Press On Through The Gospel

I meet today at the front gates of the Gospel.  And as I enter, I pray . . .

This is a recent blog post from a pastor in Nashville, TN — Scotty Smith.  It can also be found at this link: 
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/scottysmith/2013/04/25/a-prayer-for-examining-our-lives-through-the-lens-of-the-gospel/

A Prayer for Examining Our Lives through the Lens of the Gospel

     I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. (Phil. 3:12-15) For, to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Phil. 1:21)

Dear Lord Jesus, praying through this passage moves me to praise you for freeing me from the “paralysis of analysis”—an unhealthy, navel-gazing preoccupation with me. Now, as I examine my life through the lens of the gospel, it’s your glory, not mine, that I’m most concerned about. I matter, but I’m simply not the point. It’s so refreshing to really believe that.

I don’t know how old Paul was when he was when he wrote these words—maybe in his sixties or seventies—but it’s obvious that with an increase in age came an increase in gospel astonishment. He never grew bored exploring the unsearchable riches of Jesus, and he never seemed to tire of wrestling with the kingdom implications of the gospel.

Jesus, make me more and more that kind of man. Give me this kind of maturity in the gospel. I’m thankful that it’s your grasp of me and not my grasp of you that defines this way of life. Sometimes I lift my hands in awe and gratitude for the way you love me. Sometimes I shake my fists at heaven like a pouting, demanding child. Sometimes I wring my hands in anxious unbelief, like a hapless orphan. But I live and I will die secure in your palms and written upon your heart.

I praise you that as with Paul, you’ve given me a prize to win, not a wage to earn. I never earned my way into a relationship with you, and I don’t maintain a relationship with you by my efforts either. I am secure and beloved, all because of your doing.

What do I want for the rest of my days? I cannot say it any better than Paul, Lord: I want to know you, Lord Jesus, more intimately than ever. This is the one thing I want more than anything else. And I want to experience more of the power of your resurrection, for I have no power in myself to love others as you love me. And  I want to enter more fully into the fellowship of sharing in your sufferings—living out the birth pangs of new-creation life in this broken world which groans for its release from the bondage to decay—a release that is sure to come (Rom. 8:18-25). Our labors in you are not in vain, Jesus (Phil. 3:10-11).

This is what I really want. Help me to have way done with lesser things, and be much more taken up with your beauty and kingdom will. So very Amen I pray, in your most glorious and grace-full name.

Refuse the Refuse

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.  Isaiah 26:3-4

I recall a moment a number of years ago when I hopped on my riding lawnmower to mow the old retention pond behind our house.  Although it was dry from the summer drought, it was knee high with grass.  Going in long circles on the outside of the bowl, the first two runs were admittedly a little spooky.  Bugs flying in all directions, grass slapping my arms and legs on both sides — it’s creepy!  This time it proved to be even worse.  On my second go around I noticed something moving amid the grass in the center of the pond area.  As I passed by, a 4-5 foot black snake raised it’s head above the waist high grass to grab a better glimpse of what was disturbing his field–ME!  Chilling!  I thought sure by the time I got back around it would have crossed my mowed path and vanish into the woods on the other side of the levy.  As I approached, that was further from the truth.  There he sat in the middle of the path — right in my way!  It was like he was saying, “I don’t think so mister!”  My arsenal was pretty lethal with a 48 inch spread of spinning blades, but it would require a direct hit and from all I had observed, his reach was serious.  Honestly, I knew the mower was fast, but quite frankly it would never be fast enough when it comes to snakes.  So we sat there, like it was some sort of dual at high noon some fifty feet apart.  I inched forward thinking he’d get the idea and move on.  But his idea was far more effective!  He began to slide his way directly toward me.  I immediately stopped the mower, I think I said something I shouldn’t, slammed it in reverse and floored it.  Riding backwards, but looking forwards, this snake was persistent!  I never knew the mower would go that fast in reverse!

I feel like this some days.  I turn the corner and there sits the evil one bombarding me with a plague of thoughts of “what ifs” that are relentless . . . persistent.  And in those moments, I must refuse the refuse he serves and stay my mind on the Lord.  Reminding him of his garbage reminds me of my inheritance!  Don’t let the trash pile up!

Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7

© 2012-2013 Mark Cruver. All rights reserved. This material may not be reproduced, displayed, modified or distributed without the express prior written permission of the copyright holder.

Safe in the Shadow

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.  Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.   Psalm 63:6-7

David was chosen by God, appointed by the prophet Samuel to be King.  As a shepherd, he trusted the helping hand of God to be his strength and refuge.  He protected his flock from the wild beast, killed lions with his bare hands and with a single stone brought down the most feared Philistine.  And yet, despite his faith in God, he made some terribly poor decisions.  Falling into temptation with a beautiful woman, wife of a soldier off at war whom later he would have killed.  With child, they marry and because of his sin, God takes this child.  Yet, in obedience, David and Bathsheba bear another, a son, the wisest, King Solomon.

Despite his sin — David was a man after God’s own heart!
Oh God, hear my cries today as I sit on my bed and remember you.
In the stillness of the morning I reflect on your beauty in all you touch.
From the depths of the ocean to the furthest star of which you’ve named.
In my sin, much has been taken from me, and I mourn the loss.
Through the night I dream of the death of what I called my life — and dream of you.
I pray forward, through my obedience, that you allow the birth of new life.
For now I rest in the shadow of your wings, near your breast or as you soar.
I sing, like the bird who sings after the storm.  She does because it swells from within.
Not because she’s hungry, not because she’s lonely, not because she’s grieving . . .
but because she knows she’s safe in the shadow of your wing and she sings praise!

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.  Proverbs 18:10

Mind Of Its Own

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hpe fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  I Peter 1:13

I ask because I want . . .

I want because I do not have . . .

I wonder on that I do not have . . . that’s doubt.

I reason when I wonder . . . that’s distrust.

I get so confused . . . that’s distraction.

I want to live from faith to faith . . .

But, I doubt when I lose faith . . .

And, I do not believe when I doubt.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything form the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.   James 1:5-7

Lord Jesus, this unsettles my soul.  I am fearful . . . I am that man.  I know the battlefield is not for my heart — it already belongs to you!  The battlefield is for my mind.  I thought about my children this morning in the early hours, about your words from Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  I find great comfort in knowing this, as my children face so many obstacles — none too large for you.  As you know, I thought, too, how our minds are much like children — they need training.  While my soul belongs to you and my spirit lends its ear for hearing you, my mind . . . well, it has a mind of its own.  My mind has been trained to speak loud against my spirit and disbelieve many things.  When I disbelieve, I disobey.  But this is more than just a declaration, it’s a prayer of revelation — one of finally seeing the root of my angst, the nourishment of my doubt and the birth of stillborn hope.  Renew these thoughts into a river of peace, resting in the joy of faith, not by sight, but faith through belief in who you are and what you are doing in me.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

I ask because you make it possible to come before you to seek you in fulfilling the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4)  . . .

I seek you with my desires because I want to experience you in all things (Matthew 6:33) . . .

I trust you in all things with all of my heart (Proverbs 3:5-6) . . .

I live from faith to faith, believing you when what I see does not make sense (Luke 1:45).

The Pit and Peace

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.  Isaiah 26:3

I pulled up to the curb and said my goodbye’s as my boys replied with “I love you, dad!”  Slinging their backpacks over their shoulders they made their way to the sidewalk and began the journey of their day in middle school . . . but not before looking back at dad one last time.  They’re gone and now the car is quiet with the faint sound of the radio in the background and the warmth of the sun beating against my chest and with it, my self is unsettled.

It’s a pretty long ride home each morning from drop-off, about 30 minutes.  And, while on a normal day I would sing with the radio, talk to God about what my life looks like right now or pray for others and myself — today was a bit different.  Quiet with an occasional honking horn here or there, it was a rather mesmerizing ride.  I could tell I was losing my footing and slipping into the pit.

I got home and opened the front door to further silence.  I was all alone now.  But this wasn’t the first day I’ve walked into a quiet house.  And nor will it be my last.  I had decided earlier that  I wasn’t going to write anything in this blog today, but instead just move on with my day.  I grabbed my computer, a cup of coffee with my bible and sat in my chair . . . and the lump in my throat grew and tears began to flow down my cheek.

Why am I here, God?  Why?  Why do I feel this way?  I asked Him question after question — He promised me peace and I feel like I’m in the pit!  My world is upside down, my heart is racing and I feel like a basket-case.  It certainly doesn’t appear very peaceful in my life right now as my hands tremble and my thoughts are so mixed.

And then, I ran across the words of Isaiah 26.  It was though He said to me, “Mark . . . What are you setting your mind on?  What is your heart and mind dwelling on?”

Oh how I’ve thought His peace to be unconditional, but this is not His promise.  He wants me to not only remain in Him, but to set my mind to Him.  It is then He gives peace.  I weep with His presence.

How can I be so hard-headed and stubborn?  I always felt like peace came in the absence of troubles, but God says no to that.  He offers peace in the midst of troubles, in the midst of pain and hurt, in the midst of grief — and through His peace is healing!  Why?  Because our minds are set on Him — trusting and leaning with our full weight on Him alone.

Lord Jesus, I know . . . I know — trust you!  But, man, that’s so hard to do sometimes!!!  That’s me being honest!  When I stare at the dot in front of me and focus through my flesh on circumstances around me and neglect to witness your hand in the big picture of what you are doing in and through me, I experience the pit instead of your peace.  Create in me a discipline in my mind to be more steadfast in you!

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.  Isaiah 26:4

If Prayer Worked Like Magic

. . . being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6

Last night I sat at the restaurant table, waiting for our food and across from me was my son.  He and my other son were intrigued by the optical illusions printed in the kid’s menu activity sheet.  Incessantly they both got my attention to show me how cool it was that you could see this image if you stared at it long enough.  I never really enjoyed looking at those things because I’ve always had trouble seeing the smaller shapes for the big picture.  I remember once as a teenager gazing upon this little white dot in the middle of a printed American flag because if you did it long enough there would be a cool picture that would appear.  I never found out what that picture was, but my eyes stayed blurry for hours!

God is so interested in me that He is telling a story through me!  My problem, and it could be one of yours as well, is that I tend to only be interested in today’s paragraph.  But He is writing a big story!  Within the creation of my story is a conversation.  Sometimes it goes something like this . . . “God do this!  God, please do that!  If I do this, then please give me this other thing!”  Me, me, me!  Not much of a conversation at all.  Prayer is that necessary conversation and my story would be incredibly boring if my prayers were answered like magic.  “Mirror, mirror, on the wall!”  My first wish would be more wishes!  Thank heavens that’s not how God works!  But, admittedly, that alone can frustrate me.  In turn, however, my faith is strengthened to further trust Him as He writes my story one paragraph at a time!

Prayer changes things — I’ve witnessed that in me and many others.  But I’ve also seen prayer go without answer — so it appeared.  Like an echo in the canyon I question His whereabouts.  I know He’s near, so near He’s there!  (That was a little Dr. Seuss-y!) I never doubt His presence, but I don’t get His answers sometimes.  This is because I’m staring at today’s dot, waiting to see the big picture and my patience gets weary.  Without the conversation of prayer there would be no relationship — and in that relationship comes victory in Jesus!

In my impatience I attempt to make my story go the way I think it should go.  I take my eyes off the Author.  But when I look and see the works of His hand in my story and engage in prayerful conversation with Him about those things, I begin to develop an eye for Jesus!  My tendency, however, is to step off those pages and into my own story line.  But my story is not the story He designed for me — so I must stay in His story at all times!  This is perhaps the most difficult thing to do, because it seems quiet, uneventful and dormant.  But God is moving, writing and binding my story against the will of the Father!  I must allow Him to write and speak His voice into the details of my life.

Lord Jesus, the story of me seems like a difficult thing to write.  I think you have your hands full with this one!  Best seller?  Yep!  All the stories you write are top of the charts!  Mine is no different.  I’m living the words you write each day and I am listening for your voice — learning to develop an eye for you — in the details of my journey.  I’m staring at the dot still and plan to stay focused on the center of your will — in obedience and faith in knowing you are going to complete this good work!

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.  Psalms 1:1-3

Settling and Centering

Reposted from Scotty Smith’s blog site:

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Ps. 46:10-11

Sovereign Father, whenever I hear the command to “Be still,” my default mode takes me back to several elementary school teachers who consistently told me to “Sit still!” They had to, because I was a squirmy, restless little person. I had a hard time staying in my seat. But you’re telling me to be still, not sit still—and there’s a world and gospel of difference.

You’re not impatient or frustrated by your children—never irritated or exasperated with us. I’m not disrupting your classroom, but I do have a disrupted heart, and you notice and you care. I don’t feel anxious or fearful—though I’d freely acknowledge it if I did, before such a loving God as you. I do want to slow down on the inside, however.

I know that you’re with me and for me. I know this because of everything you’ve done for me in Jesus. You’re a fortress of comfort, for broken people like Jacob and me; you’re a haven of rest, a strong tower of grace, a fountain of mercy.

When I’m still, I remember that you are God, and nothing and no one else is. That’s the best news of this or any day. You have no competition—counterfeits, but no competition. There are demigods, semi-gods, wannabe gods, but only you are God.

Kings and nations are not God, for one Day you will be exalted among all the nations. The nations are like droplets in your bucket. Storms and environmental disasters are not God, for you will be exalted in the earth. You send the earthquake and harness the hurricane for your purposes.

Neither are our circumstances God, nor the opinions of others; nor is getting older, nor the choices of people I love, the mistakes I make and the sins I commit. In fact, the second most comforting news of the day is that I’m not God, though at times my attitude, prayerlessness, and unbelief would indicate a measure of self-worship.

Father, be exalted in the daily-ness of my today. Let me see your hand and heart at work in everything. I don’t want to be a practical atheist about anything, not any little thing. You are working all things together after the counsel of your will. You are working in all things for the good of those who love you, and that means me, but only because you first loved me in Jesus.

I probably won’t sit still, but because the gospel is true, I will be still. With palms up in surrender and praise, I enter this day. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ excellent and exalted name.

Passive Attentive

Dear Lord Jesus, I can think of many things in my life, both past and present, that by definition fall into the category:  destructive.  Whether it be patterns of negative behavior or attitudes from the flesh, I know I have what it takes to single-handedly make a mess of everything.  This is no surprise to you.  I’m so thankful you are a God of restoration!

However, the sealing off of negative thoughts and inconclusive moments in my world have been conduits of passive aggressive behavior in my relationships.  You have spoken to me this morning as clear as the sun is shining and answered my prayer.

Awareness of your presence and the familiar tone of your voice are but refreshments to my weary mind and aching heart.  I am guilty of being passive attentive to your Spirit within me and when I neglect to listen, my doer listens to other things.  I hurt, others hurt, I no longer trust, others cannot trust — it’s not your plan.

I know I need to listen to you in all things, becoming actively attentive to your Spirit within.  Remind me of the power I have in you!  In your precious and Holy name, Jesus Christ, Amen!

We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  I John 4:19-20

Gospel Reminder

I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”    Romans 1:15-17

The gospel is a message often reserved to be told to the one who does not know about such great news.  It’s been reduced to small pamphlets and branded into the shape of a cross.  And once we get it and capture the essence of our salvation through the life and death and resurrection and ascension of Christ, we unzip one of a dozen pockets in our backpack for safe keeping and set out on our journey of life with the gospel in tow — just in case.

I don’t know about you, but I need the Gospel full-strength, every day!  Forget that secret pocket!  I need to wear it like under armor!  The grace and faith of the gospel is at the core of who I am!  May I never tuck it away, set it down or adorn it for only a moment of apparent need.

I read this prayer recently that has stirred me, challenged me and awakened God within me!  This prayer is one I completely resonate with in my heart.  I continue to read it often and this is why I’m placing it in this post.  Remember, this is me speaking the gospel back to me!

———————————————————-

Dear Lord Jesus, even as Paul was eager to preach the gospel to believers in Rome, so I’m eager to preach it to my own heart today. There was a time when I thought the gospel was only for nonbelievers—simply the doorway and launching pad for beginning a relationship with you. I now realize the gospel is just as much for believers as it is for nonbelievers.

Indeed, there’s nothing more than the gospel, there’s just more of the gospel—inexhaustible riches to be mined and treasured; a bottomless ocean of sovereign grace and daily mercies; irrepressible power for transformation and liberation.

So what does my heart need to hear and believe, this and every day? The “it is finished” of your life and death, resurrection and ascension! Lord Jesus, that you’ve already accomplished everything necessary to completely redeem us—nothing is left to chance or left to be done. You came into the world as God’s promised Messiah. You lived a life of perfect obedience on our behalf—as our substitute, fulfilling all the demands of God’s law for us. You died upon the cross for us—taking the judgment we deserve, completely exhausting God’s righteous anger against our sin. Hallelujah, many times over!

Through faith in you and this good news, all of my sins have been forgiven and I’ve been given the gift of your perfect righteousness. God has already declared me righteous in his sight. He cannot love me more than he does today, and he’ll never love me less. In fact, because of your work for me, Lord Jesus, God now loves me just as much as he loves you, for he’s hidden my life in yours.

Oh, the peace this brings. He’s adopted me as his child, placed his Spirit in my heart and will send you to complete this grace work one Day—a redemption so glorious, so spectacular that it includes the gathering of your pan-national Bride and the renewing of the entire cosmos. Astonishing!

And now, the Holy Spirit constantly reminds me I’m God’s beloved child, because I’m so prone to forget. He’s also present in my life to make me like you, Lord Jesus, for I can no more change my heart than I can materialize a herd of camels by snapping my fingers. Salvation is of the Lord, from beginning to the glorious end. Keep pressing this gospel into my heart—and protect me from all false gospels. So very Amen I pray, in your priceless and peerless name.

by Scotty Smith, Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN

Posture Of The Spirit

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  Luke 10:39

In my journey I have always been challenged with prayer.  Not so much to do it, but more so how it should be done . . . when to do it, and what it should look like.  Throughout time, prayer has come to us with certain standards and formalities.  “God is great, God is good” comes to mind.  Hands clasped or palms together with stiff fingers is a familiar image.  Worn knees from bedside kneeling.  Arms raised high with bursts of emotion.  Desperate pleas that begin with “Oh my God!”  Certainly there’s nothing wrong with any of these — they are simply avenues, but in all of them is a common thread that binds them together.  It’s a deep seated desire in the depths of our being that wants to be heard by our Heavenly Father and . . . AND acknowledged — spoken to in return.

I spent some time this week with a good friend who hasn’t heard God’s voice in the decisions and circumstances in his life he has been praying through for years.  We spoke at length of listening and hearing.  His frustration from what appears to be God’s “tight lip” was painful to hear.

Unfortunately, this is not so uncommon among believers.  In the Bible we read of stories where God spoke in dreams, sent angels, instructed from a burning bush, wrote on walls and changed water into wine.  Today we read those stories and if there’s a dream, it’s nothing really.  And if there’s an angel, we doubt it without the wings.  And if there’s a burning bush that speaks . . . well, I’m not telling anyone about that!  And how many times has my faucet poured wine?  Somewhere down the line we have missed the point I think.  We have lost sight of the posture of the spirit of our hearts to approach the still, small voice of God that resonates across the universe.

Posture changes things!  Slouch when you walk in front of your mom and I guarantee that won’t last long!  And when you hold those shoulders back, stand with confidence and assurance in yourself — something changes inside that nothing else can effect like your posture.  What’s the posture of my own spirit?  In my period of waiting and watching as the Spirit resides in me is my heart slouching?  There is a place my spirit must anchor itself daily!  A place where my posture can be restored — a position where all things flow in fellowship with the Spirit within.  It’s a place of stillness, observing, listening — it’s a place at the Lord’s feet!

I realize now that I go to this place often.  I sit on the back porch with my coffee and listen to the birds frolic about, dancing with the sound of a woodpecker.  God’s there!  I ride in my car without the radio on listening to His sweet whispers as I think through His glory in me.  God’s there!  I pause in the garden to see a bee busy on a blossom.  God’s there!  It’s a place of stillness, quietness and a time to listen.  It’s a place where I embrace the Divine and the Divine embraces me!  It’s raising within me the attentiveness of my heart!

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  Mark 14:32