We Do What We Value Most

We do what is important to us.

In Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24) we read about a man who is hosting a great banquet and invites many to participate. When the time came for the banquet to begin the man hosting the event sent his servant out to gather all those who were invited. But as we read on, we see that all those invited “began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come'” (18-20). One after the other gave an excuse to why they could not make the great banquet. Why? Something more important to them came up and they attended to it.

In this parable the man hosting the banquet is God, those invited are those who have been given the general gospel call, and the great banquet is heaven.

From this parable we can see two things:

First and foremost, there are many unbelievers who have heard the gospel call and the command to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and yet they have put it off choosing instead to follow that which is most important to them – their sin. I remember as a kid my dad was ministering to a family that attended our church and he asked the family if their eldest son was ready to trust in Jesus. The family told my dad that their son was not ready. He did not desire to give up his sinful lifestyle to follow Jesus. He enjoyed those things too much. They were of greater importance to him than a relationship with Jesus. And this is how it is for so many. They would rather davul in their sin then come to faith and repentance in Jesus. As a result, they miss the Great Banquet, they miss eternity in heaven.

Second, believers can also heed this warning in a different way. So often, believers will make excuses for missing church or youth group, for not spending time with God in prayer or Bible study, or for failing to evangelize and make disciples. Something more important or convenient for them came up. What we do with our time will show what we value most. When presented with the option to sleep in or attend church you will do what you value most. If you find yourself watching TV at night instead of reading your Bible, it reveals your hearts true affections, it shows you what you value most.

We do what is most important to us.

We make time.

We find a way.

If prayer, Bible reading, church attendance (small groups/youth group), discipleship, and evangelism, are important to us then we will make it happen. We all have the same amount of time, the issue is this: are these eternal and most important things a priority for us? Our prayer should be that God would give us hearts that value Him, His Word, and His people above all else.

Or allow me to put it like this: we do what we value most, what is most valuable to you? The answer to that question will reveal much about where your heart truly is.

We Need Reminding

In Psalm 103 we see David repeatedly using the phrase “bless the Lord, O my soul”. To “bless the Lord” was to “praise the Lord”. So, David was exhorting himself to praise God. He was trying to stir up in himself praise and adoration for God.

And the way David motivated himself to praise God was to remind himself of who God was and what God had done for Him. He writes, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (v.2). There is a real correlation between blessing God and remembering all His benefits (provision, mercy, sovereignty, etc.).

So often the reason we are not satisfied in God and therefore do not praise Him as we should is because we forget all His benefits. That’s why David proclaims, “Let my soul not forget the benefits of God” because when we forget all that God has done, we don’t rejoice in Him as we should.

When it comes to God, forgetfulness equals joylessness. And we are a forgetful people. We forget to turn the lights off, take the trash out, pay the electric bill, etc. These are things that we forget. And so often when we forget there are consequences. Some are small and insignificant, others are big and costly, but there are often consequences to our forgetfulness. And when it comes to God the consequence of forgetfulness is joylessness. When we are not reminded of who God is and what God has done for us then it’s easy to become discontent and depressed in life. The joy of the Lord is missing because we’re not dwelling on Him.

David stirs himself up to praise and adoration for God by reminding himself of the benefits of God.

We too need to regularly remind ourselves of who God is and what He has done for us. It is crucial in the pursuit of joy that we regularly read God’s Word, listen to Biblical preaching, and have godly mentors in our lives to remind us again and again of the benefits we have in Christ.

 

3 Ways of Encouragement

I just celebrated my one year anniversary at my new job.  For my anniversary my co-workers got me a balloon, a cannoli cupcake (which was delicious), and a card.  The card was filled with kind words and thoughtful messages.  It was really encouraging to know that others cared about me and appreciated certain characteristics that the saw in me.

After receiving that card it got me thinking, “Are we as Christians as encouraging to each other as all the unbelievers in my office are to me?  The people who wrote me this encouraging card are not Christians.  They do not have the love of Christ in their hearts and yet they wrote and said such encouraging words.  Sometimes those outside the Christian faith can be more loving and encouraging than those inside of it.  And that should not be.  The world should not outdo us in love and encouragement. We have experienced the love of Christ and have been given new hearts and affections.  We should be noticeably loving and encouraging to those around us.

Commanded to Encourage 

The Bible commands that we encourage each other.   Paul tells the Thessalonians to “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:18) and then again he reminds them to, “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  The writer of Hebrews thought that encouragement was so important that he commanded his readers to “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).  The book of Acts is filled with examples of the early church encouraging each other in the faith (Acts 13:15, Acts 16:40, Acts 18:27, Acts 20:1-2).  Encouraging those around you is commanded, but how can we do this?

How to Encourage

There are at least 3 forms of encouragement: compliment, good news, and motivating. Each of these are important ways we can encourage others.

  • Compliment and Appreciate – You can encourage someone by appreciating characteristics, abilities, and accomplishments that you have noticed in their life.  You might let them know that you are impressed by their athletic ability, proud of their work ethic, or that you love their sense of humor.  There are numerous ways that you can encourage others by complimenting them.
  • Share Good News – Good news can lift your spirits and encourage: You go to the doctor and find out that the cancer is gone.  Your boss calls you into his office and let’s you know he is going to give you a raise.  You get your report card and your grades are good.  This kind of news is encouraging.  Certainly, we are not always able to share this kind of dramatic news, but as opportunities arise we should seek to share good news with others.
  • Motivate and Support – You can encourage someone by pushing them to do their best.  When I have a workout partner, I am typically going to have a better workout than when I am alone.  I am motivated to try harder and lift more because I have someone spurring me on to do better.  I am encouraged to work harder in a way that I wouldn’t be if there was no one there pushing me.  We can encourage others in that same way in multiple areas of life.

It is good to encourage one other in these ways, but as Christian it is even more important that we encourage each other in the faith.

Encourage in the Faith 

  • Compliment and Appreciate – Paul would regularly compliment his readers by appreciating their godly characteristics and ministry accomplishments.  He boasts of the Roman believers’ faith that was “proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8).  He spoke of the Ephesian Christians’ “love toward all the saints” (Ephesians 1:15).  He compliments the Philippian church because of their “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5).  When a church was doing something well, he let them know about.  He wanted them to be encouraged in their Christian growth and ministerial pursuits.  We too should compliment other Christians when we notice their godly character and ministry efforts.  We want them to be encouraged by the work God is doing in and through them.
  • Share Good News – In his first epistle to the Thessalonians Paul tells his readers that when a believer passes away they should not mourn like the world mourns “since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).  The good news of the gospel is that death is not the end for the believer.  There is eternal life and unending joy in the presence of God. This is the hope of every believer.  After sharing these truths with the Thessalonians, Paul then tells them to “encourage one another with these words” (Thessalonians 4:18).  This good news is meant to be shared as a means of encouragement.  As believers we can encourage each other by sharing the good news of God’s Word with one another.
  • Motivate and Support – The Author of Hebrews commands his audience to consider how they can “stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).  As a form of encouragement the Hebrew Christians were to stir each other on to love and good works.  They were to motivate each other in the Christian life.  We too are to consider ways that we can help other Christians grow in their walk with Jesus.  We might ask that they come with us to a Bible study, or read a theology book along side of us, or join us as we evangelize the lost.  There are endless ways that we can encourage other Christians to move forward in the faith, we just need to resolve that we will.

The Bible calls us to encourage one other in the faith.  Find someone who you might encourage today.

 

 

3 Reasons to Attend Church Regularly

In 2016 it was recorded that 73% of Americans claimed to be Christian. However, when the same group was asked if their faith was very important to them or if they attended church at least once a month the percentage dropped from 73% to 31% (The State of the Church 2016 – Barna). Less than half of the people who claim to be Christians attend church regularly. And regular attendance for them could be just once a month (12 times a year). So, the percentage of those who attend church weekly is less than 31%.

But the Bible commands that Christians are to be faithful to their church. The author of Hebrews tells his readers that they are not to neglect meeting with one another, as is the habit of some (Hebrews 10:25). And then again to his readers he commands, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). How can a person obey and submit to their leaders if they are not faithful attenders of their local church? It’s not going to happen. The implication here is that we need to be regular church attenders. Then Luke, in the book of Acts, tells us that Christians in the early church met regularly, day by day, to fellowship and attend church together (Acts 2:46). We can see a pattern of believers meeting together often in a church setting. This is what Christians do; they meet regularly to worship the Lord.

But why is this so important? What benefit is it to be at church regularly? Let me give you three reasons why it is so important:

SERVE & BE SERVED

First, it is important to attend church faithfully so that you can both serve and be served. One of the ways the Bible defines the church is as a body (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christ is the head and believers comprise the rest. And each member of the body plays a big part. Just as a human body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing a leg or an arm so a church body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing members. Each member of the church body plays a vital role in the church. It is important that you regularly attend your local church so that others in the body of Christ can serve you in ways that you cannot serve yourself. You need people who will disciple, encourage, admonish, and correct you. You need people who can serve you through the gifts God has given them. You can only get that when you gather together with other Christians. You also need to attend church regularly so that you can serve others. There are those in your church who need your encouragement, discipleship, and correction. God has given you gifts that He wants you to use for the benefit of the body as a whole. You cannot serve others if you are not around them. Therefore, it is of great importance that you strive to faithfully gather together with other Christians weekly at your local church.

HEAR THE WORD

Second, it is important to attend church faithfully to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The book of Acts tells us that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) and we are to do the same. We do not have “apostles” today in the Biblical sense, but we do have gifted preachers and teachers who rightly share the Word of God every week from the pulpit (Steve Lawson). These men are sharing the very apostles’ teaching (the Bible) that Acts 2 speaks of and we would do well to devote ourselves to their teaching. We do that by regularly attending the services and Bible studies at our local church.

It is through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word that sinners are saved, sanctified, and equipped for ministry work. We can see this clearly from the teaching of Paul in his epistles. Paul, writing to Timothy, reminds him that it was the Word of God that made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). In the same passage Paul also instructs Timothy to continue to learn the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:14) as it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul tells Timothy that the word is profitable and then he tells him to preach that word (2 Timothy 4:2). The preaching of God’s Word is one of the primary ways Christians grow in godliness. It is crucial that Christians regularly attend a Bible-believing church so that they can get a steady dose of Biblical preaching that will help grow them in the faith.

In addition, Paul tells the Ephesian church that God gave “the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Not only does the preaching of God’s Word bring sinners to salvation and help Christians in their walk with God, but it equips them for ministry. Regularly sitting under the preaching and teaching of your local church will prepare you to do ministry work. You will be able to share the gospel, disciple others, and lead a Bible study, or small group. It is important that Christians are faithful to their local church and regularly sit under their pastor’s preaching so that they might grow in godliness and be equipped to do ministry.

OBEY THE LORD

Third, it is important to attend church faithfully because God commands it (Hebrews 10:25) and that is reason enough! If God commands us to do something it is in our best interest to do it. He is infinitely wise and knows what is best for you and me. The book of Isaiah tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is infinitely wiser than us and He knows better than we do what is best for us. Therefore, when God commands us to be regular church attenders we should joyfully comply.  It is in our best interest.

God created and implemented the church for His glory and our good. It is His desire that we meet regularly as Christians to sing, pray, study the Bible, and encourage each other in the faith. Make it a priority to regularly attend your local church for your good and God’s glory.

The Reason for the Season

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:8-21).

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. We decorate our houses. We give and receive gifts. We spend time with family and friends. And we eat many festive meals. I really enjoy this season as I am sure many of you do as well.  But so often we fail to miss the reason for the season. We fail to focus on Christ. We celebrate Santa more than we celebrate Jesus and this shouldn’t be.

Jesus brings much more than a red sack of small toys, He brings salvation to the world (10-11). It’s the best news that brings the greatest joy: the enemies of God become the friends of God, all because of the work of God on their behalf. Jesus steps into His creation. He puts on flesh and dwells among us. He lives a life of perfect obedience in our place, dies a sacrificial death for us, three days later He rises from the dead defeating sin and death. Now all who repent and believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. This is the reason for the season. This is cause for celebration and great joy.

Notice the reaction of the angels, shepherds, and Mary in our passage above as they ponder the news of Jesus. In verse 14 we are told that a multitude of angels all proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest.” In verse 20 we read, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” And in v. 19 we see that, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The news of Jesus was not dull, unimportant, or casual to the people in our passage and it should be to us either.

The news of Jesus’ incarnation should bring great joy that leads to worship and adoration. As you spend time with family and friends today do not forget the reason for the season. Make Jesus the center of the celebration.

Are You Suffering?

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Last week I got the news that someone in my small group had a stroke and they are still in the hospital recovering. Today, while at small group I found out that another member of my small group had an unexpected death in the family. There are other members of my church who have lost loved ones recently, or battled serious illness, or suffered other difficulties. I know of a church in the panhandle (certainly there are others) that was badly damaged during hurricane Michal this past October. I have a friend who just received the news that he has brain cancer and there is not much he can do for it.

Many Christians face difficult circumstances in life. This has always been the case. Job lost his possessions and family (Job 1:13-22). John the Baptist was imprisoned than beheaded (Mark 6:16-17). The author of Hebrews tells us some believers suffered “mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated…wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:36-38).

The apostle Paul speaks at length of some of the difficulties he experienced in this life in his second letter to the Corinthians. He writes, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).

Perhaps you are reading this today and you have recently received bad news from the doctor, or learned that a loved one has passed away, or have been told that you are going to be laid off from work, or that you had a miscarriage, or that your child is not walking with Jesus and you are suffering deeply. Remember Paul’s words here to the Church at Rome. He tells them, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

The worst suffering that any Christian has ever experienced does not even remotely compare to the joy that they will have in heaven with Jesus for all of eternity. The Psalmist speaking of Christ writes “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Our joy will be full and never ending one day in the presence of Jesus. That is our hope as believers. Remind yourself of this regularly.

How Do You Train?

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

 

I recently read that Olympian Michael Phelps, when competing, would train for 5 -6 hours a day, 6 days a week. He put a lot of time and effort into his Olympic training. It certainly paid off. He has won numerous gold medals and is arguably the greatest Olympian of all time.

 

We may not be at the level of Michael Phelps, but we regularly train ourselves. We have training at work. We have training at school. We take courses that train us to be financially stable. We go to the gym to train. We go to the soccer field or the basketball court to train. We spend a lot of time training ourselves to better in many areas. These things are good. You will notice that Paul, in the passage above says that, “bodily training is of some value” (v8).  There is value to our training. It is good to improve ourselves at work, school, and the soccer field. It is good to go to the gym every now and then. We are called to hard work and to do things well and training is a part of that.

 

Although Paul says that “bodily training is of some value” you will notice that he says, “godliness if of value in every way” (v8) and therefore he says to “train yourself for godliness” (7). We spend a lot of time training ourselves in many ways, but how often do we train ourselves in godliness? Is this something we even consider?

 

As a people who have trusted in the gospel of Jesus Christ and have been changed from the inside out our thoughts ought to be on the eternal rather than the temporal (Colossians 3:1). Our desire to be more like Christ should be stronger than our desire to be successful, athletic, good looking, etc. The goal in the life of the believer should not be physical, financial, or mental fitness, but spiritual.

 

Here are some ways, by the grace of God, that the we can train ourselves in godliness:

 

  • Pray – Jesus told his disciples to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38) and “Pray then like this… lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9-13). There is a real correlation between praying and fighting sin. To train in godliness to pray regularly.

 

  • Bible Reading – Paul told Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). If we are not regularly reading the Bible, then we are not equipped as for godliness as we could be. To train in godliness is to read God’s Word often.

 

  • Christian Community – The Author of Hebrews writes, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). There is a way that we can be encouraged and stirred on in the Christian life though Christian community that we cannot achieve on our own. To train in godliness is to surround yourself with Christian community.

 

Of all the hours and ways, we train, let’s be sure that we work in a heavy dose of training in godliness.

The Doctrines of Grace in Five Minutes

I was teaching a Sunday School class a few years ago at my former church and at the end of the study a man approached me and said that this was the first time he had heard the doctrines of grace taught in years. Unfortunately, his experience is not a unique one. Growing up and attending church my entire life I can’t recall a time that I was ever taught these truths. It wasn’t until I attended Bible College at Trinity College of Florida that I was introduced to the rich truths of the doctrines of grace. I believe a great deal of people attend church regularly and are never taught these amazing truths.

Allow me to briefly share the doctrines of grace with you.

We must start with God because He is where it all begins. God is sovereign in salvation. That is, salvation belongs to Him (Jonah 2:9) He controls it. The Bible makes it clear that God chose those whom He would save before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). This election was not a result of any merit within us, but was solely by the grace of God (Romans 9:11-13).

If God were not to initiate a relationship with us we would never come to Him on our own (John 6:44). In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we were dead in our sin and utterly unable to move toward God in our sinfulness (Ephesians 2:1). God had to remove our dead heart and give us a heart that beats for Him (Ezekiel 36:26) or else it would never happen. To come to a saving faith in Christ is all the work of God. He chooses, He calls, He justifies, and He glorifies (Romans 8:30). By His amazing grace, and by His grace alone, sinners are made right with God.

This salvation is extended to many, but not all (Mark 10:45). Christ died for His elect (John 10:11). His blood does not cover universally the sin of all, or else all would be saved, but rather His blood covers only a particular people. These are God’s elect, given to the Son for salvation and they will respond in faith (John 6:37). Those who respond in genuine faith toward Christ will persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6). Nothing can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:31-39).

The doctrines of grace ultimately point us to a greater worship of God for what He has done for us through Christ.  We can take absolutely no credit for our salvation. It is completely the work of God on our behalf.  All glory to Him.  All praise is to Him.  All honor is for Him.

Three Reasons to Preach Through the Bible

God gave us an entire Bible, and He intends for us to use all of it to help us grow. Below are three reasons why this truth changes how we preach.

  1. Preach the Whole Counsel of God

If you are like me, then your preaching tends to lean towards your favorite Biblical themes. For me it often ends up being the gospel message or God’s sovereignty in salvation. For you it could be eschatology or church membership or a million other things. Typically, we are bent to our preferred Biblical themes in preaching. If we just chose our favorite things to preach on, those few things would be all that our congregation hears. However, when we preach verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, we are going to preach on things that we may never think to preach on our own. This is a healthier form of preaching because it allows the church to be exposed to the whole counsel of God rather than preaching only the portion that the preacher is inclined toward. God gave us an entire Bible, and He intends for us to use all of it to help us grow.  This makes for a more mature church body.

  1. Keep Scripture in Context

When you are preaching topically, it can be easier to take a verse out of context, even if it’s accidental. Preaching verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible will force you to study the context surrounding the passage. You will be doing an in-depth study of that particular passage. Since you are chronologically going through it and the context is there for everyone to see, it will be more difficult to err because of lack of study within context. Whereas, if you were to just grab a verse that seems to fit your topic and place it in your message, you may not be preaching it in the context that it was intended. Therefore, you are at risk of misrepresenting God’s Word. We don’t want to be guilty of that.

  1. Get the Full Story

The Bible was written as letters, songs, stories, etc. When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, I don’t think he intended them to read the first 2 verses and then read 2 verses from Exodus, and then one verse from Proverbs. When he wrote his letters, he intended them to be read as a whole unit, in context. Because the Bible was written in this form, I think it’s a good idea to preach through all that Paul intended his readers to hear. This will also help the hearer to remember last week’s sermon and put the pieces of Scripture together to flow as a unit. Preaching through books of the Bible helps this to take place.

Whether you’re preaching or hearing, may God bless you and may the whole counsel of His Word run swift into our hearts.

How Do You Pray?

Prayer is an important component of the Christians life. I recently read that Scripture records Jesus praying 25 times during His earthly ministry.  Paul discusses prayer 41 times in Scripture.  There are a total of 650 recorded prayers in the Bible. Clearly, God highly values prayer. It is regularly mentioned in the pages of Scripture and if God thinks that prayer is important, we should as well.
When you pray what do you typically pray for? If you are anything like me your prayer life can be heavily focused on the temporal and absent of the eternal. You pray for good health, financial stability, high scores on a test, and blessings for the food you are about to eat. These are our typically prayers. And certainly we should ask God for our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) and bring our many temporal requests before Him. We have needs and we are dependent on God.  Therefore, we go to Him for help.
However, temporal requests should not be the main purpose of our prayer life.  Even in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) our “daily bread” is sandwiched (no pun intended) between eternally significant matters.  Hallowing the name of God, asking for the kingdom of God to come, asking for forgiveness, and asking to be lead away from temptation come directly before and after the request for daily bread.  All throughout the Bible we see prayers that focus on eternal matters like glorifying Christ and seeking His kingdom.
Colossians 4:2-4 says:
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”
 
Paul is in prison as he pens this letter and his request for prayer could have easily been, “Please pray that I get out of here as soon as possible” or “that my time here be very comfortable”, or even “that God would avenge me and destroy my captors.”  However, that was not Paul’s focus.  His request for prayer was not personal and temporal, but on the eternally significant request that there would be opportunity for declaring the mystery of Christ.  He was asking that the Colossian Christians would pray for gospel-sharing opportunities (4:3) and for clarity in the proclamation of it (4:4). 
 
How often do we pray like this? How often do we pray for gospel advancement in our lives and in the lives of other Christians? 
 
As we regularly go to God in prayer, let’s not forget to pray for the glory of God, the salvation of the lost, and the edification and growth of believers.  Don’t be afraid to pray bold prayers that can change the world for Christ.  We can have confidence that we have a God that hears our prayers and delights in answering them.
 
Pray prayers that have eternal significance.

How’s Your Diet?

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,  for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature.” (Hebrews 5:11-14a)

Stacey Irvine ate almost nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years. She never tasted fruits or vegetables. She occasionally supplemented her diet with French fries. One day her tongue started to swell and she couldn’t catch her breath. She was rushed to the hospital, her airway was forced open, and they stuck an IV in her arm to start pumping in the nutrients she needed. After saving her life, the medical staff sent her home, but not before they warned her that she needed to change her diet or prepare herself for an early death (Story by Kenneth Berding).

Here is a woman who had plenty of opportunity to eat the way she needed to be healthy and strong, but she opted to eat primarily chicken nuggets neglecting the very nutrients she so desperately required. When we read this story we may think to ourselves, “How foolish can someone be? Why wouldn’t she simply mix in some fruits and veggies for a well-rounded diet? Why would she neglect her health in that way?”  But before we criticize her let’s take a look at our own lives. We may not be guilty of neglecting the physical nutrients we need, but are we guilty of neglecting ourselves of the spiritual nutrients we need?

In the above verses the author of Hebrews is scolding his readers for their spiritual diet. He is telling them that, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.” His readers ought to be growing in their knowledge of God and in their spiritual maturity. But rather they have neglected the Word of God, becoming spiritually unhealthy.

And if we are not careful, the same could happen to us. We have plenty of opportunity to read God’s Word, go to Bible studies, and to hear sermon’s preached, but so often we neglect these things, becoming spiritually weak. And when we do this we hurt ourselves. We need the nourishment found in God’s Word to grow and thrive in the Christian life.

Paul in Colossians 3 tells the Colossian Christians that they are to “let the word of Christ dwell” in them “richly” and the Psalmist, in Psalm 119, declares that he has “stored up God’s Word in his heart.” And we too, need to be a people who regularly soak up the Word of God. It should be on our minds and in our hearts with regularity. God uses His Word to show us Himself and He uses His Word to transform our hearts and minds. Without it we will not grow, but rather we will be weak and immature in the faith.

Let’s not neglect that which is good for us, but rather let us regularly consume God’s Word for greater enjoyment of Him and greater growth in our Christian walk.

The Old Has Gone – The New Has Come

I recently read that about 68% of Americans own pets. That’s a high number. I would assume that number drastically increases, however, if you were to ask what percentage of Americans have ever owned a pet. It seems that all of us have owned at least one pet at one time or another. For some of us it was a dog, for others it was a cat, while yet others had a hamster, lizard, or goldfish. The bad thing about owning a pet, though, is that those pets die (especially goldfish) far too soon. A pet’s life typically lasts 10 to 15 years, if you’re lucky, and then it’s over.  When your pet dies you might bury it in the backyard, go to the animal hospital to have disposed of, or in the case of a goldfish flush it down the toilet. These are normal things to do when your pet dies. What is not normal is to bring your pet back around to your house and take if for a walk, or feed it, or spend time playing with it after it has died. That would be abnormal.  In fact, that would be insanity. When a pet has died we treat as if it has died. We don’t take it back out for walks.

I think we would all agree that a person who digs up a dead dog and begins to play with it or take it for a walk has lost their mind. Well, every time we sin, we are essentially digging up our dead sinful self and dragging it around with us.

The Bible teaches us that if we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior, it is because a drastic change has taken place inside of us. So drastic, in fact, that the Bible says that we have died and been raised to new life in Christ (Colossians 3:1,3; Romans 6:2-11). By the grace of God, we are new creatures with new desires, “the old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If the old has passed away, we are to bury it. We are to put away that sinful behavior (Colossians 3:8) and live for God (Romans 6:11).

There is a new King of our heart and a new commission on our life.

We are to set our “minds on the things that are above” (Colossians 3:1) and “put to death, therefore, what is earthly (sinful) in us” (Colossians 3:5). By grace we have been saved from the enslavement of sin, and by grace we are to put away the sin that remains – burying it far away.

As grotesque as is the image of a man walking (literally dragging) his dead dog down the road, it is far more horrendous that a Christian would dig his old sinful self out of the grave and begin dragging him around, and yet that is what we are doing when we sin.

Thankfully, Romans 6 tells us that we have been raised with Christ by the glory of the Father so that we can walk in newness of life. This new life is in Christ and it far outshadows the old life. When we fill our minds with Christ and seek Him, the old self becomes less alluring.

Let’s attune our hearts to King Jesus and walk with Him while we leave the old self behind.

Have We Forgotten God?

For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant pleasant plants and sow the vine-branch of a stranger, though you make them grow on the day that you plant them, and make them blossom in the morning that you sow, yet the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain. (Isaiah 17:10-11)

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln said:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

We can be the same way, can’t we? We too can get so preoccupied with the things of this world, even good things, that we forget God. We can become so self-reliant and self-confident that we forget our need for God in all areas of life. And that should not be.

In the above verses, from the book of Isaiah, we can see that God is bringing judgment to Israel because they had forgotten the God of their salvation. He was not on the forefront of their minds, in fact, it sounds like He was not on their minds at all. They had set Him aside and moved on to other things.

This is a dangerous way to live.

There are consequences to disregarding God.

He should never be on the back-burner. God in His mercy has rescued us from our helpless state by sending His Son, Jesus, to die in our place. He has shown us tremendous mercy and grace when we were in no place to deserve it. He is the God who has showered us with His common grace and blessed us beyond our comprehension in His Son. He is the God of our salvation. How can we now forget Him? May that not be true in our lives.

May God be at the forefront of our minds in all we do.

The Avalanche of Sin

“It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired about the woman.” (2 Samuel 11:2-3a) (Read the entire chapter here). Things only went downhill for David from there.  Author and Pastor John Piper once said, “Avalanches of evil begin with a single pebble of sin.”  This truth could not be seen more clearly than in the story of David from the verses above.

According to the text late one afternoon, as David was presumably lounging around his palace all day, he decided to get up and take a walk out onto the king’s roof top. Once outside his eyes fell upon a beautiful woman as she was bathing.  Now in that moment, he could have decided to hide his eyes and turn away, but rather than leave it alone, he chose to indulge himself and inquire about the woman.  Once he found out who she was, he arranged for her to come over to his house.  Upon her arrival the text tells us that David slept with the woman.  You can see already how this situation has turned from bad to worse very quickly. It does not take much for sin avalanche.  Not only had David’s lust turned into premarital sex, but to make matters worse, both David and the woman he had slept with were married.  The snowball is increasing in size as this sin grows bigger and bigger.

Not long after David and Bathsheba’s affair, Bathsheba sends word to David that she is, in fact, pregnant with his child. This news seems to trouble David as he is now in fear of being caught in his sin.  So he attempts, unsuccessfully, to get Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, who is out in battle, to come home and to sleep with his wife so that no one would think anything of Bathsheba’s pregnancy.

However, when David’s first attempt at cover-up failed, he decided to have Uriah put in the front lines of battle so that his death was sure.  This was his second attempt at covering up his sin (and we find out later it failed as well 2 Samuel 12).  So what started with lust ended in adultery and murder.  Rather than nipping sin in the bud, David allowed his sin to grow, and it quickly grew out of control. And the same thing can be true for us. We can play with sin and play with sin and think we are doing just fine, but before we know it things can get out of hand and our sin has ruined us. Sin can ruin our reputation, ministry, even our lives. And if we continue in it without repentance it will lead us to hell.

There is no such thing as a “small” sin.  All sin is rebellion towards God and can lead to “avalanches of evil.”  We are to set our eyes on Christ and live for Him, leaving our sin behind.  John Owen once wrote, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  Let’s strive every day, by the grace of God, to treasure Christ above all else and to snuff out our sin before it burns out of control.

The good news for David is that his story didn’t end there. By God’s grace he realized his sin (2 Samuel 12:13) and asked God for forgiveness (Psalm 51) and although there were consequences to his sin (2 Samuel 12:7-14) ultimately David was forgiven.  David was well aware of God’s forgiveness for sin (Psalm 32:5) and we can be sure, by God’s grace, he was forgiven from all of it. What great news.

And the good news for David is also good news for us. There is forgiveness for sin. Complete forgiveness.  That does not mean that there are not consequences for sin and we should take it lightly – sin is dangerous – but by God’s grace all our sins can be forgiven when we admit our fault and turn to Jesus (Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1:9 ). Praise God for His grace and mercy toward undeserving sinners like you and me.

When God Says No

In Mark chapter 5 we are introduced to a demon-possessed man running wild in a graveyard (read the story here). 

The man could not be held captive. He was so strong that he could break chains and shackles to pieces. He would spend night and day crying out and cutting himself. He had become a real concern to the locals (i.e. trying to bind him) and a danger to himself. Mark chapter 5 begins with Jesus meeting this demon-possessed man face to face. 

As soon as the demon-possessed man sees Jesus he bows down at His feet and begs Him to be merciful, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:7). After conversing with the demon-possessed man, Jesus casts out the evil spirits from him and finally the man was at rest. No longer would he have to live in the graveyard crying out night and day in agony. He had been delivered. Jesus rescued this man from his hopeless situation and brought him to his right mind.

After being rescued, naturally, the man desired to go with Jesus and to be with Him. He begged that Jesus would let him come along. The passage tells us, “As He [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled” (Mark 5:18-20).

The man in our passage begged Jesus for something and it was a good something – he wanted to be with Jesus.

But Jesus said “no” to his request. 

He denied the man’s request to go with Him and rather told the man to stay where he was and to become a missionary in his hometown. And that is exactly what this man did. He went away and began to proclaim how much Jesus had done for him. The man desired to do one thing, but Jesus had another plan for him. And now the area of Decapolis had a Christian evangelist actively sharing the good news of Jesus. In God’s wisdom, this man’s request was denied so that he could do the work Jesus desired Him to do.

Here’s where this meets you and I. 

You and I may cry out to God with our requests, even good, godly requests, and God may say, “no” to those requests. So often our gracious God answers our prayers with a “yes”, but at times He may respond to our prayers with a “no” or “not right now” and we need to know that in those instances it is for the best. God is by no means required to give us anything in prayer as if it were a conversation between equals. God may have other plans for us. Plans that are much better than we ever could’ve dreamed up. He may be sending us in another direction altogether. 

Bottom line: He knows what is best for us and we need to trust Him in that. 

When we pray we need to pray, “not my will God, but Yours be done” and trust in that knowing that God’s ways are better than ours.