From Rocks to Berries

At the 1 year birthday of my daughter Avonlea we held a little party for her and her friends. It was a strawberry themed party because that’s what my daughter asked (or what her parents thought would be cute). For one of the games, which involved a large bucket of dirt, my wife, Rebecca, painted rocks to look like strawberries for the kids to find – it was a hit.

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Before the party a friend was over to help with some of the preparation and she asked, “How’d you find so many rocks that look like strawberries?” And I laughed. And it still makes me laugh. Because none of the rocks looked like strawberries until Rebecca made them look like strawberries.

Similarly, when we’re in heaven, I can envision an angel saying to Jesus, “Where did you find all these holy people, these people that look like You?” And I imagine Jesus would chuckle a little bit, because none of us looked like Him, none. Not one. But God will have made us look just like Jesus.

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For what Rebecca did with a little paint, God does as the supreme artist, not just covering but actually changing us from the inside out. Our heart, our mind, our priorities, our desires, our passions our love — turning rocks into real strawberries, sinful humans into righteous, holy, Christ-like saints. And He does so, in concert with us, across the grand journey of our lives.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV

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By the way, we put real strawberries on her cake, not rocks.

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20 Resolutions for Your Tongue

Sunday’s sermon was on James 3:1-12, “The Faith that Speaks.” (You can listen to or watch it by clicking here). In a nut shell, James shows us the power of words (to direct or devastate), our inability to control them, and our only hope in the God who can change our hearts. At the end of the sermon I gave 4 steps for us to walk in so we can put this Scripture into practice:

  1. Reflect on your words. – Examine how you use your words and who you’ve hurt.
  2. Repent of your sins. – Apologize to people and confess to God.
  3. Renew your heart. – Only Christ can renew your heart; ask the Holy Spirit to increase your love for Jesus, your longing for holiness, and your control of your tongue.
  4. Resolve to resist sin and speak life. – The greatest work is what’s done in your heart, but it doesn’t mean we don’t make an effort as well.
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According to James, this would be a lot easier than taming the tongue.

The battle of our words is a battle for our heart! We must take practical steps to outwardly change what we trust God is changing inwardly!

For help in that fourth step I turn to Pastor Sinclair Ferguson who has put together a list of 20 Resolutions on the Use of the Tongue from the entirety of the book of James (because James talked about our words and how we should use them, a lot!). I encourage you to read these resolutions, the scripture they come from, and then pick 2-3 that you want to work on, even as God is at work in you.

20 Resolution on the Use of the Tongue from James by Sinclair Ferguson [1]

1) Resolved: To ask God for wisdom to speak and to do so with a single mind.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. . . . in faith with no doubting. . . . For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything . . . he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5–8).

2) Resolved: To boast only in my exaltation in Christ or my humiliation in the world.

“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away” (James 1:9–10).

3) Resolved: To set a watch over my mouth.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

4) Resolved: To be constantly quick to hear, slow to speak.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

5) Resolved: To learn the gospel way of speaking to the poor and the rich.

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1–4).

6) Resolved: To speak in the consciousness of the final judgment.

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty” (James 2:12).

7) Resolved: To never stand on anyone’s face with words that demean, despise, or cause despair.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15–16).

8) Resolved: To never claim a reality I do not experience.

“If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth” (James 3:14).

9) Resolved: To resist quarrelsome words as marks of a bad heart.

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1).

10) Resolved: To never speak evil of another.

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (James 4:11).

11) Resolved: To never boast in what I will accomplish.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:13). 

12) Resolved: To always speak as one who is subject to the providences of God.

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15).

13) Resolved: To never grumble, knowing that the Judge is at the door.

“Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9).

14) Resolved: To never allow anything but total integrity in my speech.

“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (James 5:12).

15) Resolved: To speak to God in prayer whenever I suffer.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (James 5:13). 

16) Resolved: To sing praises to God whenever I am cheerful.

“Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13). 

17) Resolved: To ask for the prayers of others when I am sick.

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).

18) Resolved: To confess it whenever I have failed.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16).

19) Resolved: To pray for one another when I am together with others in need.

“Pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

20) Resolved: To speak words of restoration when I see another wander.

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19–20).

[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-tongue-the-bridle-and-the-blessing-an-exposition-of-james-3-1-12

 

Handbook for an Active Faith

In the news this weekend was the story of a man, Jon Kramer, who discovered two library books in his parents’ old cabin, both 40 years overdue. They were guidebooks that had helped the family develop a lifestyle around nature and an appreciation for the outdoors. Simple and practical books of great use and, apparently, great value, Jon decided to pay $1552.30 to cover the nickel-a-day late fees. Along with the check, he included a letter requesting to keep the books on loan with the promise of a similar payment after another 40 years.[1]

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This story helps us understand why the New Testament book of James has continually been a favorite among Christians. First and foremost, James is a practical book. A book in which we can immediately see the need and put into use. A book  scholar Robert Gundry calls “a manual of Christian conduct that assumes a foundation of faith.” (474)

The first verse of James introduces us to a transformed life ready to spur other transformed people into actively living out their faith. The message of James is that genuine faith must become evident in how we live and what we do. Faith doesn’t sit the bench, there are no armchair Christians or couch-potato disciples.

So the question is, how is it going to be lived out? How will this guidebook help us to develop a lifestyle around active faith and an appreciation for not only hearing the Word, but doing it? If we hear God and become doers of His will, what will this mean for our church?

David A. DeSilva’s An Introduction to the New Testament, has an incredibly insightful list of which he says “the church that receives James’ word and takes it to heart will be characterized by the following traits.” For the sake of brevity I’ve summarized his list below:

  • Our knowledge of God will shape our community.
  • Our speech, actions and ambitions will be like Jesus.
  • We will have a consistent witness through kindness and charity among ourselves and toward the world.
  • We will resist the tendency to value people according to what they have, where they’re from or what they look like.
  • We will welcome the poor and filthy along with the wealthiest donor.
  • We will help members find healing for their strife.
  • We will use the wealth and resources of our church to reflect God’s priorities instead of secular financial wisdom.
  • We will seek to restore the sick and the sinner.[2]

I’m excited for what God has in store for our church as we engage with James between now and Easter. My hope is that we won’t keep our faith to ourselves, but we will get out there.

 

[1] http://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-man-pays-1-500-late-fee-for-library-books-borrowed-in-1970s/408867025/

[2] David A. DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament, Intervarsity Press, England: 2004, p 839.

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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