The Official 2017 Christmas Shopping Guide

Have you done your Christmas shopping yet? All of it? You’ve come to the right place, because I’m unveiling my (trumpets, please) …

Lynn Pryor’s Official Shopping Guide for 2017

Full disclosure: there was a time I was a bad gift-giver. Notoriously bad. In high school, I was deeply in like with this one girl. One afternoon in December, I walked the entire Almeda Mall in Houston looking for the perfect gift, and I bought her … um, a vase. It looked sorta like a blue upside-down squid. To this day, I have no idea why my teenage brain thought every girl’s dream was to receive a blue squid vase.

 

 

To begin, make a list of those you want to give gifts to. (Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

Is everyone on your list? Everyone? What about Jesus? After all, it’s His human birth we celebrate on Christmas.

But then again, what do you give Jesus? He’s the creator of everything, the owner of cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10). What do you give someone who already has everything?

He wants you.

And that’s the perfect gift. Consider what He has given you.

1. He gave us life. First, we were given life, although He planned a far richer and fuller life that we experience. We ruined it with sin.  We were made in His image, to live in relationship with Him, but we boogered that up by choosing to do things our way.

But from the first moment sin entered our world, God put a plan in place to restore our relationship with Him, a plan to restore that fractured image. To do that …

2. He gave us the law. With the law, He gave us a clear directive: follow these rules and you’ll live. The only problem is we can’t keep His perfect law—but He knew that. The greater purpose of the law was to show us we can’t make it on our own; we are totally dependent on Him for salvation.

3. He gave Himself. What we couldn’t do for ourselves, He did for us. That’s why Christ came, and that’s what Christmas is all about. Jesus came to earth to give us a gift—Himself.

Typically, when it’s somebody’s birthday, he gets all the gifts. But with Christmas, Jesus—the One we honor and celebrate—gives us the gift. And the gift He gave is expensive. It cost His life. He gave His life so that we could have life.

  • His death gifts us with forgiveness and freedom from our sin.
  • His resurrection gifts us with a new life—an eternal life.

It’s a gift, but it has to be accepted. It’s ours for the taking, but there’s a catch.

We have to exchange gifts. We have to give Him our sin: lust, addictions, failures, broken promises, and … well, everything.

It costs us everything, but it’s worth it.

My mother still has one of the world’s ugliest coffee cups!

When I was a kid and first got the concept that you’re supposed to give gifts at Christmas (and not just receive them), I went to the five-and-dime store (for you kids out there, that’s the 60s version of Dollar General) and bought my parents these ugly brown coffee cups. Around the rim was something that looked like a rabid dog had been sipping a latte. (I told you I was horrible at giving gifts.)

I gave my parents these rabid-dog-drool coffee mugs, and they gave me TOYS! Not quite an equal exchange—and it’s the exact same way with Christ. What He gives us is far greater and far better than what we give Him.

So place your gift (your life) under the tree (the cross) and embrace the gift He has for you

What about the others on your list?

The following always make great gifts for both family and friends.

  1. Forgiveness
  2. An apology
  3. Love
  4. The same message of hope and salvation I just shared with you.

I challenge you to find a better gift to give—or receive.

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Jesus Saves”  in Bible Studies for Life.

 

 

Arguing Over Calvinism

It seems the church has never been without some sort of divisive issue.

  • The worship wars over allowing drums, guitars, and praise songs in the sanctuary.
  • The original 16th-century worship wars: should we allow instruments of any kind?
  • In the 70s, churches haggled over whether women could wear pantsuits to church.

It’s sadly humorous the things we’ve let divide us.

  • What color should the carpet be?
  • Does the piano go on the right side or the left side? (This was only an issue if they got past the 16th-centurty worship wars.)
  • Card playing … dancing … going to the moving picture shows …

Those issues have sadly divided many churches, and most of them had nothing to do with theology. We might phrase our argument for or against the issue in spiritual terms and throw a verse or two in the mix, but these types of issues had nothing to do with the core tenets of our faith.

By and large, the recent worship wars have died off, but they’ve been replaced by a debate over Calvinism and reformed theology. Calvinism is nothing new. It can be summed up with these five points:

Here’s a fun way to remember the five points of Calvinism

  1. Total Depravity. We are completely sinful.
  2. Unconditional Election. God chooses those who are saved without any thought to their merit or worthiness.
  3. Limited Atonement. Jesus died only for the elect. His death was sufficient for everyone, but it does not apply to everyone.
  4. Irresistible Grace. Those whom God calls cannot resist Him. God issues an external call to all people, but He issues an internal call to the elect , and they find His grace and call irresistible.
  5. Perseverance of the Saints. Those whom God calls cannot lose their salvation.

Whether you consider yourself a Calvinist or not—whether you call yourself reformed or not—you likely believe one or more of these tenets to some degree. Why? Because the heart of Calvinism is the sovereignty of God. And the divisiveness that has entered the church has to do with how much sovereignty God has at the expense of our free will.

Let me say that again. We don’t disagree that God is sovereign. Where we differ is how much we believe God’s sovereignty controls everything.

There is no question God is sovereign over the universe He created. There is nothing He cannot do if He so chooses. But where does He limit His sovereign control and allow us to choose freely? Or does He limit His sovereign control?

Yes, this is a theological matter and it is worth discussing, but coming to separate conclusions does not mean going our separate ways. I’m grieved to see individuals and churches splitting over these matters. In my own ministry and interaction with church leaders, I have mutual friends on both sides and both ends of the spectrum. We get along just fine.

The love we share in Christ makes all the difference. And there’s nothing divisive about the love of Christ.

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Jesus Rules”  in Bible Studies for Life.

 

 

Working the Soil: Changing Lives

My wife and I just planted five trees in our front yard—and I’m working to ensure they survive and thrive.

I was not always good at helping things survive,. When I was a kid, I helped my mother clean the flowers beds, so I proceeded to remove all those stupid sticker bushes.

They were rose bushes. (Who knew rose bushes don’t always have roses?)

Sometimes the things we plant thrive—and sometimes they look like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Jesus used this principle to teach about spiritual growth and the ways we respond to the gospel.

  • The hard soil – For some people, the message of Christ never penetrates.
  • The rocky soil – Some people embrace the message, but their lives are shallow and the truth never takes root.
  • The thorny soil – Some people embrace the message, but they let worry, wealth, and worldliness keep the transformative power of the gospel from ever making a difference.
  • The good soil – Some people give their lives fully to the gospel of Christ and the results are incredible. (See Luke 8:1-15.)

There’s a problem with this parable. The problem is not with what Jesus said, but with what we do with it.  This is a spot-on description of people, but we leave it at that. We just assume that’s the way it is.

  • Yep. That’s Murray. He loves his stuff more than he loves Jesus.
  • The thorny soil describes my mother perfectly. She’s too busy worrying to ever trust Jesus with the situation.

We assume the soil can never change, but Jesus told another parable that tells a different story.

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down’” (13:6-8).

We know how to help the soil in our own flowers beds.

  • Loosen up packed soil.
  • Pull the weeds.
  • Fertilize.
  • Water.
  • Repeat.

Why not do that that in the lives of those around us?

  • As we share the word, we share our own lives. We let people see how Jesus has transformed us. “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 2:8).
  • We let the living water of God’s Spirit work through us to moisten and soften the hearts of those around us. “‘Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit” (John 7:38-39).
  • We enrich the soil by our own example of love, grace, commitment, and trust.

The fruit of the soil of our own lives speaks volumes.

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Jesus Teaches”  in Bible Studies for Life.

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from Lynn and Mary Pryor

Enjoy this season of Thanksgiving. May God remind you of all His good gifts.

I am thankful for God’s goodness … love … faithfulness …

  • For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Ps. 100:5).
  • “Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord” (Ps. 117).
  • Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.His love endures forever” (Ps. 136:1).

What are you thankful for?

Twitter is Not the Way to Follow Jesus

First-century Jewish rabbis would’ve hated Twitter. Personally, I like Twitter—but I’m not a first-century Jewish rabbi.

Twitter has redefined what it means to follow someone.  Most people on Twitter want lots of people to follow them. Read my tweets and validate my importance.  OK, that may not be completely fair; after all, you can look to the right of this blog post and see my own invitation: FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER. (You’re welcome to follow my tweets, but all the validation I need comes from Jesus. And my mother. )

Social media lets us follow people at the drop of a hat, but we’re not really following them. In the first-century world of the Jews, if you chose to follow someone, it meant you wanted to literally follow them, be with them, learn to emulate them, and even eat and dress like them.

So why would the rabbis of that time dislike Twitter? They didn’t allow just anyone to follow them. It wasn’t your call; the rabbis chose who could follow them.

Step into the world of a Jewish kid.

1. Bet Sefer.  All Jewish kids went to this synagogue school. From about ages 6-12 (or possible 4-12) kids learned to read and write by using the Hebrew Scriptures. In the process, the girls memorized the Book of Psalms, and the boys memorized the entire Torah (the first five books). (Few of us have the discipline to memorize one verse a week.)

At age 12, the boys went to learn the family business, and the girls went to learn the first-century version of home ec. But the brightest of the boys were given the opportunity to go to …

2. Bet Midrash. From ages 12-15, these select boys would study—and memorize!—the Tanakh, what Christians would identify as the entire Old Testament. Whew! And they did this while also learning the family business.

3. Bet Talmud. At age 15, most young men would simply go full-time into the family trade. But if a young man wanted to continue on and become a rabbi, he would find a rabbi he wanted to learn from, approach him, and ask something like, “Can I be like you?”

This young man didn’t simply want to know what the rabbi knew; he wanted to be what the rabbi was. But the rabbi would quiz him thoroughly—and if he passed the muster, the rabbi would say, “Yes, I believe you can become like I am.”

But more often than not, the rabbi’s response was—and let me state this with southern gentility—”Bless your heart, but I think you’re better suited for the family business.” You can see how this could devastate a young man who had his sights on being a rabbi.

Simon and Andrew were fisherman. They went to the first level of school, but even if one of them was bright enough to go to the second level of school, he hadn’t made it to the third level. Even if Simon or Andrew wanted to follow a certain rabbi, he couldn’t. From the perspective of the rabbis, these men were not “you-can-follow-me” material. They were not the brightest and the best, but better suited for smelling like fish.

But along came another rabbi with a fresh new approach. Simon and Andrew had already been exposed to Jesus as a teacher and rabbi (Luke 5:1-3;  John 1:40-42). It had to be one of those rock-your-world moments when the best rabbi they had ever heard came to them and said, “Follow me” (Mark 1:16-18).

  • No need to be the one who asks, “Can I follow you?”
  • No entrance exams.
  • No need to be the brightest and best.
  • No need to prove your worthiness.

An unexpected invitation: Follow me.

Jesus extends the same invitation to us—Follow me—but this is not a Twitter invitation with no real commitment. Jesus calls us to

  • Go where He goes.
  • Live like He lives.
  • Think like He thinks.
  • Be like Him.

It’s a great adventure to follow Jesus.

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph. 5:1).

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Jesus Calls”  in Bible Studies for Life.

 

A Better Approach Than the Evangelistic Sales Pitch

I bristle at sales pitches.

Recently, my wife and I moved into a new house. From day one, we were hit up by two different breeds of sales people knocking on our front door.

  1. Home security. Every few days a different person was at my door wanting me to sign up for a certain home security service. Although they represented the same security system, they were independent contractors eager to beat out the other salespeople offering the same service. Telling them we had already looked into it did not squelch their resolve to make a sale.
  2. Lawn care. My favorite was that guy who wanted to tell me what was wrong with all the other lawn care services. (Tip to sales people: tell folks what you have to offer, not what’s wrong with everyone else.) 

To be clear, I’m nice to these folks, but inwardly I bristle at their intrusion and implication they know what’s best for me. Yes, I’m nice, but I take out my frustration by talking back to TV commercials.

I think too many Christians think we’re supposed to be salespeople for Jesus. Tell them about Jesus and CLOSE THE DEAL. And unfortunately, a lot of non-Christians see us that way too.

A few years ago, I was on a teaching trip in Kenya. For six years, I made an annual trek to teach and train pastors. On one occasion, we were holding graduation, and a visiting mission team—independent from our work—stopped by to watch.  I learned one of the volunteers was a student minister at the same church I had served years earlier. But as we visited about the church and ministry, he steered the conversation in a different direction.

“Tell me, Lynn, if you died tonight, do you know for sure you’d go to heaven? If God asked, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?,’ what would you say?”

He had turned our conversation into an evangelistic sales pitch.  Let me be clear: I like the questions he asked; I’ve used them many times.  But this eager evangelist ignored me as an individual and why I was there: helping Kenya pastors develop skills for teaching God’s Word and leading people to follow Christ. Our conversation turned from building a relationship and talking about a shared ministry to just making sure I had checked the right boxes.

Evangelism is most effective when it’s not a sales pitch, but a relationship. Jesus never used the same approach twice. In John 3, he talked to Nicodemus based on what the Pharisee believed and understood. In the very next chapter, Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman in a completely different manner.  Her needs were different.

Relationships matter. We want people to have a personal relationship with Christ, and that begins with developing a relationship ourselves with the person.

As followers of Christ, we are called to “fish for people” (Matt. 4: 19). Jesus first spoke those words to Simon and Andrew, so I take my cue from Andrew on how to fish. You never read a sales pitch coming from Andrew; instead he offered a “come and see” invitation.

  • He first found his own brother Simon and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated ‘the Christ’), and he brought Simon to Jesus” (John 1:41-42).
  • Later, when some Greeks asked about Jesus, Andrew had the same come-and-see approach (12:20-22).

Let’s “fish for people” the same way Andrew did—and the same way fishermen do today. A fisherman does not corner the fish and try to convince him to take the bait or jump in the boat. He simply drops the bait in the water, an invitation for the large-mouth bass to “come and see.”

Come and see the wonders of God; his acts for humanity are awe-inspiring” (Ps. 66:5).

“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29).

An invitation is always better than a sales pitch. And it doesn’t make me bristle.

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Andrew: Active Witness” in Bible Studies for Life.

 

3 Things You Know For Sure Are Happening When You Pray

You know the feeling.

Most all of us do. There is some need in your life—a concern that is dominating your thinking, coloring your emotions, intruding on your conversations—and so you do what you are supposed to do with it. You take it to the Lord in prayer, but nothing seems to happen. In fact, the more you pray the more you feel like your words are going out from your mouth, hitting the ceiling, and coming right back down.

It’s during those times when we don’t know what’s happening, that we might be tempted to think nothing actually is. And while we might not yet know exactly how or when God will eventually redeem the situations we are praying about, there are certain things we can absolutely know for certain are happening when we pray, no matter what:

1. We can know Jesus is praying for us.

Here is a staggering thought – the Son of God, crucified and now resurrected, is actually praying for you:

“Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).

Jesus is our Great High Priest, but unlike the Old Testament high priests, Jesus has been raised to an indestructible life, and therefore, always lives to intercede for us. So when we pray, we might feel weak and powerless, but there is One who is all-powerful who is lending His voice to our cause. Jesus, the Son of God, is praying for us.

2. We can know the Holy Spirit is interceding according to God’s will.

We, in our limited knowledge, tainted emotion, and short-sighted vision, might think we know exactly what a given outcome of a situation ought to be, and yet we might be dead wrong. So we might be confused about what exactly to pray for. We can be certain, though, that the Holy Spirit is not. He knows the will of God, and He is interceding for us not according to our desires, but according to that will:

“In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27).

3. We can know the Father is only willing to do what is best.

Jesus taught us about our generous Heavenly Father in His discourse on prayer:

“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, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Who among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:7-11).

We ask, we seek, and we knock, and what do we find on the other side? We find a Father who not only knows what is best, but is unwilling to give anything else. True enough, we as children might not fully understand or yet embrace what is truly best, but that doesn’t stop our Father’s unbending commitment to our good. So when we pray, we can know for certain that God will respond according to His character – that is, He will respond as a wise and generous Father who only does what is best.

So, Christian, you might be confused, worried, tongue-tied, frustrated, or weary in your prayers today. You might not feel like anything is happening at all. But no matter what else, you can know that when you pray, you have a brother who prays for you, the Spirit who intercedes, and a welcoming, wise Father on the other side.

For a printable version: click here.

This Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-1.41.38-PM (1)post supports the study “Hannah: Trust-Filled Prayer” in Bible Studies for Life.