No, I Won’t Bless the Food

PrayerDo  you pray before you begin eating a meal? I don’t mean “God is great, God is good, thank You for this food, Amen.” I mean a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for God’s provision. I once heard of a family who prayed over their grocery sacks before unpacking them so they didn’t have to pray at each meal. I don’t think this is the right motive or means for giving thanks for the nourishment God provides through our daily bread.

In his post “No, I Won’t Bless the FoodDonald Whitney gives some great instruction on why and how we should pray before we begin each meal.

Whitney writes:

In my travels, at the start of a meal with Christian brothers and sisters, I’m often asked, “Will you bless the food?”

“No.”

My hosts sit there in stunned silence for a moment. Then, with everyone staring at me with awkward, “What do we do now?” looks, I’ll add, “But I’ll be happy to ask the Lord to bless the food.”

Maybe it reflects the limits of my own experience, but it’s been my observation that nowadays fewer followers of Jesus pause like this at the beginning of a meal to give thanks for what they are about to eat.

This seems to be true for individuals and for families, at home and in public.

Why the decline? As with all Christian practices and disciplines, unless each successive generation is taught the reason for something, it soon devolves into mere a routine, then an empty tradition, and then disuse.

Biblical origins of mealtime prayers

Have you ever been taught the biblical reasons for the Christian tradition of praying before a meal? To continue reading follow this link: No, I Won’t Bless the Food.

No Coasting into Christlikeness

Life LinesToday there are a lot of people saying that just believing in Jesus is enough to get you to heaven. Now, I believe that we are saved by faith alone; however, I also believe that true saving faith will be seen in the way we live our lives. The desires of those who are saved have been changed. They no longer hunger and thirst after the things of this world, but hunger for the holiness, righteousness, and purity of Christ Jesus.

Dr. Donald Whitney’s post “No Coasting into Christlikeness” clearly identifies what the Bible says about growing in godliness. Godliness is not an option for the true believer. Once we receive the Spirit of God our lives are eternally changed.

Whitney writes:

When it comes to discipline in the Christian life, many believers question its importance. Devotion to prayer declines into drudgery. The real-life usefulness of meditation on Scripture seems uncertain. The purpose of a discipline like fasting is a mystery. Why not leave spiritual discipline to those who seem to more disciplined by nature and let the rest of us “live by grace”?

First, we must understand what we shall become. The Bible says of God’s elect, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). God’s eternal plan ensures that every Christian will ultimately conform to Christlikeness. We will be changed “when he appears” so that “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). If you are born again (John 3:3-8), this is you, Christian, as soon as “he appears.”

 So why talk about discipline? If God has predestined our conformity to Christlikeness, where does discipline fit in? Why not just coast into the promised Christlikeness and forget about discipline?

Although God will grant Christlikeness to us when Jesus returns, until then He intends for us to grow toward it. We aren’t merely to wait for holiness, we’re to pursue it. “Strive for peace with everyone,” we’re commanded in Hebrews 12:14, “and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Notice carefully what that says: without holiness—that is, Christlikeness; Godliness—no one will see the Lord, regardless of how many times they’ve been to church or how often they’ve engaged in religious activities or how spiritual they believe themselves to be.

 It’s crucial—crucial—to understand that it’s not our pursuit of holiness that qualifies us to see the Lord. Rather, we are qualified to see the Lord by the Lord, not by good things we do. We cannot produce enough righteousness to impress God and gain admittance into Heaven. Instead we can stand before God only in the righteousness that’s been earned by another, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus lived a life good enough to be accepted by God and worthy of entrance into Heaven. And He was able to do so because He was God in the flesh. Living a perfect life qualified Him to be a sacrifice that the Father would accept on behalf of others who by sin had disqualified themselves from Heaven and a relationship with God. As proof of God’s acceptance of Jesus’ life and sacrifice, God raised Him from the dead.

In other words, Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life in complete obedience to the commands of God, and He did so in order to give the credit for all that obedience and righteousness to those who had not kept all of God’s law, and He died for them on a Roman cross in order to receive the punishment they deserved for all their sins against God’s law.

 As a result, all who come to God trusting in the person and work of Jesus to make them right with God are given the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). The presence of the Holy Spirit causes all those in whom He resides to have new holy hungers they didn’t have before. They hunger, for example, for the holy word of God—the Bible—that they used to find boring or irrelevant. They have new holy longings, such as the longing to live in a body without sin and to have a mind no longer tempted by sin. They yearn to live in a holy and perfect world with holy and perfect people, and to see at last the One the angels perpetually praise as “Holy, holy, holy” (Revelation 4:8). These are some of the holy heartbeats in all those in whom the Holy Spirit resides.

Consequently, when the Holy Spirit indwells someone, that person begins to prize and pursue holiness. Thus, as we have seen in Hebrews 12:14, anyone who is not striving for holiness will not see the Lord. And the reason they will not see the Lord in eternity is because they do not know the Lord now, for those who know Him are given His Holy Spirit, and all those indwelled by the Holy Spirit are compelled to pursue holiness.

 And so, the urgent question every Christian should ask is, “How then shall I pursue holiness, the holiness without which I will not see the Lord? How can I become more like Jesus Christ?”

We find a clear answer in 1 Timothy 4:7: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (NASB). In other words, if your purpose is Godliness—and godliness is your purpose if you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, for He makes godliness your purpose—then how do you pursue that purpose? According to this verse, you “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.”

 This verse is the theme for Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. In it I attempt to unpack the meaning of 1 Timothy 4:7 and apply it, chapter-by-chapter, in practical ways. I will refer to the scriptural ways Christians discipline themselves in obedience to this verse as the Spiritual Disciplines. I maintain there that the only road to Christian maturity and Godliness (a biblical term synonymous with Christlikeness and holiness) passes through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines. I emphasize that Godliness is the goal of the Disciplines, and when we remember this, the Spiritual Disciplines become a delight instead of drudgery.

Source: The Biblical Center for Spirituality

The Limits of Liberty

limits-of-libertyHave you ever wonder if certain activities, hobbies, or habits are ok for you as a Christian. You want to glorify God in everything you do, but it seems there are some things not covered in the Bible. So, you ask yourself, “Does this glorify God?”

In “The Limits of our Liberty” John MacArthur gives us several key principles to help answer this question.

MacArthur writes:

Scripture is clear and understandable, but it’s not exhaustive. Throughout the history of the church, believers have faced countless issues that God’s Word is silent about. While the Old Testament law provided detailed instructions and restrictions for most areas of life, believers today are not bound by God’s covenant with Israel—we’ve been set free in Christ. But how do we know what to do with our freedom?

In my lifetime alone, the church has wrestled with a wide variety of practical questions about how Christians ought to live. Should believers dance? Should they smoke or drink? Should men and women go swimming together? Should women wear makeup? Should people work on Sundays? Should women work at all? Should Christians attend movies or concerts? Should they watch TV? Should they send their children to public schools, or even private schools? Should Christians gamble? And should they tattoo their bodies?

Regardless of the issue, believers must not mistake Scripture’s silence as God’s indifference. The Bible might not specifically mention movies, TV, beer, or many of the other issues facing us today. But it does give plenty of principles to help us make good, God-honoring choices when it comes to the gray areas of life.

Is It Necessary?

When faced with one of life’s many gray areas, one of the ways to determine what you should do is to ask yourself, Do I need this? Is this thing—whether it’s an object, hobby, activity, or entertainment—a benefit to me, or is it excess baggage?

Hebrews 12:1 gives believers clear instructions to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The Greek word for encumbrance basically means bulk, and it can be anything that distracts your focus or your energy from the task at hand. As God’s people we are to run the race He’s set before us with excellence. We can’t do that if we’re weighed down with worldly pursuits and distractions.

Is It Profitable?

In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.” Many believers have used the first half of Paul’s statement as license for the exercise of their liberty, but they miss his real point.

The question should never be What am I allowed to do?, but What is profitable for me to do? Whenever faced with a question of Christian liberty, every believer needs to ask himself if engaging in that activity is going to build him up to be a better servant of the Lord. Will it increase his effectiveness as a believer? If the answer isn’t yes, then why would you do it?

Is It Christlike?

A third principle helps us take a broad look at how to exercise our liberty. First John 2:6 says, “The one who says he abides in [Christ] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” As believers, we know our lives are supposed to emulate Jesus—including how we live in life’s gray areas.

When it comes to making tough decisions about how to exercise your freedom, it’s always helpful to ask yourself, Is this what Christ would do? An honest examination of the issue from that perspective should push aside any personal desires and biases, and help you make God-honoring decisions that reflect the person and work of Christ in every facet of your life.

Is It a Good Testimony?

Another important question to ask yourself is How will this enhance my testimony? Colossians 4:5 says, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.” In other words, believers need to wisely consider how they behave, and how their behavior impacts their testimonies. How we live—particularly in the gray areas—shapes how the world evaluates us, our faith, and ultimately, our Savior. Is your behavior strengthening your testimony to the outside world? Does your lifestyle adorn the gospel, or is it a hindrance to it?

Is It Edifying?

And it’s not just a question of how the exercise of your liberty impacts others—you also need to consider what impact it will have on you. You need to regularly ask yourself, Will this build me up? In 1 Corinthians 10:23, Paul expands on his earlier exhortation with these words: “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” Each of us needs to faithfully ask ourselves if each activity, entertainment, hobby, or diversion will have a positive or negative effect on our spiritual growth. An honest evaluation of what we might gain—as well as what we might lose—ought to accompany all of our gray-area decisions.

Is It Glorifying to God?

Finally, we need to regularly ask ourselves, Will doing this glorify Christ? In a way, the principle of exaltation encompasses all the others, drilling down to the most basic element of Christian life. Believers have been set aside to glorify God and worship Him forever. But those activities aren’t reserved just for our eternity in heaven—they ought to describe the pattern of our daily lives. This life isn’t “our time” to do whatever we like. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

That well-known verse comes from a landmark passage in 1 Corinthians—one that I want to examine with you in greater detail over the next few days. In it, Paul explains the limits of our liberty in Christ, and how it is to be used and governed for our sake, as well as others. His practical instructions are applicable and helpful for every believer, and timely for the church today.

Source: Grace to You

Advice for Dealing with Criticism

heart of a servant leader

By Bob Pittenger

I am so thankful for those who are willing to step up and lead. Regardless of whether it is a paid or volunteer position, leading a dozen or thousands, or public or behind closed doors, we must have leaders who are willing to be the target of criticism. Leadership is never easy. There will always be spectators sitting on the sidelines telling everyone who will listen how it could have been done better. It may not be right, but that is the life of a leader.

So, if you are a leader of any kind THANK YOU! Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for having a passionate vision that will not allow you to sit idly hoping that someone else will rise up and meet the challenge. Thanks for giving of yourself for the benefit of others, the team, the organization, or the Kingdom of God. Thanks for working to the point of exhaustion because more than anything else you want to make a difference. THANKS!!!!

During my morning devotion I read a great post by Dr. Chuck Swindoll on dealing with criticism. So, I want to share his post with you as a way of saying thanks to all our great leaders out there. I hope you find this as comforting and encouraging as did I.

Swindoll writes:

Looking for a role model on how to handle criticism? It would be worth your while to check out the book of Nehemiah. On several occasions this great-hearted statesman was openly criticized, falsely accused, and grossly misunderstood. Each time he kept his cool . . . he rolled with the punch . . . he considered the source . . . he refused to get discouraged . . . he went to God in prayer . . . he kept building the wall (Nehemiah 2:19–20; 4:1–5).

One of the occupational hazards of being a leader is receiving criticism (not all of it constructive, by the way). In the face of that kind of heat, there’s a strong temptation to “go under,” “throw in the towel,” “bail out.” Many have faded out of leadership because of intense criticism. I firmly believe that the leader who does anything that is different or worthwhile or visionary can count on criticism.

Along this line, I appreciate the remarks made by the fiery president of a past generation, Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

To those words I add a resounding amen.

A sense of humor is of paramount importance to the leader. Many of God’s servants are simply too serious! There are at least two tests we face that determine the extent of our sense of humor:

the ability to laugh at ourselves

the ability to take criticism

Believe me, no leader can continue effectively if he or she fails these tests! Equally important, of course, is the ability to sift from any criticism that which is true, that which is fact. We are foolish if we respond angrily to every criticism. Who knows, God may be using those words to teach us some essential lessons, painful though they may be.

Isn’t this what Proverbs 27:5–6 is saying?

Better is open rebuke
Than love that is concealed.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.

And let me call to your attention the word friend in these verses. Friendship is not threatened but strengthened by honest criticism. But—when you are criticized by one who hardly knows you, filter out what is fact . . . and ignore the rest!

Nehemiah did that . . . and he got the wall built.

Source: Insight.org

Is It Right for Christians to Take Anti-Depressants?

If you struggle with depression and wonder “Is It Right for Christians to Take Anti-Depressants” then this article by Dr. Russell Moore should be a source of encouragement for you.

Dr. Moore writes:

Dear Dr. Moore,

Not long ago, my doctor prescribed me as having a (relatively) mild form of depression. He put me on an anti-depressant. I hate the side effects, and I don’t like the way it makes me feel, but maybe I’ll get used to it. My biggest struggle is whether it is right to be on these at all. If I have the Holy Spirit, why do I need this drug? Is it ethical for a Christian to take drugs like this?

Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed,

First of all, you are right to seek medical help. Depression is not just unpleasant; it can be debilitating and dangerous, and it signals that something has gone wrong somewhere. Here are some things to think about.

God created us as whole persons, with body and psyche together. The body affects the psyche. Going without food, for example, or sleep will change the way one thinks or feels dramatically. And the psyche affects the body. We don’t “have” bodies or “have” psyches. We are psychosomatic whole persons, made in the image of God.

It makes sense to me that biological and physiological factors often play a role in persons not seeing reality correctly. Some drugs can “fix” something that’s gone wrong. For example, a malfunctioning thyroid can be corrected by synthetic drugs that prompt the body to do what it’s designed to do. Most of the anti-depressants you see advertised on television don’t “fix” something, as much as they alleviate symptoms. They rework levels of serotonin or dopamine reception, for instance, so that a person doesn’t experience the same levels of sadness or dullness or hopelessness.

Often, even when depression or anxiety is rooted in non-physiological reasons, the person is so far gone that medication is necessary to start working on the root issues. But, remember, for most people, there is no drug that will bring about psychic flourishing. What the drug is meant to do is to “numb” the person to the pain of depression and anxiety.

Numbing, as part of an overall plan, can be a good thing. When I have a toothache, I want my dentist to give me an anesthetic so that I don’t feel that throbbing anymore. Before my tooth can be fixed, someone must “shut down” the agony I’m in, temporarily. But a dentist who simply “treats” my infected tooth with an anesthetic isn’t helping me. Ultimately, the tooth must be fixed.

It could be that your depression and anxiety is caused by something physiological. If so, continue your medical treatment and have that looked at. But it could be that there’s a reason for the sadness or the anxiety. Maybe you’ve recently lost a spouse or a job or a friend. If so, grieve over that loss. Maybe you’re anxious about a guilty conscience or about an uncertain future. Don’t just medicalize that anxiety. Rehearse the gospel you’ve embraced, and pray, alone and with others, and seek the kind of counsel that can bring about the necessary life-change to cope with whatever seems so hopeless right now.

Whether your depression is ultimately chemical or circumstantial, it is also important, I think, to start with a realistic picture of what “normal” is, what your end goal should look like. I know I have trouble seeing this clearly sometimes.

The “normal” human life isn’t what is marketed to us by the pharmaceutical industry or by the lives we see projected on movie screens, or, frankly, by a lot of Christian sermons and praise songs. The normal human life is the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who sums up in himself everything it means to be human (Eph. 1:10). And the life of Christ presented to us in the Gospels is a life of joy, of fellowship, of celebration, but also of loneliness, of profound sadness, of lament, of grief, of anger, of suffering, all without sin.

As the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ, we don’t become giddy, or, much less, emotionally vacant. Instead, the Bible tells us we “groan” along with the persecuted creation around us (Rom. 8:23). We cry out with Jesus himself, experiencing with him often the agony of Gethsemane (Gal. 4:6; Mk. 14:36). And, paradoxically, along the way, we join Jesus in joy and peace (Gal. 5:22). A human emotional life is complicated, and a regenerated human emotional life is complicated too.

If your doctors are trying to get you to this kind of emotional holism, good. But if what you’re expecting is a kind of all-the-time emotional tranquility, you just might be passing up something that is part of the human condition itself.

There are some Christians who believe any psychiatric drug is a spiritual rejection of the Bible’s authority. I’m not one of them. But there are other Christians who seem to think, with the culture around us, that everything is material and can be solved by material means. I don’t think that’s right either.

Keep working with your doctors to treat your depression. If you’re not happy with the treatment or with the side-effects, seek some additional medical opinion, and listen for wisdom in a multitude of counselors. As you note in your question, sometimes the side-effects of these drugs are awful. Communicate with your doctor, and read up to ask the right kinds of questions.

But spend time too with those who know you and love you, and ask if there’s more behind this than simply serotonin reception. God doesn’t want you to be simply, in the words of one observer of the current pharmacological utopianism, “comfortably numb.” He wants you to be whole.