In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, Christ commanded the twelve to go and make disciples.  Literally, go and disciple, or instruct.  Usually someone's last words before they leave this earth are the most important thing they want you to know.  "Go disciple!"  We are here to glorify Christ above all else. Discipleship is simply teaching believers how to squeeze every drop of glory they can out of every area of their lives.  There is no area of our lives that are off limits to Christ.  Let's learn together how to submit more and more of our lives to Christ and transform ourselves, our marriages and families, our communities, and our world all by submitting to our loving Creator's will for our lives.
 
Matthew 28:196-20 "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
 
 
Blue Letter Bible

Resurrection 

John 11:25-26 “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

As the majority of the Christian world takes the time this Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we must really take the time to appreciate the significance of His resurrection.  There are so many doctrines that are central and essential to the faith.  The resurrection is one of those doctrines.  Without the resurrection we have absolutely no hope.  Paul said that our faith and preaching is pointless if Christ is not risen.  Some people will tell you that all religion is the same.  That is simply a lie.  No other major world religion claims to have had their leader die and rise again.  Mohammed is dead.  Buddha is dead.  Jesus is alive.  It’s so essential to the faith that the earliest creeds declared it. 

In John 11, Christ was speaking to Martha.  He asked her this very important question.  He is the resurrection and the life.  Do you believe it?  He’s not an idea or a philosophy.  He’s not love or unity.  Christ is not an abstract set of moral values that are the ideal of which to strive.  He is the Son of God, seated at the right hand of the Father.  He was born of a virgin.  He suffered was crucified, died, was buried, and on the third day He rose from the grave.  Do you believe it?  Eternity rests on that question alone. 

If you believe it, you’re not the same person you used to be.  If you truly believe it, you’ve been changed.  You’ve been regenerated, made new, “born again”.  Sure I believe it but…. If you believe it but, you haven’t been changed, do you really believe?  If you can believe all those things about Christ and not have been transformed by the weight of what all that means, I challenge you to examine yourself in the light of scripture and questions whether the Bible declares you a believer or not.  “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46

Once you’ve examined yourself, you may find that you truly are a believer.  But you’ve allowed yourself to become entangled in the cares of this world.  Or, you may examine yourself and realize that, in fact, you’re not a believer at all.  Your life bears no fruit.  Guess what?  It all goes back to the opening question.  Do you believe?  If you believe, there’s hope.  If you believe there’s new life.  If you believe, you will never die.  If you don’t currently believe, scripturally speaking you’re already dead.  But, thankfully we serve a God that’s calling out to dead men to arise. 

Easter is a time when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  The guarantee of our own resurrection to eternal life was declared from a tomb in Israel approximately 2,000 years ago.  Let this be the season to celebrate your own resurrection.  Whatever caused your death, God is calling you to new, abundant life.  Wake up and start living. Put your faith in Him today.  Wherever you are, find a local church body to celebrate the resurrection this Sunday.  Let this be the first of many.

 

Monday, March 21, 2016 9:14:00 PM

Plugging In 

If you’re reading this right now, you’re either looking at your phone or your computer screen.  That being said, your phone or your computer is being effectively powered by either a battery or by being directly plugged into an outlet.  So what would happen if you allowed the battery on your phone to run out?  That’s an absolutely frightening thought to many younger adults or teens.  The idea of being disconnected is uncomfortable or even panic inducing.  If you have your phone, you are connected.  You can call for help in an emergency; you can entertain yourself, take pictures, etc.  What is that phone without a properly functioning battery? In one word…..useless.  Cell phones are wonderful creations.  They have many amazing abilities.  I read that there is more technology built into a modern cell phone then there was packed into the Apollo 11 that took Neil Armstrong to the moon.  But, again, what happens if the battery dies? It becomes worthless. 

What about the church? Not the building.  You.  You are part of the Body of Christ.  What happens when we collectively become disconnected in the power necessary to properly function?  Your phone will send you a warning. You’re down to 20%, then 10%, and then nothing.  What happens when we blatantly ignore warnings that we need to connect to power soon?  The screen goes black.  Most of us are bright enough to understand that when this happens to our phone or laptop that we can connect it to power and it will again be fully operational.  But, what do we do when it’s the church that’s in need of power?

The early church was connected to power.  In Acts 2, Peter delivers a dramatic sermon in Jerusalem where 3,000 people were saved, baptized, and added to the church in one day.  Any evangelist would be quite envious of those results.  His sermon is only 23 verses long.  It doesn’t appear that there was an hour long fire breathing, pulpit pounding sermon.  There is no mention of a phenomenal worship band to set the atmosphere.  If there was a kids’ crusade or a relevant teen group, they flew under the radar.  There is nothing about a state of the art sanctuary, community outreach center, well thought out website or social media campaign.  But, they had power.  The early church operated in the power of the Spirit.  If you read throughout the book of Acts, there are a multitude of examples of the church operating with tremendous, supernatural power. 

So why doesn’t it seem that we often operate under the same sort of power today?  Maybe we just need the right program.  Maybe we need the right website and social media marketing campaign.  Maybe we need a great mission statement, or a relevant seeker friendly atmosphere.  Maybe it’s a different worship style.  Maybe a new pastor is the answer.  The early church didn’t have anything of that.  Acts 2:47 says that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  The apostles only had one play in their book.  Faithful men filled with the Spirit delivering the Word of God with boldness.  That’s it.  Period.  The apostles understood something that we must get back to both individually and corporately.  We are responsible for presenting the gospel and the Spirit is responsible for the results.  We’re trying to draw the world in and make the gospel more palatable.  All the while wondering why the world won’t take notice.  Why won’t they listen?  Why can’t they see what we see?  But, we’re not looking to see that our power is fading.  We’re not effective.  We have nothing to offer.  In an attempt to be relatable, we’ve become irrelevant.  When the power is low or gone, we try to continue to act like nothing is wrong.  If we still hold the phone up to our ear and talk into it, maybe no one will be able to tell its dead.  Maybe if we do what worked twenty years ago?  Maybe if we do what the big church across town is doing, it’ll come back.  Maybe if we’d just reconnect to the power source, everything would function as it’s supposed to.

The world wants something, needs something revolutionary.  The gospel is still revolutionary.  The gospel is still powerful and effective.  But the church without power is just like the dead cell phone.  It still holds the ability to do everything it was designed to do, but that ability can’t be unleashed until it’s reconnected and recharged. 

Jesus Christ is passionately in love with the church.  We are His bride, His masterpiece.  He’s laid down His life just to have an eternal relationship with us.  He’s calling us to an equally passionate relationship with Him.  He’s not looking for an empty marriage with no love or intimacy.  We are created to be in a powerful relationship with Him.  So powerful, in fact, that we boldly proclaim the truth of His word as He leads us in every place He sends us.  When that happens, the world has no choice but to stop and take notice.

 

Monday, February 15, 2016 10:14:00 PM

A Father's Sacrifice 

Anyone who has children knows the joy their children can bring (most of the time).  You do your best to provide for your children’s needs in every way and strive to provide many of their wants. There is such a feeling of joy to see your children receive a gift that they’ve been longing for.  There’s a satisfaction in knowing that you’ve given them every possible opportunity for success as they venture into the world on their own.  That’s because a good parent wants to give good things to their children. In Luke 11, Christ alludes to the fact that even unbelieving parents want to give good things to their children. 

But, do you ever consider the sacrifices that you’ve made or are willing to make to provide those things? The income that has been spent on family vacations, sports teams, Christmas and birthday gifts, clothes, and maybe even private schooling.  Have you considered the number of hours of overtime or time working second jobs? Have you ever thought about what you could’ve purchased with all that disposable income?  Maybe that rusty but trusty grocery getter would be a late model sports car or you’d live in much more extravagant home. Maybe you wouldn’t have nicer things but you’d have more time to spend on your own interests or hobbies. 

It’s unfortunate that so many parents fail to live up God’s design for parenthood.  It’s heartbreaking to think about each and every one of the broken homes that are the result of one parent or the other deciding that their wants were more important than the needs of their spouse and children.  But, the thing is, we weren’t created that way.  We were created in the image of our Father, the imago dei.  We were created in the very image of God.  Just one bite and sin ruined everything.  Selfishness and deceit ruined it all.  It corrupted every fiber of our beings from Adam until now.  Because of sin, homes are broken.  Because of our own personal sinfulness, we’ve all experienced some sort of shortcomings in the closest of our own personal relationships.  Maybe you are the result of a broken home.  Maybe you’ve had a parent be selfish and aloof.  Maybe they’ve walked out of your life completely. Maybe because of that damaged relationship, you have a warped image of God. 

You might wonder why you’ve had to go through some things in your life.  Even after coming to Christ, you may still struggle to understand why God allowed certain things to happen to you. Why did you come from the family you did?  Your family tree may be full of bad apples.  You may have generations of poverty, addiction, and abuse preceding you.  But, what if God allowed all of this because He purposely wanted you?  Think about it for a minute.  The sovereign Creator, in His infinite wisdom and goodness wanted you.  Before you did a thing, before you believed, before the world began He set His love on you.  What kind of a God would do that?  What kind of Father would sacrifice everything for His children? Our Father would.

Romans 9:22-24 “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles”

God knew you before you were born.  God knew every thought you would think and He knew that He would love you.  God patiently waited and sacrificed everything for a relationship with you. He did this because He’s good and He loves us, not because we deserve it or we’ve earned it in any way.  He loves us for the same reason that good parents love their children.  They belong to us.  We belong to Him.  They have our DNA.  If we are His, we have His DNA.  Before your children were born, you knew when they were in the womb that you would love them.  He knew before the world began that He would love you.  God has patiently endured unimaginable violence, hatred, wars, faithlessness, and all kinds of other evils just so that He could save you and spend eternity with you.  He patiently endured vessels “prepared for destruction”, those that would never believe and come to faith, and all their awful deeds so that He could have eternity with you! All so that He could “make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy”.  That’s you.  That’s me.  That’s us! What kind of God?  What kind of Father?  He is good and His mercy endures forever.  He pursued you.  He sent Christ to lay down His life for you.  He’s endured thousands of years of pain and rejection for you.  All His plans for you are good. 

No matter what your relationship with your earthly father is like, know that God is a Father worthy of our trust, our adoration, and our praise.  He will never, ever leave us or forsake us.   He is faithful.  He is a good, good father.

 

Thursday, February 4, 2016 8:57:00 PM

Prayer: It's a Two Way Conversation (Part 5) 

Keeping the Channel Open

 

Matthew 6:12-15 (NASB)

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’] For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

 

A major factor in having an effective prayer life is keeping the lines of communication open.  Unconfessed sin can be a major disruptor in our lines of communication with the Father.  We’ve all hurt others and been hurt in relationships.  Sometimes those relationships have been strained to the point of breaking.  The pain and frustration of broken relationships, especially if it’s a close relative or dear friend, can be unbearable.  Our relationship with God is the most important relationship that we could possibly have.  It’s more important than any human relationship.  All through the gospels, Christ stresses that we must put our relationship with Him above any and all relationships, including family.  So, anything that can break the connection in that relationship must be dealt with quickly. 

 

Often, just like with our human relationships, we procrastinate when it comes to mending broken relationships.  We put off apologizing, rationalize our behavior, or simply avoid the problem.  These are all unacceptable ways to respond to God.  In regards to this aspect of our relationship with God, the sin of unforgiveness can bring the effectiveness of our prayer life to a screeching halt.  Paul instructs us to “be angry, and yet do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).  That sin can take on all kinds of forms including violence, physical and emotional abuse, other forms of retaliation, and unforgiveness.  In many cases the offended person may have a legitimate grievance against the person who offended them.  However, as Christians we have no choice but to forgive.  In verse 12, our forgiveness towards others is seen as past tense.  It is expected that we have already forgiven, because if we are faithful to the gospel, we must choose to do so. 

Matthew 18 contains a parable in which Jesus tells of a slave who had received forgiveness for a massive debt and then turned around and would not offer forgiveness to one of his fellow slaves for a comparably smaller debt.  If you check out the parable, the king forgave the servant a debt of 10,000 talents and the unforgiving servant wouldn’t release a debt of 100 denarii.  To put it into perspective, 10,000 talents of pure gold at current market prices based on the heavy common talent in use during New Testament times would be equivalent to approximately $21 billion.  That’s billion with a B. God has forgiven us of so much.  Not just what we’ve done, but also what we’ve said and thought, along with our natural bent toward sin.  We have a debt that we couldn’t pay in multiple lifetimes and because of His compassion for us, He freely forgives us when we ask.  The debt the servant wouldn’t forgive was 100 denarii.  A denarius was a day’s wages for unskilled labor.  Based on current minimum wage that would be the about $6,500. Can you imagine what we’d think of a person who pulled this in our lives today?  The whole situation seems absurd and it’s meant to.  That’s what we look like to God when we refuse to forgive others.  Fortunately for us, as children of the King, adopted sons and daughters, we receive grace when we fail in this area like so many others.  The Holy Spirit convicts us of our unforgiveness and we have a responsibility to respond to that conviction and forgive to restore the broken fellowship.

So what does forgiveness look like? Forgiveness is a heart issue.  Forgiveness says that no matter what they did to you, they owe you absolutely nothing.  You read that right.  No apology, no restitution, no favors later, nothing hanging over their head.  Their debt to you is absolutely free and clear.  It’s one of the hardest things to do in life.  But Christ makes it at the heart of our relationship with the Father.  Forgiveness is supernatural.  In situations of severe hurt, it’s only possible through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. 

Faith bears fruit.  Forgiveness is a fruit of a life regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit.  If we want to walk in unbroken fellowship with God, we absolutely must make forgiveness a priority.  There’s nothing on this earth that anyone has done to you that is worth harming your relationship with God. You might be thinking right now, “But you don’t know what they did to me!” You’re right.  I don’t.  But God does.  He also knows everything you’ve done to everyone else.  He is intimately aware of the hurts that we inflict on each other every day.  Many times we’re not even aware of it.  Sometimes there’s no way to go back to fix the damage we’ve done in life.  Forgiveness is God’s greatest equalizer.  It wipes the slate clean.  It makes all things new.  Without it we are doomed.  With it we are considered righteous. 

If you’re struggling in your prayer life today, won’t you make a conscious effort to forgive?  Forgive that person who abused you.  Forgive the spouse that left.  Forgive the kids that may never appreciate all that you’ve done for them.  Forgive the person that ruined your reputation.  Forgive yourself.  If you’re a believer, He has already cleared your debt.  Now, release others of their debt to you and I can guarantee your prayer life will take off and I bet your relationships with others will too.

 

Thursday, January 21, 2016 11:16:00 PM

Prayer: It's a Two Way Conversation (Part 4) 

More Than Enough

Matt 6:11 (NASB) “Give us this day our daily bread.”

In an American culture consumed with consumption, this prayer runs counter to everything we see every day.  Unfortunately it often runs counter to what we here from many in the Christian community who are supposed to be declaring the Gospel.  So many times the message has been so horribly Americanized that it no longer even remotely resembles the Gospel. 

Give…..this word requires us to acknowledge that all that we have is solely because of the grace of God.  This simple request acknowledges our absolute dependence on God for everything we need. God wants to provide each and every one of our needs.  But, we must acknowledge that He is the source of all of those blessings.  Only when we take every one of our needs to Him and allow Him to provide it in the way He sees fit.  We can trust Him to know what’s best for us and how to provide those needs in a way that will bring Him the most glory.  He said that He came that we might “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Just like each of us like to give good gifts to our loved ones, He loves to give good gifts to us. 

This day…..God has no plans of giving you such provision that you won’t have to continue leaning on Him in faith.  Every bit of security that we attempt to lay up for ourselves is shaky at best.  The stock market crashes and your retirement savings is gone.  That company that takes so much of your life and time away from family can be closed tomorrow.  Status, fame, wealth, and health all fade and without God we would have none of it.  Our faith is placed on the wrong foundation if it’s placed on anything except God Himself and the promises that He’s made to us in His word.  He’ll give us what we need for today.  Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we receive our manna from the Father.  He’ll give us provision for today and a promise of provision for tomorrow. He is endlessly faithful.  We’d all love to have unlimited resources to be able to go and do whatever we wanted.  We do have unlimited resources.  However, God has the control of when, where, and how those resources show up and they’ll always show up right on time. 

Our daily bread….is everything we need. Bread is unassuming.  Bread is basic.  Bread is enough.  He will give us what we really need.  He’ll provide the job we need right now.  He’ll provide the transportation that we need right now.  He’ll provide the word of encouragement or the friend we need right now.  We think we need so much.  We need a job. We need a new car.  We need a new house.  We need. We need. We need.  What we think we need, we don’t and we really don’t want what we really need.  He understands our needs better than we understand our own and He’s already in our future making the way, opening doors, and guiding our footsteps.  We can trust that God may not give us what we want, but He will always do what’s in our best interests.  He will never give us so much that we lose sight of our dependence on Him. 

God will always provide more than enough.  More than enough grace, strength, hope, and faith are all ours for the asking.  The provision is there.  Whenever we ask anything according to His will, we will receive it.  We have a Father who knows our deepest needs.  He loves us and delights when we call on His name and ask Him to provide our needs.  James 4:2 says that we “have not, because we ask not”.  When we trust Him to work on our behalf and then do what we know to do.  God has a miraculous way of showing up in ways that we couldn’t explain any other way than his divine providence and intervention. 

 

 

Monday, January 11, 2016 11:31:00 PM

Prayer: It's a Two Way Conversation (Part 3) 

What’s Your Priority?

In this session of our series on prayer, let’s look at the next couple of verses. 

Matthew 6:9-10 (NASB) “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

While there may not be a specific formula to prayer, like certain phrases or words, there certainly are principles and components that are crucial to proper and effective prayer.

Our Father… we must first have a relationship with God to be able to come into His presence.  With the exception of a prayer of repentance and saving faith, any prayers without a relationship with Him are a waste of breath.  It’s not that God isn’t concerned about the rest of the world, but He’s most concerned about His children.  While I might be willing to help with the needs of some needy children, I’m going to make sure that the needs of my children are met first.  Before we enter into a saving relationship in Christ, we are enemies of God (Romans 5:10).  Until we are adopted as sons and daughters, we have no standing. 

 It should go without saying, but the focus of effective prayer is on God Himself.  It’s not nearly as much about what we say or how we say it, as it is about who were saying it to.  God is the focus.  It sounds simple but it’s much more profound than that.  When you pray you are communicating with the Creator of heaven and earth.  You are talking to the One who flung the stars into place and knows the number of the hairs on your head.  He is worthy of every bit of honor, glory, and praise that we could ever express in eternity and we’ll still be well short of what He’s due.  Just as any person of prominence is due the proper respect or reverence, God is worth immeasurably more than we could express.  It is only reasonable that we would express our admiration and praise. 

Psalm 100:4 says “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. Hallowed be your name. His name is holy, blameless.  But more than His name, Strong’s puts it this way “the name is used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is aroused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i.e. for one's rank, authority, interests, pleasure, command, excellences, deeds etc. “Absolutely everything about God should be considered holy, blameless, upright righteous, and above any sort of reproach.  Once we are enlightened to the gospel, and once God reveals Himself to us, it should become incredibly apparent to us how worthy of our praise God really is.  Words can’t express the praise that He’s due.  Romans 8:26 says “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;”  True expressions of praise and admiration must come from the heart. 

Next, in regards to priorities, after regarding who God is and giving Him honor and praise, comes submission to His agenda.  “Your kingdom come, Your will be done. “ Maybe the most challenging part of our prayer life, and our Christian walk altogether, is submission.  We are notoriously rebellious and independent.  We simply don’t want to submit to anyone, much less God.  Not praying for our will, our wants, even our needs, but for His will is hard, especially if we mean it. Being able to let go and trust God with our past, present, and future lies at the root of submission.  But, if we’ve prioritized our praise and placed our focus on who He is, His attributes, and His goodness, submission becomes much easier. 

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015 10:31:00 PM

A Life Altering Christmas 

We’ll rejoin our study of prayer next week.  This week let’s focus on celebrating our Savior’s birth.

A Life Altering Christmas

Can you imagine a debt free Christmas? How about a completely debt free life?  It would be completely life changing.  No credit card payments. No mortgage.  No car payment.  No stretching or juggling to get by.  Wouldn’t that be amazing? 

How about being isolated and alone, traveling through life lost and in conflict with your family, even your parents?  How about one Christmas, getting a phone call from that estranged loved saying, “Come home!”

Have you ever unwrapped a Christmas gift from someone that were expecting at all, you knew your gift to them couldn’t come close to equating their gift to you, and you felt completely and totally undeserving?  Would you reject that gift, or would you let it humble you?  Would you let the tears begin to well up in your eyes?  Would you simply say thank you and maybe hug them and just be in awe of the wonderful gift you’ve received?

Today is the day that much of the world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.  We give jolly old St. Nick plenty of air time as well.  But today is about the humble birth of our Savior.  This is the day when over 2,000 years ago, a King stepped out of eternity into humble human flesh and became a baby.  He came to experience every joy, sorrow, hunger, and satisfaction that we experience.  But most of all, He came to deliver a gift to humanity.  You know how sometimes you just know what you’re going to get that special person way before Christmas and you just can’t wait to watch them open it.  Well, God knew what He was going to get you before the foundation of the world! It’s a gift that was delivered over 2,000 years ago and took 33 years to unwrap.  It’s a gift that will last for eternity, never rust, fade, or decay.  

The King who came in rags and slept in a feeding trough in a barn came to cancel our debt and restore our relationship with our Father.

Romans 5:15-17 (NASB) “But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Think that credit card statement is bad?! We each owe a debt with God that even if we worked through eternity, we couldn’t begin to put a dent in our balance.  He didn’t just come to pay the minimum payment every month.  He wiped out the balance.  He adopts us as His children.  He takes our spiritual bankruptcy and transforms us into sin debt-free sons and daughters of the Living God who will never again see a sin debt on our account (Romans 8:1).  He credits us with His righteousness.  Not only does He pay what we owe, He gives us abundant life (John 10:10). By simply unwrapping our free gift of grace, by faith, we access a type of redemption unimaginable by human standards.  A perfect, holy, righteous God gives complete and total debt forgiveness, and an overflowing spiritual account of righteousness to all those who simply confess and believe that Jesus provided this gift to whosoever will receive it.

This Christmas season, if you’ve enjoyed time with family, good food, and maybe even a few gifts, thank God that you’re so blessed and share that amazing love with everyone around you.  If you haven’t unwrapped this wonderful gift yet, there’s no special prayer or formula.  It’s available to all who will just come and receive it by faith. Just confess and believe.  Unwrap this life changing gift and experience abundant life for eternity.  Amid all the hustle, bustle, and memory making this season, remember the reason for it all and have a life altering Christmas.

 

Friday, December 25, 2015 2:04:00 PM Categories: Holidays

Prayer: It's a Two Way Conversation (Part 2) 

Prayers that Impress God

Matthew 6:7 (NASB) “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”

In Luke 18:10-14 Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who both went to the temple to pray.  The Pharisee, trusting in his own righteousness, began to recount all of his redeeming qualities and his spiritual accomplishments.  The tax collector recognized his unworthiness in the presence of an almighty, holy God and begged for mercy.  He, and only he, left justified.  The common teaching of the day was that a long prayer by a righteous man is heard by God.  God knows our hearts. He knows our hearts better than we know our own.  Words don’t impress God.  Eloquent speeches don’t move His heart, faith does.  Our cries for help, our desperation, our praise, our pleas for forgiveness and mercy move God.  No spiritual resume, as chocked full of righteous deeds as it may be, can be impressive to God.  Job made his pleas of injustice based on his righteousness.  God responded and quickly put him back in his place.  Job appears to be God’s most faithful servant in his time period and his own righteousness pales in comparison to the righteousness and holiness of a perfect God. 

A greater appreciation of the awesomeness of God comes to us when we grasp just how broken and sinful we really are.  Yes, I said it…sinful.  Our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). He forgives us because He chooses to.  He loves us because he wants to.  He blesses us because we are His children.  He chastises us because He wants to conform us to the image of His Son.  Nothing we can say or do causes us to deserve His blessings or His favor.  But, when we lift our hands in surrender He condescends to us.  When we bow our heads in shame and beg His forgiveness, He puts himself on record promising to forgive us each and every time (1 John 1:9). When we lift our voices in praise, we enter into His presence.

Just like when we have a genuine friendship with someone, we should want to have real, deep conversations with them.  We should want to know everything about them down to the smallest detail.  He already knows that about us, only through prayer and the study of His word can we begin to understand that about Him.  We begin to see that He cares about the smallest details of our seemingly insignificant lives.  He personally reveals to us what the word has been telling us the whole time.  He is good.  He is unfathomably faithful.  He is the eternal embodiment of love.  He is full of grace and mercy.  He is the only source of all truth.  When we get real with Him and bare our souls, He reveals His amazing goodness and He becomes personal and relational. The simple prayer of faith is far more effective the most superbly crafted masterpiece.  When we come as a child (Matthew 18:2-4), simple, no pretenses; God hears and He doesn’t hesitate to respond.

The Answer is Waiting

Matthew 6:8 (NASB) “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Sometimes, I think, Christians believe that they are changing God’s mind about something.  When we pray, we’re not changing God’s mind.  God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He is the eternal one, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  When you prayed the first prayer of faith asking Him to come into your life and save you from yourself and the eternal consequences of your sins, He didn’t change His mind about you.  Romans 5:8 (NASB) “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  He died for you because He wanted to save you and spend eternity with you.  Before you realized anything about God, He made His mind up about you.  Before the tragedy struck, He was well aware.  Before you knew you needed guidance for the journey, our sovereign Father was moving the pieces into place to provide the wisdom, to put the people into places to respond, to open doors that you had no idea you would ever need to walk through. 

When we pray God’s will, the answer is always “Yes!”  When we pray for wisdom, strength, guidance, grace, mercy, forgiveness …..yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.  God promises all these things for those who are in Him whenever we ask.  The question then becomes am I willing to subject myself to His will.  But, what about when there is apparently no answer or the answer is a closed door and a clear no? Well, the scripture clearly says that He knows what we need before we even ask.  A few situations may exist.  We know that if we are praying for something that God has clearly defined as His will in scripture, God has answered that prayer or is in the process of providing an answer to that prayer with a positive response to that circumstance.  If we are asking for something for us, God will always provide our needs.  He lavishes blessings on us.  If we aren’t receiving something we desperately want, it’s time to begin examining our hearts.  James 4:3(NASB) “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Is it something that God approves of? Why do you want it? If God says no or not now, is it something that we’re willing to surrender?  Such a large component of prayer is trusting that our needs, our wants, and our everything can be safely handed over to a loving God and that He will always, always, always do what’s for our good and His glory.  Trust Him. He’s promised to work everything out for your eternal good every time (Romans 8:28). 

The more of Him we get, the less anything else matters.  He is immeasurably more than the sum of all the prayers that we could ever pray.  Trust. Surrender. Praise.

Next time we’ll look at Matthew 6:9-10, entering His courts with Praise, and finding His will in prayer.

 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 1:23:00 AM

Prayer: It's a Two Way Conversation (Part1) 

Prayer.  It’s such a vitally important aspect to our relationship with Christ.  Yet so many Christians struggle to understand what prayer really is; what it’s really meant to be.  Prayer is mentioned so many times throughout scripture, but rarely do we get as comprehensive of a lesson on prayer as when Christ speaks directly on the subject.  For the next several posts, we’ll discuss prayer from the context of Matthew 6 and the Lord’s Prayer. We’ll discuss what prayer is and is not.  How do we pray? Why do we pray? Why does it matter?

Let’s dig in.

Prayer Must Be Sincere

Matthew 6:5 (NASB)

 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”

Jesus certainly wasn’t against public prayer.  Jesus prayed in the synagogue.  Jesus prayed in the temple.  Jesus did many miracles and prayed on the cross in front of many witnesses.  Prayer can take place anywhere.  Christ knows the thoughts, the intents, and the motivations of the heart.  He knows what you’ll think and say before you think and say it.  He’s speaking, here, to motivation and sincerity. 

Don’t be a hypocrite.  Be sincere. Be genuine. The Creator of the universe knows what you did today.  He knows what you thought.  He knows what you’ll do and think for the rest of your life.  There is no hiding anything from God.  But, for some reason, we still try to put on a show.  Get real with God.  If you’re disappointed, tell Him.  If you’re hurt, tell Him.  If you’re angry, tell Him.  If you’re struggling with sin, even if it’s ugly, nasty, “Christians shouldn’t struggle with that kind of thing” sin, tell Him. God wants to have a genuine relationship with you; the good, the bad, and the ugly.  When we open ourselves up to God and allow Him to change us, to speak to us, prayer becomes less of a chore and more of a privilege. 

Don’t pray because it’s your duty.  Yes it make take some discipline to establish an effective prayer life, but do it because you want to genuinely connect with the King of Glory, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the loving Savior who shed His blood on a cross to lavish love and grace onto miserable, undeserving sinners like you and I.  The Pharisees would draw tremendous attention to themselves when they prayed and fasted.  They wanted everyone to know how righteous they were.  The only problem was that it was all a façade.  God saw through all of that, to the heart.  They were praying for the approval of men.  It’s far better to have the approval of God. 

Prayer is Intimate

Matthew 6:6 (NASB)

“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Intimacy grows in private.  Those long, long talks you had with your spouse when you were dating.  Those quiet moments spent holding your children when they were small.  Those are the things that create a bond that lasts a lifetime.  God longs to have an intimate relationship with each one of us.  He wants our undivided attention. 

We live in a distracted society.  We stare at TVs, phones, and computer screens.  We have music playing when we’re working out, doing yardwork, or just about anything else.  Very rarely do we just get quiet.  Very rarely do we get alone with God and with our thoughts.  Why?  It might just be because we’re afraid of what we might hear.  He might challenge us, convict us, or chastise us.  But, He might also love us, encourage us, or strengthen us.  That’s where trust is built.  We look to the word and God repeatedly reminds us that He is faithful and He is good.  He’s not out to harm us.  He’s working all of creation for our good and His glory.  Why wouldn’t we want to communicate with a God like that?

If you get alone with God, even for a few moments a day, not driving or multitasking in some other way, but, just get alone and hear Him, something amazing just might happen.  You might just fall in love with God.  Awestruck, amazed, overwhelmed by the majesty of who He is.  That He stepped down from His throne to experience every kind of joy and pain that you’ve experienced.  You might just come to know Him, instead of just knowing about Him.

Next time we’ll talk about Matthew 6:7-8.  How God doesn’t want “impressive” prayers and how the answers are ready and waiting even before we ask.

 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015 7:51:00 PM

A Call to Thanksgiving 

It seems natural this time of year to take at least a moment to give thanks for all our blessings.  While we may not have everything we want or everything we think we need, we must all probably admit that we certainly have much more than many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world.  But long before the settlers and Native Americans were having whatever was served at that first feast, God has called us to an attitude of thankfulness. 

Psalm 136 is an almost liturgical exclamation of gratitude for God's enduring mercy to His people.  The first three verses begin with "Oh, give thanks..." It goes on to list many of the amazing miracles of deliverance and blessing performed on behalf of the Israelites.  Most importantly the psalmist puts the emphasis where it rightly belongs, on the giver.  Many times we are like a little kid who doesn't read the birthday card and doesn't particularly care who the gift is from.  We just know we want to grab the toy and run, hollering out a half-hearted thank you as we run out of the room.  But God has called us to more than that. 

True thankfulness is much deeper than that.  True thankfulness places the focus of our thanks not on the love of the gift, but on genuine appreciation of the giver.  As one pastor put it, "Every stream must be traced back to the fountain." Don't get me wrong, a healthy family, a good job, and a comfortable home are very nice and are rightly something to be thankful for.  But, when the love of your life passes away, the job moves out of state, and the house is foreclosed on the Giver is still good.  He is still faithful. As the refrain goes in Psalm 136, "for His mercy endures forever."

Thankfulness is an admission that we don't deserve what we've received.  While we probably won't admit it out loud, we really kinda think we deserve what we've received in life, IF we've been blessed.  We think we've got a good job because we worked for it. We're healthy because we've taken care of ourselves, and so on and so on.  The fact of the matter is, while some of those things may be true, the bible says that God preserves man and beast (Psalm 36:6).  Every blessing that flows into our life is a gift from a Heavenly Father who loves us more than we can imagine. James 1:17 says "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning."   

A church near our home has a sign out front that reads, "Get rich quick, count your blessings". As you gather with your loved ones this Thanksgiving, be thankful for each and every one of them.  More than material possessions will ever matter, relationships matter.  Family matters.  Friends matter.  As you look around the room in your turkey induced coma, in whatever way works for you and yours, show them how much you love them and how you couldn't imagine this life without them.  But regarding the relationship that matters most of all, take a moment to thank the loving, faithful, endlessly merciful, sovereign God who chose for reasons you or I can't begin to fathom on this side of eternity for sending His son to die on a cross for you. All the rest is an incredible bonus because He is good, He loves us, and just because He can.

"Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven! For His mercy endures forever!" Psalm 136:26

 

 

Sunday, November 22, 2015 6:09:00 PM