Archive for July, 2010

How to Be a Good Neighbor

It’s funny to me that most people in Arizona are not from here and, therefore, could really benefit from getting to know their neighbors–but few really do. Most of us could really grow in our ability to know and love our neighbors. Good Magazine’s recent issue was all about neighborhoods and they had some great, practical ideas of how you can be engaged in a positive way in your neighborhood. Here are a few ideas they had:

What’s something you’ve done or could do to be a good neighbor?

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Perspective on What’s Important

Time is precious and life is short. When people know their days are numbered, there is a clarity and passion about what’s important. One of the best examples is this classic speech from the 1993 ESPYs by Jim Valvano.

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What should I preach about?

Normally I plan my sermon series far in advance — often up to a year in advance so that I can be studying ahead and writing study guides to accompany our series. But this fall, due to some unexpected events, we have two weeks that are open between our Living in 4G series and the next series we’ll be doing beginning August 22nd.

I’m planning to do two messages–probably unrelated to each other. I’m hoping that they will be topics or texts that answer questions many people have and can be intensely helpful and practical.

So, what do you think I should preach about for these two stand-alone messages? Comment if you have ideas…

(NOTE: I can’t promise that I will do any of the suggested ideas…but I’d really like to, so make them good!)

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What is the extent of God’s control?

Yesterday we began our Living in 4G series and we took a look at the reality that God is Great. We saw that because God is great, we don’t have to be in control. God is sovereign and ruling over the universe that he created — so we can trust him. It raises the question, “What is the extent of God’s control over the world?”

Charles Spurgeon answered the question this way:

I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—
that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens—
that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses.
The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—
the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.

HT: Justin Taylor

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Understanding God as Father or “Abba”

Justin Taylor recently linked to the opening paragraphs of Christianity Today‘s cover story on adoption and orphans, by Russell Moore (dean of Southern Seminary and author of Adopted for Life). It is incredibly moving:

The creepiest sound I have ever heard was nothing at all. My wife, Maria, and I stood in the hallway of an orphanage somewhere in the former Soviet Union, on the first of two trips required for our petition to adopt. Orphanage staff led us down a hallway to greet the two 1-year-olds we hoped would become our sons. The horror wasn’t the squalor and the stench, although we at times stifled the urge to vomit and weep. The horror was the quiet of it all. The place was more silent than a funeral home by night.

I stopped and pulled on Maria’s elbow. “Why is it so quiet? The place is filled with babies.” Both of us compared the stillness with the buzz and punctuated squeals that came from our church nursery back home. Here, if we listened carefully enough, we could hear babies rocking themselves back and forth, the crib slats gently bumping against the walls. These children did not cry, because infants eventually learn to stop crying if no one ever responds to their calls for food, for comfort, for love. No one ever responded to these children. So they stopped.

The silence continued as we entered the boys’ room. Little Sergei (now Timothy) smiled at us, dancing up and down while holding the side of his crib. Little Maxim (now Benjamin) stood straight at attention, regal and czar-like. But neither boy made a sound. We read them books filled with words they couldn’t understand, about saying goodnight to the moon and cows jumping over the same. But there were no cries, no squeals, no groans. Every day we left at the appointed time in the same way we had entered: in silence.

On the last day of the trip, Maria and I arrived at the moment we had dreaded since the minute we received our adoption referral. We had to tell the boys goodbye, as by law we had to return to the United States and wait for the legal paperwork to be completed before returning to pick them up for good. After hugging and kissing them, we walked out into the quiet hallway as Maria shook with tears.

And that’s when we heard the scream.

Little Maxim fell back in his crib and let out a guttural yell. It seemed he knew, maybe for the first time, that he would be heard. On some primal level, he knew he had a father and mother now. I will never forget how the hairs on my arms stood up as I heard the yell. I was struck, maybe for the first time, by the force of the Abba cry passages in the New Testament, ones I had memorized in Vacation Bible School. And I was surprised by how little I had gotten it until now.

Read the whole thing.

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What do you really want from God?

Last night our community group was studying prayer and praying. A question occurred to me during our discussion:

If you were God (with all the character of the God of the Bible), what would you want your children to ask from you?

It struck me that God probably doesn’t get too excited about all our prayers/vain repetitions for him to “bless this day” or “bless this food to our bodies” (see Tim Hawkins joke about this), but probably gets very excited about us asking him to reveal his glory to our hearts in a way that causes us to treasure Jesus and keep in step with the Spirit.

This idea was confirmed by our reading from Redeemer’s “Studies in Prayer”:

‘Had God nothing better to bestow upon you, when he had made you his children, than a little money or land, that you seem so much to behave yourselves as if you thought this was your chief good?… I am bold to say that God is now offering the blessing of his Holy Spirit to this town, and I am bold to say we may have it only for the asking. But if we ask in such a manner that, at the same moment we ask, we show that we have no sense of the value of what we ask — if we ask in such a manner as implicitly to ask and deny at the same time — then we have no reason to think that we have truly asked.’ (Jonathan Edwards)

It is a powerful argument. The fact that we pray so much more instinctively, consistently, and fervently for money, health, reputation, approval, and social status than we do for the glory of God and the work of his Spirit shows what our hearts are really after and really trusting in. And, as Edwards argues, formal, infrequent, dispassionate prayers for the Spirit are not genuine requests at all. To ask in a way that shows we have no idea what we are asking for is the same (if not worse) than to not ask at all.

What will you ask God for today? Will you be content with just praying for him to bless your health and your food and your finances or will you ask him for more of himself? Will you ask him to bless you with his Holy Spirit in a fresh way?

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Why is Change So Hard?

One of the books that I’m taking on vacation is Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. I’m hoping that it will have some interesting ideas related to helping people change personally as well as leading our constantly changing church community.

I recently saw this video and it was quite thought provoking:

What do you think? Do you buy it? Is change hard because we run out of self-control? How does the Holy Spirit affect this, specifically the idea that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit?

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