Christianity 201

August 18, 2014

When Your Prayer Request List is Too Long

Post 1600I know there are days in our household when the list of prayer requests seems to be balloon out in size, and we feel we must be exasperating God with so many requests. Additionally, as I type this, to even list the countries of the world that are hotspots right now would take some time, especially if you are aware of key groups or individuals that need an extra blessing from God.

After a person has been around the church for awhile, they are often instructed that prayer is so much more than just asking for things for ourselves or on behalf of others. Using the ACTS model (acknowledgement, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) that would mean that additionally prayer should include:

  • a point of entry into conversation with God that recognizes who He is, His sovereignty over all things, His immense power, His majesty in creation, His knowing of all things, His holiness.
  • a confession of our sin, both individually and corporately
  • spoken recognition of the good things that life brings us as part of the general grace given to all of us, appreciation for blessings that might seem to be extra or undeserved

But then we are back at requests. The list seems so long. Should we do some editing? Just pray for certain people on certain days?

Scripture would seem to suggest not to hold back.  In Ephesians 6:18 we read:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

The phrases I want to highlight today are all occasions, all kinds of…requests, always keep on.

Of course sometimes we do not really know what we ought to pray. Should we pray for Mike and Carrie’s relationship to be restored, or is it better that they break the engagement now before they end up in a marriage that may not succeed? Should we pray for Shelley to get the job in Ohio when really, she should look for employment closer to home so she can keep helping her sister who really needs her?

I don’t know, don’t ask me!!

In I Corinthians 14:15 Paul says,

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding…

This verse bears on the subject of praying in tongues, which I know is controversial; but the Bible does suggest there are times when human words are inadequate. We see this again in Romans 8:26:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

The KJV uses, “groanings too deep for words.”

(We hear a lot about speaking in tongues, but not so much about ‘speaking in groans,’ though I’ve been in at least two churches where this was manifested.)

The key in these verses is where Paul says, “What shall I do?” (I Cor. passage) and “We do not know what…to pray for” (Romans passage).

Sometimes we just don’t know. We throw up our hands and surrender our total inadequacy to intercede in these situations.  Should we give up? I think a good place to resolve this is with our key verse again:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”  (Matt 7:7 HCSB; all other ref.s NIV)

January 29, 2013

Everyone Who Asks Receives

This is from Albert at the blog God is My Constant. As always, click through to read at source.  As we did yesterday, because all of the scripture quotes today are the words of Jesus, we’ll use the popular red letter format.

I certainly have not received everything I have ever asked for. Sometimes that has been a good thing, especially when my mother used to say, “You’re asking for it kid!

What about the times, when I sincerely, politely, humbly, even altruistically, asked for something and still did not receive it. What was the deal there?

Have I not received it “yet“? Is it a case of timing or delayed gratification?

Have I received it in some other form I am unable or unwilling to recognize?

Perhaps the premise or the promise is flawed. Merely a delusional distraction of some kind?

What on earth was Jesus going on about when he said, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” in Matthew 7:8?

I read it again the other day and it jumped out as a dogmatic statement. When I flicked back a couple of pages I noticed that “asking” and “seeking” featured regularly in the section of scripture, commonly referred to in Matthews Gospel as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, where this verse is found.

At the start of the Sermon, Jesus said,

“”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and

“”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” – Matthew 5:3,6

If, as seems to be the case, he is using a poetical form of rhetoric to make his point, this would show that those who are the poor, the impoverished, the ones who lack in some way, thus their hunger and thirst, are the ones who will be on the receiving end of God’s grace, mercy and generosity. There is a sense in which they do not need to ask or seek because they will be pre-emptively supplied by God in some way.

This seems to be reenforced in Matthew 6:8, where Jesus said,

“your Father knows what you need before you ask him”.

However he then goes on to teach the Lord’s Prayer, which has a series of requests in which the petitioner first asks for God’s kingdom.

Later in Matthew 6:33, he tells them to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”. Previously when I’ve read that verse, I took it as a sort of reassurance that Jesus was referring to my temporal comforts. i.e. there was some sort of theistic bargain taking place. If I “seek” his kingdom, I will taken care of in the food and clothing department, ignoring the full context of the sermon.

The verbs and participles in Matthew 7:8 are all in the present tense (except for “will be opened”), so it could be read as;

“For all those who are asking are receiving and all those seeking are finding and to all those knocking it will be opened”

Putting this together with the preëmptive statements in Chapter 5 and 6 and the imperatives of the Lord’s Prayer (“pray like this…”) and Matthew 6:33 (“seek first the kingdom…”) God is using the means of prayer (asking, seeking, knocking) to carry out his goal of giving us his kingdom, his righteousness etc. It is not a case of bargaining; “If you bow down and worship me then I will give you these riches” – that offer came from someone else. Instead it is more the sense of; “God is giving you new life, and a new world view, as you worship him, apart from self interest, self justification, self vindication, and realise your own radical spiritual depravity.”

This is the only way “your righteousness exceeds that of (the self-appointed religious élite of their day) the scribes and pharisees.” When it is derived, or better understood as, received from God through Jesus. The difference between the first century application and today is merely context and politics. Then it was nominally religious posturing in defiance of an incumbent foreign government to look more self righteous before ones peers. Today, the posturing still happens, but its in the form of token environmental salvage or political endorsement of a minority whim both of which are fashioned to appear as gracious and tolerant and yet, like the scribes and pharisees of old, is dresses up in elaborate, eloquent, scolding arrogance towards any who buck the trend.

It may be said of them, as it was of me in my belligerence, “they’re asking for it.” Jesus assures them, they’ll “get it.” We all will. The question is not, are you getting what you asked for, but, what are you asking for? 

What are you asking for?

October 6, 2012

How Firm a Foundation

In 2010 we visited the blog Christian Blessing; today we return for an article by Wayne Stiles which appeared there under the title How to Fix Foundation Problems in Your Spiritual Life. (You’re encouraged to click that link and read this at the original source.)

Years ago, my grandmother’s 1909 house got a fresh layer of wallpaper.

But only weeks later, I noticed in a high corner the wallpaper had buckled, and in some places, it had even split.

When I asked her about it she said: “Oh, the house needs foundation work. Every time the seasons change and the wind blows a different direction, the whole house shifts.”

That made sense. For years I shaved inches off most of the doors trying to get them to close. But the repair only lasted until the wind shifted again.

Look closely at the lives of your friends and family. Maybe even your own life.

You’ll see this old house’s problem in vivid display.

Foundation Problems Affect Everything

The choice to fix foundation problems always costs. But so does ignoring them.

When I remember my grandmother’s old house, I remember Jesus’ words:

“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand . . . the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” —Matthew 7:26–27

Hearing God’s Word, but failing to follow it, is like papering over the cracks of a bad foundation. Sounds silly, but we see it all the time:

  • When one marriage hits the rocks, another follows with little more success.
  • When one obsession or addiction seems conquered, in its place comes one more of equal destruction.

Job after job, church after church, relationship after relationship—when the walls of lives get wrinkled or ripped apart, the solution seems simply to paper over the tear with a fresh print and start over.

The problem, of course, lies not in the wallpaper, the walls, or even the wind. These remain but symptoms of the real problem: a poor foundation.

Our Favorite Foundation is Faulty

I’ll never forget the sobering statistic I read from the Barna Group years ago:

“The basis of people’s moral and ethical decisions these days is more likely to be feelings and less likely to be the Bible.” —Barna Group

The problem here? God never intended feelings to guide us. Instead, they betray us. (Tweet that.)

  • When the devil tempted the first woman to disobey, the cunning serpent appealed to emotion by discrediting God’s Word (Genesis 3:4-6).
  • When we doubt God’s truth—or simply stay unaware of it—we have nothing left to base our decisions on but emotion and common sense—both inadequate as foundations.
  • When we make decisions based on any other foundation but God’s Word—not simply morality, but real, biblical truth—we sit at the mercy of any wind’s whim. No marriage will endure, no salary will satisfy, no job, church, or relationship will last.

How can they, when we base them on feelings that constantly shift?

How to Fix Foundation Problems in Your Life

Got some cracks in your spiritual life? In key relationships? Don’t paper over them. Work to fix foundation problems.

If you choose to invest time in the Bible and apply its life-changing truths, you will live like those of whom Jesus spoke:

“Everyone who hears these words of mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.”—Matthew 7:24-25

The decision to fix foundation problems always costs. But so does ignoring them.

Question: On what basis do you make your decisions?

~Wayne Stiles

July 31, 2012

Upon This Rock

Today we feature the writing of Greg Laurie, author, crusade evangelist and pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. Greg has daily devotionals online, where this appeared under the title The Foundation of the Church.

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The first one ever to use the word “church” was not the apostle Paul; it was Jesus himself.

In Matthew 16, we read that when Jesus arrived in Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (verse 13).

Caesarea Philippi was a place of paganism and false belief. In fact, Caesarea Philippi was named after the Greek god, Pan. So in a place of false worship, Jesus asked His disciples to make a stand.

The disciples told Jesus that some people thought he was John the Baptist, others thought He was Elijah, and still others thought He was Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

So Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” (verse 15).

Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (verse 16).

Jesus told him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (verses 17–18).

The word “church” has its origins in the Greek word ecclesia, which consists of two terms: “out from” and “called.” Put them together, and the meaning of ecclesia, or church, is “called out from.” Called out from what? Called out from this world, from this culture. Jesus was saying, “My followers should be separate from this culture.”

Also, Jesus was not saying that He would build His church on Peter. Rather, He was saying the church would be built on what Peter said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The foundation of the church is Christ himself.

I had no way of knowing when I scheduled this that Greg Laurie would be the subject of an article published yesterday at The Christian Post on the topic of whether or not our loved ones who have passed from this life are somehow aware of what is happening here on earth. Greg says they are, and if you want to read that article, click here.

December 13, 2011

When God Spoke Audibly to the King

Albert Rommal is the newest blogger at Alltop.Christian; he’s in pastoral ministry in Phoenix, AZ, and his blog is titled The Sovereign God. This piece appeared recently under the title, The Interesting Case of King Nebuchadnezzar

At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:29)

So here you have a great king of a great kingdom, the kingdom of Babylon. And he’s walking around one night surveying his kingdom. And he thinks to himself, “you know what? I’m pretty awesome. Look what I have accomplished. I am a great empire builder. Man, I’m something else, the real deal, the man.”

Well, it didn’t go just like that, but you can see in the verse above that according to the language of his day, he thought himself to be a pretty neat guy.  Bad move!

What did God do? Something He didn’t do too often.  He intervened orally.  He spoke directly to Nebuchadnezzar.

And what was His message?  It was this. I am God and I do whatever pleases me. Anything you accomplish is because of my will, my work, my decree.

Now to get Nebuchadnezzar to see this, He had to take care of the issue, which was Nebuchadnezzar’s pride. And to accomplish that, God humiliated him.

He made him like the basest of creatures, who ate grass and became unkempt. “While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”(Daniel 4:31-32)

“Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” (Daniel 4:33)

God always does things for a purpose and the purpose here was to show the ole king who God is. And who is God? He is the one who “rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” In other words, there is no room for boasting, save in God in heaven. Not ever. Not anyone.

Have you accomplished something?  Great!  Give God the glory.

Many struggle with the idea that God is sovereign even though He tells us over and over again in His word that He is so.  This is just another example and a pretty nifty one at that. It’s almost as if He decided in Heaven that it was high time He joined the conversation, even though briefly.

When we get to heaven ourselves, we will see that God was and is far more sovereign than even the most ardent Calvinist might believe here on earth. For we see through a glass dimly. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

OK, so back to Nebuchadnezzar. God ended his time being a human aardvark, restoring him, not only to his kingdom, but to his senses as well. “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me….”

His reason returned to him.  What a great thing to say because up that point he was being unreasonable. (That’s another lesson to us folks. It is unreasonable to think that God is not sovereign all the time and over everything and everyone.)

And so what did Nebuchadnezzar learn? What did he declare when he came to his senses? Read carefully and take note.

“I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:34-37)

Is there anything more we can add to this?

Our God is God. Jesus Christ! And He reigns in heaven and over all the kingdoms of men. So much so that we can do nothing about it and can’t even say to Him, “What have you done?”

Let us learn from the interesting case of King Nebuchadnezzar, who had the Lord of heaven and earth intervene in his life in a most unusual way – all to make the point that He is God over all.

Let us get the point and imitate good king Nebuchadnezzar.

~Albert Rommal

April 6, 2011

Random Notes…

I’m really late posting tonight.  Rather than a specific reading or theme, I thought I’d share some of my own nightly devotional process.

When my kids were young, we started something called “Hangin’ Out Time,” which included reading from The Beginner Bible, and other books of that ilk, and then moving on to Hurlburt’s Story of the Bible (the original, in-depth edition, not the simplified one you can purchase today.)

It was doing Hurlburt that I realized the potential for my own spiritual growth to come out of these times, and now that the “kids” are 17 and 19, we still do “Hangin’ Out Time,” though it’s more like a 20-30 minute theology study time.

We’ve read — out loud — every chapter of the New Testament in the Life Application Bible including reading — out loud — all of the study notes.   Plus a number — more than half — of the Old Testament books including Leviticus.

We’ve done three books by Stuart Briscoe, are in the middle of an Andrew Murray, and alternate with occasional contemporary authors such as both books by Francis Chan.

But until tonight, I had never read a single word by Warren Wiersbe.  I picked up a copy of Be Hopeful — our house is full of books in every room — which is Wiersbe’s commentary on I Peter.   I had been told that some people regarded him as somewhat simplistic, but I didn’t get that from his first chapter, which talked about the writer, the recipients and the message of the book.

Wiersbe apparently doesn’t believe that “apostles” exist today.  I’m not sure I agree with that.  I believe that in some form, the fivefold gifts commonly called APTEP — apostle, pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophet — are still resident with members of your congregation and my congregation.  Michael Frost boldly suggests that every one of us have degrees of that gifting, but that God has placed at least “one of each” in any body.

But it’s important that I don’t allow my difference with Wiersbe on this — and I’m sure there would be other things — to block me from receiving the other wonderful things he says in this opening chapter.   His foundational chapter on I Peter gives the reader an appetite for the rest of the epistle.

Warren Wiersbe has a number of commentaries that all begin with the word “be.”  The list below begins with the  list from Wikipedia, the ones I’ve added at the end (without dates) are just a few I collected tonight. I offer it to you as good start if you’ve never read or purchased a commentary on an individual book of the Bible.   You’ll see why these are called “The Bees” by some people:

  • Be real (1972) – I John
  • Be successful – 1 Samuel (1973)
  • Be joyful; a practical study of Philippians (1974)
  • Be free : an expository study of Galatians (1975)
  • Be rich : are you losing the things that money can’t buy? : An expository study of the Epistle to the Ephesians (1976)
  • Be right : an expository study of Romans (1977)
  • Be mature : an expository study of the Epistle of James (1978)
  • Be ready (1979) I & II Thessalonians
  • Be complete (1981)  Colossians
  • Be faithful : it’s always too soon to quit! : an expository study of the Pastoral Epistles, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (1981)
  • Be Challenged (1982)
  • Be Confident : an expository study of the Epistle to the Hebrews (1982)
  • Be Hopeful (1982) I Peter
  • Be Wise : an expository study of 1 Corinthians (1983)
  • Be Alert (1984) II Peter, II & III John, Jude
  • Be victorious (1985) Revelation
  • Be Compassionate (1988) Luke 1-13
  • Be Patient : an Old Testament Study – Job (1991)
  • Be Comforted : Feeling Secure in the Arms of God : an Old Testament study Isaiah (1992)
  • Be Obedient: Abraham (1992)
  • Be Distinct – II Kings, II Chronicles
  • Be Holy   – Leviticus
  • Be Available – Judges
  • Be Restored – II Samuel, I Chronicles
  • Be Committed – Ruth and Esther
  • Be Alive – John 1-13
  • Be Transformed  – John 13-21
  • Be Encouraged – II Corinthians
  • Be Reverent –  Ezekiel
  • Be Counted – Numbers
  • Be Heroic – minor prophets
  • Be Delivered – Exodus
  • Be Responsible – I Kings
  • Be Equipped – Deuteronomy

That is quite a lifetime of work, isn’t it?

There are also other series, such as The Life Application Commentaries, and The Bible Speaks Today series, which don’t require you to know Greek or Hebrew; other series such as The Tyndale Commentaries contain some “textual criticism,” which gets into translation issues.

…Christianity 201’s motto is “Digging a little Deeper.”  I hope tonight’s “random notes” have encouraged you to do just that.