God Answers Prayer In Only Two Ways

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Recently, I had a post featured at The Gospel Coalition on prayer entitled “God Answers Prayers In Only Two Ways”. I wrote it in the hopes that it would encourage those laboring in prayer without answers.

Here’s an excerpt:

If [Jesus’s words are true], it changes our prayer life from beguiling, bartering, or boasting to faithfully entrusting ourselves to the God who provides—the God who is Providence. When it comes down to it, God answers prayers in only two ways: provision or protection. If he gives us what we ask for, it’s because of his great love. But the converse is also true (and what we so often miss): If the Lord isn’t giving us what we’re asking for, then he’s protecting us from it. Because God provides his children with only good gifts, any time he withholds from us we can be sure it’s because that blessing doesn’t serve his ultimate purpose: to conform us into the image of Christ…

Read the rest of the piece by clicking here.

After the piece was published, I was also asked to come on the “The Ride Home with John and Kathy” radio show on 101.5 Word FM in Pittsburgh, PA and talk more about my piece. It was a neat opportunity, and a first for me. We had a great conversation, and you can listen to it in it’s entirety using the media player below.

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The Briefcase: Leading Well in the Midst of Your Untimely Death

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A note from Griffin: What follows is shared with permission from John Bryson, pastor of Fellowship Memphis. I remember first reading this post around 2013 and thinking “When I’m married and starting a family, I am going to do this.” Now that I’m married, I realize what an incredible act of selfless leadership this kind of preparation is. I emailed him and asked permission to share it here, and he kindly agreed. I’ve only lightly edited here, and now pass it on to any who desire to lead their families well. I hope that any husbands or fathers that encounter this post will take its recommendations seriously, and prepare  to lead their families in the most difficult time possible: the day you are no longer there to lead and care for them.

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I have a strong passion for men to step out of passivity and lead.  A unique place that needs your leadership is in the event of your untimely death.  I am working on what I call “The Briefcase”.

Here is the list I compiled of leading your wife and family well in the midst of your no warning / untimely death.  Please add to it, subtract from it or tweak it as you see fit.

I recommend both digital copies and physical copies of what follows placed in a designated file or briefcase. Your wife and at least two close friends needs to know where both [digital and physical copies] are kept and the two friends needs to be deputized by you to step in and execute (working gently and clearly with your wife) what it is you have left so that burden in not placed exclusively on your wife. In my opinion, the spirit of these intentional acts should be to be as clear as possible and as freeing as possible to your family left behind:

  1. A will prepared by an attorney.
  2. Ample Life Insurance.  My goal is term life and enough that my family would be debt free (including a house) and Beth would never have to work or re-marry if she chose not to do so.
  3. A letter to your wife expressing your love and appreciation for her and freeing her to grieve, live and trust Jesus.  He is good and does good.  I personally encourage my wife to remarry with my blessing if she find a man who loves Jesus, will love her and love our kids and to thank that man for me.
  4. A general letter to all your kids about your dreams for them as a family unit with your family values and traditions that you love.
  5. A specific letter to each kid affirming your love for them and what you have learned about them uniquely with your hopes and dreams for them.
  6. Possible letters to other family members and friends.
  7. A letter that addresses your desires for a funeral, burial, a couple of options for who to preach your funeral (options give freedom, you don’t want them to feel like a failure to you because a certain man couldn’t do your funeral) and some pall bearer options.  Also, any special music requests or if you have not strong desires or opinions, say that, so again, they are operating out of freedom, not guilt.
  8. Options / preference of where to bury you (later in life, as you can, you need to purchase cemetery lots).  I personally am directing Beth to buy the cheapest casket possible and not be suckered into emotional purchases at a funeral home!
  9. A list of all your assets. Specific as possible with every detail you have.
  10. A list of all your debts.   Specifically who the debt is owed to, account numbers, and phone numbers.
  11. A list of your life insurance.  Company, agent, amount(s), account numbers.
  12. A write up of why you bought the amount of insurance you did and what you may have envisioned it for (pay off house, amounts set aside for daughter’s wedding, college fund, etc) but with the freedom for her to use it as she sees fit.
  13. Any verbal financial agreements or understandings you have made or have been made to you from employers, family, friends, etc.
  14. Any desires you have for anything your own / your assets to be specifically given to any other people or individual kids.
  15. Set up a deal on your phone / calendar to remind you to re-visit and update your “Briefcase” annually.

Every time I read through this list from Dr. Bryson, one phrase comes to mind: intentional love. This list takes work. It takes thought. For some men it will be hard to put pen to paper and pour their heart out in the event of their unforeseen death. But it is the sort of selfless act that will bear great fruit in the life of your family. My mom died suddenly at age 48. For those who have not had to experience this, trust me when I tell you that what follows is so much stress, paperwork, and burden that you hardly have time to grieve. This will spare your loved ones of that burden.

I had a few additional ideas and notes to add as well:

  • Often we put off making a will because it is expensive or burdensome. Check with non-profits you support and see if they have any estate planning services. The organization I work for has an incredible group that walks you through the entire process, helping you think through things far beyond just money (things I never would have considered!). I know in Alabama the Baptist Foundation of Alabama has incredible and affordable legacy planning services. Don’t spend $5000+ dollars at a lawyer who’s just going to write up a generic plan.
  • It is true of most people that when they die, their life insurance will allow them to make a greater gift than at nearly any other time in their life. Have a conversation with your wife ahead of time about if you want to make a charitable contribution at this time. Only 1 in 40 people think to leave money to causes they support (including their church, missions, etc.) in their will.
  • Consider leaving a gift: It’s possible to set aside some cash for a year’s worth of flowers to be delivered to your wife monthly. It wouldn’t be hard for a friend to receive these instructions. Only do this is your wife would like it. Only you can answer that.
  • If there are any uncommon things that only you would know, include that: “we get the oil changed at X”, “those ______ I always buy you that you like so much is _______”, etc.
  • Perhaps opening the briefcase in an emergency would be traumatic (for example if you were on life support). Make sure you always include any end-of-life medical wishes in a front pocket of the case. This includes Do-Not-Resuscitate orders, coma response, etc. Do not leave your family unsure about your wishes for keeping you on life support or not.
  • Enough cash for food for a least a week. The week after a tragic death, it’s hard to get off the couch. Financial worries are immediate. It may seem silly, but covering the immediate week after will be a great blessing.
  • Finally, also have a contingency plan in place in case you and your wife were both to pass suddenly (whether a car crash, house fire, or some other tragic event). Your children will never need you to come through for them more than at that moment.

That’s all I’ve got. Thank you to Dr. John Bryson for allowing me to share his great ideas here. I hope you never need this. But if you ever do, I hope this will serve as a great tool to love and lead your families well.

Disappointment and Boring Bible Study

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In the course of my ministry discipling other men, I’ve found no habit more difficult to pass along than Bible study. For some, sharing the gospel comes naturally. The extroverts dig right in. For others, confession becomes a habit of life that is a constant life-giving source. I can name off many that have become selfless servants, gifted encouragers, worship leaders, self-styled theologians or even the near-mythological oft-spoken-of “prayer warriors”.

Perhaps no habit of Christian discipline has left them all more frustrated than regular Bible study. Maybe you have been a part of a mentoring relationship or accountability group before where conversations enter the shame spiral when the question comes up: “How’s your time in the Word?” or “Have you been reading your Bible?” I sure have been.

There’s a lot of reasons that regular Bible reading is hard. Sin. Lack of proper past teaching. Laziness. Distractions.

But I think there’s an even bigger factor holding many people back from vibrant Bible study.

Disappointment.

Do you remember the first time you really got the gospel of grace? When you heard it like you had new ears and saw it like you never had eyes until just that very moment. When the gospel was so real and tangible that you felt like it was wrapping you up in a hug.

And they told you then that to meet with this God every day — the way to hear from God himself — was to open up your Bible. And so you did. At first it was ok, then really great and then it was a legal manual. Then it was chronologies. Then it was Tiglath-Pileser (who?) and exiles. Then it was prophecies in metaphors you didn’t understand, with backgrounds you didn’t know. Then your Study Bible made it less “hearing from God” and more “you better have that homework done before school.”

And you felt disappointment. I get it. You heard the famous preachers and teachers talk about their rich, deep times in the Word. You heard about tears and joy and being filled with the Spirit, and you thought that if you ever cried over those pages it was because of frustration and not filling, shame and not surprising joy.

Our disappointment tells us that when Beth Moore or Rick Warren, Billy Graham or John Piper, J.D. Greear or Kay Arthur open up their Bibles in the morning, the pages glow. A cloud of understanding—the shekina glory itself—descends upon them. They meet over those pages with God like Moses met with him in the tabernacle: face to face. They’re special and for them it’s always been that way. And what’s more: it is not and never will be for you.

Let me tell you something important: that’s not true. Bible reading isn’t a spiritual gift. It’s a spiritual discipline. These men and women, as well as every believer from the widow’s Sunday School class to the church fathers, have learned to love and revere the Bible through discipline. Paul knew this. He did not tell Timothy  “one day it will just come to you,” but “Train yourself for godliness.

Meet Disappointment with Discipline

In our Bible study, we will all have days where we feel as if we are hearing nothing and understanding little. We will all have days we are tempted to read Philippians again for the 32,413th time. Some days, we should give in to that urge. Above all, however, we need to press into the whole Word of God. Seek intimacy over newness. We need to refuse to come to the Word expecting something new, shocking, or entertaining. Instead, we need to come to the Word of God for God. Intimacy with God is the prize.

In those difficult times of Bible study, we need to follow the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 7:7-8:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Ask. Seek. Knock.

There is no promise that the moment we ask, the instant we set our hearts to seek Him, or that when our hand is still upon the knocker that He will reply. But He will reply. Everyone who loves their Bible and loves time with the Lord in Bible study has gotten there through struggling, praying, seeking. There is no other way. Days where it seems the heavens are shut up are sowing for us a bounty of glory in ordinary, boring Bible study. We need to wrestle with the Word like Jacob wrestled with God: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” We must train ourselves for godliness.

It’s hard. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. There’s a reason attack of the yawns happens when we sit down in front of the Word. There’s a reason everything else suddenly seems pressing and interesting. But if we will discipline ourselves to be in the word, what awaits us on the other side is glory. In 2 Corinthians, we read that when the covenant words (The Scriptures) are read that, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” 

That’s why we press in. Intimacy with God in His Word changes us. When we discipline ourselves to look into His Word to see Jesus, the Word itself changes us more and more into his image. Jesus is on every page. It will take countless days, failed attempts, successes, frustrations, and joys. Over time, you will see the beauty of Bible study, because of your prolonged exposure to the beauty of Christ. That’s what we ask for, seek for, knock for: that by the Spirit we would see Jesus and become like him.

The pages won’t glow. But you might.

 

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?” 2 Corinthians 3:7-8

 

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

Compassion is More than a Merit Badge

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Here’s something I wrote a while back for Radical, the resource ministry of IMB President David Platt, about how the gospel shapes our compassion:

Compassion is More Than a Merit Badge

As a part of my foster care advocacy work, I am constantly sharing with people about how the church should meet the needs of foster children. One trend I’ve noticed is how people will rush to tell me about the mission trip they went on years back, or how they watched a documentary on the subject, or how they know someone who did fill-in-the-blank kind of ministry once and how impressed they were by it. But, as everyone I’ve ever met in the non-profit world of compassion ministries (foster care, adoption, homeless, addiction rehab, etc.) can attest, the overwhelming response of self-proclaiming born again Christians is that these ministries are for someone else. God simply has not called them.

Click the link above to read the whole thing.

Bible Reading: An Invitation To Meet With Jesus

I am grateful for an invitation from Radical, the resource ministry of IMB President David Platt, to write about Bible reading plans here at the beginning of a new year.

Bible Reading Is An Invitation, Not A Burden

Preview :

“…why start again? Life hasn’t gotten any less busy and no amount of willpower has succeeded so far. When we think about our Bible reading this way, we risk making Bible reading a burden instead of an invitation. So many of us act as if God sent his Son to earth to live a perfect life and die an atoning death, only to rise from the grave and wag a finger at us saying, “You’ll never be good enough for me unless you read your Bible every day!” Nothing could be further from the truth!

Click the linked title above to read more.

Fields of Faith

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I preached this sermon for my friend John Thweatt at FBC Pell City, AL on October 16, 2016. The sermon is from Jeremiah 32. In this Scripture, Jeremiah buys a field in Israel even as the nation is on the brink of destruction. Let’s look together at how this episode in Jeremiah’s life can teach us about God’s promise, God’s character, and God’s plan for Resurrection.

Listen in: 

Our Engagement Story

[Taken from our wedding website]

DSC_0700.jpgFrom the moment Griffin saw Rachel, he knew she was special. After their first date, Griffin made a note to himself: “I am going to marry this girl.” Just 8 months later, the two had fallen in love, learning much about love, sacrifice, repentance, and commitment even in that short period of time. This is the story of their engagement.

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Rachel had become suspicious. For a couple of months, she and Griffin had been talking seriously about marriage. In that time, the engagement had become an inevitability. This was a problem for Griffin.Griffin is a man who loves surprises. There had not been a single date in the entirety of their relationship where Rachel was told the plan. Griffin would tell Rachel when to be ready and how to dress, but otherwise every date was a complete surprise. That made the certainty of the engagement a problem: how do you surprise someone you have been in serious talks about marriage with for months?

Rachel’s suspicions began in November. She and Griffin had discussed rings, but he had made it clear that no ring would be purchased until the end of the year or later. He constantly hinted at an early to late February engagement, but Rachel knew he wouldn’t be able to make it that long. Griffin is not a naturally patient man, nor is he able to pass up sentimental seasons like Christmas. But she didn’t know when. The calendar had begun filling up. The only open date she knew of was December 10, and Griffin had asked her to go see the Nutcracker that day. Griffin had made a comment about the 2:30 show being “the best one”–which of course is untrue (the night show is the best!)–and so Rachel had become convinced that they would be getting engaged that evening. Not only that, a friend (Melissa Munn) had asked Rachel that week to get their nails done together for Melissa’s graduation. Rachel wasn’t buying it.

Melissa went into crisis mode. She called Griffin and told him that Rachel is onto them. So Griffin met the problem head on. The week of the engagement, Griffin asked Rachel, “Do you think we are getting engaged after the nutcracker?” Rachel blushed and sheepishly admitted she did, so Griffin informed her that this was not the case. She shouldn’t get her expectations up. Then they made plans for dinner that night with some friends. Of course, Griffin wasn’t lying. They weren’t getting engaged that night. They were getting engaged that morning.15822658_10209735853685430_5039872251815886586_n

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The morning of the engagement, Griffin got up early. He drove to a florist and picked up a dozen white roses. From there he drove to Raleigh Avenue Baptist Church where his friend Nic Seaborn had volunteered the beautiful RABC sanctuary for the event. He met Nic there, as well as Hillary Dickey (Rachel’s roommate) who would photograph the event. It was beautiful. They set up the sanctuary for the proposal, and Griffin laid out the “supplies”: a new Bible for Rachel, the flowers, the ring, and a letter. A letter was an important part of their relationship. During a short breakup early on, Griffin had written a letter to Rachel that brought them back together. That letter had implied how much he loved her. This letter would tell her.

Griffin got back in his car to pick Rachel up. Then he turned around, because he left the ring at the church instead of in his pocket. Then he got back in the car to pick her up. Rachel was ready when he got there (Hallelujah!) and they got in the car. The plan was for Nic to call Griffin and tell him to swing by the church and get a book. Nic calls. Griffin says he’ll swing buy. But then, Rachel and her wonderful curiosity kicks in.

“Do we have to get the book now?” Yes.

“We’ll be late for lunch!” No, we won’t.

“I’ll just stay in the car then.” You are not going to be rude to my friend. (Griffin begins to panic.)

“Why is he at the church on a Saturday anyway?” He’s setting up for Advent things tomorrow.

“Advent started last week.” *silence from Griffin*

At this point Griffin realized he only had to drive 5 minutes without letting the cat out of the bag and he is failing. Rachel, who is wearing a beautiful ring of her Mammy’s, slipped her ring off her finger and put it in her purse. Griffin fell silent.

They get to the church and walk into the foyer of the sanctuary. Griffin stopped Rachel and grabbed her by the hand: “Rachel. I love you.” Rachels eyes got huge and she nods. I love you too. Griffin took Rachel by the hand and began to walk her up the left aisle where a small pew had been set up between the Christmas tree and the communion table.

“Nic isn’t here, is he?” No, baby. Nic isn’t here.

Griffin walked Rachel to the pew and sat her down there. “Hillary is taking pictures in the balcony. Don’t look at her, look at me.” Rachel nodded. Griffin walked over to the table and picked up the letter. He sat beside Rachel on the pew and read to her as they both laughed and cried while Griffin retold fun times they had, and told her of all the reasons he loves her. Griffin stood and walked back to the table and left the letter there. He picked up the Bible and walked back to Rachel. Squatting before her, he told her of the life he wanted with her serving the Lord together, and then he read to her Psalm 34:3:

“Magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!”

After reading it, Griffin set the Bible on the pew and asked Rachel to stand.Rachel stood, and as she did Griffin reached into his back pocket and pulled out the ring box. He went to one knee, and asked Rachel to marry him. Rachel quickly said yes, and Griffin quickly stood and kissed her. They stood in a long embrace until finally Griffin said, “Would you like to see your ring?” He put the ring on her finger and they began to celebrate! He told her all about her new Bible, ring, and engagement setup, and Hillary took them for a proposal photoshoot right then.

After an hour or so, they went to have a celebratory lunch with their parents. Then they spent the afternoon together where they called friends, reminisced, and prayed together for their marriage. That night, nearly 75 friends and family gathered together to celebrate them at a dear friend’s home who volunteered to throw the party. It was a full day, but it was a perfect day.

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Griffin and Rachel aren’t perfect, but they are perfect together. They are in love, but not the sort of love that flutters up and down depending on the day. Their relationship is marked by mistakes, victories, failures, forgiveness, repentance, celebration, laughter, and friendship. They can not wait to celebrate this love with their closest friends and family members on April 29. Regardless of the weather, the food, or the festivities, it will be a perfect day. Why? Because it will be the day that God unites Griffin and Rachel for a life together, exalting Jesus and serving one another.

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