5 Lessons I Learned by Fasting Social Media | Influence Magazine


My wife Tiffany could tell something was wrong with me. We had just spent a day with the kids at the local amusement park, Silver Dollar City. (Tiffany calls it “Steal Your Dollar City.”) The weather was perfect, the ride lines were short, the food was delicious, and the kids had a great time. And yet, my face gave away my inner turmoil.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Tiffany asked.

“My emotions are off,” I replied. “I’m not responding emotionally as I should.”

The immediate cause of my unease was an exchange on Facebook. A friend posted about a national tragedy that had just occurred. Rather than grieving about that tragedy, I commented about how people were using that tragedy to score political points. A third person jumped all over me for my comment, going so far as to question my Christianity. It got ugly.

All this took place while my family enjoyed their day out. In the midst of an amusement park, I was angry and unamused. My kids were riding rides. I was on my iPhone arguing with a stranger.

My wife asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to fast social media for a while,” I finally responded.

Right then and there, I resolved to fast social media through the month of November. When I got home, I announced on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram that I was taking a break from social media — except for work-related matters— and then deleted those apps from my iPhone and iPad. I kept my resolution, except on a handful of occasions, for which my wife gently reproached me.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that my fast instantly solved the problem of my emotional out-of-whackness. It didn’t. I’ve still got work to do. But my fast did teach me a few lessons about myself and social media that I think are worth sharing, five in particular. Here they are:

First, I spend too much time on my iPhone. According to my most recent Screen Time report, I spend, on average, four hours, 7 minutes per day on my iPhone. And that’s after my social media fast. Evidently, I was spending even more timeon my iPhone before the fast.

In my defense, I do a lot of work on my iPhone. Plus, I usually stream TV shows on it when I’m at home. (At my house, Tiffany controls the remote.) Still, more than one day out of every week seems like an excessive amount of time to stare at a small pixelated screen. And yet, studies I’ve seen peg the average time Americans spend on smartphones at between three and five hours daily. So I’m average in my excessiveness. That’s not good.

Second, time is an exclusive commodity. Each day, God gives us 24 hours. Time doesn’t come with a pause button, let alone one for rewind or fast-forward. We use it; then we lose it.

The question I have to ask myself is whether spending more than four hours a day on an iPhone is the best use of my time. Just asking the question answers it. No, of course not!

Even granting that I need a smartphone to do smart work — which is true in a modern economy, to a certain degree — I’ve been reminded again and again that there are other things to do than stare at my iPhone. At the very least, arguing on Facebook with a stranger while my kids are riding roller coasters at an amusement park is a waste of time — mine, his, theirs.

Third, I have learned that I am easily distracted. In his Pensées— “Thoughts” — the Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

In other words, we long for the distraction of constant activity. If you don’t believe me, try sitting quietly in a room for an hour all by yourself. No TV. No radio. No book or newspaper or crossword puzzle. And definitely no smartphone or tablet.

It’s difficult. In my case, it’s difficult in large part because I have three kids, ages 5, 6 and 10, clamoring for my attention, as well as a wife who likes to unwind by watching reality TV. There’s not a quiet room at Chez Wood.

And yet, it’s also difficult because I don’t like being left alone with my thoughts. So, I unlock my iPhone and browse the web for news. I like and comment on friends’ posts on Facebook. I unleash a string of bon mots on Twitter. I look at pictures on Instagram. I stream a movie on Netflix.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Think about that for a moment. It implies that unless we can be still, we cannot know God. No wonder Pascal thought all of humanity’s problems stemmed from our inability to be still!

Fourth, I fear missing out. When I am still, I know God. I know that He loves me because of what Christ has done, not because of what I have done. This roots my identity in His grace, mercy, and forgiveness rather than in any accomplishment on my part. And this identity gives me a deep satisfaction with life, whatever my lot in it might be. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances,” Paul writes (Philippians 4:11).

Compare that statement with what social scientists call FOMO — the fear of missing out. One of the reasons I spend so much time on social media is because I fear missing out on the news, on the latest gossip, on the newest and best in online entertainment.

And yet, there is an irony at work on social media. Think of it this way: I present my best life online. I take (and retake) pictures to get just the best one. I write (and rewrite) posts to be the funniest or most insightful. What you see of me is the me I want you to see.

And that means what I see of you is the you that you want me to see. I’m not seeing reality online. I’m seeing filtered reality.

The problem is that when we view others’ filtered lives online, we get jealous. We think others are leading better lives than our own, and we want the lives they appearto be leading more the lives we ourselves are actuallyleading. Ironically, then, we end up fearing that we have missed a reality that is in fact fake.

No wonder studies indicate that people who spend too much time on social reality are depressed! After spending nearly a month off social media — with clearly defined exceptions — I found that my mood had improved considerably. As I said above, I’m still working on out-of-whack emotions, but I’m in a much better place than I was at the end of October.

That brings me to a fifth and final lesson: I need discernment and discipline. At one point, I considered trading in my smartphone for a dumbphone and deleting all my social media accounts.

I didn’t do that for two reasons. For one thing, my iPhone has become a helpful tool at work. For another thing, the real problem isn’t the tool; it’s how I use the tool. The abuse or misuse of a thing doesn’t destroy its proper use, after all.

So, after my social media fast, I’m trying to be more discerning about how I use my iPhone, starting with simply using it less. Less time on it is more time for my wife and kids, friends, coworkers, neighbors … and for God.

I’m also trying to be more disciplined. Instead of reaching for my iPhone to distract me from my boredom, I’m trying to sit quietly in that room, attentive to God and to how He might be leading me. That’s always more important than whatever is happening online.

P.S. This article is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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The Well-Read Pastor | Influence Magazine


Pastors wear many hats in their congregations. On any given day, someone may ask them to explain a particular Bible verse or help mend a marriage or supervise an audit of the church’s finances. No wonder the average U.S. pastor buys four books a month, according to a 2013 Barna report! Pastors have a need to know.

Because reading is so important to ministry, pastors must think carefully about what and how they read. Over the years, I have developed 10 convictions about my own reading habits that may be helpful to you.

  1. Reading is a spiritual discipline. A spiritual discipline is any habitual activity that helps you become Christlike. Obviously, Bible reading is a spiritual discipline, but so is all reading. You are — or you become — what you read.
  2. What you read shapes how you lead. Reading also shapes your ministry. Practical leadership books do this directly, but other books do it indirectly. Great insights into leadership often come from unexpected sources.
  3. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The goal of pastoral reading is to become, and to lead, more like Christ. Being well-informed is important, but the Bible prioritizes love over mere intelligence. As Paul wrote, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
  4. Well-read is better than widely-read. Whenever I go to a bookstore, I think, So many books, so little time! Given limitations on your time and budget, prioritize reading classics over fads.
  5. Read both widely and deeply. This conviction stands in tension with the previous one, but it’s still true. Because you wear so many hats, you need to know a little about a lot. So read widely. But because you are leading your church to Christ, focus on core topics: Bible, theology, ethics, spiritual disciplines and church history. On those topics, read deeply.
  6. Read your friends, neighbors and strangers. For me, “friends” equals fellow Pentecostals. “Neighbors” means authors from non-Pentecostal Christian traditions, such as Calvinists or Methodists. “Strangers” refers to authors from non-Christian religious or non-religious backgrounds. Reading these groups helps you better understand both the breadth and the borderlines of Christianity.
  7. Old books often say it best. “Every age has its own outlook,” wrote C.S. Lewis. Including our own. That outlook isn’t true just because it’s contemporary or because it’s ours. The only way to test its truthfulness, Lewis went on, is to “keep the clean sea breeze of the ages blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”
  8. The best book is a shared book. If it’s good, it’s good enough to share with others. If it helped you, it will help them.
  9. It’s OK to read fiction. Fiction has been defined as “the lie that tells the truth.” The events it describes didn’t happen, but they nonetheless accurately depict the human condition. Perhaps that’s why psychologists have found a connection between reading fiction and empathy. The best novels help us understand others better.
  10. Above all, be homo unius libri — a man (or woman) of one Book. Your church needs you to be an expert on the Bible more than anything else. So, read many books, but read the Book most of all.

In the Introduction to his volume of sermons, John Wesley wrote: “[Christ] came from heaven; He hath written it down in a book. O give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God. I have it; here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri!”

May that be a well-read pastor’s prayer too!

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

P.S. This article is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Head, Heart, and Hands: Three marks of a holistic Pentecostal ministry


On any given day, an Assemblies of God pastor may read a scholarly commentary in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, counsel a church member who is experiencing an emotional crisis, and help a poor family in the community pay its bills. Pentecostal ministry is holistic, in other words. It encompasses what we believe, what we feel and how we behave — our head, heart and hands, respectively.

The biblical foundation of this holism is the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34–40). Asked to name “the greatest commandment in the Law,” Christ Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The Great Commandment is not the gospel, it needs to be emphasized. “This is love,” writes the apostle John:“not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as anatoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God’s love for us in Christ is the gospel. The Great Commandment merely summarizes our response to the gospel. God’s love for us precedes our love for Him and makes it possible.

And not only for Him, of course, but for others. John goes on to write: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20). Our love for others does not stop at our front porch or our neighbor’s front door, however. God commands us to love not only those who are like us — neighbors, brothers and sisters — but those who are unlike us too. This means that we ought to love the “foreigner” (Leviticus 19:34) and our “enemies” (Matthew 5:44).

A cool head that discerns truth. A warm heart that invites relationship. An open hand that gives freely to the poor. These are the hallmarks of a holistic Pentecostal life and ministry.

This is fundamental Christianity: God’s love for us calling forth our love for Him and others.

So, how do we grow in our love? How do we keep the Great Commandment in ever-increasing measure? Especially as pastors, how do we stay on the leading edge of love?

For me, this is where the head-heart-hands schema becomes important. That schema reminds me that my love for God and others must be characterized at all times by a cool head, a warm heart and open hands. Love cannot be a fraction. God does not want one-third of our love or two-thirds. He wants the whole of our love. Our lives and our ministries must be characterized by orthodoxy(right belief), orthopathy(right feeling) and orthopraxy(right behavior).

Head. I have quoted 1 John 4 twice already, but permit me to quote it again, for the chapter begins in an interesting way. “Dear friends,” John writes, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God … ” (verse 1).Notice two things right away: First, John assumes that God continues to speak to His people. There are “spirits” — which I take to mean “gifts of the Holy Spirit” — that come “from God.” A cool head, an orthodox mind will be open to hearing from God.

Yet, by the same token, that cool head will exercise discernment “because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (verse 1). How do we know the difference? John offers a doctrinal test focused on the Incarnation: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (verses 2–3).

Paul offers a similar doctrinal test focused on the lordship of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3). These are not the only tests, of course, but they are fundamental. My takeaway from these passages is this: In my love for God and others, my mind should be curiouswithout being credulous, and what helps me keep that dynamic is a constant focus on Christ, who is himself “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Heart. The heart is the seat of human emotion. Here is where our deepest loves and hates, hopes and fears reside. And these deepest affections and emotions shape our actions. Christ Jesus said: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). No wonder, then, Scriptures exhorts believers, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

A warm heart, an orthopathic heart, is fairly easy to diagnose, in my experience. In Galatians 5:19–23, the apostle Paul differentiated between “the acts of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” What’s interesting to me is that the acts of the flesh are fundamentally selfish and have the effect of pushing people away. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit describe a healthy self whose personality pulls people closer. A loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled personality is an attractive one. Like the sun acting on planets in our solar system, a warm heart pulls people into its orbit.

In my love for God and others, do my affections and emotions selfishly pushothers away, or do they pullpeople into a deeper relationship with me — and, through me, with God?

Hands. Orthopraxy, right action, is part and parcel of Christianity. In the apostle Paul’s immortal formulation of the matter, we are saved by grace throughfaith forworks (Ephesians 2:8–10). A deedless Christianity is a Christless Christianity — in other words, a contradiction in terms.

But while we ought to follow Christ in every area of life, the Bible emphasizes our duties to the poor, weak and powerless in particular. So, Christ Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). His brother James asks, “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:16). The apostle Paul writes, “Command [wealthy believers] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). This is why I like to describe orthopraxy as an open hand.

In my life and ministry, is my hand open to all, but especially the poor, the weak and the powerless in my community? Do I seetheir needs and take actionto meet them?

A cool head that discerns truth. A warm heart that invites relationship. An open hand that gives freely to the poor. These are the hallmarks of a holistic Pentecostal life and ministry.

P.S. This article first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com. It is reposted here by permission.

“Our Father in Heaven”: How God’s Character Motivates and Directs Our Prayers


Today is the U.S. National Day of Prayer. When Jesus’ disciples asked for a lesson in how to pray, Jesus laid out a model prayer that starts like this, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven…”

Whom You Pray to Matters
The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) consists of six petitions. When we pray, we ask God that

  • His name be hallowed,
  • His kingdom come,
  • His will be done,
  • our needs be met,
  • our sins forgiven,
  • and our souls protected.

Notice the order of these requests. First, we direct our attention to God and His concerns; then — and only then — we direct God’s attention to us and our concerns. When we prioritize God, we receive His blessing: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing, etc.] will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Notice also what Jesus assumes about God. The Lord’s Prayer tells us what to pray for, but it assumes certain things about God’s character and power. It assumes He is worthy of our requests and able to grant them.

These assumptions find expression in the name Jesus uses to address God: “our Father in heaven.” We are so accustomed to referring to God as our Father that we forget what a radical idea and innovative practice it was in Jesus’ own day. New Testament scholars believe that Jesus invented the habit of calling God, “Father.” He did so because He was conscious of His unique relationship with God. In John 20:17, for example, He distinguished His way of relating to God from ours: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” But His relationship with God is not a zero-sum game. We too can become God’s sons and daughters because Jesus is God’s Son par excellence: “In love,” Paul writes, “[God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:4–5). When we call God “Father,” we say something important about His character: He loves us, and it is His pleasure and will to welcome us into His presence.

When we call God “Father,” we say something important about His character: He loves us, and it is His pleasure and will to welcome us into His presence.

When we call God “our Father in heaven,” we say something equally important about His power. In the Bible, heaven is God’s dwelling place, the throne room from which He rules the universe. It connotes divine majesty and absolute power. Revelation 4:1–11 records John’s vision of heaven. It is a place of unimaginable beauty. All day long, angels and human beings worship God to the fullest extent of their abilities. They sing,

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things,
and by your will they were created and have their being.

In light of this song, stop and reflect for a moment on the meaning of the words, “our Father in heaven.” The God who created and sustains the universe is pleased to be a Father to you and me. How can we not rest assured, then, that our prayers will be answered when we pray to such a God?

Who you pray to matters, it turns out, as much as — if not more than — what you pray for.

Responding to an Objection
Many people find it difficult to pray to God as their Father in heaven. Their earthly fathers were so bad that they cannot conceive of a heavenly Father in anything but negative terms. Additionally, some object that since God is neither male nor female, it is inappropriate to think of Him in masculine terms. They argue that either we should stop thinking of God in terms of sex, or we should start balancing masculine terms with feminine ones, praying to God as both “Father” and “Mother.”

Both points of view share a mistake. They assume that our God-talk is the result of projection rather than revelation. For them, the flow of imagery is upward: We conceive of God in our own image. According to the Bible, however, the flow is downward: He reveals himself through our language. Consequently, we should not see our heavenly Father through the distorting prism of earthly fatherhood — with its sinfulness and limitation. Instead, we should view earthly fatherhood in the light of heaven — with all its boundless perfection. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:15, it is from our heavenly Father that “every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” (The Greek word rendered “family” is patria, literally, “fatherhood.”)

Calling God “our Father in heaven” implies both contrast from and comparison to our earthly fathers.

When we pray, then, we must remember the contrast between our heavenly Father and our earthly fathers. By the same token, however, we must remember that Jesus chose the image of fatherhood to describe God for a reason: We learn about what we do not know by means of what we do know. When, therefore, our earthly fathers act as God created them to, we see through their examples glimpses of how our heavenly Father treats us. Calling God “our Father in heaven” implies both contrast from and comparison to our earthly fathers, in other words.

A little parable in Matthew 7:7–11 makes this point clearly. Jesus asks, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Jesus admits that some earthly fathers are “evil,” in strong contrast to our morally perfect heavenly Father. This is a point of contrast. But even bad dads know how to give “good gifts.” So, a great dad — our heavenly Father — must know how to give really excellent gifts. This is a point of comparison.

Precisely because our heavenly Father gives great gifts, then, Jesus tells us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Our good heavenly Father will see that we get what we need, “and quickly”; so let us “always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1,8).

The Father as God
Why did Jesus call God Father? And what difference does it make for our prayers? The New Testament suggests three answers to the first question and one to the second. We call God Father because:

  • as God, He is the Father of Jesus Christ,
  • as Savior, He is the Father of all believers,
  • and as Creator, He is the Father of the entire world.

Because our heavenly Father is God, Savior and Creator, we can be confident that He loves us and gives us what we need. This is the difference God’s Fatherhood makes to our prayers.

When we examine the relationship between God and Jesus Christ, two things become apparent: (1) Jesus related to God uniquely, and (2) that uniqueness arose from the fact of His divinity. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels shows Jesus’ unique relationship with God. John 20:17 is a prime example: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Jesus is not referring to two gods but to two ways of relating to God: His and ours.

The best explanation for this unique relationship is Jesus’ own divinity. Notice what He said in John 5:17: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” John tells us that this angered Jesus’ religious opponents because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (verse 18).

If the Father loves us so greatly that He gave the Son to save us, how can we not approach him confidently in prayer?

We are wading in very deep theological waters when we affirm Jesus’ divinity. If there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), how can two persons — Father and Son — be God? (Or three persons, if we add the Holy Spirit?) And how can a man born in a stable be God? Over the centuries, the Christian tradition has developed the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation to answer these questions. The Trinity teaches that one God eternally exists as three persons — Father, Son, and Spirit. The Incarnation teaches that the Son has two complete natures — human and divine. I do not fully comprehend these doctrines — they are mysterious! — so I will not attempt to explain them to you here. Nevertheless, I believe both are based on the Bible and do not contain any obvious logical contradictions. They conform, in other words, to revelation and reason.

What I will point out is this: Both doctrines give us a powerful reason to pray. Paul writes in Romans 8:31–32: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” If the Father loves us so greatly that He gave the Son to save us, how can we not approach him confidently in prayer? Nothing is “able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

So, let us pray to God, the Father of Jesus Christ!

The Father as Savior
The first reason we call God Father is because He is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). The second reason is that He is the Father of all believers. Jesus has a unique relationship with God, but we can have a relationship with Him too, although in a different way.

That difference can be expressed as the difference between a natural-born and an adopted child: Jesus is God’s natural Son, but we are God’s adopted sons and daughters. As a natural Son, Jesus shares the Father’s DNA. He is divine by nature. We, on the other hand, do not share the Father’s DNA — we are not divine — but He invites us to enter a relationship with Him, a relationship of His choosing.

Please do not stretch this analogy too far. It is only a metaphor. God does not actually have DNA. But by the same token, do not ignore the analogy’s power! It is rooted in the biblical language of salvation. Consider Ephesians 1:4–5, “In love, [God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”

If you think about it, the adoption analogy is a vivid picture of the gospel. Because of sin, we are orphans. Precisely because we are orphans, however, God has no parental duties toward us. We are someone else’s children, someone else’s problem. But God chooses to adopt us anyway. It is His “pleasure and will” to do so. Like all adoptions, the cost to the would-be parent is exorbitant. We become God’s sons and daughters “through Jesus Christ,” that is, by means of His death and resurrection. But God is willing to pay the cost because He loves us.

As God’s children and heirs, we can joyfully ask Him for anything we need. He chose to love us in the first place. Will He not also care for us on an ongoing basis?

How does our adoptive Father treat us? Are we merely wards of the state of heaven? Are we second-class members of God’s household? Are we like Cinderella — begrudged by the natural-born children and made to do slavish tasks? No! No! No! Listen to Galatians 4:6–7: “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

What difference does this change in status from slavery to sonship make for our prayer life? Listen to Romans 8:15–17: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” As God’s children and heirs, we can joyfully ask Him for anything we need. He chose to love us in the first place. Will He not also care for us on an ongoing basis?

So, let us pray to God, the Father of all believers!

The Father as Creator
A third and final reason we call God Father is that He is the Creator of and Provider for the entire world. James describes him as “the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). Paul writes, “there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6). No wonder, then, he writes, “every family [literally, all fatherhood] in heaven and on earth derives its name” from the heavenly Father (Ephesians 3:15). Or that, quoting a Greek poet, he remarks: “We are his offspring” (Acts 17:28). God created and provides for us; therefore, He is our Father.

As Creator and Provider, the Father dispenses His blessings with impartiality and expects us to do the same. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44–45). When it comes to the blessings of salvation and an eternal life with Him, God requires faith of us. With creature comforts and temporal goods, however, God is an equal-opportunity giver.

As Creator and Provider, the Father dispenses His blessings with impartiality and expects us to do the same.

God’s creatorship makes a tremendous difference in our prayer life, as Jesus himself pointed out. We spend our lives working hard to get stuff, some of which is good and necessary, some not. But often, we develop acquisition anxiety. We worry about acquiring what we need as well as what we simply want. To paraphrase the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25–34, we worry about our lives, what we will eat or drink; and we worry about our bodies, what we will wear. We shouldn’t. To see why, we should pay attention to three questions Jesus asks us.

First, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” When we pray, God reminds us of our priorities and helps us see the difference between our needs and our wants.

Second, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” When we pray, God reminds us of our value in His eyes and assures us that He will meet our needs.

Third, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” When we pray, God administers a dose of reality medicine. Anxiety does not prolong life. Medically speaking, it shortens it. So do not worry; God will provide. Only the pagans run after all these things [food, drink, clothing, etc.]; our “heavenly Father knows that [we] need them.”

God is the Father of the entire world. He created us; He also will provide for us. So, let us pray to Him!

Fatherhood, Feelings, Facts and Faith
God is our heavenly Father. He created us, saved us and provides for our needs. So, when we pray, we ought to remember and give thanks for His powerful love.

Unfortunately, we do not always feel God’s love. Sometimes, we feel that God is ignoring or neglecting us. When we are anxious about our material needs or disconsolate about our spiritual condition, we want to feel God’s reassuring hand and hear His soothing voice. But we don’t.

What should we do?

First, we should remember that feelings are not reliable guides to reality. In high school, I competed in a speech meet that I felt I had won. I spoke flawlessly. My only real competitor, however, jumbled the opening lines of her speech and started over. I was sure the trophy was mine, but the judges pronounced my competitor the winner. My feelings had led me astray, as feelings often do.

When life is going well and our emotions are all positive ones, it is easy to believe in God and do His will. But take those crutches away, and will any faith in Him remain?

Second, in light of the unreliability of our emotions, we should let facts determine our feelings. God’s Word is the most reliable source of information we have about Him, so what it says about Him should determine how we feel about Him, especially when we go through difficult circumstances. In Matthew 6:25–27, Jesus noted two facts: (1) God cares for you more than birds, whose needs are always met; and (2) anxiety is unhelpful. Jesus let those facts shape His emotional life, and He encouraged His followers to do the same.

Third, and finally, we should walk by faith. St. John of the Cross wrote about “the dark night of the soul,” when we do not feel God’s presence or comfort at all. Interestingly, he considered such nights a gift from God. When life is going well and our emotions are all positive ones, it is easy to believe in God and do His will. But take those crutches away, and will any faith in Him remain? Are we fair-weather friends to God? Do we love God for God, or selfishly?

Faith is not a leap in the dark. It is not a belief in the bizarre or absurd. It is the simple trust that God can be taken at His word. God loves you powerfully. That is a fact whether you feel it or not. Have faith, and one day — if not today — the facts and your feelings will meet, and you will see God “face to face” (1 Corinthians13:12).

P.S. This article is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough | Influence Magazine


Note: The following column will appear in the March/April 2018 issue of Influence magazine. I wrote it prior to yesterday’s deadly shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Its purpose is to encourage local congregations to respond holistically to people’s needs when tragedy strikes their community.

*****

The deadliest mass shooting in the United States took place the night of October 1, 2017, when a gunman opened fire on concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, leaving 58 dead and 851 injured. In the aftermath of that shooting, people across America took to social media to offer “thoughts and prayers” for the victims. Their sentiment was heartfelt, but was it enough?

According to the Bible, the answer is no.

James 2:15–16 says, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

No good at all.

Similarly, 1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

It can’t be. So, John exhorts us, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (verse 18).

Words are insufficient responses to a tragedy, crisis or need unless we pair them with deeds.

By the same token, however, deeds also are insufficient responses to a tragedy if we fail to pair them with words and prayers.

Why? Because we have minds as well as bodies. We need to know that our lives have meaning, that our pain has a purpose. According to the apostle Paul, being at “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” enables us to make sense of our suffering. We can “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:1,3–4).

Consequently, an authentic Christian response to tragedy combines deeds and words, action and prayer, help and hope. It’s a both/and effort, not an either/or choice.

Let me close by suggesting three concrete needs victims have that your church should provide if — God forbid! — tragedy strikes your community.

First, victims need shelter, a safe place where their immediate physical and material needs are met. Providing shelter is a Matthew 25:34–36 ministry to the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and imprisoned.

Second, victims need shoulders to cry on, a community that affirms their emotional response to loss. Responding with empathy is a Romans 12:15 ministry: “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” Paul teaches us; “mourn with those who mourn” (emphasis added).

Third, victims need shepherds. Helping people find meaning in their suffering is a Psalm 23:2 ministry. It leads them to the “green pastures” and “quiet waters” of faith in God.

When tragedy hits, people’s immediate needs are for shelter and shoulders. Over the long term, though, as they mentally and emotionally process their experience, they increasingly need shepherds. Your church will do a great service to the community if it’s prepared to respond to people’s needs holistically in times of tragedy.

 

Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • “Between 2001 and 2008,” Jerry Ireland writes, “missions budgets for evangelism and discipleship declined by almost 11 percent, while funds for relief and development work increased by nearly 9 percent.” My guess is that this trend continued in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Both Jerry and I believe that Pentecostal mission must include evangelism and compassion. However, discipleship has a missional priority. Jerry writes, “The most compassionate thing your church can do is support missionaries discipling local people to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16).”
  • In today’s #InfluencePodcast, Daniel Im and I talk about how new book, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. Daniel argues that churches need to make five micro-shifts in ministry: (1) from destination to direction, (2) from output to input, (3) from sage to guide, (4) from form to function, and (5) from maturity to missionary. My review of the book will be up at InfluenceMagazine.com and here on Wednesday.
  • Chris Railey highlights the importance of church planting in the August-September issue of Influence magazine: “Church planters want to change the world, and the truth is, they are the Church’s best hope. The Assemblies of God is seeing incredible growth in the number of new churches. In fact, 2016 was the best church-planting year in our 103-year history, with 406 new churches opened. Church planters connect us to our pioneering roots; they represent the missional and Spirit-led work of expanding the kingdom of God that has always defined our movement.”

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Friday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey gives sound advice to church leaders who are hiring new staff. “When hiring personnel, consider more than just their obvious talents, ” he writes. “Look at some of the intangibles that a person won’t acquire through training alone.”
  • Kristi Northup makes a Pentecostal case for diversity. “I am all for fair legislation and pursuing justice through the legal system, but racial and ethnic divisions are as deeply rooted as original sin can get. The issue is massive. It is everywhere, on every continent and in every nation. Only a Holy Spirit visitation can heal us of this deep wound.”
  • We note a Barna study about Americans’ practice of prayer. “Nearly 8 in 10 American adults (79 percent) surveyed said they had prayed at least once in the past three months, Barna said. Of those who pray, a vast majority are most likely to do so alone (94 percent) and silently (82 percent).”

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