You CAN Pray [Part 2]

Prayer and the Trinity

For You CAN Pray [Part 1], click here. 

Ephesians 2:18 – For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

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Disconnect.

To sever, interrupt, or detach the relationship between two things.

Disconnect might happen when you are on the phone and you walk in a room with no service. It might happen as you check email at home when the power goes out and you’re WIFI goes down.

Disconnect can be pretty dangerous too.

It can happen when your pickup truck is pulling a trailer full of boxes as you move your student into her new dorm room. Disconnect can prevent communication between pilots and air-traffic control towers.

Disconnect can show up in your spiritual life as well.

If you profess to be a Christian but claim an inability to pray or a fear to pray aloud, you may have become the victim of Disconnect.

Whether intentional or unintentional, this fear or inability reveals that you have disconnected your prayer life with the foundational Christian belief in the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there is one God who exists in three persons, equal in essence and being but distinct in function.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

There is mystery here, but the doctrine of the Trinity is not a mere philosophical exercise. It is not merely a teaching to study and ponder.

The doctrine of the Trinity has real, gritty, concrete, flesh and bone arms and legs. It impacts your everyday life.

It impacts how we live in relationships with one another. It impacts how we read the Bible.

And the Trinity directly connects to how you pray.

Sam Allberry writes, “Christian prayer is Trinitarian.”

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Trinity by Jeronimo Cosida, circa 1570

The beauty of this truth is that when you start to understand how the Trinity connects to prayer, you will be more confident when you pray and more excited to pray.

Scripture shows us to pray…

TO THE FATHER

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. When we turn to Jesus’ pattern for prayer, we start with the address, “Our Father”.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:18 that we have access “to the Father.”

The norm in Scripture is prayer to God the Father.

A common question emerges: Does that mean we should not pray to Jesus or the Holy Spirit?

Praying to Jesus – There are a few examples in the Bible of praying to Jesus. Before his death, Stephen prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” (Ac 7:59). The very end of the Bible gives us a prayer to Jesus, “Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).

Clearly it cannot be wrong to pray to Jesus. BUT… Jesus himself told us, “Pray like this… Our Father“. We actually honor Jesus more when we follow his example and pattern and pray to God the Father.

Praying to the Spirit – Unlike the Son, there are no examples of praying to the Holy Spirit in the Bible. This does make some sense. The Holy Spirit characteristically hangs in the background; his main role is to put the spotlight on Jesus.

It must be said that the Holy Spirit is God so it would not be a sin to pray to Him, but we need to recognize that this should not be the general form of our prayers if we are going to pray like the prayers we find in Scripture.

Praying to God the Father is the norm.

Family Time

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One of the reasons for primarily praying to the Father is that it reminds us who we are in relationship to God. He is our Father. We are his children. This isn’t a meeting with your boss or an over-busy, easily frustrated dictator. Praying to the Father, we remind ourselves that prayer is family time.

Family time should be intimate – not intimidating.

Consciously recognizing God as your Father when you begin to pray should give you a boost of encouragement! Right away, we start off with a reminder of God’s love and grace. Look, you can do this!

Next we pray….

THROUGH THE SON

Here’s an important question to consider: What does IN JESUS’ NAME mean?

Once, you’ve answered that, here’s a second question: If you’re not really sure what it means, why do you say it?

Even though it does mean something quite important, we should never try to fill up space in our prayer time with things that mean nothing to us. Jesus said, “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases,” (Mt 6:7). If IN JESUS’ NAME is an empty phrase to you, don’t keep saying it mindlessly. Fill it up with meaning first, and then say it.

When you go to a wedding, an usher usually greets you at the door and asks a simple question. “Bride or Groom?”

You respond by telling the usher who it is that you know. Hypothetically, this ensures that everyone gets into the wedding is someone with a relationship with the wedding party. Hypothetically, if you do not know anyone, you do not get into the ceremony.

 IN JESUS’ NAME means access. 

For through him we both have access… to the Father.

We can pray to the Father only when Jesus grants us access to him. He gets us in the door. Hebrews 9:24 tells that “Christ has entered… into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”

Another way to say this is Jesus is our mediator. A mediator is someone who stands in the gap. Left to our own, we have an unbridgeable gap between us and God. Jesus’ work on the cross makes the unbridgeable bridgeable.

Our prayers reach God because Jesus stands in the gap.

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Some people think IN JESUS’ NAME is Christian magic. If you pray (it is thought) and forget to say IN JESUS’ NAME, God will say no. But if you say IN JESUS’ NAME, God will say yes. Plus you can even say it and wave your arm like a wand and beat demons, cure cancer, or make your bank account bigger… But only if you say IN JESUS’ NAME.

But IN JESUS’ NAME is simply a regular reminder to ourselves and an admission before God that we believe in the Gospel.

It is a declaration that you understand you have done nothing to make God your Father, that you have done nothing to gain access in prayer, and that you can only make these prayers because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

So IN JESUS NAME is a Christian distinctive. If you do not believe this about Jesus, IN JESUS NAME doesn’t mean anything. It is just three extra words.

IN JESUS’ NAME is a declaration of hope.

All the promises of God find their Yes in him.
That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
2 Corinthians 1:20

I hope you see how filling up IN JESUS’ NAME with this gospel meaning should only increase your confidence in prayer.

You don’t have to warm yourself up. You don’t have to have it all together. When you pray through Jesus, you recognize you never have it all together and that every word of prayer is a word given by grace.

IN JESUS NAME reminds you, you can pray.

Last, we pray…

BY THE HOLY SPIRIT

This might be the best part. All of our fears and insecurities in prayer should melt when we understand the Spirit’s work in prayer.

The Holy Spirit’s role in prayer should make the disconnect connect.

In Romans 8:15, Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba Father!

When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, he said to pray like this, “Our Father.”

Paul shows us that the Spirit moves us so that we do pray that way.

God the Spirit propels us to pray to God the Father in the very way God the Son taught us.

There’s more good news in verse 16, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Do you ever feel too messed up to pray?

If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives inside of you. His job is to remind you who you are. You tell yourself you’re too messed up to pray, but the Spirit inside whispers, “No you are not! You’re a child of God. Say it with me… Father.

Sometimes that does not seem enough.

We give in and start to pray even though we feel too gross, too weak, too simple. But then, we have no clue what to say.

(Ignoring the fact that you can always hop on the ACTS train) Paul has even more good news for your prayer life pessimism in verse 26.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercede for us with groaning too deep for words…. the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Don’t know what to pray? Not a problem.

God the Holy Spirit not only reminds you and encourages you as a child of God. He prays with you and for you.

So as you mumble, stumble, and fumble your way through prayer, God himself is prays. And notice what Paul says at the end. He prays “according to the will of God.”

Remember, Jesus teaches us to pray your will be done.

Now, the God the Spirit prays for us to God the Father in the way God the Son taught us.

THIS is why you cannot disconnect the Trinity from your prayer life.

 

God the Spirt prays for you

to God your Father

accessed through the work of God the Son.

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CONNECT YOUR PRAYER

Disconnecting your prayer life from your belief in the Trinity puts you in dangerous territory.

When you say you cannot pray or that you do not know what to pray, then you are also saying that God the Spirit does not live inside you or that he refuses to do his job.

You are saying that you do not have the same access to the Father. This means Jesus’ work on the cross failed to do the job.

Connect the dots. You don’t believe these things, do you?

Christian prayer is Trinitarian.

The Trinity fuels Christian prayer.

So the next time you are called to pray in a small group or you hit a wall and do not know what to say next, remember who God is and remember who you are.

Pray to your Father.
Pray through the access you have in the Son.
Pray by the power of the praying Spirit inside of you.

You can pray!

You CAN Pray [Part 1]

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If you ever want to terrify someone, ask them to pray.

Sometimes someone will come up to me since I am a pastor, drag me across a room, introduce me to someone, and say something like, “This is Mark. Mark has this problem. Can you pray for them?”

I look at Mark’s friend, smile, and say, “I could. But, no. You can pray for Mark. I’ll pray with you both.”

Mark’s friend expected a pat-on-the back; instead he is simultaneously wrestling regret, fear, and the sudden urge to run.

Sometimes I will be in a small group and everyone is having a great time since the conversation hasn’t gotten too personal or practical yet. Everyone loves theory in a small group. Theory is safe. But some brave soul breaks the unspoken rule and says something real – a real issue that needs real prayer. I look at the circle of friends sitting around our honest friend and ask, “Will someone pray for our sister, Katerina?”

Katerina suddenly finds herself in a circle of frozen, deaf zombies that failed to understand any words that left my mouth.

You can play this game too if you want. It is kind of fun.

Ever share a need with a friend and they look at you like they are only half-listening? They nod and murmur something like, “Sure. I’ll be praying for you.” Next time that happens, you can drop this bomb on them.

“Great. Would you mind praying for me right now?”

Be prepared to get any number of looks, excuses, and weird body contortions.

In each of these situations, if you press these friends about their hesitancy, you will hear all sorts of reasons for this prayer phobia.

But the most common response I hear is this: I don’t know how to pray.

People who have been in church for thirty years will tell you this. People who went to 36 weeks of Vacation Bible School as children. People who serve on ministry committees. People who haven’t missed a Sunday morning service since Ronald Reagan was in office. People who meticulously share their own personal prayer requests with anyone who will listen.

Somehow, when you ask them to pray, almost no one knows how.

The Lord’s Pattern

This shouldn’t be the case. On a broad level, God gave pastors to equip the saints, to enable them to do the work, to empower them to obey God’s will for their lives. Surely this includes the expectation that the people will be equipped to pray.

At another level, God knew we would struggle here and included a manual for us in the Bible. One of Jesus’ twelve disciples specifically asks Jesus how to pray.

Jesus shares with his disciple what we call The Lord’s Prayer.

As Tim Keller says in his must-read book regarding prayer,  our relationship to The Lord’s Prayer is like living next to a railroad.

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At the time I went to school, The University of Memphis main campus was split by a set of train tracks. This caused all kinds of headaches when you parked on the south side and had class on the north side or when you lived on one side and wanted to work out at the gym on the other.

At the beginning of my senior year, I moved into an apartment that sat right next to the track. When my roommate and I first moved in to the apartment, sleep was near impossible. Every time a train rolled through campus and blared its horn at a pedestrian or a car trying to beat the train to the intersection, my windows and bed frame would shake.

But an amazing thing happened.

By Fall Break, I never heard the train.

I had heard the train so much, I stopped hearing it at all.

As Keller writes, we do the same thing with The Lord’s Prayer.

We recite it at church, at weddings, at funerals, and at pregame huddles. We say it so much we no longer hear the words we say. It means nothing to us now.

We have taken Jesus’ teaching prompt and turned it into a mindless pool of words.

We have taken his grace to help us pray and built it into an obstacle of communion.

The Lord’s Prayer is not a dictated ritual to be thoughtlessly repeated verbatim ad nauseam. Jesus meant for it to be used as a guide to influence our own personal talks with God.

It is not so much The Lord’s Prayer as much as it is The Lord’s Pattern.

Adapting the Pattern

When you examine his pattern for prayer, you can boil it down to a few essential elements. There are numerous prayer tools that have been created to help you pray in light of the Lord’s Prayer. One of the most popular is the ACTS method of prayer.

When you pray, think ACTS.

 ADORATION – Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name…

Jesus’ pattern helps us see we should start our prayers by honoring God for who He is. Our prayers should start with a vertical dimension.

Practically, you can pray about one of God’s names (King of Kings, Prince of Peace, Jehovah, etc). You can pray about one God’s attributes (God, you are holy… loving… wise). You can pray about one of his works (God you created all things… revealed yourself through the Bible… saved me by your grace).

God cannot be exhausted. So when you start your prayer by praying about God, you start off with an endless supply of material.

CONFESSION – Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors

Confession simply means to agree with God about your sin. You do not need a priest. You do not need to do a good deed to even up the score of your heart. You simply need to recognize where you have fallen short.

Practically, you should confess specifically. Resist the urge to brush your prayers with broad strokes. Instead of confessing your anger, confess the ugly words you spit at your spouse. Instead of confessing your pride, confess your condescending thoughts towards your coworker. Get specific.

THANKSGIVING – This aspect of prayer is not found in The Lord’s Prayer, but Scripture tells us many times to show thanks. For example, Philippians 4:6 says,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer… with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Usually when we pray, we immediately jump to what we need. The ACTS method helpfully reverses that urge. Pastor H.B. Charles, Jr. says, “Before you ask God for something you need, thank Him for what He has already done.”

Practically, continue to be specific with your thanksgiving. A good rule of thumb to get started is for every one thing you ask of God, offer thanks for one thing He has done.

SUPPLICATION – Give us this day our daily bread… Your will be done… 

We probably need the least amount of help here. Supplication is a fancy way of saying request or petition. If we are good at anything in prayer, we are good at supplication. The Lord’s Pattern gives us two important reminders. First we ask for daily needs. Like the Manna in the wilderness, God wants to give us just enough for today so that we return to Him again with our needs tomorrow. Second, we should recognize that all of our needs are subject to His will and not our own.

Practically, think necessity not extravagance. As you bring your requests to God, explicitly recognize God has the right to answer as He pleases. Voice your willingness to submit to His call on your requests.

 

As with the pattern given to us by Jesus himself, the ACTS method is simply a guide. It is meant to help us pray; it should never constrain us as we seek to meet with God.

If you struggle with knowing how to pray, use a tool like this to get more comfortable. Certainly, reading works on prayer like the one from Keller or studies on the Sermon on the Mount like this one by Daniel Doriani will surely help us grow as prayers.

But the best way to grow in prayer is by actually praying.

Your prayer life is not solely an individual matter. Your friends, family, and church need you. The next time someone asks you to pray for them or to pray out loud in a small group, you have an opportunity. Do not be content with sheepishly backing away from it by saying you do not know how. Jesus has shown us how; He’s given us a pattern. ACTS or no ACTS, be bold and pray.

In an upcoming post, we will look at how the doctrine of the Trinity empowers us to pray. God Himself enables us to pray to Him.

For now, listen to the train rolling past. Hear it once again. It was sent down the track to remind you. You can pray.

Click here for You CAN Pray [Part 2]

“A Good Soldier” – A New Series.

Part 1: 10 Practical Ways to Obey 2 Timothy 2:7.

When I was undergoing some pastoral training at my local church in Louisville, KY during my seminary days, a good friend of mine raised his hand during a brief time for Q&A.

“If there’s one thing I could read to help me understand leadership better, what would it be?” Rob asked.

Our lead pastor did not hesitate. He told us about a gargantuan book that he had recently worked through. He told us about a book that every man was given at West Point in order to prepare for a life of service. He told us about Anton Myrer’s Once an Eagle. And then after the session was over, he gave his copy to Rob.

Now, I wasn’t the one bright enough to ask such a helpful question. But after I had heard such praiseworthy comments about the novel and had seen its Large-Print Family Room KJV Bible size, I went home and immediately ordered a copy on Amazon.

During that time, I was working on a term paper on the significance of the apostle Paul’s usage of the soldier metaphor. My friend Rob and I had also been watching the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, together and discussing leadership principles we had ascertained from each episode. So to be introduced to a military classic with this kind of reputation was something I could not pass up.

Recently, my wife and I have begun to listen to this masterpiece on audiobook. The narration is a little too speedy at times for my taste but the book still manages to take over 41 hours of listening to complete. During the course of these long hours of taking in a tale of leadership, discipline, and loyalty, I have had plenty of time to meditate on some of Paul’s last written words to his disciple Timothy.

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” (2 Tim 2:3).

Being a pastor, a ministry leader, or just a Christian who is doing the normal Christian duty of making disciples is like the life and work of a good soldier. This was one of Paul’s go-to metaphors in his letters. Over and over again, he pointed to the Roman soldiers of his day to teach truths about the Christian life.

At the end of this passage, Paul tells Timothy to do something with this favorite metaphor.

“Think over what I say,

for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

2 Timothy 2:7

There’s a command, and there’s a promise. Paul did not just talk about soldiers for fun. It wasn’t because he particularly enjoyed military history. He didn’t just happen to be a Stephen Ambrose type of guy.

The reason Paul went to this metaphor over and over, and the reason he commanded Timothy to meditate on it, is that the Lord has ordained the soldier (along with the athlete and farmer) to be inspired examples for pastoral ministry and the everyday Christian life.

God has chosen the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer to uniquely teach Christians what their life is supposed to look like. This, Paul says, deserves our attention.

This passage calls for a response. It demands some action. On a practical level, 2 Timothy 2:7 basically tells New Testament believers that if they want to understand their lives and callings as Christians who make disciples, they should buy some old military books, spend some nights watching sports, and get a little dirty planting something in the ground.

Here are 10 ways that you can follow Paul’s instruction on meditating on how the soldier, athlete, and farmer teach us about the Christian life and discipleship:


10 Practical Ways We Can Obey 2 Timothy 2:7

  1. Read military history, biographies, novels, and memoirs that give insight into the life of the soldier.
  2. Watch a military film like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, or anything else besides Pearl Harbor.
  3. Talk to a military vet about their time in the service.
  4. Play in a sports league.
  5. Train to run a marathon.
  6. Grab some buddies and have a regular night where you watch the big game (Paul said to meditate on the athlete. No “I don’t like sports” answers allowed).
  7. Watch great documentaries like many in the 30 for 30 series to gain insight into the life of an athlete.
  8. Plant and maintain a garden.
  9. Visit a local farm and see first hand the work that goes into producing a harvest.
  10. Read some John Steinbeck or Wendell Berry that gives insight the life and work of a farmer.

While doing one of these simple tasks, follow Paul’s command. Meditate on what you are hearing, seeing, feeling, learning, experiencing. What about these tasks lines up with what you are called to be and do as a believer? What insight can you gain from these areas of life and culture that speak into our worldview as a disciplemaking follower of Jesus.

Don’t just do one of these tasks. Watching a war movie or playing a pickup game at the gym in and of itself will not help you reach Paul’s goal of understanding the Christian life. We need to do these things while seeking the Lord in prayer asking him to give us wisdom and insight into why he has chosen these unique metaphors to teach us about our lives.

 


 

In this new blog series, I am trying to do my own part in obeying Paul’s command in verse 7. What exactly is it supposed to look like for me to live my Christian life, to serve in my ministry, like a soldier? While working my way through Myrer’s military classic, I am trying to pull away principles from Once An Eagle and examine them in light of Scripture and Paul’s revelation that the story of the soldier is a parable for the Christian’s own sojourn through life.

I pray that as we give thought to the life of the soldier, we would see the fruit of the Lord being faithful to his promise — that we might be given “understanding in everything.”

I’d like to hear from you. Do you have a favorite military movie or biography? Favorite sports documentary? Have you ever read a single book about farming? Leave a comment below. I am always looking for new resources to help me in my own quest to think over what Paul has to say to us.

Five Simple Questions to Lead a Bible Study Anytime, Anywhere, with Anyone

I remember the first time I had the opportunity to lead a Bible Study. I was in high school, and once every week I would meet with my youth pastor and a few other guys in my youth group at Perkins for breakfast and conversation about the Bible.

After a few weeks, my youth pastor decided he wanted the students to take some ownership in the group so he asked me to lead the discussions at the table. Being one who always wanted a role in leadership and feared the idea of disappointing a mentor, I jumped at the opportunity even though I had no idea how to lead a Bible Study.

I don’t remember much about those Bible Studies at breakfast, but I am positive they were terrible. I had no clue what I was doing. I would read a passage the night before and try to find something creative to point out – something that would make the rest of the group ooh and aah while nodding their heads in approval.

That’s not exactly how things turned out. I stuttered my way through the talk each morning trying to find something meaningful to highlight while sharing nothing with clarity. After a few weeks, I grew weary of the exercise and the early mornings soon became too much. I soon vacated my role as Bible Study Leader and took back my few extra hours of sleep in the morning.

The Bible Studies were so bad even the Bible Study Leader quit coming.

I had a worthy goal.

I did not have the skills to successfully achieve my goal.

I burned out and went back to bed.

There were many problems in the way I approached the Bible Study.

Leading a Bible Study means letting the Bible take the lead. 

The first problem was I thought leading a Bible Study meant I needed to come up with something to say. Good Bible Study Leaders and Teachers know that they are not coming up with something to teach; they let the Bible teach for itself.

When you write a Sunday School lesson, a Bible Study, or even a sermon, you do not go to the Bible with something to say. You go to the Bible to see what it has to say.

I should not have prepared for my Bible Studies by looking for that elusive moment of inspiration when I would find something that would leave everyone breathless. Instead, I should have spent time figuring out what the author of the passage was trying to say.

Leading a Bible Study is more effective when one person is not doing all the talking. 

Probably not your best method for leading a Bible Study at Perkins.

A lot of times when we try to lead a Bible study for the first time, we think we need to duplicate what our pastor does on Sunday morning. We think that we need to be a teacher who does all the talking and who is is responsible for teaching a set lesson.

But often times the most effective thing a Bible Study Leader can do is sit back and facilitate. Asking good open-ended questions and letting others discover what the text is saying through conversation often provides deeper, richer learning than straightforward lessons where only one person does the talking.

In most cases, Bible Studies should be a dialogue that depends on the group navigating the text rather than a monologue by the expert. One reason for this is that good questions that lead to a dialogue is a much more reproducible method than the expert monologue model.

Leading a Bible Study is easier than you think.

Some of you probably believe that you could never lead a Bible Study. You’re wrong.

God has called all believers to make disciples. He has called us to teach others to obey everything that Christ has commanded us. Paul says we are to be “teaching one another,” (Col 3:16). Teaching at some level is something all Christians are expected to do.

The fact is Jesus would not call you to do something that is impossible for the non-experts. When God calls us to make disciples and to teach one another, he is calling us to a task that is doable. We just overcomplicate it too many times.

Whether it is with your kids at home, with some friends at school, or your spouse, you should be leading someone in discussions on the Bible. That’s just one part of what it means to make a disciple.

So how can we do that?

 

5 Simple Questions to Lead a Bible Study Anytime, Anywhere with Anyone

There are many methods you could use to lead a simple Bible Study. This is just one way that allows you to open up a Bible passage at any time with anyone and have a solid, biblical conversation that will produce great fruit.

I was taught this method of Bible Study by one of my former pastors, Chad Lewis. I have taken this method that he passed on to me and taught it to several men in discipleship classes. It has been fascinating to watch men who never thought they could lead, take these five questions and become able Bible Study leaders in a short amount of time.

  1. What does this passage teach me about God?
  2. What does this passage teach me about myself?
  3. How do I need to respond to these truths?
  4. How does this passage lead me to worship?
  5. How can I use this passage to minister to others?

Take these five questions today and work through them with someone you know. Allow time for the both of you to meditate on these questions and to talk about some of the answers that the Holy Spirit has brought to mind.

The beauty of this model is that it works for every passage of Scripture. You can use it in the Gospels or in the Books of the Law. You can use it in Paul’s Letters or in the Prophets. You can use it in a narrative or in a poem. Where ever you are in the Bible, these five questions will continually lead you in powerful discussions about God and his Word.


This set of questions is just one of the many tools I learned from Pastor Chad Lewis in Pastor’s School at Sojourn Community Church. One of my favorite things about Pastor’s School was how everything that we were taught was reproducible – taught in a way that we could take it to someone else.

Another gift that Chad has continued to take to others is his gift of songwriting.

Right now, in the wake of great suffering and loss, Chad is working on a new album that you can be a part of. Please consider being a part of the Kickstarter campaign to help him finish the album.

Chad has passed on many things to me that I have been able to share with many others. How awesome would it be to see the masses of people that this man’s ministry has impacted rally together to serve him in return.

Help make this album happen.
Help make this album happen.

Whether it is a small financial gift or just the click of a share button on Facebook, take a moment in the next few days to help Pastor Chad accomplish this goal so that he can continue to use his gifts to minister to others.


 

[Update] As of this afternoon, Pastor Chad’s album has been fully funded! You can still chip in if you’d like to be a part of the production and receive some cool rewards.

Beyond the Beer – A Race to Be Noticed

A story of what happens when you live for the good of your city in ways specifically designed for your hometown. 

Last week, I preached about how we should live for the good of our city. Living for the good of our city means we need to plant roots, to multiply, to pursue the peace of our city, and to pray for our city.

Planting roots in our city means we need to establish a presence in our neighborhoods and in our city.

– Establishing a presence means living like Jesus in the midst of sinners.

One way we can do this is by throwing block parties for our neighbors.

One time, my community group was celebrating an anniversary when we were invaded by a group of festive bohemians. We could have left because they smelled and were doing things that made us uncomfortable. Instead, we made the best of it and pursued the good of our neighbors. Here, Rob and I jam with a new friend.

I heard of lot of people quickly excuse themselves from this opportunity because in their mind, I just didn’t know how awful some people’s neighbors were. In response to this mass exodus from the need to reach our neighbors in this way, I offered my take on one of the most common objections to the idea that we should throw parties for our neighbor: “But They’ll Bring Beer.”

In short, many of our objections to reaching out to our neighbors this way for the good of our city come more from a self-righteous fear. When we fail to reach out to our neighbors because they might act like unbelievers, we are creating a level of holiness that Jesus himself did not feel was necessary to reach.

Jesus did not consider himself so holy that he would only interact with sinners in sterile situations. He sat and talked with actual, real-life prostitutes who sold themselves for money. He ate with real-life thieves who stole money from their own countrymen on behalf of the enemy. He drank with real-life drunks who did not exercise self-control. This is how the Son of God himself lived as one who had been sent to a hostile culture. We should be worried when we refuse to live in ways that Jesus did.

But establishing a presence in your neighborhood is much more than just throwing block parties. There are dozens of ways to live “outwardly” for the sake of your city.

– Establishing a presence in your city should be contextualized.

I wouldn’t recommend waving the Terrible Towel near any Cardinals fans in PHX.

A lot of times, the way you can best live for the good of your city is in a way that is specifically designed for your hometown. The way one might best reach a neighborhood in Pittsburgh will probably look a lot different than how one might best reach a suburb of Phoenix.

When thinking about how we can best live for the good of our city, we should consider what makes our city unique. What part of the life in the city provides a sense of identity to the people of the city?

In other words, “What makes us, us?”

When we are able to pinpoint ways that will uniquely fit the makeup of our neighborhoods and our cities, we will be more effective in promoting the peace and welfare of our city. We will also be more effective in finding favor among our neighbors who experience the blessings of our tailor-made handiwork.

The Need to Be Noticed

In Wheeling, people love to run.

In the city of Wheeling, the people are passionate about their races. During the course of the year, there are several opportunities to take part in 5Ks, half-marathons, and other types of races. On any particular day, you will find scores of runners of all ages, skills, and sizes trekking down National Road, where our church building happens to be conveniently located.

Day after day, people run, jog, and walk by our building; and for the most part, they don’t even notice us.

Despite the convenient location, I still regularly have conversations with people that go something like this:

Neighbor: “Oh, it is nice to meet you. And what do you do?”
Me: “Oh, I’m a pastor.”
Neighbor: “Oh…ummm…. Ok. What church?”
Me: “First Baptist Church.”
Neighbor: “Oh…. First Baptist Church…. where is that again?”
Me: “It is on National Rd. Right next to the cemetery. It has the big blue sign.”
Neighbor: “Oh, you mean the one with the big glass window in the front.”
Me: “No, that’s the Christian Church… You know what? Don’t worry about it.”

People run, jog, walk, ride their bikes, walk their dogs, drive to work right past the building day in and day out. Yet many of our neighbors do not know we are there.

But, today, I have greater hope that some of my neighbors might have a different conversation.

– Establishing a presence in Wheeling happens when the runners notice you.

This is because of an outreach event that some of my friends helped put together on their own initiative. Right in line with the city’s running culture, my friends decided to set up hospitality stations for those who were participating in the Ogden Newspapers Half-Marathon last month.

They rallied together, pointed their compass outward, and served the city around them and established a presence with their neighbors.

They gathered oranges, they sliced the oranges into smaller pieces that the runners could manage, they created signs with encouraging messages to spur the runners on, they put together an exciting playlist of songs that would lift the runners’ spirits, they showed up on race day and clapped, screamed, and cheered with unbridled enthusiasm from the first racer to the last.

Bright and early that Saturday morning, they set aside their preferences, comforts, and desires in order to reach their community.

  • They didn’t pick their favorite fruit to eat.
  • They didn’t write their all-time favorite Bible verse.
  • They didn’t pick their personal favorite songs.

With each action, they thought about what would best meet the needs of their neighbors. They considered the interests of others as more important than their own.

They looked a lot like Jesus.

Thinking outward and living for the good of your city doesn’t always have to be as risqué and controversial as throwing parties for your neighbors; although sometimes, it is. Sometimes it can be as simple as looking to where the people of your city are gathering, and going with an orange slice and a smile.

When you live like that, it is amazing what happens. Your neighbors start to notice.

– Establishing a presence in your city often results in finding favor with your neighbors.

Even as the event was still going, my friends heard runners say things like, “Oh, you don’t know how bad I needed this orange.” Middle-aged men limped by with a little more bounce when they heard the familiar theme song from one of their favorite sports movies. Neighbors walked out of their houses just to see what was going on at the church next door. In the hours and days following the race, my friends were told more than once that they were the best part of the race.

They looked outward. They pursued the peace of their city, and their neighbors noticed.

– Establishing a presence is something we all can and must do – no matter what city we live in.

You might not need to do an outreach for a race in your community. Maybe where you live, people hate to run. But where ever we live, we should think deliberately about how we might effectively reach our neighbors by living for the good of our city.

What about you? What are some ways that you or your small group or your church has pursued the welfare of your city and neighborhood? I’d love to hear from you.