Be a Blessing


Now the Lord said to Abram…. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing….and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3

This week’s picture is the Facebook icon of “feeling blessed”.…but what does “blessing” mean…really?

One dictionary definition of blessing is “anything promoting or contributing to happiness, well-being, or prosperity.” As Christians, we might change that to say that blessing is “anything that Christ provides promoting or contributing to happiness, well-being, or prosperity.”

In today’s passage, we see that blessing goes in two directions. One is receiving a blessing. And the other is being a blessing. So, what you see in the Facebook icon is fine, but it’s only half the picture.

Some of you may remember the radio talks of Robert Cook, former head of King’s College. Each day he would conclude with “Walk with the King today and be a blessing!”

What? Me? How can I possibly be a blessing? The first part of Cook’s declaration gives the answer.  It springs from how we walk with King Jesus.

Look at what Paul says:  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3).

In this verse we see how Jesus personifies blessing…he is the blessing, but if we are walking with him, and he is living in us, then so are we a blessing! We get to bring down some of that “heavenly” stuff and live it out and pass it on to people here on earth. My favorite is quiet behind the scenes stuff—kindnesses that might not get you written up as “Christian of the Year” but that really are loving deeds done in the name of Jesus.

So, as Jesus-in-me happens, not only will I “feel blessed”, but I will, empowered by the Spirit, truly walk with the King and be a blessing.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller

Today’s post is a review and recommendation for Tim Keller’s book on prayer.  

  • Keller is excellent at using the examples of what praying people have said over the centuries about prayer instead of looking for the latest and greatest fads. He gives special attention to Augustine, Calvin and Luther.

  • Keller begins by quoting Peter to show something amazing that we can ALL experience in prayer.

In 1 Peter 1:8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

Peter assumed that an experience of sometimes overwhelming joy in prayer was normal for all of us, not just for “spiritual giants”.

  • Some of you may “specialize” in Bible knowledge. Others may “specialize” in “experiencing Jesus”. But look at what Keller says:

We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together.

  • Keller describes changes in his personal prayer life that happened after a bout with thyroid cancer. Here and elsewhere in the book Keller describes how important endurance is: it always leads to delightful prayer even if not as quickly as we would like!

  • The importance of the Bible in prayer:

“If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak. This does not mean, of course, that we must literally read the Bible before each individual prayer.”

  • Varied Prayer as Response to God’s Glory

“We must not decide how to pray based on what types of prayer are the most effective for producing the experiences and feelings we want. We pray in response to God himself. God’s Word to us contains this range of discourse—and only if we respond to his Word will our own prayer life be as rich and varied.”

  • Do we only pray to get stuff?

“We may believe in God, but our deepest hopes and happiness reside in things as in how successful we are or in our social relationships. We know God is there, but we tend to see him as a means through which we get things to make us happy. For most of us, he has not become our happiness. We therefore pray to procure things, not to know him better.”

What can marvelously change: Learning to enjoy spending sustained time adoring and praising God.

  • What Christ has done — and how it changes our heart

John Calvin argues that you may know a lot about God, but you don’t truly know God until the knowledge of what he has done for you in Jesus Christ has changed the fundamental structure of your heart. “You don’t have true saving knowledge of God until you long to know and serve him.”

  • Here’s what I need—but you know best

“Only through prayer can we leave all our needs and desires in God’s hands. That transaction brings a comfort and rest that nothing else can bring. We can pray confidently because he won’t give us everything we want.”

  • What is true repentance?

“In moralistic religion our only hope is to live a life good enough to require God to bless us. We will also take as little blame as possible, reciting all the mitigating circumstances to ourselves and others. When we do try to repent in this legalistic frame of mind—since we can never be sure if we have been abject enough to merit God’s favor—we can never experience the release and relief of resting in Jesus’ forgiveness.”

  • Strenuous Petition

One way petitionary prayer can actually do us harm is if we see it as a means to say to God, “My will be done.” We are prone to indulge our appetites, telling God in no uncertain terms how he should run the universe. Such prayer neither pleases God nor helps us grow in grace.

When we petition God, “we should lay before God, as part of our prayer, the reasons why we think that what we ask for is the best thing.”

“Rather than simply running down a quick list of things we want, we should reflect on what we want in light of all we know from the Scripture about the things that delight and grieve God, in light of what we know about how his salvation works and what he wants for the world.”

  • God’s Timing

“It usually requires years of experience in petitionary prayer to get the perspective necessary to see some of the reasons for God’s timing. In some cases we realize that we needed to change before we were able to receive the request rightly or without harming ourselves. In other cases it becomes clear that the waiting brought us the thing we wanted and also developed in us a far more patient, calm, and strong temperament.”

 Two Related Resources

“Especially for beginners, it can be very helpful to use this older volume by Matthew Henry. He digs out of the Scripture hundreds of actual prayers and then organizes and classifies them under subheadings of the larger headings of praise, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession, and conclusion. If you feel your own times of free-form prayer have stalled, Henry’s book affords an almost endless amount of grist for the mill.”

This book is readily available for free on the internet

Matthew Henry, A Method for Prayer, with Scripture Expressions, Proper to Be Used Under Each Head 

Below is a free book on Amazon. It includes some printed prayers from centuries ago that are surprisingly relevant today. For example, there is a prayer for the King which is helpful in praying for the President today!

God Is Our Refuge

God is your refuge

You may have learned the definition of metaphor as a direct comparison without using like or as, and seen examples of it in novels and poems. You may be surprised that someone could write a whole book about metaphors (or read one!) But yes, I read Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

Parts of the book went to one of two extremes: either very obvious or very technical.  But, while not a Christian book, the book made one amazing claim that relates to our own Christian lives: we each have our own personal metaphors that can impact how we live!

Yes, our personal metaphors are story lines that we believe about our lives, and whether we realize it or not, we are living out these stories. Some of these stories can be quite worthwhile and biblical; and others quite destructive, unbiblical, and horrible.

Do you ever complain about your job?

My attitude when working on my last job was “Oh, I’m a Christian; I don’t complain.” I started my last year at the job with a very nice metaphor: My job is an endurance race that I will finish well……But without realizing it, I exchanged that good metaphor for a crummy one —

Yes, after I retired, the Lord used the metaphor book to show the metaphor that was really in my heart that last year: “My job is a prison”.  If I had seen that real attitude earlier and repented of it, then I would have had more joy in my last year at work!

Scripture provides great antidotes for crummy metaphors. Here’s an example of how that works. The crummy metaphor is: “My life is a wilderness.”

Remember, the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness—until Moses finally led them to the promised land. Similarly, our own life without Jesus is a wilderness.  But Jesus, the greater Moses, leads us out of the wilderness ….

And when he leads us out of the wilderness, that leads straight to today’s metaphor from Psalm 46:1:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
When we leave our wilderness, God is the place of refuge in today’s picture.

Here’s another example:  If you think “I am a victim”, then Jesus says you can replace that with “I am a light”.

I could go on, but can you think of a destructive metaphor you have that can be traded in for a worthwhile and helpful one? To choose to walk in this new metaphor would influence how you live.

And note well: It’s the power of the Spirit that allows us to live our new metaphor, giving it far more impact than a mere self-help slogan.


Jesus Is Enough

jesus is enough

Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 18:5)

This Leviticus verse is a typical Old Testament command.  Very direct. But doable? Unfortunately, throughout the Old Testament, people’s obedience was too poor to be able to live up to this directive. They would try and fail. Try and fail. Over and over.

But there is one great Old Testament character, Abraham, who shows us a different and better way :

 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6,9)

This truth started with Abraham 4,000 years ago. Then 2,000 years later, Paul showed how we can get that same credit. We get it through faith in Jesus Christ—if I believe God through Christ, that gives me a turbocharged deposit of righteousness credited to my own account.

That free deposit is the exact opposite of the default mode that I work in: a voice inside me asks whether I am doing “enough” good deeds. How easy it is to drift into the bogus view that being a Christian means that we must do more and more and more and more—- rather than having simple faith. When I get caught up in the “more and more” mentality, sometimes it is so exhausting that I am tempted to say, “Why bother?”

Paul knew how impossible it is to keep the commands on our own. We must die to our futile attempts at law keeping.

 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God (Galatians 2:19)

If “do more and more and more” Christianity is my law, I must die to that law so that Christ may live in me.

Then, I can discern what it means to live by faith in exactly the body, time, and environment that I have been placed into. I can then walk in the freedom of being set free to do good things because of the faith Christ has given to me and the power of Christ working in me.

What a delightful difference – – – instead of struggling to do “enough” good deeds as a slave to the law, I can now cheerfully do just the good that Christ tells me to.

Living by grace instead of law is a wonderful way to live! Today, dwell on this beautiful paradox: we are simultaneously personally bankrupt and fully empowered to have an abundant life through Christ.

Desires of My Heart

Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(Psalm 37:4)


You mean I can get anything I want?
Like a kid in a candy store?
Or like the old Janis Joplin song: Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

Yes and no.

First, we need to consider a warning from the book of James.

You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you
quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3)

Wow, what James says here sounds so negative. Does this mean I should never ask for something for myself?  That anything I ask for myself is automatically selfish? I need a way out of this trap!

Thankfully, God has made a way—it’s shown by what the prophet Ezekiel says.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Good news: The Lord in whom we delight, is a Lord who loves us and loves to change us.

So, as I take delight in the Lord, the very things I desire begin to change.  As I delight in the Lord he changes the desires of my heart to align with what he wants…then I ask for them…and then he gives them to me.

It’s this new heart, that is not filled with envy and quarreling and fighting, that does ask for the right things with the right motives!

So back to the original question—does God like to give us stuff? Yes, you can see him liking to give a good vacation. Or to provide a runner like me with some injury-free running. Definitely it is more likely to be a yes if we ask from soft heart… the Lord may yet say no, but…our new heart knows we are on the right track walking with him as we ask. We delight when the answer is “yes” and are content if it’s “no”.

Today’s takeaway: Our new heart of flesh asks for the right things and our new heart is at peace with God’s answer.





Praising in Spite of the Slop

pig eating slop

LORD, our Lord,
     how majestic is your name in all the earth ! (Psalm 8:1)

The pig food above stands for all the slop that permeates our world.

And since we live in a fallen world, it’s easy to see many things that fall short. Some may be quite trivial, but others are life-threatening —King David faced many threats to his life, and even resorted to hiding in caves.

But in Psalm 8 David does something very curious. As David praised, he overlooked the slop. His enemies were actively, and viciously plotting against him.  Yet throughout this entire Psalm he proclaimed God’s majesty.

Does this mean that David lived in a la-la state of denial, pretending the slop of evil and sin did not exist?  No, in Psalm 11 David does mention the slop. He asks questions like, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (verse 3) However, even while being acutely aware of the slop, David’s overarching theme is:

“In the Lord I take refuge” (Psalm11:1a) despite the mishaps and slop.

For us today: do we agree that God is majestic in all the earth, despite things going on that appear  to contradict that truth?  If yes, then we are starting to see what it means to walk by faith:

 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:)
 For we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

In context, both verses say we should have a hope of eternity in our lives. We look forward to the time when God removes all the slop. Then, we shall see all we hoped for. In the meantime, we trust, knowing how God’s in control even when we can’t see it.

Are we able, like David, to spend times in unadulterated praise? As the song 1says, “Let’s for – get about our – selves  And magnify the Lord and worship Him”.



Desperate for Calm?

May your love and faithfulness always protect me. For troubles without number surround me (Psalm 40:11b-12a)

peace in storm pale

There are always troubles of one kind or another just from living in this fallen world of ours.  Each day these difficulties can bug and trouble me if I let them, even when I am much less exposed to troubles than many, many other people.  One recent example was when I felt frustrated that something that wasn’t working correctly on an internet site login—only to realize that the silly problem would be automatically resolved by simply logging in one day later –there was no rush– why did I fret?

The Psalmist had a good experience of the Father’s protection. But he lived before the coming of Jesus. We, however, have the huge benefit of being able to enter into and dwell in the Son’s presence. Because we can, we have an amazing, special way to experience supernatural calm.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phillippians 4:7) 

The Bible encourages us to have mature scriptural wisdom. I love studying the Bible; I have many verses in memory; I have a mental understanding of many concepts — but that can only go so far. For despite what I think I know, I am puzzled when I do not get answers to prayer right away or see why God is doing or allowing something.

It’s times like this when I desperately need God’s peace!

And there’s something beyond our knowledge even greater than God’s peace—it’s Christ’s love.

Paul prays that Christians  May have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)

When we are in the middle of a storm and everything is hitting the fan, I agree with Paul—I pray that you and I be filled with Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge!