On Listening for Transformation

Here is a reminder from Henri Nouwen to those of contemplating how to make more of the word of God in our lives. According to Nouwen, true transformation occurs only when we learn to listen well.

Perhaps you think about the word of God as a divine exhortation to go out and change your life. But the full power of the word lies not in how you apply it to your life after you’ve heard it, but in how it’s transforming power does its divine work in you as you listen. —Nouwen, Spiritual Direction.

What sort of transformation needs to take place in your life? Are you inviting the divine to work in your life?

What do you need to do differently in order to listen to word?

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The Point of Scripture

Here is an important reminder from A.W. Tozer that reading scripture is not the point. Scripture is the means to growing in our faith in the living God.

“The Bible is not an end to itself, but a means to bring men (and woman) to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God himself, and that He is the core and center of their hearts.” —Tozer, from The Pursuit of God.

The end of scripture is an intimate and sweet relationship with the living God. Best to keep this in mind when we are feeling pressed by other demands on our time.

How are you using scripture to grow in your faith? 

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What Michael’s Death Has Taught Me About Trusting God

It’s been a year since my little brother Michael died. He was too young and it all happened so fast.

Living Memorial Tree for Michael
Living Memorial Tree for Michael (1971-2012)

Can I be honest? The months since his death have been hard. And while I have found peace in my walk with Jesus, I will tell you there are hours of some days that I am just overwhelmed by grief. It sucks.

Maybe you’ve lost someone this year. If so, I am sorry. I know what you’re going through. I want to remind you that God is the God of peace and so I challenge you to trust him with your grief.

I wanted to mark the first anniversary of Michael’s death by telling you about his favorite passage of scripture. Well that’s not true–he had lots of favorite passages. See, Michael struggled in this life. He made some big mistakes and kept making them. He wondered about suffering and evil in the world and in his life. Sometime he couldn’t reconcile this with a good and loving God.

And so Michael read the Bible to better understand God. I have one of his Bibles. I’ve gone through it many times since his death, noting the passages he highlighted and marked. I am grateful for the words he wrote in the margin in his tight and pretty script. But he kept coming back to the story of Job.

Michael saw many parallels of his life with that of Job, a man who suffers crushing personal tragedies, but in the end confesses the greatness of God.

While Michael studied the life of Job to better understand his own, the marking in his Bible indicate he kept coming back to Job 42:1-6:

Then Job replied to the Lord: 2 “I know that you can do all things;
 no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
 3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
 Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
 things too wonderful for me to know. 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
 I will question you,
 and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
 but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

See, at some point in his life, Michael stopped asking–‘why me God’–and instead, repented and trusted God. He learned to acknowledge that there was indeed something greater at work in his life than merely suffering and hardship. Michael realized there is a mystery we must confess when it comes to God and rather than push-back he’s embrace it.

God is mysterious. But that needn’t prevent us from having faith. Theologians tell us God is transcendent—beyond our capacity to fully know Him. But he is also immanent; he is present in and with the created order. God has his skin in the game. He’s immersed in the details of our lives. And that means we can know Him.

Wrestling with the story of Job helped assuage Michael’s doubts and questions about God and that allowed him to confess faith that the Jesus of the Gospels was exactly who he said he was—the Son of the Living God.

I celebrate that. As a Christian I have hope that this life is the prelude for the life that is truly life. In those final hours of Michael’s life, I was comforted by a strange peace that this was not the end–only the prelude to life.

Michael and Sarah
Michael and Sarah

I don’t know what you’re facing today? Maybe you’re seeking God; maybe you’ve already dismissed God from your life. Maybe you’re unable to find peace despite your relationship with God? Whatever, it is, I get it. I’ve been there.

Today, I want to to tell you it’s OK to ask God WHY? It’s OK to question Him and it’s OK to be mad at Him. It’s Ok–He can take it.

But maybe, while you’ve been questioning and challenging God, you haven’t given him the opportunity to be God. Maybe you need to just repent and let God be God?

In the end, Michael did. And that changed his eternity.

Rest in Peace little brother. Until we meet again…

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4 Prayers of Paul for Church Planters

stpaulThe deeper and more refreshing the planters prayer life, the healthier the planter and therefore the church plant. But it’s easy to become distracted from prayer by the details that come with planting a church. So what can we do? Sometimes having prayers to pray helps.

I’ve been praying through four prayers from Paul. In these prayers, Paul is encouraging and inspiring the brothers and sisters in these new churches to keep the focus on Jesus. As I’ve made these prayers part of my spiritual rhythm, I’ve found it easier to keep my eyes on Jesus–even in the midst of my busyness.

To Know Him Better

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

To Experience His Power and Love

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

To Abound in His Love

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

Bear Fruit for the Kingdom in Wisdom and Power

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:9-12)

I commend these prayers to you. They will inspire and encourage you and the people on your team.

Thanks to my friend Sean who leads at Restore and who reminded me in a very busy season of church planting to never cease praying.

What about you? Does church planting distract you from prayer? How do you make space for prayer even with a  busy schedule.

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Increase Your Love

I’ve been thinking about the special kind of love for Jesus, his church and for others that planting a new church requires.

Paul prayed for the church in Thessalonica that God would make their love increase, overflow, and reach the world:

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13).

Planting new churches and multiplying disciples to plant more churches will require the special kind of love Paul describes. Only God can increase this love in you.

Don’t forget the special role of love in your new church. Pray that God would increase and overflow love in you as you plant.