Overcoming Insecurity: How Leah Became a Princess

At some time or another we all wrestle with insecurity. Insecurity acts like emptiness. It’s a place where we feel inadequate, like something is missing. Sometimes our insecurity can cause us to cross lines we normally wouldn’t cross. We try and cover over a perceived lack, fill the void in our life, go on a quest for what we perceive to be missing. We can look for fulfillment in things like money. We may or may not have a lot of it. When things go well, we buy something. When they don’t go well, we buy something. Money becomes our fix. We sooth over our hurts with a new stereo, set of sunglasses or even just compulsive shopping spree at check out center at Walmart.

Some of us look for fulfillment in a relationship, we think that if we find the right guy or the right girl that it will fix whatever is broken so deep inside of us. We go from relationship to relationship, or we go on in a doomed relationship because we are scared to face life alone. We make compromises to please the other person, just to stay in the relationship.

I want to tell you a story about Leah. Leah had a big insecurity in her life that caused her to make big compromises. She was lonely and the people who were supposed to love and support her, like her dad, didn’t have much confidence in her. Leah just wanted to be loved and one day someone gave her the opportunity to take a short cut to have all of her dreams come true. She just had to cross a line. The kind that once you cross it, you can never come back. I don’t know how Leah felt about crossing the line, but I know that she did it… She wanted to be loved that badly. She would do ANYTHING to fill the void in her life. Continue reading “Overcoming Insecurity: How Leah Became a Princess”

The First Thing You Should Ask When Approaching God

The first petition in the prayer is “Hallowed by your name.” This is not in the language of a statement, but a request. Everyone knows that we pass around petitions when we want folks to sign their name to something that we will be presented to a governing body. It can be a petition to remove the coke machine from the cafeteria lobby or it can be a petition for congress to address an issue. The idea is the same. It is a request. After the introduction the model prayer becomes a list of six petitions. These are the sorts of things that should be at the top of our prayer list. These are the sorts of things that we should ask from God.

The first thing Jesus lists has to do with the name of God. The word “hallowed” simply means holy, set apart, special, revered, honored. Perhaps the best synonym for this word is “glorified.” You could read this petition as, “May your name be glorified.” The implication of this are profound. The very first thing that we are to ask God for is more glory for his name!

I don’t think you can utter this with sincerity without first looking inward and asking, “do I glorify God?” Do my actions point to Him? Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has already told those in attendance:

Matthew 5:16 ESV In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

There is a contrast here between the deeds of a disciple and the deeds of a hypocrite. Hypocrites perform their works in the hopes that you will give THEM praise. Those who follow Jesus recognize that all Glory, all honor, belong to GOD ALONE!

We should honor God with all that we do in His name. There has been much done in his name that does not bring Glory and Honor to him. Folks have picketed funerals, held up signs that “God hates fags.” Armies have waged wars in the name of God. We should be careful what we say and do in the name of God. Just because we use his name, it doesn’t guarantee that God is with us. Many people who have done things in his name will find themselves kicked out of the kingdom because they never really knew the king (Matthew 7:21)

One of my favorite phrases is, “I don’t have the answers, but I know who does.” This simple response to a friend in crisis has a way of pointing them back to the truth. This was what Joseph said to Pharaoh when he had a dream that needed an interpretation. This is what Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar when he had a vision that needed interpreted. Both men put the glory back on the father and said, “We are powerless, but we know the one who has the power.” This was a way of bringing both kings to glorify God.

By the way, there is something in our hearts that rebels against this notion. Apart from the wonderful work of Jesus in our lives we are very self-centered individuals. We want the glory. Often we make ourselves the center of prayer. The first petition out of our mouth is for something we want. It’s not even for something we need. We beg God for a raise, a promotion, peace to cover over the anxiety in our hearts, we come upset over how we’ve sinned against him again. We offer prayers to him like he is a genie and he has to grant us wishes. I think a large part of our population miss God because they have this preconceived notion that God is like a generous grandpa who is supposed to give us what we wish for without asking too many questions. And so those kind of prayers go unanswered they give up and assume God isn’t real because he didn’t clean up the mess they made. It’s not a prayer aimed at Heaven, it’s not a prayer centered on God’s glory rather it’s focused and motivated on an exchange. “I pray, you give.” It’s how a consumer mindset hijacks prayer. It’s also arrogant because we assume that this is how God operates. We don’t consult him. We don’t go to his book. We don’t seek him out. We simply make demands. We’re like children accusing our parents of unusual cruelty because we’ve been ordered to eat our green beans or even worse we’ve taken a gun and blown a hole in our leg and complain to the surgeon that it’s his fault that we are in so much pain.

Isaiah lived in a society that had experienced decent economic growth for its time. Then when the king died he saw a vision of God in the temple and all he could utter in his presence was:

Isaiah 6:5 ESV “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

The first thing he could utter from his mouth wasn’t, “Man this is awesome!” but a very real prophet of God all he could think was that his mouth had not done justice to the holiness, the glory, the worthiness of God. I wonder if we were to truly grasp the glory of God if we would not have the same utterance. It’s not like Isaiah cussed. He was a prophet and he had treated the name of God casually and when we saw a very real manifestation of the presence of God he couldn’t help but utter a curse on his own head.

Does it surprise you that God cares so much about his name? I mean you care about your name right? I’m fortunate to have one of those simple names that almost anyone can say, but I remember this one time when my wife and I had started dating we went to go see her grandmother. And for the life of me, she could not get my name right. She kept calling me “Jeremy.” At this point a little back story is helpful. Jeremy was the name of one of her’s Ex-boyfriends. Every time this sweet lady said Jeremy part of me was very offended. I had to take a moment to calculate whether or not she was doing it on purpose or if she was truly a forgetful woman. (Now that I know her, there is a very good chance that she did it on purpose).

If you and I can get that way over our name being misrepresented, pronounced wrong, or forgotten, how do you suppose God ought to be over his name that is to be the most highly respected name in the whole universe? Do you think he’s glorified when we let his name slide like a curse word? Is he honored when we use his name to mock others? Especially the name of Jesus when the bible says that at His name every knee will bow and that there is no salvation in any other name.

One of the joys of my job is that I get to coach students on how to impact their campus with the gospel. I’m at three or four schools each week. One week I was at one of our local schools and a student was in the club and he was saying things like, “Oh my G___” and using Jesus’ name as a cuss word. We quickly jumped into a conversation about what it means to “Not use the Lord’s name in vain.” Which is also one of the ten commandments. This particular day was a leadership meeting and we were meeting to establish which students would lead in prayer, and the other various aspects of the club. This student wanted to pray. And we quickly got caught up on the Model Prayer. I said, “Man you can pray, but only if you are repent of how you use have used God’s name. When Jesus teaches us to pray the very first thing we are supposed to ask God for is that his name would be glorified and I don’t see how you can do that while using his name as a cuss word.”

Why I Stopped Ignoring the Lord’s Prayer and Started Using it to Disciple My Kids

I need to confess something. I used to have an antagonistic spirit toward the Model Prayer (or the Lord’s Prayer) as many call it. I knew it was in the scripture, but I felt like it was something that was foreign to me. I went to a Christian school from fourth through seventh grade and I’m sure that maybe I learned it there. It wasn’t something we recited in the home, it wasn’t something we recited at church, and I’m pretty sure the only reason I memorized it was because it was part of my school work.

So it sat dormant in the back of my mind. I think I also had a prejudice against it because I felt like the words became hollow when everyone said them in unison. I wondered if God would even hear the prayers of those who repeated these words. I mistakenly thought prayer was a one sided communication. I was supposed to just tell God what I needed and he was supposed to provide. I didn’t realize that prayer was one of the key ways that God changes our hearts.

Everything changed for me when I had kids. I wanted my kids to know God the way that I know God. My life was radically changed when I was about twenty-five years old and I haven’t quite gotten over it. I knew that the model prayer must be important. Who better to teach my kids how to pray than Jesus, right? At this point I thought I had it all figured out. I was praying my way for a while. I never thought to go back and look at what the Scripture says about prayer. I never thought to go back to this prayer that I had memorized. I never thought that this was anything more than a tool to use with my kids.

So I started teaching Miss R, my oldest, when she was about three. And Mr.N, my youngest, learned to say it as soon as he could talk. In fact we have a video of Mr.N saying the Model Prayer when he is about two years old. He’s recited it nearly 1000 times in his little lifetime now.

Not long into the journey something happened. I forget the spark that caused it all, but one day one of my kids was struggling with bitterness and I said, “Remember how Jesus teaches us to forgive in the model prayer,” and I shared the story of the unmerciful servant. Then one of my kids were concerned for someone and I said, “Remember how Jesus teaches us to ask God for our daily bread.” Then one day one of my kids was struggling with an injustice in their world, and we saw that the Lord’s prayer teaches us to ask for Jesus’ kingdom to come.” Then one day my daughter is consumed with her sin and as I pass by her door at night I hear her praying, “Dear Jesus will you forgive me for my sin just like I ask in the Lord’s prayer?”

I began to meditate deeply on the Lord’s Prayer, going over it again and again in my mind. Thinking through the implications and tangents to other scripture passages and I was amazed to realize that there was a lot more to the Lord’s Prayer than I had thought. I was the one guilty of repeating things without thinking, but with sincere meditation this has become I guide for me in how I pray.

One of the ways that the Lord’s Prayer effects us is it acts like a tuner. I have a guitar. I don’t play much but someone gave me a guitar… and a tuner. The tuner is helpful because the guitar is very prone to getting out of tune. You put the tuner on the end, play a note and then adjust accordingly. It works great when I use it. This prayer is like that. Our lives get out of tune. We begin to lose focus. We think life is really all about this thing or that thing and somehow we miss God in the mix. This prayer teaches us how to adjust our attention, our focus. Is your life filled with anxiety? Go to God in prayer like Jesus teaches us to and you will find peace in the midst of a troubled night. It tunes our hearts. It checks our actions. It exposes our secret motives. Most of all it focuses us on the supreme value of Knowing God.

Join me as I dig into the Model Prayer over the next few weeks. I’ll be sharing brief exposition with practical application. I won’t be blogging every day on this topic, but will be blogging frequently. Check back often to get the latest.

The Revival that Began with Fire And the Execution of 400 Men

It was a terrible time to live in the land of Israel. The evil queen Jezabel reigned with her husband. She instituted practices that would lead the people away from the worship of the one true God and into a wicked worship of the false god Baal. Baal didn’t have any real power. It was just an idol crafted as fine as human hands could sculpt it. The false god Baal couldn’t speak. It had no throat. It had no lips, no mouth. It was mute. This false god had no hands. It could not extend it’s arm to save. It didn’t have ears. It couldn’t hear the prayers of the people. It had no eyes. It couldn’t see the people or the sacrifices they made on this Baal’s behalf. It only appeared to have these things, but in reality it was powerless. Yet the wicked Queen Jezabel had prompted the people to worship this powerless and impotent god.

One often wonders why men would offer their hearts so freely to something they made with their hands. Surely they understood that they were the power brokers in this situation. Surely they must have known that they were the one’s yielding control over the blocks of wood and figures of clay, silver and gold. This false god only contained the power given it by the weak minds of men… Perhaps that is why the people of Israel were so quick to follow Jezabel in this idolatry. There is an upside to having a less than sovereign god. A false god could easily be manipulated, cajoled, or extorted… providing the worshiper with the real power. Like a doll in the hands of a little girl a false god would have to be cared for, comforted and helped.

We shouldn’t be quick to condemn the ancient Israelites. We do much of the same thing with money. We think that if we have a little more, we will be happy. We try to bring ourselves comfort by stocking up, spending wildly or even stretching our dollars. We think that if we have enough of these that we will be safe… that we will be “okay.” But dollar bills don’t have eyes to see your need. They don’t have ears to hear your cry. Your bank account can’t hear your prayers, much less answer them. Your credit card doesn’t really solve any of your problems. In many cases… it creates them. But somehow we still think that if we can manage these bills, get enough money, get a higher paying job or even turn the economy around… then, then we will be okay. But money doesn’t buy you time, health or even happiness. In fact the over-pursuit of money can steal from your time, your health, your family and even your happiness. We really aren’t much different than the ancient Israelites at all.

Whatever the reason the worship of Baal was in and the worship of God was out. Jezabel had done her best to hunt down the prophets of God and have them killed. She wanted no competition for her false god, Baal. But there was one thing she didn’t count on… You see God wasn’t like her false god. He not only had eyes to see, but he created the human eye. He not only had ears to hear, but he created the human ear. He not only had a mouth to speak, He actually had spoken the whole earth into existence. Her god Baal was false. The one true God was real… and you can’t get rid of him by killing a few prophets.

Elijah stood on the side of the mountain and challenged the 400 prophets of Baal. They were doing their best to get a god who didn’t really exist to light a fire that wasn’t happening. Elijah mocked them, telling them to call out a little louder because their god Baal was perhaps asleep or maybe he was in the bathroom. They tried everything, but in the end, the god whom they so desperately wanted to respond was incapable of responding.

So then it comes Elijah’s turn:
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.
(1 Kings 18:36-40 ESV)

Elijah prays a three part prayer. He confidently asks God to reveal himself as the one true God in Israel, to reveal that Elijah is God’s true prophet, and for God to mercifully allow the people to repent and turn to Him at once.

You see, not only were the people worshiping a false god, but they were rejecting the worship of the one true God. Not only were they calling on a god that couldn’t hear them, they were being offensive by forsaking God alone as their provider and sustainer of life and giving respect and homage to a little statue in His place.

Much like many of us seek to control our lives through the spending, saving, and moving around of our money without a thought or prayer as to how God would have us live our lives. We pursue P-R-O-F-I-T-S but not P-R-O-P-H-E-T-S. It is not as though we have rejected God completely. Our money still says that we trust Him, but we do not seek His will for our lives. We seek OUR will for our lives and if He or any other god can help us get there, then we are game. But in our day and age we don’t worship at the altar of Baal. We worship more often at the altar of consumerism.

Elijah prays that God would reveal Himself as the one true God in Israel. That the Israelites would no longer seek a false god who cannot hear their prayers (that much is obvious from the demonstration of the 400 false prophets.) Perhaps the most loving thing God can do is let us come to the end of our rope after we have tried it our way and then come in and show us who He really is.

Even though these people rejected God, he did not reject them. It gives me hope in the character and nature of God, because I know my own heart. I know how often and easily I am tempted to pursue small pleasures that don’t even satisfy. I know I need God.Even in the midst of the people’s rejection of God, He loved them enough to send them a righteous prophet who would show them the way and turn their heart back to God.

Elijah prays secondly that the people would know He is God’s servant and has done everything at God’s word. God had not left himself without a witness in Israel. While the rest of the nation was worshiping an idol, God had kept for himself the prophet Elijah and others who refused to worship a false god.

Elijah’s job was then to call the nation to repentance. They needed to see the futility of worshiping an idol when they had a special relationship with the one true God. They needed to see that it wasn’t Elijah’s will to hold off the rain, it wasn’t Elijah who would light the fire, it wasn’t Elijah who could call a nation to repentance in just a moment. It was God who called Elijah to the task at hand.

God uses people much in the same way today. When we have opportunity to share our faith with others we are really only doing a small thing. We are telling others about who God is and what God has done on their behalf. The real power to save someone is accomplished by God. He is the one who made us in His image. He loved us enough to send Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and raise him from the dead. He is the one who takes up residence in our lives once we become believers. It’s by his authority and in his power that we tell others about him.

Elijah was just being obedient to God. He was the right man, at the right time to call a nation to repentance. The people not only heard Elijah’s prayer, but they saw a holy and awesome display of God’s power. They knew immediately that there was one true God in Israel and they had been following after the false god of Baal. They immediately fall to their faces in repentance declaring that God was God and no one should take his place.

However they didn’t just repent with their lips, they also repented with their actions. They obeyed Elijah and killed the 400 prophets of Baal. God had already given them the command way back in Deuteronomy that if anyone came proclaiming to be a prophet for a false god that they were to be put to death. Israel needed to clean house and that started with killing the 400 false prophets. This was at once an act of obedience to God and a way of reducing the temptation to go back to Baal worship by removing the promoters of Baal.

Question: What is it in your life that competes with God? What needs to be removed so you can worship God more freely?

Acts 4: The Cornerstone

The healing of a beggar in chapter three provoked a commotion and all the officials come to see what is going on. They demand to know by what power these things are being accomplished. The Apostles declare plainly through the power of the Holy Spirit that it was in the name of Jesus. (Notice that the Holy Spirit empowers them to testify about the resurrection of Jesus… Make no mistake the book of Acts is about Jesus.)

Peter presses in to the rulers that they are the ones who crucified Jesus. He references a teaching moment of Jesus just prior to his death, burial and resurrection (2 months before this event… You can find it in Matthew 21:33-46). Jesus tells a parable about wicked tenants who reject the owners right over a certain property and ultimately kill the owners son. He then goes on to quote Psalm 118:22-23 and says “the stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” implicating the Pharisees rejection of Jesus (and by association murder).

Now Peter throws it out again, this time spelling it out just in case they didn’t get it. “Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the chief corner stone” (Acts 4:11, ESV). Any attempt to build a platform to reach up to Heaven must have the Risen Christ as the corner stone. These men in the temple not only rejected Jesus but among them were men who set in motion the false arrest, trial and murder of Jesus.

These are some wicked dudes and Peter lets them know. But here is where the real power of the gospel lies… The sovereign plan of God takes the most wicked sin imaginable (the murder of GOD – John 1:1-3) and uses that very same act to cause the greatest good man has ever known (redemption and the forgiveness of sins) through the resurrection… They meant it for evil… but God intended it for good.

What a glorious God we serve. Every attempt to trump the gospel is turned on its head and proves the gospel even more true: Injustice is transformed into lavish grace, where men pour out their hatred, the love of God is made manifest, where men fight to exercise control, God proves his sovereign plan.

Illustrations and Preaching

I’ve been haunted for several weeks now and it’s time to come clean.  When prepping a message I wrestle with the desire for people to like me, think I’m a decent speaker, etc.  This isn’t anything new to young preachers, I  think it’s something we all can wrestle with from time to time.  I’ve come to really value sermon prep. time because this give me an opportunity to work through these desires and get to the text, the message, what is really important.  I’ve also come to dread sermon delivery time because I know that my flesh is raging to get out and say something silly for no other reason than to gain the favor of the audience (which is not always a bad thing and can be a productive strategy).

I guess the real struggle comes in when I ponder what people will take away.  Will the message be remembered at all?  Will the gospel be savored?  Will people be provoked to worship? Or will the take away be the wrong soundbites from the message?  Will they remember my personal illustrations, but not the point?  Will they remember that joke at the begging of the message that was loosely related to the topic of the text, but not the text?  Will lives be changed because God has spoken or will lives remain the same because in the end I’ve just been an entertainer?

To be sure, I have seen and heard illustrations that really helped bring the gospel into focus for individuals. (My pastor though years of experience is very good at this.)  I’ve also heard several illustrations that have ultimately been a distraction to the truth of the message.  It’s always fun to hear comments after preaching (less convicting when I’m not the preacher by the way) to see what people remember.  Statements like, “He sure hates cats” make me cringe because I know the observer missed the message and I’m left to conclude that either they are really dense or that I was stretching it a bit to bring my hatred of cats into the message (i’ve never heard this statement by the way… it’s an illustration… and I’m still not a fan of cats).  I can’t believe that so many people are that dense, so I’m left to admit that perhaps that was a bad illustration on my part.

My current train of thought is to explore strongly rooted Biblical Metaphor.  I had a chance to do this in the message last night with the expression, “and behold it was Leah” (Genesis 29:25) I didn’t fully exploit it at the time, but now see that I could have done more with it to help make the connection in peoples minds. (Wouldn’t you know it… the day after I preached the message I heard a Tim Keller Sermon where he does this masterfully).

This introduces the question I have for you.  What type of illustrations have driven a message home for you?  If you are a pastor or Bible teacher, what types of illustrations do you look for?