who Hears, 214). It is not a “magic formula,” but rather, a description of God’s active work of conforming us to the image of His Son and conforming our prayers to be efficacious like His, as well (Romans 8:26-31).