Ryan Strother

Five To Focus 08. Peace Through Chaos

God’s peace is not the absence of conflict, but it is the confidence of His presence through it all. How do you handle chaos in your life? Some circumstances might leave you feeling helpless, lost, and alone. Discover the connection between having peace with God and having the peace of God by focusing on Romans 5:1 and Philippians 4:6-7.

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Pray for Spiritual Needs, Not Just Stubbed Toes

Think about the last time you were in a group prayer time. What kind of needs were prayed for most? I would guess physical needs. The illnesses and financial provision among others.   

 

It is very appropriate and right to pray for these requests, but my fear is that we too often neglect praying for spiritual needs. Recently I wrote about praying specifically, and now I want to focus on the content of those specific prayers.

 

If anyone sees a fellow believer committing a sin that doesn’t lead to death, he should ask, and God will give life to him—to those who commit sin that doesn’t lead to death. There is sin that leads to death. I am not saying he should pray about that.” (1 John 5:16, CSB)  

 

This verse is clearly about a spiritual need–a believer sins. We can confidently pray for wayward sinners because God will restore abundant life. John has written much about sin in First John. He is clear that believers will still sin (1:8), but that they will not be characterized by a lifestyle of sin (3:8-9; 5:18). Jesus (he who was born of God) protects his followers and Satan cannot overtake them (5:18).

 

One of the blessings of being part of the family of God is that when we sin, we have a community of people who should prayerfully encourage us back to righteousness.

 

“We naturally pray for those who are ill, and we should just as naturally pray for those who are straying away from God. It is just as natural a thing to pray for the cure of the soul as it is to pray for the cure of the body. It may be that there is nothing greater that we can do for the man who is straying away, and who is in peril of making shipwreck of life, than to commit him to the grace of God.”  ~William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 138.

When we see a brother committing a sin, we are to approach God on his account. We are to pray that he would find the fullness of life again. We are pray that whatever is trying to steal, kill, and destroy him would be bound from him and that he would be restored to Christ. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, ESV)

What do you do when you see a brother committing sin?  

  • Ignore it? Maybe you worry about offending him by pointing it out.
  • Gossip? If your first response is to gossip rather than pray, you need to get rid of the log in your eye first (Matt. 7:5).

 

How can you make a practice of praying for spiritual needs?  

 

  • Change your prayer list. In your personal list, add a category called “spiritual requests” or something similar and add these kind of requests: those who need salvation, those who need to turn from active sin, and those who are struggling to keep their eyes on Jesus through difficult times (spiritual needs are almost always present in times of suffering).
  • Our church recently changed our weekly prayer list in our Ministry Guide to include these three categories: thanksgiving, mission, intercession. This is a way of teaching people how to pray. The “mission” section is like our spiritual requests (not for specific people usually but more church-wide requests related to our mission of carrying out the Great Commision).

 

    • Actually get to know people. Praying for spiritual needs will probably require you to get beyond the how are you/I’m fine passing conversation that requires no attention to the person. Be interested in him. Get to know his soul. Talk about struggles and real life situations. Be authentic.

 

  • Ask a better question. If you are leading a group time, don’t open prayer time asking does anybody have any prayer requests?  Most people will go into default mode of sharing about Grandma’s stubbed toe.  Instead, ask: who can we pray for that is struggling spiritually or needs their soul strengthened through difficulty right now? Your responses won’t be so much about that toe now.

 

 

Pray for spiritual needs and experience the abundant life that Christ offers.

 

Five To Focus 07. One Danger of Being An Encourager

Could there be any danger in being an encourager?  This might seem silly to discuss because we’ve been in a series of episodes lately on encouragement, learning from Barnabas in the Bible how we can encourage others. Is there something we should be cautious of when encouraging? Discover it here.

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Lottie Moon’s Broken Engagement and Commitment to the Gospel

Lottie Moon is a great namesake for the International Mission Board’s annual Christmas offering. She was committed to spreading the gospel and upholding the Bible. She died at the age of 72 after ministering 39 years in China, mainly in Tengchow and P’ingtu.

 

Let me tell you a quick story about Lottie Moon’s almost-husband and her commitment to the gospel to encourage you to follow her example.

 

Charlotte “Lottie” Digges Moon (1840-1912) attended Albemarle Female Institute, the female counterpart to the University of Virginia. In 1861, she received a master’s degree, becoming one of the first women in the South to reach that achievement. One of the teachers there was a man named Crawford Howell Toy. In June 1861, Toy asked Moon to marry him, but she refused at that time.

Toy was a student in the first session of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1859 and went through the program very quickly. He was sent to Japan as a missionary for a short time in 1860, then joined the Confederate troops in the Civil War in 1861, eventually becoming a chaplain in General Lee’s army. He went to Berlin, Germany, to study from 1866-68 then returned to America to teach at Furman, an institution of Southern. In 1869, he was invited to be a professor of Old Testament at Southern. Toy’s theology, however, started shifting from conservative interpretations. Instead, he entertained ideas like evolution and the Bible having divine and human origins. Ultimately, it led to his dismissal from Southern with a tear-filled vote of 18-2 by a committee. They were saddened because they loved Toy and felt that he was a brilliant thinker who was getting off track.

Now, back to Lottie. She had been sending letters home from China as she served as a missionary. Toy saw them published in the Religious Herald and initiated communication between them. Eventually, she accepted his proposal for marriage and was planning to return to America to marry Toy, who was becoming the professor of Hebrew at Harvard University. Moon did not know of the controversy surrounding Toy, however. As she eventually heard about it, she studied books representing Toy’s position and became greatly opposed to his theology, broke the engagement, and never married. Toy eventually associated with the Unitarian Church before his death.

Lottie Moon should be commended not only for her mission work but her faithfulness to Scripture even when it came with great sacrifice. Is the gospel a priority in your life to the point where you obey Christ no matter the cost? Let’s follow Lottie’s example.

 

Want more like what you’re reading?  Check out my weekly podcast, Five To Focus.

 

Sources consulted:

~International Mission Board. “Who Was Lottie Moon?”  

~Dan Gentry Kent, The Saint’s Suitor: Crawford H. Toy. Baptist History and Heritage, 2003.

For What Are You Asking? A Lesson on Praying Specifically

2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.   (James 4:2-3)

 

For What Are You Asking?

You won’t see specific answers when your requests are so vague. Do you ask for anything outside of what God’s good character already provides?

 

Me: God, be with Sally today.

God: I already am. I’m omnipresent and promised never to leave you or forsake you.

Me: Lord, bless the Smith family.

God:  They are blessed. They woke up breathing today and ate breakfast. They have clothing and shelter. Is there anything else you’re thinking about?

 

A great example of specific prayer is in Mark 10:46-52. Let me summarize it: a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside in Jericho. When he heard that Jesus was walking by, he cries out twice: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Jesus called Bartimaeus over to him and asked this question, which could greatly change your prayer life:  What do you want me to do for you?

Do you see how Jesus pushed Bartimaeus beyond vagueness to specificity? Have mercy on me is not a bad prayer, but Jesus could have easily said: I already am merciful: you’re not in the pits of hell suffering for your sin right now. Instead, you’re still on this earth.

Specific prayer forces you to consider your situation and fine-tune your request to God’s will.  It forces you to consider the desires of your heart and align them with God’s will.

Look how Bartimaeus fine-tuned his request: Rabbi, let me recover my sight.  Now we see what mercy really meant to him. This request must have been in line with God’s will because he healed Bartimaeus, resulting in others praising God (Luke 18:43).

 

Tips for Praying Specifically

  • Consider Jesus’ question: What do you want me to do for you? Don’t be tempted into selfishness (James 4:3 is clear about our motive), but let it push you beyond vagueness.
  • Keep a prayer journal of specific requests, and then record specific answers. I keep a black Word notebook in my back right pocket so I can write down requests as I think of them or are asked to pray. Looking back over what you were praying and how God has been answering prayer will help you fine-tune your requests to His will.

 

What helps you pray specifically and consistently?

Five To Focus 06. Encourage Unity

I wonder how many people are deterred from serving the Lord because they see division in the church? As this series on encouragement continues looking at Barnabas, see how he and Paul teach us to encourage unity.

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Pastors: How I Use AirTable To Record Shepherding Interactions

Pastor, you should be interacting with church members, attenders, and guests frequently since you are their shepherd. Shepherding comes in many forms:  hospital visits, “checking in” phone calls, home visits, meetings in the office, texts and Facebook messages, lunches, coffee meetings, and others.

My question:  do you record those interactions?  

My encouragement:  do it!

Why Record Shepherding Interactions?

  1. You will learn details about someone or their situation that will help you minister in the future to that person. It’s easy to forget unless you record it somewhere.
  2. In a more negative sense, you have a record in case you are ever challenged. Someone complains that you never visited with them–what do you do?  Unless you have a record, it is your word against theirs and probably will not build much unity as you flesh it out. If you have a record, you can either say, actually, I did, or you can honestly say, you’re right, I didn’t. And then minister to that person accordingly.

How To Record Shepherding Interactions

I have found AirTable to be very helpful for this task and many others (maybe I’ll write about those later). If you have never used it, it is a web-based spreadsheet tool that is pretty simple to use, has accompanying apps, and is sharable with a team if needed.

 

I set up an AirTable with these headings:  NAME, STAFF, DATE, INTERACTION TYPE, LOCATION, TIME, NOTES, ATTACHMENTS.

After an interaction, I record that information. Most of the headings are self-explanatory, but let me explain some:

  • STAFF. If you have multiple staff members, elders, deacons, etc., who might have access to this table, then you can put each person’s name and select one or more who had the interaction. Bonus: AirTable has nice sorting options and you can save different “views.” So, you could save a view that makes it easy to see what interactions each staff member has had.  
  • INTERACTION TYPE. Phone call, contact from member, encouragement card, visit, meeting, text message, etc.  All can be set up as options to choose from.
  • NOTES: I record a simple summary of what was discussed or any important follow-up items so that I don’t forget…
  • ATTACHMENTS. There might have been a picture or document pertaining to that interaction that you’ll want to remember.

 

Why do you record shepherding interactions and how do you do it?

Five To Focus 05. Encourage Perseverance through Rejection

Have you ever faced rejection?  Maybe even blindsided by it? So did Paul and Barnabas, Nehemiah, and Jesus. You’re in good company. Now find the encouragement here to persevere.

 

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Why Jesus’ Yoke is Easy and His Burden Light

Don’t miss the simple, obvious truths when you read the Bible. Matthew 11:28-30 says, 28Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

Some might ask: how is Jesus’ yoke easy and his burden light? They might equate Jesus’ yoke with unattainable religious rules that restrain their freedom.

 

Here’s the simple, obvious truth: Jesus’ yoke is easy because you are yoked to Jesus.

 

One alternate yoke is religious regulations.

The context of the passage in Matthew 11 is Jesus talking about salvation. At that time, Jewish people sought salvation and the pursuit of righteousness by keeping God’s Law. The Pharisees had deceived people into playing the part of being outwardly religious while being morally rotten on the inside (Matt. 23:27-28).

 

Romans 8:3 tells us that God did what the Law could not do–sending His Son to condemn sin in the flesh so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled. So, while the Mosaic Law had its purpose, Jesus’ work on the cross is necessary for us to become righteous.

 

Some people are religious but are relying on their own strength to get by in this world. Man-made rules cannot fully restrain your sinful desires and can not fulfill or satisfy you. That’s a burdensome yoke.

 

Another alternate yoke is sin’s bondage.

All people are born into sin; therefore, all are in bondage to sin until they trust in Jesus to save them. John tells us that God’s commands are not burdensome because everyone who has been born of God (saved) has overcome the world (1 John 5:3-4).

 

In other words, if you are saved by Christ, you now live free from the bondage of sin and live in the freedom Christ offers to pursue righteousness. It’s like John is saying, you already know a burdensome yoke–the bondage of sin in the ways of this world–and Jesus frees you from that!

 

If you think God’s commands are burdensome, then you do not understand the futile burdens of the world’s ways. Yet we open ourselves and willingly yoke ourselves to them. That’s a burdensome yoke.

 

Jesus’ Yoke Is Easy

He did the work to make us righteous and He enables us to live in freedom from sin through the Holy Spirit. A yoke was used to keep animals in step together to accomplish a purpose. You are always moving closer toward eternity as you navigate life. The question you need to ask is what yoke am I wearing to find eternal significance in my life?

You can choose difficult yokes: religious demands or the world’s ways. Or you can choose Jesus, who accomplished what you could not (your redemption from sin) and who gives you what you do not have (strength from the Holy Spirit), so that you can navigate life in freedom and with a great hope lying ahead. That’s an easy yoke.

Five To Focus 04. Encourage Devotion to God

Barnabas is our example of encouraging others. This episode discusses Barnabas and Paul’s work with believers in Antioch, where they were first called Christians (Acts 11:25-26). Are people more devoted to Jesus because of your influence?

 

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