He Prays for You

My prayer life is inadequate. There I said it. Anyone willing to join me in my confession? It’s not often enough. I don’t always know the words to say. And sometimes it feels like I’m just going through the motions. The truth of the matter is, I wonder how often I’m even aware of what I really need?

dennis-inadequateprayersEach night when I put my kids to bed I try to give them an opportunity to pray. It is often a simple list of thankfulness or requests for a fun day. Sometimes they recall people who are sick, or thank God for Jesus’ death on the cross, and sometimes they don’t feel like praying at all (and I don’t make them). But there are also times when they want to pray, but just don’t know what to say. It is these times that they ask if I will pray with them, for them, so they can repeat after me. They want to pray, but they feel inadequate.

Sounds familiar?

Hebrews 7:25 says of Jesus, “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Jesus always lives to make intercession for us. He is our great high priest. Our great “go-between” who knows the right words to say. This week I was encouraged by this paragraph:

“It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life; that He is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in our prayers; and that He prays for our protection against the dangers of which we are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us, though we do not notice it. He is praying that our faith may not cease, and that we may come out victoriously in the end.” Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 403

So take heart, friends – the right prayers always being offered by Jesus on your behalf and God is pleased to answer Him. Let that knowledge encourage you, not to skip prayer, but to go ahead and join Him. Because, as my kids will tell you, it’s always easier to pray when you know someone else is too. So pray. Pray with Jesus, knowing He prays for you.

 

Beyond Costumes

This article was originally published in the July 2016 issue of Homefront Magazine. “HomeFront is a monthly magazine and parenting curriculum combined into one – based on the 10 Environments highlighted in the book Spiritual Parenting by Dr. Michelle Anthony. It is filled with recipes, craft ideas, stories, and more to inspire, equip, and support you on your parenting journey.” Subscribe to the magazine here!

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Beyond Costumes

“Are you Luke Skywalker?” It’s not an odd question in our house, where costumes are king and one minute my oldest son, Hutch (5), will be in Peter Pan green and the next, he’s in a white karate suit holding a blue light saber. At the same time Oakes (4) is dressed as Darth Vader and Avonlea (2) is wearing an Iron Man glove, storm trooper helmet and a bright green tutu. But as they go flying down the hall, and I ask the obvious question, I usually get the reply, “No, Dad, it’s me, Hutch!”

Costumes are a powerful way to encourage imaginations and a fun way to think through what might be. In choosing a costume kids think: “What powers would I like to have?” “What would I change about myself?” “What would make me special?”

Growing up and out of costumes doesn’t really take those questions away. Instead of superpowers it becomes a matter of friends, skills or achievements. We weigh the different options of education, relationships and careers still wondering: “What power will this give me?” “What change will add value?” “What will make me special?”

As parents we need to help our children navigate these questions, but how can we if we are still held captive to them ourselves? If I equate my identity to my success at work or how I compare to other dads then all I can ever offer my kids is another costume change. And the thing about costumes is that they are sweaty, difficult to wash and don’t actually change who you are. So what will?

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“Who Am I?”

When it comes to the superheroes of the Old Testament, Moses is right at the top. His name immediately brings to mind the power struggle with Pharaoh, plagues and parting seas. But that is not the guy you have in Exodus three. In chapter thee, Moses isn’t a hero, but a failure, an outcast and a fugitive. Yet this is the Moses God calls.

In a less than impressive answer Moses says, “Who am I?” He is no longer impressed with himself: not his resume, education, reputation, abilities or faithfulness. In a way, Moses has reached the place that each of us need to reach: tired of trading one costume for another and acknowledging that the real problem is within. Moses is correct in his admission of his insufficiency, but incorrect in his math. Our weaknesses are overcome by God’s power; our poor identity with the riches of His own. God is greater than any insufficiencies.

Our weaknesses are overcome by God’s power; our poor identity with the riches of His own. God is greater than any insufficiencies.

This is the story of the gospel too. Rather than leave us to the judgment our insufficiencies and sinfulness deserve, God bends down, through the incarnation of Jesus and shows that God is not only all-sufficient in Himself, but that He will take care of our insufficiencies through Jesus’ perfection and payment for sin so that God might call us His children.

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Nail Guns,  Shepherd’s Staffs & Father’s Hands

Sometimes when I’m working on a house project, my son will come join me with his toy tools and his “worker-man” costume. Recently I was working with a nail gun and I saw a look in his eyes showing he simultaneously wanted to join and also knew this was a tool he couldn’t use. So I said, “Hutch, come help me make this headboard.” Puzzled, he responded, “How can I?”

I handed him the nail gun and immediately I surrounded his hands with mine. I guided the nail gun into place and said, “Pull the trigger” and he did. I moved it over to the new spot and said, “Again.” And we kept doing this, his hands in mine as I directed the work and carried the weight of the gun until we finished. Then he ran and yelled, “Mom! Look what we built!”

At the end of Exodus 4, though Moses still doesn’t get it and is lost in his own insufficiency, God says to him, “…take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs. (Exodus 4:17 ESV)” And in the pages that follow, God places His hands around Moses’  hands, so that when Moses gets to Pharaoh, God can whisper, “Pull the trigger. Tell Pharaoh to let my people go.”

We must point ourselves and our children to this wondrous truth: identity is not first about who we are, but about whose we are; for when we are God’s our “who is also changed. We don’t need a different costume; we need the Father.

Beyond Costumes - HomeFront July

Like what you read? Find more engaging articles on Identity in this month’s issue of HomeFront.

Live Tweet Thru the Minor Prophets / #LTTMP

The Minor Prophets. It sounds like A) underage fortunetellers, B) unimportant books, or C) a good name for a ska band.

Ska? Anyone? No? Okay.

Ska? Anyone? No? Okay.

Okay, so you probably never really thought A or C, but we do tend to treat them like B (At least I know I have). When really they are only named this because their books are (delightfully) shorter than those of Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other “Major Prophets.” But we don’t read them. I don’t. I have, but usually part of a “read through the Bible” or “read through the Old Testament” sort of exercise and I have failed to let them make an impact in my mind and my soul.

So this year, I’m making a change. I’m not just going to read the Minor Prophets, but I’m going to do so reflectively: taking time to dwell on each chapter, looking for the nuggets ready to be mined. This is why I’m taking my own devotional time to Twitter (@Zeulner). With its limit of 140 characters per tweet, I am forced to refine, refine, refine my thoughts in the passage. And because of its public nature, I am forced to think through not just what makes sense to me, but what will hopefully makes sense to most anyone who comes across my posts on Twitter or Facebook.

Beyond just a better understanding of the wisdom and truth found in each book, an additional emphasis in this #LTTMP is to look for the “arrows” pointing to the Gospel. This might be hints of something greater than what is already found in the Old Covenant, breaking points that cannot find their resolution in the law or in man’s state of sin, or glimmers of hope and a better promise that God desires for His people. With each of these, my intent is to mark it with a tag, #OTGospel, to help us uncover how the whole Bible, even the Minor Prophets, is pointing to and fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. (But remember, I only get 140 characters and that tag is 9! So we’ll see how that goes!)

A couple of disclaimers:

  • I may not get it right every time. As this is part of my own devotional time, I am not taking time each day to consult commentaries and other technical resources. These are my own personal observations and might be shown wrong by superior scholarship – I gladly welcome that. In fact, I always welcome people doing more research on the Bible, even if it is just to prove me wrong!
  • This may get repetitive. The primary function of these prophets was to call the people of Israel and Judah out for their sin and warn them of God’s coming judgment if they don’t change. But, as Jesus’ primary message was one of repentance… I don’t mind the repetition, hopefully you don’t either.
  • This is intended for application. It’s not a sermon where I get to take time dissecting the author’s original meaning and intent for his original audience and then move to what we can take from it today. I’m doing that first part in my head and then trying to move to today, which means my tweets aren’t saying what the passage “means” but rather how it should be “significant” for us. If you think I missed something, well, refer back to disclaimer #1.

Let me finish with a quote from Charles Spurgeon, comparing each of the major prophetic works of the Old Testament to different constellations in the night sky:

I am not at a loss to find a constellation for the minor prophets: they are a sweet group, of intense brilliancy, even though but small: they are the Pleides of the Bible. –Charles Spurgeon

The Pleiades, or 7-Sisters, Star Cluster

The Pleiades, or 7-Sisters, Star Cluster

Feel free to check back at this page, where I’ll update with links to the summaries as I finish each book.

Hosea // Joel // Amos // Obadiah // Jonah // Micah // Nahum

Habakkuk // Zephaniah // Haggai // Zechariah // Malachi

To Trust in God’s Justice (07.06.14)

To Trust in God’s Justice – Psalm 94

Johnny watches as little Jack cheats to win the race, he complains to his dad, “But that’s not fair!” And his dad, sage of all sages, blessed with the wisdom of many fathers before him, aptly responds, “Son, life isn’t fair.”

We’ve heard it (or said it) a hundred times, but is that right? If God stands for justice and has all power and wisdom to carry it out, then shouldn’t life, of all things, be fair? Yet injustice occurs… people get away with stuff all the time. Why is God’s justice so slow in coming? Why? Because God is merciful.

Big Idea: God’s delayed justice is for our good and His glory, but it won’t be delayed forever.

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Thoughts: God’s vengeance is only offensive if you don’t think sin is a big deal. 

In the Bible the essence of stupidity, of foolishness is to think God doesn’t exist; and closely related is to think, that God doesn’t see or know what [the wicked] are doing.

When we read this psalm we need to see that we did not begin as the righteous in this story, but as the wicked facing judgment. That is our position apart from Christ and the delay is God’s mercy, so we might trust in Him.

God is ready to ride through this chaotic world WITH you; and help you to find greater joy in Him than anything, anyone, or anywhere else you could be.

Life isn’t fair… yet, and that’s a good thing.
Scripture: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  – Romans 12:19

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— Romans 9:22-23

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An Embassy of the Kingdom

This week I read two books on the exciting topic of Church Membership. Yesterday I told you about book number one and now I will tell you about book number two:

Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman

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Like Rainer’s book, this one is also small (postcard size, 139 pages), which again is helpful to me. It is part of the new 9Marks books on building healthy churches, all which fit into this unburdening size. But don’t let it fool you, Leeman’s brevity does not keep him from painting a complete and winsome picture of church membership. To compare, in my opinion Rainer’s book aimed to take the ordinary church attenders/members and shift their attitude toward the church resulting in growth for them and their church. However, it is conceivable that an attending person could engage with Rainer’s book, commit to his 6 pledges and still not retain an official status as a “member.” Leeman’s book, on the other hand, helps the pastor, elder, layperson see the importance of the entire structure, founded in the biblical text and with specific Gospel oriented purpose for our world whereas you will immediately run to your pastor and ask “What must I do to become a member?!” Where Rainer’s book wants you to become a better member, Leeman’s helps you see the glorious purpose of the church, God’s design in its uniqueness, and practical ways for membership to facilitate a greater representation of Jesus to the world (even in our flawed churches).

I think that the primary gift that this book brings its readers is to make a big deal about church membership. In Leeman’s introduction he makes some grand statements regarding church membership and his purpose for writing this book:

My primary purpose is to show you what church membership is, because it’s not what you think it is. I’m not going to defend it, not directly anyhow. I’m going to present a vision for it. And here’s my prediction: if you grab hold of how the Bible views church membership, it just might change the shape of your Christianity. (p 18)

Pretty bold, isn’t he. But can I tell you, having finished the book… he did. At least for me. At least my vision of Christianity was altered, and I hope as I continue to work through these ideas that it will change its shape too.

What kind of changes are we talking about? It begins with viewing the church as the primary human authority on earth to affirm and give shape to your Christian life.

Just as the Bible establishes the government of your nation as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your citizenship in that nation, so the Bible establishes the local church as your highest authority on earth when it comes to your discipleship to Christ and your citizenship in Christ’s present and promised nation. (p 25)

Well, that sounds pretty different from something that I go to once in a while, duck in, get “fed,” talk to a few people about sports or the weather, eat a donut and duck back out. It honestly sounds a little scary because it might change how we live our lives. Jesus gave authority to the church, but does that mean we have too? We are so used to thinking about the church in terms of optional engagement that performs a service for us (like a country club, or gym membership). But Leeman, while address the many other metaphors describing the church, wants to help us begin by thinking through the church as an embassy of Christ’s future kingdom.

What’s an embassy? It’s an institution that represents one nation inside another nation. It declares its home nation’s interests to the host nation, and it protects the citizens of the home nation living in the host nation. (p 27)

If you lose your passport while on foreign soil, an embassy doesn’t make you a citizen, but it will affirm what you don’t have the authority to declare yourself – citizen of the United States. Similarly the local church functions to recognize people publicly as Christians. Leeman again:

Jesus didn’t leave us to govern ourselves and to declare ourselves his citizens. He left an institution in place that both affirms us as believers and then helps to give shape and direction to our Christian lives. (pp 29-30)

If we say “I’m with Jesus,” its through the local church that we get to show it to be true, which then gives the world somewhere to look to see what Jesus’ people are like.

Let me finish this review/recommendation with Jonathan Leeman’s “Twelve Reasons Membership Matters.” I hope you’ll check this out, and if it intrigues or upsets you, then please, by all means get the book and read the rest for yourself. The church is worth it.

“Twelve Reasons Membership Matters” by Jonathan Leeman

  1. It’s biblical. Jesus established the local church and all the apostles did their ministry through it. The Christian life in the New Testament is church life. Christians today should expect and desire the same.
  2. The church is its members. To be a church in the New Testament is to be one of its members (read through Acts). And you want to be part of the church because that’s who Jesus came to rescue and reconcile to himself.
  3. It’s a prerequisite for the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a meal for the gathered church, that is, for members (see 1 Cor. 11:20-33). And you want to take the Lord’s Supper. It’s the team flag that makes the church team visible to the nations.
  4. It’s how you officially represent Jesus. Membership is the church’s affirmation that you are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and therefore a passport-carrying Jesus representative before the nations. And you want your representation to be authorized. Closely related to this…
  5. It’s how you declare your highest allegiance. Your membership on the team, which becomes visible when you wave the flag of the Lord’s Supper is a public testimony that your highest allegiance belongs to Jesus. Trials and persecution may come, but your only words are, “I am a Christian.”
  6. It’s how you embody and experience biblical images. It’s within the accountability structures of the local church that Christians live and experience the interconnectivity of his body, the spiritual fullness of his temple, and the safety and intimacy and shared identity of his family.
  7. It’s how you serve other Christians. Membership helps you to know which Christians on planet Earth you are specifically responsible to love, serve, warn, and encourage. It enables you to fulfill your biblical responsibilities to Christ’s body (for example, see Eph 4:11-16, 25-32).
  8. It’s how you follow Christian leaders. Membership helps you know which Christian leaders on planet Earth you are called to obey and follow. Again, it allows you to fulfill your biblical responsibility to them (see Heb. 13:7, 17).
  9. It helps Christian leaders lead. Membership lets Christian leaders know which Christians on planet Earth they will “give an account” for (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2).
  10. It enables church discipline. It gives you the biblically prescribed place to participate in the work of church discipline responsibly, wisely, and lovingly (1 Cor 5).
  11. It gives structure to your Christian life. It places an individual Christian’s claim to obey and follow Jesus into a real-life setting where authority is actually exercised over us (see John 14:15; 1 John 2:19; 4:20-21). ItIt’s God’s discipling program.
  12. It builds a witness and invites the nations. Membership puts the alternative rule of Christ on display for the watching universe (see Matt 5:13; John 13:34-35; Eph 3:10; 1 Pet 2:9-12). The very boundaries, which are drawn around the membership of a church, yield a society of people that invites the nations to something better. It’s God’s evangelism program.  (pp 79-81).

But I thought it was just a gathering of God’s people? Yes, it is, and much much more. And it is for our good, and God’s glory.

Not a Country Club

I love the church. I know you’re thinking, “Really, Derick? You, as a pastor, love the church, so surprising.” Surprising I know, but true. The more I study the Bible the more I become amazed at all the church is to do and be. God has set up the church to be a wondrous and God-glorifying gathering of those who love Him. But I also work at a church, and I’m part of a church, and I have friends and families at other churches, and I read the news about churches and with all this I know that we aren’t all doing such a bang-up job all the time. There are a lot of reasons for this, and the purpose of this post is not to get into all of those reasons, but I do think that one reason we are able to find amazement in the words of Jesus and Paul about the church and yet find disappointment in our own experiences is simply because of our own mis-understanding of the church and how we belong.

We don’t tend to have a good idea WHY we are part of the church. Do you? What does that even mean to be a member or to belong?

I read two small books this week on the idea of church membership, and so in this post and the next I’d like to share them with you:

I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference by Thom S. Rainer.

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Now, this book is little. About the size of a postcard and only 79 pages long, and I love that. It’s hard for me to find time to sit down and read a book, but this one was incredibly inviting, so I had too. Inviting is exactly how’d I describe Thom’s style of writing. You are easily invited into a discussion that could easily be a top-shelf theological discussion, but he makes it plain without making it any less biblical.  Probably the most unique aspect of Thom’s book is that he places your attitude toward the church at the fore-front. He isn’t trying to get you to help your pastor organize the best church structure or get you to infiltrate the elder board so you can make some real changes. Instead he wants you to read these six chapters and make six pledges that will begin to change how you look at your church, are committed to your church, pray for your church, serve your church and through it all, as you change, he believes that your church will begin to change to.

Here’s an (inviting) excerpt:

Join me on this journey of discovering or rediscovering the privilige and joy of church membership. And before you get caught up in the meaning of church membership take time to read the next brief chapter. Let us then take six steps carefully and prayerfully. And at the end of each step, let us be willing to make a commitment, a real commitment to our church.

When this journey is over for you, two things will likely take place. First, you will likely have a new or renewed attitude about your church. You will learn the joy of being last instead of seeking to be first. Instead of being a whiner complaining about what’s wrong with your church, you will be a unifier seeking what’s best for your church.

Second, your church will begin to change. It will become healthier because one of its members is healthier. And as the church gets healthier, it will have a greater impact on its community and the world. (pp 6-7)

And another:

Their view of membership is more aligned with country club membership. For them, membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices. This wrongful view of membership sees the tithes and offerings as membership dues that entitle members to a never-ending list of privileges and expectations, instead of an unconditional cheerful gift to God. So, what does the Bible say about church membership? I’m glad you asked. (p 11)

It’s a perfect book for the ordinary church-goer who is ready to stop treating the church like a country club, soccer team or a volunteer organization and start embracing it for what God created it to be. It can begin with you, and with me: I am a church member.

 

Stay tuned for a brief look at “Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus” by Jonathan Leeman.

 

The Gospel Is More (05.11.14)

The Gospel Is More – Ephesians

CLICK TO LISTEN TO (or right click save-as to download) SERMON AUDIO

Love infomercials? Have a favorite? Ever bought from one? Infomercials aren’t just another way to sell a product, they are products built upon a foundation of hype. Wild claims of life altering inventions all for just 19.95, if you act now. Claims that almost always fall short.

The past two weeks we had been tracking with Jesus’ commission to proclaim the Gospel to all, with last week specifically looking at Paul’s journey to do just that. And yet, as you trace Paul’s life it would seem that the very Gospel he had to proclaim was failing him. He was beaten many times, left for dead, shipwrecked and put in chains.

But when Paul got the chance to write to others about the Gospel… it wasn’t that he had anything less to offer, or anything different… but that in his living, in his studying and in the Holy Spirit’s revelation to Paul… there was so much more.

While infomercial products might just be another in a long list of things in this life that don’t live up to expectations;

The Gospel brings believers into more than we can ask for or imagine.

Sunday night, we looked at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to see the “MORE”, to see 5 benefits of the Gospel:

1. Gospel Generosity (aka: The God Who Gives)
2. Gospel Transformation (aka: Christ Who Changes Everything)
3. Gospel Living (aka: New Life for New Living)
4. Gospel Maturity (aka: Christ Ruling More)
5. Gospel Community (aka: The Church is a Wonder)

Thought: God is ready to give to you everything; everything that is good that He has to give… through the Gospel. Don’t miss it. Don’t set your sights too low by asking for just health, or riches, or talent, or physical beauty or fame and success… God can give it, but it doesn’t live up to the hype. Instead, go for the best thing that God has to offer… The Gospel. 

Scripture: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, – Ephesians 1:3

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:13

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21

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