Grace Active

The Valley of Vision is a collected work of Puritan prayers. I read it daily as part of my personal devotional time. I have found it to be challenging, life-giving and encouraging. It has changed the content and goal of my prayers. Puritans prayed different prayers than I pray.

Today I felt overwhelmed by the cares of life the pain of so many in our church we have been praying for. It has been a particularly challenging season for our church. Today I was reminded about God’s superabundant grace. I pray that you too will be encouraged and strengthened in a season that is filled with stress and sorrows.

Grace Active

Lord Jesus, Great High Priest
Thou has opened a new and living way
by which a fallen creature can approach thee
with acceptance

Help me contemplate
The dignity of thy Person,
the perfectness of thy sacrifice,
the effectiveness of thy intercession.

O what blessedness accompanies devotion,
when under all the trials that weary me,
the cares that corrode me,
the fears that disturb me,
the infirmities that oppress me,

I can come to thee in my need
and feel peace beyond understanding!
The grace that restores is necessary to preserve,
lead, guard, supply, help me.

And here thy saints encourage my hope;
they were once poor and are now rich,
bound and are now free,
tried and now are victorious.

Every new duty calls for more grace than
I now possess,
but not more than is found in thee,
tried and now are victorious.

Every new duty calls for more grace than
I now possess,
but not more than is found in thee,
the divine Treasury in whom all fullness dwells.
To thee, I repair for grace upon grace,
until every void made by sin be replenished
and I am filled with all thy fullness.

May my desires be enlarged and my hopes
emboldened,
that I may honor thee by my entire
dependency
and the greatness of my expectation.

Do thou be with me, and prepare me for all
the smiles of prosperity, the frowns of adversity,
the losses of substance, the death of friends,
the days of darkness, the changes of life,
and the last great change of all.

May I find thy grace sufficient
for all my needs.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

God thank you for who you are
Remind me today of my limits
in Prayer, in love, and in Christian service
Remind me today of your limitlessness
in love, in goodness and in forgiveness

Thank you for Jesus.
Remind me of the power of the cross
Of my need for the cross
Of the reach of the cross
Of the totality of the cross
Oh the wonders of God in the cross of Christ.

Help me today never forget
Your benefits and my sins
Your beauty and the ways I betray such beauty for selfish gain
Your bounty and my need
Your blessing and my want

Thank you for salvation
Thank you for Jesus
Thank you for the million ways
you protect
you provide
you preserve
of which I am only aware of two or three.

Preserve me that my life may be a praise of your mercy.
Protect me that my ways may be a testimony of your power
Provide for me that I may confess my lack and your unending sufficiency all the day of my life.

Thank you for the Holy Spirit my helper, my guide and revealer of Christ
Thank you for Jesus crucified, risen, ascended and coming again.
Thank you, Father, you are and always will be. That you are all in all for the glory of your name.

Amen

Dear Dads, Please Stay

Growing up in the 80’s MTV used to be music videos all day long. I have always had a fascination with music videos. I could watch them for hours the combination of music and story is utterly compelling to me. I haven’t watched that many recently but yesterday I stumbled upon Coldplay’s newest music video. I was sitting in the Airport in Dallas I nearly missed my flight home because the video was so emotionally compelling. It’s a single called Daddy from their forthcoming album and is probably the most moving music video I have ever seen.

The music video is shot in a stop-motion cartoon style and tells the story of a small girl whose dad has left her. It is utterly heartbreaking. I scrolled through the comments and wept because the song hits a nerve we don’t address often enough. Fatherlessness.

Fatherlessness is an epidemic in our country we often don’t have the courage to discuss. Gun control is more politically satisfying yet every mass shooter with only one or two exceptions grew up without a dad. The chances of kids dealing with depression, anxiety, and mental illness skyrockets when dad isn’t there. We ignore it because it is too pervasive too painful, and we feel powerless to change it.

In two decades of pastoral ministry to kids and families, there are few things more painful I have had to do than to sit in a living room with a mom and her kids and tell them their dad is never coming home. The pain in their eyes is beyond description. The wake that event created in the lives of those kids is so pervasive that everything is marked by it.

Divorce is a painful reality that is often thrust upon women by men who leave. Dads who think they deserve something better than what life has given them. Divorce in scripture is not an unpardonable sin. It is, however, something that should be entered into rarely and after every path to reconciliation has been exhausted.

One of the biggest lies people believe is that kids are better off with parents divorcing rather than fighting. This is a lie adults tell themselves to make themselves feel better. Every kid I have ever talked to from divorced families cry themselves to sleep at night praying their dad will come home. No dad is always worse than an angry distant dad. If you are a dad who is divorced fight to be there for your kids. I know you want to move on but don’t leave your kids.

Dads hold your kids close. Put down your phone. Show up when they don’t ask you to be there. If they ask you to be there make sure you do your best to be present. Love your kids enough to show them a love that isn’t perfect but a love that perseveres a love that is faithful because God in Christ loved you when you were unfaithful. Model to your kids the love God has for them by imperfectly loving them the best you can and at the same time point them to a perfect father who is never far away. The gospel doesn’t demand perfection it models it and provides forgiveness. Something every dad needs to hear.

Dads the cards are stacked against you in many ways. I beg of you please stay. Please stay. Pray that God will help you to be faithful when you feel like running. When everything in your head is screaming run. Stay.

Are Our Kids Going to be Ok?

I came across a video the other day that as a parent of four digital natives shook me. It was an ad where three generations of a family were asked: “When you were a kid what did you do for fun?” The resulting answers are sobering, to say the least. Watch the video below and we will talk after.

Smartphones are a gift in that they allow us to present with those we love. They are no longer a gift when they isolate and separate us from those who God has entrusted into our care. They make life easier but rather than provide more time to love those God has placed us with the very device that frees us and our time turns on us and devours the very time it freed for us.

Andy Crouch says it this way in his book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place “Technology, with all its gifts, poses one of the greatest threats ever conceived by human society to the formation of wise, courageous persons that real family and real community are all about.”

Technology is not evil when it serves us. It becomes devastating when we serve it. The single most devastating element of Technology is it isolates us and creates for us a virtual community of people who we can only know casually and never know intimately. We call people who share the same political ideals on twitter friends and go months without driving across town for a barbeque with the best man from your wedding.

We were made for presence, but so often our phones are the cause of our absence. To be two places at a time is to be no place at all. Turning off our phone for an hour a day is a way to turn our gaze up to each other, whether that be children, coworkers, friends, or neighbors. Our habits of attention are habits of love. To resist absence is to love neighbor

– Justin Early The Common Rule

Parents this is something we have to get right. Yet it is something that is so difficult because the very devices choking our children have a stranglehold on us as well. We have become so pleasure focused and pain averse we don’t even see the fact that we are numbing ourselves and making ourselves unable to feel unable to love the very people God has placed us in community with. We are unable to be present because we have forgotten who we are.

When we can’t answer the question of who we are in silence, we can’t answer it in public either, and our insecurities spill out into the world in the form of manipulations. We hide our confusion behind a posture of perpetual offense. If we are opposed to someone or something, that’s enough to create our identity for the day, which is to say we use others so that we can get the temporary identity we need. We don’t know who we are, so we make others feel the pain of our insecurity.

– Justin Early The Common Rule

Parents if we want our kids to answer the question of what did you do for fun as a kid differently we have to give them a different example. We have to give them a better story. Rather than teaching our kids to numb their pain electronically teach them, they were made for the love of God and love of neighbor. Kids remember what they see far more than what you tell them.

“Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told”.

– J.C. Ryle

If we want our kids to live a different story we have to practice the gospel and preach the gospel. To apply the gospel to the lives or your kids you need to know what they are facing so you can point your kids to Jesus. The problem in so many families is parents are too distracted scrolling Instagram to listen to their kids and kids are to distracted by games to talk. We need to give our kids the gift of boredom. When you are bored you eventually create a creative way of escape. This is how kids develop critical life skills. When you as a family put down your devices your kids will get bored they will eventually start talking to you and you will actually listen because you are bored too.

Our electronic addiction is not the worst problem our world has faced because there have been many others that are far worse. It is, however, one of the more sinister problems because so many of us don’t see it as a problem. We were meant to be more than the amount of like we can manufacture with just the right angle of our selfie. We were meant for real lasting eternal connections with the family God has placed us in.

At the end of his book challenging families to rethink how they use technology, Andy Crouch ends with this sober challenge to be present.

We are meant to build this kind of life together: the kind of life that, at the end, is completely dependent upon one another; the kind of life that ultimately transcends, and does not need, the easy solutions of technology because it is caught up in something more true and more lasting than any alchemy our technological world can invent. We are meant to be family—not just marriages bound by vows and the children that come from them, but a wider family that invites others into our lives and even to the threshold of our very last breath, to experience vulnerability and grace, sorrow and hope, singing our way homeward. We are meant not just for thin, virtual connections but for visceral, real connections to one another in this fleeting, temporary, and infinitely beautiful and worthwhile life. We are meant to die in one another’s arms, surrounded by prayer and song, knowing beyond knowing that we are loved.

We are meant for so much more than technology can ever give us—above all, for the wisdom and courage that it will never give us. We are meant to spur one another along on the way to a better life, the life that really is life. Why not begin living that life, together, now?

Andy Crouch

So how do we change our kid’s story? Here are a few practical suggestions.

1. Filter your internet – Our family uses Circle by Disney it is a game-changer.
2. Limit your time – decide how much time is appropriate for adults and kids and keep each other accountable. – We don’t use screens at all on the Lord’s Day and when we come home from school and work we put our phones in a box still on so we can have undistracted availability.
3. Turn off all notifications – I did this a while back and it has been a game-changer for me. I only get notifications of text messages that’s it.
4. Delete apps that take up lots of your time. – I enjoy social media but when I look at my screen time report on my phone and see that I am spending more time than is wise for me to spend or am in a season I need to focus, rather than deleting the social media accounts I just delete the apps on my phone that make them so easy to access.
5. Remind yourself that restraint and control create freedom, not oppression. – You are free to use your phone for its many good purposes when your phone isn’t using you. The control allows you to love God and love neighbor. It allows you to treat your phone as a good gift rather than as a poor functional savior.

Here are a few resources I have found helpful.
The Tech-Wise Family
The Common Rule
Parent Chat
Liturgy of the Ordinary
You Are What You Love

Death by One Thousand Cuts

This July marked 22 years of pastoral ministry for me in the same church. Growing up, I moved often and rarely lived more than three to five years in an any given location. Two decades in the same place has been surreal and filled with its joys and pains.

Pastoral ministry is not easy and not for the faint of heart. In pastoral ministry you get to see the good the bad and the ugly of society in general and of your congregation in particular. There is more difficult jobs than being a pastor but few require the combination of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual engagement around the clock.

The pain that a pastor feels is unique because you can not prevent your heart from exposure to pain that you can in other lines of work the exposure of your heart is the very thing your people need to see as it points them to God’s heart. Pastors don’t burn up and burn out overnight they die a death from one thousand cuts over time.

Few people in our society ever face death or deal with it regularly, as a pastor, you walk multiple families a year through the darkest valley of their lives. Some people have been ghosted by a friend or loved one for pastors; this is not just a once in a lifetime event but a constant reality. Few people know the emotional and relational pain of baptizing families, rejoicing with them in their successes, the birth of their babies and walk with them in the darkest valleys only to have those people one Sunday not show up. One person did this to me I called to see if they were ok they answered the phone and when I said hello and they heard my voice they hung up. I still to this day have no idea why they left and how I must have hurt them without even knowing I did. One thousand cuts.

To have people that have come to your church since they were kids who you have spent hours praying with, crying with, and laughing with turn and blast you personally on social media or through text message is incredibly personal. One thousand cuts.

To watch families you have served, families you love, families who you thought would be together forever instead suffer losses that you can’t stop. It feels like a personal failure from which you can’t separate yourself, thinking you could have done something more to help them or point them more clearly to Christ.

I have found that the way I can keep showing up and what keeps me from giving up is the reapplication of what I offer to others. The tender mercy of God. I have to find a confessor on earth that I can share my sin and sorrows. I have to reapply the gospel to a heart bent on excusing sin and earning favor. I have to learn to hate my pride and clothe myself in Christ’s humility every day.

One of the ways I remind myself as a follower of Christ I need Gods help is through a Puritan prayer book called the Valley of Vision I often pray I hope it works as an ointment on the one thousand cuts on your soul and brings you back to your real home in Christ.

A MINISTERS STRENGTH

UNCHANGEABLE JEHOVAH
When I am discouraged in my ministry
        and full of doubts of my self,
  fasten me upon the rock of thy eternal election,
    then my hands will not hang down,
    and I shall have hope for myself and others.
Thou dost know thy people by name,
  and wilt at the appointed season
    lead them out of a natural to a gracious state
      by thy effectual calling.
This is the ground of my salvation,
  the object of my desire,
  the motive of my ministry.
Keep me from high thoughts of myself
    or my work,
  for I am nothing but sin and weakness;
    in me no good dwells,
    and my best works are but sin.
Humble me to the dust before thee.
Root and tear out the poisonous weed
    of self-righteousness,
  and show me my utter nothingness;
Keep me sensible of my sinnership;
Sink me deeper into penitence and self-abhorrence;
Break the Dagon of pride in pieces
    before the ark of thy presence;
Demolish the Babel of self-opinion,
    and scatter it to the wind;
Level to the ground my Jericho walls
    of a rebel heart;
Then grace, grace, will be my experience and cry.
I am a poor, feeble creature when faith
    is not in exercise,
  like an eagle with pinioned wings;
Grant me to rest on thy power and faithfulness,
  and to know that there are two things
    worth living for:
  to further thy cause in the world,
  and to do good to the souls and bodies of men;
This is my ministry, my life, my prayer, my end.
Grant me grace that I shall not fail.

So profound:

Break the Dagon of pride in pieces
before the ark of thy presence;
Demolish the Babel of self-opinion,
and scatter it to the wind;
Level to the ground my Jericho walls of a rebel heart;
Then grace, grace, will be my experience and cry.

For us, as ministers, our strength does not come from being what our people need at the moment they need it. It comes from our own experience with the grace and mercy of God and the overflow of that mercy. Our work is heart work. It is to apply the reality of the gospel to the hearts of our people in every season in every situation of life. Never forgetting that the person who needs the message we spread most is us.

Father remind us of your saving grace, your empowering grace and grant me grace that I may not fail at last.