Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget none of his benefits (Psalm 103:1-2)
Isn’t it nice to be able just to pause sometimes and consider the things you have to be thankful for? When you think about those family members you love, and even some of the ones that sometimes drive you crazy … you’re still thankful, mostly, that they’re in your life. Think about your work if it gives you meaning. Think about the people you get to play with during your off time, your hobbies, the good graces of God. It’s good to think about those things.
But lurking behind that experience is a question: Are all those good things “rights” that I have, or do I not deserve any of them? What about you? Do you deserve all those things you were just thinking of?
John Claypool, my mentor in Birmingham, used to tell me, “Paul, remember that life is gift, and birth is windfall.” Neither is deserved, neither is earned. And so, if not even birth was deserved, then nothing in all of life is deserved. And that leads to a profound change of thought. When you realize that God truly is the giver of every gift in your life, you will be on the way to becoming a grateful person. And every day, you will say with the Psalmist: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget none of his benefits.”
When our culture talks about sex, its voice is deafening. We hear it at the movies, on TV, and in music. It’s 24/7/365.
It’s also very different from what God’s voice tells us. Put the two perspectives side by side, and you’ll find God’s wisdom about sex is better than anything culture can offer.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is responding to questions that first-century Christians were asking regarding their freedom in Christ—especially as it pertained to sex. Some of them said, “I’m free to do whatever I want! I can have sex with anyone, anytime, anywhere!” Paul responds, “Of course you’re free. But freedom has its limits.” His point: indulging in freedom is not always good for you. For example, you can decide that for the next month you’re going to eat 5000 calories a day in desserts only. But you’re probably not going to be free to wear last summer’s swimsuit.
So, when you’re weighing the voice of culture (“I’m free to do whatever feels good”) against what God says (“Sex is too important to be casual”), just remember that if freedom hurts you or others, it’s not real freedom.
Here at 365Discipleship, our purpose is to make discipleship a daily habit—the good kind, more like brushing your teeth than eating your broccoli. One of the easiest habits to cultivate in the Christian faith is daily worship. Psalm 100 provides a great example for us:
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all of you. Worship the Lord with gladness, come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture, enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name, for the Lord is good. His love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
The psalmist shows us that worship is to be joyful—if not passionate—and our emotions are to be strong. But you can’t worship someone you don’t know. If you don’t know God, it’s going to be really difficult to feel the joy of worship in church on a Sunday morning, much less while worshipping on your own. So, if you want a more passionate worship life, seek a more personal knowledge of and experience with God.
The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said you will find God when you seek him with all your heart. How do you seek him? You can seek him in his story. Begin reading the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Look for him beside a mountain stream or a Texas sunset. Hear him speak to you in a friend’s well-timed encouragement. I promise you, the more you look for him, the more you will find him. And the more you find him, the more you will get to know him—his character and his heart. Then, you’ll discover that worshiping him is the most natural response in the world.
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Take a minute and review the first 169 days of 2020. A lot has happened, and I mean a lot—a historic pandemic, the likes of which the world has not seen in 100 years—economic shutdown, personal lockdown, family quarantine, home school, work from home, and rituals lost. Just when it feels like it’s safe to get back into the water of life, a policeman in Minneapolis kneels on the neck of George Floyd until he is lifeless and the symptoms of a pervasive, festering racism in our nation break out–tears, mourning, protests, and violence.
Just because these things are happening, it doesn’t mean that the normal travails of life take time off—bills to pay, marriages to maintain, kids to corral, jobs to do, processes to pivot, and health to lose.
It’s no wonder you feel spent, frustrated, or even a little bit angry. You may be able to resonate with one of my father’s favorite laments, “I’m plumb numb.” I don’t know about you, but when I feel this way, it’s even hard for me to pray. I’m out of words.
That’s why I led with this consoling passage written by Paul the Apostle. Take a minute and read it again. You may find that in this moment when you feel poor in spirit, that you can echo the words of James Bryan Smith in his book The Magnificent Story:
The richest times of prayer for me are when I ask the Spirit what I should pray about and pray for. The Spirit searches my heart and beckons me to love what God loves. They are always good, beautiful, and true things. They are for things like love, joy, peace, kindness—the fruit of the Spirit—either for myself or others.
We can’t be sure what circumstances the rest of this year will bring, but there is one thing that we can count on. If we love God and entrust our lives to him, he will squeeze out his divine good in every one of them.
This weekend is Mother’s Day, so consider this email a friendly reminder to make sure you do something special for your mom this Sunday. No surprise here, it’s going to take a little more thought and creativity this year to aptly celebrate the one who brought you into this world.
For most of us, it will be a different kind of Mother’s Day celebration. . . no lunch out, flowers are in short supply, and you may not be able to get any closer to your mom than six feet.
It’s going to be a different kind of Mother’s Day celebration for me, too, but for a different reason. My mom passed away in October. Last month our family celebrated her first birthday in heaven. This month, my sister and I will celebrate our first Mother’s Day without her.
So, if you will allow me, I’d like to give a shout out to my mom, which hopefully will also remind you of why you appreciate yours.
Mom was a covenant keeper. When she married my dad, she made a vow to have and to hold him, for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish him till death parted them. Those traditional vows include two commitments—to have and to hold and to love and to cherish—and four conditions—for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and till death doth part.
When we marry, we tend to think most about the commitments. We’re so in love and geeked up on oxytocin—the bonding hormone—that we rarely think of the four conditions. Little did mom know that three short years from their wedding day, three of the four conditions would come into play with dad’s devastating accident . . . and for 56 years she kept the fourth one.
Covenant keeping is the thread which is spun to create the beautiful tapestry of human existence. If people don’t keep their covenants (think commitments), families splinter, relationships fizzle, companies collapse, cultures rot, and countries implode. The biblical phrase the righteousness of God, in its purest sense, means God keeps his covenants. Dare to think what would happen if the God of the universe didn’t keep his covenants.
Mom, thanks for being a covenant keeper . . . the fabric of our family was never raveled or torn, and I’m the better for it. My wife and children are the better for it. And those with whom I have influence are the better for it.
Moms, I know you want to give your kids every possible advantage so they can succeed in life. The list of things our culture tells you to do for your kids is long and exhausting. But, the one thing you can do which will have the single greatest impact on your children and your children’s children is to be a covenant keeper with your husband.
And by the way, dads, the best possible Mother’s Day present you could give to the mother of your children this year, is to be a covenant keeper too.
Since we now record our messages on Saturday afternoons, I find myself with more free time on Sundays. So, Robin and I are using this time afforded us by the lockdown to undertake the daunting task of cleaning out our garage—sorting through boxes of keepsakes and Christmas decorations.
Today we came across a small box of letters my dad had written to my mom in the early days of their marriage. Dad was in the Army stationed in Tokyo during the Korean Conflict. This is the first time I had seen his missives. I never would have guessed that Dad was such an innocent romantic. He called my mom Darling and Honey. He was effusive in his praise of the beauty of her hair and especially her eyes. He spoke often of his love for her and their future together, “I can’t wait to get home so I can finish school, be a geologist, and raise orchids (as a hobby) want to help?” “Bye now. I’ll see you in my dreams,”—killer close, Dad! Well played!
So much love to share, so much to look forward to, so much life to live. Dad could hardly wait for the time to pass so he could get home to be with his new bride. Neither of them could have known that less than a month after Dad graduated from college he would be in a near fatal oil field explosion which would maim his body and demolish many of their dreams.
When I headed out to clean the garage yesterday, the last thing I was expecting was a sacred moment peering back in time and seeing the blossoming love of my parents—a love which flowed down from them into my life and deeply enriched me. Yesterday was a very good day.
Why am I telling you these things? Well, I just don’t want you to miss a very important truth. No one knows what tomorrow brings, and it’s easy to miss what today could have brought.
I know this is an incredibly difficult, frustrating, and onerous time. I get it—an invisible enemy is lurking, homes have become schools, parents have become teachers, paychecks are tenuous, many of us are on our last nerve, and some of us need to be talked off the ledge.
But please, resist the temptation to just wish this time away. God has something for you. He has something he wants to show you. Seek him with your whole heart. Seek him with an open mind. Seek him with a willing spirit. There is no telling what you will find . . . in this hard time . . .
Not that long ago, your life was filled with events and activities and people. Maybe too many to count.
Now you’ve slowed down more than you ever thought possible. Some days simply drag, don’t they?
Most likely you wouldn’t have slowed down on your own. You needed outside help.
Over the years, I have been drawn to the words from Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” But I never knew how to obey them. I walk fast. I talk fast. I eat fast. I seldom slow down.
At my last church I preached on “The Demon of Hurry” … and confessed that I was possessed. So I vowed to slow down. I went on retreats of silence and solitude. I read books on how to “be still and know” that God is God. I confessed to God how seldom I was still and quiet. I succeeded in making a few external adjustments, but I didn’t change on the inside, where it counts.
Then a year or two ago, I ran across a winsome invitation from God in a book I was reading. He was asking me yet again to slow down. This time he gave me a way to do it. I liked it so much I made it into a screen saver for my desktop computer. Here it is.
Reading those two sentences every day began to change me on the inside. They showed me a way to slow down and be still before God. Of course, it still took a pandemic to make me slow down. But when it came, I was ready.
You’ve been forced to slow down. You can be mad about it. You can be sad about it. Or you can be glad about it. I’m choosing to be glad. Will you join me?
I hope I’m a lifelong learner. But there are some life-truths I wish I had learned years ago.
Take the idea of fixing people. Or saving them. It’s the same thing.
Here’s how it goes.
Someone you know struggles with addictions, or relationships, or just life in general.
You convince yourself that you have the power, time, and wisdom to solve their problem and alleviate their suffering.
Whether invited or not, you start trying to fix it. Or to be honest, to fix them.
Where does this thought process come from? To put it simply, it comes from thinking too highly of yourself and too lowly of God. Whaaaaaaat? Let’s dig deeper.
When you think too highly of yourself, you think you can save people from their sins. Not in the sense of dying to redeem them – Jesus already did that. But in the sense of saving them from the consequence of their sins. Why? Because you don’t want them to suffer. Why? Because you think suffering is wrong. Why? Because you’ve suffered, and it’s no fun. Bottom line: Jesus saves people from the guilt of their sin, but you try to save them from the consequences.
When you think too lowly of God, it’s because you don’t like the way he lets others experience the painful effects of their bad decisions. So you try to help him. (Lucky God, what a helper he has in you.) But in the process, you undermine God’s plan of maturing people through trials. You also get people to depend on you rather than on him.
I’ve done this, more times that I can count. If you’ve done it, you know it’s a recipe for disaster. For everyone involved.
Let’s be encouraged by the words of a Scottish pastor, now deceased. Writing to all of us who think we are supposed to save others, he says:
Some meddling ministers want to sort everybody out (= fix everyone). There are some people who will die with mixed-up personalities, and they may be true believers. Don’t try to do the impossible … Know your limitations, and know what God is seeking to do in the world, and what part in it He wants you to play … Most people crack up because they try to do what God never intended them to do. (William Still)
If you think you’re supposed to save people, re-read that last paragraph. May it free you from the savior complex. You’re not Jesus. I’m not Jesus. Praise Jesus.
Thankful that the School of Discipleship is still in session, and that we can still learn, Paul
As you enter week 5 of sheltering-at-home, remember how you’re wired. Introverts and extroverts approach life differently.
If you’re a natural introvert, you enjoy time alone so you can re-charge. Thinking, reading, and walking your dog are your idea of a good time. Of course you enjoy hanging out with others, but too much of a good thing wears you out. If this is you, it’s easy to be by yourself. You’re having to learn to be with others.
If you’re a natural extrovert, you enjoy time with others. Talking, debating, and laughing are hallmarks of a good day. You don’t really get depressed when others are gone and you’re all alone, but it’s not your happy place. If this is you, you know how to be with others. You’re having to learn to be by yourself.
Bottom line: extroverts and introverts deal differently with shelter-at-home. May I offer some wisdom to both types?
To introverts: People probably need you more than you think. Give them the gift of yourself. When you’ve had all you can take, retreat for a breather. But after you inhale deeply, head back into the den and be prepared to exhale for a while.
To extroverts: You need time alone more than you think. Give yourself the gifts of silence and solitude every day. Blaise Pascal warned: “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” After you sit in a quiet room alone for a bit, head back to into the den where life is happening.
And now a prayer for all of us:
Father, you made us in your image. Let us value how that image shows up in each of us, whether introverted or extroverted. Let us live fully into the beauty of our uniqueness, even as we learn how to become friends with our shadow side. For the sake of those who have to live with us every day. Amen