A Prayer from Ephesians

A prayer written by Tom Holladay: as a summary of his sermon, which you can find here.

Lord—I want things to change—really change—in my prayer life.
I pray from time to time, I want to learn to pray all of the time. Teach me to pray.
I pray casually, I want to learn to pray earnestly. Teach me to pray.
I pray for a change of my circumstances, but forget to pray for a change in my character.
I pray for my needs to be met, but forget to pray for my love to increase.
My prayers often stretch no further than tomorrow when I want them to reach towards eternity.
Teach me to pray. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

What I love about this prayer:

  1. It’s based on scripture, you can see how it’s connected here.
  2. It’s personal yet aspirational without being judgemental. What I mean is that it talks about where we are “at” and where we need to go, without condemnation. It’s not bad to pray from time to time…but it’s better to pray all the time.
  3. It was a practical application of everything he talked about in the message.

 

The Wrong Way to Pray

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:9–14)

 

In this parable, we see two very different prayers.

The first prayer is from a Pharisee. These people were religious leaders for Israel and considered to be a model of the spiritual life. The pharisee stood alone and prayed a prayer of comparison. In his eyes, he was much better “other people, the robbers, evildoers, adulterers.” His self-righteousness blinded him and he couldn’t see his personal sin.

The second prayer is from a tax collector. These people had a reputation for corruption and sin. He stood at a distance, he could not even lift his head and in anguish he hit his chest. He prayed a prayer of confession, and asked for God’s mercy because he was a sinner.

When we pray, it’s not about how much better we are than others. If you’ve been following Jesus then your live ought to be much different. Confessional prayer is about being honest with God about our sin and asking for his mercy. Confession in prayer transforms your guilt into something better gold, it strengthens your faith and restores your relationship with God.

 

whoreputationattitudeprayerresult
Pharisee"saint" / community leader / spiritualpridecomparisoncontinued self-righteousness
Tax Collector"sinner" / corrupt / unspiritualhumilityconfessionjustified before God

 

A prayer for the burdened

Our savior Jesus said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Father. I come to you today with a heavy heart. Life is tough and I feel overwhelmed. I am tired and carrying too much. When I consider all that I have before me, rest seems impossible. Your promise of rest feels improbable. God, I give you my burdens, as best I can. Teach me, because I need to learn new truths. I willingly submit to your yoke, your will for my life. Thank you for your gentleness and humility. Everywhere around me is pressure and pride. My soul needs rest it can only be found in you. Forgive me for trying to do everything on my own. Forgive me for the times I settle for the diversions of the world rather than trusting in your true spiritual rest. Amen.

Can Anything Good Come From Feeling Hopeless?

The people in the Bible are far from perfect. It’s actually quite refreshing.

Job asks a question and makes a declaration that don’t paint a pretty picture of faithfulness to God. Job was hopeless and it was real, raw, visceral:

“Why then did you bring me out of the womb?
I wish I had died before any eye saw me.” (Job 10:18)

It’s okay to question your very existence with despair. To be human is to hope; and to be human in a broken world means that we will loose hope. We will trust in the wrong things and be disappointed. Situations will spin out of control and we will suffer loss. It’s normal to feel hopeless at times. It’s my opinion that those to never loose hope lead unexamined lives.

Job’s life was terrible. An while our tragedy may never compare to his, personal pain and loss and suffering is real. Comparisons are largely irrelevant.

Although Job’s question seems to be an expression of feeling, there is a rational side to it. Honestly asking his question can lead to greater wisdom. We ought to ask God for his design on our life. The Creator of the heavens and the earth has a plan for everyone.

Hopelessness can be a time to reboot and rediscover what’s really important. Thinking honestly about the trajectory of our lives is a good thing, even if it’s painful.

Job’s declaration is heartbreaking. When we see these kinds of feelings in others, we ought to respond with love and compassion. When we find this kind of hopelessness in our own hearts, we must do our best to seek God’s presence, which is more powerful than rational answers.

Hopelessness can lead to greater humility, which means depending on God because we’re convinced that we can’t live with out him.

If hopelessness leaves to greater surrender, we have found something good, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Two Upsides to Unfair Accusations

I felt like I was unfairly accused the other day, and I don’t respond well to what I consider to be unjust criticism. Some people can roll with it, but that’s not my natural response. If you are interested, you can read about that HERE.

That experience had me on high alert when I was reading 1 Peter. God used a few verses from chapter 2 to challenge my thinking:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

  • Naturally, I was challenged by the warning about sinful desires—these are a daily occurrence for me.
  • The encouragement to live a good life among “the pagans,” got me thinking: “What do people outside of the church think about me?”
  • I wasn’t excited about the connection between my internal sinful desires and my external life among non-believers … I’d like to indulge in the self deception that my private life doesn’t impact my public life… grrrr

As if I wasn’t challenged enough, I read Peter’s teaching about false accusations. I was hoping he would say something along the lines of Paul in Romans 12: don’t take revenge so that you leave room for God’s wrath … serve them, because doing so will heap burning coals on their head. Now that’s something I can get behind: SERVE SERVE SERVE and let God handle the punishment.

Peter adds a new color to the picture. In God’s economy, injustice can be the first step that leads to glorifying God. Consider this for a moment:

The person who criticizes is opening themselves up to glorifying God.

The key is to live a good life. One that is so good, that they may notice your good deeds that they glorify God. There’s a long game here: their glorifying of God might happen on the day God visits us—which is to say, sometime in the future.

Living a good life doesn’t guarantee that the attacker will come to faith, and if it does happen, we may never see it. But there is still a hope we need to have: Live such good life so that your false accusers might come to the faith.

Evangelism for everyone: We don’t need to accost and attack strangers verbally!

Listening to criticism is terrible. However, there are at least two upsides:

(1) The light of your good life shines brighter in the darkness of injustice and unfair accusations.
(2) There’s a possibility that your good life will lead to your attacker glorifying God.

The commands in this passage are connected. We are to see ourselves as foreigners and exiles who are noticed by the locals because we are different and set apart. How are we different? By living the kind of good life that prompts critical accusers to glorify God. This kind of life comes only from fighting against our sinful desires.

How to Actively Hear God’s Voice

I don’t like it when I’m treated unfairly. You probably don’t either. All of us react differently when we are attacked. I lean heavily toward a “passionate response.” That’s code (and rationalization) for fight fire with fire.

It’s not very Christlike, and I’m working on it.

I’m an assistant coach, and a few days ago, a parent had some constructive criticism for the whole coaching staff. I was quiet the first two times he made his case. Another coach jumped in and agreed with him, and the parent saw this as an invitation to make his case a third time. I get it. It’s not easy to speak up. Neither is it easy for me to stay quiet, so I fired back a a little push back. The conversation didn’t escalate, which is was a bonus.

This situation got me thinking about my weakness when I’m facing accusation. I was on high alert when I read 1 Peter chapter 2. We’ll talk about my reflections later, but the point for today is this:

What’s going on in your life that ought to be filtered through your reading of scripture?

Recently, have you been hurt? Have you offended someone? Were you surprised in some way? Have you been distracted? Did something make you laugh or give you joy?

What’s the most memorable thing that’s happened in the last few days? And, how can God speak to you about that situation through scripture?

Why Relational Connections are Important to Me

I recently spent a little time thinking about my friendships and thanking God for their impact in my life. Fellowship is a gift! We aren’t entitled to friends, we have to be a good friend to develop significant relationships. As I was considering the benefits I receive from my close friends, the following blessings bubbled to the top:

Laughter and Fun. It’s not a surprise that being around good people creates joy. Life can be stressful, busy, discouraging, overwhelming … I need joy! Diversions seem good, but joy truly is good.

Encouragement and Support. Everyone wants to be accepted. Personally, this translates into being understood by others. This has led me to be an open person…and sometimes too open! #oversharing

Feedback and Correction. I have a ton of opinions–on just about every subject. I desperately need outside perspective. If I only live in MATT’S WORLD, things get crazy…QUICK. I need the growth that can only come when I’m around others.

Ministry and Impact. Significance is rooted in Christ, which means becoming more like him. Jesus came to serve and to help other people. Helping others is better when I do it with others. We can minister alone–which is the path some of us have to take–but there is greater meaning when I serve alongside a friend.

How does God bless you through your friends?

Father, Thank you for the gift of fellowship. I need the people you have placed in my life. Forgive me for the times I take my friends for granted. Help me to nurture my friendships so that I give and not just take. Amen.

A Personal Leadership Tune Up

The people we know deserve our best, so we ought to work on getting better. When we delay our personal growth, we aren’t just limiting our potential, we also have a weaker impact in the world around us.

When it comes to personal growth, we get to choose our own adventure: either we decide to have consistent check ups or we will eventually fall into depressing ruts. If a car’s oil isn’t changed regularly, eventually the engine will break down and need to be replaced. The CHANGE OIL LIGHT is easy to ignore, but the catastrophe of a broken engine denied.

The same is true with our personal and ministry relationships. When we make a mess of our lives, it’s rarely an instant train wreck. The destruction is incremental. It’s more like a slow leak under the foundation. And over time, the constant drip drip drip slowly erodes the soil and then disaster strikes.

 

The following download offers a few questions to jump start your thinking about your leadership. This way you can discover a few tweaks to make now. Giving yourself a minor tune up will keep you on the road for the long haul.

DOWNLOAD PDF and WORD

 

Prayer from Habakkuk 1:13

Father,
Thank you for showing me who you are. Thank you for being holy and just. Help me to know you better, to know you as you actually are, and not as I want you to be.
Thank you for not tolerating evil. Thank you for not being OK with the bad things that have happened to me. Help me to be honest about the evil in my life. Strengthen me when I begin to rationalize my sinful behaviors.
Thank you for your Son, Jesus, who died so that I might be holy like you are holy and just like you are just.
Amen
“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” (Habakkuk 1:13)

Does it matter that God is holy and just?

“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” (Habakkuk 1:13)

When I reflect on this verse, I am reminded of the holiness and justice of God.

God is holy, set apart from all of creation in a way that we cannot fully understand.

God is also just: good and evil actually exist. Life isn’t fair, but God is. Eventually, the scales will be balanced and everyone will receive what they deserve.

We live in a world that says God is nothing more than the product of our imagination, that God is like us because we’ve created him in response to our insecurities and fears. Our world also says that evil is mostly a matter of perspective or opinion. Neither of these messages are true.

God doesn’t tolerate evil. This is so different than our experience. We are surrounded by evil every day. We commit evil thoughts and actions. But God is different in a way that we can’t fully understand.

There is also hope in this passage. God does not condone the evil that is happening in this world. We are also challenged: God doesn’t condone the evil in our own hearts.

This is good news: God doesn’t just recognize the problem, he does something about it. When we step back and look at the fuller picture of who God is, we are reminded of his presence and his love:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

The God who is holy—the one who is set apart and utterly unique—came to be with us. He is different, but not distant.

The God who is just—the one who cannot tolerate evil—paid our price. Our evil incurred a debt we could never hope to repay.

God is not divided or conflicted. He is not sometimes just and at other times justifying. God is not sometimes holy and at other times close.

This teaching from Habakkuk is a call to praise the God who is not like us and has no tolerance for evil. Let us be holy like he is holy—uncommon in our world but not disconnected. Let us also take an inventory to see how much evil we tolerate in our own lives so that we can bring that to him in humility and repentance.

What God Can’t See

“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” (Habakkuk 1:13)

A few questions for reflection:

  • What does this scripture teach about God’s character?
  • What is your initial response? How does this make you feel?
  • Does this verse raise any questions or confusion?

Who Will Rescue Us?

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:21-24)

In this world, on this side of eternity, life is difficult and draining. Every failure creates conflicting feelings that are hollow and heavy. Daily, we are:

  • shamed by sins
  • ensnared by passions
  • enslaved by fears
  • burdened by cares
  • entangled by vanities
  • surrounded by errors
  • worn out by labors
  • oppressed by temptations
  • weakened by pleasures
  • tortured by want**

In light of all that we are facing, who will rescue us? Where can find deliverance? Where do we look to find the essential help we desperately need?

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

Salvation isn’t a gift that begins the moment we die. That would be gift enough, but there is more. Salvation is also help for the problems we face today. In Jesus we can rely on God’s strength. There are many situations and circumstances beyond our control that threaten to overwhelm us. We are drowning, sinking fast beneath the waters, and we need help.

We cannot WILL IT or WISH IT all away. The strongest among us do not have enough strength. We cannot sustain a lifelong push against  the impurities of the world and in our own hearts.

We can only trust Jesus.

The one who saves us, today and every day into eternity.

 

-MM

**This list is adapted from “The imitation of Christ,” by Tomas A Kempis (chapter 48).

Meet The Controllers

They fear the unknown and hate the unknowable.
They answer questions without questioning answers.

Greet you with a plastic face,
Face their life with an iron fist,
Fractured heart with empty joy.

Predictable is comfortable is predictable.
Cage the dragons, vanish the chaos!
Make life safe like a roller coaster.

Lock it down!
Label it right!
Get it figured out tonight!

The controllers know, but never show:
All their efforts end in pain, and
Misery knows no other company.

Instead of letting go and
In place of looking in,
Indulge they do, in vanity-insanity:

“I can’t control it all, so let’s pretend.”

Two Responses to Conflict

Let’s face it, no one likes conflict.

However, conflict is inevitable. It’s never a question of IF a conflict might occur, it’s a question of WHEN. If a conflict is handled with maturity, it can lead to tremendous growth. We can grow closer to God, others, and even develop personal insight. Conflict creates unique opportunity.

There are two common responses to conflict—imploding and exploding—and neither are healthy. The “imploders” bottle up their feelings, while the “exploders” do the opposite: everyone knows how they feel.

Handling conflict poorly often leads to relational issues. The imploders may be good at keeping the peace, but are lonely because no one knows how they really feel. The exploders may be good at “keeping things real”, but others can pull away in fear of the next outburst.

Both responses to conflict offer short term solutions. For the imploder, everything eventually comes out and a conflict become much intense than it should. For the exploder, he or she may recover quickly after an episode, but everyone else the after effects linger.

Who Is God? He is jealous.

Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (Exodus 34:14)

Why is God’s name Jealous?

Because he wants the hearts of all people to love and worship him.

Why not use a different word?

Because God’s desire for us is strong, intense. No single word can accurately describe God–in fact, not even all of our words can fully describe him!

Isn’t jealously wrong?

Divine jealousy is different than human jealousy. We want that which doesn’t rightfully belong to us. As the sovereign creator, all things belong to God.

If everything belongs to God, why is he jealous?

In the jealousy of God, we find mystery: questions that have true answers which don’t “fit” together–from our limited point of view. God is in total control, but in his love for humanity, he gave us free will. We can choose to return God’s love and worship him. God is jealous for those who do not love him.

 

 

 

 

How to make an impact, a brief look at Romans 15:14

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. (Romans 15:14)

Paul’s encouragement to the church in Rome is clear:

Goodness—Impacting others begins on the inside because it takes the integrity to consistently make good decisions. This doesn’t mean perfect, it means influencing others requires faithfulness.

Knowledge—You can’t help a person take a step forward if you don’t know what that step ought to be. The more you know, the more you can help because increased knowledge increases your potential to impact others. If you are good, but you lack knowledge, you will never be able to impart more than just the basic essentials of the faith. When you have both goodness and knowledge, people will see your wisdom through your good life.

Competence—Without skill, there can be no communication. Competence adds discernment to knowledge: It tells you what to say, when to say it, and how to say it best.

As it relates to instructing and impacting others: goodness gives you the authority, knowledge creates capacity, and competency gives you the ability to make a difference.

This teaching is simple. So simple that it seems self evident…until you think about all the crazy, broken ways we try to influence others. What is the World’s Way for making an impact? We exchange goodness for selfishness. Thoughtful knowledge is exchanged with clever catch phrases, cliches, or tweets. Rather than pursuing genuine skill and competence, we puff ourselves up to look like we are capable.

Let’s not be motivated by fear and insecurity and hunger for power. Instead lets pursue goodness and knowledge, and competence.

His Name is Jealous

“Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (Exodus 34:14)

Jealously is the intense demand for exclusive possession and/or devotion. In the original language of the Old Testament (Hebrew), the word for “jealous” ranges in meaning from “be zealous for” to “be envious of.” Human jealously is not the same as God’s jealously. Our envy is focused on things that do not belong to us. As the creator of the universe, God’s jealously is for what is already his.

Finite language often falls short in it’s attempt to explain an infinite God. So it can be difficult to see God as jealous. However significance is clear: God is not indifferent about us, he loves us with an intensity that can be described as jealously.

God is calling us to worship him undiluted loyalty and faithfulness.

No Other Gods

Some thoughts for your personal reflection:

 

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3)

  1. In your own words, write a definition of worship.

  2. Read Exodus 6:6–8.
    What promises did God make to the Israelites? How did God help Israel?

  3. Read Exodus 20:2-3.
    In your opinion, why did God talk about Egypt before giving Israel the 10 commandments?

For you personally, in your own life, how has God worked powerfully for your benefit? How does thinking about God’s faithfulness impact the quality of our worship?

  1. In your opinion, what are some common “gods” that people worship today? Why do you think people choose not to worship God?

  2. For you personally: On whom do you rely? To where does your time, energy, and money go? Who are you trying to impress? Who or what is the center of your life?

  3. Read Psalm 81:1-16. What does this Psalm teach us about how we ought to worship?

Fear, not Faith

32 [Jesus] said to [the demons], “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region. (Matthew 8:32-34)

The event makes me wonder about the priorities of the townspeople. They valued unclean animals over the healing of a tormented man. If the owners of the pigs were Jews, eating pigs was forbidden. They pleaded with Jesus to leave because they feared further disruption in their lives. Who knows what other miracles of healing and teaching Jesus would have done for this town if he had been accepted in faith…

Fear is a natural and normal part of what it means to be human, for we neither know nor control the future. However, let us not let fear consume us to the point of pushing Jesus away. Fear should move us to the feet of Jesus so we might say, “Take from me what you will.”

Bible Study: Galatians 3:1-4:7

Getting Started with Galatians 3:1-4:7

Begin with prayer: Ask God to make your heart pure, soft, and undivided. Confess your sins so you can receive his mercy and grace. Humble yourself so you can hear his voice. Release your worries so you can rest in his presence.

First read: Read without pausing, to get an overall sense of the chapter.

Second read: Make a note of any words, phrases, or verses that are personally encouraging, convicting, and/or confusing. It is a good thing to approach Scripture with questions!

This chapter can be tedious! My encouragement is that you wade through the details slowly, soaking up what you can. Read this passage several times. Allow the text to speak for itself, do your best to identify your assumptions — and don’t let them cloud the meaning of the text. At the end of the journey, this passage teaches some of the most important, essential, foundational truths about the life of faith. Engaging this chapter may feel like a marathon, but the finish line is worth it!

Re-read 3:1-14.

[  ] Why does Paul call the Galatians foolish?

[  ] How would you describe Paul’s tone? Do you think it is too harsh? Why or why not?

[  ] Survey the basic structure of 3:1-14, noting the following:

[a] How many questions does Paul ask?
[b] How many times does Paul mention works of the law (or works)?
[c] How many times does Paul mention believe (or faith)?

[  ] Why does it matter that Christ was portrayed as crucified? How does that support the point that Paul is making?

[  ] Why does Paul bring up Abraham? Isn’t Abraham “old news,” without much relevance for a life of faith in Christ?

[  ] Re-read 3:10-14. In your opinion, what does it look like, practically, when a person relies on the law? In chapter 2, what did it look like when Peter “relied on the law?”

Re-read 3:15-22.

[  ] Which came first, God’s promises to Abraham or the Law? Why is the order significant?

[  ] Why was the law given? Why wasn’t the promise to Abraham enough for God to have a relationship with his people?

[  ] Since the Law reveals God’s will for his people, why doesn’t the Law “impart life?” Since the law doesn’t give life, why did God give his people the Law?

Re-read 3:23-4:7.

“The law was our guardian” — A guardian was a specific role in ancient times. Wealthy families would hire a tutor to prepare their children for adulthood. Paul uses this imagery to teach the primary role of the Law, which was to prepare us for what’s next: faith in Jesus.

[  ] Given the context of everything you’ve read so far in Galatians, how is 3:28 significant? Why is the unity of the church so important?

[  ] In 4:7, Paul tells us that we are no longer a slave. Based on this passage, what were we once a slave to? How does the text support your answer?

[  ] Take a moment to step back and look at the bigger picture. What does this passage teach about the following:

Jesus:

Works / Works of the Law:

Believing / Faith:

The Law:

Abraham:

The Spirit: