Monday, June 30, 2008

A Good Environment

The Environment for Growth: Part 1

We recognize that one way an athlete gets better is through practice. In team games such as football and basketball one of the ways players get better is by attending team practices. Not only do they build a bond with their teammates through practicing together, but they are taught by coaches. The head coach and the assistant coaches help the team to come together and to learn the things they need to learn in order to be successful.

Following Jesus isn’t an individual sport. Following Jesus is a team activity. We are in this together. That means we are responsible, in a small measure, to the spiritual growth of each other. God has given us the Church to help us grow. Here is the question I want you to consider: How has the church helped you grow?

When the early church went from 120 members to over 3,000 on the day of Pentecost the apostles didn’t simply turn these new converts out into the world with their blessing. Acts 2:42 tells us:
They (the new Christians) continually devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to times of prayer. (ISV)

From this verse we notice that the apostles brought the new followers of Jesus into community. This community was devoted to things like studying the Bible, being together, remembering Jesus through Holy Communion, and prayer. The early church really fostered a since of togetherness and unity, because that is how they believed men and women were prepared to live as followers of Jesus in the world.

Simply acknowledging that Jesus is Lord and Savior is not enough to get us through life as Christians. There are so many things in the world that clamoring for out attention. Jesus told a parable that dealt with this very subject.
4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:4-8, ESV)

Later on Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked for the meaning of the parable. This is what Jesus told them.
10... “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:10b-15, ESV).

Jesus said that sometimes the gospel will be preached to people and they will receive it with joy, but because they don’t have to proper grounding, a strong root system, they will wither and die under the extreme and dry conditions of life. Other’s will receive the gospel and will allow the worries, cares, and passions of the world to overtake them and choke out the truth about Jesus. Instead of living a life for Jesus they live a life to please themselves.

What this parable tells us is that it is very important for us to have the proper foundation for life and faith, for without it we will fail. We as individuals have a responsibility to prioritize Jesus and our relationship with Him as top priority in our lives. The Church has a responsibility to provide new believers the resources, leadership, and encouragement they need to continue a life of faith through the storms and the deserts of life. One of the purposes of the Church is to help people along in their journey of faith. The Church helps us put down roots of faith that will sustain us in the difficult times.

  • Point to Ponder: God has given us the Church to help us grow.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 8:4-15
  • Question to Consider: How has the Church helped you grow?

I am on Vacation

...but there will be posts.

Today I am heading off on family vacation. My parents, brother, and I (along with my girlfriend, whom I haven't seen since April) are going to my sister's for the week. We should have lots of fun.

Even though I will be gone I will still post something everyday. I thought that was important since I am coming off a 3-week blog fast. I don't want to lose what few readers I have.

I won't be posting anything from Introduction to the Restoration Ideal this week, we will save that for when I get back. Mainly because I hope to generate some discussion with that and I would like to be around to comment.

Thanks for reading. Have a good week.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Great Purpose

Introduction to the Restoration Ideal #6

Marshall Leggett closes chapter one of his book, Introduction to the Restoration Ideal, with a series of questions:
“What can be more challenging to the young minister than the ideal that calls him to be both Biblical and undenominational in his preaching? Where can a new Christian find more motivation than in the ideal to be a Christian only? Where is there a better model for a church than to seek to restore the essential marks of the church of the New Testament? (p. 15)

I believe that in the Restoration Ideal we find a purpose for us to live. The restoration ideal has always influenced what I preach and what I write. There is something freeing about setting our sights on restoring the Church to the New Testament standard. This restoration begins with us as individuals. Leggett writes; “If you are looking for what will give meaning to your Christian service, let me introduce you to the restoration ideal” (p. 15). I hope you will continue to join me on this journey to discover the restoration ideal.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Christian Unity

Introduction to the Restoration Ideal #5

The Restoration Ideal is an attempt to establish unity in the Church. In some ways I have been very encouraged as I have surveyed the Church. Even though we see a decline of church attendance in the west, we have also noticed that the divisions seem to be less severe. Denominationalism is less of an issue than it was when the Restoration Movement began in the early 19th century. It seems that even though this movement hasn’t been very effective at times (let’s be honest there have been times when we have been the source of division), God has been working to bring about unity.

Christian unity is something that Jesus wants for His Church. Why is unity so important? Marshall Leggett on page 13 of Introduction to the Restoration Ideal wrote:
“However, even Christian unity is not an end in itself, for, like the restoration ideal, it will remain a means to the real end. Notice Jesus’ prayer. Why did He want His followers to be one? He said, ‘that they may be one...that the world may believe that thou hast sent me’ (John 17:21). The purpose of unity was that the world might believe. It was evangelism.”

The importance of Christian unity is that it is evidence for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we are united as a Church, then the message we have becomes more real and believable.

God Gives Us What We Need

Teach Us to Pray: Part 6

Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him to teach them to pray. In His teaching Jesus gave them a prayer pattern, a prayer parable, and a prayer promise (Luke 11:1-13). What we learn from these three parts of His lesson is that God is our Heavenly Father and He will give us what we need. While we might desire God to give us what we want, God, in His wisdom, gives to us exactly what we need. Consider this story:
When Jimmy was a little boy, he wanted to be a cowboy. He spent countless hours in front of the television, watching reruns of Gunsmoke and Bonanza. He just knew that someday he would live on a ranch, wear a big cowboy hat, and ride the range like all his cowboy heroes. When he was seven years old, Jimmy said, “Dad, I want to be a cowboy when I grow up. Will you help me be a cowboy?”

“Sure, son,” said his dad, smiling down on his little cowpoke.”

As the years went by, Jimmy grew into a fine young man. As you might expect, he outgrew his childhood fantasy of becoming a cowboy and turned instead to girls, sports, studying, and preparing himself for a career in the business world.

One day Jimmy went to his father again and said, “Dad, I want to go to college and get a good education. Will you help me?”

His dad said, “College? Son, you can’t go to college. When you were seven, you said you wanted to be a cowboy. So I bought you a ranch in Texas with 50 head of cattle! There’s no money for you to college. Besides, you need to take care of the ranch. It’s all yours!”

“But Dad!” said Jimmy. “I was just a child when I said that! I didn’t know then what I know now! I don’t want a ranch! I want and education!” (Still More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks, pg. 95)

One of the reasons God doesn’t answer our prayers exactly the way we desire is, like Jimmy, we don’t know enough. All we know are the circumstances happening to us right now, but God has an eternal perspective. He knows what is best for us based on eternity rather than the fleeting desire of the moment. Remember what Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 6? He said:
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 6:7-8; ISV)

We can count on God to give us what we need, for He knows what is best for us. Our prayer life will reveal what we believe about God. Is He the cosmic Santa Claus seeking to fill our wish list or is He the loving Heavenly Father who knows what is best for us? By examining our prayer life we can get an idea of what we really believe about God.

Prayer is essential to our relationship with God. That is why Jesus didn’t leave our prayer life to chance. He took the time to teach His disciples how to pray. If we will follow His teachings then our prayer life will be transformed into a dynamic part of our lives. It is time that we boldly go to God in prayer, and discover the amazing provision He has for our lives.

  • Point to Ponder: Our prayer life will reveal what we believe about God.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 6:7-8
  • Question to Consider: Why do we get frustrated when God doesn’t do what we want?
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Friday, June 27, 2008

A Prayer Promise

Teach us to Pray: Part 5

Jesus taught His disciples to pray. One thing that He wanted them to know is that prayer is addressed to our Father in Heaven. The image of God as Father reminds us that God cares about our lives. God will give us what we need. That is the point Jesus makes in this last section of His teaching on prayer.

Jesus concludes His teaching with a PRAYER PROMISE

9 So I say to you: Keep asking, and it will be given you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened for you. 10 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.

11 “What father among you, if his son asks for bread, would give him a stone, or if he asks for a fish, would give him a snake instead of the fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, would he give him a scorpion? 13 So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who keep asking him!”
(Luke 11:9-13; ISV)

When we approach God (ask, seek, and knock) He will give us the good gifts that we need. But we cannot be certain receive these gifts if we do not take the initiative and go to God.

Again Jesus offers a contrast to God to illustrate His point. Parents do their best, even though they are sinful and mess up, to give their children what they need for life. Even more than that parents love to give good gifts to their children, gifts that their children don’t need, but will brighten their lives. So if we, people who are entangled with sin, can give good gifts, who much more will God, our Heavenly Father, give us good gifts.

There is an aspect of faith that we need to consider here. Because God’s perspective is perfect on our perspective is limited then God knows what is best, when we can only guess what is best. Will we believe God gives good gifts even when the “egg” we asked for seems to be a “scorpion”? How will we react when God doesn’t heal us and give us the life we have always wanted? Will we still think God is good even though we get fired and the collection agency is threatening to take away our car and no money or job seems to be coming our way?

I know that there are times in my life when it seemed that God gave me a “scorpion” and it was only as I looked back on my life did I realize that it was really an “egg.” The example that sticks out in my mind deals with when I left my youth ministry in Stronghurst and all the circumstances which surrounded that situation. It was painful and I prayed to God to change things, to allow me to stay with the students I had worked with for five years or at the very least to give me another ministry so I could continue my work. But nothing. It was difficult and it was painful, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. Why? Because it has brought me to where I am today. It was a catalyst of change in my life. I wanted God to change my circumstances, but God wanted to change my character.

We often go to God so He can give us the life we have always wanted, but God wants to give us the life He planned for us. We want God to fulfill our dreams, but God wants to mold our character. We want God to make us happy, but God wants to make us holy. The reason why God’s gifts don’t always appear to be good at the time is because we have a different perspective.

Prayer reveals whether or not we trust God to provide for us what we need for life. The apostle Peter wrote: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:2-3; ESV). The promise of God’s Word is that He will give us everything we need for living and for serving Him. Prayer reveals whether or not we really believe God will provide the good things that we need.

  • Point to Ponder: God will give us what we need.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 11:9-13
  • Question to Consider: Why is it hard to trust God to provide for us?

A Restored Church

Introduction to the Restoration Ideal #4

The restoration ideal is to restore the modern church according to the New Testament standard. It is like taking a 200-year-old house and making the necessary adjustments to bring it up to code while staying true to the original design. You want to keep the original look while adding the modern comforts. To restore the New Testament Church means to keep the original principles, being true to the original design, while adopting modern ways of communicating and relating. In other words it isn’t about taking the church back 2,000 years, but using the 2,000-year-old design to meet modern expectations.

Marshall Leggett writes:
“Many believe that the church needs more than reformation or repair. That would be superficial. They believe it needs to return to the standard of excellence found in the New Testament church. It contained both the essential marks and the vitality to enable the church to fulfill its mission. A reformation, or repair job, would merely patch up obvious faults, and the church in our age needs more than this. It needs to be restored to what the original Builder intended. The ideal, the standard of excellence, the ultimate object of attainment, the model, can be found in the New Testament church.” (p. 12)

I think it is important to point out that in the New Testament we don’t discover one local church family that was perfect. It is obvious, just by reading many of the epistles, that the church 2,000 years ago struggled with problems. The ideal isn’t found so much in what a specific church was doing, but in the principles that the New Testament lays out for what the Church should be like. We are using the original blueprints as we do our restoration project

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Prayer Parable

Teach us to Pray: Part 4

Prayer is an important part of our relationship with God. When we pray we demonstrate what we believe about God. Do we think that He is good? Do we believe He cares about us?

Jesus, in the model prayer that He gave to His disciples, addressed God as Father. I believe Jesus did this, not only because He knew God to be His Father, but because He wants us to experience God as Father as well. Prayer opens us up to experience God as our Heavenly Father.

Jesus did not stop His teaching on prayer with a simple model of what prayer was like, but He continued on with a PRAYER PARABLE:
5 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. 6 A friend of mine on a trip has dropped in on me, and I don't have anything to serve him.’ 7 Suppose he answers from inside, ‘Stop bothering me! The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything!’ 8 I tell you, even though he doesn't want to get up and give him anything because he is his friend, he will get up and give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. (Luke 11:5-8; ISV)

This parable would have made much more sense to the original audience. We think it would be rude for a friend to show up unexpectedly in the middle of the night. But for these people night would be the ideal time to travel to escape the hot sun. And without modern communication devices it would have been impossible to keep people informed on progress.

It may also seem rude to us to wake up a friend during the night to get some necessities. This is especially true when we take into account the fact that many Palestinian families slept together in the same room on a single mat. If the father gets up to get the bread, he would naturally wake up the wife and the kids. We also have to keep in mind that in this culture hospitality was very important. A visitor was not simply hosted by a family, but by the whole community. Therefore, this neighbor would have the right to ask his friend to provide for the visitor even if the friend was a bit put out by the request. Also you have to remember that in a smaller community it would have been impossible to hide which family had done their baking for the week. (Mark Moore, The Chronological Life of Christ: From Galilee to Glory, pp. 17-18).

This is not a parable of representation. The tight-fisted neighbor does not represent God. Instead he stands in contrast to God. In other words the moral of the story is that if a tight-fisted neighbor is motivated to give by our persistence how much more will God be motivated to give to us because of love. God is not a stingy giver, but He loves and desires to give to us what we need. When we believe God is motivated by love, to give us what is best for us, then we will boldly approach God with our needs, worries, and even desires. Because we understand God loves us we will see an answer of “No” as what is best for our lives.

Hebrews 4:16 reminds us why we can approach God with confidence: Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (NET). The sacrifice of Jesus serves as evidence that God is going to do whatever it takes to bring us into relationship with Himself and thus provide for us what we need for life. We know God wants the best for us because He allowed Jesus to be mocked by sinful men, die on the cross, and take on our sins. Prayer allows us to boldly go to the throne of grace with all our concerns. It reveals whether or not we believe God has our best at heart. We pray because we believe God is good.

  • Point to Ponder: When we believe God is motivated by love, to give us what is best for us, then we will boldly approach God with our needs, worries, and even desires.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 11:5-8
  • Question to Consider: Do you think God is concerned about your life?

A Great Virtue

Introduction to the Restoration Ideal #3

The ideal of the Restoration Movement is to restore the Church of Jesus Christ to what she was intended to be as described in the New Testament. Now this is most likely an impossible task, but just as value is found in struggling against sin and the constant effort to get rid of it from our lives, there is great benefit in struggling to restore the Church. I like what Marshall Leggett wrote on page 11:
“It may be impossible to restore the church perfectly as Christ conceived it and as the apostles guided it. It may always remain in the realm of the ideal. But virtue will be found in striving for that goal or aiming for it.”

Just because something may seem like an impossible goal doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth fighting for or working towards. I think many people would see the United States, as conceived by the founders, to be an impossibility. Yet, I think there is great benefit for people to work toward that ideal of liberty and Constitutional government.

A couple of benefits I think that are found in striving for the New Testament ideal of the church are:
  1. A dedication to Scripture. Because we want to be like the New Testament Church we are constantly called back to Scripture to understand what they believed, how the lived, and how they worshipped. It bases what we do on God’s Word.
  2. It helps clarify what is important and what isn’t important. It is so easy to lose our focus, but when we have a goal that we are striving for it helps us evaluate what is essential for us to do as well as what we believe. Rather than arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin we unite on what needs to be done.

It won’t be a failure if we never see the perfect church here on earth, because we will experience the benefits if we strive for it. The journey is just as important as the destination.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Prayer Pattern

Teach us to Prayer: Part 3

Prayer is an act of faith. When we prayer demonstrate our belief that God is good. It is hard to belief that at times, but it is true regardless of our feelings. I think this is why Jesus wants us to primarily see God as our Father. Understanding that God is our loving heavenly Father will help us trust Him, even when things are going our way.

In Luke we read that the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him to teach them to pray. Jesus honors their request by giving the model to use and a teaching to remember when they prayed.

First, Jesus gives the disciples a PRAYER PATTERN.
2 So he told them, “Whenever you pray you are to say, ‘Father, may your name be kept holy. May your kingdom come. 3 Keep giving us every day our daily bread, 4 and forgive us our sins, as we forgive everyone who sins against us. And never bring us into temptation.’” (Luke 11:2-4; ISV)

This is an abbreviated version of the prayer Jesus taught earlier during the Sermon on the Mount. While there are differences we also notice that the three elements of the Sermon of the Mount model are still the foundation of this model pray: Our Praise, Our Priorities, and Our Provision.

William Barclay makes these observations about this model prayer of Jesus.
  1. It begins by calling God Father. Not only does this remind us that in prayer we are not coming to someone whom is unwilling to give us good gifts, but rather a Father who delights in supplying His children what they need. It also reminds us of key characteristics of who God is, that He is love and watches over us. In Hebrews the name means the whole character of of the person as it is revealed to us. Then name we use when coming to God in pray has the power to help us focus our hearts and minds on who He is.
  2. We must note the order of this model prayer. Before anything is asked for ourselves, God and his glory, and the reverence due to him, come first. It is after we put God in his rightful place in our hearts and orientate our lives to His will that all other things follow into their proper place.
  3. This prayer also helps us to remember that prayer should cover all life. It covers our present need, Give us each day our daily bread. It covers past sin, forgive us our sins. And it covers future trials, And do not lead us into temptation. (pp. 143-144, The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Luke)

Fundamental to this prayer pattern that Jesus gives is His example. We should strive to be like Jesus in how we live. In John 13:15 Jesus tells the Twelve; For I have given you an example - you should do just as I have done for you (NET). Not only was Jesus a man of prayer, but His prayers revealed what He believed about God. A Jew of Jesus’ day would never have addressed God as Father, though they recognized God as Father, for God was much too holy to be addressed so intimately. When Jesus addressed God as Father He reveals to us what He knows about the character of God.

Jesus prayed to His Heavenly Father, and we should prayer to our Heavenly Father. I truly believe that the more we pray to our Father in Heaven, the more real that belief is made in our lives. Not only will prayer open our eyes to what God is doing in our lives, it will also help us see God work in response to our request. Prayer will move God from being a deity in the sky to being our Heavenly Father.

  • Point to Ponder: The more we pray to our Father in Heaven, the more real that belief becomes in our lives.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 11:2-4
  • Question to Consider: Do you pray your Father in Heaven?

Slogans of the Movement

Introduction to the Restoration Ideal #2

There are three slogans (mottoes) that have defined the Restoration Movement throughout the years, especially in the early years. Marshall Leggett briefly mentions these three slogans on pages 9 and 10. They are: “Where the Scripture speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent”; “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love”; “Do Bible things in Bible ways, and call Bible things by Bible names.”

I want to briefly comment on these slogans. Each one has its strength and weakness, and divorced from the context that they were developed we may even their wisdom.

“Where the Scripture speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent”
To appreciate this slogan we have to remember the context in which the Restoration Movement got its start. One of the things that fueled the Restoration Movement was the reality of a Church that was splintered into denominations and sects, and each had its own creed or confession to determine who a “real” Christian was. I don’t know if we in contemporary America can understand the division that was a reality in that time. These men called for people to return to Scripture, rather than their creeds and confessions. The rule of our faith and our practice must be found in the Bible rather than from tradition or theology.

While I think most Christians appreciate the call to return to Scripture, the weakness is found in developing an arrogance that is akin to what the apostle Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians:
This is what I mean: Each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:12; ISV)

When this is your slogan it is easy to develop the arrogance of false of humility of following the Bible “alone”: “I am not a Calvinist; I am just a plain Bible-believing Christian” (as if Calvinist don’t believe the Bible).

If I could redo this slogan a little I would have it say: Scripture is our guide in how we live and what we believe.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love”
This is my favorite of the Restoration Movement slogans. It reminds us that there are many things in which Christians can find unity. It also helps us remember that there needs to be grace in our dealings with each other. We are not going to have the same beliefs about everything, and there needs to be room and freedom to belief differently when it comes to those things that are not clearly stated in the Bible. And of course we are reminded to love each other. Just as the apostle Peter wrote: Above all, continue to love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8; ISV).

The problem we run into with this one is that we can’t agree what are essentials and non-essentials are. It is hard to extend liberty when we believe something is an essential doctrine. That being said there is no answer I can give to that problem except that we have to be patient and loving with people, and when we have a disagreement we have to do our best to explain our position. Love is still the best way to help people to discover the truth.

“Do Bible things in Bible ways, and call Bible things by Bible names”
This is the slogan I would just like to forget. Why? Because we live in a different time and culture. We don’t worship the same way, we don’t celebrate communion the same way, and we don’t have the same problems or concerns.

We need to remember that the Bible is our source of Truth: it forms what we believe and directs what we do. Yet, one the challenges that we face is taking the ancient principles found in Scripture and applying them to our lives. We will never be consistent in doing things the way they did them in the Bible, we will always allow our culture to influence how we do them. What we need to be consistent on is making sure the Biblical principles guide how we do things.

I would redo this slogan to say: The Bible gives us with the principles that form how we live and worship.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

God is Our Father

Teach Us To Pray: Part 2

God cares for us. There are times when this seems real to us, and there are other times when we wonder if God even exists. When things are difficult and don’t go our way, it is easy to blame God, and thus we don’t see God as loving and good. When we pray we demonstrate that we believe that God is good and cares for us.

I really think that is the underlying point of Jesus’ lesson on prayer as found in Luke 11:1-13. Jesus wants His disciples to understand that what we believe about God will affect how we pray. Let’s take a look at the text:
1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he stopped, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." 2 So he said to them, "When you pray, say:

Father, may your name be honored;
may your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And do not lead us into temptation."

5 Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine has stopped here while on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7 Then he will reply from inside, 'Do not bother me. The door is already shut, and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.' 8 I tell you, even though the man inside will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of the first man's sheer persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

9 "So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:1-13; NET).

Here we find Jesus at prayer. This is a common discipline that was observed in our Lord’s life. He was a man of prayer. It was in this context that one of Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. Rabbis would often give their disciples a model prayer which they could follow. It appears that John the Baptist had provided his disciples with such a prayer, and now some of Jesus’ disciples would like Him to teach them to pray in the same way. So Jesus honors the request and teaches the disciples how they should pray.

The interesting thing that we note in this teaching is how Jesus stresses that God is our Father. This wasn’t a totally new concept for the Jews of Jesus’ day, but it wasn’t one that they emphasized. For them God is too holy and sovereign to be addressed in such a manner. That is what makes this teaching so revolutionary: God is our Father! How would that affect our prayer life if we truly believed that truth?

  • Point to Ponder: God is our Father.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 11:1-13
  • Question to Consider: Do you believe God is your Heavenly Father?

Monday, June 23, 2008

God Cares About Us

Teach Us To Pray: Part 1

Prayer is an essential ingredient to our relationship with God. If we desire a relationship with God that is both real and personal then we have to be people of prayer. Prayer isn’t about saying the right words or using the right formula to get God to move on our behalf, but prayer is about connecting with our Heavenly Father. Prayer also isn’t about giving God a to do list so we can have the type of lives we think will make us happy, but it is about orientating our lives to God and His will.

I think this quote by E. Stanely Jones a good place to start when it comes to prayer:
“Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God. Aligned to God’s redemptive will, anything, everything can happen in character, conduct, and creativeness. The whole person is heightened by that prayer contact. It that contact I find health for my body, illumination for my mind, and moral and spiritual reinforcement for my soul. (pg. 316; 1001 Great Stories and Quotes)

A healthy relationship with God requires prayer. We are moved to pray when we understand who God is and that He desires what is best for our lives. Here is a question I want you to consider: Do you trust God to do what is best for you?

It can be hard to trust God to do the right thing. The list of people who have turned their backs on our Creator because He didn’t come through the way they thought He should is a long one. Even Christian can have a hard time trusting God if He has disappointed us in the past. Perhaps you can identify with Sam. Sam is a young friend of author John Eldredge who is finishing grad school. Eldredge writes about a phone conversation the two had:
“We were chatting about all the pressures and demands that go with such a time in life (grad school)--and a new marriage added to the equation--when I asked him a question designed to change the direction of the conversation, lift his eyes to the horizon. ‘Sam, what is bringing you joy these days?’ A moment’s pause. He then began to talk about a sea kayak he was saving up for, hoped to purchase come September. ‘But I feel like God is opposed to it.” The comment struck me as odd. It felt...out of the blue. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I guess I find it hard to believe that he wants anything good for me.’” (The Way of the Wild Heart, pg. 23)

How do you feel about God? Do you think He wants good things for you? I realize that it is hard to believe that God has our best interests at heart when He fails to come through for us like we think a friend should. But remember God is more than just our friend, He is also Sovereign who knows the end of all things. He is in a much better place to understand what is best for us.

I know that it is hard to believe that when you lose a spouse to cancer, have a child who turns their back on God, when finances are always a struggle, or a job never seems to materialize. It is easy to wonder where God is in all of this.

Even when things are going well we can find ourselves unable to enjoy them because we are waiting for the other shoe to drop. While we may never vocalize it that way, there is a part of us that feels just like Sam, that it is hard for us to believe that God wants good things for us.

This is what I want you to get today’s pondering: Prayer reveals what we believe about God. If we believe that God doesn’t care about our lives or giving us good things then we will not be motivated to pray, but if we believe that God cares for us and is actively working on our behalf then we will fall on our knees and cry out to Him. Remember what the apostle Peter wrote: Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you (1 Peter 5:7, NLT). We need to have faith that God cares about us, even when it appears He is doing nothing.

  • Point to Ponder: Prayer reveals what we believe about God.
  • Passage to Remember: 1 Peter 5:7
  • Question to Consider: Do you trust God to do what is best for you?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Great Plea

Introduction to the Restoration Ideal #1

To begin his book, Introduction to the Restoration Ideal, Marshall Leggett shares the following story:
“Many years ago now, the Episcopal rector who ministered across the street from the First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio, crossed that street, visited the evening service, and responded to the invitation. Upon being immersed by P. H. Welshimer, he said, ‘Sir, you people have the greatest plea on earth. But you’re the stingiest with it.” (.9)

Leggett goes on to write; “This is the way I feel about the movement to restore the New Testament church to its pristine purity.”

I feel the same way. It could be that I am biased, having been part of the Christian Church/Church of Christ my entire life, but I do think we have a message, a plea, that needs to be heard throughout the universal church. It is a plea that calls us back to the New Testament and it is a plea that calls us to lay aside our differences and come together for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Over the next several weeks we will slowly look at sections of this book. My hope is to expose more people to the plea of the Restoration Movement, because the plea isn’t about a certain group or denomination of churches, but a plea to become the church that God wants us to be. Please join me as I ponder through the Introduction of the Restoration Ideal.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Taking A Break

To my few and loyal readers. I wanted to let you know that I am going to be taking a 3 week break from blogging. The main reason is because I have a lot of writing projects happening right now. On top of writing a sermon every week I have a three articles I am working on in and effort to get published plus I have daily morning devotions to write for two weeks of church camp, so I would like to focus on these things and not be distracted by Paul's Ponderings.

A secondary reason is that I would like focus some of my attention on this blog to the Restoration Movement. This has been on my mind for a while, but I couldn't figure out the best way to do it. What I have decided to do is to blog through the book Introduction to the Restoration Ideal by Marshall Leggett. I figure an introduction is a good place to start. During this time I will begin to familiarize with the book so I can blog about effectively.

Now you know why there won't be any up dates for a while. You can continue to visit and browse through the archives, maybe even leave a comment (I do like comments) telling me what you liked or didn't like. Even if you don't come to visit during my absence please come back and check out things when I return on Monday June 23.

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...