Christianity 201

January 13, 2016

Why People are Leaving and Churches are Dying

Today we pay a return visit to Shane Idleman, founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. (And this time we looked into it and no, Shane and Kyle are not related!) To read this at source on the church blog, click the title below; there’s also a related article by him linked at the bottom.

The Real Reason Churches Die and People Leave

Experts say that nearly 4,000 churches close every year in America and over 3,500 people leave the church every single day.

Church is boring, ​and many churches are dying ​because the power of God has vanished from the pulpit as well as the pew. Like Samson, they “know not that the Spirit of the Lord has departed” (cf. Judge 16:20). But there is hope if we once again seek God. “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn” (John Wesley).

Shane IdlemanWe need genuine revival preaching: “Revival preaching is more concerned about an outcome than an outline. The revival preacher is more aware of his text than the time. He is bent on pleasing the Lord rather than pleasing men. His ear is tuned to hear and heed the voice of God” (Harold Vaughan). “We need more prophets in our pulpits and less puppets” (Leonard Ravenhill).

​Many know about ​2 Chronicles 7:14​ , but fail to apply it​​: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

God’s call is not to Hollywood, Washington, or the media, but to us. If “My people” turn back to Me I will heal and restore. We have a form of microwave Christianity. Service times are cut to just over an hour, prayer is glanced over, and worship is designed to entertain the masses. “People are bored,” they say, “so our services need to be more appealing.” You can increase attendance with slick marketing and entertaining services, but you’ll miss the heart of God. The church will be a mile wide but only an inch deep.

To seek in the context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 means to “find what is missing.” The Hebrew word for seek, baqash, has a very strong meaning. Imagine losing your child in a crowded mall. Your entire heart would be engaged. How would you spend your time? Where would your energy be concentrated? Now parallel this with seeking God.

I’ve often said that one of the most difficult challenges associated with pastoring is not sermon preparation, leading a church, or taxing counseling appointments; it’s witnessing the tragic results of spiritual dehydration—watching people die spiritually with living water just steps away. Sadly, we are too busy and too self-absorbed to truly seek Him.

In today’s culture, there are countless enticements that pull us away from God. It is my firm belief that, second only to salvation, seeking God is the most important aspect of the Christian life…to truly know God: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Very few of us ever experience this close relationship with God because it involves things such as humility, dying to self, vibrant prayer, and heart-felt worship. This isn’t meant to discourage, but to convict. Conviction is a wonderful gift from God used to turn the heart back to Him.

Let’s be honest: how many can truly say like Jeremiah, “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9)? How many have truly experienced Jesus’ words in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water?” How many can truly relate to “times of refreshing” found in Acts 3:19?

Many have head knowledge, but they’ve never truly experienced the presence of God. Often, it’s because of ongoing and unconfessed sin. Being tempted isn’t sin—surrendering to it is. Temptation is also an opportunity to do what is right by turning from it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 states, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

This “way of escape” is ultimately what tilts the scale toward seeking God. When we flee temptation, turn from sin, and seek God, the by-product is the filling of the Spirit. The door of temptation swings both ways—you can enter or exit. If we choose to enter, once inside, we may not see the exit sign so clearly again.

I’ll close with a correspondence I received from a man before he fully sought God with all his heart, “I had become someone I never thought I would become. I was in complete darkness…I would sleep in my clothes for as long as I could. I began wishing that I would die. The emotional pain was unbearable.”

Here is his correspondence after he passionately sought God and surrendered his life to Him. “I only wish that everyone could feel the love that I experienced. I’m able to forgive others and genuinely love them. I feel like I have been re-born…elusive peace has now been found.”

How long will you waver? If God is God follow Him (cf. 1 Kings 18:21). ​​

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. He recently released his 7th book, Desperate for More of God at shaneidleman.com


Related article by Shane: Why Do So Many People Hate Preachers?

Related: A.W. Tozer quotation at Clark Bunch’s blog.

 

January 9, 2016

The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

For several years I received a devotional booklet in the mail from James MacDonald and Walk In The Word called Our Journey. After making inquiries with a local Harvest Bible Chapel, I discovered that the devotional is now an online resource, and after checking it out, I read this devotional which you can read at source by clicking the link below.

And When You Fast

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6, ESV)

“And when you fast,” Jesus said, before teaching a few, practical pointers on the subject (Matthew 6:16). His first words raise a basic question, though: When should you fast? Every other Tuesday? When your friends do? When you feel bored? No, fasting isn’t a spiritual whimsy; it’s a spiritual discipline, and the Bible gives some clear outlines to the practice. According to Isaiah 58, you should fast . . .

When you are caught in a sinful pattern. God said, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness” (Isaiah 58:6a)? When you are caught in a sinful pattern, fast. Authentic fasting gives God an open channel to show you how you’re held captive by bad behavior or even by good behavior that’s out of control. Fasting reveals and breaks sinful patterns.

When you have a heavy burden. Back to Isaiah 58:6b: “Is not this the fast that I choose . . . to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” Do you have a heavy burden you have been carrying for a long time? Then fast. For example, skip lunch for a week. Give the time you would have spent eating to prayer. And let the gnawing in your stomach heighten your hunger for God.

When you are oppressed by the enemy. Consider again the fast “to let the oppressed go free” (58:6b). Many believers feel burdened for someone who’s not walking with God. Names may immediately flood your mind. Perhaps you’ve prayed consistently for them. Add fasting. You can fast and pray about the oppression, asking God to tear the veil of darkness with His light.

When you want to give to someone else. Is [the fast] not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh” (58:7)? When we share our bread, homes, clothes, and blankets—not the extra items we don’t need or want anymore, but the stuff we consider ours—that’s a form of fasting pleasing to God. Fasting teaches us how to be generous not only with the surplus God provides, but also with the principal God provides.

When you need an answer to prayer. “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’” (58:9). Fasting not only clarifies our prayers, but it also opens our eyes and ears to see and hear God’s answers. When our hunger for God is elevated, the stuff keeping us from sensing His presence will be removed, and we will know that when He says, “Here I am,” He means it.

When you need direction. Here’s another outcome of fasting: “And the Lord will guide you continually” (58:11). Who doesn’t want God’s guidance? Yet how often do we actually demonstrate our desire by fasting and waiting attentively on God?

When you need to be spiritually restored. Through fasting, God restores us. “And the Lord will . . . satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (58:11). What a stark picture of what our lives look like. God offers water for our scorched souls.

When you need to be revived. As long as you’re alive, you are under renovation—you’re not finished, and God isn’t finished with you. However “ruined” you see your life today, God can rebuild and use you. “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in” (58:12). Your best days can still be ahead.

Journal

  • We began by asking, “When should you fast?” Let’s make that question more personal. When should you fast?
  • During a time of prayer and fasting this week, go back over this rich passage from Isaiah 58. What do these verses mean, and what does God promise in regard to fasting?

Pray
Lord God, when should I fast? Help me to hear Your answer to that question. How do You want me to apply what I am reading and learning? Fasting heightens my hunger for You. Through fasting, You refine me, restore me, and awaken me. Thank You for the ways the spiritual disciplines set us free. In Jesus’ name, amen.

November 3, 2015

Revival Starts with Church Band Members, Tech Team, Janitors, Secretaries and You

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This appeared on the website ChurchProduction.com; a site for people involved in the music, sound, lighting and tech side of modern church life. Click the title below to read at source…

Revival on the Tech Team?

By Judah Thomas

If you have followed Christ for more than a few years you have probably heard people talk about how the want to see a revival in their region. Usually what they mean is that they want to see a large amount of people putting their faith in Christ. Throughout history great men and women have preached and sparked great revivals and awakenings, some which have spread like wildfire across the nation.

Well what does that have to do with you? You may be thinking that your role as a tech director is strictly behind the scenes — a support player; one that certainly aids in the communication of God’s Word but not one that would be the catalyst for such a movement.

The interesting thing is that although many of the great revivals that have happened have a preacher’s name and face associated with the inception of it, the truth is that the revival started long before in the hearts and prayers of people who’s names would never get mentioned. The thing that many people fail to realize is that true revival doesn’t start with “them” it starts in “me.”

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:14

In this verse we see that it has to start from within us. We see four things that have to happen before the revival and restoration begins. The revivals of the past did not start on a stage in front of hundreds or thousands of people, but it started in a private place with one, two or a few people praying and humbling themselves before God — people who were passionately seeking the face of God and desiring Him to move in their lives in a real and powerful way.

Humble Themselves

Pride is something that plagues us all. In James 4 it says that God resists the proud but He give grace to those that are humble. We need to surrender our pride and ego and stop comparing ourselves to one another. As a tech person we live and breath comparisons: comparing features, knobs, and quality. This is fine when we are looking at a new piece of equipment, but not so good when we start comparing ourselves to someone else.

Pray

Is prayer a vital part of your life, or is it something that you rarely do? As a tech director you may never be on the stage in front of people, but the prayers that you pray can still accomplish powerful things in their lives. In James 5 it tells us that a righteous person’s prayer can produce great things. Even if you aren’t on stage your prayers can do great things for the Kingdom of God.

Seek My Face

What things are you pursuing in your life. Sure we are pursuing great sound, video and lights, but are we pursuing the face of God? Are we seeking God’s Kingdom above all else? God does not want us to have religion he wants us to have relationship with Him.

Turn From Their Wicked Ways

Repentance comes before revival. There is a big difference between sorrow and repentance. Sorrow is feeling bad for what you did, and it’s often just feeling bad that you got caught. True repentance is actually turning from those things that displease God. It’s a change of actions.

As we do these things revival is birthed in our heart. God then promises that he will forgive our sins and He will heal our land.

It doesn’t matter if you are a world-renown evangelist or if you are running lyric projection for your local church, you can light a spark of revival. As you humble yourself before God, pray, seek His face and repent of your sins God will move in a powerful way and will bring restoration and revival to many lives.

Judah Thomas is the Lead Pastor at Thrive.Church in Thomaston, CT.

February 24, 2015

A Cross-Carrying Kind of Life

cross at Grace ChurchThis is one of two posts in a series by Deb Wolf who blogs at Counting My Blessings. This is her third time appearing here at Christianity 201 and we do appreciate the work she does on her site; the tag line is “Encouraging you with stories of faith, hope and love.” Click the title below to read at source and/or read part two, “Jesus Answer to the Fear of Cross-Carrying.

When You Don’t Want a Cross-Carrying Kind of Faith

There is a verse in the Bible that did anything but give me peace and contentment. I tried to pretend I was obedient, but my heart knew it terrified me.

Then He [Jesus] called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:34–35

[Last Wednesday] was Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent. For the next six and a half weeks followers of Jesus will fast, pray, and ponder His journey to the cross.

Followers who are called to deny themselves, carry their cross, trust and obey . . . lose their life for Jesus.

I didn’t want to carry my cross. I liked my comfortable safe life. Sure there were some problems and pain, but life—my life, my kid’s lives, my husband’s life, complete trust and obedience . . . what could happen to a life lost to cross carrying.

My doctor and a counselor said I was “high-strung,” anxious.

Lack of Faith

I knew I was a fear-filled worrier. Seriously, I turned worry into an art form. Not surprising. Look around. Have you seen all the truly terrible things that can happen?

I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew it was lack of faith.

But that verse and others like it:

But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:15–16

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps. 1 Peter 2:21

 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. Matthew 10:38

Giving Up Fear for Faith

“I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith . . . I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

It’s true. In this world there will be trials and sorrows. Worry doesn’t prevent it. Fear won’t keep it out of reach.

Trials and sorrows did happen, but.

What a small yet important word.

“You will have trials and sorrows. But take heart, because.

Take heart [don’t lose your faith], because…

I have overcome the world
I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.
Be sure of this: I am with you always.

Through trials and sorrows Jesus was faithful, and because of His faithfulness my faith grew. Faith that was greater than my fear. Faith that was impossible when I focused on my fears, but grew when I kept my eyes on Jesus.

Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1–2

August 2, 2014

Answers to Spiritual Issues

NIV Jer. 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Today’s blog post arrived in a question-marknewsletter from BibleGateway.com that I honestly don’t remember signing up for! As I read it, my first reaction was that it was something that would be of interest to new Christians, or people dealing with new Christians. But then I realized there are some principles here that apply to all of us, no matter what stage we’re at. The author is Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ.

 

Q. Can you offer any practical advice on how to seek answers to spiritual issues?

A. Despite my initial reluctance to seeking spiritual truth, I did do one thing right. I set three principles for myself at the beginning of my search – guidelines that helped me then and that I trust will help you now, whether you’re a skeptic or a Christian with questions.

1. Make the search a front-burner issue.

Finding answers is too important to approach casually or in sporadic snatches of time. I knew – and I hope you agree – that these are urgent matters. Jeremiah 29:13 encourages us to seek God and his truth “with all your heart.”

2. Keep an open mind and follow the evidence wherever it leads.

This principle had been drilled into me as a journalist, and it served me well in my spiritual journey. I had to strive for as much objectivity as I could muster, putting aside preconceived ideas and biases. Only then could meaningful answers be discerned. French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.”

3. When the evidence is in, reach a verdict.

I knew these realities were far too important to ignore. If God is real, and if Jesus is who he claimed to be, then I would have to respond accordingly. Similarly, I hope you’ll decide up front that when you weigh the facts, you’ll allow the evidence to impact your own beliefs.

One more suggestion: Ask the God you may not be sure about to guide you. Just as Jesus honored the doubter who said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24), he will honor your sincere request.

If you’ll apply these principles and seek answers wholeheartedly, I’m confident you’ll discover – as I did – that Jesus was indeed right when he promised in Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

This excerpt is from my new book The Case for Christianity Answer Book, which offers to-the-point answers to 60 questions about faith. Use it to encourage and equip yourself, or give it to a friend, neighbor, or family member as a gift.


MISSION STATEMENT: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest spectrum of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. You might even decide to make some of these a daily habit. Any advertising appearing beyond this point in this article does not originate with C201, nor are we aware of it.

 

June 26, 2013

Evangelism Fail

When an old post by Raymond Powell was recently reblogged at Live58.net a reader complained about the title, Jesus Flunks Evangelism. On the other hand we get it completely. You can read more from Ray at his own blog, The Philippian Jailer.

What would you do if someone ran up to you, threw himself to the ground before you, and begged to know how he might be saved? Surely this is the kind of opportunity every aspiring evangelist must dream of—so what was Jesus thinking when He engaged this guy in Mark 10:17-22?

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” He said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

It seems to me that Jesus would have flunked out of evangelism class with this interrogation.

Where were the Four Spiritual Laws? The Bridge Illustration? The Romans Road? He didn’t even need an alter call—the guy was on his knees already!

It certainly wasn’t very seeker sensitive of Him to hit this fellow with a demand that he sell everything before following Him. We enlightened, sensitive believers would have instead told him just to believe and receive Christ in his heart, and then all the rest of that stuff comes later. My word, hadn’t He been taught that you need to be patient with seekers?

Perhaps what Jesus knew is that “There is … no one who seeks God.” The presumption behind much of our evangelism seems to be that there are all these seekers just trying their best to find God, and we need to woo them in so that they can finally meet the One they seek.

Well, okay—I suppose there are seekers, and surely they need God. But what do they in fact seek? Comfort? Fulfillment? Meaning? What if they find all these things in the Church, but they don’t find true peace with God?

This is not a minor point. Much of the energy behind our evangelism presumes that the Church needs to open its doors and be ready to receive this body of seekers into our comforting embrace.

The danger is that the Church will succeed in giving them a place to feel accepted, but that place will offer them only a kind of fulfillment, not actual salvation from sin.

They will achieve truce, perhaps, but not peace with God. They may achieve a false sense of salvation, finding themselves among those who say “Lord, Lord” on the day of judgment, only to learn the horrific truth: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!

The Scripture tells us that Jesus looked at the rich young man and loved him. He then told him what he needed most to hear at that moment—that his riches were his god and that he wouldn’t find the true God without repenting of his materialism.

Perhaps sensitivity impedes our love and impairs our message.

Perhaps the Church’s biggest problem is not that we are insensitive but that we are unloving, arrogant, self-absorbed, timid, materialistic, and lovers of this world.

Certainly that sounds like my problem.

January 6, 2013

The Prayer of Agur

Tony Pearsall at the blog FireSpeaks, is beginning a series on prayer. Here’s the first installment. Click the title for the link, and then bookmark the page if you wish to continue in the series.

The Prayer of Agur

( I dare you to pray this prayer)

I would say 95% of all Christians have heard of the prayer of Jabez, but only about 5% of the those Christians would tell you where it’s located in the Bible. This is just the opposite with The Prayer of Agur, of the very few Christians that have heard I would guest that nearly 100 % of those Christians knows where it can be located in the Bible. Why this is so, we will address later, right now lets look at the prayer.

Proverbs 30:7-9
Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.(KJV)

In this prayer a man named Agur ( identified in proverbs 30:1) ask God for two things,

  •   That God’s sustaining Grace will keep him from falling into sin because of his vanity and lies
  •   That God would meet his needs
    • but not so abundant, that he will forget that God is the source of all good things in his life.
    • and not so sparingly that he has to steal to meet his own needs.

This is a difficult prayer to pray it deals with or vanity and pride, the lies that we tell and that others may tell us, and our lust for money and fear of poverty. However Agur does not ask God to help him stop lying, but to keep him out of the situations and circumstance that may tempt him to lie, or that may cause him to act in vanity or pride; to keep him out of circumstances where others are likely to have him as a subject of their lies.

We are cursed with the false belief that we can handle riches in our life , but this is far from the truth. When the options for large amount of money becomes a subject of our interest we almost universally see it as an opportunity to to get more things. I heard Christians who would never play the lottery, say things like “if I won the lottery I would buy…” you fill in the blank. The fact is, the natural man desires the gifts, and blessing of God greater than he desire God. It is for this very reason that God will not answer a prayer from us that would take us from his presence.

James 4:3 (AMP) says “ [Or] you do ask [God for them] and yet fail to receive, because you ask with wrong purpose and evil, selfish motives. Your intention is [when you get what you desire] to spend it in sensual pleasures.”

Agur was a man of wisdom, he knew his own fear of want, and the temptation that being impoverished has on mankind. So he prayed God don’t hold your substance from me so much that I am out of my lack will steal and defile your name.

The question we must ask ourselves are we willing to admit that we are unable to subdue our vanities, and pride ? Are we willing strip ourselves bare of the curse of plenty, so that we may live upright in the presence of Christ?

November 30, 2012

Scripture Teaching on Physical Drought

I’m always wary of some of our Charismatic brothers and sisters who purport to make predictions for a new year, but I respect the balance I find in former Charisma editor J. Lee Grady. Here he looks at the weird weather we’ve experienced recently and notes some scripture passages that speak to periods where this a lack of rain. This is more forthtelling than foretelling. Click through to read this at Fire In My Bones where it is titled Serving God in a Dry Season.

While Hurricane Sandy’s floods dominated recent weather headlines, a very different weather pattern has cost us more than the superstorm’s $50 billion in damages. The United States actually needs rain—and lots of it.

Forecasters say our nation is experiencing its worst drought since 1954. As of this week, 60.1 percent of the nation is in drought, with six states—Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado and Iowa—entirely in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Lakes are drying up, crops are dying and ranchers are scrambling to feed their cows.

DroughtSome people figure this prolonged dry spell is just the result of cyclical climate patterns. Maybe so, but the Bible suggests that droughts and famines can be linked to spiritual realities. Sometimes the natural world reflects our spiritual condition. Man’s pride, greed, injustice and idolatry can actually disturb nature.

When you consider how hostile our culture has become to God and biblical morality, it’s no surprise we are in a recession—both economically and ecologically. (Note to all my green friends: Sin is actually very bad for the environment.)

The good news is that even in seasons of drought, whether physical or spiritual, God has a knack for getting His people through challenging times. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all experienced famine—yet they inherited a divine promise. Moses led God’s people through a dry wilderness. David wrote psalms about the dry seasons. And it was during a prolonged drought that Elijah called down fire from heaven.

I’m not superstitious, so I have no fear of the number 13. While I do believe 2013 will be a challenging year financially, I see some silver linings behind today’s storm clouds. As we enter this difficult time, remember what the Bible says about drought:

1. It is a time to repent. Back in the old days people repented when the rain stopped. They feared God. They knew they couldn’t rely on their sophisticated technology, scientific achievements or social engineering. The prophet Joel led the way when he wrote: “To you, O Lord, I cry; for fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness and the flame has burned up all the trees of the field” (Joel 1:19, NASB). When times are tough, make sure you are not offending God in any way. Turn from all known sin. Adjust your attitudes, starve your lusts and refocus on the Lord.

2. It is a time to seek the Lord fervently. Many of America’s trees are in danger because of the current drought. The only tree that can survive drought is one that has roots deep enough to soak up water that lies far below the ground. Your ability to survive tough times depends on how deep you are willing to go with God. Shallow devotion isn’t enough.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote about the righteous man: “For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jer. 17:8). Instead of fretting about the future, extend your roots farther than you ever have before. Seek the Lord and tap into the strength of His presence.

3. It is a time to worship the Lord passionately. Worship has a proven therapeutic effect on our souls, but it also has the power to change our circumstances. When times are tough, the tough start praising! If your situation looks bleak, don’t fall into the trap of depression. You can worship your way out of this.

The prophet Habakkuk described a dark time in Israel when the fig tree did not blossom and there was no fruit on the vines. Still, he chose to praise. He said: “Yet I will exult in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18). As you enter 2013, use the weapon of praise to conquer your anxieties, fears and doubts.

4. It is a time to expect supernatural supply. King David said the righteous would enjoy abundance “in the days of famine” (see Psalm 37:19). That doesn’t make sense! How can we experience provision during a recession? It is possible because God’s economy is not linked to this world’s corrupt system. Just as the widow’s oil flowed even when her bank account was dry, you too can know supernatural blessing even when the nation is dangling over a fiscal cliff.

Regardless of what the history books say about 2013, it can be a time for God’s people to shine. Raise your faith level and expect a miracle.

J. Lee Grady

April 19, 2012

Jim Cymbala – Tuesday Night Prayer Meeting

Many of the uploads on YouTube featuring the teaching ministry of Jim Cymbala run between 30 minutes and 75 minutes. This is fitting for a ministry where time is not an issue. People show up two hours early for Tuesday night prayer because they want to spend extra time in the presence of God. Many stay an hour after the service is ended to continue in an atmosphere of connection to heaven.

If this whets your appetite for more of what Jim has to say, I encourage you to seek out videos; just type Jim’s name into the YouTube search bar. For those of you who don’t have the time today, I’ve included two of the shorter video clips…

Here’s some of the back story of how the Brooklyn Tabernacle came to be the church it is today…

That clip is also advertising one of Jim’s books; I want to encourage you, if you haven’t read him before, to start with Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire and then consider the most recent book, Spirit Rising. Both available worldwide from Zondervan.

April 16, 2012

Tempted by Good

From Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires and the Lies You’re Believing by Pete Wilson (Thomas Nelson).

I think I get more questions about Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14 than probably any other text in the Bible:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple.  (vv. 25-26)

What? Hate your mother and father?  Hate your wife? Your children? What was Jesus talking about?

Well clearly he’s not calling us to actually hate our families.  Just a few chapters before this text, when he was asked what the most important law was, he’s quoted as saying, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Lk. 10:27)

Later he told his disciples, “This is my command: Love each other.” (Jn 15:17)

So what’s going on here?

First, you need to know that Jesus was using hyperbole. He was using exaggeration to make or reinforce a point — something we do all the time.

The other day my son wanted to go to a basketball game, and I told him we couldn’t go, he said, “But Dad, everybody is going to be there.” Did he literally mean the world’s population of 6.9 billion people would be at that game? No he was exaggerating to make his point and I understood exactly what he meant.

I believe Jesus was doing the same thing when he told his followers to hate their families. He was using hyperbole to say, “All other relationships and activities should pale in comparison to following me.”

In other words, “Don’t take what is good and make it ultimate.”

And isn’t that what often happens with religion?  We take traditions and preferences, which are good and lovely things, and we make them ultimate things. We give them idol status.

After an extended amount of time reflecting on this passage, I once wrote this in my journal: “Pete, your greatest temptation in life will be to chase after not what is ridiculously evil, but what is deceptively good.

While I may not know you personally, I believe this is probably your greatest temptation as well.

You see, Jesus never said you can’t have religious preferences.

There’s nothing wrong with preferring traditional music over contemporary music (or vice versa).

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go to church in a gym or even under a bridge instead of in a building with a steeple.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take Communion weekly instead of quarterly.

There’s nothing wrong with having a heart for social justice, Scripture memory, or being part of a comunity group.

Jesus just said, don’t allow those preferences and traditions to become rules that you force other people to obey if they want to follow him. Don’t take good tings and make them ultimate things.

Another way to say this is: Be careful not to worship a good thing as a god thing, for that is an idolatry thing that will become a destructive thing.

Why? Simply because no religious tradition or preference can purify the sinner’s heart or give eternal life. No law or rule can ever lead to an explosion of love and joy in the human heart. What the Law could not do, God did through his own Son, Jesus. But religion tends to take the focus off what Christ did and put it on our own efforts instead. It tends to make us focus on what’s in the blank of

Jesus + ______

rather than on the cross.

~Pete Wilson; Empty Promises pp. 118-120

Pete Wilson is the author of  Plan B (Thomas Nelson) and pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN.  He blogs regularly at Without Wax and is on my top five list of people I’d like to be seated next to on an airplane.

April 27, 2011

Give Us This Day — In 2011 — Our Daily Bread

Jesus was asked by his disciples for some teaching on prayer.  He told them not to just repeat the same prayers over and over again, and then he gave them a sample script which, sadly, many repeat over and over again.

Someone asked me recently what Jesus actually meant by, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  In a world without refrigeration — though they used salt — it was probably more vital in their day to have an idea where your next meal is coming from.  Especially if you were a people that was constantly on the move. This of course led the Israelites to a superstitious adoption of some of their pagan neighbors’ views that certain gods controlled certain weather and soil conditions in certain geographic territories.

But I answered the question differently.  I think in our day, the equivalent consists of our prayers for health and safety.  Think of how health concerns — those of ourselves and our friends and relatives — preoccupy our prayer lists.  We know where our next meal is coming from.  The freezer is full and the grocery store is stocked full of more food.  Health concerns are often the source of our anxiety and concern.  Travel — by car, rail or airplane — fills us with further worry; the accident reports in the media are simply all too vivid.

Some pastors — including recently, Andy Stanley — are somewhat frustrated by our need to be petitioning God for “traveling mercies.”  Or for “a good night’s sleep.”  But I think there is something in the relationship and communication equation whereby God is quite willing to listen to our request for our ongoing, daily needs to be met.  It also acknowledges that all our basic necessities only happen by God’s grace, by Him who “holds all things together.”

David said he’d never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread, but Jesus taught us to pray for “our daily bread.”  I think our various health and safety concerns are simply the modern extension of this in a world where bread is — for now — plentiful.

October 24, 2010

Unpacking the Meaning of Brokenness

This week I discovered blogger Daniel Jepsen, who does a great job summarizing Nancy Leigh DeMoss; but I’ll let him introduce it…

A year or two ago my friend Gina loaned me a book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss titled, Brokenness. I found the whole book helpful, but especially the description of what brokenness is.  I printed this out last week to distribute to the class I am teaching on the holiness of God, and thought I would reprint it here.  Warning: it is very convicting.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Proud people focus on the failures of others.
Broken people are overwhelmed with a sense of their own spiritual need.

Proud people have a critical, fault-finding spirit; they look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but their own with a telescope.
Broken people are compassionate; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.

Proud people are self-righteous; they look down on others.
Broken people esteem all others better than themselves.

Proud people have an independent, self-sufficient spirit.
Broken people have a dependent spirit; they recognize their need for others.

Proud people have to prove that they are right.
Broken people are willing to yield the right to be right.

Proud people claim rights; they have a demanding spirit.
Broken people yield their rights; they have a meek spirit.

Proud people are self-protective of their time, their rights, and their reputation.
Broken people are self-denying.

Proud people desire to be served.
Broken people are motivated to serve others.

Proud people desire to be a success.
Broken people are motivated to be faithful and to make others a success.

Proud people desire self-advancement.
Broken people desire to promote others.

Proud people have a drive to be recognized and appreciated.
Broken people have a sense of their own unworthiness; they are thrilled that God would use them at all.

Proud people are wounded when others are promoted and they are overlooked.
Broken people are eager for others to get the credit; they rejoice when others are lifted up.

Proud people have a subconscious feeling, “This ministry/church is privileged to have me and my gifts”; they think of what they can do for God.
Broken people’s heart attitude is, “I don’t deserve to have a part in any ministry”; they know that they have nothing to offer God except the life of Jesus flowing through their broken lives.

Proud people feel confident in how much they know.
Broken people are humbled by how very much they have to learn.

Proud people are self-conscious.
Broken people are not concerned with self at all.

Proud people keep others at arms’ length.
Broken people are willing to risk getting close to others and to take risks of loving intimately.

Proud people are quick to blame others.
Broken people accept personal responsibility and can see where they are wrong in a situation.

Proud people are unapproachable or defensive when criticized.
Broken people receive criticism with a humble, open spirit.

Proud people are concerned with being respectable, with what others think; they work to protect their own image and reputation.
Broken people are concerned with being real; what matters to them is not what others think but what God knows; they are willing to die to their own reputation.

Proud people find it difficult to share their spiritual need with others.
Broken people are willing to be open and transparent with others as God directs.

Proud people want to be sure that no one finds out when they have sinned; their instinct is to cover up.
Broken people, once broken, don’t care who knows or who finds out; they are willing to be exposed because they have nothing to lose.

Proud people have a hard time saying, “I was wrong; will you please forgive me?”
Broken people are quick to admit failure and to seek forgiveness when necessary.

Proud people tend to deal in generalities when confessing sin.
Broken people are able to acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin.

Proud people are concerned about the consequences of their sin.
Broken people are grieved over the cause, the root of their sin.

Proud people are remorseful over their sin, sorry that they got found out or caught.
Broken people are truly, genuinely repentant over their sin, evidenced in the fact that they forsake that sin.

Proud people wait for the other to come and ask forgiveness when there is a misunderstanding or conflict in a relationship.
Broken people take the initiative to be reconciled when there is misunderstanding or conflict in relationships; they race to the cross; they see if they can get there first, no matter how wrong the other may have been.

Proud people compare themselves with others and feel worthy of honor.
Broken people compare themselves to the holiness of God and feel a desperate need for His mercy.

Proud people are blind to their true heart condition.
Broken people walk in the light.

Proud people don’t think they have anything to repent of.
Broken people realize they have need of a continual heart attitude of repentance.

Proud people don’t think they need revival, but they are sure that everyone else does.
Broken people continually sense their need for a fresh encounter with God and for a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit.

~Daniel Jepsen; source blog link

April 17, 2010

Digging a Well

We continue our weekend theme:  Looking at the early posts on other devotional blogs.   This is the very first post from The Well.

“So he built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well.”

In a time of famine, Isaac didn’t run, didn’t seek for greener pastures, didn’t do the natural thing — he stood firm and trusted God.

He worshipped — he built an altar

He prayed — he called on the name of the Lord

He found a well — he unstopped it, dug it up

He drew from the well — he prospered in that place!

The springing up from below, in contrast to the outpouring from above, is associated with private encounters with God where you alone are the sole recipient of His attention. This “inner baptism” involves the digging out of plugged up wells and the breaking down of emotional dams that block the flow of the underground springs of the Spirit that every believer has been granted .

As we may go anywhere with comfort when God’s blessing goes with us, so we may stay anywhere contentedly if that blessing rests upon us

(Genesis 26:25) (unknown) (Matthew Henry)

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