Sunday, January 17, 2010

In Him Alone

This song has become a favorite of mine over the past couple months:

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid

Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt of life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me

From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand

‘til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I think most of us struggle with codependancy. Did that make you raise an eyebrow? It did for me too a couple years ago when a trusted lady friend of mine told me to go to the codependancy group at Recovery. My first thought, "I'm not codependant on anybody." I pictured people who were reliant on drugs and alcohol or women in an abusive relationship who were too scared to get help. I soon discovered that learning the true definition of it revealed a heart of problems. A wicked heart and one that actually has struggled with the fear of man especially in my past.

In a nutshell, the fear of man can either be a fear of what others think of us or will do to us, or a craving for approval and a fear of rejection.

Girls, think about how you felt when you didn't get to do your makeup in the morning and hated being out in public all day. Or think about something in your past that if people knew, well, it's just too agonizing to think about. Or if you said or did the wrong thing and how you just can't make yourself stop thinking about. The list goes on and what is revealed are the idols in your life you didn't even realize were there.

"My 4-year-old niece loves to play dress-up. More specifically, she loves to stage her wedding. Any boy who comes to visit is likely to be corralled as her groom. Normally, this is not a cause for concern — that is, until one little boy bolted in terror and came running to seek the protection of his mother. My niece was right behind him, in all her finery and tulle. Ripping the veil off of her head, she attempted to reassure him.

"It's OK! Look, I'm cute. You can marry me!"

For her entire life, she's been told how cute she is, so I'm sure this was her trump card. Unfortunately, it didn't work.

I wonder how this experience was labeled and filed in her young mind. The stories and movies she's consumed tend to reinforce a worldview that beauty will overwhelm and captivate The Prince. Her parents have been diligent to introduce the ideas of character and inner beauty, but there is a lot of worldly reinforcement of superficial appeal.

As my niece discovered, the problem with appeal is that it's subjective. What appeals to me may not appeal to you. In the future, I wonder how many times she will metaphorically rip off that veil and reveal a heart full of expectations.

I hope, for her sake, that she doesn't get trapped in a cycle of craving approval and fearing rejection. It's a nasty spin cycle of confusion and hurt. Seeking approval from everyone in our orbit is akin to the nauseating dizziness a dancer experiences when she does not keep her eyes on one object as she twirls. Just as dancers are taught to spot, Christians are also taught by God's Word to spot. The Bible tells us that we are to keep our eyes on the Lord and seek His approval only.

Being conscious of God's approval or His displeasure is what the Bible calls "fear of the Lord." It means to be in awe of, or to respect, more than merely to be afraid. Conversely, what we now call peer pressure, people-pleasing, or co-dependency is what the Bible calls "fear of man." In a nutshell, the fear of man can either be a fear of what others think of us or will do to us, or a craving for approval and a fear of rejection.

Biblical counselor and author Ed Welch has labeled these "shame-fear" and "rejection-fear."

What is it that shame-fear and rejection-fear have in common? To use a biblical image, they both indicate that people are our favorite idol. We exalt them and their perceived power above God. We worship them as ones who have God-like exposing gazes (shame-fear) or God-like ability to "fill" us with esteem, love, admiration, acceptance, respect, and other psychological desires (rejection-fear).... Like all idols, people are created things, not the Creator (Rom. 1:25), and they do not deserve our worship. They are worshipped because we perceive that they have power to give us something. We think they can bless us.

Proverbs 29:25 succinctly states the consequences: "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe."

The most serious consequence of fear of man is when we want to shove God in the closet because we're ashamed of Him of fearful of what others may say: "Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God" (John 12:42-43).

One verse that is often quoted to women is in the closing commendation of Proverbs 31: "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised" (Pr. 31:30). As it most often gets quoted in the context of messages on beauty or modesty, I think most of us can mentally emphasize the first part of the verse and neglect to ponder the second part — "yeah, yeah, outer beauty fades, Christian women are supposed to have inner beauty, blah, blah, blah." But how often are we aware of the snare of the fear of man that trips us up in cultivating the fear of the Lord?

It's not accidental that Scripture pits the lure of physical beauty and all the praise it can elicit against the fear of the Lord. Physical attraction gets a lot of attention and praise — from other human beings. But that's not what our Creator praises us for. He will not praise us for the superficial, but for the eternal — our qualities and virtues that, by His grace, reflect our growth through His redemptive efforts.

To be praiseworthy women, I think we have to be able to clearly identify the manifestations of the fear of man. Here's what that snare can look like for women:

Do you change your normal behavior when you are around men you are attracted to?
Do you cancel plans because you feel you don't look very good that day?
Do you agonize over what to wear to an event?
Are you defensive when criticized, no matter how little or great the criticism?
Are you easily embarrassed? Do you find it hard to laugh at yourself?
Are you jealous of other people, their possessions, or their relationships?
Do you have trouble saying no to people when your resources (time, finances, health) are already maxed out?
Do you avoid some people?
Do you consistently second-guess your decisions?
Are you afraid of airing your true opinion about a decision?
Do you embellish certain stories or exaggerate the truth to make you look a little better than reality? Conversely, do you issue lots of little white lies?
Will you compromise standards of modesty or purity because you want to seem relevant or stylish?
Do you decline dates because you think others will not like or be impressed with the man who has asked you out?
These behaviors are guaranteed to make us dizzy and nauseated. We are looking into the eyes of everyone around us for approval, rather than steadfastly seeking the eyes of our Lord in the twists, turns, and spins of our lives.

But we don't have to be slaves to the opinions of other, fallen creatures. We can be set free by seeking the approval and praise of God. This is what defines a godly woman: "Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious" (1 Peter 3:3-4).

That gentle, quiet spirit is not limited to a certain personality type. It's not like the God who made an enormous variety of people suddenly wants us to act like clones of each other — every woman wearing flowered skirts, sipping tea, and never speaking up.

This passage echoes the wisdom of that Proverbs 29:25 verse: "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe." Some translations say whomever trusts in the LORD will be protected or exalted. The literal translation is "raised high" — either to a protective place or to an exalted place.

The point is, a gentle and quiet spirit is one who trusts in the Lord. That trust can be expressed through a wide range of temperaments, from quiet to boisterous. Like a dancer, it is not so much how the moves are made but where we are looking that expresses true fear of the Lord. The benefit is that we are released from being slaves to the opinions of others so that we can love them without strings attached. As Ed Welch writes:

The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. God must be bigger to you than people are.... Regarding other people, our problem is that we need them (for ourselves) more than we love them (for the glory of God). The task God sets for us is to need them less and love them more.

A woman who loves for the glory of a very big God is truly worthy of praise."

Whom Do You Fear?
by Carolyn McCulley

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Fun

Looking for a Christmas tree
Christmas shopping with Mommy and Daddy

Kenadi's attempt to open a present ;)

mmmmm . . .

Two days before Christmas - it was 75 outside - beautiful!

Delivering treats to some neighborhood friends

It started snowing Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve at Roni's house

A white Christmas!!!

Oma and Papa got Cole a new bike!

Ready to open presents with the whole family

So sweet!

Hats and gloves for everybody!

so serious

Chase was very excited about his Star Wars sheets :)

Cole made me an ornament and a bell. Love them!

Burning cold hands!

Our Frosty

Experimenting with the robot bugs that Grandpa gave the boys

Snuggling up to Gams

Happy Birthday Jesus!
And a couple videos . . .

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Two Wills

It's amazing how God reveals things to us. After getting more in depth on praying according to God's will I started thinking more on the two wills of God - how there's God's will for all persons to be saved yet there's His will to elect unconditionally those who will actually be saved. Not that I've never thought about it before but I've always passed it off as God knows all of our hearts and who will ultimately turn from their sins and cry out for Him. Yet He is the one who turns our hearts to Him so why some and not others. In passing it off I've missed out on going deeper in my relationship with Him and an opportunity for growth.
So the day that I started thinking about all this I was flipping through my cd's while I was waiting in the pick up line for Cole and guess what I found? A cd entitled "The Two Will's of God" that I was given to me almost a year ago when I went through the membership class at the Village. I would love to list some points right now but it'll have to wait till later. For now if you would like, go
here to view John Piper's article on the Two Wills of God.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A New Resolution

I read this sermon by John Piper about a week ago and it's been resounding in my heart since. I love the challenge in it to discover how prayer and His Word abiding in us work together. Basically this is my Prayer Part 2.

You can find the entire sermon at under
Praying From the Fullness of God's Word

But what about the other problem with prayer—that we pray and the answer we long for does not come? The Bible has several possible answers.

It says we may not be praying according to God's will; 1 John 5:14, "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us."

Or it could be we have cherished sin that we will not let go from our lives; Psalm 66:18, "If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear."

It could be that we have man-centered and not God-centered motives; James 4:3, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures."

Or it may be that we do not believe that God will do it; Mark 11:24, "All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you."

Or it could be that God wants you to persevere, and is testing your obedience to his command in Luke 18:1, "At all times [you] ought to pray and not to lose heart."

Or it might be that God is, in fact, doing far more every time you pray than you can imagine and is daily putting in place a part of the mosaic that will in good time be the full answer to your prayer (as in Daniel 10:2,12).

"Praying for All His Purposes, Meditating on All His Word"
Or could it be that there is a dynamic to prayer that we have not yet learned? Could it be that this matter of praying is so mysterious and so wonderful that there is a deeper, fuller way of relating to God in prayer that we have not experienced? Could it be that we are like children who have been told something by our Father, but we just don't get it yet? And in his wisdom and patience he goes on loving us and teaching us. Could it be that 1997 would be the year when we get it?

Here is one of my goals for 1997 for Bethlehem. In our Mission Statement booklet, two of our values are expressed like this: We value a "growing frequency, freedom, depth and power in corporate, family and private prayer." We value "making prayer the visible engine of all our efforts in ministry and worship" (page 5). One of my goals for us in 1997 is that we as a church discover corporately how the Word of God and prayer work together in powerful, life-changing, fruit-bearing ministry.

In our Mission Statement booklet, the spiritual dynamic behind all our ministry goes like this:

We join God the Father in magnifying the supremacy of his glory
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the power of the Holy Spirit by
treasuring all that God is,
loving all whom he loves,
praying for all his purposes,
meditating on all his Word,
sustained by all his grace.

My prayer is that in 1997 Bethlehem will learn from study and experience how those two lines work together—praying for all his purposes, meditating on all his Word. What's the connection? How do they function together to make us a transformed, fruit-bearing people?

The reason this is so crucial for us is given in our text today, especially John 15:7, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you." Do you see the connection between the Word of God and prayer? "If my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you." Here is a great goal for us in 1997: what does that mean? What does it mean in experience, not just in talk, but in action and life? That is what I want us to learn together.

I put it as a question because I am not at all sure I know what this text means—at least not in its fullness. I have the suspicion that there is a potential here that few, if any, are tapping into. I don't think I have arrived—perhaps I have barely begun to experience this dynamic of the Word abiding in me and releasing sure answers to prayer. Do I really know—have I really experienced—what Jesus means by the Word abiding in me? Do I experience—do you experience—day in and day out the dynamic relationship between the indwelling Word and answers to prayer? Do you know from experience what this is?

In Prayer Week of 1987 we did a survey at Bethlehem and asked, for example, How much time per week do you spend reading the Bible? 255 people took the survey. 21% said fewer than 15 minutes (a week!). Another 25% said 15-30 minutes a week. So 46% of our people in 1987 were spending fewer than five minutes a day reading God's Word. When asked about time spent in focused prayer, 62% said they spent fewer than 30 minutes in prayer each week—fewer than five minutes a day.

I doubt that the statistics are very different today. And I would venture to say that many of these people harbor some deep resentments toward God for not answering their prayers. So the question arises: is there anything in their lives—or in my life—that corresponds to John 15:7—"If the Word of God abides in you . . ." Is reading the Word of God five minutes a day what Jesus was referring to when he said, "If my words abide in you"? My own suspicion is that Jesus had something in mind vastly more extensive and more life-shaping than the quick glances that forty percent of our people give to the Word of God each day.

Is This Legalistic?
I know that at this point some people are already throwing up defenses in the name of freedom, and are ready to say that all such talk is infected with legalism and a performance mentality. Well, I plead with you to look at the words of Jesus here in John 15:7 and struggle with me over this. This is not legalism. We are not talking about doing x-number of minutes of Bible reading to earn x-number of answered prayers. We are talking about living out what we value.

For example, suppose a coach prepares a steak dinner for his football team every day and spreads it before them freely, without cost, and says to them: eat and enjoy this rich meal every day and you will have strength to win the championship. And suppose that half the team instead goes to the candy store and the bakery, and week after week eats sweets and pastries. They start to lose games and the coach finds out they are not eating his free steak dinners and rebukes them. Some of them become indignant and say, "Hey we don't want a legalistic relationship with you. We want to relate to you in freedom and do what comes more naturally for our appetites."

Now that coach would be justified in saying, "It is not legalism to accept a free gift from me and to trust me that it is better for you than candy and pie." And so it is with Jesus. It is not legalism to welcome his free gift and infinitely valuable word. It is not legalism to savor it and revel in its preciousness. It is not legalism to believe that without it we get weaker and weaker and more and more worldly.

There are some of you who have built up strong resistance to receiving the Word of God and letting it abide in you, as Psalm 1 says, day and night. And I plead with you to let 1997 be the year you trust God to change that. There is something here for us that we are not getting. And I believe that if you would just reach out and taste a fraction of it, you would take heart that there are possibilities in your life and prayer that you never dreamed.

If His Word Were Abiding in us,
How Might that Yield Answers to Prayer?

What might John 15:7 mean? Jesus says, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you." What are the possibilities of how the Word abiding in us might yield sure answers to prayer?

1. It may be that the Word abiding in us functions to guide our prayers. In other words, 1 John 5:14 says, "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." Perhaps it is the abiding of the Word of Christ in our lives that directs us to what God's will is in prayer. Then we pray according to God's will and the answer comes.

2. Or it may be that the Word abiding in us functions to build our faith, which then lays hold on answers to prayer. Romans 10:17 says, "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." And in Mark 11:24 Jesus says, "All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you." So if faith is essential for answered prayer, and if the Word abiding within sustains faith, then maybe that is what Jesus means when he says that if his words abide in us we will have answers to our prayers.

3. Or it may be that the Word abiding in us functions to transform us morally and spiritually so that we are walking in the path of love where God answers prayer, rather than in the path of selfishness where he doesn't. We know from Psalm 66:18 and James 4:3 that intentionally cherishing or walking in sin cuts us off from answered prayer. And we know from John 8:32 that the Word of God sets us free from sin: "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." And we know from John 17:17 that the word of God sanctifies: "Sanctify them in the truth [Jesus prays to the Father], your Word is truth." So maybe it's the transforming, sanctifying power of the Word that leads to holiness and love and then to answered prayer.

Bearing Fruit for God's Glory is the Main Aim
What's plain from the context of John 15:1-8 is that bearing fruit for God's glory is the main concern—and it probably means both the fruit of love and joy as well as the fruit of conversions. Verse 2: "Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit." Verse 4: "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me." Verse 5: "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit." Verse 8: "By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit."

So the aim of this passage is more fruit for God's glory, and the path to that fruit-bearing is our abiding in Christ, and his word abiding in us. And prayer, according to verse 7, is an essential part of that abiding in Christ and having his Word abide in us, so that we can bear fruit for God's glory.

How this prayer and this Word abiding in us work together is what I want us to discover together this year. The very least that it means is that we make it our aim to pray from the fullness of God's word. Effective prayer is the overflow of the fullness of the Word of God abiding in us. What does that mean in experience? That is our quest in 1997.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Loved Matt's sermon on prayer a while back. Meant to post this earlier :)

Why Pray?

1. Daily act of humility and dependence on God "I cannot, You can. I do not know, You know."

2. Fellowship with God. God speaks to us through His Word and His Holy Spirit, we speak to God through prayer. This is called "relationship".

3. In prayer, God allows us to be involved in activities that are eternally important. We are involved in something much, much bigger than ourselves.

4. Prayer changes things

5. Means of confession

6. Prayer is a means to fighting sin. Prayer is a spirit driven activity which means when we’re praying we’re disconnecting from the sinful falleness of this world and we’re connecting to what is holy, right and good.

7. We’re commanded to. God has ordained that through prayer He would accomplish His purposes and so He has commanded to the individual life of the believer to pray and therefore fulfill His purposes.

Is God sovereign over all things or can we move Him by our prayers?
The problem is that we have a hard time believing both of these to be true and we’ll want to pick one and play it against the other.

Ephesians 1 is very clear that salvation belongs to God and that no man can be converted without Christ opening his heart. That the only way you believe and that you have the ability to believe is that if God opens your heart and your mind to understand the gospel, that He gets you out of darkness and into light – that’s the only way you believe.

If that’s true, then why preach? If preaching doesn’t open the hearts and minds of people but only the Holy Spirit does, then why share your faith with your neighbor? Why share your faith with your friends, family?

Because God’s appointed means to achieving His appointed purpose is the proclamation of the Word which means God said the means by which I’m going to accomplish this is the preaching, teaching and proclamation of the Word. So, He’s going to save men through the preaching/teaching of the Bible and through interpersonal relationships where the gospel is taught and lived out. The same is true about prayer.
Prayer becomes the means by which the purposes of God are accomplished. So that in this way prayer changes things.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Magical Christmas

How did the story of Santa bringing gifts make Christmas more magical than Christ bringing the ultimate gift? If we're so good at making the story of Santa a reality by wrapping up gifts and setting them under a tree Christmas Eve how much better should we be at making the story of Christ and his gift of reconciliation a reality? Think of the magic in your childs heart toward Santa and imagine the child like faith you could give them based on reality rather than imaginary.
The words of Noel Piper sum up my thoughts exactly:

Thinking About Santa
{By: Noel Piper}
Over the years, we have chosen not to include Santa Claus in our Christmas stories and decorations. There are several reasons.

First, fairy tales are fun and we enjoy them, but we don’t ask our children to believe them.

Second, we want our children to understand God as fully as they’re able at whatever age they are. So we try to avoid anything that would delay or distort that understanding. It seems to us that celebrating with a mixture of Santa and manger will postpone a child’s clear understanding of what the real truth of God is. It’s very difficult for a young child to pick through a marble cake of part-truth and part-imagination to find the crumbs of reality.

Third, we think about how confusing it must be to a straight-thinking, uncritically-minded preschooler because Santa is so much like what we’re trying all year to teach our children about God. Look, for example, at the “attributes” of Santa.

He’s omniscient—he sees everything you do.
He rewards you if you’re good.
He’s omnipresent—at least, he can be everywhere in one night.
He gives you good gifts.
He’s the most famous “old man in the sky” figure.
But at the deeper level that young children haven’t reached yet in their understanding, he is not like God at all.

For example, does Santa really care if we’re bad or good? Think of the most awful kid you can remember. Did he or she ever not get gifts from Santa?

What about Santa’s spying and then rewarding you if you’re good enough? That’s not the way God operates. He gave us his gift—his Son—even though we weren’t good at all. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He gave his gift to us to make us good, not because we had proved ourselves good enough.

Helping our children understand God as much as they’re able at whatever age they are is our primary goal. But we’ve also seen some other encouraging effects of not including Santa in our celebration.

First, I think children are glad to realize that their parents, who live with them all year and know all the worst things about them, still show their love at Christmas. Isn’t that more significant than a funny, old, make-believe man who drops in just once a year?

Second, I think most children know their family’s usual giving patterns for birthday and special events. They tend to have an instinct about their family’s typical spending levels and abilities. Knowing that their Christmas gifts come from the people they love, rather than from a bottomless sack, can help diminish the “I-want-this, give-me-that” syndrome.

And finally, when children know that God’s generosity is reflected by God’s people, it tends to encourage a sense of responsibility about helping make Christmas good for others.

Karsten, for example, worked hard on one gift in 1975. On that Christmas morning, his daddy stepped around a large, loose-flapped cardboard box to get to his chair at the breakfast table. “Where’s Karsten?” he asked, expecting to see our excited three-year-old raring to leap into the day. Sitting down, I said, “He’ll be here in a minute.”

I nudged the box with my toe. From inside the carton, Karsten threw back the flaps and sprang to his full three-foot stature. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them . . .” He had memorized Luke 2:8-20 as a gift for his dad. Karsten knew the real story.

In fact, a few days later, he and I were walking down the hall at the church we attended then. One of the older ladies leaned down to squeeze his pink, round cheek and asked, “What did Santa bring you?” Karsten’s head jerked quickly toward me, and he whispered loudly, “Doesn’t she know?”

(Adapted from Treasuring God in Our Traditions)