Let Me Teach You What I Don't Understand

Chapter three of Habakkuk marks a distinct change in the movement of the book.  Prior to chapter three, Habakkuk (the prophet) has been doing a lot of questioning of God and in an extremely blunt manner, he lets God know specifically what he thinks about how God is moving and working.  God then answers Habakkuk, reminding the prophet that God knows more and sees more than he does.

Chapter three then moves into Habakkuk’s response, where he says, “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear.  In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”  In fact, verse one of chapter three defines this response as “a prayer of Habakkuk.”  The point is that Habakkuk learns that his prayers matter to God.

This got me to thinking about prayer.  Prayer is one of those disciplines that I have heard about and practiced my entire life, but I feel as though I still don’t understand it.  I see stories in the Bible of men like Habakkuk who were witnessing great trouble and pain but they seek the Lord in prayer and God works on their behalf in unusual ways.  It makes me wonder if I’m praying wrong or if God viewed them differently than He does me.

Normally, this is where I would take the Scriptures and explain what they say about our topic and give us a couple points of application to help us obey.  However, I can’t do that with this topic because I don’t understand it and it confuses me.  So here is my approach, I’m going to list several verses and challenge you to consider and pray through them, so that God might settle our souls collectively on the issue of praying to Him.

Psalm 42:1-2 - As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

Psalm 63:1-4 - O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 - Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

Colossians 4:2 -  Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Hebrews 4:14-16 -  Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Matthew 6:5-15 -  “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

My prayer is that God will takes these selections of Scripture and teach us how to pray, so that like Habakkuk, our anxiety filled soul might experience the peace of God.

Was Your Mom a Prophet Too?

Celebrating Mother’s Day always transports me back to the home that I grew up in.  It always seems that this day forces me to reflect upon the actions, words and memories of my mom.  My mom raised me to love the Lord and His church.  However, it would not be a typical southern childhood without a good smattering of sayings to live by.  My mom’s favorites were: “Enough is enough, and too much is nasty” or “An excuse is a skin of truth, stuffed with a lie” or my personal favorite “Can’t never could and won’t never will.”

Mom’s are known for their sage words that inevitably turn out to be true.  Interestingly enough, this is one area where mom’s and prophets have something in common.  The prophets were constantly having to remind the people of the difference between truth and lies or spiritual harm and spiritual safety.  In Habakkuk chapter two, the prophet levels five woes against the people, which are still applicable to us today.  Before we list them, lets discuss what a “woe” even is.  The Bible often uses these “woe statements” like a modern “if then” statement.  Basically, if you do “x” then that will go very badly for you and will result in your crying out “woe,” which is never good.  

     Woe #1 - Actions have consequences or as my mom said, “You reap what you sow.”  The implication was specifically that God notices those who act harshly with their fellow man.

     Woe #2 - Life is not to be wasted or as my mom said, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshops.”  The prophet explains that an individual who simply lives for their selfish ambition, will ultimately end in ruin.

     Woe #3 - Sin does not pay well or as my mom said, “Your chickens will come home to roost.”  As you live life, there are consequences (some immediate, some long term) that will accompany all of our decisions.  God informs us through the prophets that sinful actions always leave devastation.

     Woe #4 - God will respond to our folly or as my mom said, “It all comes out the wash.”  The Babylonians (who Habakkuk was writing about), had a nasty habit of putting their neighbors in precarious situations, so that they could take advantage of them.  This type of life will always bring woe.

     Woe #5 - Nothing is to take the place of God or as my mom said, “Keep the main thing, the main thing.”  The tendency inside all of us is to push God aside and replace Him with either ourself or another “god” that is more appealing at the moment.  Habakkuk reminds us that this is a guaranteed way to destroy our life.

Even though Habakkuk was writing in a time period very different than ours, to a people that shares very little in common with us, his words are still full of wisdom for our lives today.  He, like our mom, was concerned with the quality of our life and pushes us toward following Christ more completely.  Moms and prophets - who knew they had so much in common.  

A Song about Waiting

There are certain themes that are easily found in music.  In fact, these themes cross all generations and genres of music.  Some of these themes are easy to spot, like love, hardships of life or even death.  However, another theme that is pretty easy to find if you listening closely is the idea of waiting.  Let me list some titles and bands to illustrate the point: “Wouldn’t it be Nice” by the Beach Boys; “Waiting on a World to Change” by John Mayer; “Waiting for a Girl Like You” by Foreigner; or “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding. However, arguably the most famous waiting song is entitled “The Waiting” by Tom Petty, which the chorus says:

          The waiting is the hardest part, 

          Every day you see one more card

          You take it on faith, you take it to the heart

          The waiting is the hardest part

King David, the singer of inspiration, penned some mighty words about waiting in Psalm 130.  The Psalm opens in the depths of despair by saying, “Out of the depths I cry to you.”  Life has that tendency to beat and beat upon us and the Psalmist found himself in that very situation.  In fact, he is so deep in his circumstances that he spends verses two through four begging the Lord to hear Him and confessing his sin to the Lord while affirming his own spirit that the Lord will forgive.

Having expressed his need and confessed his condition, David then hums the words of verse five, “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”  What peace in the midst of trouble.  Knowing the very nature of God, David convinces himself to simply wait on the Lord and trust His word.

I have no idea who will read this post and I definitely have no idea what depths you might find yourself in today.  But this I know - if you will wait on the Lord (instead of trying to fix things yourself) and trust in His word, He will not fail you.  In fact, David finishes the Psalm by saying, “…hope in the LORD!  For with the LORD there is stedfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.”

In 1865 Lina Sandell watched her father fall overboard and die.  In her grief, she penned:

          Day by day, and with each passing moment,

          Strength I find to meet my trials here;

          Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

          I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

          He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,

Gives unto each day what He deems best,

Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Why?

Why? As a human, it’s a question I’m normally drawn to ask but as a parent, it is a question that I loathe. Sometimes my why questions are things that keep me awake at night such as, “Why do we park on driveways and drive on parkways?” Or better yet, “If you are bald, what hair color do they put on your driver's license?” Thankfully, I’ve not had to deal with that second question yet.

In all seriousness, there are questions that are beyond my scope of understanding. Like Habakkuk, I find myself wondering why God’s timetable doesn’t look like mine or why He would permit evil in the world when it will harm His children.  Or, how about this one, “Why does God not rid the world of diseases such as cancer?” Before you’re tempted to give me Biblical rationale, please know that I know all the “theological” answers. I grasp them and I even teach them.

But why? Truth is, I will never know the answer to that question this side of eternity. What I do know, however, is that God is good and God can be trusted. In fact, if you fast forward through Habakkuk’s writings to chapter 3, you’ll hear him say, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord… God, the Lord, is my strength.”

Take courage in this truth. And, don’t miss the next few weeks as we journey with Habakkuk to see how he could arrive at there. I believe that in the end, your journey just may look a lot like his. Oh, and by the way, “Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?” Maybe one day we will know the answers!

Should I Be Re-Baptized

Being in my position, I’m often asked about baptism. What is baptism all about and what does it mean? Who should be baptized? At what age should my children be baptized? And, I was baptized as a child/infant, should I be re-baptized? For the purpose of this article, I want to attempt to answer the last question.

In order to help someone come to terms with being “re-baptized”, I encourage three questions. I will then follow up these questions with some biblical references for your own reading.

  1. Did the church I was baptized in teach and preach a message of “salvation by grace through faith” exclusively? Their ministry of baptism must be with the understanding that baptism (or any external works for that matter) cannot and does not save an individual.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9- For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  ‎9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
  • Romans 10:9-10- because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  ‎10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
  • Titus 3:5- he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

    This issue is fundamental. The Apostle Paul would call out and challenge those that would teach anything different. (That’s basically what the Book of Galatians is).

  1. Did the mode of baptism my church used match that which was practiced and encouraged in Scripture? (Baptism by immersion)
  • Matthew 3:13-17- Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  ‎14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  ‎15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  ‎16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;  ‎17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.
  • Acts 8:34-39- And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”  ‎35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.  ‎36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”  ‎38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.  ‎39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
  • Romans 6:3-4- Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  ‎4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
  • Colossians 2:12- having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 

Each of these Scriptures shed light on the mode of baptism. We see Jesus and John in the Jordan River, coming up out of the water. We see Philip and the eunuch going down into the water. And we hear the Apostle Paul as he unpacks the significance of the baptism event, a significance only demonstrated in baptism by immersion.

    The beauty of baptism is in the image it portrays. It symbolizes Christ who was dead, buried and raised to new life. Our baptism symbolizes our being dead to sin, being buried, and being raised to live a new life. The imagery is spectacular!

  1. In my faith journey, did my baptism precede or follow what I consider to be my conversion experience? Biblically speaking, baptism always follows salvation. So if a person feels that their decision to trust Christ happened at age 25 and they were “baptized” at age 6, something’s out of kilter. Baptism should always follow conversion and not the other way around.
  • Acts 2:41- So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
  • Matthew 28:18-19- And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  ‎19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
  • Acts 8:12-13- But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.  ‎13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.

    At the end of the day, only you can answer that question. It is important, however, to not get the “cart in front of the horse.” It seems that God ordained a specific order to be followed.

As you consider this subject of baptism, know that you are not alone. I have counseled and dealt with a number of adults that wrestled with this issue and had to come to grips with their own decisions or those of their parents when they were children. I recognize that it is a hard decision to make. 

For one thing, we have to deal with tradition and then explain to parents and family/friends why the choice was made. Then, our pride comes into play as we come to terms with what we feel that we should do.

Baptism is a blessing to experience. It is commanded by our Lord and practiced by our Lord. It is the 1st step of obedience in one’s Christian life and should be valued as such.

President Trump - Now What?

Like many of you, I stayed up much later last night than I probably should have awaiting the results of the election. Now that Election Day is over and Donald Trump has been confirmed as the President-Elect of the United States, where do we go from here? How we as Christ-followers respond at a time such as this is of vital importance. Let me suggest some things to keep in mind this post-election day:

  1. God is in charge, no matter who is in charge. In our small groups, we have been reminded of this truth several times recently as we’ve studied the life of Daniel. Even in a wicked society and under a very difficult leader, Daniel was able to thrive and make a godly impact. God was not asleep last night when the election was called. God is not taken by surprise nor is He wringing His hands in fear this morning. He is Sovereign and He has not given up His seat on the Throne! Psalm 22:28 reminds us, For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
  2. Our country has serious issues, many of which have been exposed during this long political season. We are divided. We are hurting. We have values that are not in line with Scripture. We need revival! We need God’s blessing.
  3. The people have spoken; It is our system. Whether you like our new president or not, he went through the political system and won fair and square. It is our task to accept the results and move forward from here.
  4. God expects us to respect, honor, and pray for our leaders. Now is not the time for bitterness and anger. Now is not the time for hatred or for lashing out. First Timothy 2:1-2 says, First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
  5. Regardless of whether your candidate won or not, we must treat each other with grace and love. The name-calling and bitterness, from both sides, must stop. We are fellow citizens with one another and for many of us, we are part of the same kingdom—the Kingdom of God. Remember the words of 1 Peter 3:8-9 which says, Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
  6. The task of Christ-followers is to continue to be salt and light. That must not stop. In fact, in some regards, these tasks are more needed now than ever before. These were the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:13-15 when He told the disciples, You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 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. 
  7. Our greatest hope is not in any politician, regardless of their political affiliation. Instead, our hope is in the Lord. Psalm 118:8-9- It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. 

One final thought, over the last few weeks, I have personally been encouraged by God’s people praying for their country. I believe that God can do incredible things with a people that are seeking Him. Let’s keep it up and continue asking Him to bless the great land in which we live.

What did Jesus Pray for You?

There are only two types of people in the world…those who feel weird and sweaty when people pray for them, and those who can pretty much mouth the prayer word for word with the person praying for them. As an introvert, I normally find myself categorized as the former. Have you ever wondered how you would feel if you could hear Jesus praying for you? I would feel more weird and sweaty than most prayers, but he would have my full attention. As we read in Scripture, that dude could flat lay it down at the Throne. We can draw from those biblical examples that his prayer had a little more extra “umph” to it than ours does. So then, to hear him pray for you or I would be some prayer wouldn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I would hinge on every word. I would remember his tone and inflection. I would pray in my own heart the same things that he is praying for me. I would never want to let myself do the opposite of what he prayed for in me. That prayer would drive my life. I would always remember and live by that prayer, never letting myself forget what he prayed for me. What about you? What would you think? How would you respond to his prayer for you?

Now read John 17:20-26. Guess who the subject of that prayer is? Some headings of that prayer in certain Bibles actually name it “the prayer for future believers.” Here Jesus is about to be arrested and go through the most gruesome death in human history…and guess who is on his mind? You and I. Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus actually prayed for YOU. That’s such an overwhelming thought when you truly understand the implications! So what do we do with this prayer? How are we supposed to live with that taken into account? Here are three ways this prayer should affect our lives. 

  1. Value - Consider again when this prayer is being prayed. He is with his disciples for his last meal and his last intimate time alone with them before he dies. He knows Judas has left to betray him, his best friends have still no clue what is going on, and he knows the anguish, pain, mutilation, and humiliation that’s about to come upon him in just a few hours. He was so stressed out about all this that in just a couple more hours, Luke’s account will describeJesus’s sweat like they were drops of blood. But with the fate of the human race in his hands and the knowledge of pain and death in his head, we were on his heart! He prayed for you and I in the middle of his most difficult time! That shows just how important we really are to him! Think of when you’re going through your most difficult times. Who is on your heart and mind? You would probably say your spouse, children, parents, etc. But not Jesus. He was thinking about you and I. That’s a huge implication. That shows our value to him and just how much he loves us, and also how important unity is to him. 
  2. Strive – Knowing what Jesus prayed for, you and I should be striving to live it out. Jesus’s prayer was for unity. For you and I, Jesus asked that we not only believe he is who he says he is, but that all of us in like-mindedness should band together for the cause. I find it odd how many people don’t know Jesus prayed a prayer specifically for them. Not much emphasis is placed on this prayer, and it’s because not many people strive to live it out. If unity is what Jesus prayed for it will certainly be attacked, which means we must strive to endure through it and make it happen. It was never going to be easy, or it wouldn’t have been prayed for. We must cultivate an intrinsic desire to be unified in all circumstances and still present the gospel in its purest form.
  3. Guard – As just mentioned, it’s rare that people actually know that Jesus prayed for them. If you look deeper though, you find that the very same thing that Jesus prayed for is the very same thing most churches don’t have. That’s because their definition of unity doesn’t match Jesus’s. Keep in mind that unity isn’t deciding the pew color or whose potato salad was best at the last pot luck. Jesus’s definition is gospel-centered. If we aren’t gospel-centered in our approach to life, we aren’t unified. The gospel teaches us to make disciples, do life together, and to grow spiritually through Scripture. Whenever our lives reflect this approach, we are living a gospel-centered life. Whenever we let preferences take over our actions instead of those gospel-centered decisions, that’s when disunity forms and the church implodes from the inside out.

 It’s vital for us to be gospel-centered if we want Jesus’s prayer to be lived out. I don’t want to be the person who knows Jesus’s prayer for me personally, and then disregards it or doesn’t do my best to live it out. My prayer is that Christians see Jesus’s prayer for them also, and our hearts burn together in unity and we strive to live that prayer out every day. Now that you’ve been faced with the truth of his prayer, what’s your response?

Remembering 5 Years

All this week, I’ve been pondering the amazing things God did for us last weekend at NorthPoint. What an awesome day with a great crowd, some amazing food, my favorite worship team, and a tremendous message from the Scriptures. What more could we ask for?

In my personal Bible study this morning, I read a passage of Scripture that the Lord used to encourage me and to remind me of how God is building His church here. The passage is Acts 5:38-39 which reads, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.

I have often been asked, and continue to be asked occasionally, “Do you think NorthPoint will survive long-term? Can this church make it? After all, this is a difficult area!” Well now I have my new answer! If it is being built on man, it will fail. There is no leader, no personality, and no pastor that can establish a work such as this that will be fail-proof. We would all be wasting our time, energy, and resources.

But if it is of God, and IT IS, it will not fail. Take heart NorthPointers. We may have celebrated five years, a milestone for church plants in the Buffalo area, but God is just getting started. There is so much that He wants to accomplish and the means by which He has chosen to accomplish it—us. That’s you and me. That’s our NorthPoint family. That’s this rogue and random group of people that He has brought together under the umbrella of NorthPoint Church. And we get to be a part of that.

So, while the past five years have been amazing, the future is even brighter. Let’s link arms and make a difference where He has planted us. Let’s get busy. Our community needs NorthPoint Church and the people in our community need Jesus.

Now that we’ve paused to take a look back, we now continue to unpack our DNA statement: NorthPoint Church is a community of Christ followers striving together to engage others with the transforming love of Christ. Come hear Part 2 this Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. 

Religious OCD

Religious OCD

The odds are, all of us at some point have heard of, or likely known someone with, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). By definition, OCD is described as a psychiatric disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions, such as cleaning, checking, counting, or hoarding.

Three Lessons for Spiderman

Three Lessons for Spiderman

I have loved the recent push from Hollywood to bring all of the superhero from my childhood comic books and to put them on the “big screen.”  The ability of modern special effects artists to take the stuff of Stan Lee’s imagination and make it materialize on a screen, is sometimes breath taking.