Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Being A Theologian

One of the realities of human existence is that we think about things. True some people ponder more than others, but everyone has pondered the great questions of life. We can’t help it. People were made to think.

This reality means that every person, on some level, is a theologian. Stanely Grenz in his systematic theology book wrote:
“Every Christian is a theologian. Whether consciously or unconsciously, each person of faith embraces a belief system. And each believer, whether in a deliberate manner or merely implicitly, reflects on the content of these beliefs and their significance for Christian life” (Theology for the Community of God, p. 1)

This means you are a theologian. We become theologians when we take time to think about who God is and consider His existence. We do not all agree on the person and nature of God, even within the Christian Community there are disagreements about such things, but by thinking about such things we become theologians. It is through this process that we develop what we call our world view.

Our world view, that set of lenses through which we make sense of the world, is born out of our reflections on what we believe, mainly what we believe about God. Since you are reading this I am certain that you have some specific ideas about God and His place in the world and in your life. These beliefs form the basis on how you approach life.

I know for myself what I believe about God determines what I find to be right and wrong, what I consider my purpose for life to be, and the hope I have for the future. It affects my understanding of how the world came to be, the events of history, what is happening today, and what the future holds. My faith in God brings times of joy, guilt, hope, and sorrow. In short pondering on God guides the life I live.

The amazing thing about this is that God has allowed us to choose what we believe about Him. He has not dictated what we believe, but He has given us a choice in the matter. This results in the fact that as you reflect on God’s existence you determine the place He will have in your life. Will you let Him guide you or will you ignore Him? The choice is yours.

Since God has given us the freedom to choose what we believe about Him that means we have a personal responsibility in developing our own faith. I cannot simply follow what my family believes, but I must search out the truth myself.

You cannot simply allow yourself to be pulled along with the crowd you have in your life. You must stop and consider what you believe and why you believe it. God desires us to think about what we believe in order to develop an understanding of life.

While it is true that we are responsible for our own faith, it is also true that we are able to impact the lives of other people. Through the conversations we have with people and the way we live our lives we are able to be an influence in their lives. That means we have to be very intentional about knowing, teaching, and living truth. Especially when it comes to the people we have the most influence with: family and friends.

The apostle Paul told Timothy:
15 Think on these things. Devote your life to them so that everyone can see your progress. 16 Pay close attention to your life and your teaching. Persevere in these things, for if you do this, you will save both yourself and those who listen to you. (1 Timothy 4:15, 16; ISV)

Paul reminded Timothy the importance of what he believed about God and how that affected Timothy’s life. We need to take Paul’s instruction to heart as well and allow what we believe about God guide the way we live.

You are a theologian. The ideas you develop about God determine the direction of your life. Don’t simply follow the ideas of another, but rather take time to reflect on who God is and what that means for your life. Being a theologian is one of the most important roles you will play. Don’t let it go to waste.

  • Point to Ponder: God desires us to think about what we believe and develop an understanding of life.
  • Passage to Remember: 1 Timothy 4:15, 16
  • Question to Consider: Have you been sharing what you believe about God with others?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blog Vacation

My girlfriend is flying in today from New Mexico. She will be spending the next week with me here in Iowa, so I am taking this time off. Don't forget about me and come back on May 1 for brand new posts.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Blaming God For Suffering

"What is less often asked is why our modern Western world, which has seen a decrease in human suffering unparalleled in human history, seems less able to deal with pain and more quick either to blame God for evil and suffering or to deny his existence altogether—or, as contradictory as it may seem, to do both at the same time. We seem to have lost our ability to adequately wrestle with this most persistent of problems; instead, with each decade that passes, we grow more and more angry with God, even as we believe in him less and less." ~ Louis Markos; Lewis Agonistes; p. 91

Saturday, April 19, 2008

How Committed Are You?

Committed to the Basics: Part 6

If we are going to grow in our faith and if our church families are going to in their impact we have to be people who are committed. First, we must be committed to following the Lord Jesus Christ wherever He might lead us. Second, we must be committed to doing those actions that give strength to our faith. We must be committed to learning God’s word. We must be committed to fellowship with other Christians. We must be committed to the Lord’s Supper as we remember Jesus’ sacrifice. We must be committed to prayer as we turn our lives over to God.

The reason the early church was able to make such an impact is because they were dedicated to these disciplines. Read how Luke describes the early church:
42 They continually devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to times of prayer. 43 A sense of fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together, and they shared everything with one another. 45 They made it their practice to sell their possessions and goods and to distribute the proceeds to anyone who was in need. 46 They had a single purpose and went to the temple every day. They ate at each other's homes and shared their food with glad and humble hearts. 47 They kept praising God and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord was adding to them people who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47; ISV)

Because they were dedicated to these basic fundamentals the early church was able to impact the community, the culture, in which they lived. They were able to see God at work which caused them to thank and praise God. Their integrity and compassion brought them the respect of people. The result was that God added to their numbers everyday. Growth was the natural outcome of their commitment.

Here is the question I want to throw out to you today: How committed are you to doing these basic fundamentals of faith? Because each one of them, in one form or another, is part of our regular weekly worship service we can fool ourselves into thinking that our religious obligation equals commitment. I believe we can see out commitment to these disciplines when we make an effort to do them outside of our worship services. By taking the initiative to make them happen we demonstrate our commitment to them.

This is the truth I want you to ponder: When we are committed to doing the basics God will make the difference. Luke tells us that it was the Lord who gave the growth to the early church. This will be true whether we are talking about our local church families or our personal lives. When we live a life of faith, as demonstrated by our commitment to the basic disciplines, God will strengthen and grow our lives and our churches. How committed are you to growing? It is time to get back to the basics.

  • Point to Ponder: When we are committed to doing the basics God will make the difference.
  • Passage to Remember: Acts 2:42-47
  • Question to Consider: What part do the basics of faith play in your life?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Committed to Prayer

Committed to the Basics: Part 5

This series has been devoted to identifying those disciplines that need to be part of our lives: both as individuals and in our church families. Just as an athlete can only reach his or her full potential when they are committed to mastering the basics of their game, we can only reach our potential as Christians and as the Church when we are committed to these basic disciplines.

We have noticed that when the church began in the first century and as they tried to mature new believers and make an impact in their culture they devoted themselves to four different disciplines. We find these disciplines in Acts 2:42: 42 They continually devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to times of prayer (ISV). In this one verse we discover the four disciplines, the basic fundamentals, that the early church was devoted to. They were devoted to learning. It was important for them to know God, His purposes, and His ways. They were devoted to fellowship. Life is tough, and we need each other if we are going to make it through, let alone make an impact. They were also devoted to Communion. The Lord’s Supper is the discipline that Jesus gave us to help keep Him at the center of our faith.

The last action the early church devoted themselves to is prayer. Is it any surprise that from the very beginning the church has been praying? These early followers of Jesus were in a hopeless position. Their leaders were nobodies and uneducated. Many of them were away from their homeland opting to stay in Jerusalem rather than return home. They could not meet the challenges of life, which included providing the basic needs, on their own strength. They were dependent on God’s power.

The same is true today, though I wonder how often we recognize it. In a land were we don’t have to worry about basic necessities do feel dependent on God’s power? When we have studied human behavior and having selling down to an art do we believe that we need God’s wisdom rather than man’s research in order to have a healthy growing church? Prayer is a vital part of the church.

Prayer is also more that connecting to God’s power. Prayer also strengthens our relationship with God. I believe that it is through prayer that we really experience the love of God. This is one of Jesus’ teachings on prayer:
7 “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who keeps asking will receive, and the person who keeps searching will find, and the person who keeps knocking will have the door opened. 9 “There isn't a person among you who would give his son a stone if he asked for bread, is there? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, he wouldn't give him a snake, would he? 11 So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who keep on asking him!” (Matthew 7:7-11; ISV)

Jesus tells us that through the act of praying we experience God’s provision in our lives. Just as a good earthly father provides for the needs of his children, our good Heavenly Father will provide everything that we need for both life and godliness. If we are not praying then we are missing out on experiencing God’s love.

  • Point to Ponder: Prayer is a vital part of the church.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 7:7-11
  • Question to Consider: Is prayer vital to your life?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Committed to Communion

Committed to the Basics: Part 4

A great musician first needs to learn the notes and the scales in order to master the music. A great basketball player needs to learn how to dribble, shoot, pass, rebound, and defend before he can master the game. As followers of Jesus we have to learn and be committed to a few basic fundamentals if we are going to be successful at the task Jesus has commissioned us to accomplish (make disciples).

We find these fundamentals in Acts 2:42: They continually devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to times of prayer (ISV). I believe this verse outlines four basic fundamentals that need to be a part of our lives and the lives of our church families. The first discipline is that we have to be committed to learning. If we are not taking the time to learn God’s Word then we will not be able to know how God wants us to live. The second discipline is we need to be committed to fellowship. Life is tough and we are not going to make it through this life with our faith intact without the love, support, and encouragement of other Christians.

The third discipline that the early church was committed to was the Lord’s Supper. I want to admit that there is some debate about what exactly what the breaking of bread means. The common Greek usage means sharing a meal, but the New Testament also using the phrase to mean sharing in the Lord’s Supper. From the context it is very hard to tell what it means because we know that the early Church frequently shared meals together, and that would fit well with the idea of fellowship and having things in common.

The reason I think it is the Lord’s Supper is because I think that sharing meals would fit under fellowship, and therefore be redundant. Also, Gareth Reese in his commentary on the book of Acts (New Testament History: Acts) says that the original Greek would read the breaking of the bread which would point to something specific (given the second the) rather than just regular meals (p. 83). It would also be a very special ritual that would separate them from the Jewish religion that they had just left. The Lord’s Supper would be a constant reminder of Jesus and the New Covenant that His death and resurrection ushered in. In other words Communion helped make Jesus Christ the center of their faith.

One of the reasons that I love the Restoration Movement Churches, the faith heritage I am a part of, is the emphasis that we have put on the Lord’s Supper. This tradition, the only tradition that Jesus asked us to keep, is so vital to keeping us focused on Jesus and what He has done for us. Not only as individuals, but also as a Church Family. When done right Communion should help maintain a sense of fellowship in our church families.

In 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul wrote some guidelines about the Lord’s Supper. This is part of what he wrote:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; ISV)

Paul tells us that by participating in Communion we proclaim Jesus’ death. One aspect of this is that we keep the sacrifice of Jesus central. It is a focal point for our lives and our worship. The Lord’s Supper serves as a powerful remainder to the price God paid to have freed from our lives of sin.

  • Point to Ponder: Communion helps keep Jesus the center of our faith.
  • Passage to Remember: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
  • Question to Consider: How important is the Lord’s Supper to your life?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Committed To Each Other

Committed to the Basics: Part 3

One of the reasons the Church was able to grow from a handful of disciples to an unstoppable force of Christians is because of the early church’s dedication to the basics of discipleship. These basics are essential for us as individual Christ Followers as well as for our church families as a whole. We cannot fully become who God created us to be if we are not committed to these basic fundamentals of faith.

We find this basic fundamentals in Acts 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (ESV). The example of the early church provides us with four disciplines that need to be part of our lives. The first discipline is that we must be committed to studying. The Bible must be part of our lives, whether it is individual study or learning for Christian teachers, we must have a commitment to God’s Word.

Th second discipline the early church was committed to was fellowship. We in the modern church have a weak understanding of what fellowship means. Fellowship isn’t about dinners and hand shaking. It is about being united in a common love, purpose, faith, and situation.

These first Christians were thrown together. Through the apostle’s teachings they came to understand that they were in this together. They were a family and they needed to help each other. They were the Body of Christ and were on a mission together. They were in a hostile world and needed a safe place. In some ways it was only natural that a strong sense of fellowship emerged. Not only did it come from living out the two great commandments but it came from the difficult situation that they were in.

William Barclay in his commentary on Acts wrote; “The Church is the real Church only when it is a band of brothers” (The Daily Study Bible: The Acts of the Apostles; p. 30). The image of a band of brothers is the image of men who have bonded through the common mission given them during war. A bond that few of us have experienced that have not been in that situation.

It is something similar to that comradeship that we need to have in the Church. We need to be committed to each other. It is about meeting each other’s needs, encouraging one another, helping each other, and teaching one another. We are held together by a common love for God through Jesus Christ and a common purpose for our church family. Without a common purpose, an objective that we can all set our hearts and minds and strength to achieving, then it is impossible to have true fellowship, even if we share that common love for God. Fellowship is the life blood of the Church.

The writer of Hebrews urges us to stick together:
24 And 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; ESV)

Life is tough and in order to make a difference we need the encouragement and love of other people. I am certain you know the importance of Christians relationships in your own life. There are certain people you thank God for because you don’t know if you would have made it if they weren’t there. We need each other!

  • Point to Ponder: Fellowship is the life blood of the Church.
  • Passage to Remember: Hebrews 10:24-25
  • Question to Consider: What relationships do you value most in your life?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Committed to Learning

Committed to the Basics: Part 2

When we find ourselves struggling, in any area of life, it is essential for us to return to the basics. The basics are those fundamentals that have to be done in order to have success. If we ignore these basic fundamentals then we will struggle. This is true in our personal lives as well as the Church.

The only answer to the struggle that the Church finds herself in in our culture is a return to the basics. Acts 2:42 provides us with those basics that the early church were committed to as they grew from a little Jewish sect in Jerusalem to an unstoppable movement that changed the course of history.

Let me set the background. It is the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, and about 10 days after Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples of Jesus, there are about 120 of them, are in Jerusalem. The apostles, and possibly some other disciples, are in the upper room waiting as Jesus instructed. That morning of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descends on the apostles and they begin to preach to the crowds gathered in the city.

Jerusalem is still full of visitor. They came for Passover and stayed through Pentecost, and so there were Jews from different cultures who spoke different languages. The amazing thing is that the crowd heard about Jesus in their own languages.

The sermon Peter gave about Jesus being the Promised Messiah cut to the heart of many in the crowd and they asked what they needed to do to be saved. Peter told them that in order to receive this gift of salvation they needed to repent, change their allegiance from Judaism to Jesus, and to be baptized (immersed). These actions demonstrate their faith in Jesus Christ and are acts of obedience.

On that day 3,000 people were added to the handful of disciples who had continued to follow Jesus after His death. And this presented the first problem for the Church: how do you move 3,000 people from placing their faith in Jesus to becoming mature followers of Christ? Acts 2:42 tells us what the Church did; They continually devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to times of prayer (ISV). The new Church was committed. They were committed to four actions.

First they were committed to the apostle’s teachings. In other words these New Christians were taught about who Jesus is, how God worked through history to bring about salvation, how Jesus lived His life, and how they were expected to live. There was a need to lay a foundation of truth and then to continue to build on that foundation with reminders, applications, more difficult truths. The apostles, and these new Christians, understood that in order for them to follow Jesus they needed to know the truth of who Jesus is, what He taught, and how He lived.

While we don’t sit directly under the teachings of Peter, John, Andrew, Thomas, Matthew and the rest of the apostles we do have a collection of their teachings known to us as the New Testament. This is the foundation of every other basic essential that needs to be part of our church family. Without this we are not a Church of Jesus Christ we are just club. Being committed to God’s Word, in particular the New Testament, helps us understand how we are to live, what we are to believe, and what God is doing in the world.

The apostle Paul reminded his disciple Timothy:
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and found to be true, because you know from whom you learned it. 15 From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to give you the wisdom you need for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17; ISV)

If we are not committed to God’s Word then we are going to struggle in our lives. Far too often we have replaced God’s wisdom with the wisdom of this world and what is preached in the pulpits across this country is not the Bible, but some form of self-help pop-psychology. We need to return to being people of the Book. May we once again be committed to the teaching of our Lord and His apostles.

  • Point to Ponder: We need to return to being people of the Book.
  • Passage to Remember: 2 Timothy 3:14-17
  • Question to Consider: How are you committed to the apostles’ teachings?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mastering The Basics

Committed to the Basics: Part 1

Everything in our lives begins with basics. Basics are those fundamentals that we must learn and master before we can grow and have success. School children in kindergarten learn the basics of the Alphabet and Numbers because reading and math are dependent on them. Without mastering of the basics the ABC’s and the 123’s there is no hope that the child will learn to read and write or add and subtract.

The same is true for us as we follow Jesus. If we want to be the type of people, and and thus the Church, that God wants us to be, then we have to commit ourselves to the basics of what it means to follow Jesus. I want you to think about this question: What are the basics you are committed to?

There is a legend about the great football coach Vince Lombardi that dates back to the early sixties when he took over the reigns of the Green Bay Packers. The Packer franchise was struggling—the team had been losing for almost ten straight years. They were on the bottom of the league standings, and team morale was sagging.

Into this dismal situation comes Vince Lombardi, the new coach. He had been given the challenge of turning the franchise around. He was all pumped up and excited about turning the team around, so he began meeting with the team, leading practices, training, motivating, and doing all he could to inspire his players. At one point during a practice he got so frustrated with the players that he blew his whistle and said, “Everybody stop and gather round.” He said, “This isn’t working, either I’m not training you right or you’re not getting it. IN either case, what we’re doing is not working.” Then he knelt down, picked up the pigskin, and said, “Let’s start at the beginning. This is a football.” One guy said, “Slow down, coach, you’re losing me,” But Lombardi persisted with his course of action, saying, “This is a football, and these are yard markers, and that's the goal post, and I’m the coach, and you’re the players.” He went on in the most elementary of ways to explain the basics of football. History tells us that from that point in time the whole direction of the Green Bay Packers turned around.

The moral of the story is that when we are struggling, in whatever area of life it might be, we need to return to the basics to make sure we have those down. We cannot have success in life, and that includes following Jesus, if are not doing the basics.

It is no secret that the Church in the United States is struggling. This struggle can be seen in the decline of weekly church attendance as well as a decline in giving. Most of all It is seen the diminishing impact the Church has on the culture. The Church no longer has a respected place in the hearts and minds of the people of the United States (really the western world).

So what are the basics that we should be focused on? What should our church families look like and what disciplines should define our lives? We find four basic actions in Acts 2:42 that we should expect and be committed to if we are going to live out the potential God has blessed us with. 42 They continually devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to times of prayer (ISV).

If we are going to influence the culture in which we live and make a difference for the Kingdom of God it is going to start by adding these for elementary principles to our lives and church families. WIthout a return to the basic we will continue to struggle as our influence in the culture diminishes.

  • Point to Ponder: We cannot have success in life, and that includes following Jesus, if are not doing the basics.
  • Passage to Remember: Acts 2:42
  • Question to Consider: What are the basics that you are committed to?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fundamental Importance

"Our relationships are of fundamental importance. Human life may be said to consist of an intricate web of relationships--in the nuclear family, in the wider circle of relatives, among our neighbors, friends, and colleagues. Human maturity is seen in the ability to form stable, loving, and responsible relationships. In this sphere probably all of us betray a lingering immaturity, since we all find difficulty in establishing a satisfactory relationship with some people. Although I have no wish to oversimplify, I am convinced that the major secret of harmony in personal relationships-- at home and at work, in the church and in the community--is to learn to live 'unto Christ'. When this radical adjustment has taken place, others follow naturally." ~ John Stott, Life in Christ, p. 82

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Focus is Everything

How to Pray: Part 6

If we are going to have a relationship with God then prayer has to be a part of our lives. Hopefully you have come to realize that prayer isn’t about giving God a list of demands that you want met, but it is about seeking to connect with our Heavenly Father.

That means that prayer has to be something we are committed to. My main problem with prayer has been that I haven’t been committed to it. I have believed that God would bring about His will and so I had to do is trust Him. You see, when I had the wrong view about prayer I didn’t understand why I even should be devoted to prayer. As my understanding of prayer has changed I now realize that the importance of prayer isn’t about getting “answers” to my prayers, but it is about connecting with God. Our relationship with God depends on our commitment to prayer.

If prayer is so important to our relationship with God how should we pray? Jesus gave us a model prayer in response to that question:
9 “Therefore, this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. 10 May your kingdom come. May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. 13 And never bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” (Matthew 6:9-13; ISV)

The truth we can take away from The Lord’s Prayer is this: Prayer is about focusing on God. When we make God the focus of prayer, rather than our needs and wants, then we will discover the true power of prayer. What will happen is that we will begin to change our perspective on life as God’s will becomes more real to us. I believe prayer helps us break through our self-centeredness and focus on God.

Prayer needs to be a dynamic part of our lives. It should energize us and connect us with God. The reality is many Christians tend to feel frustrated and confused about prayer. The problem I believe is our focus. Are we focusing on our wants, needs, and desires or are we focusing on God and who He is and His love for us? When it comes to prayer focus is everything. What are you focusing on during prayer?

  • Point to Ponder: Prayer helps us break through our self-centeredness and focus on God.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 6:9-13
  • Question to Consider: What is your focus for prayer?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Give Us Today...

How to Pray: Part 5

Prayer is an essential part of a Christian’s life. For that reason Jesus took the time to teach people to pray. Not only did Jesus give people teachings on prayer, but He also gave us a model prayer. Models serve as examples to help us understand what the real thing is like. The model prayer of Jesus, The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), helps us understand the essential parts that make up prayer.

Prayer is about giving God our praise. This helps us to remember who God is. If we make prayer just about a wish list then we are in danger of making God out to be Santa Claus or a genie. He is neither! God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He provides what we need for both life and godliness. He is our Heavenly Father who loves us. He is our Sovereign and King. God needs to be honored, loved, and respected for Who He is.

Prayer is also about our priorities. Being human and only able to see a small part of the entire picture our desires often run contrary to God’s will. The process of praying helps us to align our priorities with God’s will. We trust that God will do the right thing even though we might not understand what He is doing. It helps us to give our lives away to doing His will here on earth as it is done in heaven.

The final element that should be in prayer turning over to God our daily our provision.
11 ‘Give us today our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. 13 And never bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ (Matthew 6:11-13)

In our culture we don’t look to God for our daily provisions such as food, shelter, and clothing. We have the resources to meet these needs ourselves, and so we may take time to thank God for them but we are not worried about missing out.

In the culture Jesus lived in things were vastly different. 90+% of the people lived below poverty. That meant if they did not work that day they most likely did not eat. Each and everyday was a struggle of survival. I imagine that our prayers would be different if we were struggling like that.

What Jesus is pointing out in this last part is that God is the Provider and we have great needs in our lives that only He can meet. Yes, we need to ask God for things, but what we ask God for must remain within the lines of who God is and what God’s will is. When God seems to ignore our prayer requests it is because they fell outside of those lines.

We must trust God to give us what we need. This is hard because we have so many things that we want that we often blur the line of what is a need and what is a want. A need is something that is essential for life, whether it is our physical life or spiritual life. A want is something that we think will make life more enjoyable. Praising God and bringing our wills to align with God’s will will help us clarify what we really need.

If we make prayer all about our provisions then we will be disappointed and frustrated with our prayer life, and we will even be tempted to conclude that God doesn’t exist (or doesn’t love us). Yet, when we put the provision element of prayer in its proper place, after the praise and priority elements, we will be able to see the changes prayer makes in our lives. Proper praying is the difference between a frustrated prayer life and a dynamic prayer life.

  • Point to Ponder: We have great needs that only God can provide.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 6:11-13
  • Question to Consider: Why do you pray?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Your Kingdom Come

How to Pray: Part 4

Jesus taught His disciples to pray. He taught them that prayer wasn’t about giving God a wish list, but it was about connect with Him. In order to do that we have to be in a place removed from distractions and temptations (Matthew 5:5, 6). We also have to remember that it isn’t about the words we say, but about being honest with God and trusting Him as our Father (Matthew 5:7, 8).

After giving His disciples those two teachings on prayer, Jesus provides them with a model pray, so they can have an idea of what prayer sounds like. We call this prayer the Lord’s Prayer and it we discover three elements that make up effective prayer.

The first element concerns our praise. We need to remember who God is and treat Him with the respect and honor He deserves rather than treating Him like Santa Claus or our own personal genie. Jesus honors God by recognizing Him as “Our Father who is in heaven...” If our prayers are going to be effective we need to spend time praising God.

The second element Jesus gives us concerns our priorities.
“May your kingdom come. May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10; ISV)

This is the difficult part of the prayer. While we will say that we want God’s will to be done, and will often add this sentence to the end of our prayers, what we really mean is; “Your will be done as long as it lines up with my will.” In order to have a relationship with God we have to lay aside our wills.

This is not easy to do. One of the reason I know this isn’t easy is because of the struggle Jesus went through. Remember Jesus spent hours praying the night of His arrest, and it focused at this point. Jesus wanted another way to save mankind; it was the constant temptation that He faced. Part of the reason Jesus spent so long in prayer was to align His will with His Father’s will.

We all have areas in our lives where our wills do not align with God’s will. Prayer is a time to ask God to reveal His will to us and to ask for help in surrendering our will to His. That means we need to be honest with God about our feelings and what we are struggling with. We can’t hide anything from God, He knows our struggles, and it is through this process of laying everything at God’s feet that changes begin to occur in our hearts.

Not only we do we have to focus on aligning our wills with God, but we also have to ask for God’s will to be done. We need to ask for God’s will to be done in the different areas of our lives such as our church, school, and government. We need to ask for God’s will to be done in areas where God is openly mocked like breaking the hold pornography, abortion, and alcohol have on this country. We need to ask for God’s will to be done as we seek to carry out the Great Commission, that more workers will be raised up, that people’s hearts will receptive to the Good News, and that previous impassable barriers be broken down.

The scope of God’s will is huge and it reminds us that life is ultimately not about us and our dreams and desires, but it is about God’s will. What matters is that God is glorified and His Kingdom comes because only then will we really discover life the way God created it to be.

  • Point to Ponder: In order to have a relationship with God we have to lay aside our wills.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 6:10
  • Question to Consider: Do you really want God’s will to be done in your life?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Our Father

How to Pray: Part 3

What makes prayer effective aren’t the words we use or the wish list we give, but our desire to connect with our Heavenly Father. Being confident in our relationship with God will help us understand what to pray for and how to pray.

When Jesus taught on prayer He gave to His disciples a model prayer. This prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, helps us understand the form of prayer. The model prayer Jesus gave us contains three elements that will help us keep our focus when it comes to prayer. I believe that when our prayers are comprised of these three elements, rather than a to do list, our prayer lives will be revolutionized.

9 “Therefore, this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. 10 May your kingdom come. May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. 13 And never bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ (Matthew 6:9-13; ISV)

The first element we discover is the element of praise. "Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy" (verse 9). Jesus begins His model prayer with recognizing and honoring God.

Our prayers should begin by praising God for who He is. Jesus does this by saying; “Our Father in heaven.” For us as Christians this is a very appropriate way to recognize the God who loves us as children. Father is a term of both respect and affection and we honor God when we address Him at such.

There are also other ways we can recognize and honor God. One of my favorite ways to start my prayers is to recognize God as Creator. I do this because the world around me speaks of God’s power and creativity. It is awesome to think that the God who created the universe loves me. That is definitely something to ponder.

For you it might be something different. If you have experienced God’s healing you might want to take a moment to recognize Him as the Great Physician. If you have experienced His provision you might want to recognize Him as your Provider. In whatever way you have experienced God in your life it is appropriate to recognize and honor Him for that blessing. The important thing is not the words but the love, thanksgiving, and respect that you want to convey to God.

When we pray we are not praying to some other man or an element of nature, but the Creator of the universe. We are not praying to some cold-hearted deity somewhere up there, but the God who did whatever it took to have an eternal relationship with you. This is amazing, and it is where we need to start with our prayers.

By don’t stopping and taking time to praise God we run the risk of treating Him as a genie or Santa Claus. We come to Him so He will grant our wish rather than to connect with our Heavenly Father and the Creator of the Universe. Having a proper focus during prayer requires that respect and honor God first and foremost.

  • Point to Ponder: Our prayers should begin by praising God for who He is.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 6:9
  • Question to Consider: How can you make praise a part of your prayers?

A Couple of Cool Videos

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Christians Divided

I have a question that I would like to pose to my vast readership (all five of you): What is the responsibility of Christians in a nation divided by politics?

To me this is a very difficult question to answer. On the one hand you have desire to stand up for what is right and on the other hand you don't want to turn someone off to Jesus based on politics.

What I am looking for are ways Christians can speak clearly about moral issues of our day without letting politics muddy the waters about Jesus. I would appreciate any thoughts you might have about Christians and politics. I hope to hear from you.

Confident In Our Relationship

How to Pray: Part 2

Prayer isn’t about giving God a to do list, but it is about connecting with God. When we pray we empty our hearts to God. We not only tell Him of our wants, but also about our sins, fears, worries, hopes, successes, and loves. Prayer allows us to seek God’s will and establish a connection of faith and trust with Him.

Jesus’ initial teaching about prayer (Matthew 6:5-8) dealt with two great truths. The first truth that we need to remember is that place is very important when we pray. If we hope to really connect with God we can’t pray in public for the world to see, but we need be by ourselves, away for people and distractions, in order to give God our entire attention.

The second truth that we find in that initial teaching is that words are not important. Prayer isn’t about saying the right words, phrases, or the right formula. Prayer is telling God what is in our hearts. When prayer isn’t about the “right” words then we can stop worrying about whether or not we are connecting with God and simply focus on building a connection with Him that is found on love and trust. Don’t worry about the words you use, focus on being honest with God.

After giving the disciples a couple of truths about prayer Jesus gives them a model prayer. This model prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13. There is no magic to this prayer. You can repeat this prayer over and over again, but it won’t do any good. God isn’t interested in people parroting the right words, just as He wasn’t interested in people offering sacrifices out of religious obligation in the Old Testament. What God wants is a people devoted to Him. God is interested in our hearts and having a relationship with us. When we forget about this we make prayer just a religious exercise and the power of prayer to change our lives disappears.

This prayer, what we call The Lord’s Prayer, is a model of what a prayer looks or sounds like. Our prayers can be longer, they can be shorter, they can be in English, Greek, Hebrew, or any other language. What is important is that pray focuses our attention on God. Ultimately, I believe, prayer is about focusing on God. All our problems, concerns, and sickness shrink in significance when we are able to focus on God and His great love for us.

We are able to do that when we are confident in our relationship with God and His love for us. If we are not confident about God’s love then we will constantly be asking God to give us the life we want rather than trusting Him to give us the life we need. Being confident in our relationship with God helps us to keep prayer focused on what is important. We can only be confident of that relationship if we are certain of God’s love for us. Remember what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:35-39:
35 Who can separate us from Christ's love? Can trouble, distress, persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger, or a sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long. We are thought of as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through the one who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor anything above, nor anything below, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(ISV).

Being confident of God’s love allows us to have a relationship with God that provides us with hope, peace, and strength. The certainty of God’s love changes the outlook of our lives, and it directs how we pray. To have the proper focus for pray requires us to be confident in our relationship with God.

  • Point to Ponder: Being confident in our relationship with God helps us to keep prayer focused on what is important.
  • Passage to Remember: Romans 8:35-39
  • Question to Consider: Are you certain God loves you?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Connecting With God

How to Pray: Part 1

Fundamental to our relationship with God is prayer. In my previous series on prayer we noticed that prayer isn’t about giving God a wish list, but it is about connecting with God. We feel frustrated with our prayer lives because we have made our prayers about help me, give to me, bless me rather than cultivating our relationship with our heavenly Father. When we remember this our prayer life will become more dynamic than frustrating.

In order to make prayer about connecting with God we have to remember where the focus of our prayers need to be. One of the ways to determine the focus of our prayers is to ask ourselves questions:
Is prayer about us or is about God? Are we praying out or religious obligation or out of a desire to connect with God? Is prayer a religious activity or is it an act of faith in a good and loving God? Are my prayers about me or are they about God?

For orthodox Jews and Muslims set times of prayer are a part of their lives. It is partially through this rigid devotion to prayer that they learn to prayer. There also memorized prayers they are to learn for certain occasions in life. These memorized prays serve as a model on how they are to pray.

Though we are not quite so rigid in our expectations of prayer we do share some things in common. We have expectations of when prayers are to be said. We have the prayers we say at meal time. These prayers may go something like this: Lord, Bless this bunch, while we munch our lunch. Amen.

Or a little more serious prayer might sound like this:
Loving Father, we thank you for this food, And for all your blessings to us. Lord Jesus, come and be our guest, And take your place at this table. Holy Spirit, as this food feeds our bodies, So we pray you would nourish our souls. Amen

We also have the prayers we say before going to bed. A common one that many people learned as a child goes:
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Another bedtime prayer I found says:
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Bless this bed that I lay on. Before I lay me down to sleep, I give my soul to Christ to keep. Four corners to my bed, Four angels 'round my head, One to watch, one to pray, And two to bear my soul away. I go by sea, I go by land, The Lord made me with his right hand, If any danger come to me, Sweet Jesus Christ, deliver me. For he's the branch and I'm the flower, Pray God send me a happy hour, And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I would imagine that many of us learned to pray through the use of such models plus the prayers we heard at church. Nobody ever took us aside to explain to us the details of prayer. In fact the idea seems a little silly to us, after all prayer is talking to God, and so all we have to do is tell God what is on our minds and in our hearts.

Previously we noticed that Jesus placed more importance on prayer than that. He took time to teach His followers, religious people who had praying their entire lives, how to pray.
5 “And whenever you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they will be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their full reward! 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “When you are praying, don't say meaningless words like the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard because of their wordiness. 8 Don't be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-8; ISV)

Jesus wanted to make sure that when they prayed they connected with their Heavenly Father. So when we pray place is very important. We need to pray in a certain place that is free of distractions where we can be open and honest with God.

We also learned that prayer is not about a formula. There are no special words to use or chants to say that will get God to do our bidding. Prayer is really opening up our hearts in order to have a conversation with God: telling Him our hopes, fears, problems, concerns, joys, and success. There are no right or wrong words when it comes to prayer.

When it comes to prayer what is important is our desire to connect with God and our faith that He is there to hear us. Prayer is about connecting with God and seeking His will.

  • Point to Ponder: Prayer is about cultivating our relationship with our heavenly Father.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 6:5-8
  • Question to Consider: Are you praying out of religious obligation or a desire to connect with God?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday Video: Ask, Seek, Knock

Love Grows

"Love can never be simply between you and God. It can never be limited to that relationship. Jesus makes that clear. Love is more than the relationship between a man and a woman, no matter how extraordinary it may be. Love is ever expanding. Love always grows, not just deeper, but wider. Love always loves people more and always loves more people. Love calls us to community; love calls us to humanity; love calls us to each other." ~ Erwin McManus, Soul Cravings, Intimacy: Entry 16

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Being Intentional About Purity

Purity is not something most of us seek to have. Most people, Christian included, want to know what they can get away with or how close to the line they can be without stepping over. By doing this we have trained our hearts to desire the rotten ways of this world rather than the glorious way of God. In short we have to get serious about purity. Jesus in Matthew 5:8 tells us: “How blessed are those who are pure in heart, for it is they who will see God!” (ISV) How important is purity in your life?

Purity is not only the absence of evil in our lives, but it is also the commitment to do good with our lives. Having a desire for purity means we are committed to Jesus and that we will go wherever He leads and that we will do whatever He says. Jesus will lead us to a life of purity if we are truly following Him. If we are unwilling to follow Jesus, if we are not willing to live a life of purity, the presence of sin in our lives will eat away at our hearts.

We can hide sin from each other, at least for awhile, but we can’t keep it from corrupting our lives. Our hidden sin will bring our lives tumbling down. Like rot eating way at the inside of a tree, sin eats away at our hearts. The tree may look solid, but the wind storm will eventually reveal what has been happening. We may have a good religious exterior, but the storms of this life will eventually reveal what has been happening all along.

When we are not committed to purity put up roadblocks that hinder our spiritual growth. Instead of being able to mature in our relationship with God we find that we are constantly fighting the same battles of sin, fear, and uncertainty. Rather than experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit we continually feel weak and ineffective. Only when we decide to take a stand against sin will we be able to become the people God has created us to be.

According to Jesus the Pharisees and other religious teachers of His day were more concerned with their religious exterior than having a pure heart. This is what Jesus said to them:
27 “How terrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead people's bones and every kind of impurity. 28 In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28; ISV)

We can do all the religious deeds that we want to do but they will not matter if our hearts are not pure. Our thoughts and desires are just as important as what we do. Why? Because eventually our lives will reflect the desires of our hearts.

Purity in our hearts begins with what we think about. Jesus taught:
“It is what comes out of a person that makes a person unclean. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come, as well as sexual immorality, stealing, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, cheating, shameless lust, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness. 23 All these things come from within and make a person unclean.” (Mark 7:20-23; ISV)

How do we this? It begins by what we choose to think about. The apostle Paul tells us:
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is fair, whatever is pure, whatever is acceptable, whatever is commendable, if there is anything of excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—keep thinking about these things. 9 Likewise, keep practicing these things: what you have learned, received, heard, and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9; NLT)

Purity is something we must value. It is only through purity that we are able to experience all that God has in store for us. Purity is the result of not only avoiding evil, but also doing the right things. If we want purity in our lives it begins with thinking about the right things. This requires getting rid of the things that help us focus on the wrong and start putting into our minds the things that help us focus on the right. Purity never happens by accident; it is always the result of an intentional effort to make things clean.

  • Point to Ponder: Purity is not only the absence of evil in our lives, but it is also the commitment to do good with our lives.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 5:8
  • Question to Consider: How important is purity to you?

Friday, April 04, 2008

More Pictures

Here is the setting sun reflecting off the ice in Storm Lake.

The ice is finally beginning to melt.

Here is Barkley trying to stay warm at my parent's house.

The night lights in Storm Lake.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Foundation of Discipleship

How do you know you are a disciple of Jesus? Take a moment and think about it. If someone asked for proof that you are indeed a follower of Jesus Christ what evidence would you provide? If I may ask this in a different way: What does it mean to be a Christian? I think many Christians are frustrated because they go to church once a week, pray everyday, and even manage to read the Bible on a regular basis, but it feels like something is missing in their lives.

In the past Christianity has focused on “spiritual disciplines” to help us understand what disciples should be doing. These things include study, pray, meditation, service, fasting, fellowship, and worship. Let me be absolutely clear in this: when these disciplines are done they can play a major role in connecting us to God. The problem is that being a follower of Christ is about doing these things. All these disciplines can be done (at least faked) by people who had no faith in Jesus. When it comes to following Jesus there is one thing that is essential and that will breathe life into all the other disciplines as well, and that is faith.

Faith is not just about belief. Belief is the foundation of faith, but if all we have is faith then all we have is a stone foundation without a house. Faith must grow into trust, commitment, and action. Trust means that we will trust Jesus even though His way may not make sense to us. Commitment means that we will remain loyal no matter what happens to us. Action means that we will be obedient to what Jesus tells us to do. Only when we have faith do the spiritual disciplines of Christianity come alive and help us mature as Christians.

Jesus told the large crowds that followed Him that it was hard to be His disciple:
25 Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus. He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as his own life, he can't be my disciple. 27 Whoever doesn't carry his cross and follow me can't be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-27; ISV)

Jesus tells us here what is needed to grow belief into faith. We need to have love. Jesus says that unless we love Him above everything else in our lives we will not be able to follow Him. We may be able to go through the motions and look like we are His followers, but we won’t be the fully devoted people He demands us to be. When we are not fully devoted we will follow Him when it is convenient, but do our own thing when follow Jesus becomes to difficult.

Know that love will motivate us to behave in a certain way and will lead us to do certain things, yet it is not the outward behavior that makes us disciples, it is the love we have chosen which sets us apart as followers of Jesus. Discipleship for the Christian is about love expressing itself in faith.

If something seems to be missing in your life take an inventory of your life. What do you love the most? Are you following Jesus out of faith? I think those are two very important questions we need to consider as we seek to grow as Christians. Being a Christian is about doing the right things, but it is about living a life of love and faith.

  • Point to Ponder: Discipleship for the Christian is about love expressing itself in faith.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 14:25-27
  • Question to Consider: Are you following Jesus out of love and faith?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Living the Good Life

Each day is filled with importance. One of the ways we know that life is important is because of the different emotions we feel as we experience different events. Life is important so we throw a party to celebrate an anniversary. Life is important so we attend the wedding of a close friend, and smile as she receives the kiss from her new husband. Life is important so we spend hours preparing for the big presentation at work. Life is important so we do a victory dance when the Boston Celtics beat the Detroit Pistons. Though some of these things are more significant than others I hope you see my point. There is meaning in our everyday lives.

I believe one of the problems we have, and the reason that life often fails to live up to our expectations is that we make our lives these about these everyday events. Yet when the deal falls through, our spouse dies, and our team loses it feels like our world has come to an end. It is not possible to experience the good life through these events. Even if nothing tragic happens these things are ultimately unable to give us the purpose that we need, and in the end they themselves lose their meaning. The "good life" cannot be discovered in moving from one event to another.

These events are what I would call “life enhancers”. They have the ability to help us experience life at its best, but they are not what life is about. Using these “life enhancers” as the route to a meaningful life is impossible. It is like to trying to eat chocolate cream pie in order to have good health. It can’t be done. It may be enjoyable for a time, but sooner or later it will make us sick.

Yet we know that God wants us to have a good and abundant life. Jesus told us:
10 The thief comes only to steal, slaughter, and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:10-11; ISV)

Jesus makes the claim in this passage that he has come to give us a good life. He is able to do that because he is the good shepherd. The reason Jesus says He can give us the “good life” is because He laid down His life for us. Sin robs us of life for God has declared that the wages of sin is death. If sin = death then in order for us to have life someone would have to die in our place. To be honest with you I don’t understand how Jesus’ death takes care of my sin, but I know because of His resurrection that it does. Jesus’ death deals with our sin and His resurrection is evidence that new life flows through our veins.

If you are like me you wonder where this “good life” is at. Life is tough and tragedy always seems to be there ready to rob us of our joy. How can we experience the “good life” God has promised us through Jesus?

In this passage Jesus uses the illustration of a shepherd and his sheep. As I thought about this illustration I discovered two ways Jesus gives us the “good life”.

The first way is that Jesus guides us. Jesus leads us to green pastures and quiet waters, in short He provides for our needs. Following Jesus is more than trusting God to meet our needs. Following Jesus means to participate with Him in ministry. The life of faith enables us to give our lives away to a higher purpose as we build relationships with people and experience God’s power at work in the world. The “good life” is found when we live by faith: trusting God to provide for our needs and giving our lives away to His purpose.

The second way Jesus provides the “good life” is that he puts us in a protective pen. A shepherd puts his sheep in a pen to protect them from predators and thieves who are prowling around. Jesus gives us his commands to protect us for the pit falls and dangers of life. We want to see Jesus’ commands as restrictive, preventing us from having the “good life”, but the truth is the opposite is true. God’s commands are not restricting. They are freeing. They are designed go help us live life to the very best. This doesn’t mean we will be shielded by tragedy, but it does mean that God will protect us from being lured away by the enemy. Jesus wants us to have a full life, and His teachings protect us from the mistakes that keep our lives from being good. When we disobey God, we miss out on the full life He wants to give us.

The “good life” isn’t about a life filled with “life enhancers”, but it is about living a life following Jesus. We will be disappointed by a life filled with “life enhancers” because they are unable to add purpose to our lives. When we have purpose it makes those “life enhancers” a little bit sweeter. That is the life Jesus is offering to us.

  • Point to Ponder: Jesus’ death deals with our sin and His resurrection is evidence that new life flows through our veins.
  • Passage to Remember: John 10:10, 11
  • Question to Consider: What do you consider the good life to be?

Then No Salvation

"If, then, we are not concerned to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit and nurse the sick, and care for the refugees and prisoners; if we have no social conscience and no compassion for the deprived and the dispossessed; if we are inactive in face of the acute agonies of the world--then clearly there is no love in our hearts for the needy. But if there is no love for the needy, there is no love for Christ who identifies with the needy; if there is no love for Christ, there is no faith in Christ, since faith without love is spurious; and if there is no faith in Christ, there is no salvation." ~ John Stott, Life in Christ, p.92

Accept the Differences

Most of us understand that people are different and those differences are a good thing. The world would be a boring place if everyone beli...