The Interests Of Others!

-We’re Too Bratty & Hard To Please!

Is it just me? Or, are Christians far too easily offended? It seems like there are an awful lot of really “thin-skinned” believers; and, modern culture & technology provide them this unprecedented number of places to vent their wrath—social media & reality TV & the internet & talk shows all offer a platform to puff-up our feelings of self-importance & fuel our self-righteous attitudes! It seems incredibly reflective, of our idolatrous society, that even Christians have become bratty & hard-to-please! I’ve eaten out  at a restaurant, with a Christian friend, who berates a waitress for bringing them the wrong dish & decides to write a scathing online review for everyone to read! Where is grace & mercy?

-It’s Embarrassing!

It’s really embarrassing when compared to the real persecution that believers face in other parts of the world! I mean, what else might be on that poor waitresses mind? A severely ill spouse? Up all night with a baby? Why aren’t we asking— with genuine concern— if they’re okay? Why not offer to pray with her? This stuff is epidemic; and, surveys are revealing that one of the main reasons the lost aren’t coming to church is because of the conduct of those who claim to be following Jesus! Instead of enhancing the Gospel of Christ, as Jesus intends, we’re part of the problem!

-We’re Too Easily Offended!

Right now, one of my best friends, in the ministry, is fighting a battle for his pastoral life because he “dared” to lovingly confront a mom & dad over their out-of-control toddler, who screams during the entire Worship service; and, they refuse to take him out of the service! They were “offended” that he would ask them to remove the screaming child for the benefit of the rest of the faith community! We were talking about this in our Thursday morning men’s Small Group & one of our members mentioned that of all the people he’s known, who’ve left the church over the last 20 some years since his conversion, he thought that no more than 3 or 4 actually had Biblical grounds for leaving! The rest left over purely selfish reasons! And, they will stand one day before the One who was beaten, mocked, spit upon & finally hung on a cross to die— “You left your church over that? Really? Go get a cross & deny yourself!

-Loving Others!

We need to beat the drum to LOVE OTHERS! We need to preach that message better and more often! Because most in the church, today, just don’t get it! We need to preach & teach the church how to love others selflessly & assume personal responsibility to deal with personal sin, resolve conflict & restore wounded relationships! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Philippi: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” Philippians 2:4. That last line is perhaps the most significant! If we’re going to be part of the solution, church, we have to “…LOOK ALSO FOR THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS.” Don’t just focus on your own interests, Paul says. We need to be rescued from our idol of narcissism, church!

 

Is Every Believer A Disciple?

-What Does Scripture Teach?

The Church, here in the west, has often made a distinction between a “believer” in Jesus Christ & a “disciple” of Jesus Christ! It’s a distinction, however, that Scripture fails to make— that you can be a saved “believer” & just live your entire life for yourself! That, if you desire, you can become a “disciple” and live out your days as a “super saint” for Jesus. No where, in Scripture, does Jesus say anything even close to that! If you abide, in Jesus, you will produce the fruit of a disciple! That’s the outcome of genuine faith!

-Grape Vines Produce Grapes!

There will always be fruit where there is genuine faith. It’s as natural as a grape vine producing grapes. That’s what grape vines do! And, there is fruit that is naturally produced, by God’s Spirit, in the life of every genuine believer who abides in Jesus! In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus says! Fruitfulness is the proof that you’re a “believer” & “disciple.” “If anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus said, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” John 15:6-8.  We bring glory to God when our lives produce fruit because it PROVES that He’s saved us! The PROOF is in the FRUIT!

-Love, Joy & Obedience!

Then, Jesus expands, on that, in the next several verses (v. 9-17). Fruitfulness, He says, is measured by our love, by our obedience, and, by our joy! “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Loving others isn’t an option for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus! If there’s no love, it’s because there is no spiritual life. Where there’s no love, there’s no “abiding in Jesus.” “You are my friends,” He said, “if you do what I command you.” We cannot pick and choose what we’re going to obey in God’s Word. Disobedience isn’t an option! If we truly abide, in Christ, we’ll repent when we disobey & realign our life accordingly with the Scriptures. And, there’ll be joy in your life— “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may full.” Our joy is linked to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ! It’s not circumstantial!

-Even When Life Is Hard!

Abiding in Christ produces joy! Even when the rest of life derails, our joy is centered In Jesus. All those grumpy, mean-spirited, haters out there who claim to be followers of Jesus must have missed that Scripture! Or… they don’t really abide in Christ! This text presents a clear case that God, the Father, won’t stand idle while His children act up! He will prune— “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” John 17:2. He will discipline His own! He will spank! But, He doesn’t spank the Devil’s kids! Our response, to His discipline, will either confirm or deny that our “faith” is legitimate! We will confess sin & let His Spirit clean house!

The Prayer Of Repentance!

-Once Upon A Time!

The Parable Of The Ducks”— Once upon a time there was a town where only ducks lived. Every Sunday the ducks waddled out of their houses & down Main Street to their Duck Church. They waddled in & squatted down in their proper seats. The Duck Choir would waddle in & take their place. And, the Duck Pastor would waddle forward & open his Duck Bible. And, he’d read to them:  “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up & soar like Eagles! No walls can confine you! No fences can hem you in! You have wings, so FLY!” All the ducks would shout, “Amen!” And, then they would all waddle home!

-When Sin Invades!

The moral to the story? Once sin invades our life it cripples our ability to live the Christian life the way God intended for us to it; and, until we repent of our sin, we’ll “waddle” through this life though God has ENABLED us to “FLY” IN CHRIST! Before his ascension, to the throne of Israel— and, for much of his early reign—  King David was a man of moral integrity. But, some where he began to take himself too seriously; and, pride began to crowd out the voice of God’s Spirit, in his life; and, he began to lose his way spiritually. The tragic events leading up to King David’s most memorable sinful gaffe are found in 2 Samuel ch. 11.

-David’s Tragic Gaffe!

It began “..in the spring,” v.1 says, “when kings march out to war.” It was customary for kings to march out to war, with their soldiers, to inspire them! But, David decides to indulge himself at home while his soldiers set up camp in an open field. “…David sent Joab,” the text says, “with his officers and all Israel.  They destroyed the Ammonites & besieged Rabbah, but David remained in Jerusalem.” That decision proved to be a dreadful mistake for David! One evening, while out for a stroll on the roof of his palace, he sees something he never would have been exposed to if he had marched to war with his men. A woman was cleansing herself. She was a beautiful woman, according to v.2; and, David decides he wants her. So, he sends messengers to find out who she was—she was the WIFE of one of his soldiers, Uriah & that should have ended it! She was another man’s wife! But David sent for her & slept with her!

-The Big Cover-Up!

It would just be a 1-night fling for the king; but, she got pregnant! And, then he orchestrated a cover-up that ended in her husband Uriah’s death! But God was displeased with what David had done; so, He sent Nathan, the Prophet, to expose King David’s sin & to inform him that the son, that Uriah’s wife would give birth to, would die. It’s at that point that the Scriptures allow us to peer in on King David to see what a “Prayer of Repentance” looks like! What we learn is that repentant prayer re-opens communication with God that sin had closed! I’m pretty confident that David’s sin didn’t begin here with Uriah’s wife. When the big sin shows up, there’s always a trail of little sins leading up to it. And, David repented of all of it!

 

How God Uses Prayer!

-To Show His Great Power!

A survey of God’s Word reveals how God uses prayer, in our lives, in a number of ways. In this post I want to ask you to consider how God will often answer your prayers, with a display of power, in order to strengthen your faith! In Acts, chapter 12, we find the Apostle Peter imprisoned by King Herod. So the text says that the church was earnestly praying for his release.  With great power, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, in the prison, where Peter was being held; and, released him from his chains & then escorted him out of the prison, safely passing 2 separate guard posts and out through an iron gate! From there, it says, “When he (Peter) realized this (that the Angel freed him), he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway.  ‘You’re crazy!’ they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, ‘It’s his angel!’ Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison” Acts 12:12-17.

-To Astound You!

They were astounded! I’ve often thought about Herod, and his guards, when reading this text! What a display of power was evidenced to release Peter from his chains and imprisonment! But, the same display of power God used to confront Herod & the Jews, with their helplessness to stop Him when He determines to do something according to His Sovereign plans, is the same power display that God uses to strengthen our faith! The same display of power that buckled & weakened the knees of unbelievers, strengthened the faith of believers! When you study the Gospels, you see that Jesus kept growing the faith of His disciples! For 3 1/2 years He kept convincing them that the work of God can never be done in the power of the flesh; or, by the world’s methods.; but, by the supernatural power of God alone. God wants to engage us in prayer so we see His power.

-To Build Your Faith!

God also intends to build our faith & belief , in Him, as He answers our prayers. Why do we see the supernatural work, of God, in the book of Acts? Chapter 2:42 says the believers, ““…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” The early church was birthed in prayer! It says they DEVOTED themselves to prayer!  James identified that prayer was a problem for some: “You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires”  (ch. 4:3)  God doesn’t answer selfish prayers! He does, however, answer the prayers of helplessness & utter dependence on His power! Jesus taught His disciples that God answers prayers that are God-centered & God-focused! So, how might your prayers need to change?

 

How God Wants Us To Pray!

-He Wants Us To Repent!

So, let me tell you what I believe God wants us to do if our prayer life looks like the typical Christian! I believe He wants us to repent of our prayerlessness! I believe He wants us to denounce all our human efforts & admit our total helplessness when it comes to getting God’s work done in our human strength! And, I believe, that in order to accomplish that, He wants us to change some habits in our lives— He wants us to ADD TIME to PRAY into our schedules! That means we might need to actually move some other things OUT of our schedule! And, then, He wants us to pray with absolute dependence on Him!

-Pray Over A Crisis Of Faith!

I believe all these things, about prayer, based on the many and various texts of Scripture on the subject! Take Acts chapter 12, the first 5 verses, for instance. It begins:  “About that time King Herod cruelly attacked some who belonged to the church, and he killed James, John’s brother, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the days of Unleavened Bread.  After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church.” We can draw a prayer principle from that reading. When trouble comes our way, God uses our crisis of faith, in His Sovereignty, to get us engaged, with Him, in prayer!

-The Human Way We Pray!

There’s something dreadfully human about the way we pray when life is great! When the job is secure, when the marriage is healthy, when there’s plenty of money, when life’s great… WE DON’T PRAY! That says, “We got this”, doesn’t it? We have the false sense that the job’s secure, the marriage is healthy, and, there’s plenty of money because, “We got this!” Because we’re so good at living life! We credit ourselves for the good life. But, God knows how self-deluded we are! When Israel entered the promised land— AFTER God had miraculously delivered them from slavery to Egypt;  AFTER God had dried up the Red Sea so they could safely cross;  AFTER God had fed them with manna & quail in the desert;  AFTER God had preserved their clothing & sandals for 40 years in the wilderness— He knew they would be tempted to take credit for their good life. He warned them!

-Be Careful Not To Forget The Lord!

God knew how Israel would respond to His going before them & dispossessing the land from wicked nations & handing over to them homes, and cities, and land that they hadn’t earned. He warned them: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers… a land with large & beautiful cities that you did not build, houses full of every good thing that you did not fill them with, wells dug that you did not dig & vineyards & olive groves that you did not plant—and when you eat & are satisfied, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” Deut. 6:10-12. What do we have that God has not given us? But we get comfortable & forget, don’t we?

Supernatural Prayer!

-Lot’s Of Goofy Ideas About Prayer!

The world— and, even the church— has some pretty goofy ideas about prayer! For some, prayer is like magic! If your faith is strong enough, YOU can pray the sick back to health! YOU can pray the dead back to life! I’ve heard prayers— by some who claimed to be believers— that sounded more like witchcraft or New Age spirituality, where, prayer is like “The Force”; and, the battle against the dark side! And, if God is going to win, YOU have to support Him with your payers! In other words, the fate of the world; and, even of GOD, is in YOUR hands; or, in your prayers!

-Blasphemous Prayer!

Then, there is the blasphemous “Word of Faith” teaching on prayer; or, the “Prosperity Gospel” that makes God out to be little more than your personal “Jeannie In A Bottle.” You want health, wealth & prosperity? Just name it and claim it! God is helpless against the power of YOUR words if you claim it in Jesus’ name! He has to give it to you! That’s a perversion of what Jesus taught His disciples to pray! It’s a perversion of what prayer looks like in the New Testament.

-Why Is Real Prayer Supernatural?

Prayer, in the New Testament, was SUPERNATURAL! I mean, by that, that prayer was an absolute reliance & dependence on God. These perversions of prayer are humanistic in nature. The power is INSIDE us! Biblical prayer, instead, depends on the power of God that is OUTSIDE us! We’re admitting to our WEAKNESS; and, to our inability to affect change! We’re trusting in a SUPERNATURAL God to do what we cannot do! Biblical prayer is expressed helplessness & a dependence on God’s power! Let me put it another way:  whatever we don’t pray about, we’re basically telling God, “I got this,” right? Don’t need you for this one, God! Let me get personal! How many of you get up early enough Sunday mornings to pray that God would move powerfully in your Worship service? How many of you prayed specifically for a certain person that needs to be saved? Whatever ministry you might be part of in your church, do you pray regularly over it? For people that are part of it? I doubt that most of you really believe you can do God’s work without His SUPERNATURAL help! But, if you’re not praying over it regularly it kind of casts doubt!

-What Are Your Expectations?

We need the Holy Spirit’s conviction that if we’re not spending significant time appealing to God, in passionate prayer, that we shouldn’t expect him to do any supernatural work in our midst, in our lives,  or, in our church! By our failure to pray, we’re telling God, “I got this! Don’t need your help!” Listen, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need our self-centered know how! He doesn’t need us at all! But, it seems to be God’s M.O. to engage His people in deep, passionate, humble, helpless & desperate prayer BEFORE He does His great,  SUPERNATURAL work! He includes us; and, He uses our prayer to grow, in us, a deeper dependence on HIS power, rather, than our own! Will you repent of your false views of prayer; or, your prayerlessness? God help us!

 

Prayer That Views God As Sovereign!

-Why Do We Ask “Why”?

Whenever we experience something painful, it’s so typical for us to ask “WHY” isn’t it? Why me? Why do I have to go through this? Hannah’s story, in 1 Samuel, is particularly eye-opening! When she found herself unable to conceive & have children,  it would have been normal for her to ask, “Why am I unable to have a baby?” The Scripture addresses that “WHY” question:  “…the LORD had KEPT HER from conceiving…because the LORD had KEPT Hannah from conceiving…” 1 Samuel 1:5-6.  God takes credit for her inability to conceive! While doctors may have come up with a “medical reason” to explain it, God’s Sovereign control was actually behind the human “medical reason.”

-Praying In The LORD’S Presence!

Hannah responded to her condition by going to the source— “…she continued praying in the LORD’S presence” v.10,12.  Above all our human problems & conditions is God’s Sovereignty! Now, I know that many believers just don’t wanna credit God with that much Sovereignty. They’d rather say that God “ALLOWED” it; but, He’s not really the “CAUSE.” And, they believe they’re “protecting” God’s reputation in doing so! But, listen, if God is not Sovereign over every event & over everything else than you either have to believe that Satan is just as powerful as God; and, there really is a “BATTLE” going on between good & evil; and, God might not win! Or, you have to believe that man’s “FREE WILL” is Sovereign & trumps God’s will!

-Sovereign & Omnipotent!

I believe that the Scriptures tell us that God is both Sovereign and omnipotent! And, in Exodus 4:11, when God said to Moses, “Who made the human mouth? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?” that God was taking Sovereign credit for such things as blindness, deafness, and the inability to speak! In His absolute wisdom, He uses the pain & suffering, we endure in this world, for our good & for His glory! It was because Hannah saw her inability to bear children as part of God’s Sovereign plan, that she prayed with a motivation for God’s glory. She saw her negative circumstance as God’s opportunity to bring Himself glory!

-God’s Sovereign Plans For Your Kids!

All the years of barrenness helped Hannah realize something that many parents never comprehend— that children aren’t just for PARENTS! They are for the LORD! God has HIS design for your kids! And, they ultimately belong to HIM! Are you more into your plans for your kids; or, His plans? Hannah’s not bargaining with God, in her prayer! He doesn’t bargain with anyone! Out of her painful experience God had changed her. He had used her suffering to prepare her heart to give her child to God, Who gave it! “After some time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, because she said, I requested him from the Lord… though the boy was still young, she took him to the LORD’S house at Shiloh” vs. 20-24. Hannah saw it as her great privilege to give her son to the Lord for His purpose!