Archive for May, 2009

Contentment and the Object of Our Hunger

Often we tend to think of contentment as something that we need to “do better at.”  It goes in that same general category as watching our weight, exercising, keeping a budget, and biting our tongue.  We think I’ll get around to contentment when I get around to working on a few of those other things.

What if contentment were not an activity, but an appetite?  Notice the context in which Jesus speaks of satisfaction (here considered a synonym for contentment), “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).”  I believe he is saying that there is a correlation between what we hunger for and our level of satisfaction/contentment.

I have been told that when soldiers are trained for the possibility of being stranded at sea that the first point of emphasis is, “Commit to not drink the sea water.”  Think about it.  Once you have been in the sun for a few hours (or days) you would be thirsty.  There is water surrounding you.  You take the first salty drink.  The salty drink causes greater thirst.  With each drink you get thirstier and the increased sodium intake kicks dehydration into overdrive.  Death is accelerated and intensified.

Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to evaluate the “hungers” of many in his day.  Some sought to fill their hunger by having a reputation of giving to the poor (Matt 6:1-4), praying with eloquence (Matt 6:5-6), or fasting severely (Matt 6:16-17).  Really what they wanted was to be noticed.  And Jesus says a strange thing each time, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward (Matt 6:2, 5, 16).”

Personally, I do not read sarcasm in Jesus’ voice.  They received their reward, but their repetition and grandiosity seems to imply that their reward did not satisfy—produce contentment.  Like our poor soldier above, with each attempt to quench their thirst they became thirstier as futility and despair sat in.

We are no different.  Our hungers maybe different, but our hearts are not.  There are certain things we want (i.e., hunger and thirst for): acceptance, success, significance, money, stuff, freedom, belonging, affection, etc…  These are not bad things, but they are bottomless things.  There is never enough.  Even when we have them, we still wish we could stock pile some for a “rainy day.”  Unfortunately, these items do not have a shelf-life.

This brings us back to the beatitude, ““Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).”  It is only a hunger and thirst for righteousness that produces satisfaction and then only when we accept the righteousness of Christ on our behalf by faith (2 Cor 5:16-21).  It is only this hunger that does not become a slave to performance, trapped in people-pleasing, or corrupted with pride.  This is the hunger that produces contentment.

And contentment is attractive.  Contentment, like few other character qualities in our day, opens the door for us to be salt and light to our peers (Matt 5:13-16).  A heart that is at rest as it works, serves, and loves is a testimony to the Living Water (John 4:10) and Bread of Life (John 6:35).  At this point we can communicate clearly that what we have found in Jesus is the daily sustenance that allows us to enjoy every other pleasure (list above) without being driven or controlled.

Praise God for Paul’s words in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Preparing for a Group Study of Galatians

Preparation is the key to success.  This is just as true in Bible study as it is anywhere else in life.  In the coming weeks we are going to spend many hours in personal study, listening to teaching, and discussing the book of Galatians.  The question is, “Are we ready to receive what God has for us in this great book?”

I want to suggest several things that would help you prepare for our study of Galatians.  If you will commit to preparing yourself for our study with one or more of these, I believe it will greatly enrich the personal benefit you receive from Galatians and corporate benefit we receive from the discussion.

  • Read through the book of Galatians once per week while we study it together.  If you go to website [www.bradhambrick.com], you can download the book of Galatians (in several translations) to print out on 10-15 pages of paper double-spaced and with extra wide margins.  This will allow you to read the book as a letter (how it was written) and make notes all over it (those you like you add to your Bible).
  • Review the handout of topically arranged memory passages from Galatians.  Identify one or more that fit you and commit to memorize them.  As we study through the book of Galatians pay particular attention to how Paul is “setting the stage” for the passage(s) you are memorizing.  This will allow your Bible memorization to be enriched by a more complete understanding of the context of the passage that speaks to your need.
  • Pray at least once per week for me, as your teacher, and my time of preparation.  Ask God to use our time of study and discussion to expand your understanding of and ability to apply (live out) the book of Galatians.

Bible Memory Verses for Galatians

Below are passages to memorize from the book of Galatians based upon various life struggles and family roles.  Use this not only to assist you in strengthening the discipline of memorizing Scripture (Psalm 119:11; Hebrews 4:12-13), but also to prepare your heart for this study.

  • Those who struggle with the existence of different religions (1:6-7)
  • Those who struggle with people-pleasing or peer pressure (1:10)
  • Those who struggle with guilt/regret over forgiven sin (1:23-24)
  • Those who struggle with wanting acceptance from “important people” (2:6)
  • Those who struggle with a desire to avoid conflict (2:14; 5:11)
  • Those who struggle with anxiety caused by legalism (2:15-21; 3:18, 22; 5:1)
  • Those who struggle with relating to God as Father (4:4-7)
  • Those who struggle to understand their past sins (4:8-9; 5:17)
  • Those who struggle to allow others the blessing of serving them (4:13-15)
  • Those who struggle to show emotion or admit weakness (4:19-20)
  • Those who struggle to see the significance of everyday life (5:6)
  • Those who struggle with serving others at their expense (5:13-14)
  • Those who struggle with forms of speech that belittle or insult (5:15)
  • Those who are unclear about where they need to grow (5:22-24)
  • Those who often think “this is nobody’s business” (6:1-2)
  • Those who do not understand why giving financially is important (6:6-10)
  • Those who struggle with pride in their achievements (6:14)

Psalm 119:11
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

 

LIVING WORSHIP: How Great Thou Art

Verse 1:
Oh Lord My God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy pow’r throughout the universe displayed

Chorus:
Then sings my soul my Savior God to Thee
How Great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul my Savior God to Thee
How Great Thou art, how great Thou art

Verse 2:
When though the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sings sweetly in the trees
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze

Verse Battling Pride:
Too often I, make life so much about me
Each moment lived, for building up my name
I do a task, while hoping someone will see
Please change my thoughts, to focus on Your fame

Verse 3:
And when I think that God his Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin

Verse Christian Humility:
Foolish and void, my old way of life seems now
There’s so much more, as I think of me less
Freedom is found, as my heart now gladly bows
So sweet to have, Christ as my righteousness

Verse 4:
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim my God how great Thou art!

“How Great Thou Art” & Our Battle with Pride

Something is great in all of our lives.  We get out of bed in the morning for something.  Even depression (in most cases) is the mere recognition that that our “something” is not as great as we hoped it would be.  The big question of life and worship is, “What ‘great’ thing are we counting on?”

As Christians, we know the answer is (or at least should be) God.  Yet our sinful hearts often fill in the blank with pleasure, accomplishment, money, recreation, affection, or approval.  In the foolishness of sin, we are deceived (sometimes all too willingly) into believing (because we want to believe) that these things will provide the satisfaction for which our hearts long.

Throughout the history of the church, it has been recognized that pride is one of (if not the) root sin.  We think we know better than God what will make us happy and life work.  We are bold enough (even if our temperament is timid) to pursue what we think will make life worth-while.  Then when it fails we question God; as if He failed or refused to meet our “needs.”  We think, “God, I thought you wanted me to be happy.  And blank is what makes me happy.  Why did you let it fall apart?”

At this point in our prayer, we often do not see our pride.  We are too hurt, confused, and frustrated.  Yet the types of questions and accusations we are raising against God are the epitome of pride—thinking we know best.

“How Great Thou Art” is a hymn that beautifully challenges this mindset with God’s majesty and grace.  God is the Author of life and creation (verses 1 and 2).  We pridefully sinned against His created order (verse “pride”).  In spite of that God sent His Son to bear the burden of our sin (verse 3).  Through humble repentance God restores us to the order and joy He intended (verse “humility”).  Life now takes on meaning and is filled with joy as we live to see God’s triumphant kingdom advanced (verse 4).

As you sing, rejoice as you reflect on how God’s majesty and grace delivers us from the destructiveness of our pride.  When you are tempted to make life about you, sing this hymn to re-center your life on God.

Using Prayer Request Times to Cultivate Ministry

In most group Bible studies we take prayer request before or after the study time.  This is right and good.  James 5:16 calls on us to, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.”  Galatians 6:2 says we are to, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

However, often the potential ministry and faith growth that could be cultivated from these times is not actualized.  At best, it is usually only the teacher who records each of the prayer requests and does any type of follow up.  When this happen we lose the “one another” ministry intended in the verses above.

The “Prayer Request Journal” (SUMMIT_SGprayerjournal) is an attempt to provide your Sunday School or Bible study with a tool to encourage and equip the members of your study group to intentionally pray for and bear the burdens of one another.

Introducing the Prayer Journal

(1) Begin by asking each member to record the prayer requests spoken to the class.  It is hard to remember to pray for something unless we write it down.  This is why we don’t (or at least shouldn’t) go to the grocery without a list.

If they will get a miniature three-ring binder (the size of most Bibles), they can three-hole punch the sheets and keep a record of God’s faithfulness to the class.  This binder can also serve as an excellent tool for taking (and keeping up with) notes during the Bible study or sermons.

The journal is divided between praises and petitions to emphasize the need for balance in our public prayer life and in the way we involve our fellow believers in our life.

(2) Next ask the class to pray over their class requests at least once per week during their personal Bible study and devotion time.  Keeping classmates in your prayers during the week is an excellent way to build the sense of community in the Bible study.

As they pray, each member should ask God, “Would you have me follow up with this person’s request in any way?”  If God lays on their heart a way to serve the request of a classmate, they should record this underneath the request.

When they have been faithful to do as God prompted them, they can check the circle as a means of personal accountability.  Too often without personal accountability we miss the blessing of following through in obedience to God’s will.  Over time this results in feeling distant from God, as if He is uninvolved or uninterested in our daily lives.

(3) Periodically (monthly or quarterly) or at the end of the class (if it only meets for a set time), the class should review what God has done and review requests that are still matters of active concern.

This should be a time of praise and thanksgiving to God.  It can also be a time of appreciation and encouragement for those who took steps of follow up that were meaningful or challenging.

With a little more intentionality the time a Sunday School class or Bible study group already spends sharing prayer requests can be a much greater stimulus for ministry, unity, spiritual growth, and praise!

Introduction to “Living Worship” Series

Life is worship.  Because we are made in God’s image to reflect His glory everything we do and every struggle we face reveals what we believe to be worthy (of time, attention, resources, or sacrifice), relevant, beautiful, and valuable.  Losing sight of the fact that all of life is worship is the ultimate example of missing the forest for the trees.  And we all do it.

In the “Living Worship” series my goal is to add application lyrics to well-known hymns and praise songs in order to bridge the gap between daily living and perpetual worship.  I pray that whether you use them in personal worship, small group worship, or corporate worship that they help you see that we live all of life “before the face of God.”  I hope this increased realization can be source of comfort, encouragement, and spurring on to holy living.

Each lyric also comes with a brief devotion.  This devotion attempts to explain how the added lyrics seek to bridge the message of the original song to the life application.  These devotions come in reproducible PDF format.

No charge or compensation is expected for these resources.  I do ask that you document where the applications lyrics came from (www.bradhambrick.com) if they are printed or reproduced in a PowerPoint format.  No charge or profit should be made by the individual or group using the materials without express written consent.

Introduction to “Living Our Faith” Series

It is wonderful and comforting to know that:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17),”

and,

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Pet 1:3),”

and,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:12-13).”

However, the best tools still require the skill of the craftsman to fulfill their purpose.  This is the goal for the “Living Our Faith” series.  I will be examining a passage of Scripture and providing points of application.  I pray that my training and experience as a counselor who specialized in hermeneutics (big word for principles of biblical interpretation) during my theological training will allow this series to be of value to those who utilize it.

The biblical texts that are chosen will correlate with the Southern Baptist “Explore the Bible” Sunday School curriculum.  This series is not endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention or the “Explore the Bible” curriculum, and the material is written independently from their lessons.  The goal is to provide the supplement two weeks before a text is scheduled to be taught, so that the teacher can use the material in their lesson preparations.

These application supplements can be used to enrich any personal Bible study, group study, or sermon series.  If you use these supplements in your teaching or preaching ministry, it is asked that you do not change the content in any way or charge for them.  This series is intended to be a free resource to assist lay and pastoral teachers.

The “Streak” and the False Pressure of Sanctification

pitcher-300x199Permit me to have a few “high school athlete” reminisces.  There were a couple of occasions when as a baseball pitcher I took a no-hitter past the sixth inning (o-kay, so maybe these are Khoury league memories).  A strange thing happened.  Although I was having great success, I began to feel pressure.  I had gotten at least 18 consecutive batters out (the entire line up twice) without giving up so much as a hit, but now I was the one feeling fearful.  How crazy is that?  They should have been nervous, not me.

What was going on?  My mindset changed.  No longer was I just trying to get the next batter out, I was thinking about how to get the next nine batters out…how disappointed I would be if someone got a hit…the story in our local newspaper…putting the game ball on my shelf…how klutzy the second baseman was and the threat he posed to my accomplishment…(you get the idea).  I became a streaker (don’t let you imagination get carried away) instead of a pitcher.

In counseling I see many people struggle with the same type of issue.  They do good for “a while” (i.e., no anger episode, keeping the house in order, avoiding pornography, taking “what if” anxiety thinking captive, consistently having a daily devotion etc…) then they feel the pressure of “doing good,” fail, and feel more miserable because of their streak being broken.  Maybe they were in a support group and had to go back to the dreaded “white chip.”  Maybe they have to face the scorn of a spouse who says, “See, I knew you weren’t serious about changing.”  Maybe they just have to live with the thought, “If I can’t beat this struggle after 12 good days, how will I ever beat it after a bad day?”

Let us ask ourselves a few questions.  (1) How does God think about our streaks?  (2) Does a streak have any impact on our next choice, conversation, or temptation?  (3) How can we “do good” without creating a sense of mounting pressure?

First, I believe our streaks mean much more to us than they do to God.  God knows our heart perfectly (Prov 24:12).  We are the ones who have become deceived about our current condition as our streak advances (Jer 17:9).   We are the ones who begin to believe maybe I have finally defeated sin.  God knows better.  God desires a heart that is seeking hard after Him (Micah 6:8).  God is the one who designed sanctification (the process of spiritual maturity) to occur progressively (over a lifetime).  God wants our desire to put sin to death to be constant (Rom 8:13).  The believer who gets to heaven with the longest streak does not get the seat next to Jesus at the great wedding feast.

Second, we must recognize that streaks do not matter as much as fundamentals (to borrow from the baseball metaphor above).  Throwing strike one does not carve a groove in the air that the second pitch will follow like a tire in the rut of an old dirt road.  However, good pitching mechanics do allow for more consistent pitching.  The application is that we must learn from every temptation (whether we overcome or succumb).  A better question than “how long is my sinless streak?” is “have I learned from each temptation better ways of overcoming and am I putting these into practice?”  God recognizes that wisdom and humility are more effective at grooming character than streaks (Prov 3:5-7).

Third, we must recognize that we never out grow the Gospel.  The Christian life is a perpetual coming to the end of ourselves and relying totally on God again (Luke 9:23-25).  We don’t put the blood of Christ on lay away until we get this sin thing under control (Heb 10:14).  We come to him daily, hourly, and moment-by-moment for it is only by His Spirit that we bear the fruit that uproots the works of the flesh (Gal 5:16-24).

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Counseling Theory” post which address other facets of this subject.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Theology and Counseling” post which address other facets of this subject.