Retreating, Eating, and Confessing

Michelle and I just returned from a wonderful weekend at Desert Harbor Retreat. We’ve been there a few times now, and each time we go, we are blessed, refreshed, and encouraged. The location is breathtaking, the accommodations are perfect, the food is incredible, and the wise counsel we receive from Raymond and Wesley Jo Linam is invaluable. Desert Harbor is open to anyone, and Michelle and I can’t recommend it to you enough. Take some time to get away to reflect on God’s goodness and be renewed by booking a stay there. Here are a few pictures that you click for a better look.

 
We were given much to consider, pray about, and work toward while we were there. Among many other things we were counseled to consider doing during my sabbatical, we were encouraged by Raymond and Wesley Jo to cook together. They are such good cooks, and the meals they provide their guests are very healthy and VERY delicious. Unfortunately, Michelle had to return to work today, so I took up the cooking challenge myself. We will be cooking together in the coming days, but I just couldn’t wait. Last night, we discussed 3 new meals we’d like to try, and I hit the grocery. Took me over an hour to find everything we needed, but it was so worth it. I made Quinoa Risotto with Carrots and Asparagus – a crock pot meal that was very easy to make and VERY easy to eat! I’m a novice, so I needed to start with the crock pot! You can find the recipe for it here. If you have a healthy meal you love, please send me the recipe at mpotter7088@gmail.com.

 
As the delicious smell of the meal slowly poured out of the crock pot, I spent some good time in the Word and in prayer. Part of my devotional rhythm consists of a time of confession.  There’s a prayer of confession I often pray from an old puritan book called The Valley of Vision. It is such a thorough and powerful prayer that encompasses so much of what I want to and need to confess to the Lord regularly. I want to share it with you in hopes that you will make this a regular prayer of confession too.

Holy Lord, I have sinned times without number, and been guilty of pride and unbelief, of failure to find Your mind in Your Word, of neglect to seek You in my daily life. My transgressions and short-comings present me with a list of accusations, but I bless You that they will not stand against me, for all have been laid on Christ. Go on to subdue my corruptions, and grant me grace to live above them. Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings of the mind bring my spirit into subjection, but rule over me in liberty and power.

I thank You that many of my prayers have been refused. I have asked amiss and do not have, I have prayed from lusts and been rejected, I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness. Go on with Your patient work, answering ‘no’ to my wrongful prayers, and fitting me to accept it. Purge me from every false desire, every base aspiration, everything contrary to Your rule. I thank You for Your wisdom and Your love, for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject, for sometimes putting me into the furnace to refine my gold and remove my dross.

No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin. If You should give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sins, or to have them burnt away with trial, give me sanctified affliction. Deliver me from every evil habit, every accretion of former sins, everything that dims the brightness of Your grace in me, everything that prevents me taking delight in You. Then I shall bless You, God, for helping me to be upright.

Maximize the Benefit

With my sabbatical comes a new 6-month “rhythm.” My daily and weekly rhythm of ministry is being replaced with a new daily and weekly rhythm. Because I’ve been immersed in ministry for the last 10 years, switching to this new rhythm is a challenge. The elders of my church had me make a plan several months ago for what my life would like like these 6 months, and that has helped, but the transition is not that easy.

 
One of the pieces of my ministry rhythm that I will not change during my sabbatical is my weekly meeting for prayer with Peter Briggs. For 10 years, Peter and I have met weekly to pray together. Sometimes, we’ve been joined by others, but rarely has a week gone by when we haven’t met. This rhythm is just too important not to continue. Today Peter prayed that I would “maximize the benefit” of my sabbatical. He has always had a way with words, but this phrase especially impacted me. I immediately wrote it down and have been thinking about it all day. This is what I desire to do. I desire to maximize the (wonderful) benefit (for which I am so thankful to Foothills) of my 6-months away.

This weekend, Michelle and I will travel to the mountains outside Albuquerque for a weekend stay at Desert Harbor Retreat where we will receive our first session of counseling and life coaching. I plan to press into this phrase with the counselors there to get their guidance on how I can best “maximize the benefit” of my sabbatical – spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Would you please pray for us this weekend that we would learn how to do this? Thanks!

Sabbatical: Day 1

Day one. A Sunday. It was weird not getting up this morning and doing my final preparation to lead worship and preach at Foothills. This is going to take some getting used to…

My in-laws are in town, so all of my kids and grandbabies came over for brunch. We watched football together, and then after the Steelers victory, Michelle and I took her parents on a beautiful drive to Chimayo, NM where we visited the El Santuario de Chimayó – a Roman Catholic church built in the early 1800’s.  The Christmas lights were still up making the already beautiful location even more beautiful.

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After spending some time looking around, we drove over to the Rancho de Chimayo restaurant for dinner. This is the second time Michelle and I had been there having taken the elderly couple Michelle cares for there a couple months ago. The ambiance was wonderful and the food excellent. When we walked out of the restaurant, we were greeted with a fresh dusting of snow. A perfect ending to a wonderful evening.

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Dreaming of Northern New Mexico

I was in Northern New Mexico this past weekend, and I took some pictures of my dream house and my dream church there. You can click on each picture to see them enlarged.

My dream house in Taos, NM. Looks like the roof needs some work, but just look at the setting!

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My dream church in Pojoaque, NM. I don’t think they’d have me as it’s a Catholic Church, but the building and setting is exhilarating!

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The Need for Intimacy Among Men

To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. C.S. Lewis

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On August 27th, I led a men’s breakfast at Foothills Fellowship. My goal was to help men see the need for intimate male relationships, encourage them to be willing to explore this concept more, and eventually pursue such relationships. I gave them 6 reasons why I decided to speak on this topic.

1. Occasionally, I find myself telling my wife, Michelle, “I don’t need close male friends. I have you.” Emotionally, I may convince myself of this, but theologically, I know this is not right.

2. Most churches (including mine) stink at keeping single men connected to the church after high school. Perhaps one of the main reasons is that there aren’t any older men relationally connecting with these younger men.

3. Churches must have an answer for single men who struggle with same-sex attraction but want to honor God by remaining celibate. Deep and meaningful relationships with other men and families in the church is pivotal for helping these men stay connected to their faith and keep their commitment to celibacy. I recently blogged on this.

4. In college, I enjoyed deep male friendships, and I miss it. However, once I was married and had children, these relationships faded. Men must figure out ways to stay connected to one another after marriage.

Yes. That’s me on the right! And yes, I was in college. A senior as a matter of fact!

5. The Bible calls us to deep, intimate relationships with other Christian men, but our culture has made this almost impossible.

Sam Allberry, a pastor in Maidenhead, UK explains why: “Our Western culture has so identified sex and intimacy that in popular thinking the two are virtually identical. We cannot conceive of intimacy occurring without it in some way being sexual. So when we hear how previous generations described friendship in such intimate terms, we roll our eyes and say, “Well they were obviously gay.” Any intimacy, we imagine, must ultimately be sexual. But the Bible conceives of these things very differently. Sex and intimacy are not the same. It’s possible to have a lot of sex and yet find no intimacy. Sex is designed to deepen and express intimacy that already exists; it cannot in itself create it. But it’s also possible to have a huge amount of godly, healthy intimacy without sex.”

6. Men’s discipleship and sanctification is dependent upon deep relationships with Christian male friends. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Iron tools are made sharp, and fit for use, by rubbing them against the file, or some other iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. He quickens his ingenuity, enlivens his affections, strengthens his judgment, excites him to virtuous and useful actions, and makes him, in all respects, a better, more godly man.

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There are other Scriptures that point to the need for intimate relationships between Christians (men in this case).

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. I read this passage at most marriage ceremonies I perform, but gender is not specified here.

Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. A friend is sent into the world of another for this among other ends, that he might comfort and relieve his brother in his adversity.

Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor. This denotes the affection that ought to exist between spiritual brothers and is a badge of discipleship. To “outdo” one another means going before, leading, setting an example.

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Christians are called to love one another – and this goes for men too. By doing this 1) it gives evidence that we are Christ’s disciples and 2) it shows unsaved people that we follow Christ.

John 15:12-13 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” This is what Christ did for us. This is what we should be willing to do for others – including our brothers in Christ.

in I Samuel 18-20, we see the ultimate example of an intimate male relationship in David and Jonathan.  We see that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Once Jonathan realized that he would never assume the throne of his father because of his father’s sin and that David was God’s choice to be the next king, he made a covenant with David (rather than try to kill him) because “he loved him as his own soul.” In an act of great humility and love, Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his girdle.

The last time they ever saw each other, Scripture says that “David fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times; and they kissed one another, and wept with one another.” Jonathan was eventually killed, and David eventually became king, but their friendship and loyalty lasted long after Jonathan’s death. In 2 Samuel 9, we see David caring for Jonathan’s son as his own. “I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.”

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Christian men need friendships like this, and it can happen. Pray that God would show you a man of two with whom you can work toward developing a deep and intimate relationship. It will take work and great intention, but it’s worth it. As a matter of fact, your sanctification depends on it!

To see more of these great old photos of men with their buddies and to read about the history of male friendship in America, click here.

To listen to the audio of the men’s breakfast discussion I had with the men from Foothills, click here.

The Command to Love Trumps the “Do Not” Commands

I’m preparing to address the men of our church on Saturday about love, intimacy, sexuality, and friendship. It’s an area of deep concern for me as our culture equates intimacy with sex creating a culture where biblical friendship and the call for non-sexual same-sex intimacy (like David and Jonathan’s) has become unattainable. As C.S. Lewis put it, “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”

Friends, celebrating, sunset, river bank

When studying this topic, one inevitably comes across the writings of those in the church who have a same-sex attraction but have chosen – out of obedience to God – to remain celibate.  Reading the thoughts of these men has been very rich and helpful for me.  One such man is Wesley Hill, an assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. About the topic of same-sex friendship, love, and intimacy he writes, “If we are going to say ‘no’ to gay marriage, we have to provide gay people with human relationships where we offer love, fidelity and mutual support.” I couldn’t agree more.

Hill goes on to say, “The Church in Corinth was one of the most difficult of the Churches founded by the Apostle Paul during his missionary journeys. He wrote more to address the problems in Corinth than he addressed to any other Christian community in the ancient world. Much of what he had to say to the Corinthians concerned adherence to the negative precepts of God’s law (including the prohibition of homosexual acts in 1 Corinthians 6:9). However, his letters to the Corinthians also contain perhaps the most moving statement in all Scripture of the primacy of the positive commandment to love.”

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul warns the church that if they don’t love others (enemies and outsiders included), then they are doing and have nothing. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

If we are going to passionately and with great conviction declare that homosexuality is a sin (which it is according to God’s Word), then we as Christ-followers must be the first in line to offer our homosexual friends the kind of deep, passionate, committed, and intimate love the Scriptures call us to give others. We must not just love homosexuals in theory but we must be willing to love them in practice. We must not tell them “no” without offering them the burning “yes” of our friendship, loyalty and love.

The Significance of Palm Sunday

If you’re a part of Foothills Fellowship in Albuquerque, then read this post as it is a bit more specific to our worship environment.

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Palm Sunday is important. It’s the day that we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It’s the beginning of what Christians call, “Holy Week” – a week that began with celebration and ended with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.  On that day long ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time.  Many times before, He had entered the city quietly, but this time when He entered, the Jews thought their long awaited Messiah, king, and rescuer had arrived, so they celebrated by cheering, dancing, and yelling out shouts of “Hosanna in the Highest!”  The people were right that Jesus was their Messiah, king, and rescuer, but they were wrong in what His rule, reign, and rescue would look like – and for that, they killed him by the end of the week.

Palm Sunday is profound.  It’s profound because what God did that day by presenting Jesus as King, He does every time God’s people gather together for worship.  This is why our Sunday worship service is SO VITAL to our spiritual lives. The worship of God is the highest purpose of mankind.  It’s the reason for our existence. It’s why we have breath and life.  So, if God presents Jesus as King when His people gather together for worship like He did that first Palm Sunday, then Christians MUST make gathering for worship a priority every week.

Palm Sunday teaches us about how to worship. When Jesus was presented as King on that day, His disciples responded with enthusiastic worship.  Luke 19:37-38 says that “the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'”  When we gather, do we come even thinking about rejoicing and praising God with a loud voice?  When God presents His Son as King when we gather every Sunday, are you ready to worship?  When the songs begin, are you ready to sing?  Are you ready to hear the Scripture when it’s read and attentively listen when it’s preached?  And are you ready to go and live for Christ and proclaim His glory when you leave?

May we prepare ourselves for worship every week, and when God presents His Son to us as King, may we be ready to respond enthusiastically, sincerely, and with great joy.

On life, learning, love, and laughter.