Category Archives: Uncategorized

How To Pray For An Hour

“Lord, teach us to pray” Luke 11:1

Last week I spent an hour working my way through Jon Tyson’s  “How To Pray For An Hour” prayer wheel.

Prayer_How to pray for an hour

I do not believe there are short-cuts when it comes to expanding and deeping one’s prayer life.  However, tools like this are really helpful in learning how to pray.  As someone who struggles with prayer, I’ve discovered that I need resources like this to guide me along and keep me focused.

It’s been a long time since I prayed for an hour on my own.  I decided to walk and pray through downtown Nelson, and I was shocked at how quickly the time flew by.  In fact, I ended up expanding several of these sections far beyond 5 minutes, and ended up praying for about 1.5 hours!

Today I didn’t have a one-hour block through which I could move through the entire wheel in one session.  However, I made it my goal to move through the wheel over the course of the day.  Although a different experience, it was just as powerful to pray through this tool as my day unfolded.  I can see both practices becoming part of my weekly ritual.

You may or may not find a tool like this helpful, but one of its strengths is that it forces you into modes of prayer that, depending on your spiritual love language, you may avoid or simply neglect.  Case in point: I can’t remember the last time I prayed for “Holy Alertness.”  And yet as I made my way through the streets of Nelson I was instantly sensitized to how critical a prayer that is for me as both a pastor and Christian.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could pray for an hour without a tool like this to help me.  As I Mind type I’d rather talk about, think about, study, read, or teach on prayer than actually pray.  I’m therefore very thankful for leaders like Jon Tyson who share resources that I can use to practice prayer in an intentional and sustained way.

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Bible Overview Series: Leviticus

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Leviticus by Joseph Novak

At the mountain they wait in love and terror, while holy words pass through them like a sword.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Leviticus

You could sum up the book of Leviticus with God’s repeated command: “Be holy, as I am holy.” Leviticus is a book of laws, but it’s also a book of worship. This book is filled with details on how the people of God should live, eat, sacrifice, celebrate, and more. The name “Leviticus” refers to the many laws for the priests, all of whom belonged to the tribe of Levi.

Leviticus is the third movement in the Penteteuch (the five books of Moses), and picks up where Exodus leaves off. This children of Israel have just erected a tabernacle at Mount Sinai, and now the Lord is relaying specific laws through Moses to His people. There’s very little narrative in the book of Leviticus, but a few important things take place, such as Aaron’s ordination and the deaths of Aaron’s sons. The story of Israel’s journey to the promised land picks back up in the book of Numbers.

Theme verse of Leviticus

“Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.” (Le 20:26)

Leviticus’ role in the Bible

Leviticus is about holiness (being set apart, separate)—both God’s holiness and the holiness He expects of His people.

Whereas Exodus displays God’s holiness on a cosmic scale (sending plagues on Egypt, parting the Red Sea, etc.), Leviticus shows us the holiness of God in fine detail. God spells out His expectations for His priests and people so that the congregation can appropriately worship and dwell with Him.

The call to holiness in Leviticus resounds throughout Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments. Parts of the Levitical law are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, such as distinctions between clean and unclean foods (Mark 7:18–19), but the call to holiness still stands—Peter even cites Leviticus when he encourages us to be holy in all our behavior (1 Peter 1:15–16).

Quick outline of Leviticus

 

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Bible Overview Series: Exodus

Exodus2

Exodus by Joseph Novak

 

Barefoot on the hot sand, he stares into the flame and haggles with a god whose name he cannot say.

(Ben Myers’ #CanonFodder Summary)

 


Jeffrey Kranz’s Overview of Exodus

The book of Exodus is the story of God rescuing the children of Israel from Egypt and making them His people. Exodus is the second book of the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses), and it’s where we find the stories of the Ten Plagues, the first Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Ten Commandments.

Exodus picks up where Genesis leaves off: the young nation of Israel is in Egypt (they were invited by Joseph, the one with the famous coat). A new Pharaoh notices the Israelites multiplying, and enslaves them. Afraid of an uprising, he orders that all Hebrew sons should be cast into the Nile at birth. But one son escapes this decree.

Moses is hidden in a basket and set afloat in the Nile—where Pharaoh’s daughter discovers him. Moses is grows up as her son. When an adult Moses sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he kills the Egyptian and leaves the country to escape capital punishment.

Forty years later, God appears to Moses as a burning bush and sends him to deliver Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. Moses, with the help of his brother Aaron, confronts Pharaoh on God’s behalf: “Let My people go” (Ex 5:1). Pharaoh refuses, and so God sends 10 plagues upon the Egyptians:

  1. Water turns to blood.
  2. Swarms of frogs cover the land.
  3. Gnats infest the land.
  4. Swarms of flies fill the air.
  5. Egyptian cattle die.
  6. Boils break out on Egyptians.
  7. Hail and fire rain down.
  8. Locusts consume Egyptian crops.
  9. Darkness covers the land.
  10. Every firstborn dies.

When the last plague kills Pharaoh’s son, he finally allows Israel to leave.

The sons of Israel leave Egypt and make their way to Mount Sinai, where God gives His laws to Moses. God makes a covenant with the nation of Israel and the generations to come: because He rescued them from Egypt, Israel is to observe His rules. God speaks the Ten Commandments directly to the whole nation of Israel, and He relays specific ordinances to Moses on the mountain.

God does not stop with a list of rules, however. He gives Moses instructions for a tabernacle, a special tent of worship.

The book of Exodus ends with the glory of the LORD filling the tabernacle: God is now dwelling among His chosen people, Israel. The book of Leviticus goes on to document the laws God gives His people at Mount Sinai.

Theme verse of Exodus

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Ex 20:2)

Exodus’s role in the Bible

Exodus is a starburst of Old and New Testament theology. God is faithful, and keeps His promise to Abraham (Gn 15:13–21) by judging the Egyptians and liberating Israel. The Lord also gives Israel the first iteration of the Law, and begins to dwell among His people in the tabernacle. God’s liberation of Israel from slavery foreshadows His work to redeem the nations (Ro 6:17–18), just as His judgment on His people serves as an example for Christians now (1 Co 10:6–13). Exodus is also where God reveals His memorial name: YHWH, or LORD (Ex 3:146:3).

Quick outline of Exodus

 

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What Makes Community Distinctively “Christian”?

In Mark 3:13–19 we find Jesus bringing his disciples together and appointing 12 to be his apostles.  The text, while seemingly a straightforward list of names, gives many important insights into the nature of Christian community.

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

I know this seems like a list of names and not at all relevant to what we’re talking about, but there’s actually 5 things embedded in this passage that should radically challenge our understanding of Christian community:

1. Christian community is Jesus-centred.  This might seem like a no-brainer, but a lot that is named Christian community isn’t centred on Jesus and his gospel.  Jesus centres the community around himself, so we should be leering of any other expression of community that is grounded in something other than the person and work of Jesus.

If Jesus isn’t the centre of our gatherings, an idol of our own making–even a well intended one–will take his place.  And that move will spell certain doom from the outset.  Bonhoeffer, commenting on the temptation to centre our quest for community on an idealized vision of what could/should be instead of the person of Jesus is dynamite here:

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.” Life Together

 2. Christian community is based on comraderie, not chemistry.  Jesus gathered together people who had little common affinity.  Scratch that:  Jesus actually gathered people who were natural enemies!  A tax collector and a zealot!? There would have been no love lost between a collaborator with Rome (Matthew) and a zealot (Simon) who is seeking to overthrow Rome and use violent means if necessary!

What is Jesus doing?!  He’s showing us a different expression of community; one that speaks to the heart of God’s intentions for the world and the gospel itself.  Jesus does not expect this group to like each other, but he gathers them together to learn to love–starting with loving those you honest wished weren’t part of the group.

That means we shouldn’t expect Christian community to be founded on chemistry and sympatico.  Sure, we will develop friendships within our churches, small groups, etc., but when Jesus forms communities he does so on the basis of camaraderie.  Camaraderie is a feeling of trust, a bond created by a shared goal or experience.  It runs deepen than chemistry.  It goes beyond a convenient collection of complimentary personality types.   When a group is grounded in comraderie, you don’t have to be best friends with everyone in the group to know you have their support.  Therefore, genuine Christian community doesn’t mean you’re best friends with everyone and the group never expereinces any friction or conflict.  What it does mean is that there is a driving experience (Jesus’ call, salvation, and Lordship) that holds the group together and teaches the group to value and love each other.

3. Christian community is a means, not an end.   Jesus calls many disciples to himself, but he appoints twelve as apostles. Why?  He’s rebooting Israel.  “I’ve called you together…for a (re)newed mission!  You are blessed to be a blessing!” (cf. Genesis 12:1-3).  Christian community is always a means to a greater end (i.e. glorifying God and forwarding his mission). When the experience of community becomes the end we’re chasing, it poisons and rots things from the inside out.

 4. Christian community is a commitment to “one another.”  Christian community isn’t driven by the question, “what’s in it for me?” but “how can I be a blessing to others?”  This means a radical commitment to what much of the later epistles spell out in the “one another’s”:

  • Love one another (John 13:34, 15:12)
  • Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10)
  • Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
  • Serve one another (John 13:1-20; Galatians 5:13)
  • Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
  • Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32)
  • Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
  • Be honest with one another (Colossians 3:9)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • Confess to one another (James 5:16)
  • Pray for one another (James 5:16)

On a later occassion Jesus gave his disciples a new command:

John 13:34 “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Christian community comes into being when a critical mass of people in a church/group/fellowship begin asking “how can I creatively love and serve these brothers and sisters?” instead of, “when will this group meet my wants and needs?”

5. Christian Community is consistent.  One characteristic that should define Christian community is that it is consistent.  Jesus called his disciples together into a new way of life where they were committed to doing life together as they learned under him.

Today, my sense is that far too many Christians do not take seriously their communal responsibilities to one another.  The first believers met daily for encouragement, prayer, support, study, etc., and while I acknowledge that model isn’t doable for most of us in our contexts, I don’t think our default position should be, “I’m committed until something better comes along.”  More and more of us are rationalizing going to church every 2nd or 3rd week.  We show up at youth group if/when we want.  We sign up for a small group but attend sporadically.

And after weeks/months/years living inside of this lifestyle of casual commitment, we wonder why our experience of Christian community is so thin–or even non-existent?

I don’t think anyone would ever accuse me of being a legalist, but I think it’s important to recognize that it’s become very easy to place gathering together with other Christians consistently far down the priority ladder.  Which makes sense if church is something you fit into your agenda.  But it doesn’t make sense if through gatherings like Sunday worship, small groups, bible studies, etc., Jesus is seeking to reshape your life around his agenda.

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A New Bible Overview Series Begins!

I love the Bible. I love to study it, read it, ponder it, chew it, apply it, and let it shape me into greater Christlikeness.  It is the Word of God and an incredible gift.

I know many Christians feel the same way. However, getting into the Bible can be a challenge for many of us. Sure, we may be familiar with a few books (the Gospels, Psalms, and one or two of Paul’s epistles seem like a safe bet), but what about the other ones? What about the books that we can’t even pronounce? What about the books that are difficult and boring to read?  What about the books that feel completely disconnected from our lives here and now? What are we supposed to do with those books?

My experience (both personally and pastorally) leads me to believe that many of us end up simply avoiding these books altogether. Maybe at some point in the past we tried to engage them, but we quickly found ourselves lost and discouraged.  We gave up, assuming there was no hope in getting a handle on what was going on in these Scriptures and how any of it relates to us. I know that I’ve found myself in that place many times over my 23 years as a follower of Jesus.

But we don’t have to stay stuck in discouragement and confusion!  In many cases, getting a basic overview of the context of each of the Bible’s books can be massively helpful and illuminating!

That’s why today I’m going to be starting an extended blog series providing an overview of each book of the Bible. My hope is that you’ll use it to familiarize yourself with each book’s major themes, people, places, etc. Furthermore, as you engage the Scriptures personally or together with others, you’ll be able to jump to a particular book summary post and get a 3-minute grounding in the immediate context of the passage(s) you’re exploring.  That will go a long way in helping you understand how what you’re reading a) fits within the larger Scriptural narrative and, b) how it connects with your life and calling as a Christian.

Full disclosure: I’m acting as content facilitator for this series, not content generator!  None of what you’re going to read is my own work (ok, maybe I’ll chime in a few times!).  For the most part, however, each blog post will incorporate the fantastic work of three theologians I’ve been blessed to discover this year: Jeffrey Kranz (www.overviewbible.com) , Ben Myers (@FaithTheology on Twitter), and Joseph Novak (www.minimumbible.com). Each of these guys provides a powerful angle through which to understand each of the Bible’s 66 books, and I’m simply going to be pulling their efforts together into one cohesive space.  I think doing so is going to be hugely awesome.  As I’ve tracked with each of their respective projects my passion to engage the Bible has only increased!

The book of Genesis goes up later today.  See you then!

In his dust,

Jeff

 

 

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Growing Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength in 2014

Yesterday I blogged on the topic of how to set goals, and how using the categories of Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength can be really helpful to that end.  Today I thought I’d share what I’ve landed on as my personal goals in these areas for 2014

Heart
I’ve never been good at confronting things (i.e. a situation or my own feelings).  It’s very hard for me to be genuinely honest with myself and others.  I tend to either minimize the issue, or try to solve it in my head in isolation.  The results are never good.  I just feel more lonely, more frustrated, and more disempowered.  There are all kinds of reasons why the idea of confronting issues head-on causes me to recoil into myself, but I want to learn to become more aware of when and why I do this, and adopt practices that will help me avoid avoiding.

Soul
I’ve been reading Mark Scandrette’s book “Free” over the past few days, and I really love his phrase “living with presence and purpose.”  Living with purpose has never been an issue for me.  But living with presence is another story.  I’m so “next steps” focused that I rarely feel grounded in God’s peace and power.  I “know” about God’s peace and power, but my desire to do more (often fueled by anxiety and fear that I’m not doing enough) robs me of a lot of joy and life.  I really want 2014 to be different in that regard.  I want to come to know in a deeper way what it means to rest in God’s grace and live with presence and purpose amid all of my competing demands.

To that end, there are a few spiritual disciplines that I’d like to focus on this year.  Specifically, I’m going to be experimenting with different practices in the areas of prayer, journaling, and Sabbath-keeping.  If I find any of them especially helpful I’ll post some details at a later date.

Mind
I need to read more books.  I’ve gotten out of the book reading habit and have developed an unhealthy attachment to articles, blog posts, and other quick-reads.  But I’m more and more convinced that there’s something uniquely formative about inhabiting an author’s head/heart space for a time.  I’m aiming to read 2-3 books a month; a commitment that will force me out of my habit of defaulting to internet articles and “bits and pieces” reading.

I’m also going to continue my modified Grant Horner reading plan.  I want to be saturated in the Word of God, and this plan helps me do that.  I rarely read the prescribed ten chapters per day.  Instead, I aim to read 5 chapters a day and therefore progress through the plan at half-speed.

Strength
While welcoming Avery Eden Strong into our family last June was an enormous blessing, I found the transition back into sleepless nights and inconsistent daily patterns a terrible one.  I ate poorly, was the most inactive I’ve been in a while, and was exhausted most of the time.  Most days I was just trying to keep it together, doing my best for the Grindstone community and trying to be a serviceable father and husband.  As 2014 begins, Avery has finally begun to sleep through the night, and it feels as though our family is settling into a better–although imperfect–rhythm.  I’m very excited to start taking care of myself and growing stronger through proper rest, proper eating, and proper exercise.  While I’m hoping to transition into more lofty fitness goals as 2014 unfolds, right now I’m very content to focus on eating well, sleeping well, and starting to exercise daily.  Although I’ve tended to try to storm out of the gate and bite off more than I can chew when it comes to personal health and fitness, I’ve also become comfortable with the realization that in order to build momentum in this area, I’m going to have to start slow and small, and let things develop in a way that is sustainable.

 

 

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Fourth Week of Advent: Monday, December 23rd

Zephaniah 3:14–17

14 Sing, O Daughter of Zion;
shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
O Daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”  

Why does God come to us in the vulnerable form of our own humanity?  To establish once and for all that He desires intimacy with us.

This is a God, who while “mighty to save,” tends to save through subtle, quiet, almost imperceptible means.  But that’s how He tends to express his love as well.  He takes delight in us by quieting us with His love and rejoicing over us with singing.

When I tuck my children into bed, I often spent time quieting them with my love.  It’s one of the most meaningful parts of my day.  It’s amazing to think that God wants that kind of interaction and intimacy with me.

Do I carve out time to simply sit in God’s presence and let him take delight in me?

Advent is a time to remember that God came to us in Jesus in order to show us the depths of His delight in us!

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Third Week of Advent: Friday, December 20th

John 9:1–9

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

 We have to stop thinking of the world as a kind of moral slot-machine, where people put in a coin (a good act, say, or an evil one) and get out a particular result (a reward or a punishment). Of course, actions always have consequences. Good things often happen as a result of good actions (kindness produces gratitude), and bad things often happen through bad actions (drunkenness causes car accidents). But this isn’t inevitable. Kindness is sometimes scorned. Some drunkards always get away with it.

In particular, you can’t stretch the point back to a previous ‘life’, or to someone else’s sins. Being born blind doesn’t mean you must have sinned, says Jesus. Nor does it mean that your parents must have sinned. No: something much stranger, at once more mysterious and more hopeful, is going on. The chaos and misery of this present world is, it seems, the raw material out of which the loving, wise and just God is making his new creation.

When Jesus heals the man, John clearly intends us to see the action as one of the moments in the gospel when God’s truth and the world’s life (theology and history, if you like) come rushing together into one. ‘I am the light of the world’, says Jesus in verse 5, sending our minds back yet once more to the Prologue: ‘life was in him, and this life was the light of the human race’ (1:4). As the passage goes on, we see part of what it means that ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness didn’t overcome it’. John’s gospel is pushing us forward in heart and mind towards God’s new creation, the time when God will make all things new. Wright, T. (2004). John for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-10 (pp. 133–134). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

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Third Week of Advent: Tuesday, December 18th

1 John 1:5–7

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 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, purifies us from all sin.  

Many Christians are confused as to why they aren’t experiencing fellowship (i.e. deep connection) with God and other Christians.  John writes that obedience to the way of Jesus (i.e. walking “in the light”) is necessary in order for that connection to be experienced in any real way.  We cannot expect to feel connected to God and other Christians if we living in whatever way suits us.

Where am I playing “fast and loose” in terms of my obedience to God, but expecting His blessing to come nonetheless?

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Third Week of Advent: Sunday, December 15th

Isaiah 60:1–3

60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

The hope of Israel before the coming of Jesus the Messiah was rooted in the conviction that God’s faithfulness to His covenants made with Abraham and his descendants (i.e. Israel–the people of God) could not be shaken or placed in jeopardy.  Despite periods of “thick darkness,” the Lord would rise and His glory would set things right: not just for Israel, but for the entire fallen world.

That was a longing that every Israelite felt deep in their bones.  Their love and obedience to God was connected to this shared longing for restoration.  The forces of darkness, evil, and death were realities that consistently confronted Israel throughout its history.  And yet Israel clung to the prophets’ voice that dared to proclaim that darkness, evil, and death would not be the end of their story.

Who in your life needs to hear that good news?  How could you be a gentle, humble witness to fact that Jesus’ glory has appeared, and He has come to invite those living in thick darkness into an entirely new life of hope, peace, and joy?

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