Monday, December 23, 2013

Book Review Monday {Follow Me}

It's been a while since I've posted a book review, but rest assured that's not because I haven't been reading. I may have to rethink this Monday thing in the new year. But hey - we're here and I finished a book and, why not?

This review is on Follow Me by David Platt

I would not recommend this book to everyone. If you are easily offended, happy and complacent in your apathy toward others, or if you believe Jesus and His Church exist to make your life comfy, this book is only going to make you mad, and you might want to read something else first. Maybe the Gospels, or Acts. Read those and then try David Platt. Because I guarantee, no matter where you are in your faith walk, Follow Me will step on your toes. And it will make you re-think how you follow Jesus, and if you really do at all. I know it did that for me.

Platt's intellectual, Scripture-based writing demonstrates both his experiential mastery and the five degrees he's earned, but it's not too cerebral (for my tastes, anyway). While you might think his education would make him come across as arrogant, he remains humble throughout, admitting that he too has had to ask himself the difficult questions posed in the first half of book. Questions like:

  • Do I really know and follow Christ?
  • What does it take to be eternally saved?
  • What does the Bible really say about sin and sinners?
  • What evidences are displayed in our lives when we truly follow Jesus?
  • Can we make Jesus our personal Lord, or is His Lordship sovereign regardless of what we decide?
  • Is there really a hell?
  • Where is satisfaction found to our cravings and desires?
  • How can we find God's will for our lives?
Using personal examples such as the adoption of his son from Kazakhstan, experiences of making disciples in America and abroad, personal stories from his life and ministry, and recanting testimonies of several people in his own church, the author argues a great need for people everywhere who call themselves Christians to examine their hearts and lives to determine whether or not they are actually Christ-followers.

The kicker for me in this book was the entire second half, in which Platt argues quite persuasively that if we truly follow Christ, we will do what comes after our Lord's famous invitation, and become "fishers of men." If we are not making new disciples and going into the places where Jesus is unknown, are we truly His? According to Scripture, something is wrong if we are not prioritizing disciple-making in our every-day lives, and in our churches. 

I'd love to share scores of quotes I underlined in the book, but I'll stick to this one, and let you read the rest, deal?
"This is how the gospel penetrated the world during the first century: through self-denying, Spirit-empowered disciples of Jesus who were making disciples of Jesus. Followers of Jesus were fishing for men. Disciples were making disciples. Christians were not known for association with Christ and his church: instead, they were known for complete abandonment to Christ and his cause. The great commission was not a choice for them to consider, but a command for them to obey. And though they faced untold trials and unthinkable persecution, they experienced unimaginable joy as they joined with Jesus in the advancement of his Kingdom. 
I want to be part of a movement like that. I don't want to spend my life constructing buildings and designing programs for comfortable churchgoers. Nor do I want to build a Kingdom that revolves around my limited gifts and imperfect leadership. I want to be part of a people who really believe that we have the Spirit of God in each of us for the spread of the gospel through all of us. I want to be part of a people who are gladly sacrificing the pleasures, pursuits, and possessions of this world because we are living for treasure in the world to come." [Ch. 8]

Yep. That's the bottom line, friends.

Happy reading!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sabbath Bread {when you need a little guidance}

"The Lord guides us in the way we should go
    and protects those who please him.

If they fall, they will not stay down,

    because the Lord will help them up."
-Psalm 37:23-24

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thankful on Thursday {for words}

Little can move me more than words can. It's why I read and listen and write most hours of my day. Imagination stirs in the pages of a novel, lines of a poem halt preconceived notions, lyrics of a song lift this heart to my Maker. Journals, non-fictions, lectures about bigotry and sermons about hope. Most of my gifts for which I'm thankful include words in some form, and I'm struck by my blindness and the way I have taken language for granted. What miraculous power God has and gives in words. 

Last week my ten-year-old asked me what the F-word means. I had banned a song from his playlist because it said, "Mutha-Fo" and I told him that it was another form of the F-word, which we may never say. And I get it that his natural, subsequent question would be, "Well, what does it mean when people say it?"
I stammer.
"Why, have you heard someone saying it? What did they say?"
He stammers now.
"I mean, like, why do they say, 'What the F-' or what does that mean?"
"Well, it means the same as when you say, 'What the heck'."
He's still confused. Trying to piece together in his still-concrete thinking why swearing exists. I ponder concrete shoes and millstones and pray for peace answers. Why do people use certain words when there are perfectly good others that aren't quite so nasty or vile or degrading? It's not connecting for him yet, so I keep driving and ask the Spirit for help. I try again.
"What makes a swear word aren't the letters in the word. It's the heart of the person behind the words coming out of their lips.That's what really matters. Most of the time when people swear, they're either angry out of control or they're not taking their words seriously or honestly enough. And that's not really honoring God, now, is it?"
"No." He stares straight forward and the snowflakes keep falling on the windshield.
"Who made your mouth, Son?"
"God." It's every sunday-school answer but I'll take it.
"Right, and who gave us words?"
"Uh-huh, and why did He do that?"
"Idunno." He chuckles and then so do I.
"Because He wanted to give you a choice to choose good. And that means filling your mouth with praises and prayers and telling other people about the Gospel of Grace. That's why He gave you a mouth and words."
"Then why do people swear?" 
And how do I answer? It's like he's asking why do people do stupid things or why do people sin? Why are people human? Is there an answer to that one?
"Well, Bud - we all have a choice, but the devil wants us to choose wrong. He takes God's good gifts and he makes them gross, twisted, and evil."
A light comes on in his eyes. I glance over and catch the flash. "Yeah, he destroys everything, huh?"
"Well, not everything. But a lot. You know what I think swearing is like, especially words like that?"
I glimpse the curiosity like a rope binding his heart to mine and I know God's here, right here, in the car, doing this, right now. I've got my son's heart and he's open to the love and wisdom God's pouring through me. I go for it.
"It's like putting poop in your mouth."
"Yeah, not a good choice, huh?"
"Ew." He's struck. He can't get over the image. I'm kind-of glad.
"God made your mouth to be full of His praise, Son. The devil wants to put disgusting poopy words in your mouth, and they're not only the traditional cuss words. With an evil heart you could make anything a cuss word, if you try. The point is not always the word, it's what you're really saying. But I know you want to make better choices than that, right?"
We're almost to the school now, and my fleeting instruction time is almost gone. Will this be a moment he'll remember when he's eighteen, when he's forty? I ruffle his hair and he brushes back my hand.
"Yeah, mom. I do." And the way he pauses, stares - I can tell he's changed, convicted.
He puts the mirror down and fixes his hair.
A smile creeps across my face and inside I'm full of gratitude and humility. What a privilege it is to be His vessel. I had no idea when I'd woken up that morning that the Holy Spirit wanted to encounter my son's need for an understanding of holy speech and precious words. But He saw it - every bit of it - before it all. All I had to do was pray and open my mouth. He really did the rest, the teaching, the piercing.

And what joy to feel my mouth full of His wisdom words! I never would have guessed that would be the image needed to convict my boy's heart, but in His infinite wisdom, God knew it would take a disgusting image to display a disgusting choice and call a sin a sin. He can do that, you know.

That's why I'm convicted, too. Shattered in repentance at the fecal matter that has filled my mouth, and more than ready to spit it all out and rinse with holy mouthwash-praise. Eager to proclaim gratitude and thanks. A few of my word-thanks today:

- "What you say can mean life or death.
    Those who speak with care will be rewarded." -Proverbs 18:21 (NCV)

- precious words of wisdom from my mentor, Cathy

- pediatrician proclaiming good news - we haven't had to see him since our last physical!

- reconciliation, the conversation, the ministry, the actual doing of it

- all of Your Word - full of intercession and promises and hope

- message for fresh strength for today (Isaiah 40:31)

- "The only real difference in Paul's life is that he became centered on the freedom of Christ's presence, which enabled him to love God by serving others instead of being obsessed about his own religious achievements." - Gary Thomas in Authentic Faith

- reading The Hiding Place [Corrie ten Boom] to K, and showing her another side of history - the side of love

Lord, thank You for words. Language is so precious. Wield Your Sword in me today again. Show me more of what it means to choose my words well and to opt for that which is precious and not what is worthless. I love You, Jesus. You are worthy of us all choosing our words well.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What Every Follower of Christ Can Do to Fight Human Trafficking

Confession time. 

I have an addiction to journals. Sometimes I have to stand in the store and command my hand to put a new journal back on the shelf because I already have too many and I don't need another one, thankyouverymuch! Oh, the pretty covers and empty pages just begging to be filled ... So tempting, and then I make my feet walk past the aisle completely. True story.

I have a journal for prayer/intercession/writing ideas, a journal for my small group, a journal for my gratitude as I count blessings and gifts, and a very special journal I use on Tuesdays when I pray. (That's four current journals, if you weren't counting) A precious friend gave me this last one at the beginning of this year. 

It's a hand-made purple pocket journal made by an Indian woman from parchment and thread. I've filled it with prayers for victims and survivors of human trafficking, for that's what the maker of the journal was. And she was even more than that - a thriver, because God rescued her from her hell-on-earth life of slavery. I was a sender for this missionary-friend, and she was the go-er. She brought me back this hand-made journal with a prayer for rescue. Because we know the Rescuer, and when we can't fight with our hands and we have to come home from the field and we don't know what to do next, we pray. 

And we don't have to know what to do, because intercession is always the right thing to do.

"I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them." - 1 Timothy 2:1 (NLT)

One specific opportunity is called Prayer Bowl 2014. TraffickJ.A.M. International has initiated an intercession movement in order to fight back at the yearly event in our nation where more human trafficking takes place than at any other location/event: the Superbowl. Shocked? I was too, but then again, it makes sense. Parties, alcohol (beer ad, anyone), sports, drugs, and illicit sex have long been grouped for evil, but we CAN do something about it. We can partner with the Lord in His work to redeem this time for His glory. Please visit the above links to find out how you can be one of the 5,000 intercessors unified to stop trafficking at the Superbowl in 2014. 

And how will we pray?

What do we ask the Lord to do for victims, for survivors, for traffickers, for sex-buyers, for investigators, for safe-house volunteers, for organization leaders, and for slaves? I'm so thankful the answer is found in the Word. Praying Scripture, we never go wrong. Asking Him for what He has promised is not only enough - it's more than enough.

When we ask for great miracles pre-promised, and He comes through with redemption like only He can, lives are saved, souls are secured, and glory goes to Christ Jesus. It is "immeasurably more" (Ephesians 3:20).

Maybe this is you too, my Dear Reader. Maybe you're at a loss for what to do about millions of people enslaved around our world and you want to fight, but you don't know where to start. Change always begins with a prayer - your own or that of someone else. Sometimes that Someone is the Great Intercessor Himself who sits at the hand of the Father and pleads for us night and day. And sometimes that someone is the one in the mirror. If you're ready to really pray (as a new friend called it, getting loud and rowdy about it), God is always ready to listen. Here are a few fire-starters:

For those enslaved:  

  • Lord, You are always close to these broken-hearted slaves; You rescue them, for their spirits are surely crushed. (Psalm 34:18)
  • You hear the desires of the afflicted and you encourage them, listening to their cries. You defend these fatherless victims, these oppressed women and children, and You see to it that men no longer terrify them. Please make this promise true for many around our world today, Jesus. You have promised and we ask for it to come to pass. (Psalm 10:17-18)
  • Lord, please stand at the right hand of the needy one and save her life from those who condemn her (Psalm 109:31)
  • Father, the slave is an object of scorn to her accusers, when they see her they wag their heads. Help her, O LORD our God! Save her according to Your steadfast love! Let everyone know that this is Your hand, and You alone have rescued her soul (Psalm 109: 25-27)
  • God, please rescue these souls from the cutting words of the strong, and rescue them from the clutches of the powerful traffickers who enslave and exploit them. At last these women and children will have hope, though they are poor, and the snapping jaws of the wicked will be shut by Your hand (Job 5:15-16)
  • Lord, please remember Your word of hope to us. The comfort for the afflicted slave is that Your promise brings life. Please bring life to the lifeless and hope to the hopeless. (Psalm 119:49-50)
  • God, these women and children have been objects of cursing among their captors in the nations, but You will save them, and they will be a blessing. Help each one, Father, not to be afraid, and make their hands strong. (Zechariah 8:13)
  • Jesus, because of Your blood covenant with us, You will release the prisoners of human trafficking from their hopeless cells. We call on Your promise to call them home, and make them hope-filled freed people. Lord, we call on Your promise of declaration of a double-bonus. We plead with you to return everything that was lost and restore it twice-over. (Zechariah 9:12)
  • Oh God, enough is enough. Have mercy on these slaves, LORD, have mercy. For they have had their fill of contempt. They have had more than their fill of the scoffing of the proud and the contempt of the arrogant. We ask You for deliverance, O God. (Psalm 123:3-4)
  • Lord, You have not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and You will not hide Your face from her. Rather, You have heard and will hear when she cries to You. Hear and save, O God. (Psalm 22:24)
  • On behalf of the exploited and enslaved I pray, Lord: Though she is surrounded by troubles, You will protect her from the anger of her enemies. You reach out Your hand, and the power of Your right hand saves her. We ask for You to save her today, O God. Today. (Psalm 138:7)

For traffickers, sex-buyers, and oppressors:

  • The breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall, and like the heat of the desert. But You, O Lord, You silence the uproar of foreigners, and as the heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is stilled. (Isaiah 25:5)
  • Lord, You are good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; You know those who take refuge in You. But with an overflowing flood You will make a complete end of the adversaries and will pursue Your enemies into darkness. Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away. Though You have afflicted us, You will afflict us no more, and Lord, please break the oppressor's yoke off the slaves, and burst their bonds apart. (Nahum 1:7-8, 12-13)
  • The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear, and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down; those who with a word make a victim out to be guilty, who ensnare the defender in court and with false testimony deprive the innocent of justice. (Isaiah 29:20-21) Please wipe these evildoers off the face of the earth; Lord, make them disappear and cut them down for the way they have exploited the innocent and helpless, the hopeless and the vulnerable.
  • We trust in You always, LORD, for You are the Eternal Rock. Please humble the proud and bring down the arrogant city (trafficking rings and criminal strongholds). Bring them down to the dust. Please allow the poor and oppressed to trample them underfoot, and the needy to walk over them. Lord, in distress we searched for You. We continue to pray under the burden of Your discipline. Rescue us from this evil, Father. (Isaiah 26:4-6, 16)
  • Your Name, Jesus, is the hope of all the world. Yes, even these. (Matthew 12:21)

For the at-risk poor and vulnerable:
  • You, O God, our God, You deal on behalf of them for Your Name's sake. Because Your steadfast love is good, deliver them. They are poor and needy, and their hearts are stricken within them. (Psalm 109:21-22)
  • Oh Jesus, we call on Your promise today: "Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise. I will place her in the safety for which she longs." (Psalm 12:5)
  • Jesus - do You see how darkness covers the earth, and how thick darkness is over so many people? As the Father rises upon You, and as His glory appears over You, we will see Your light, Savior. Nations will come to Your light, and kings to the brightness of Your dawn. (Isaiah 60:2-3)
  • God, we are blessed and happy when we show loving favor to the poor. Please show us what this looks like today. (Proverbs 14:21b)

For the investigators and detectives on the front lines of rescue:
  • God, please help these brave freedom-fighters not to fear. Remind them that You have redeemed them and called them by name. They are Yours. When they pass through the waters You will be with them. When they pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over their heads. When they walk through the fire of danger, they will not be scorched and the flames will not burn them. You, the Lord - please be with them. You are the the Holy One of Israel. You are their Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3a)
  • For those who pray and fight to free the oppressed, the lights will turn on, and their lives will turn around at once. Lord, may Your righteousness through them pave their way. You, O God of glory, will secure their passage. When we pray, You will answer. Please answer. When these brave abolitionists call out for help, we trust You to say, "Here I AM."  (Isaiah 58:8-9)

For those who fight for abolition:
  • God, teach those who follow Your Son that the kind of fast You're after is to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in every workplace, free the oppressed, and cancel debts. You're interested in seeing us share our food with the hungry and invite the homeless poor into our homes, as well as empowering us to put clothes on the shivering ill-clad, even as we continue to serve our own families. (Isaiah 58:6-7)
  • Though some boast in chariots and some in horses (some in fancy cars and others in sprawling mansions), we who seek freedom for the slaves will boast in the name of You, Oh Lord Jesus. When we are victorious and set captives free, we will give You all of the glory, Father. (Psalm 20:7)
  • Lord, it is time for You to act, for every law has been broken here. (Psalm 119:126) Give us Your backing, Spirit. We know no change can come save by You.

For the recovery and restoration of rescued victims/freed slaves:
  • She has waited patiently for You, LORD; You have inclined to her and heard her cry. You drew her up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and You will set her feet upon a rock, making her steps secure. (Psalm 40:1-2)
  • You say to the rescued as you hold their hands, "Have no fear, I will help you." Lord, please open their ears to hear Your comforting words. (Isaiah 41:13)
  • Lord Your Word is perfect to revive the soul. Would You minister to these survivors through Your perfect Law. (Psalm 19:7)
  • Jesus, please give Your spirit of wisdom and revelation to these precious lives in recovery homes all around the world, so that they may know You better. Please open the eyes of their hearts and enlighten them so they will know the hope to which You have called them, and the riches of Your glorious inheritance in the saints, and we plead for You to give them Your incomparably great power, for us and for them and for everyone who believes. (Ephesians 1:17-19a)
  • Lord, we ask that You protect those coming out of horror and exploitation, and that when they seek to dwell in Your shelter, Most High, that You will give them rest in Your shadow. You are indeed the refuge and fortress for these souls in recovery and healing, Lord, and they can trust in You. Because they choose to receive Your love and love You in trusting return, Lord, please protect them as they acknowledge Your Great Name. (Psalm 91:1-2, 14)
  • Spirit, would You keep them in perfect peace all who trust in You, and all whose thoughts are fixed on You. (Isaiah 26:3)
  • As these hearts cry out to You for restoration and healing, as they lift their eyes to You, O God, enthroned in heaven; as they keep looking to You, LORD, our God for Your mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, and as slave girls watch their mistress for the slightest - would You answer from heaven with healing on Your wings. (Psalm 123:1-2, Malachi 4:2)

For us all:
  • I lift my eyes up to the mountains - where does my help come from? My help comes from You, O LORD. You are the maker of heaven and earth. You will not let my foot slip, You who watch over me will not rest; neither will You slumber or sleep. (Psalm 121:1-4)
  • Jesus, You show us these things so that we may have peace. We realize that in this world we will have trouble. Today we choose to take heart! You have indeed overcome the world. (John 16:33)
  • Oh, Father - You have delivered us from such deadly peril, and You will deliver us. On You we have set our hope that You will continue to deliver us, as we pray. In the end, many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor You will grant us in the answer to many who are praying today. (2 Corinthians 1:10-11)
  • We cry aloud to You, O God, and You hear us. In the days of trouble we seek You. We seek You even again today. In the night our hands are outstretched without wearying. Our souls refuse to be comforted until the slaves are freed and restored. When we remember their pain and Your will, we moan and our spirits faint. (Psalm 77:1-3)
  • I remember Your deeds, Lord, and Your wonders. When I ponder Your work and mighty deeds I remember that Your way is holy and what you do is good. Your ways are great and there is no god like you who is great. We recall that You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your might among the peoples. With Your arm You redeem people. You will redeem Your children. (Psalm 77:11-15)

Alright - I realize that was a long post. Honestly, it's been over a year in the making. When I find a passage that speaks to my soul about freedom I write it down in my special journal, and so many of the pages have been filled with these verses and prayers. I gave you less than half of what I've recorded so far. God's Word is brimming, overflowing, bursting with His promises, just waiting for us to agree in prayer. What I'm hoping is that you will begin wherever you are, and then move a little closer to your prayer closet. Spend a few extra minutes at the altar. Press in a little deeper into His presence as you cry out. There is more of Him to be had today.

If you care about freeing slaves around the world, then pray God's promises for their rescue and restoration. Take some of the above and begin your own intercession list. Set aside some time during your day, your week, your life to really pray. Get loud and rowdy on behalf of imprisoned souls, their rescuers, and even their captors. If God gets a hold of a trafficker or a sex-buyer and brings him to his knees, who knows what change could be brought by that one? When a survivor gives surrenders her life to the Lordship of Jesus, healing and restoration from evil are more than possible - they are guaranteed.

Let this post be a resource for your prayers, a diving board for your plunge into intercession. For those who know Christ, for those who follow Him - prayer is the simplest thing we have and also the most powerful. Why wouldn't we press in? Why would we hold back? 

In the context of awe-inspiring adoration and affection, heart-breaking confession and contrition, and breathtaking gratitude and praise, we then cry out to God to meet our deepest needs. We share the desires of our souls, not because we're trying to give him information, but because we trust in his provision. In all of this, we realize that the discipline of prayer is designed by God for our delight and pleasure. - David Platt (Follow Me)

You can do this. We can do this. Together we fight. We begin, continue, and finish with intercessory prayer. Only in this way can we glorify Him in the victorious freedom that is coming. Above all, we can trust Him. And that is why we ask Him. 

And please, don't be shy - please add your prayers here in the comments below. Together we fight, and freedom wins!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sabbath Bread {perfection in great things}

"He effectively takes away the first—animal sacrifice—in order to establish the second, more perfect sacrifice. 
By God’s will, we are made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus the Anointed once and for all time.  
In the first covenant, every day every officiating priest stands at his post serving, offering over and over those same sacrifices that can never take away sin.  
But after He stepped up to offer His single sacrifice for sins for all time, He sat down in the position of honor at the right hand of God.  
Since then, He has been waiting for the day when He rests His feet on His enemies’ backs, as the psalm says
With one perfect offering, Jesus has perfected forever those who are being made holy ..."
- Hebrews 10:9b-14 (VOICE)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sabbath Bread {the good things - my reason to sing}

"Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.

 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me.
 He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
 He fills my life with good things.
    My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!"
-Psalm 103:1-3 (NLT)