Gratitude Journal: One of The Most Rewarding Things I Have Done

I have journaled off and on since becoming a Christian in high school. But it has always been inconsistent. Even more, I felt strange about what to write. “Dear diary” seemed a strange approach to me. Several years ago a friend gave me the idea of keeping a gratitude journal and it has been one of the best things I have done. Now, the number 1 priority for my journal is to record the things I am thankful for. I use it for more than this. But using the journal for this has constrained my practice and made it a little easier to stay on track.

I write in my journal 3-4 times per week on average. Sometimes less. It us usually less than a page. Here are four significant things I have learned:

  • This is hard. I am surprised at how difficult this has been. My life is overflowing with blessings and often I find it hard to find something to write. My heart seems wired to complain and focus on the problems. This discipline has forced me to see the blessings in my life and put it down on paper.

  • One of the real benefits is in going back to review the journal. I have a day calendared once a month for reflection and solitude. I don’t always succeed at keeping this, but it has been helpful. I have created a list of profitable things to do on a day like this. One of them is to go back and review my journal. This has encouraged me to see God’s hand of mercy in my life. Throughout scripture God’s people left memorials and landmarks. This has functioned like those memorials.

  • This practice has helped me to see the big picture and overcome my emotional ups and downs. It shows me progress in my life over time. I just spent an hour doing reading entries from last year. Wow. So much mercy.. I often go back and make notes from what I read. It gives me ideas and helps me counter the false ideas that come from culture and my own heart. I am NOT a victim. Life is not horrible. The sky is not falling. My cup overflows.

  • Many of the things I read in later months are things that I would not have recalled if I had not written them down. Simple things like a good night of sleep, relief from a bad tooth ache, a meaningful conversation with one of my kids, growth in the way my wife and I handle problems, answers to prayer, etc.

A Great App for Bible Memorization: Fighter Verses

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As we enter the new year it is great to renew our commitment to God’s word. Last week we had a message on this. Here is a follow up on that, with a tool for scripture memory. Recently I have switched back to traditional flash cards because the other features on my phone were too much of a distraction. However, I still use the app when I am away from home as I don’t carry my cards with me everywhere.

The fighter verses app for iOS from Desiring God is a great tool for scripture memory. You can also get it for Android on Google play. This was created to help Bethlehem Baptist church work on scripture memory as a congregation. They have a set calendar of what they are memorizing together. I don’t use this feature but many of the others.

The app allows you to “add a verse” of your own to the list. You can also categorize the verses by topic (e.g. anxiety, temptation, etc). The greatest benefits include:

  • The app goes with you on your iPhone or android so it is a great alternative to mindless activities online when you have a few extra moments.

  • You can share the verse to social media or make a cool screen background to remind you of an important passage from within the app.

  • You can listen to a single verse or larger passage you are trying to memorize by playing the audio of the verse. This will simply loop and play it again and again until you stop. I have used this feature to listen to a larger psalm that I am trying to memorize several times in one sitting, or perhaps while driving.

  • The “quizzes” feature includes helpful ways to engage your mind while you are working on the verses. These are really helpful. You can work on filling in the verse with words blanked out at various levels until all the words are blank. You can record yourself reciting the verse and then listen to the recording with the words in front of you to check your progress. etc. This is great to use with kids too.

  • The app is inexpensive, you can get it for a few bucks. Well worth the price.

Call to Confession

The Prayer of Confession we used this past Sunday:

PRAYER OF CONFESSION 
Father of mercies, Quiet our anxious thoughts and help us to be still before you. We confess that we do not run to you as our refuge and strength, but turn to many other sources of hope and help when our souls are troubled. When our lives fall apart and our hearts are like roaring and foaming seas, we are prone to fear you, accuse you, hate you, and feel abandoned by you. If we have been obedient to you, we think that you owe us better than this cup of suffering. When we have disobeyed, we fear that you are judging us and imagine that we have spoiled your wonderful plan for our lives. Father, thank you for your presence with us in our joy and our sorrow, in our strength and our weakness. We praise you that we cannot ruin your plans, for you work all things, even our own sin and the sins of others against us, together for our good and for your glory.

Lord Jesus, you obeyed your Father with every thought and action, yet his wonderful plan for your life was to give you the bitter cup of suffering that should have been ours. You trusted and loved God even when he didn’t let that cup pass from you; your faith never wavered when he turned his back on you, so that he would never have to forsake us. Thank you for obeying in our place and giving us your righteousness.

Holy Spirit, exalt Christ in our hearts. Give us strength to trust in him, for we are weak and it is hard to practice what we believe. You alone can restrain our sin, for without your grace to sustain us, we quickly fall. When we resist sin, show us that all the glory is yours and not ours. When we fall, remind us of the oceans of love and forgiveness that are ours in Christ, and of your complete sovereignty over all sin. May we treasure Christ in our weakness and failure, celebrating the love of such a wonderful Savior. Thank you for times of pain when you dismantle our idolatries and disarm the fortresses that we turn to instead of you. When life is stormy, let us find safety, peace, and hope in Christ, our best refuge and only source of true and lasting strength. In his priceless name we pray, amen.

- Taken from the book, Prone to Wander: Prayers of Confession and Celebration

You can purchase either the physical or electronic version of the book by clicking here.


Confession of Sin

This is the Litany of Confession we used this morning during our worship service. Someone asked me for a copy so I figured I would share it. It is adapted from a Presbyterian book of worship.

Prayer of Confession

Almighty God: you alone are good and holy. Forgive us for our sins, purify our lives, and make us brave disciples. 

We do not ask you to keep us safe,but to keep us loyal, so that we may serve Jesus Christ.Your goodness continues to lead us to repentance, and we are controlled by the love of Christ.

We confess our sins and cry out that you to make us more like your son Jesus.

From lack of reverence for truth and beauty; for participating with carnal and ugly things; 

O God, deliver us. 

From cowardice that avoids the truth; laziness content with half-truth;or arrogance that thinks we know it all; 

O God, deliver us. 

From loving in words and talk rather than in truth and deed.

O God, deliver us. 

From a hypocritical life and worship; from all that is hollow or insincere; 

O God, deliver us. 

From loving the pleasures of the world, from rudeness, pride and gossip. 

O God, deliver us. 

From neglect of your word and the fellowship and worship of your church 

O God, deliver us. 

From being satisfied with things as they are in the church or in the world;from failing to share your indignation about injustice; 

O God, deliver us. 

From selfishness, entitlement, or self-pity; 

O God, deliver us. 

From token concern for the poor,for lonely or loveless people;from confusing faith with good feelings, or love with wanting to be loved; 

O God, deliver us. 

From losing our savor as the salt of the earth and hiding our lights from a dark world

O God, deliver us

From trusting idols and trying to serve two masters,

O God, deliver us. 

God we believe your promise to forgive all our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We take comfort that you look in mercy on those who are humble, and contrite and who tremble at your word.  Amen

Adapted from the book of common worship p. 404, Westminster/John Knox Press Louisville, KY 1993

 

 

An Important Characteristic of Biblical Preaching

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Here is an important article from Albert Mohler on the characteristics of Biblical and Historic Christian preaching. He speaks of the idea that the preacher is delivering a message with authority because it comes from God. Our generation doesn't sit well with authority. This is in part because of our history as a group of rebels to the crown, as well as the abuse of authority. But the abuse of authority by humanity doesn't mean we abandon the authority of God's word.

Please pray that our church would experience and hold on to this.

He quotes Lloyd-Jones:

"Any study of church history, and particularly any study of the great periods of revival or reawakening, demonstrates above everything else just this one fact: that the Christian Church during all such periods has spoken with authority. The great characteristic of all revivals has been the authority of the preacher. There seemed to be something new, extra, and irresistible in what he declared on behalf of God."

Sin Is Crouching At The Door

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In Genesis chapter 4, Moses records the sad story of the children of Adam and Eve. This is the generation after the fall into sin. In many ways this is the pilot episode for the rest of the history of the world. Conflict, anger, lying, competition, envy, and bloodshed have become the new normal for humanity. 

From one perspective, the ugliness of Genesis 4 is really a cautionary tale about an unheeded warning. After Cain offer’s an unacceptable sacrifice to God, he becomes very angry, to the extent his whole appearance is affected. “His face falls.”  God offers a rebuke to Cain and warns him in the following words: “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”  (Genesis 4:6-7, ESV)

This is the first time the word “sin” is mentioned in the Bible. And much of this account is about the power of sin to grow, overcome, and completely dominate a person.  Cain rejects God’s words, and the rest of the passage is a revelation of what it looks like to be overcome with sin. Anger ripens to premeditated murder of a brother. God describes sin like a deadly predator, a lion crouching just before it takes its prey by the throat and dominates it. Sin wants to take control. 

Cain needed this warning, and so do we, because this is not how we view sin. We downplay our own faults. We believe that we are in control. That we have mastery over the dark impulses of our hearts. We see our sin as a little kitten that is easy to handle, rather than a man-eater.

This portrait of sin is taken up repeatedly through the Bible. Sin is compared to weeds that grow and choke the power of God’s word in our souls (Matt 13:22). Sin is compared to a little spark that can start a whole forest fire (James 3:5). It is compared to deadly gangrene that can spread through a whole church (2 Tim 2:17). And frequently sin is compared to leaven, which is similar to our modern understanding of yeast. The smallest pinch of yeast will take over a lump of dough as big as the world, given enough time.  “A little leaven, leavens the whole lump.” (I Cor. 5:6, Gal 5:9)

    This is one of the lessons of the feast of unleavened bread in the Old Testament. The Jews were to clean out their houses and cupboards of all the yeast/leaven. This is symbolic of making a thorough dealing with the sin in our lives. Paul uses this metaphor in I Cor. 5:7 as a way to instruct us in dealing with sin.

Sin grows, consumes, dominates and destroys. Here are a few ways to apply this idea:

  1. Do not underestimate sin’s power in your life. It is deceitful. Sometimes we don’t see the way sin is working in our lives. Sometimes we don’t want to see it.  When you see one cockroach, assume there is a colony in waiting.
  2. Do not tolerate sin in your own life. There is an important discussion to have on what this means in our dealings with other people in the world. That is for a different place. Suffice it to say that we cannot escape the sins of other people unless we leave the world entirely (I Cor. 5:9-10).  But we must not tolerate any known sin in our lives. Don’t make excuses for it. Don’t rationalize it. Don’t minimize it. Don’t blame others for it. Don’t make peace with it. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,  the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18) The word for cherish comes from the root word “to look after,” and has the idea of looking on something with pleasure. We do this when we treat sin as a welcome friend rather than a hostile enemy. This is a helpful metaphor because it connects well with the idea of repentance, which literally means “a change of mind.” Obviously repentance is more than changing our mind, but it starts there. The first step to turning away from sin begins in the way we view it. We must see it the way God sees it.  We must see it as an enemy, as cancer. We must starve it. We must work to evict it. We must kill it (Romans 8:13).  This is why Paul says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14)
  3. Attack sin when it is small and you are first aware of it. Small weeds are easier to pull than big ones. I had a friend go in for colon cancer screening 10 years before it is normally recommended. She did this because of her family history. One physician didn’t think it was necessary.  But when they looked, they found a small tumor that she was able to have treated. The doctor that found the tumor said it probably would have slowly grown without being noticed for 10 years or so until it had done a lot of damage and spread.  The delay could have been fatal. We know that early detection and treatment works for cancer, the same is true for sin.  Look with alarm at small patterns of ingratitude, anger, bitterness, greed, etc.  
  4. Ask God to search your heart for hidden faults. In Psalm 139 David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” In Psalm 19 he prayed, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.  Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;  let them not have dominion over me!  Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.”  Obviously these ideas are not only in the New Testament.  We also need the help of other christians in this regard: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)
  5. You cannot do this on your own. You need divine help. The good news is this: Jesus helps us in our weakness. We don’t have enough wisdom, discipline, or strength to manage all of this. Our battle against sin is fought in two ways. There is the conscious intentional battle that we fight, and then there is the part that is unconscious to us. We must work to search our hearts and turn away from sin. But the Holy Spirit works in us continually to help us grow. I John 1:7 expresses this in the context of dealing with the reality of sin in our lives: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” The tense of the word “cleanse” is present, active, indicative. It could be translated “the blood of Jesus his son IS CLEANSING US from all sin.” When does this happen? As we walk in the light. The ongoing work of growth and cleansing happens as we walk with him and one another. A farm worker covered in dirt from a day’s labor can get clean by taking a shower, but much of the dirt gets washed off as he spends his day working around the irrigation sprinklers.  That is how it happens with us. As we trust and walk with Christ he is at work to cleanse us and overthrow sin in our lives.

 

Cain and Abel

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This Sunday we will continue our exposition of Genesis, looking at chapter 4. The first family, the first sacrifice, the first murder.  Sin has taken hold and is now a master. Here is a great comment to whet your appetite:

"Ch. 3 showed how sin disrupts relations between God and human beings and between man and wife. Ch. 4 shows it destroying the bonds of brotherhood. Indeed, Cain is portrayed as a more hardened sinner than Adam. Killing one’s brother is more wicked than eating a protected fruit. Adam had to be persuaded to sin; Cain could not be dissuaded from sinning, even by God himself." 

New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Ed. D. A. Carson et al. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994. 63–64. Print.