Tonight on Woodside Plymouth's online prayer event (embeded above) I mentioned some specific books to help you grow in your understanding and application of prayer. I have listed them here in one place to help you find them. I've separated them into two categories, "Books on Prayer" and "Praying Scripture." I have found each of these books instrumental in my own walk and growth in "answering God" and aligning better with him in prayer. Also be sure to check out the #PrayFirst Journal that Woodside produced to help you begin this year growing in prayer.
A New Year is upon us and we are already in the midst of the first week. Usually, at the beginning of the year we spend some time casting vision for the year ahead as well as preparing for greater gospel outreach and influence in the community. Perhaps you spend a little time evaluating your life and making some commitments or resolutions towards things you would like to change in the new year.
As we begin this new year we wanted to do something a little different. Instead of aiming ourselves at a vision or a particular trajectory we wanted to take the first several weeks of the year to aim ourselves at the Lord. We wanted to come before him with humility, seeking his direction and aim for our lives and for our church. We want to come before God in prayer and seek his face for our good and the good of our city. Like the first church in Acts 4 that went to God in prayer asking for greater boldness to share the good news of Jesus, we too want to be in the presence of God asking for his supply of grace to us so the gospel will advance. To put it another way, we want to use God's means, under God's power to accomplish what only God can accomplish. The means of connecting with God's power to accomplish what only God can accomplish is the means of prayer and fasting.
So let me ask you, what are you asking God to accomplish in your life, in your family, in the church, in the world that only he can accomplish. For many of us, myself included, our prayers are too small and too weak. We ask God for little things, which he is inclined to provide for us, but we rarely ask God for the things that only he can do. Again, I ask, what are you asking God to accomplish that only he can do?
Let me encourage you to take some time today and consider some God-sized things that you have been neglecting to pray for. It may be for the salvation of a family member that is very far from God. It could be for the removal of a besetting sin that you so deeply long for God to free you from. I am praying for some things that are beyond my grasp as a husband, father, and pastor in 2017. I don't want to settle for prayers that just get me through the day. I believe in the power of God and the bigness of God and the goodness of God to do all that he has purposed in this world and through prayer I want to seek first his kingdom in my life, at Woodside Plymouth, and among the nations for the sake of his glory. I want to pray big this year.
I also want you to "pray big" this year. I want to encourage you to go before God with big requests, big needs, big ambitions for his glory, and ask God with courage for the great things he can do in the world. John Knox was a pastor in Scotland who has inspired me this way. He prayed to God for his country, that his fellow Scots would turn to Christ and be saved. He prayed to the Lord and said, "give me Scotland, or I die!" Could you pray that for your workplace or neighborhood? Would you pray that with me for Plymouth/Canton/Westland/Northville/Livonia/Ann Arbor?
I'd love to share with you in your prayers as well and invite you to join us in prayer over the next few weeks. As the church gathers for Revival Prayer on Sunday, January 8 and 15 at 5pm we will pray together as a church for the big things that we long to see God accomplish in our church and in the world. Please join us for those times of prayers. Additionally, join me on Facebook Live (just follow the Woodside Plymouth page) on Thursday the 5th and 12th as I lead us in Evening Prayer at 9pm. If you have specific requests that you would like me to pray for please reply to this email and I will pray for you and those requests online.
As the "father of modern missions", William Carey was so given to say, "expect great things from God, attempt great things for God!"Let's expect and ask through prayer and then attempt as we obey him in all our lives. I am praying big for you this year.
This year, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On Oct 31, 1517 the German monk, Martin Luther, nailed 95 Theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg as a way of publicly interacting with the Catholic Church, and the Pope, over various issues and abuses he noted in Church. With the invention of the printing press the writings of Luther began to spread quickly and mounted a challenge to the ecclesiastical and political structures of Luther's day. From those initial 95 Theses a movement began that has deeply shaped the world today.
I am a lover of history, and a lover of theology. While one of my earliest critiques of those who talked about Reformed theology was that they seemed to only go back to the sixteenth century, I am confident more than ever that the truths that Luther and Calvin and other "Reformers" spoke of went back directly to Jesus and Paul. They were, in fact, taking us to the intended meaning of the Scriptures themselves when they talked about justification by faith alone. The Reformers developed their teaching on the sovereignty of God, the depravity of humanity, the unmerited grace of God, and the security and perseverance of the saints to glory from a clear and sound method of Biblical interpretation. Reformed theology, is in my opinion, simply Biblical Christianity.
In light of that this year I am building into my reading life a few works on the Reformation that I would recommend to you. They are no more than 250 pages each and are written for the general public. I am going to read Luther on Galatians this year, probably in October, specifically so I get a primary source on the Reformation. I hope these will be of benefit to you, and challenge you in your own understanding of theology and history so that you will grow. Here's to a happy 500th anniversary!
I know its a few days after the New Year but I wanted to highlight some of the music that made my favorites in 2016. This last year I picked up a Spotify account to see if streaming music (versus owning music) would impact the way I listened to and enjoyed music. For one thing it opened up my horizons. No longer was I limited to just the music I had purchased via iTunes, but now I could actually listen to artists I was unfamiliar with and unsure of. The Spotify account allowed me to take a risk and find new artists. It also helped me feel okay about not liking certain albums or artist because I wasn't on the hook financially for an album I purchased. In some way the Spotify account solidified what I liked even more, and I went out and purchased several of those albums.
Last Christmas my wife purchased a turntable for me so I have a growing vinyl collection and that influenced the music I enjoyed the most as well. Something about the pops and deep tones of a vinyl album just makes the music sound better.
Here are the albums that were my favorites (and therefore my best) of 2016.
1. Medicine - Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors
Technically a 2015 album, however I didn't discover it until this last year. With the release of Live at the Ryman this year it makes the cut because much of that live album was Medicine. Two songs in particular hit the roof for me: Avalanche and American Beauty. Overall the album is a tour de force in Americana Folk. Getting to see them (partly) live at St. Andrews in Detroit was a treat as well this year. I am looking forward to Souvenir later this year.
2. HARDLOVE - NEEDTOBREATE
Honestly, it was a fair and long fight between HARDLOVE and Medicine this year, but I came back a little bit more to Medicine. HARDLOVE was my summer jam. It will be firmly fixed in my heart whenever I think of my summer vacation to Colorado and driving across the plains of Nebraska in the family minivan. Few albums are complete from first to last, but I felt that from MOUNTAIN, pt. 1 all the way through to CLEAR this album was the complete package lyrically and musically.
3. The Narrative - Sho Baraka
Yes, this is a hip-hop album. No, I am not an expert on hip-hop. Yet I've felt it important to listen to other cultures, especially outside of my own experience, so that I can understand and grow as a neighbor and friend to others. The Narrative
is important to me this year because I've been growing in my understanding of the deeply seated racism that exists in our country and in our churches. Sho's song, "Maybe Both, 1865" challenged my thinking beyond my white, suburban, middle-class presuppositions.
4. Liturgy of the Seasons - The Crossing Music
Apart from the Best of Journey album that I received as my first vinyl record this quartet of albums themed around the seasons of the year from The Crossing Church in Columbia, Missouri were my next foray into vinyl. They are beautiful rearrangements of hymns and worship music. They have stayed with me all year long and have began to be incorporated into our singing as a church family.
Several other albums hit the register for me this year including Sandra McCracken's God's Highway, Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool and the Lumineers' Cleopatra. If music was a commodity then I suppose we'd be rich, full, and happy for centuries with what 2016 gave us. I am all the more excited about what artists and songs will speak to my heart and soul in this next year.
As the New Year begins for many of us a new set of commitments or resolutions are developed. Something about the transition from an old year into a new one always brings a measure of self-reflection and recalibration to my life. 1 John 2:6 reminds me that, "whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." My life must be patterned and shaped by Jesus' life. Disciples of Jesus are people who are becoming like Christ in every sphere of their lives because they have been united with him through his life, death, and resurrection.
Many of us long to be better people. I know I want 2017 to be a year of growth and improvement. But I don't want to just grow or improve for the sake of saying I improved myself. I want to reach the goal for which I have been created and redeemed. I want to walk as Jesus walked.
If you're like me though that last sentence needs some definition. Specifically, how will I walk as Jesus walked in new and growing ways this year?
If I look at Jesus' life on this earth in the Gospels I notice a set of patterns that come out about the way in which he lived. In a future post I will elaborate more on where these patterns are seen in Jesus' life, and why I have identified them as the matrix by which we can discern growth and maturity within our Christian lives. But for the sake of the rest of this post, I want to identify the patterns and ask a probing question that will help you identify some specific ways you can grow in 2017 to walk as Jesus walked. Here they are:
We are created to be worshippers. God has hardwired that into our DNA. We were created to worship him above all other things. However we have chosen to worship false idols and exchanged worshipping God for the things that were created. Jesus, however, never exchanged the worship of God for another created thing. He lived a life of devoted worship by always glorifying and exalting his Father above all else.
In 2017, what idol in your heart will you fight to cast down and replace with a true worship of God?
Unlike God I am not all-knowing. And yet Jesus said that true life is "that [we] know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3)." If true life is knowing God then I have not arrived and so I must grow in my knowledge and understanding of him. To say with Paul, "that I may know him!" Jesus himself displayed a pattern of growing in "wisdom and stature and favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52) and gave himself to understanding his Father's will in all circumstances.
In 2017, how will you posture your life so that you can know God more deeply? What will your pattern of learning be?
The first thing that God found that was "not good" in Creation was the lack of community within humanity. Adam was alone. To remedy this God made one like Adam, yet distinct from him so the he and she could live in community together, thus displaying the image of the Triune God, who is eternally in communion with himself. Jesus did not isolate himself in his ministry but formed a family of disciples who were to become the first church. As such, spiritual maturity means living out the new commandment to "love one another just as I have loved you" (John 13:34).
In 2017, how will you work for the unity of the church by living in community with other believers?
God serves us. He has since our first day. He serves us by being the Creator, by giving us life and breath and every good thing, even when we don't deserve it. Jesus himself stated that he came "not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)." This was the posture of his entire life. He gave himself for us. Walking as Jesus walked means giving myself for the sake of others, even those who are my enemies or are different from me. It means sacrificing my comfort, security, and control to help others.
In 2017, how will you serve others who are different from you or difficult for you to serve?
Jesus did not merely come as a moral example for us to learn from and emulate. He came to rescue and redeem us from our greatest problems; Satan, sin, and death. He did this through his perfect life, his sacrificial atoning death, and his powerful resurrection from the dead. The action of Jesus on our behalf is a good news message that we must respond to and a message that we must declare to the world. Just as the Father sent him, Jesus says, "I also send you" (John 20:21). We are to be his witnesses in all the world.
In 2017, who will you share the good news of Jesus with?
Growing In the Patterns
My hope is that these Patterns and questions will spark some thinking on your part about how you can grow spiritually. I will be writing more this year on these Patterns, how Jesus embraced them in his own life, and how they can shape and influence our lives so that we will walk as Jesus walked. The fruit of these Patterns however comes from abiding in Christ, which is what happens when we trust in Christ and place our faith and hope in him. My prayer for you is that in 2017 you will embrace Christ as your Lord and in so doing bear the fruit of a growing, vibrant relationship with him through the Patterns of Spiritual Growth.