Prayer is…

“Prayer is abandoning my reliance on me and running toward the rest that can be found only when I rely on the power of God.” -Paul David Tripp

My son, stands there with his hands in the air and cries, “ah, ah, ah, ah!”  He doesn’t know many words, but he still has needs.  And right now, he needs his Daddy to pick him up.  When I scoop him up into my arms, he points at the light above our heads.

“Good pointer, Z!”  I say, because we’ve been working on being able to point with one finger.  “Do you want to see the light?”

And then I lift him up so he can reach out and touch the ceiling lamp over our heads.  He smiles and laughs as I bring him down.  He can’t do any of these things on his own.  He needs his Daddy to pick him up and then lift him up to the light.  He needs his Daddy and he knows it.

The crazy thing is that we grow up and then somehow think that we don’t need our heavenly Father.  We can do this.  We’ve got everything under control.  But the truth is that we can’t do it and our lives aren’t under control.  If we’re honest, we’re a sinful mess.  We NEED God and the power of his Holy Spirit.  The other crazy thing is that God has already promised to give us what we need.  Jesus knew that we would struggle with this, so he said,

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

I would never give my son a snake or poisonous insect!  And yet, I forget that my perfectly loving heavenly Father wants to give me even more.  All I need to do is run to him, with my arms outstretched, and ask.  That is what prayer is for you.  Or as Paul David Trip said,

“Prayer is abandoning my reliance on me and running toward the rest that can be found only when I rely on the power of God.”


Down & Dirty Theology: Giving Death the Finger

Some of you might remember that I wrote about Troy back in December.  At the time, he was facing terminal cancer.  At the time I wrote,

This past weekend, I led singing for a baptism service.  It was for a man named Troy.  Troy wanted to make a profession of faith about his love for Jesus, above all else.  He also wanted to tell his kids that God is a better Father than he will ever be.  “So when I’m gone,” Troy said, “remember this day.”

I also wrote,

I’m following the example of Troy.  I want to serve God now.  I want to worship God now, instead of idols, in the wilderness of our world.

Troy died this week and went to be with Jesus in eternity.  As I reflected on Troy’s life and how to worship in this wilderness, I was reminded of something else I wrote, after my son died.  I want to share it with you as we remember the testimony of Troy Mann and follow his example in walking with Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death…


Life moves on.  I get up in the morning and put my pants on, one leg at a time.  I eat my cereal and drive to work just like everyone else.  As I watch the faces of the other drivers, I wonder, “What they are thinking about?”.

The death of a loved one changes us in too many ways to count.  And now as I look again at the faces of the people driving past me on the way work, I realize at least one thing my son’s death has enabled me to do…

It enables me to give death “the finger”.

You might be shocked that I would say that.  But stay with me…at my son’s funeral, we sang Matt Mahr’s song, “Christ is Risen”.  The bridge is taken directly from Paul in 1 Corinthians where he paraphrases Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14.  He writes about the resurrection…



As we sang, Sara and I raised our hands to worship the Lord of Life, but as we did that, I instinctively turned my open hand into a fist.  I wasn’t just praising God, I was insulting sin and death that had taken our son.

I was giving death the finger.

Death might think that it took my son forever.  Death might think that it took Troy forever, but we know that because of Jesus this is temporary.  And as we live now, we are following Paul’s lead in defiantly living in the face of death with tears in our eyes.  Think about it…

Where is death’s power to hurt us?  We believers are dead and then we come back to live again forever.  We are out of death’s reach.  What kind of heat is it packing now?  We can trash-talk it’s power and give the finger to it’s wrath.  And the grave?!?!?! Where is it’s victory?  We used to be it’s prisoners, but now the doors are blown open.  The locks and dead-bolts have been broken.  Our chains are thrown off.  Death has died and captivity is now captive.

I still get up in the morning and put my pants on, one leg at a time, just like the other drivers on their way to work every day.  But for me, for us, we can now give death the finger.

New Song: One Day (When We All Get to Heaven)

Have you suffered a major illness?  Have you lost someone you love?  I have.  And the older I get, the more I look forward to the glory of Heaven with Jesus.

This weekend we are learning a new/old song about heaven.  It’s based on the old hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven”.  The original song was written by Eliza Edmunds Hewitt.  This amazing woman was a school teacher in Philadelphia and a christian volunteer who was deeply devoted to teaching the Bible to kids.  Eliza’s goal in writing her songs was to reach children and teach them the basic truths of the gospel.  She also enjoyed a long personal friendship with Fanny Crosby, another famous worship song writer.  The new song we are learning was recorded by Matt Redman with new verses.

But before we jump in, a few opening thoughts about heaven…

First, Heaven is the place where God dwells and the Jesus is preparing for us.  However, it’s also good to remember that the point of heaven is not that we “get out of here”, but that God brings his rule and reign (heaven) down to us in the new heavens and the new earth.

Secondly, there are two major views about what happens in heaven.  1. We know that we will have eternity to worship/contemplate/learn more and more about our infinite God.  2. We will be reunited with all believers throughout history without any sin or death.  These are both true, but I’d like to add a third thing we know about heaven.  3. Heaven will be all of that and more…we will be face to face with God!

Lastly, I think it’s important to remember that this song is sung by believers and to believers.  We still hold that heaven is a place for believers and that salvation is through the work of Christ alone and his grace and mercy to us as sinners.

Alright, enough talking…let’s jump in…We start at the end of time.  That’s right, the first verse comes from Revelation.

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” -21:4

[Verse 1]
One day You’ll make everything new, Jesus
One day You will bind every wound
The former things shall all pass away
No more tears

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. -1 Corinthians 13:12b

[Verse 2]
One day You’ll make sense of it all, Jesus
One day every question resolved
Every anxious thought left behind
No more fear

And then we come to heaven and the chorus that most of us have heard before.  It comes from 1 Corinthians and Revelation.  I love the added heading in the ESV version before Revelation 19.  It reminds us that all believers will be “Rejoicing in Heaven” because of the salvation victory of Jesus over sin and death.

[Rejoicing in Heaven] After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God… -19:1

Then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

…thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -1 Corinthians 15:54-56a

When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory

Onto the next two verses.  Verse 3 refers to the book of 1 Corinthians…

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. -1 Corinthians 13:12a

 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  -1 Corinthians 15:52-53a

[Verse 3]
One day we will see face to face, Jesus
Is there a greater vision of grace
And in a moment, we shall be changed
On that day

Finally, we are encouraged by Paul not to lose heart, but to finish the race…

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  -2 Corinthians 4:17

[Verse 4]
And one day we’ll be free, free indeed, Jesus
One day all this struggle will cease
And we will see Your glory revealed
On that day


“I make all things new.”  Here is the narrative in its fullness. The world and its history belongs to God, and he has been, is now, and will be making all things new. 

-Robert Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals


Who was the world’s first human worship leader?

Take a moment to think it through.

If you said, “David”, you need to go back a bit further to just after the beginning of time.

If you said, “Adam and Eve”, you got it right!  Adam and Eve were not only the first people created, but also the first worship leaders of all creation.  God made this place called Eden and then a king and queen in place to rule over it.

“But how were Adam and Eve worship leaders?” you ask.

I’m glad you asked.  Because God’s word tells us, but it might not be the way you think.  First, Eden wasn’t just a garden.  It was a special place where God and man could live together.  Genesis tells us that God “walked” in the garden with Adam and Eve.

Secondly, Adam was not just the king, he was also a priest.  But it wasn’t leading worship services or sing-a-longs.  There was no need for any of that.  All of life was acceptable to God because sin hadn’t entered the world.  AND, everything that Adam and Eve did was an act of worship.  It was all a loving response to what God had made.  Author Mike Cosper writes that

“it was as if they drew all of creation’s praise into a single and unified ‘hallelujah’ and ‘amen’.”

And this is how it was meant to be.  Worship is supposed to be all of our lives.  This idea that we come together for one hour once a week to worship in a way that is separate from the rest of our lives isn’t apart of the worship in Eden.  The idea that we need to sing certain songs or take part in certain rituals is also not apart of the worship in Eden.  Cosper continues, “if someone were to ask Adam, ‘When do you worship?’ he might reply, ‘When do we not!'”

For us during the Advent season, may we have more of this attitude.  May our worship be like the worship in Eden.  We aren’t perfect, but it’s a worthy goal to have all of our lives be an act of worship to God even when we are worshiping in the wilderness.

But more on that, next week…


*Multiple quotes from “Rhythms of Grace” by Mike Cosper here.  Thanks, Mike!

Happy Reformation Day

Happy Reformation Day!

This October 31st is Reformation Day.  I grew up in a home where we celebrated Reformation Day with pumpkins, costumes and orange T-shirts that said, “Happy Reformation Day!”

Yes, it was a little weird, but fun weird!

This year, we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that made it possible to have another category of Christian.  Because of the Reformation, we are Protestants.  October 31st is the day we celebrate because that is the day a Catholic monk named Martin Luther, mailed or nailed (It’s not clear which one it was!) a list of 95 statements or thesis to the church authorities.  His main point was that salvation comes through faith in Jesus alone.  That got him called before a religious court to defend himself and eventually ex-communicated.

Now some will say that we shouldn’t celebrate the Reformation.  And honestly, there is some validity to that.  In addition to war and blood-shed between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians, the Reformers themselves had some flaws.  For example,

  • Luther used brutal insults in addressing his opponents including Catholics, Jews and Anabaptists.  While Luther talked about Jews in connection with the bible and theology, some of his comments seem to be anti-Semitic.
  • Zwingli, like John Calvin, approved of the drowning of Felix Manz, a leader in the new Anabaptist movement.

As people who take regular trips to Israel and have Anabaptists in their background, this is troubling.  However, I think it’s possible to still celebrate the reformation for what it was.  It was a group of sinners who read the Bible and were changed.  That’s it.  One of Luther’s 95 Theses (You know, the list he supposedly nailed or mailed?) simply states, “The Church’s true treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Later, a year before he died, Luther wrote, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.”

This is one of the main messages of the Reformation.  When God’s people read the Bible in their own language, God’s Spirit reforms lives.  The Reformation started 500 years ago, but it’s not something for us just to remember.  It’s something for us to live out.  We are to keep being reformed day after day by the power of God’s Spirit speaking through His Word.

That might even be a good reason to carve a pumpkin with Martin Luther’s face on it and wear an orange T-shirt.  Happy Reformation Day!


Jesus is Our Worship Leader

Last night I was driving home after a night of beautiful chaos…musicians, vocalists and techs coming together to work on a new song, “Your Name is Matchless.”  The lights of the passing cars reflected on the windshield as the line, “ransomed the captives / your name is matchless / beauty for ashes / your name is matchless”, circled in my brain.

It’s in those moments, that we again experience the gospel.  That is the gospel in a nutshell.  That is the “wonderful exchange” where Christ takes the ashes of our sinful, enslaved hearts and makes them beautiful.  That is the moment where he takes our unworthy prayers and wrinkled worship and offers them up to the Father as our high priest.  And we know that it is all an acceptable offering because of “Jesus’ sake”.  One author has said it this way,

Whatever else our worship is, it is our…amen to the worship of Christ…Christian worship is…our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father, in his vicarious life of worship and intercession.*

This might be a new idea for some of us.  We don’t think about it, but some of the songs we sing and some of the language we use makes it seem as if we are worshiping a God who is with us when we sing the right songs or play the right synth pad.   The truth is this:  we worship a God of grace who intercedes for us.  Hebrews says it this way,

…because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever.  Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him.  He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.  He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. (7:24-26)

Did you notice that the word “forever” is used more than once?  This isn’t something that was done only once.  Jesus only had to die once, but he continues to offer up our prayers and worship to make them pleasing through his sacrifice now and forever.

He is our worship leader.

He is our high priest.

As I pulled into my street and saw the the streetlights sending shadows up into the trees, I again heard the words of the song.  “…beauty for ashes / your name is matchless”

*Quote from James B. Torance, “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace”

New Song: What a Beautiful Name

I recently heard a definition of prayer that applies to worship as well.  “Prayer is intimacy with God that brings about His Kingdom purposes in our lives.”*

As I look at the lyrics of this new song from Hillsong, I think it helps take us from an intimacy with God to a greater sense of of His Kingdom.  It uses three adjectives for the name of Jesus: Beauty, Wonder and Power.  And it also starts with the Genesis story as told in John.  So, let’s jump in and see the scriptures the song-writers used…they start with Creation…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. John 1:-2

From there we jump to Colosians where we read about the hidden glory of God in the Old Testament which is now revealed in Jesus, the hope of glory.  Paul writes,

“…God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” -Colossians 1:27

V1: You were the Word at the beginning -John 1
One With God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation
Now revealed in You our Christ

From there, we hit the first description of Jesus’ name.  The song-writers used the word “Beauty”.  Why?  Fortunately, someone asked them!  They said they used the word because it “evokes the tenderness of His love and the sweetness of His presence.”**

Ch1: What a beautiful Name it is
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a beautiful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

Verse 2 uses poetic language to describe Jesus coming from Heaven to earth.  He is fully God and brought his divine presence (heaven) with him to us.  I think the song-writers are referring to this passage in Phillipians:

Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (2:6-7)

The next two lines come from John and Paul who talk about the greater love of God that will never allow us to be seperated again…

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. -1 John 4:10

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:38-39

V2: You didn’t want Heaven without us
So Jesus, You brought heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now

The second chorus is identical to the first EXCEPT for the adjective.  And again, we have to ask the question, “Why?”  Why do the writers use the word “wonder”?  They said that it “speaks to our gratitude for salvation and awe at the lengths of His sacrifice.”**

Ch2: What a wonderful Name it is
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King…
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

Up until this point, we’ve been talking about the impact of the gospel on our own lives.  But the bridge helps make the shift towards God’s Kingdom purposes.  In case you haven’t read the end of the story, GOD WINS!

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it…The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” -Matthew 27:50-51, 28:2, 5

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”-1 Corinthians 15:54-55

“…to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” – Revelation 1:6b

…far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked”…-Ephesians 1:21

Br: Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You
You silenced the boast, of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring, the praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again
You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever, God You reign
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name, above all names

The last adjective used is “Power”.  This word “affirms His supremacy and Sovereignty—an exhortation to remember our access to the power of God in every situation, as we seek first the kingdom and declare the Name of Jesus.”**  And by the way, “…the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” -Matthew 16:18

Vs3: What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a powerful Name it is
Nothing can stand against
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus


*This isn’t a direct quote, but a paraphrase of Daniel Henderson.  He is the author of Old Paths/New Power and other books on prayer.

**Quotes from the Hillsong blog.

Faith and Date Candy

On Tuesday, I was making date candy.

To be exact, I was helping my daughter make date candy, but that’s besides the point.  On Tuesday, I tasted date candy and it was an amazing experience…the sweet, gooey flavor mixed with a sprinkling of nuts and cinnamon.  Wowsers.  It changed my life.

Ok, maybe that’s a slight overstatement, but I am hoping that there was some small life change.  But before I tell you what I mean, let’s back up.

This year, our family has decided to homeschool.  I’m not sure if we will do it long term.  There are lots of good educational options, but for this year, we are hoping that it will help us gel as a family with two adults, an 11-year old girl and an 8-month old baby boy.  So on Tuesday, my day off, my daughter and I were learning about Ancient Egypt and one of the projects was to make a date candy that the Egyptians might have eaten.  She did most of the work chopping the dates and nuts, mixing in the water and spices and rolling them into balls.  I crushed the cardamom spices and did an amazing job, if I do say so myself.

While she was doing most of the work, I got to thinking about places in the Bible that talk about dates.  I found one in 1 Chronicles 16:1-3.  David brings the Ark up to Jerusalem and we read…

They brought the Ark of God and placed it inside the special tent David had prepared for it. And they presented burnt offerings and peace offerings to God.  When he had finished his sacrifices, David blessed the people in the name of the Lord.  Then he gave to every man and woman in all Israel a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake of raisins.

When the date candy was done, we read these verses and talked about how the Israelites ate dates too.  In fact, this date candy might be similar to what David gave to the people on this exciting day when God’s ark was brought back to Jerusalem.  And then we bit into the date candy…the sweet, gooey flavor mixed with a sprinkling of nuts and cinnamon.  Wowsers.  It changed my life.

Or at least it hope it will change my life…and my daughter’s too.  What I realized again, is that faith is more “caught than taught”.  I can talk about God’s word and faith until I’m blue in the face.  We can talk about pursuing God and prayer until we are red in the face, BUT none of that will make any difference in anyone’s life if we don’t also live it.  We need to be people who pray.  We need to be people who live faith.  We need to be people who make faith just as real as eating a sweet, gooey date candy.

Wowsers.  It just might change your life.