Making Resolutions Is Good, But This Is Far Better

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  1 Pe 5:6-7

God tells us to humble ourselves when we’re concerned about the future.  To take the first step and acknowledge that we are not in control.

It’s not our mighty hand that directs our lives, but God’s mighty hand.  It’s not our mighty hand that provides for us, but God’s mighty hand.  To humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand means to acknowledge that he rules the universe and that we desire to submit to his will for our lives.

To humble ourselves means to acknowledge that we are powerless.  That we don’t control our lives. To humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand is bow down before our Creator and say, “Lord you are infinitely great, sovereign and wise, and I am not.”

We humble ourselves by casting all our anxieties on God in prayer.  By lifting our fears, needs, worries, and pressures to him.

Proud people don’t pray. When we don’t pray we are saying we can handle this. We don’t need any outside help, thanks. My mighty hand can take care of this.

Years ago I thought God was too busy running the universe to care about my pitiful little needs. But amazingly – the one who created the galaxies cares about every detail of our lives.  He cares about our children. About whether we’re lonely or not. About that situation that tempts us to be anxious. He cares for “you” – individually. He knows us by name. He’s engraved us on the palms of his hands (Isaiah 49:16).  He’s moved by our suffering. Jesus is a sympathetic high priest, for he’s suffered too.

He’s numbered every hair on our heads. If he knows when a single sparrow falls, he knows exactly we need.

What happens when we humble ourselves?  At the proper time God will exalt us.  He’ll lift us up. He will lift us out of our pit, out of our anxiety.  And he’ll do this “at the proper time” – it might not be when we would desire, but it will be at the very best time – the time that will give him maximum glory and bring us maximum joy.

What a great way to start the new year. Rather than making all kinds of resolutions about what WE will do, let’s bow down and acknowledge whose hand directs our lives.  Resolutions and goals are good – but what is far better is to humble ourselves before God and pray.  Pray constantly.  This year lets keep casting all our cares on the one who cares for us.

The Best Apps For Your New iPad, iPod, or iPhone

You are delirious with joy because you got a new Apple device for Christmas! Congratulations! You have been born again a third time. But then you enter the App Store, and you are confronted by hundreds of thousands of apps. You go into shock. You curl up in the fetal position and begin to weep. Curse you Apple developers, curses upon you and a thousand generations! So many apps, so little time! Where to start?

That’s where I come in. Consider me your Apple optimal experience consultant. I’ve been using Apple products for some time now, and have experimented with hundreds of apps. Let me tell you where to get started. Here is a list of my favorite apps…

ESV Bible – The ESV Bible app is hands down, the most user friendly Bible app out there. Don’t mess around with YouVersion, or any of the other Bible apps. Simple, elegant, fast, no need for Wi-Fi. This one is your ticket to ride.

Desiring God – This app gives you free access to the enormous amount of material on the Desiring God website. Sermons, blog posts, books, it’s all there, and it’s all free.

Kindle – I do almost all my reading on the Kindle app for iPad. Why? Because Kindle versions are so much cheaper than physical books!Plus, I have all my books in one place, with all of my highlights instantly available. It’s really pretty incredible.

Facebook / Twitter – If you use Facebook or Twitter you should get the official apps.

Overdrive – This handy little app lets you borrow Kindle books from your local library.

Goodreads – If you are a prolific reader you should probably use the Goodreads website. If you use the Goodreads website, you should probably have the app.

ESPN ScoreCenter – You need to keep up on your teams. The ScoreCenter app makes that possible.

The Weather Channel – This is a dream come true for all you weather nerds. Instant access to 10 day forecasts, detailed maps, and extreme weather alerts.

Feedly – If you read more than three blogs, you need to use Google Reader. If you use Google Reader, you need to use Feedly. It allows you to quickly fly through hundreds of blog posts, picking out the ones that look interesting, and skipping over the rest. I’ve used the highly toted Reeder app, and I like Feedly much better. It syncs with Instapaper, which makes it even better.

30/30 – If you’re looking for a simple, elegant timer, this is your app.

iA Writer – If you’re planning on doing any serious writing on your iPad, this is a great, distraction free writing app. I use it a lot, both on my Mac and on my iPad. I sync between them by using Dropbox.

iAnnotatePDF – If you want to mark up a PDF file for potential changes, this is the perfect app.

Guitar Toolkit – This app is an absolute must have for any guitar player. It’s a tuner, it shows chord formations, it demonstrates various scales. I use this app all the time.

This American Life – “This American Life” is one of my favorite podcasts. The producers of the podcast weave together multiple true stories every week, the end result being a fascinating, intriguing podcast, that explores the depths of humanity. This app gives you access to every episode they’ve ever done.

Stitcher – Don’t mess around with downloading podcasts every week, then transferring them to your device. Stitcher lets you select your favorite podcasts, then listen to them on demand. Much simpler, much less downloading and transferring.

Dropbox – This service is the best way to share files with others, and the best way to sync files between multiple devices, such as an iPad and a computer.

Snapseed – A great photo editor that is relatively simple to learn. Useful for bloggers as well.

Spelltower – A great game for all you word game nerds. Scrabble and Boggle fans will especially like this one.

Reckless 2 – I don’t play many games on my iPad, but this one is a favorite.

Okay, those are my favorites. What about you?

The Simple Solution For Producing Fruit

Christian growth seems so complicated at times, doesn’t it?

I need to pray, and I need to make sure that my prayers aren’t too self-centered, and I need to be praying for the spread of God’s kingdom, and to be sure that I’m not distracted by my iPhone. I need to read God’s word. And meditate on it. And memorize it. I need to evangelize, fast, serve, reach out, love my wife, serve my daughters, and give money to God’s work.

Man, this stuff can be so confusing! With limited time and limited energy, what the heck am I supposed to do? Sometimes I get anxious when I think about all that I should be doing. I want to be a fruitful Christian but I worry that I’m missing something. How can I be sure that I’m doing the right stuff at the right time?

I find Jesus’ words in John 15:5 very helpful:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Isn’t that refreshingly simple? If I want to bear much fruit I need to abide in Jesus. That’s it.

To abide with Jesus is to be with him. To spend time with him. To be near to him.

It’s important to think through the various spiritual disciplines we pursue. But let’s not get overly worked up or worried about producing fruit for the Lord. If we abide with Jesus, we will produce fruit. Actually, let me correct that. If we abide with Jesus, He will produce fruit.

Should You “Choose” To Be Attracted To Your Potential Spouse?

Recently Mike McKinley and Tim Challies both wrote articles which argued that young people, particularly men, should choose to be attracted primarily to a potential spouse’s spiritual beauty rather than physical beauty. I really respect both of these guys, love their gospel work, and usually agree with them, but as a pastor, both of these articles made me nervous. They made me nervous for two reasons.

First, the articles don’t fully appreciate the place of physical attraction in scripture. Yes, scripture is clear that in a marriage relationship, character is more important than physical attraction. But physical attraction matters. When Adam first laid eyes on Eve, there was a definite physical attraction. There was a flash of affection when he first laid eyes on her. He loved what he saw. When Adam saw Eve he burst into praise:

Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23 ESV)

The Song of Solomon devotes chapter upon chapter to describing the physical attraction between a man and woman. Song of Solomon 1:9-10 says:

I compare you, my love, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots. Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.

Just a few verses later Solomon says to his spouse:

Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. (Song of Solomon 1:15)

Solomon clearly delights in the physical beauty of his bride. He doesn’t go on and on about her quiet spirit and devotion to God, as important as those things are. He is enraptured by her beauty. He is magnetically drawn to her appearance, and can’t stop thinking about her. Throughout scripture there is an underlying assumption that a man will be physically and spiritually attracted to a woman.

If a young man came to me, and said he was thinking about a particular girl, I would ask him two questions:

  1. Is she godly? If yes, proceed to question number two.
  2. Do you think she is attractive?

If he answered “no” to number two, I would counsel him to pause, and pray, and wait before pursuing the relationship. I wouldn’t want to press him into a relationship based solely on spiritual attraction, and then later have him feeling trapped in the relationship. Scripture is clear that spiritual character is most important when considering a potential spouse, but physical attraction also plays a significant part.

This leads me to a second, pastoral concern, regarding these articles. As a pastor, I’ve seen difficult marriages in which one spouse felt pressured into marriage, even though they weren’t particularly attracted to their spouse. Basing a relationship primarily on spiritual attraction creates unhelpful, hyper-spiritual pressure in relationships. It creates an unsaid, unbiblical rule that only reason a relationship can end is for spiritual causes.

Yes, our idea of beauty has been distorted by media and pornography, and this should be a topic of conversation when considering any relationship. But we can’t dismiss the ideas of beauty and attraction all together.

A husband and wife should be spiritually compatible AND physically attracted to each other. This doesn’t mean that the man or woman is a supermodel. Beauty is fleeting, and charm is deceitful, which is why we don’t make those things the primary factors in a relationship. But God created us as both spiritual and physical beings. We are not sexless, spiritual beings. God made us to have flesh and blood. He created us to be attracted to the opposite sex.

If you are considering entering into a relationship, consider both the spiritual aspect and the physical aspect. Don’t let your values be determined by media or pornography, let them be determined by scripture. Find a beautiful, attractive spouse, who loves Jesus.

The Ultimate Comedown

mud feet

I don’t like to humble myself.

I love myself too much.  That’s why I so need the Lord’s grace to serve and lay down my life for others.  Apart from the Spirit’s power, I would only seek to be admired and served, to live for my own comfort and pleasure.   I’d never associate with the lowly nor look to the interests of others.

How I need to contemplate the immeasurable humility of Jesus.

Before Jesus took on flesh he existed as God from all eternity, infinite in glory, power and majesty.  All he had to do was give the word and the host of heaven would fly to do his will.  Myriads and myriads of angels worshiped and served him.  He had no needs, existing in perfect joyous fellowship with his Father and the Holy Spirit.

But Jesus “emptied himself” of his glory and took on a human nature.  This self-humbling was the ultimate comedown.

For Jesus to tread the mud of this earth and suffer hunger and weakness and associate with sinners was a greater humiliation than if I became a cockroach, for Jesus is infinitely exalted above his creation, and I am certainly not infinitely exalted above cockroaches.  Even the most radiant angels in heaven are only finite creatures, separated by an infinite chasm from the unfathomable greatness and glory of Jesus.  Angels are closer to garden slugs in their being than they are to God.  The highest order of creatures, seraphim, must cover their faces with their wings because they cannot bear the sight of Jesus’ blazing holiness.

Never has there been so deep a humiliation as Christ’s incarnation.  But on the cross his humiliation reached incalculable depths when he “became sin” in God’s sight.  Jesus, the sinless One, in bearing our crimes, became the most abhorrent, despicable thing that exists in his Father’s eyes.

And he did all this to purchase our salvation, to bring us to God, and clothe us with his own beauty.

That’s what Christmas is all about – the glorious Son of God, willingly embracing infinite humiliation to rescue and exalt vile sinners.

photo by kunkelstein

Finally, After Thirty Six Years…

I get easily discouraged in prayer.

If I don’t see the answer quickly, my prayers lose their edge and enthusiasm. My faith in God starts to peter out, and my prayers become less frequent. Which is why I find the words of George Mueller so encouraging.

In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals.  I prayed every day without one single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be.  Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted.  Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted.  I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three.  Day by day I continued to pray for them, and six years more passed before the third was converted.  I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two.  The man to whom God in the riches of his grace has given tens of thousands of answers to prayer, in the self-same hour or day on which they were offered, has been praying day by day for nearly thirty six years for the conversion of these two individuals, and yet they remain unconverted; for next November will be thirty-six years since I began to pray for their conversion.  But I hope in God, I pray, and look yet for the answer.

Some time after Mueller spoke these words, a fourth friend was converted. After he died, the fifth and final of his friends was saved.

What an example to me! Mueller prayed for thirty-six years! There must have been many days when he felt discouraged and doubtful, yet he kept praying. He was steadfast, and in the end God honored his steadfast prayer.

In 2013 let’s pray like George Mueller. Let’s pray bold, persistent, steadfast prayers.

Now That’s Interesting! Terrifying Santa, Skateboarding TRICKS!, Kid Basketball…

Here’s 14 Festive Photos Of Santa Terrifying Children - “Here, sit on the lap of this complete stranger and let us take some pictures!”

Guts in sofas - A little on the gross side. A lot on the fascinating side. I wonder if Jen would let me get one of these for our basement.

The Balanced Rock Sculptures of Michael Grab Rely Solely on Gravity - These are beautiful, incredible, gravity-defying sculptures. I’m amazed at this!

Pop Bubble Wrap While you Wait for Instant Anti-Stress - This is brilliant. Waiting in line would be so much easier if I had bubble wrap at my disposal.

Now This Is Ridiculous – There are skateboarding tricks, and there are skateboarding TRICKS!

Kid Basketball Timeouts – I like to imagine that this is what LeBron James and Dwayne Wade talk about during their timeouts.

Courage, Success and Meditation

What if God suddenly put you in charge of leading 2 million people into a strange land occupied by fearful warriors?

What if you had to replace one of the greatest leaders in the Bible – Moses – who led Israel out of Egypt, split the Red Sea, met with God face-to-face, received the 10 Commandments, struck a rock with his staff and water gushed out. Imagine being called upon to take his place. That’s what Joshua had to do:

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.”

I’d have said, “Who me?  What if I fail?”  God told Joshua to have courage.  To grab the bull by the horns and get going.

Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:1-9)

Three times God told Joshua: Be strong and courageous.

Why should Joshua have courage?  How could he know he’d succeed?  Because God would be with him, and he had God’s word to guide him.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.”

Success in the Christian life comes as we meditate on God’s word day and night.  As we chew on his promises.  As we determine to believe and obey God’s word no matter what.  As we interpret the events of our lives through the lens of Scripture and not circumstances.

When we look at our circumstances they may look hopeless.  Where will the money come from?  How will I ever meet someone to marry?  What am I going to do with my life? How will I get through this trial with my teen? Circumstances say God has abandoned you. God’s not good or faithful or caring.

That’s when we have to grab our minds by the collar, shake them and say, BUT GOD’S WORD SAYS….

God is in control.  He’s faithful.  He can provide out of nowhere.  He can take a few loaves and fishes and feed a multitude.  He can put a gold coin in a fish’s mouth.  Hey self, BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS!  He’s with you.  He’s promised to be faithful. He’ll show you what to do.

The secret of success in the kingdom?  Believe God’s promise to be faithful.  Meditate on his word day and night, then be courageous and do it.