Please Pray

Luke 11:1

What is one of the hardest disciplines in the Christian faith? Arguable, I would say prayer. Yet, it is one of the most beneficial disciplines in the Christian faith. If prayer is one of the most beneficial disciplines, then why don’t we pray more often? Maybe the reason why Christians don’t pray as often is because we don’t believe that God is able to answer our prayers. Or perhaps, we have become too self-sufficient that there is no need for God and prayer in our lives. May this post about prayer encourage us to pray more.

Luke 11:1 reads, “It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of his disciples said to Him, ‘Lord teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” The necessity of prayer in the Christian life is clearly in view in this verse. The necessity of prayer can be seen in the disciples’ need to learn how to pray. I think, however, the better view to show the necessity of prayer in the Christian life is the simple phrase, “It happened that while Jesus was praying…” Think for a moment, if the Second person of the Godhead, the God-Man needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray? Jesus prayed for his disciples (John 17), for himself (Luke 22:39-46), and at times the Scripture simply records for us that Jesus prayed.

The life of Jesus is filled with prayers. One cannot escape that fact. It is throughout the gospels. He often prayed all night and at other times arose a great while before dawn to pray to his heavenly Father. I think Jesus is onto something, maybe prayer is expressive of the relationship between a child and the Father. As one author puts is, “For those who know God best are the ones who speak to him most of all.” Christianity is a relationship with God the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. How many of us express this intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father? Not only is prayer an indication of how intimate a believer’s relationship is with the Father, it is also an expression of faith.

One author puts it best, “Prayer, in many ways, is the supreme expression of our faith in God and our faith and confidence in the promises of God.  There is nothing that a man ever does which so proclaims his faith as when he gets down on his knees and looks to God and talks to God.  It is a tremendous confession of faith.  I mean by this that he is not just running with his requests and petitions, but if he really waits upon God, if he really looks to God, he is there saying, ‘Yes, I believe it all, I believe that you are rewarder of them that diligently seek you, I believe you are the Creator of all things and all things are in your hands.  I know there is nothing outside your control.  I come to you because you are in all this and I find peace and rest and quiet in your holy presence and I am praying to you because you are what you are’.” What type of prayer do we engage in? It is a prayer to get things or is it the type of prayer that will stretch our faith? It is not wrong to pray to receive things. Another author puts it like this, “Prayer is not simply to get things from God, but to make those things holy, which already have been received from Him. It is not merely to get a blessing, but also to be able to give a blessing. Prayer makes common things holy and secular things, sacred. It receives things from God with thanksgiving and hallows them with thankful hearts, and devoted service.” How is your prayer life? Do you even pray? Jesus prayed. His disciples prayed. Do you pray?

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ALL things work together for good.

Romans 8:28

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Recently, my life has been filled with a series of events that have been very heavy and discouraging in my own life. From struggles in ministry and leaving a community, to my imminent move to Santa Barbara, to my grandmother being put in hospice care, to my grandfather struggling with illness, to heartbreak and a feeling of betrayal by a friend, it’s been a rather long line of experience of personal pain and hardship.

It’s in the midst of this time that I have been greatly comforted by God’s continued presence and reminder of His love. In praying for peace and to have joy, God has given me a deep peace which surpasses all understanding in my circumstances and that has been good. In reflecting on the blessings… in the things that are good, that are true… anything worthy of praise… I have come to see the value of friendships and how my friends in their love, prayer, support, prayer, encouragement, and listening has been such a comfort and such a reminder of God’s presence and ever faithfulness to care for me with those that come as His hands and feet… made in His image. They have been praying and pointing me to Jesus Christ and His work! It’s in reflecting on His goodness, His sovereignty… in that preaching of the Gospel to myself to hear and be reminded of His love, that the words in Romans struck a chord.

I was talking to some friends about the above text in Romans 8:28, and my friend pointed out an interesting thing. The thing that he pointed out was the word “all”. His point was this… that for those that love God… that have this relationship, all (everything)… ultimately works together for good! Even the hard things, the painful things, the negative things, and the bitter things. The fact is this… God allows and His sovereign control and will is moving even thru the stuff that is difficult, seemingly impossible and painful at the moment. Ultimately, He is in control of and allowing what transpires to happen and it will be resolved ultimately for His glory and good purpose. Isn’t that amazing? Everything… ALL things work together for good…

Do my times of sadness disappear, my moments of disappointment, hurt, or pain go away immediately? NO. But knowing He is sovereign brings such comfort because in the grand scheme of things… these things are small… yet to Him they are important too. It is in these times of hurt and pain that one feels the pain and it weighs heavily on me. It does not go away, and it is important to see that God is in these moments of hardship… in control. He is ever present, ever faithful, ever good and loves me despite my weakness, my bitterness, my anger, my frustration and my failures and lack of love. He allows me to be a wreck and to be hurt and to be angry and to be weak and bitter… not hiding behind a facade or thin veneer of performance and acting as though everything is fine, but allowing me to simply cry and be weak and to be in need of Him. Even these things are in His control working to bring about His good.

In reflection, this isn’t a post of deep theology or exegesis. I just want to share that God has reminded me of His constant love and presence through it all. As these doors in my life seemingly are closing and there are painful moments, God has opened other doors to guide me through my life. As doors in ministry have closed, other doors have opened as well! My life has been a mix of these… but one thing I always know… in these times is this: all things work together for good. Thank you, Lord for your love and your Sovereignty in my life!

“Busted Heart (Hold On To Me)”

Winter has come back again
Feels like the season won’t end
My faith is tired tonight,
And I won’t try to pretend,
I’ve got it all figured out,
That I don’t have any doubts,
I’ve got a busted heart
I need You now
Yeah I need You nowHold on to me
Hold on to me
Don’t let me lose my way
Hold on to meI am the wandering son
Enough is never enough
I keep chasing the wind
Instead of chasing Your love
I’m screaming out Your name,
Don’t let me fall on my face
I’ve got a busted heart
I’m in need of a change
Yeah, I’m desperate for graceHold on to me (Hold on to me)
Hold on to me
Don’t let me lose my way (Don’t let me lose my way)
Hold on to me

Broke Your heart a thousand times
But You’ve never left my side
You have always been here
For me

You never let me go
You never let me go
Don’t ever let me go

Hold on to me (Hold on to me)
Hold on to me
Don’t let me lose my way (Don’t let me lose my way)
Hold on to me
[2x]

Winter will come to an end
Soon the season will end
I surrender tonight
You meet me right where I am

Be a Part of the Solution rather than the Problem

Chick-Fil-A

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa

With the controversy of Chik-Fil-A and the boycotting, and many other circumstances that have come about as a result, I was most saddened and hurt by the outright harshness and bitterness that has come from within the Christian community regarding this whole situation.  Some of these statements are directed at the Church, and in many places de-value the Word of God to a place under the cultural perspectives that are prevalent and popular today.  Just in case you don’t realize, the Church is being persecuted and oppressed for the values it extols and loses out often because those that profess to be Christian have not adequately defended or lived out the Gospel truths in their own lives.  The simple truth is this, the people within this Church will never be able to live up to this high calling due to inherent fallen-ness of man and our sin.  So I mourn, because in one way Christians are called hypocrites for our poor living of God’s truth, and the other way is we are unable to speak our views because we are then considered ignorant/old-fashioned/hateful when we simply stand for the truths that we believe in.  The reality is we are in a dark time and if one side is unable to speak its views without an immediate angry reaction, then is this true healthy dialogue that is happening?  In many ways, I feel like folks are seeing the Church as this:

Church is like a toilet

Unfortunately, this is often how many view the Church today.

I want to make a point to state this: if you want to discuss my personal beliefs and views on this, then  please feel free to meet with me in person to talk more about the subject.  I am here to make this statement instead: Be a Part of the Solution rather than the Problem.

Recently, a sibling came to me complaining that our faith community does not pray enough.  She shared how she didn’t see us praying enough and was frustrated and disappointed at our community.  In the moment, I asked her this simple question: did you go to prayer meeting?  What essentially she was saying was that she had not seen our faithfulness to pray as a body.  Granted, she was right in some sense… our church struggles in praying together, but I knew that it was a bit unfair for her to make this assessment because I had never seen her at our meetings.  Her response that followed my question was one of acknowledging that she had not attended.  I replied then that perhaps her role then is to start praying for others and to start attending.  In doing so, one speaks with more credibility and sets an example for others, and you start to be a part of the solution rather than the problem.

Be a part of the solution rather than the problem, beloved brothers and sisters.  Just like you, I hate that there are many in the Church that make those in the LGBT community feel unloved, unwanted, and less-than.  But let me clarify one thing… not every Christian is like this.  There are a large group of Christians that are daily trying to take up their cross and to honor Christ in all that they do and how they live.  They are loving others and praying for others.  They are actively serving the LGBT community and dialoging with others and serving the less fortunate and preaching the truth about God… the amazing Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.  In attacking the “Church”, you are also unintentionally attacking your very beloved brothers and sisters that have been a part of your Christian life and all those Saints that have come before you.  By attacking the “Church”, I think we also reveal a poor understanding of what the Church is here for too.

So let me define Church in a very short brief explanation (off the top of my head)… the Church is a supernatural entity and gathering of God’s people for His purpose and plan from our time into eternity that will come to fruition and are linked by the life, death, resurrection, and promise of Jesus Christ.  God’s people whether local or universal (“Catholic”), is the Church, and are given gifts to be used to bring about His glory and purpose.  My Professor in Seminary, Dr. Tuck said that the church is: “the people of God, people of the light, the heavenly community and congregation.”  We are the body that serves to bring about God’s plan and purpose, we are the body of CHRIST!  Realize that the body of Christ needs grace just as much as the world does.

The funny thing is this, the Church, the people of God are NOT saved and being used because they are the Dream Team of good people; if anything it is because we really suck!  It is exactly because of their inherent brokenness and flawed-ness that the Church is called to be Jesus’ hands and feet and voice to this world that is lost.  It is taking the weak and the foolish and shaming the strong and the wise.  God does not need us to do His work, but by His grace allows Christians to participate despite our inherent and apparent imperfection and hypocrisy.  The irony is God can use the worst situations to bring about His greatest achievements; it is in doing so that humanity gets no credit and He gets all the glory.  If the Church consisted of holy perfect people, then we would not be about Christ but ourselves.  It is in this constant dependency and need that we constantly are seeking after God and crying out to Him for help.

Be a part of the solution rather than the problem, beloved brothers and sisters.  Jesus did hang out with society’s rejects and losers.  He also hung out with the popular and even super-religious folks.  Do you have a Jesus’ words in red letter Bible?  If so, then what you notice is this: Jesus in the words He spoke was filled with truth that was so beautiful and perfect and incredibly impossible to live up to apart from God; it had such holiness, power, and was without error.  Yet if you look at Jesus’ life in the black letters (normal print), what you see is a Savior that was incredibly gracious and loving.  He was patient with those that needed patience, and strong and firm to those that were self-righteous.  The truth is: “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17b).  Jesus was a perfection of both grace and truth lived out; He exemplified that paradox of being able to accomplish both.

The unfortunate reality is: we all desire to be both grace and truth and like all humanity we tend to swing like a pendulum overcompensating or undercompensating in our lives.  We can be incredibly gracious and yet truth-less, and we can also be incredibility truthful and yet be grace-less.  Either way is NOT Jesus because they are inherently flawed and may actually hinder others.  Being gracious and loving without truth brings about nothing that Jesus did; He extolled the Scriptures… He did not come to abolish the Law that was given, but to fulfill them.  Our righteousness needs to exceed even those of the religious people!  Being truthful and Word-centered without grace brings about nothing that Jesus did either.  Jesus perfectly loved His enemies and prayed for them as He died there on the cross at Calvary… He was perfect in His love as well.

You can’t have one without the other. Grace and Truth… and yet we each desire to find that balance. This is the Christian life inspired, guided, strengthened, reinforced and lived out daily until we are called home.  If you profess to know Jesus Christ and show very little grace; you have missed the point.  God is love, and in Jesus’ very act of submission and sacrifice… His life/death/resurrection exemplifies God’s love!  If you profess to know Jesus Christ and show very little concern for God’s Word, His truth; you have missed the point.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He is truth and He has brought about the Word to teach and show His Story!

If you disregard what the Word is teaching and saying, and sacrifice it all for “love” then you are NOT proclaiming the truth.  You cannot have grace without the truth; and you cannot have truth without grace.  When it is one or the other in extreme what you have is anti-nomianism, or legalism; it is an unhealthy imbalance.  Either way is not what Jesus teaches and NOT how he lived!  If you are not concerned with the inherent sin found in our world today that has been shown and addressed by God, then you are not seeing this world as God sees this world.  It is the very case that God loves this world so much that He has sent Jesus to address this sin of this world.  If one disregards this sin, then what was the point of Jesus’ life/death/resurrection?

Be a part of the solution rather than the problem, beloved brothers and sisters.  The world does not need any more people hating on those that follow Jesus.  The Bible already pointed out that there are folks that will do that and even kill Jesus’ followers, there is no need for more because if anything it reveals one’s own bitterness and hatred rather than truly helping the circumstances.  Be a part of the solution… have you ever thought that perhaps your insight into God’s truth and how to love the LGBT community is an opportunity to educate rather than to accuse?  Rather than pointing one’s finger, which is the problem, let’s be a part the solution by educating and setting an example for others.  Prayerfully and by teaching and gaining the trust of those we love and desire to encourage, we patiently point out how to love and to dialogue with those that may be ignorant within our Churches.

Here’s the thing too… for those outside the Church, we have an opportunity to be part of the solution as well. We don’t walk into conversations and start fights with the truth, but as God is the Creator, let us be creative in how we display, share and interact with grace and truth to those in this world.  In the same way, it is building relationships and trust and sharing with love and grace and showing them how a Christian is to be holy as He is holy; it is also sharing and telling others of the truths found in Scripture and sharing the Gospel (remember all Scripture is profitable for teaching/reproof/correction/training in righteousness).  It is showing our less-than perfectness and showing that only Christ has brought about perfection and it is not our actions and works that result in this, but His grace alone.  Let us not fight the world by the world’s ways, but through God’s way which is through love that is shown by both grace and truth.  Let us always remember this.

Lastly, you will be persecuted for your position.  You will demand truth and grace, but the world and even the church will perhaps only see one or the other.  Be persecuted, but keep running the good race.  Your life needs to continue to reflect His truth and grace, and your focus must be on Christ only.  Your first and only allegiance needs to be the Lord.  For others, you are called to love them and see God’s heart for them. It is through this then you are to manifest truth and grace.  Remember, the Church consists of sinners, and yet, this is the community which Jesus Christ sacrificed His life for!  God is somehow using this rag-tag bunch of folks to do His good work, and He loves them as well.  Let us be a part of the solution rather than the problem; let us not condemn those in the body, but let us teach and encourage them to love and pray for others, and to value the word of God.  Let us practice a balance of grace and truth.   Grace and peace to you.

I don’t trust that guy

Hebrews 12:2

Something I have been trying to practice more is to question my initial reaction. This may range from a thought that comes to my mind or a response to something that is said. In the end I am reminded time and time again of the conflict between the sinful nature and the spirit. A conflict that every believer encounters. Paul did not ignore the existence of that conflict within himself. In Romans 7:19-20 he said:

For the good that I want to do, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

Paul is describing the struggle that someone who has already placed their faith in Christ deals with. Before we deal with this struggle, it is worthwhile to remember the fundamental problem of sin that we all face.

Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Furthermore, in chapter 6 of the very same letter we read that the wages of sin are death (Rom. 6:23), or eternal separation from God. Had it ended there, we would all be headed for eternal separation from God. But Romans 6:23 doesn’t end by simply showing us our trajectory without Christ. Rather we are told of the free gift of eternal life that comes from God, that is promised to those who are in Christ. And what does it mean to be “in Christ”? Those who are in Christ are those who have “listened to the message of truth, the gospel…having also believed” (Eph. 1:13).

A simple application I draw from all of this is that I have to constantly remind myself that I don’t have it all together. I am not perfect. And for that reason, when I look at myself from the outside I would have to say, “I don’t trust that guy”. Instead, I place my entire trust in Christ. I place my faith in Christ. I am thankful for this struggle because reminds me of my need for Christ.

There is so much that is written/blogged/YouTubed (if that’s even a word now) about simply “loving” everyone. My love is not perfect. But God’s love is. And it is because He first loved us, that we can love others (1 John 1:19). It is this love that I have experienced that drives me to want to share the good news with others. The good news that God loved us and sent His son to die for us while we were still sinners, so that through faith in Christ our sins may be forgiven. God’s love is the greatest gift that anyone can receive. The constant struggle between sin and the spirit will continue inside of me until the day Christ returns. The answer to hate in the world (which we trace back to sin) does not lie in what you or I can do. It lies in what Christ did on the cross. We are all in desperate need a savior. Jesus Christ came to rescue us.

So I will question my thoughts, my motives, and my actions. When sinfulness is revealed, I will repent and praise God that I have a hope that is found in my faith in Christ Jesus alone. On the contrary, if I find that my thoughts, my motives, or my actions are pure then again I will praise God because of the work He is doing in my life, for His glory. I will praise him because He sent His son to die for me, while I was a sinner (Rom. 5:8) I will praise Him because I know that those truly pure motives are not from myself. I will praise him because of the promise that, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”(Phil. 1:9).

As we remember Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and then celebrate His resurrection this Sunday, be reminded that Jesus came for a reason. Jesus came to die.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -Heb. 12:2

Assurance in God’s Faithfulness

Hebrews 10:23

Last Sunday, our Sunday school topic brought us to the topic of assurance of salvation. Assurance (along with predestination) seems to be a perennial favorite when it comes to hot topics for debates within evangelical circles. Is it possible to lose your salvation? Once saved always saved?

In the following post, I won’t be offering my own position about whether one can lose salvation. Instead, I’ll offer some reflections that developed out of our Sunday school, which will hopefully encourage us to think about the topic of assurance from a different angle.

There seems to be two ways of framing the question of assurance. One may ask, “Am I really saved? How do I really know? Was my conversion genuine?” On the other hand, one may ask, “What does God promise when it comes to salvation? How is God going to be faithful to his promise to save his people? How do we know that He is going to be faithful?”

Notice that the first way of framing the question is focused on the self and his/her individual state, whereas the second way of framing the question puts the focus on God and His work. When it comes to assurance and our day to day conversations with each other, it seems to me that we have become preoccupied with the first way of thinking about assurance at the expense of the second (and, I think, more biblical) way of thinking about it.

Consider the narrative arc of the Bible. God makes a promise to Abraham that He will bless all the nations through his seed. Thus, the nation of Israel is born, as God calls his “son” out of Egypt (who does that sound like?) and brings the Israelites to the Promised Land. Sadly, after the golden age of David, Israel falls into sin and is eventually forced into exile. At this point, the nation of Israel is effectively gone; it seems that God’s promise to bless all people through Abraham’s descendants has been made void. For an Israelite, the question is, “Where is God? How is He going to be faithful to His promises?”

The good news of the Gospel is that God has proven Himself faithful by sending His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Christ is the faithful and obedient son to the point of death, even death on a cross. And it is through Christ that the blessing of salvation finally passes to all the nations. He has conquered sin and death, and we know that if we have died with Him, then we will also be raised with Him. He is the one in whom God’s promises have been fulfilled.

So when it comes to the issue of assurance of personal salvation, the main way that the Bible encourages us to think about the issue is to look to Christ. A practical implication of this is that we should spend less time analyzing ourselves and more time in praying and reading the Word. Now, there is certainly a time and a place for introspection, and perhaps some folk really must ask whether they have genuinely accepted Christ in faith. Still, the ultimate ground of assurance rests in Christ. Our assurance of salvation should never be dependent upon our own assessment of our status before God. Instead, we must turn to Christ and be found in Him and in Him alone.