Not Alone in the Dark…

We never “really” get over it. That feeling that what we cannot see just might “get us!” When we were small children, our parents may have installed nightlights to show us that nothing was really in the room with us at bedtime. They may have inspected the closet and looked under the bed to demonstrate that nothing bad was there. They may have even explained to us all the reasons our fears were irrational and reminded us that they were on the far side of the house (away from us) and that if we needed them…we only needed to cry out.

The feeling never went away. We wondered if the object of our fears might be lurking in a shadow or may have been overlooked when inspecting the closet. Our real issue was not the darkness but the sense that we were alone.

How does one find peace from the fear and anxiety that bad things happen when we are alone?

I think this is the heartbeat of Jesus’ statement to His followers just prior to His ascension back to the Father in heaven… “and I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus never promised that bad people or bad things would not come against us. He never declared our lives to be filled with unicorns and cotton candy. He, in fact, declared the opposite, “In this world you will have tribulation!” (John 16:33). And at the same time, Christ indicated that we could experience a profound peace, even amid our difficult circumstance.

God’s PEACE is not experienced based on the absence of trouble but on the presence of God.

In Psalm 23, David declared, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.” God’s presence put our “trouble” in perspective.

A boy was having difficulties with a bully on the walk to school. After several confrontations, he was so afraid of what would happen that he dreaded even walking that way again. His father, recognizing the real issue, did not promise to remove the bully but chose instead to walk with his son on the journey the next day. When they faced the bully kid along the walk, there was no issue. The bully was the same, but the son had confidence because his dad was bigger than the bully and HE WAS WITH HIM.

Today, as you face the challenges that are guaranteed to come, don’t fear the dark or dread being alone. If you are His child, you are never alone…not even in the dark. “Fear not for I am with you. Do not be discouraged, for I am your God.” (Isaiah 41:10).

Growth through Deeper Study

Last week, I wrote an article on How I will grow spiritually in 2018, and since then, I have written several articles on different parts of the disciplines I use in my own spiritual development: Scripture Reading plans, devotionals, and reading from Proverbs. Today I want to discuss the fourth discipline- Reading for Deeper Understanding.

This may sound a little weird, but it shouldn’t. What I am speaking of is a slower, more methodical study of a specific Book in the Bible, along with study tools, to get a deeper understanding.

For instance, right now I am reading the Minor Prophet Hosea again. It is a fairly short book but it will take me a while to work through it because I am in no hurry. I almost always have a commentary available and some tool to help me with the original language. The goal…is to grasp the full context of a passage or a book and understand not only what was said but why it was said, to whom was it spoken, and about what did it refer.

For example: Hosea was a prophet in Israel (Northern Kingdom) for around 40 years. The Israelites living there had forsaken almost everything holy except the name of being God’s people. They acknowledged God but lived like all religious roads ended up at the same place. Furthermore, they pursued many of these religious pursuits through sexual immorality, idolatry, and self-sufficiency. Their priests had abdicated their responsibility of teaching truth and calling for repentance to the point…that the people wrestled with even knowing the truth.

This background sets the context for God’s instructions to Hosea to marry a prostitute and have children with her…giving them weird names of prophetic significance. God said the prostitute (whose name was Gomer by-the-way) would cheat on Hosea and return to harlotry. God then told Hosea to go and pay her ransom and bring her home, purify her, and love her.

Now I will confess…I have had some tough assignments as a minister…but seriously! This has to take the cake! What under heaven is God thinking?

Well, God wants Hosea to live out a parable demonstrating God’s love toward a rebellious people. As Hosea took a wife that slept around, God has taken a people that committed spiritual adultery with every false religion on the block! As Hosea was hurt by his wife’s return to harlotry, God is hurt by ours. As Hosea went and redeemed and purified his wife, receiving her back to himself, God redeems us (sinful spiritual harlots), purifies us and receives us to Himself (See Rom 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, Eph 5:22-33, et. al.)

So with a little help from scholars and taking my time…the depths of knowledge of God’s heart resulting in an overwhelming appreciation for His matchless grace rises up!

So, all that to say that in addition to the other things, I am also involved in this discipline which really is one of the most encouraging parts of my devotional time with God.

Maybe, if you really want to “get it” with God…give it a try. Use a Study Bible or purchase a commentary on a particular book and give it a whirl…after all, if you can understand God better and that results in pasisonate worship…what do you have to lose?

Grace and Peace.

PC.

 

Why I Read Devotionals…

A few days back I posted an article on How I would grow spiritually in 2018. I wanted to expand on one of the pieces of the plan…why I read devotionals as part of my daily strategy.

Encouragement. God often has a way of speaking to my heart through another writer’s words. Chambers, Blackaby, Johnny Hunt, Boyd Bailey, John Piper… they’ve all been used by God to scratch an itch…sometimes when I did not even know I had one.

Growth. I learn things about how to communicate truth by reading how others do it. I know that sometimes, when I speak, my “prophet” can come out and even a good and true and correct and even helpful word can be lost in the delivery.

Perspective. Community was always part of God’s plan to grow us. Someone once said that if you refuse to listen to others, soon you’ll not have anyone speak to you that has anything to say. (Insert Facebook counseling reference here).

Primer. I usually read my devotionals first. Before by Scripture time. It helps “prime the pump” of my mind…allowing me to ease into an encounter with God’s Word. Devotionals are written conversationally so they digest a little easier. At least they do for me.

My devotional “stash” shifts every year it seems, but I have some classics I come back to often. Here are a few. I recommend checking your App Store if you use a device during your devotional time. All of these except one are available online. Since I always have my tablet with me, they are readily available…taking away the excuse of inconvenience.

My devotional reading takes about 15 minutes a day.

What’s the financial investment? It is up to you. I purchased the print devotional at a conference I think…and the Chambers, while free, I purchased an App for .99 that gives me both classic and modern language and an easy share feature…but it is available in Facebook and online too. It was just convenient to spend the dollar. As always, I recommend a donation to the other ministries who have put together these tools. The time and technology are not free and I think $20 here and there is good stewardship and support.

OBJECTIONS:

No way pastor! I don’t have time for five devotionals. I have a real job! I get it, friend. Two things.

  • First, this is all part of my personal discipline. I am not “on the clock” at my “job” when I get in my quiet time. So, it’s kinda like you and your real job scenario.
  • Second, I didn’t start with five and I am not militant about it. Sometimes their daily writing is boring and I may skim one…or be pressed because I overslept and only get one or two and have to read the others online during the day (if I get to them at all). Maybe try one. CHAMBERS is my classic go to…and Hunt’s Devotional is my favorite…mostly because it is written by pastors and I hear their heart as I read it.

So, enjoy…and if you have something to add or are doing a better plan, share in the comments and I would love to hear and learn from you.

Grace and Peace,

PC.

 

Why I like Bible Reading Plans…

So, yesterday, I posted an article on How I was going to grow in 2018. Today and for a few more days, I am going to expand on parts of that post in hopes of “selling you” on the benefits of some of the components of the plan. [That kind of disclaimer must meet the approval of the Federal Trade Commission- FTC] 🙂

I really have come to like Dr. Robby Gallaty and Replicate ministries. I spent a little time talking with some of the guys who lead this ministry and love the direction. Some of the men in our church use this plan as the backbone of their weekly discipleship group meetings (D-Groups).

While I have “liked” the ministry, this is my first time going through it, in earnest, personally. Here is what I think really connects-

  • Accessibility. I love that there is an app for this that includes the Bible (CSB) though I prefer to read from my print Bible, that there is a plan with checkboxes for the daily Scripture, a built-in place to journal reflections, and the ability to do this in community. (You can form groups that read along the same plan together and even share journal reflections if you wish).
  • Bible-centric. I have a deep conviction that any good growth strategy has to MAJOR on Scripture. Even if you don’t understand everything well in the beginning, by reading it, you gain something and when you read it again, you gain more. I greatly prefer bible-centered time over book-centered (i.e. a group reads a book together and discusses it). Those are good, and have their place, but should never take priority over Scripture study.
  • Cost-effective. I know dudes who will spend $800 for a new phone and tell me they don’t have $20 for a Jesus conference. This ministry takes away that excuse by making the “bones” of this program available at no charge; however, I always recommend supporting their ministry by purchasing books or making a contribution. You don’t manage a tool like this for free.
  • Scalability. By that, I mean that you can get in and out of this by reading, journaling, and memorizing a couple verses in 10-15 minutes a day. Or, as you grow and God speaks, you can invest more time for a greater return on your investment as the Lord leads.

I remember rolling out an initiative at church a few years back and one of my “opportunity people” (the guy who never agrees with anything, and gives you an opportunity grow in grace and improve your prayer time) came up to me to tell me why he thought my plan was wrong and he was going to do his own thing which was better! Well, he didn’t. He ended up leaving the church, and another church, and another church and is now giving some other pastor opportunities to grow in grace. In the end, my experience with him reminded me that, as an old preacher once said, “I like what I do better than what you’re not doing.”

There may be better things out there, and even better for you. If you are doing something that works…GREAT! But if not, try this. If you’re not sure if your system is working the best…try this for a season and you will have something to compare it to. If you have something better, tell me. I love to learn about new and better tools to help people become like Jesus…starting with me.

You can get info on Replicate Ministry and the F-260 Bible Reading plan HERE, or by searching for their App in your devices store.

If you want to discuss joining a group with me to grow together and find some accountability in the new journey, hit me up. We can do it!

Grace and Peace,

PC

How I will grow Spiritually in 2018…

Yesterday, I asked some questions that were challenging to me, as well as to the church I am privileged to lead.

Do you know God better at the end of 2017 than you did at the beginning?

 

How will you ensure that you know God better at the end of 2018 than you do today…Jan 1, 2018?

Almost too obvious to mention…recent studies show that the best spiritual development tool is the Bible. Those who read the Bible demonstrate greater spiritual maturity than those who don’t.

My challenge was to choose to grow by:

  • Take 15 minutes to read God’s Word every day.
  • Choose to attend YOUR CHURCH weekly if at all possible.
  • Serve others in and through your church.

These three actions have produced greater growth in my life than nearly anything I can imagine. Of course, I’m not saying that walking through trials and loving people that drive me nuts sometimes are not also part of God’s growth plan. They are! But, I cannot choose my trials…only respond to them. I cannot manufacture opportunities to rub wings with people that God uses to refine me…only do it when they come into my orbit.

So, how will I intentionally grow in 2018?

Let me list a few resources that are part of my daily discipline for the year:

  • F-260 by Replicate Ministry. This is a great discipleship tool for growth, community and accountability. https://replicate.org/f260-bible-reading-plan/. They have an app which is on my iPad and I timed it this morning- 25 minutes to read 2 chapters, write out memorization verses, and to reflect and journal on my reading. If you’re looking for a system, try this one. I will even connect with you for community and accountability if you message me.
  • Devotionals. I find it helpful for me to read devo thoughts from others. Here are a couple of my daily reads- Solid Joys by Desiring God. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/solid-joys-daily-bible-devotional/id553049864?mt=8 ; Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, https://utmost.org/ ; Wisdom Hunters by Boyd Bailey, https://www.wisdomhunters.com/; Experiencing God Day-by-Day, by Blackaby, http://www.blackaby.net/; and a print devotional I picked up from Johnny Hunt, Grace, Hope, and Love: My Daily Devotional. My devotional reading takes about 15 minutes a day. What I like? The different perspectives. God has a way of squeezing in truth when I wasn’t expecting it. I also like that all are on my phone or iPad through an App (except for Johnny Hunt’s devo, though I have Chambers downloaded (cost .99). Total cost is about $17/year.
  • Proverbs. A chapter from Proverbs corresponding to the day of the month. 3-5 minutes
  • Additional Bible reading for deeper study. Apart from preparation to teach and preach, it is part of my discipline to read slowly and research more deeply different books of the Bible. No rigid pace here. I like to Major and Minor prophets a lot, though I do cycle through the NT letters as well. 10 minutes.
  • Prayer. Last but not least, some uninterrupted time of speaking to God and listening…allowing my mind to be directed as God leads it and speaks to me. I personally feel this is my weakest area…due to my own impatience. That’s why we call it a discipline. 10 minutes.

So if you add it up, about an hour and five minutes or so a day.

“Wait…you said, pastor, 15 minutes a day for God.” Sure! That’s a great place to start. Grab one devotional, and Proverbs and 2 chapters a day…or jump on the F-260 plan…or grab a bible reading plan from YouVersion. Start somewhere. God will guide you from there.

I’ll expand a little more later in the week on what this looks like…but NEW YEAR, NEW YOU! Start today and next year, you’ll be blown away at your answer to the question, “How do I know God better at the end of 2018 than at the beginning?”

Grace and Peace.

PC

What I want you to know about Christmas

As many people I know enjoying a family holiday weekend, I realize that not everyone is working from the same understanding, that Christmas is a celebration of the coming of the Messiah, God’s one and only Son, and that His coming was the fulfillment of a promise that God made to save His people. The point, even more than the miraculous markers of Christ’s birth, is that God fulfilled a promise and that those who believe in that promise have come to possess an amazing hope.

Christmas is about far more than the miraculous birth of Jesus. It is about more than manger scenes or gifts delivered to this young boy from wise men who honored a small child as the king of the Jews.

Christmas is about a dark world that had not heard (prophetically) from God for centuries. It is about a people living in subjection to a government that was not oriented to God, but one that saw itself as a god or one of many gods. Christmas is about people living in darkness, starved for hope, doing the best they could…and God choosing to speak into that darkness with a message of hope. This hope is that you do not have to make up for all your errors. You do not have to correct every offense toward God. It is impossible to do so. But you do have to admit that you are in a mess that you cannot correct on your own.

Christmas is about God speaking hope into darkness. It is about God bringing life to the lifeless.

It is about God doing what no one else could and what He was never obligated to do except for, perhaps, His own self-obligation…His promise to save people from their sins. Christmas is about God’s fulfilled promise.

In a world given to protesting everything it doesn’t like about anything, I find it glorious that God did not protest mankind’s rebellion. He did not shut down the conversation, or ignore us. He did not yell at us or incessantly repeat the occasions of our failures. He came to save us. He loved us when, by all honest assessment, we were unlovely to Him. He did for us what we would never do for another. He did it with a magnified humility that should really give perspective on our boastfulness of life. He did so because, as His Word says, “He so loved us…the world…the people of His creative work.” (John 3:16).

So, Merry Christmas. Hope has come. Light shined into darkness and the darkness could not overwhelm the light.

That’s good news. That’s Christmas.

From Jodi and I, and on behalf of our entire family…Merry Christmas! Hope has come.

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