A Million Graces

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I find myself remembering things I’m grateful for. However I (and, I believe, many of us) tend to only give thanks for notable events in my (our) lives. We thank God for healing/recovery from cancer, a life saved in a car wreck, a solid marriage and family, etc, but how often do we show our thankfulness/gratefulness for the million secret, trivial things that He does everyday?

So this Thanksgiving, I want to list a bunch of these “hidden graces” that I’m thankful for in my life. I won’t list all of them but hopefully enough. My prayer is that others will be stirred to thankful remembrance of His goodness in their lives. Some of these things may sound super trivial to some, but realize that God is sovereign over everything, and so anything that causes us to smile is caused solely by His goodness.

I’m thankful…

  • for a beautiful loving wife
  • every time my wife is moved to forgive me
  • for two beautiful daughters
  • every time my daughters do anything that cause me to smile
  • for grace in times of parental frustration and discipline
  • for the hope knowing that my daughters futures and salvation are in the Lord’s hands
  • that my wife can be a stay-at-home mom
  • for a roof over my head
  • that every month God has faithfully given us the finances to pay the rent (and utilities), even in times when I was out of work due to chronic sickness
  • for I job I enjoy that pays well so I don’t have to work two jobs
  • that my job is local and only five-minutes away
  • for my dad, brothers, and sister
  • for my mom
  • that my mom has lived this long
  • for the holidays when all the family can come together
  • for my church family that is constantly encouraging us
  • for the worship team that allows me to help serve/lead them
  • for a congregation that allows the worship team to have fun while leading worship
  • for the whole of church history that has given us what we have today including the Bible
  • for older saints who pour into my life
  • for younger saints who ask to be poured into
  • for an amazing pastoral staff
  • for a senior pastor who leads me and mentors me in leadership and life
  • that I’m trusted to lead a Sunday School class for high schoolers
  • for friends who care about me to tell me the truth and to accept who I truly am
  • for Chick-fil-a and Publix
  • to live in a nation where I’m not in fear of being killed in a church bombing each week
  • that my brother serves honorably in the Army
  • for a cool breeze and 72-degree weather
  • for Christmas
  • for sins being forgiven before being committed
  • for eternal security and hope

My Favorite Devotional Albums

Every once in a while, I like to share some music from my collection that I use regularly or for certain purposes. This time I wanted to share my favorite devotional worship albums. For me, personally, there is a big difference between a devotional album and a normal worship album. Here are a few of the differences:

  1. It must help me listen and focus
    This means that the devotional music I listen to must not distract me from listening to His Spirit. This is not the time for a big rock-worship venue’s cd with driving drums and electric guitar. Rather it needs to be simpler and quieter. Usually this music is playing in the background as I pray and as I read the Bible. It should be a help, not a hindrance.
  2. It must be stirring
    One of the most difficult challenges when praying is to remain awake and engaged. Even the disiciples had problems with this when they were praying. While the music I need is quiet and restful, I do not need something that will help me to sleep. It must be engaging and stirring to my spirit. The music should draw me. The words should ring (here and there) in my spirit. It should help me to pray and to pray passionately.
  3. It must be worshipful
    I look for albums that were created for and by serious worshipers. It helps me to feel someone else’s passion for (and worship of) God. This means that I don’t use just any instrumental cd, even though there are some great (and even stirring) ones, I want to listen to something made wholly (and therefore “holy”) for the Lord.

My top six albums

pablo

Pablo Perez – Majestic Splendor 
This has long been one of my favorites. I spent a summer with other youth leaders praying an hour, three times a day. This cd was played the most. Pablo also has some incredible instrumental cds.

bethel

Bethel Music – Without Words
This is the newest devotional cd in my collection. Bethel did an amazing job with this project. I currently have this playing in my car. It helps me engage with God when I go to and from work or church. It also helps that I don’t know many of the songs that they made instrumentals of, so I don’t play the karaoke game. Rather it lets my brain focus into praying and my spirit into listening.

phil

Phil Wickham – Give You My World
Most Christians know Phil Wickham now thanks to some amazing albums and songs he’s written, but few know of his first album (before his self-titled debut). It is still (in my opinion) his strongest work. There is something that is incredible simple and deep in it. Sadly this album is in very short stock. Find it and get it if you can!

isaac

Issac Meyer – Acoustic Rhythms
Isaac is one of the best acoustic guitar players I’ve ever heard. That he is a worshiper at IHOP-KC is an added bonus. My wife loves this cd. In fact, this album is a great station to have in iTunes Radio.

mike

Michael Gettel – Change My Heart Oh God (Piano)
This is the first devotional cd I ever had. Vineyard’s “Change My Heart Oh God” series is pretty great (not as good as their “Psalms” series or their “Acoustic Worship” series) but this cd is once of the best albums they have ever produced. The pianist, Michael Gettel, isn’t a showy piano player, but rather plays gently and fluidly in a style that is wholly his own. I heard that this album was the most-sought after for a piano score (songbook), but sadly the artist did not make one (although you can find the first track’s score in the songbook for “Change My Heart Oh God: Volume 3”).

rita

Rita Springer – Love Covers
I can’t express how much I love Rita Springer. Ever since I first heard her on a Vineyard Worship album, I’ve been enthralled by her passion for God and her unique voice. “Love Covers” is, in my opinion, her best album (while I think “Created To Worship” comes super close). This album was a limited print and hard to find. If you can get it, I highly recommend doing so.

Between Peter & Thomas

My mom has cancer.

My mom has terminal cancer.

Barring a miracle, my mom is (possibly, even very likely) on her death bed, living her last days.

My soul is conflicted about all of this. It ponders “should I believe?”, “should I prepare for her death?”, etc. In all my pondering, I have realized that there are two extremes that I have to stand/balance between.

Don’t doubt like Thomas

Thomas gets a really bad rap in scripture for doubting the promises, power, and resurrection of Jesus. I tend to find myself (sadly) joining Thomas in believing God for a miracle for my mom.

I grew up in a Pentecostal family. I have seen healings happen before my eyes. I am so grateful for being raised in this environment. It’s easy in the face of death and disease to throw in the towel and give up. But that’s not God’s will. Even if this situation ends with death, God is pleased by our faith and when we place our hope in Him and His ability to heal. I (we) must fight despair and defeat, and decide to “go to the grave” believing God for a miracle.

Don’t deny like Peter

Peter was one of the most passionate and greatest of the disciples. Yet, Jesus rebuked him as the devil. Why? Because when Jesus told Peter how He (Jesus) was going to die, Peter denied this possibility. Peter even tried to persuade Jesus from God’s plan. This earned Peter a serious rebuke.

This is good for me to remember. We must believe and have faith, but that doesn’t mean we deny reality. We can’t deny that God sometimes has a “seed fall to the ground and die.”  Many are left devastated when God doesn’t respond with a miracle and rather lets death take hold instead. They never prepare themselves like Job, “He gives and takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” We must get to the place where we say “come what may, You are good and I love You.”

————————————

I don’t know what this next two weeks hold, but I find myself in a place of realistic hope and belief. God will raise my mom up from this death bed, either physically or by giving her a new body in the resurrection. Regardless, He’s good and my mom will take joy in whatever the Lord chooses.

In the meantime, I’m going to pray like crazy for her healing as I prepare for her passing.

Why I Don’t Look At The Menu

I’ve heard women say over and over again:

“Yes, I am married but I can look at the menu. I just can’t buy.”

I absolutely hate that saying. I feel like it breeds contempt and dis-contentedness. I think this is why so many marriages are having problems. We look at others, but those looks become thoughts, and sometimes those thoughts lead to action. Go back to the garden of Eden and find our star player. Her name was Eve and this is what scripture says:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:1-7 ESV)

Did you note the part that said :

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

This all started in Eden. This discontentness is what we have been fighting since the beginning! Thank God that He has given us freedom in Christ Jesus. Paul says in Romans:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21 ESV)

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:5-7 ESV)

Yes, I realize that it mentions Adam and not Eve. I think that we, as women, forget that our husbands have a responsibility in how they lead us. They will answer to God for us one day and we will answer for our submission to our husbands. Adam didn’t have to take the fruit. Going back to Genesis 3, we see that it was Eve who looked, desired, took and gave. She wasn’t content with her husband, she wasn’t content with her life. Think about it. Read Genesis 1-4 yourself.  Eve had everything! A beautiful home, an awesome organic grocery store, a handsome husband, a loving father in God, and she was free. God only asked her to not eat one thing. That was it, just one tree! She had her pick of anything else she wanted. Literally anything.

I can’t drive this home enough! We have got to stop putting our men next to the latest Hollywood hunk or the sexy new musicians and start having eyes only for our husbands. We need to take the same amount of energy we spend pretending what our lives would be like with Mr. So-and-So and how amazing this imaginary man is and pour that into our husbands.

We are to be content in everything. Paul says in Philippians:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)

I realize this is talking about provision. This is still relevant. We have to be satisfied with the life God has given us. The overall truth is that we are selfish. We want what we want, when we want it. My heart aches because so many of infidelities could be avoided. If (1) we would keep our eyes on the gifts God has given us, (2) stop looking at what someone else has, and (3) if we would wait in the presence of God and realize no man is going to fulfill all of our desires. Our hope is in Christ alone.

I want to state for the record that I am anything but perfect. God knows my own struggles and thoughts. On the days when it feels like I am the worst parent, worst wife, slacker, and everything else is going wrong, I am the first person to jump off the proverbial ledge. I wonder about what it would look like to have different things. But God reminds me to knock it off. I am right where He wants me. We can’t surprise God. We have free will and God knows what we will choose but we also have a choice to surround ourselves with the things of God. To come to His well and drink in His presence. By doing this we help keep the door shut on our enemy, Satan. He can get no ground in our lives.

Again, why do I not look at the menu? Simple, because I don’t want to give any ground to my enemy. I want to live a life that is pleasing to my Savior.

(Note: I realize some of you reading this may have less desirable situations with your husbands. I have watched several relationships over the past six years where there has been serious cases of faithfulness and fidelity. Yet, in three of these cases, I have watched God do a slow and restorative healing.)

Help To Better Read

My goal in this post is to help people read more. I am acutely aware that there are great books about this, but I also understand that many people I know don’t read books at all. Reading for them isn’t something they don’t do well, but rather something they don’t do at all. It is for these people I write this post. I want to give some helpful tips on how to cultivate a simple reading life.

Some may ask though, “Why is reading books important? Isn’t reading my Bible enough?” I will let John Piper answer this question brilliantly:

Some may also say that they don’t have enough money or time to read. I will focus on time in a moment, but let me address the money concern. I understand that money is tight in many families (although we typically find a way to buy things that we have prioritized as important) but let me offer you two options that may help you:

  1. A Kindle
    I bought my Kindle 2 years ago for $70 (it took me a few months to save up for it) and it pays for itself again and again every 3 months. Why? Because thanks to certain blogs and Twitter accounts that I follow, I find discounted deals for books. I have bought brand new theology books that would typically cost $20 for 99 cents, because the Kindle version was on-sale for a day. While I like paper books, the cost saving has made me a Kindle-only person.
  2. Your local library
    You would be impressed on what you can find at your local library. My city’s library has the newest & hottest worship cds. They also keep a great collection of books. I can even ask them to add a book into their inventory, and thanks to God, my requests have never been rejected. Typically, they also have a wide catalog of good audiobooks (on CD) available. I’ll talk more about these shortly.

Now that I’ve dealt with the reasons to read and how to read for cheap/free, let me offer a few helpful tips on how to cultivate a reading life.

Read small chucks consistently

Make a plan to read for 10 minutes right before bed. That’s it. Get yourself in a habit to read something every day. You would be surprised how quick you could read a book if you just read for 10 minutes a day. Take one of your work breaks and read a book. If you do that consistently, you should be able to read a book every 2-3 weeks (depending on page length).

Read something worth it

Don’t read things that you think are going to be a waste of your time. If you’re out of school, then you are probably out of the required reading stage. Find something to read that interests you. Check the Amazon reviews to see what people are saying about the book and if they enjoyed it.

Read something fun

Don’ just read systematic theology books. Read some great fiction books. Read books like The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, etc. Let your imagination loose and have fun. If you never read anything enjoyable and fun, I’ll wager that you will rarely read.

Highlight and make notes

This is important. When reading a non-fiction book, highlight all you can. Make notes throughout the book. This helps you to engage with the book more and remember more of the material you’re reading. It also helps to quickly read the important passages when you re-read the book years later.

Listen to audio books

This is one of my favorites. As I said, the library has audio books for free. I listen to a book every two weeks in my car just by listening to it on my way to work and church. Personally, I listen to fiction books while I’m in my car (I get less sleepy that way). This means that my ten minutes each night can be spent with something that will grow me in biblical knowledge or leadership skills (my two most often read subjects). If you want a great place to start, I encourage you to get the Chronicles of Narnia (unabridged) audio books from your local library.