How You Should Pray

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. Give us each day the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation. ” Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
Luke 11:1‭-‬13 NLT

This is the passage where we get “The Lord’s Prayer” — and whether our English translation has us reading verse 2 as “This is how you should pray” or as “When you pray, say” could have a person contemplating whether they should be using Jesus’ words as a template or as a recitation. It could have someone rightly contemplating the dangers of adding to our subtracting from The Word or changing a single jot or tittle, the dangers of heaping up empty phrases (Matthew 6:7), but the call to be constant in our prayer requests to God (Philipians 4:6) and Jesus providing an example himself of repetition in prayer (Matthew 26:44).

We should know that the heartfelt content of our prayer, our fellowship,  our communing with God should be genuine — and not just empty,  rote, traditional practice.

Mindlessly chanting or reciting phrases that we do not consider in our minds and believe in our hearts seems to be the type of outward religious hypocrisy that The Word warns us about in places like Matthew 23 and Amos 5.

But don’t misunderstand this as an attack on The Lord’s Prayer. I can take even the writing of this morning’s journal study on this topic and turn it into dead, intellectual, ritual practice with no abiding connection to the life giving flow of personal, intimate, close relationship with God if I have missed the point.

But when we are connected with God in intimate communication, the beautiful words Christ has given us in print, along with those words written upon our heart — as genuine, personal requests to our Heavenly Father are effective and important in our daily walk.

Our Father in heaven, your name is greatly revered and honored. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. Thank you, LORD, for your endless mercies and grace and for the victory we know in Christ Jesus. Amen.

She Sleeps Peacefully

Yesterday was “Daughters Day” and I stumbled upon a poem/song that I have been working on for some time now:

She Sleeps Peacefully” by Harold Ballinger

I remember bringing her home for the very first time
Watching every car on that road
Driving so slow and taking my time
Mindful of every bump in the road

I remember that first time I sat up straight in bed
Listening quietly for her sleeping by our bed
Afraid that she needed me and I wasn’t there
Realizing it was all in my head

Listening to her sleep peacefully that night
I’m in awe of this sweet, precious gift
I wonder how I’ll ever live up to the task

I sure don’t want to let her down
I sure don’t want to fail
There is so much at stake in her sweet little life
There is so much that she’ll have to face

I remember the first time we camped in a tent
Our start to campfires, smores, and stars
We laughed, we played, we sang aloud
And watched our breath like fog in the air

I remember that first dance, her dressed like a princess
Smiling, laughing, swaying to music late into the night

I remember our trips building memories together
Seeing new sites, towns and folk
Walking, running, and playing pretend together
Until the fun of the day had us spent

Listening to her sleep peacefully that night
I’m in awe of this sweet, precious gift
I wonder how I’ll ever live up to the task

I sure don’t want to let her down
I sure don’t want to fail
There is so much at stake in her sweet little life
There is so much that she’ll have to face

Today is the day she’ll wear the white dress
And I’ll walk her down that long isle
In truth I’ve dreaded this moment since her birth
I don’t know how strong I’ll need to be

But I’ve been blessed with this daughter of mine
Who is so precious that everyone can see
It’s no wonder she caught the eye of some sweet young boy
But I doubt he will ever love her like me

Will he listen to her sleep peacefully at night
And be in awe of this precious gift
I wonder how he’ll ever live up to the task

Lord, don’t let us let her down
Please don’t allow her fail
Lord, there is so much at stake in their sweet new life
There is so much that they’ll have to face

There’s a new little girl that we met just today
Snuggled against my girl’s chest
I see that same look in my son in laws eyes
That I knew not so long ago myself

He’ll listen to her sleep peacefully tonight
And be in awe of this precious gift
And he’ll wonder how he might ever live up to the task

He sure doesn’t want to let her down
He sure doesn’t want to fail
There is so much at stake in her sweet little life
There is so much that she’ll have to face

And as part of me is in awe and wonder of this wonderful opportunity to be a dad to an amazing daughter — another part of me ponders how wonderful my heavenly Father’s love is for me every step of The Way.

Did He sing to me and read to me even when I was still in the womb like I did for my daughter? Or was it even more wonderful than that in ways too difficult for me to comprehend?

How many moments has He shared by my side that were so precious and sweet that I might have overlooked at the time?

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:13 NLT

My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine. My child, don’t reject the Lord ’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:1‭-‬12 NLT

A Convicting Call to Repentance

Listen! The Lord ’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call. It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore. Your hands are the hands of murderers, and your fingers are filthy with sin. Your lips are full of lies, and your mouth spews corruption.
Isaiah 59:1‭-‬3 NLT

This morning, I am inspired by these verses that a friend recently highlighted in the Bible App. I’m encouraged because the gospel of Jesus Christ is not just a “get out of hell free card” or “key to prosperous living” or “way to look religious/good to others” — but it is a convicting call to repentance.

We see that Jesus is quite focused on repentance as “not just some type of optional condiment” to be made available beside the Christian meal — but these table that He sets for us in the presence of our enemies has humble repentance as our cross to bear. Conviction that leads to personal repentance is the activity in our lives that is so different to the way of the world that Christ is put on visible display to even the blind when we are faithful in this way.

The way of the world says, “If you hear something that makes you uncomfortable or that might call you to change your ways or consider a different perspective — go into self- defense mode and make war against whoever spoke it.” And both the lawless rebel and the religious hypocrite both know this and live it well. Just look at the division ands warlike behavior that takes place on social media, in political debate, etc. So the way of the world is clear.

And haven’t we even acted this way towards God? I’m not talking about “them” with a pointing finger. I’m talking about “we” — us who call ourselves Christians and seek to sit at His table and sup with Him. How often have we been eager to drink the milk of forgiveness, eat the bread of glorifying God, but stopped short of the cutting and chewing and digestive work of personal repentance?

As our verses today point out first and foremost, “Listen! The Lord ’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call.” He is not to weak to save us from our sin, nor is He too far away to hear us. But have we shown up at the table ready to eat? Have we picked up that phone of confession? Have we turned back from the prodigal road in repentance to walk with resolute focus the narrow path home?

Each of us has something that we should repent this morning. Like the verse says, “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore. Your hands are the hands of murderers, and your fingers are filthy with sin. Your lips are full of lies, and your mouth spews corruption.” And if our pride has us too religious to admit our own shortcomings, our own missing the mark, our own sin — how deep is that darkness that we call light?

So do not be afraid to come to the fight of the Blood of the Lamb to be washed clean. Do not be so proud that you cannot hear conviction and let it have its way to work upon your heart. Do not be so rebellious that you are offended and hear conviction to repent as condemnation to perish. Do not be so lukewarm and immature as to pick at your spiritual meal and be malnourished.

He loves you just like He loves me — that makes us “we” — and we are in this together, Christ follower. So let’s dine on this full meal and grow strong in humility and even stronger in repentance together for His glory. Amen.

And you who might read this and feel that you aren’t sitting in the inner courts with Jesus at the table — for those who feel they might be in the room but not at the table — or for those who feel they might be on the outside looking in — come, there is a seat for you. In fact, you can have mine, because I was just finishing and heading out to welcome more in to feast. Don’t worry, He has plenty of seats for me too. Come, say your prayers of thankfulness, of belief, of confession, of repentance, and enjoy this full meal. The dessert of blessing is amazing once you finish your plate.

God bless!

Talk is Cheap

A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
Matthew 7:17‭-‬20 NLT

There’s an old saying, “Talk is cheap.”

Whether in our home, in the workplace, in the church, offer in public — who we really are shines through in our actions, regardless of our words. And that doesn’t mean that we avoid being a hypocrite by “not talking about it”. It means that we need to:

1) test ourselves to be sure that we have genuine faith (a faith that we live out each day bearing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self- control) that results in obedience to God’s will for our lives

2) repent, confess, and accept forgiveness for anything we have let become hypocrisy or a hindrance to our testimony of what Christ Jesus is doing in our lives

3) align our thoughts, words and actions with God’s will each day and abide in Him through the day

4) give God all the glory for the life abundant that we experience when truly living in this way

Now we have said it to ourselves. We have read it. We have understood it.

Now let’s walk it out, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us who is sufficient and fully capable of such amazing things!

If you aren’t sure about this Holy Spirit power thing… pray and ask God to give you this good gift that comes down from heaven. Repent of your sins, believe that Jesus Christ was dead and buried and is now raised to heaven, confess Him as your Lord and Savior, and receive the Holy Spirit to conform you to the image of Christ and restore your right relationship with God. He does not wish that you should perish as a hypocrite, but live as an Ambassador of The Way. Amen.

The Very Flame of the LORD

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord .
Song of Solomon 8:6 ESV

The song “You Won’t Relent” by Songwriters Cassie Campbell / David Brymer / Misty Edwards has the lyrics:

“You won’t relent until you have it all
My heart is yours
You won’t relent until you have it all
My heart is yoursI’ll set you as a seal upon my heart
As a seal upon my arm
For there is love that is as strong as death
Jealousy, demanding as the grave
Many waters cannot quench this love”

Does the fire burn inside of us?

Is there a flame upon our heart?

Is it burning away all those things of self?

Do we know He is right here with us in this place?

Can we say “my heart is yours”?

Thank you Jesus, for the fervor with which we can live this life on fire for you.

Thank you to my friend Chad Branum for highlighting this beautiful passage from Song of Solomon that reminds ne this morning of the passion and fire that burns in us as we walk closer with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Lord, stir up in us revival — that fire of spirit change burning away the things of self and revealing you in us as a light to give you glory and draw other men, women, young and old to your saving grace. May you be that seal upon our hearts that shows in everything we put our hands to. Help us to live on fire for you, unashamed, unwavering, firm and steady. Amen.

A Beautiful Headdress Instead of Ashes

My relationship with my wife is one of the greatest blessings in my life — possibly only second to the grace and mercy God himself has shown me through Christ Jesus. She has been with me through the lowest lows, and celebrates with me on the mountaintops as well. She knows all of my weaknesses and chooses to love me for them, not grumble, nag, criticize, manipulate or demand — and I genuinely seek to do the same.

I know that with the wrong person that being married can be a hell to which being single seems the only escape. And I know that the loneliness of being single can be a hell to which being married seems the only escape. But that is an endless cycle of disappointment because we are looking for another person of flesh and blood to fulfill our wants, needs, and purpose. When Mandee Fowler Ballinger and I were chasing the wrong things and had no firm foundation in our own lives giving us purpose, direction and value — we were “looking for more” when single and even still “looking for more” when married — and we hurt each other instead of building each other up. So it wasn’t just “finding the right wife/husband”.

Once we truly surrendered our lives to walk in a different way — a life of gratitude for what Christ Jesus has done for us — a life of accepting forgiveness and laying down guilt and shame — a life of offering forgiveness, love and sacrificial service to others laying down bitterness, expectations and demands on others — with a just, fair and faithful God ruling our household instead of us warring to rule over each other — we now know how beautifully two people can truly “live as one”.

My encouragement to you is that it wasn’t “learning a bunch of rules/tricks” or having to “find the right match”. The same person that was your fiercest enemy can become your closest friend when Jesus steps in and you hand it over.

So please don’t think that I’m bragging about “getting it right”. I’m telling you that I’ve been stupid. That I’ve done stupid things that ruined relationships and that ruined reputations and that broke trust. I’ve proven myself to be selfish, mean, cruel and demanding at times. I’ve overlooked being sweet, loving and caring at times. But even with all of my “getting it wrong”, my ex-wife has the beautiful life she deserves — and somehow I have a wonderful marriage that I neither deserve or could have hoped for.

I’m saying that no matter how many times you have gotten it wrong “on your own” — He has a way of turning ashes into diamonds.

I’m reminded of a verse in one of my favorite Psalms:

to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord , that he may be glorified.
Isaiah 61:3 ESV

Can we see the match — set ablaze quite in the same way that one who is living out Psalm 61 should be ablaze — not as a key to unlock the chains and shackles ourselves — not even as the source of the light ourselves (since we are what is being consumed in the light giving process).

The flame of the fire itself is the key.

Thank you Jesus!

As Nurses Carry Little Children

This morning, as I woke up early to start my day with quiet time with the Lord, I opened the Bible app on my phone and saw that a friend had highlighted some verses late last night:

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
Psalm 91:11‭-‬12 ESV

And as I started my morning contemplating being “Rooted in the Word”, I immediately remembered that Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness with this very same verse:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
Matthew 4:5‭-‬7 ESV

Today is a beautiful morning in our house as we celebrate my wife’s birthday. And as she and I prayed together this morning and I thanked God for her as one of the most amazingly good gifts that come down from heaven, and as I wondered how He could do such an amazing work in us to truly make us “one flesh” and build a marriage of love and unity, we could both see how the angels have guarded us in our ways — just like this Psalm foretells of “those who dwelleth in the secret place of the most high”.

I love Spurgeon’s commentary on this Psalm, and if we have time,  it will do our spirit good to read it and consider “those who live in close fellowship with the Lord”:

It seems that today I am reminded as I am thankful for my wife and close companion in life on her birthday — that I am even more thankful for the faithful friend and beloved Lord who walks with me even more closely and even more intimately.

Spurgeon explains of such blessings described in verse 1 of this Psalm:

The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercyseat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence. Those who through rich grace obtain unusual and continuous communion with God, so as to abide in Christ and Christ in them, become possessors of rare and special benefits, which are missed by those who follow afar off, and grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Into the secret place those only come who know the love of God in Christ Jesus, and those only dwell there to whom to live is Christ.” – Charles M. Spurgeon

While also humbly reminding us of our own weaknesses in this particular verse of note — reminding us that we do not walk perfectly as Christ did, but that we stumble at times and must be tended to by the angels:

“They, that is the angels, God’s own angels, shall cheerfully become our servants. They shall bear thee up in their hands; as nurses carry little children, with careful love, so shall those glorious spirits bear up each individual believer. Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone; even minor ills they ward off. It is most desirable that we should not stumble, but as the way is rough, it is most gracious on the Lord’s part to send his servants to bear us up above the loose pebbles. If we cannot have the way smoothed it answers every purpose if we have angels to bear us up in their hands. Since the greatest ills may arise out of little accidents, it shows the wisdom of the Lord that from the smaller evils we are protected.” – Charles M. Spurgeon

Why Me Lord?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
James 1:2‭-‬6 ESV

The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.
Proverbs 15:31‭-‬33 ESV

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord , whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Psalm 56:8‭-‬11 ESV

Instead of asking “Why me Lord?” as a question of why we are facing trial, suffering, or correction… What if we asked “Why me Lord?” in the manner of this song:

Let’s remember ands be encouraged that He is God of both the hills and valleys:

Rejoicing with a Loud Voice

And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
Luke 19:36‭-‬40 ESV

In my walk, I get to visit many churches and different denominations and different peoples who are gathering to worship Jesus. And some are more reverent and quiet in their worship, and some are more active and loud. I think that it is easy for people who have been raised in either tradition (reverent/quiet or active/loud) to understand most comfortably their own style. But when we see people who genuinely love the Lord and can’t help but rejoice and praise and worship Him, we can see the beauty in their differences and not just judge by our own expectations.

Even an outwardly reverent worship with congregation and choir in perfect timing and harmony and controlled volume that recently does not diverge from the written musical notes and lyrics — should on the inside be spiritually worshipping with full abandon of heart and self to glorify God. And even an outwardly active and loud worship with freedom to clap, shout, dance, cry out, and improvise with the music and tune — should on the inside be reverently focused on Christ alone as receiving all glory and honor.

The Pharisees here weren’t just wrong for wanting to quiet the worship of the disciples so that it was more orderly ands in line with their own traditions. They were wrong because they couldn’t see or understand the True Worship that was flowing out of the disciples in ways that stretched beyond their own traditions.

I wonder if Jesus bringing attention to the “stones” would immediately remind these religious men both of scriptures about stony hearts and of stones laid upon an altar in special places as a remembrance of mighty things the Lord has done. And how many times when we have grown weary and cold and stony in our lives, has the Lord shown up and done wonderful things so that we could lay aside those stones as a marker along our path of something mighty and wonderful the Lord has done in us and through us?

We have much to rejoice this morning, friends. And whether we are up before the rest of the house giving God the first of our day and rejoicing quietly and reverently — or alone in our vehicle praising the Lord loudly and fervently — lets praise Him in spirit and in truth in the innermost places knowing that He is truly worthy of more honor and praise than even the best ashes that we could bring — and that lasting down our stones to walk with Him in fullness of life is the worship He desires.

God bless!

Glorify God

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV

“Do all things to the glory of God” can read quite differently depending on our perspective.

If we don’t know or trust that God is good, we might think it absurd that anyone should “try to live their life in a way that gives glory to God” — that might seem like a pointless, burdensome, heavy list of laws that we might have to try and live up to.

If we are religious and condemning and proud and hypocritical, we might hear that and immediately think of “someone else who ought to be living their lives differently”.

If we are in sin or not fully surrendered in an area of our lives, we might hear that and be “reminded of something we are doing that could hinder our testimony that needs to be confessed, repented, and laid down at the foot of the cross”.

If we are walking freely in the joy of the Lord, we might hear that and “be inspired that we have the opportunity today to live differently, peculiarly, oddly unique — as salt and light — as vessels of the Holy Spirit of God — as ambassadors of the upside down Kingdom of God”.

And there is a time for everything, so we need not try and fake it and act like our lives are full of joy if we are broken and hurting and in need of rest. We need not “put on a mask of religion” to appear one way while we know inside we are living alie.

No, we need to decide, “Is God worth being glorified?”

That is truly the answer, and is the reason behind those differing perspectives. If we truly believe that He is, and we know that our greatest purpose is to glorify Him — it shifts everything else.

When we truly believe this about God — it makes it much easier for us to lay down that temptation, sin, shame, bitterness, unforgiveness, grumbling, etc. that was hindering us in our walk with God.

But what about those times when we doubt?

What about those times when we have grown weary?

What about if we don’t even know the Lord yet?

What if we’ve never yet heard the gospel and truly believed and received?

There is Good News, friend!

We can continue in this life trying to make it about ourselves — and continue on that broad path to self destruction. Or we can learn about this Jesus Christ, who is God who came in the flesh as a mam to live among us and truly live upright in a way that not only fulfilled the religious laws but superceded them in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control that is in such a stark contrast to religious hypocrisy or selfish lawlessness. And we can learn how a sinful world hated Him for it so that He could pay for our sins and offer us forgiveness and demonstrate a way where there was no way — a way where we could know and love God in a personal way that has us grateful for the opportunity to glorify Him in our lives.

If this sounds like the type of change you need in your life today — real relationship with God — a life of true purpose — freedom from sin and shame — a life of glorifying God and not yourself — pray with me:

Lord, you are trustworthy and worthy of all praise and honor and glory. Too many times, I have made it about myself and not about you. Too many times I have doubted and not trusted you even though you are always faithful. Thank you for revealing your gospel and The Way to me. Thank you for allowing me to turn back from the broad way to destruction that I have been on. Thank you for showing me areas of my own life that need to be surrendered. Thank you for teaching me how to live in a way that glorifies you. Help me today to remember, to not forget that you are worthy, and that your way is best. Amen.

If you have any questions, need prayer, need someone to talk to, etc. please leave me a comment below, or send me a message from the About Me page.

God bless you and keep you, and may His joy, His very countenance and nature be on you and shine through you for the world to see and bring glory to our Father in heaven. Amen.