Links for the Weekend (2023-05-19)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Don’t Give Up Too Quickly

We are told in Scripture to persevere in prayer. Here’s a short article about why that might be.

I’ve been thinking that our Heavenly Father handles our requests in a similar way. There might be something that we’re excited about. We hurry into prayer with the faith, excitement, and discernment of a child. Then the Lord doesn’t immediately answer. He doesn’t say yes and doesn’t say no. Instead, through his silence and apparent inactivity, he says that it’s time to wait.

Willing Spirit, Weak Flesh: The Real Meaning of Matthew 26:41

Here’s a great example of careful Bible study and reading Scripture in context. Zach Hollifield takes a look at the famous comment from Jesus, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Peter is forced to see that while he has all the right desire in the world to remain faithful to Jesus, there is also a chasm of weakness lying between that willingness and his actual carrying it out.

I’m So Glad It’s You

This link is a confession/prayer which is a wonderful model of looking to God as the sovereign one in the midst of suffering.

I’m so glad it’s You. None of it makes sense to me, but it was done in perfect wisdom. Who else could be trusted to wound like this? All Your works are perfect, and You are infinite in wisdom. I trust that Your ways are higher that my ways, and Your thoughts than my thoughts. I’m so glad it’s You.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called What Makes a Good Friend? If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-03-31)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Knowing the Future Doesn’t Cure Anxiety

Jen Wilkin looks at what our anxious prayer requests reveal about our understanding of God.

We are, indeed, anxious about what the future holds, wondering about what to do when difficulties arise in our friendships, our finances, and our families. If we could just know a bit more about what is coming next, surely we could lay to rest our anxieties and take a proactive stance. And certainly, we could relax and trust God!

Wrath Is Not an Attribute of God

This article offers a helpful explanation about God’s love, his wrath, and his attributes.

In our society, love is often reduced to affection or affirmation. To love someone is either to have warm feelings toward her or to affirm her without conditions. And when people in our society think of the wrath of God, they imagine a red-faced deity with a bad temper and short fuse. This irritable God lashes out with uncontrollable rage and finds pleasure in punishing the wicked.

The Joy of Reading Revelation

Nancy Guthrie provides seven reasons for reading and studying this often-avoided book.

The truth is, while the apocalyptic prophecy of Revelation presents some challenges to us as modern readers, it also provides gifts of insight and understanding to those who are willing to engage with it. Revelation is a letter written to gird us for faithful allegiance to Christ as we wait for his return. And that is encouragement we all need!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-02-10)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Who Killed the Prayer Meeting?

This article takes a look at the decline of prayer meetings in the church and offers some explanations.

The American church is functionally prayerless when it comes to corporate prayer. Of course, a remnant does the hidden work of prayer, but in most churches corporate prayer doesn’t function in any meaningful way. How big is that remnant? In our prayer seminars, we ask several confidential questions about a participant’s prayer life. In hundreds of seminars, we’ve found that about 15 percent of Christians in a typical church have a rich prayer life. So when someone says, “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” 85 percent of the time it is just words. This isn’t a pastor problem; it’s a follower-of-Jesus problem.

What was God doing before creation?

Michael Reeves takes just over two minutes to answer this question in a Ligonier video. It turns out that what God was doing before creation was really important!

The Case for Pew Bibles

Anyone who carries a phone can have access to a digital Bible in a moment. So, do we need Bibles in our sanctuaries anymore? These authors make the case that pew Bibles are still important.

So, we must ask: in this post-COVID, post-modern, post-literate, technological, consumer society, do pew Bibles matter? Does the connection between the Word and the form of accessing the Word matter? Is something lost when we depend on digital media for our Scripture consumption? Is projecting the Scripture passage onto the screen adequate for whole-person and whole-church discipleship and mission, or can a case be made that pew Bibles are an essential part of making God’s Word accessible for all?

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Pride in the Parking Lot. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-02-03)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

God Doesn’t Need Your Singing, but Your Neighbor Does

This article points to all the people who will benefit from your singing in worship.

Although God commands Christians to sing, he doesn’t need our singing in order to be God. He has an eternal choir of living creatures that never cease to sing his praise (Rev. 4:8). And yet he’s designed us to experience joy—and encouragement—when we lift our voices in praise. Though we often conceive of corporate worship vertically, there’s a rich horizontal dimension too. Your neighbors need your church’s singing.

The Other Lord’s Prayer

Here’s a helpful comparison between the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Matthew and Luke.

Before we comment on a handful of unique features of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke, we will first examine one common, salient denominator between the two presentations of the Lord’s Prayer (a point I expand upon further in my Handbook on the Gospels). Both evangelists underscore the name “Father” at the beginning of the prayer (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2).

Ashamed Sinner, Unashamed Savior

How does God look at us when we sin? This article dives deep into that important question.

So what we end up having is a vantage point where we’re looking at the way that we think about our sin and the way that we feel about us and our guilt, and we project that upon God. And what’s so amazing about the gospel and the reality of being a Christian is that that’s not helpful, because God has gone through great pains to prove to us that’s actually not how he looks at his people.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-01-27)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Leave the Throne of Guilt

Scotty Smith shares his experience of learning how to pray not because he felt guilty, but because he delighted in the triune God. Union with Christ was the key to unlock his prayer life.

As a young believer in the late sixties, the joy of my new life in Christ was palpable and plenteous. But pretty soon, I started to feel the pressure of a new burden to “get it right.” I had consistent quiet times, underlined verses in my Bible (in three different colors), and engaged in Scripture memory. I fellowshipped, witnessed, and prayed. Unfortunately, these crucial spiritual disciplines functioned more as a means of guilt (or pride) than as a means of grace. Many of God’s good gifts are misused and disused until they become rightly used. This is certainly true of prayer.

Expose Your Kids to Hard Truths

Here’s an essay urging us not to shy away from some of the “grittier” parts of Scripture with our children.

Continually discussing the beauty and hard realities of Scripture will help children love truth and the God who embodies it. And it’ll give them a discerning ear when engaging culture apart from the watchful eye of their parents. We have the opportunity to demonstrate that the Christian faith is rational, understandable, and more beautiful than the culture that will fight hard to persuade our children otherwise.

How to Think about God Promoting His Own Glory

If we evaluate God’s purposes and actions through the grid of what would be righteous for a human, we’re bound to go wrong. This article calls us to remember how different from us God is when we think about his focus on his glory.

So now we come to the issue of God promoting his own glory. The same principle applies to God doing things “for the sake of his name” and “for his glory” and requiring people to worship him. If you are troubled by the thought of this, consider the possibility that you are imagining how you would respond to a human being who did this—a fallen, sinful human being who did not deserve your worship. That is not who God is. And so, in order to understand God rightly, we need to adjust our interpretation of his actions in light of his moral perfection, not judge him as if he were also a fallen human being with a dangerously inflated ego.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called A Primer on Encouragement. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2022-12-09)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

All Creation Waits

The seasons of the year have a story to tell us if we will just listen. What does winter teach us about waiting and hope?

When we live in Advent darkness we live with the tang of our salted tears in our mouth, but we live knowing that a day is coming when he will do precisely what we long for. Except, more fully and more wonderfully than we had hoped. The world will be fixed. Our tears will be shed for the last time. Our own hearts will be sifted and refined to rip from them hell’s root, and sin will be banished to the outer darkness.

How to Get Through a Spiritual Slump

If your mood feels as gray as the skies, Glenna Marshall wants to help you get through your spiritual slump.

We have seasons like this as Christians. You’ve been there, I’m sure. You probably don’t even know why or how you got there. Things were going fine until one day you noticed you didn’t feel the same fervor for the Lord that you usually do. Perhaps your heart feels cold. Or dry. Dull. Apathetic. Or as my friend, Dora, calls it—flat. Spiritual dry spells can hit us when we least expect, and they can last longer than we thought possible. Maybe you’re doing all the “right” things: reading your Bible, trying to pray, going to church as usual. Yet, you feel far from the Lord. Your heart just won’t engage. What do we do with these spiritual slumps that flatten out our affection for the Lord? Can any good come from them? 

How to Keep Praying

Here’s a helpful look at some of Jesus’s teaching in the sermon on the mount that will help us to pray.

And one of the best ways we can remember is by listening to what Jesus himself says about prayer. So much of our Lord’s teaching on prayer is designed to help us “always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). In the Gospels, Jesus comes to pray-ers like us — discouraged, distracted, willing in spirit but weak in flesh — and he gives us a heart to pray. Of the many reminders we could mention, consider four representative lessons.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

God’s Work and Our Work, Hand in Hand

I love watching toddlers learning to walk. Once they’ve reached the stage of pulling themselves up on chairs and coffee tables, they’re ready for the big adventure. Some brave souls make a few solo attempts, but these wobbly steps often end in tears.

What comes next? A parent or grandparent steps in! You’ve seen this adorable dance—the adult, bent at the waist, the child between their feet; the toddler, reaching up to grasp the offered hands, ready to barrel out into the wide-open spaces.

This picture always brings to mind the way that our work and God’s work are joined together.

Opposition to Nehemiah’s Work

At his request, Nehemiah was sent from the Persian city of Susa back to Jerusalem so that he might rebuilt the city that lay in ruins (Neh 2:5). He quickly won the support of the people and directed an effort to rebuild the walls that encircled Jerusalem (Neh 2:9–3:32).

However, from his first days back in the holy city, Nehemiah faced opposition (Neh 2:10, 19). This hostility reached a breaking point in the fourth chapter of Nehemiah.

Praying and Working

We have much to learn from the way Nehemiah pointed the Israelites to their God and to their work in response to the resistance of the surrounding peoples.

Sanballat the Horonite heard about the Jewish work on the Jerusalem wall and he was “angry and greatly enraged” (Neh 4:1). He and Tobiah the Ammonite taunted and mocked the Israelites (Neh 4:2–3). Nehemiah responded by praying to God for his people (Neh 4:4–5); then everyone got to work and built the wall (Neh 4:6).

When Sanballat and Tobiah (and others) made a plan “to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it” (Neh 4:8), Nehemiah took the same approach. The people prayed and set a guard for protection (Neh 4:9).

Later, there were reports of a more specific threat, so Nehemiah stationed armed Israelites in strategic places near the wall (Neh 4:13). Nehemiah addressed the nobles and officials and people:

Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.

God frustrated the plans of these opponents, and thus the Israelites got back to work (Neh 4:15). Nehemiah organized an alert system for the workers—a trumpet would blow when an attack came, and the people would rally there. Nehemiah was confident of the Lord’s hand: “Our God will fight for us” (Neh 4:20).

Throughout this chapter, Nehemiah urges the people to work while reminding them of God’s work. He instructs them to look to the Lord and to look to their labor.

Hand in Hand

Without older hands for stability, a toddler would stagger and fall. But without the child’s desire to learn and move, the adult would just drag an unhappy, small person across the floor. The child’s and the adult’s work go together.

We may be tempted to work without looking to the Lord, but that is foolish. We cannot accomplish God’s work without him. But we must not swing to the other extreme either—praying without putting our hands to work is presumptuous and faithless. Most often, God works through our work.

Nehemiah 4 is a good reminder that God’s sovereignty and our responsibility are not opponents to be pitted against one another. They are friends, walking hand in hand, accomplishing God’s will.

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Thank You, God, for Failure

Thank you, God, for my failures. I do not like to fail, but I trust you use my failures for good in me.

In my failure, I realize how much I need help. So often I fail because I barrel into a task or project on my own. Thank you for reminding me of my limitations and for providing every droplet of assistance I need.

In my failure, I see my vulnerability and sin. I recognize my selfish choices, my blind spots, and the categories I didn’t even know existed. Thank you for pointing out my mistakes and for forgiving me as your child.

In my failure, I recognize the opportunity to grow. In my pride I often think I am wise and strong. Thank you for the chance to continue being human, to learn about your world and to gain abilities in it.

In my failure, I see the opportunity to identify with others who fail. Though I am prone to push other people away by boasting in my success, you are equipping me to help and talk with those who struggle. Thank you for your presence with me—and in me—that allows me to be a presence to others.

In my failure, I see an accurate picture of myself. No one fails at everything, but we hit the ground more often than the bullseye. Thank you for Jesus, who always hit the mark. Thank you for the gracious exchange of the gospel, in which he took my sin and gave me his righteousness. Thank you that every failure is a reminder of your patient mercy toward your children.

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What the Holy Spirit Does for Us

For many Christians, the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is unclear. We have heard many stories of excess, of churches either ignoring the Spirit or focusing almost exclusively on him and his gifts. If we affirm the Trinity and want to understand and celebrate the work of the third Person, how should we proceed?

Romans 8 is not a bad place to start! It is full of references to the Holy Spirit.

But, because the chapter is so full of these references, we need an entry point. As we look closer, two of the references to the Holy Spirit stand out.

Twice in Romans 8 we are told that “the Spirit himself” does or accomplishes something. This phrase is emphatic, designed to make us look up from our coffee and take notice. The Spirit does not contract these jobs out to others, he does them himself, intimately involved in this work for us.

The Spirit Bears Witness

This phrase first occurs in verse 16.

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!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15–17, emphasis mine)

When the Spirit “bears witness” with our spirits, he is reminding us—testifying to us—that we are children of God. Why would we need such reminding? Too often we default to a “spirit of slavery” which leads us to fear (Romans 8:15).

To know when we are sliding back into a spirit of slavery and away from the Spirit of adoption, we only need to consider the difference between slaves and children. When we take on a mindset as slaves, we have an overwhelming sense of duty and no reward. We don’t know any affection from God, only lists of things to accomplish or avoid. Our interaction with God feels distant and unapproving; we are without the rest and warmth of a beloved, adopted child.

If any of these descriptions fit you, there’s good news: The Holy Spirit wants to convince you of the truth! He himself aims to persuade your spirit that you really are a child and heir of God.

Note that this identity as a child of God is not just teddy bears and lollipops. We “suffer with [Christ] in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).

But there is glory coming for the children of God, and the Spirit will keep reminding us who we are until that day. How this happens is probably worthy of a much longer article, but here’s an initial thought. Some excellent ways to listen to the Spirit testifying to us about our status as children of God are to read the Bible (the Spirit-breathed word), to meditate on truths like this very passage (Romans 8), to pray (see below), and to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that emphasize the truth of our adoption.

The Spirit Intercedes

This wonderful phrase also appears 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 intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26–27, emphasis mine)

We have many weaknesses, including not knowing what to pray for. So the Holy Spirit prays for us.

The word “likewise” in verse 26 doesn’t refer to our weakness or to prayer, but to groaning. Paul has written that creation groans (Rom 8:22) and that we groan (Rom 8:23). The Spirit likewise groans.

Ours are the groans of waiting and longing for new-creation bodies in the midst of suffering. So when we “do not know what to pray for,” this isn’t just indecision or a lack of direction. We are often confused and wordless in our prayers because we have come to the end of our energy, effort, and speech. We trust God but don’t know what that might look like going forward. In our lament, we can give this over to God, because the Spirit is at work.

What difference does this make for us? Knowing that the Spirit prays, we can sit with God in prayer when we don’t have words. It is good to keep coming to him in our confusion and suffering—we don’t need any fancy language or feeling of holiness. We can trust that the Spirit will intercede for us (just as Jesus also does, see Romans 8:34) “according to the will of God.”

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Links for the Weekend (2022-06-24)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Best Ten Minutes of My Week

I really enjoyed Aimee Joseph’s warm reflection on taking the Lord’s Supper.

Our ten-minute meal fuels us for the week ahead where we will fumble through our days attempting faithfulness. Our ten-minute meal gives us a taste of the abundant love we will need to remember if we are to cover over each other’s faults and foibles in the coming few days (1 Peter 4:8). Our ten-minute meal levels the classes and divisions that the world will use to categorize us as soon as we walk out the doors. It makes us siblings and peers at the table of our impartial heavenly Father.

Come, He Needs Nothing From You

Faith Chang makes a helpful distinction between what God requires of us and what he needs from us. She writes about the implications that God needs nothing from us.

The Scriptures are punctuated with this welcome: come to me, come to the waters, come eat, taste and see. There is more that I’ve been mulling over regarding God’s self-sufficiency, implications for what this means about his pleasure in what we do offer him, how graciously he receives from our hands what he doesn’t need. But for now, I want to sit on this, the way burnt out laborers, haggard moms and dads and sons and daughters, and all the weary and wary souls who come to him, will find that he gives and gives and gives, grace upon grace. 

When Groaning Is Our Best Prayer

Here’s an interesting article anchored in Romans 8, focused on how we get from groaning to glory.

We groan when we encounter sin and brokenness. We groan when we face bodily sickness, weakness, and death. We groan when relationships are strained or broken, or when we see those we love struggling. We ache for an end to pain. We long to be made whole and set free. We’re groaning for the day we’ll see, share in, and shine with God’s glory as he intended.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.