Thursday, January 26, 2017


This week in my Bible Reading group on Facebook, we’ve been working through a devotional about prayer by Tim Keller. Because I’m a pastor, I’m often considered a “professional pray-er” and asked to offer the prayer before meals and at meetings. I’m always honored to be asked, but sometimes I think there can be a misconception that the prayers of pastors are somehow automatically superior to the prayers of those who aren’t in full-time ministry. That’s just not true! We all can – and should – be growing in prayer. So in this week’s blog I’m going to share a combination of some observations I’ve made over the past 12 days of this reading plan.


What do you think of when you think of prayer? What kinds of images come to mind? Your upbringing and church background have probably influenced your answers. Is prayer something that is primarily quiet and reverent and hushed? Or is it loud and assertive and emotional? Is there a formula or repetition involved? Or is free-flowing and unscripted? Is it always happy and worshipful? Or can it be mournful and desperate? Is there a right way to pray? Or a better way to pray?

As Keller points out, the book of Psalms is the inspired prayer book of the Bible. In its pages we can find many examples of peaceful worship and adoration. There are also plenty of emotional cries for justice and relief. There are affirmations of who God is and recitations of what He’s done. There are times when the psalmist doesn’t feel like God is there. The reality is that prayer encompasses ALL of these things. Even the ones we might not be comfortable with.

Because my early religious experience had such an emphasis on emotional experience, and because that can do easily become “priority one,” I've been cautious about placing too much emphasis on the emotional. Perhaps too much so. I sense the truths shared in these devotionals are giving me freedom to experience God emotionally again and not be afraid of "letting go."

Perhaps when we fully understand and experience the love of God our emotional response will be wholly proper. So with Paul I pray: “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.” (Ephesians 3:18 NLT)


When we think of prayer, we often think of public prayers. Those whose public prayers are eloquent or passionate are often perceived to be more mature in their faith. But true spiritual life is not measured outwardly. Certainly there are outward evidences, but the true measure of our spiritual life is only taken internally and only known by the Lord and us. Sometimes we can even deceive ourselves - if we fall into the trap of believing that since everything seems OK on the outside it must be OK on the inside.

But deep down inside, we know if our public praise is a true reflection of our inner man. I don't share this to condemn anyone, but as an encouragement to examine ourselves. There is such a depth of life and spiritual experience for those who will press through the external expectation into a worship that is "in spirit and in truth." So let us praise privately. Let us worship privately. Let us pray privately. And our outward expression will be a reflection of what's going on inside.

So just how great is God in our lives? How much glory do we give God? If the measure of His greatness were measured by our prayer life, just how great would God be? Do we trust Him enough to ask Him for everything? To truly seek Him for daily bread as well as eternal life?

What does our prayer life say about how much we trust God? Do we pray bold audacious prayers, asking for impossible things, believing that He's able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond what we can ask or think? Or do we only pray safe prayers that won't affect anything if He doesn't answer? The way we pray, and the things we ask God for, reflect what we truly believe about Him. May our heart be so convinced of His greatness that we never pray small prayers again!


In one of the devos this week, Keller writes, "Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him." That's a wonderful description! I like the idea of "continuing a conversation that God has started..." Prayer is God's invitation to keep the conversation flowing. It's an invitation to relationship, to express our heart, to share our feelings, fears and joys.

So prayer is so much more than just telling God what you want or giving Him your "Never-Ending Shopping List" (as Lulu Roman described in her southern gospel song of the same name). Because it's a continuing conversation, it's an opportunity for us to hear His heart, and to see ourselves in a new light. It's an invitation to consider truth we hadn't seen before, and be transformed.

Let me share part of a passage of Scripture with you that is very meaningful to me, edited in a way that I hope will make it jump out to you like it does to me:

“Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, [God] has spoken to us through his Son. ... The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God...” (Hebrews 1:1‭-‬3 NLT)

Where you see the ellipses (...) I've just cut a phrase out, I haven't added anything in. I just wanted you to see those two phrases together. The idea is that God spoke in the Old Testament in different ways - dreams, visions, from clouds, from thunder, via angels, and sometimes audibly. But His speaking was rare and unexpected.

However, in these last days God has chosen to speak to us definitively through Jesus. There is no ambiguity, there are no long pauses or silences, there is no partial revelation. The very character of God is expressed through His Son, Jesus.

We sometimes wish we could hear God talk to us like He did to Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Job. But those were isolated incidences - often once in a lifetime experiences. God speaks to us every day in Jesus and tells us everything we need to know about Himself. Wow! Thank You, Lord, for expressing Yourself so clearly!

So when we pray, it’s actually part of a conversation that God started in Jesus! I'm grateful for this understanding of prayer as more than just telling God what I want, more than just fulfilling some spiritual obligation, and more than just keeping up appearances. May we continue the conversation God started, and find the encounter with Him we crave.

If you’re interested in being a part of my daily devotional group, feel free to join the Bible Reading w/Bro. Nathan group on Facebook. We use reading plans from the YouVersion platform, which has Bible apps available for Android, iPad/iPhones and other devices, which have been downloaded over 250 million times! Believe it or not, there are over 1,200 translations in over 900 languages available all for FREE, courtesy of I announce the reading plan we’re doing in the Facebook group and we all subscribe to the same plan and read the same reading each day. I share a daily devotion based on the reading plan and others are encourage to share their thoughts as well. I’d love for you to join me in reading the Bible every day!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Guest Post - Overcoming Insecurity

The past two weeks I've been sharing a sermon series entitled "MRI: My Ridiculous Insecurity" in which I use a horrible experience I had with an MRI to explore the topic of insecurity, fear and anxiety. This week I've invited Jenni Baier to share a testimony of how God helped her deal with, and yes, overcome, insecurity in her life. And it's a dramatic testimony that our entire church can bear witness to. You may want to read her blog post about her experience for some background. I'm so grateful for her willingness to be transparent and share so openly and authentically about what God had done, and is doing, in her life. I know this will touch you.

Since Bro. Nathan is in the midst of a series on fear and insecurity, I thought this would be a good time to share a little more of my story. It’s been quite a journey for me these last couple of months! Maybe you were at Christian Challenge in November when I shared during this service.

I’ve struggled with fear and insecurity issues for almost as long as I can remember. By the time I was a teenager, my nerves would make me physically sick virtually every time I went to a concert or large social event. I could handle structured meetings or events where I had a definite role, but small talk in a crowd was terrifying to me. I knew this wasn’t “normal,” but I just couldn’t change it, no matter how hard I tried. And because my awkwardness, others found it easy to make fun of me.

Over time, I became more defensive and overly sensitive to criticism. I tried to maintain control  and hide behind walls I built to maintain the facade that I had things together. I began to look at people as annoyances and obstacles to avoid.

Whenever I’d get overwhelmed and couldn’t handle it anymore, I’d lash out or melt down, and that often hurt and offended others. But because I had come to believe that this was just the way I was and it would be impossible to change, I also believed that I couldn’t possibly be at fault. Yeah, there were problems… but it was everyone else’s problem, not mine! That made it easier to defend my insecurities and justify my actions. As a result, my attitude really stunk sometimes… and that was not a good reflection on me or on the church (where I was employed).

I didn’t realize just how much of an issue it had become until last November when Bro. Nathan called me into his office… to fire me.

That was the “difficult conversation” I’ve never quite elaborated on in public before :)

Bro. Nathan told me that he felt my season at Christian Challenge was over. He didn’t have the emotional energy or grace to deal with having me on staff anymore, and I should start looking for something else. I was shocked. I thought things had been going pretty well. I had no idea I was in any danger of losing my job. I asked if the decision was final. It was.

I was devastated. Stunned. It felt like my world was falling apart. My first instinct was to lash out and blame anyone but me. I wanted to give hurt in return for the hurt I was feeling. But somehow by God’s grace, I understood that I couldn’t go there. This was my fault. I had done this. I was the one to blame. And now I was losing not just a job, but my church, and friends who had been like family to me.

I didn’t know what to say or do. The damage that I had caused was far beyond my ability to repair. And I silently cried out to God to fix it. To fix me.

The conversation with Bro. Nathan continued, and it was difficult. As I listened to him share some of things that had influenced his decision, I apologized. And I even though I didn’t think it would change anything, I pleaded for one more chance. Thankfully, God had already begun to answer my prayer. And by the end of the meeting, instead of being fired, I was on probation. Things still had to change, and I honestly had no idea how I would be able to change them - but I was relieved to have one last chance.

It would be wonderful if I could say that I walked away from that meeting a changed person and never looked back. But the first 24 hours or so after that meeting were actually pretty miserable. I was second guessing things that were said, replaying things in my mind, and just generally feeling insecure and negative about everything. I had been blindsided once - did I really want to risk it happening again? What had I committed myself to? What if I failed? What if I did the best I could and, once again, it wasn’t enough?

And yet, in spite of my unsettledness, I became much more aware of God’s presence. My relationship with God had been kind of dry and distant for a while, so I wasn’t expecting that. And as I settled my thoughts and focused more on Him, I began to have peace, even though I still didn’t know how everything would work out.

In the days and weeks that followed, I found myself in many situations that would have normally stressed me out and pushed me into panic mode… but the panic attacks never came. Something in me had changed, and those situations didn’t bother me anymore. It was weird. But it was wonderful! Almost overnight, the panic attacks and social anxiety were just gone. I knew that God had done it, but I didn’t really understand what “it” was.

What I did know for sure was that my relationship with God was better than it had been in a very long time. I was getting excited about my quiet times again. I was learning to follow those little promptings and nudges - having great conversations with people - and seeing prayers answered. Everything was better!

And now, a couple of months into this journey, I’m beginning to understand more of what’s been happening. And I can sum it up in three words: Recognition, Repentance, and Relationship.

Recognition - I needed to recognize not just that there was a problem, but that it was MY problem. I had to to own my own mess. God wasn’t winking at my sin or excusing my bad behavior because “my situation was different.”

We tend to think of pain as the proof that we’ve been the unjust victim of something. I’m hurting, therefore I must have been wronged But not all pain comes from offenses against us. A lot of it comes from consequences. Getting fired was certainly a painful consequence. Hearing those uncomfortable things from my pastor was painful. The truth can hurt. A lot. But the truth can also transform.

Sometimes the temptation is to put so much emphasis on grace that we forget Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Repentance - I needed to stop justifying my bad behavior and genuinely repent. And when I prayed for God to fix what I had broken - and to fix me - that’s really what I was doing, although I might not have called it that at the time.

I had reached a point where there was nothing I could do in my own strength to make things right. It was a rock-bottom moment, and end-of-my-rope moment. There was no face-saving, pain-avoiding option. It was an awful place to be. And it was exactly where God needed me to be.

Relationship - What I needed most was a renewed relationship with God. True security is ultimately the result of a right relationship with God.

My fear of being rejected by others was really a lack of faith in God’s acceptance of me. My excessive concern about others’ opinions of me was really an indication that I didn’t care enough about God’s opinion of me. My worrying about not being good enough was a lack of trust in God’s work in me. The fact that I was terrified of being out of control was a sign that I was not willing to let God be in control.

I had tried for so long to change my attitude, to change my behavior, to change my thinking… but what I really needed was a changed heart. And I couldn’t do that myself. Only God could do that.

So my advice to anyone who might be dealing with insecurity or fear that they feel like they can’t overcome is this: Don’t run away from the pain. There are things God can teach through pain that cannot be learned in comfort. Own your mess. Confess when you’re wrong… but don’t try to fix yourself. You’ll just make a worse mess anyway :) Ask God to fix you. It might be painful. It will definitely be humbling. But in the end, it’s the only way to wholeness. And when He begins to fix things, don’t be surprised if the first thing He fixes is your broken relationship with Him. That’s the best part :) Embrace it.

Jenni Baier is a valued member of the Christian Challenge staff and wears many hats. She specializes in graphics, technology, and organization. She's a member of our worship team, has coordinated Vacation Bible Camps, and organizes events such as Hallelujah Night, Fall Family Festival, and even mission trips to Mexico!

What God has done in Jenni's life is truly amazing. The fact that she's so willing to share where she came from and what God had done demonstrates the depth of the work He has done in her. But remember, "God is not a respecter of persons." If He did it for her, He'll do it for you! My prayer is that God will use her story to help you Recognize areas in your life He wants to change, grant you the Repentance to change and build in you the Relationship with Him that you crave.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Worship Anyway

Sometimes we sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul… worship His holy name. Sing like never before, O my soul… worship His holy Name.” and really, really mean it! Things are going great at home, at work, etc. We’re not stressed out. We’re getting proper rest. We’ve got money in the bank, good health. We’re ready to sing for joy to the Lord!

But then there are times we’re just not feeling it. Maybe things aren’t going so well in our lives. Or we’re nervous about something. We might be struggling with our health or finances or family issues. Perhaps we’re dealing with a painful situation and we’re not sure we’re all that happy with God right now, or perhaps even a little angry with Him. Whatever the reason, praise and worship just aren’t going to come very naturally to us.

So how can we force ourselves to do something we don’t feel like doing? And why should we? As the song says, there are literally 10,000 reasons. But for now, I’m going to focus on just four:


Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
(Ps 100:3 NASB)

What does it mean to know that the Lord is God? Look at how the Amplified version expands that word: “Know (perceive, recognize, and understand with approval) that the Lord is God!” This is both a command and an invitation.

We should bring our praise and worship to God because He is God. And honestly, we could stop right there - because what other reason do we need? God is God. There is no other. Because of Who He is, He is uniquely and exclusively worthy to receive all of our praise. We don’t worship Him because we feel like it. We worship Him because of Who He is!

Even in our imperfect political system, we recognize the respect that is owed to those who occupy certain offices. For example, during the State of the Union speech, when the President enters the room, EVERYONE rises. They’re not all happy to be there. And they certainly don’t all feel like it. But they do it because of who he is.

When we gather for worship, we are blessed to have the Commander and Chief of the Universe in this room with us! So whether we feel like it or not, the right thing to do is to give Him praise and honor and glory! Psalm 33:1b in the Amplified version says “…praise is becoming and appropriate for those who are upright [in heart]” (emphasis mine).

Psalm 100:3 goes on to say that it is He (God) Who made us. God is our Creator. We literally owe Him everything. We would not be here without Him. So another reason to worship the Lord whether you feel like it or not is because He’s the One who made you.
It’s fun to watch athletes celebrate. A golfer pumps his fist, a football player leaps into the stands, a basketball player cuts down the net. But sometimes a player will do something spectacular and will bow on a knee or point to the heavens as if to say, “Lord, You’re the One who got me here. You’re the One who made me. I believe in You. I did this because of You.”

When we join together in corporate praise and worship, it’s an opportunity for us to focus again on what’s truly important. Life is hectic. It pushes us to focus on ourselves, pat ourselves on the back, and strive to achieve more. We hardly ever slow down to catch our breath, let alone take time for God. Corporate praise and worship is our opportunity to publicly acknowledge that everything we have comes from Him.
While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”
(Luke 17:11-19 NASB)

I can’t help but wonder what was going on with the other nine. But we need to be like the one who came back. We need to stop what we’re doing every once in awhile and praise the Lord for what He is doing in our lives. And that leads me to my next point.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
(Ps 100:4 NASB)

It’s easy to thank God for the big things. The narrowly avoided accident, the friend or family member who came to faith, a recovery from an illness or injury, a new job, or some unexpected blessing. And it is right for us to give thanks for these things!

But we also need to thank God for all the things we take for granted. Thank God for the friends and family He’s put in our lives. Thank Him for having a roof over our heads and food in our pantries. Thank Him for our health. Thank Him for the times we didn’t even know we were spared by His grace.

We can even thank Him in adverse circumstances. Matthew Henry was robbed. He wrote in his journal, “Let me be thankful -- first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life; and third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”
Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will].
(1 Thess 5:18 AMP)

In how much? In EVERYTHING! Regardless of the circumstances. Not just when things are going well. It isn’t just a good idea… it’s God’s will! This is one of the greatest ways we can worship God, when we give Him thanks even when things aren’t going well!!!


For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.
(Ps 100:5 NASB)

God is good, even when we’re NOT good. He’s loving even when we’re not loving. He’s faithful even when we’re not faithful. And not just to us. Verse 5 says He treats all generations that way! God is good and loving and faithful to everyone!
And as we are fond of reminding each other - God is good all the time, and all the time God is good! Not just when we feel good. Being a person who can go through difficult times and worship anyway isn’t about being able to psych yourself into it. It isn’t about feeling worshipful. It isn’t about being excited enough to “get your praise on.”  

The reason we worship God even when we don’t feel like it is because it’s the greatest thing we can do with our life. No accomplishment in life will ever equal that. College is good, family is important, work is great, but none of these things will fill the God-shaped hole inside of you. The only way to be a complete person is to become a devoted worshipper of Jesus Christ. Let’s forget about ourselves, concentrate on Him and worship Him!

. . . . .

This blog was complete up until this point when I got news that brought the message home in a real way. Just three weeks ago our daughter, Faith, and her husband, Parker, shared with us the exciting news that we would be grandparents for the first time! Today, as this blog was practically complete, Faith called to tell us that when they went for the ultrasound they discovered she was pregnant with twins … but she was miscarrying. What a gut-check. But all I could think of is what Job said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21b) Throughout the afternoon we have been calling and texting back and forth, encouraging one another, crying together, and praising the Lord together. Yes, we worship the Lord, knowing that life comes from Him and returns to Him. We have two more deposits in heaven waiting for us to join them. And until we see them, we will worship anyway!

So how about you? Will you worship anyway?