Tag Archives: Prayer

Behold Your God — Week Eleven, Day Five

11 Aug

We’ve talked a lot in the last few days about the unconventional ways of God’s kingdom. God often works in ways that are not according to our expectations. He often calls us to do unusual things. The easy way is often not the right way. But today’s study has a very important paragraph which I want to highlight here:

“It would be dangerous to think that just because something seems impractical or reckless it is the spiritual thing to do. Doing something reckless in Jesus’ name is not equivalent to obeying Him. Obedience, not reckless self-directed spirituality, honors God.”

Last night I was reading a little booklet called An Hour with George Mueller. Many people know George Mueller as the godly man of the 1800’s who housed thousands of orphans in England, relying on donations through prayer and faith. One of the things that struck me about Mueller’s approach was how rooted it was in the promises of God. In other words, Mueller would pray in faith based on what God had said in His Word. So the spectacular answers Mueller received were not because he was a special person but because he leaned on a God who was able to do above and beyond what we ask or imagine. Mueller would have rejected the approach of doing something radical or impractical just to avoid pragmatism. Instead, he would bank all on God. And that is what the Behold Your God study has been urging us to do from the beginning. To live our lives based on who God is, this is the path of maturity, fruitfulness and blessing, even through hardship and pain.

Behold Your God — Week Ten, Day Four

3 Aug

Today’s study deals with a subject that has long baffled me: prayer. Personal prayer is sometimes a challenge, but corporate prayer in particular has been a struggle. I identified with so much in this chapter, from the description of past prayer meetings of which I have been a part to longing for something better and more lasting. I don’t know what it will take or how it will take shape, but I pray the Lord will show us as a church how to pray together and to pray more effectively.

Behold Your God — Week Nine, Day Five

28 Jul

My favorite line in today’s study was “A devotion to tradition can be a denial of the Lordship of Christ just as much as a devotion to whatever is new and trendy.”

I have long held that the problem we often face in churches is vacillating between these two extremes. Broadly speaking, some people believe that if we just get back to the 1950’s everything will be great while others think if we just move into the 21st century all our problems would go away. “Let’s go back to the old ways of doing things because they worked before” or “Let’s do things the new way so that we can find new life and excitement.”

But I wonder if we need to define biblically what it is for something to “work”? We look at what works from more of an American CEO business paradigm than from a biblical paradigm, where the emphasis is on faithfulness rather than largeness.

The problem is most often defined like this: the church is in decline. Membership is older and is dying and young people are not coming into the church. Many people are disillusioned with the church so we must find ways to reach people. Now this is a wrong diagnosis for many reasons. First, it is based on numerical participation, a metric which is useful from an organizational perspective but almost entirely useless as a measure of whether there is anything going on that is worthwhile in the eyes of God. Second, this perspective is self-centered. We are concerned not because people are destroying their lives and headed for God’s eternal judgement, we are troubled because our pews are not filled. Third, we are looking for progress based on what we do rather than what God does. We think, it is our faithfulness to the old paths or our innovative ideas that make the difference, not the work of God. We wouldn’t say any of this but our lives speak the truth of our perspective. Seriously, could we do all we do in church without the Holy Spirit at all? I think we try. Why do I say that? Just consider for a minute how little time we spend praying together. Church staffs all over the country spend hours each week hashing through plans and ideas and three minutes praying. Rare is the church that has even one prayer meeting a week where they call on God for His working. Look at the prayer list in most churches. It will be almost entirely focused on health needs. There is nothing wrong with praying about health needs but if we have no focus on God’s work in our hearts as well as our bodies, we reveal our spiritual weakness. In fact, the desperation we have for matters of health indicts us for our lack of concern about spiritual weaknesses. Why are we not praying with equal fervor for people to be saved, for sinful strongholds to be broken, for close walks with the Lord, for rich worship, godly fellowship and service, while we also pray for health needs?

So let’s not chase traditions or trends. And let’s not sit on the sidelines criticizing churches or bemoaning the condition of the church. I’ve written a couple of articles this week along those lines but I think this should be the exception rather than the rule of our lives. There is a place for helpful critique but professional critics are rarely salt and light. So we’ve got to guard against harsh, judgmental attitudes. We need to guard against the tendency to talk more about what’s wrong with the church than about what’s right with Jesus. We’ve got to guard against the idea that we’re the only one who sees the truth (which is really just a manifestation of pride) otherwise we become insufferable to others and a poor witness to the transforming power of God.

Let’s run after Jesus. Pursue Him. Make Him your goal. Gather with a group of people who are running after Him and begin to work together to share the treasure you have found with everyone around you. Jesus is the center. If you structure everything you do around honoring Him, revealing Him, serving Him, and loving Him, you are building on a sure foundation. Tradition and trends are shifting sands. When we chase these things, we are always a day late and a dollar short. Behold your God and trust Him. Walking with Him is the way to life. Making it all about Jesus is a cheap slogan but a costly (but worthwhile) way forward in real life. So I understand in saying this that I am just saying it. The proof will be in the living. But I want to walk with Him. And I want to join with you in that walk. That is what it means to be the family of God. We’re not together because of a preference for hymns and organs. We’re not together because of a preference for gourmet coffee and skinny jeans. We’re not together because we’re all from the same generation. We’re not together because we’re all the same race or economic class. We’re not together because we’re the trendy new church plant with the catchy name and we’re not together because we’re the century old church on Main St. whose steeple is a staple of our town’s skyline. We’re not together because we all have the same story. We are a diverse group of sinners made saints by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. He is the only sure foundation and the only hope for the future of the Church.

Are You an “If” Pray-er or a “When” Pray-er?

12 Jan

I heard recently a good insight from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, in speaking about prayer in the Sermon, continually uses the word “when” in reference to prayer. He warns against self-exaltation in prayer but He assumes we will pray. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites . . .” Jesus assumes His people will pray. And most Christians assume Christians will pray. But it seems to me that often we substitute the word “if” for the word “when.” “If I have time, I will pray.” “If I feel like it, I will pray.” “If times are tough, I will pray.” Instead, the pattern of our lives ought to be “when you pray.” Prayer should be as ordinary a part of the pattern of our lives as all the other habits of life. This is convicting to me, because God promises great blessing through prayer but I am far to often an “if” Christian instead of a “when” Christian. Would our consistency and joy in prayer increase if we substituted the word “when” for the word “if”?

Bible Reading Blog — March 4, 2016

4 Mar

Today’s Readings — 1 Samuel 11-14 & Mark 11:20-33

In Mark chapter 11 we read, 20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Jesus cursed the fig tree, an acted parable to illustrate the faithlessness (and therefore fruitlessness) of Israel. Peter, remembering what Jesus had earlier done, is astounded. Jesus reveals the secrets of such power — faith and forgiveness. If you have faith in God, Jesus says, there is incredible power when you pray. The power is not in you or in your prayer but in God. If you are really leaning on God, Jesus says, God will meet you in that and bless you abundantly. But when praying, there is not only a vertical aspect but also a horizontal one. For Jesus says,”whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” There is a connection between a right relationship with God and a right relationship with people. Lack of forgiveness toward people is a blockage in our relationship with God. So we may have all kinds of faith but if we do not love others but hold bitterness against them, our prayers will be hindered.

Maybe powerlessness in prayer comes from failure to deal with the unforgiving spirit we harbor against others.

Loving God and loving people consistently go together in the teachings of Jesus. Spiritual power and relational harmony are interrelated.

Bible Reading Blog — January 9, 2016

9 Jan

Today’s Readings — BREAK & Mark 1:35-39

Today there is no Old Testament reading. These break days are worked into every month three or four times just to give you a time to relax or maybe make up some readings you’ve missed. If you are doing the reading plan I hope you will find these days are helpful. Now on to today’s reading from Mark.

Context is king. Jesus’ actions and words in Mark 1:35-39 take on a much greater meaning when they are put in the context of Mark 1:29-34. We saw there the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. We also see Jesus in demand as a healer, healing all kinds of people at sunset as they were pushing against the door of the house, clamoring to be healed.

Interestingly, in today’s passage, we see the intentionality of Jesus, the way He lived with purpose. Early on the next morning (the Greek text lays up words to emphasize how early it was) Jesus went out to a desolate place and prayed. Jesus’ devotion to prayer becomes all the more impactful as we consider the previous passage. He had just been up late the previous day healing people and had been endlessly busy. But rather than sleeping in, Jesus went to His Father in prayer. He got away from the crowds so as not to be influenced by their voice and listened instead to the voice of His Father. Jesus’ sense of dependence on His Father is made clear here.

In addition, when the disciples find Him, they tell Him that all the people are seeking Him. Of course, they are seeking Him for healing again. But Jesus gives His disciples a new direction. “Let’s go out into the surrounding towns and preach there, for this is the reason I came.” In other words, Jesus came to proclaim the message of the kingdom, not merely provide for physical needs. Jesus’ provision of physical needs was intended to be a sign of His bringing the kingdom and spiritual salvation to all who believe. This call to preach is made all the more powerful in light of the many healing acts Jesus had just performed in the previous passage. Context is king. This is one of the greatest reasons for reading through books of the Bible rather than hopping from one passage to another.

Sunday’s Sermon — Exodus 32:7-14, The Power of God-Centered Prayer

23 Oct

Have you ever had somebody ask you to pray for them? Or have you ever said to somebody who shared a problem with you, “I’ll pray for you.” And we usually just say, “Lord, bless John and help him feel better.” We may pray through the prayer list and just pray one name at a time. Or maybe we pray in a general way for revival or for God’s power to overcome sin or to serve the Lord. But so often, at least in my experience, my life in prayer seems empty. It’s either a duty to check off a list or I am wondering whether anything is really going to happen when I pray. And I am sure that while many people have personal devotions and pray for the prayer list, I am also sure that for many of us prayer is rushed and not very serious. Yet in the Bible prayer is a key element of our life with God. So how do we recapture the importance of prayer in our life with God? This passage in Exodus can help us recapture prayer as a top priority in our life. There is one secret, and only one, if we want prayer to have its rightful place. If prayer will expand in our lives with power, it must be God-centered. This is what we learn from Moses here in this passage. We are going to look very briefly at the events leading up to Moses’ prayer and then we are going to spend the rest of our time looking at Moses’ prayer. So we are going to look at the Setting of God-Centered Prayer and then we are going to look at the Substance of God-Centered Prayer and we will finish by looking at the Result of God-Centered Prayer.

 So let’s look first at . . .

The SETTING of God-Centered Prayer            (32:7-10).

7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.

God tells Moses to come off the mountain, where he had been getting instructions from God for the tabernacle. And now, in the midst of all this good news, God brings Moses bad news, “Your people have corrupted themselves.” All through Exodus, in chapter 3 and 5 and 7 and 8 and 9 and 10 and 22, God called the Israelites “my people.” But now, they are “your people” Moses. By giving the people to Moses, God is saying they don’t have any right to claim Him as their God, because they have chosen another god in the golden calf and so have corrupted themselves.

They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ”

The key word in verse 8 is the word “quickly.” Only a few days earlier they had heard God tell them, “You shall have no other gods before me.” “You shall not make for yourselves an idol.” Last week we saw that the Israelites couldn’t believe how long it was taking Moses to come off the mountain. This week we see God noting how quickly Israel had fallen into sin.

And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people.

Here the Lord uses a phrase that will be repeated often in the Bible about Israel: they are a stiff-necked people. The picture is that of a stubborn animal, an ox or horse or mule that will not wear the yoke and do the work, an animal that will not obey its master.

10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

“Let me alone . . . that I may consume them” sounds very harsh but it is actually grace cracking open the door. God tells Moses to leave Him alone but He is not closing the door to Moses praying for the people of Israel. God could have slammed the door on Israel by just punishing them. He could have destroyed them and just informed Moses later, “I had to destroy Israel because of their sin, now I am going to start over with you.” But God doesn’t do this. He tells Moses beforehand. I believe this shows us that God desired to show mercy to the Israelites. Also, the fact that  God told Moses to go down to the Israelites shows us that God wanted to Moses to be a mediator for them. Why send Moses down if God was just going to destroy the Israelites? He sent Moses because He desired to show mercy.  When God told Moses “I will make a great nation of you” this would have brought to Moses’ mind the great covenant of God with Abraham at the founding of the nation of Israel. This phrase would have pushed Moses to prayer for Israel but might also have been something of a test for Moses. He would have been the head of a new nation. He would have been able to be rid of these Israelites who had done nothing but complain and rebel all through the wilderness. He would have been the one listed along with Abraham as the founder of the new nation. But Moses resists any desire to be the head of a new nation. It is an amazing thing, the people wanted to do away with Moses more than once, even in chapter 32 they don’t know what’s happened to him. But the one they want to discard is the only one who can save them. It is no mistake that Moses is called the most humble man who ever lived.

So the setting is clear: Israel has sinned, God is ready to destroy them and start over with Moses and Moses is left in the position of deciding whether to intercede for this rebellious people. And Moses takes the humble road and intercedes for Israel. And in his intercession we learn much about how to pray for ourselves and others.

The SUBSTANCE of God-Centered Prayer               (32:11-13).

What I think is most important to see here is that Moses did not try to negotiate with God based on anything in himself or Israel. He was praying for the guilty, not the innocent. He was asking God to save the ungodly. If this is going to happen, it will have to be because of something in God, not something in ourselves. This is the substance of prayer: it must be God-centered. Much of our weakness in prayer is not because we are distracted or discouraged, it is because we are not basing our prayers on the character of God. So watch what Moses does here and let your own prayer life be transformed.

They are YOUR PEOPLE     (32:11a).

11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people,

God had said in chapter 4, “Israel is my firstborn son.” Now Moses brings God’s statement back to Him in prayer. God told Moses these are “your people” who have rebelled. But Moses turns right back in intense prayer saying, “These are your people, Lord. These Israelites are your sons and daughters, Lord. Don’t let your wrath burn hot against your kids. They are your children.” This is the first part of Moses’ God-centered intercession. The sin of the Israelites did not cause them to lose their identity as the people of God.

For us, We are GOD’S PEOPLE – We need to remember that all who have trusted in Christ are members of God’s family. It is a salvation we can’t lose. We are the people of God. When we pray, we need to remember the security we have as the children of God because of Jesus. John 10:29 “because they are my sheep, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” Romans 8:39, “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We always come to God for ourselves and others on the basis of one truth and one truth only, we are the children of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

You Have INVESTED Much in Saving Them        (32:11b)

whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?

The Lord had brought Israel up out of Egypt through the plagues and the Red Sea. He had invested much to save them. Now Moses asks God to protect His investment. God often reminded Israel that He had brought them up out of Egypt. Now Moses is reminding God of the same thing.

For us, God has invested EVEN MORE. John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God didn’t just invest powerful works or great words to save us, He gave His only Son. He sent the glory of heaven to earth to save sinners. And this saving work was not just in coming to earth but in the enduring of great suffering, even death on the cross. So we can and should go to God on the basis of the investment of Jesus Christ. We come then not only in the name of Jesus Christ but also on the basis of His finished work. You have invested so much to save your people, Lord, now come to their rescue today.

In the third element of Moses’ God-centered prayer he says . . .

Your REPUTATION is at Stake (32:12a).

12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’?

Moses appeals to God’s reputation saying that if God destroyed the Israelites it would be dishonoring to Him in the eyes of the Egyptians. They would think that rather than loving and saving Israel, that God hated Israel and had brought them out of Egypt just to kill them. So Moses is telling God that if He destroys Israel His reputation will be damaged. In appealing to His reputation Moses is really appealing to God’s heart of love for all nations. God had told Moses and Pharaoh both that the things he was doing, like the plagues, were done in part so that the Egyptians would come to know that He was the Lord.

For Us, GOD’S GLORY is at Stake.

We want to pray for people and things that will bring glory to God and result in the spread of His gospel to others. We exist for the glory of God, as we read in Romans 15:7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. So we want to pray for ourselves and others that God would do in us and through us whatever would bring Him most glory.

Fourth, Moses tells God that in saving Israel . . .

Your MERCY Can Be Upheld (13:12b).

Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people.

Moses asks Go to relent in His wrath. God’s wrath was not wrong, it was right. It was holy and just and appropriate. The Israelites, who had received all kinds of good gifts from God, were deserving of God’s punishment for their sins. They had no excuse. Moses never tried to make the case that Israel was worthy of His help. He just turned time and time again in His prayer to the character of God and to the promises of God. So he asks for mercy.

We, Too, Must ASK for Mercy.

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Titus 3:3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy

Is this mercy of God, which none of us have ever deserved and is something none of us can ever earn, something we only need once? Do we not stand in daily need of mercy? Have you ever failed to honor God in your heart? Has there ever been a day when you failed to go to God in prayer? When you went half-heartedly? Have you ever gotten angry with your spouse or children? Have you ever been bitter about another person who has mistreated you? Have you ever lied or engaged in gossip? Have you put other false gods before the true God? Have you been jealous of others? Have you been discontent with the things God has given you? Have you lusted after someone not your spouse or watched things on TV or your computer that you shouldn’t have watched? Have you ever gotten drunk? Have you ever been mad at your boss or even at church leaders because they wouldn’t do things the way you wanted to do them? Have you ever come to church looking for what is wrong rather than celebrating what is right? Have you ever cared only for yourself and not for others? So let me ask you . . . Do you need mercy? Do I need mercy? Yes. And here’s the good news. We serve a God who is rich in mercy. Go to Him in prayer, for yourself and others and depend on His merciful character to see you through.

Fifth, Moses says, deliver Israel so that . . .

Your COVENANT Can Be Maintained         (13:13).

13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ”

Moses finishes with his most powerful reason that God should answer his prayer, he quotes God’s own words. He points to God’s covenant, His promised commitment to the people of Israel. He pleads with God not to destroy Israel because to do so would be to go back on His commitment to His people. It is significant that Moses quotes God’s own words because it gives us a real insight into how to pray. If you are stuck in prayer, pray the words of Scripture.

For Us, We are Also UNDER God’s Covenant.

One of my favorite benedictions to give at the end of the service is Hebrews 13:20, Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. We remember the great words of Paul in 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” Let us pray to God on the basis of His commitment to us as His people.

Finally, we see . . .

The RESULT of God-Centered Prayer (32:14).

14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

The Lord relented from the disaster He had spoken of bringing on His people. “Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt. Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.” We deserve to be disowned. We deserve to be cut off. But God shows grace, deep, wide, rich grace.

Philip Ryken says that this story in Exodus 32 is really the story of our own salvation . . .

“God is up on His holy mountain; we are down on earth. And like the Israelites, we are floundering in the folly of our rebellion against God. Our idolatry leads to immorality. What we need is someone like Moses. We need someone to come down and intercede for us – someone who will turn away God’s wrath. The message of the gospel is that God has given us a mediator. When He saw our sin, He wanted to save us; so He sent His Son to intercede for our salvation. It is as if God said, “Go down, Jesus, go down. Go down because your people – the ones I gave you from all eternity – have become corrupt. They are living in sin. They have turned away from my law to worship other gods. And unless you intercede for them, they will surely be destroyed in my wrath.”

And Jesus did come down and save us, interceding for us by dying for us on the cross and rising again to prove the value of His death for sinners. And now Christ, ascended to heaven, continues to intercede for us. He intercedes for us not on the basis of our goodness but on the basis of His goodness. As we read in 1 John chapter 1, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now we as Christians, as followers of Jesus, pray for others as Moses prayed for Israel and as God works in us we develop the very same qualities of God we base our prayers on. We pray, “God, save your people. You have promised not to lose any of them, save your people.” And then we live with the people of God, not as Lone Ranger Christians but in a body of believers, a family of faith, sons and daughters of God. We pray, “God, you have invested so much in saving your people (the life blood of your Son in His suffering, the work of your Holy Spirit, events in our lives), now keep your people in your love.” And then we live as people who are investing much in the kingdom of God, through time in the Word and prayer, through service, through sharing the gospel, through living holy lives. We pray, “God, uphold your glory through your people. Let us live with repentant hearts. Let us not defame your name through apathy or laziness or impurity.” And then we live our lives in a 1 Corinthians 10:31 way, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” We pray for God’s mercy. Having received so much mercy we so easily squander it. It doesn’t have to be any kind of great sin. There probably aren’t many adulterers and murderers and thieves and drunks in here. But there are plenty of us with different struggles: anger, gossip, gluttony, lust, pride, apathy, fear. And we let these things rule our lives. So we need to call on God for mercy. And then, seeing how merciful God is, we extend mercy to one another. We are not quick to punish but eager to see people repent and be reconciled to God and walking with Him in a fresh way. We long to remind each other that because of Jesus God is not against us for our sins, He is for us against our sins. And we pray, “God, keep us in your care because of your faithfulness to your promises. You said, ‘He who began a good work in you will complete it.’ You yourself, Lord Jesus, prayed, ‘Sanctify them by your truth, your Word is truth.’” So Lord, on the basis of your promises, keep us in your love. And then, resting in God’s promises, we point each other to these promises and hope in God.

This morning, let the prayer of Moses become your own. I encourage you to pray these things daily. I encourage you to come to God not on the basis of your own goodness but on the basis of His goodness. I urge you this morning, if you’ve never taken that first step of trusting in Jesus, that today would be the day that you trust Him. Turn away from your sin and call on Jesus to save you, right here, right now, today. If you are holding on to a sin in your life right now, if there is an area of your life where the devil is winning a victory, call on God right now on the basis of Moses’ prayers to set you free. You may want to come up to the altar and pray. I will be glad to pray with you as well. Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save. Let’s stand together and sing #559, Rescue the Perishing.

Key Practices of the Christian Life — Practice #4 — Spiritual Fellowship

10 Sep

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  Proverbs 27:17

The old saying “no man is an island” is never truer than in the spiritual realm. If you want to grow in Christ, you really need good and godly relationships with others which spur you on to spiritual growth. The question is, how do we pursue these relationships? And if we have these relationships, how do we relate to others in a way that fosters mutual spiritual growth? 

Pursuing Spiritual Fellowship

The best way to pursue spiritual fellowship is to look for other believers who are pursuing spiritual growth in their own lives. You will be able to see this in their words and actions. One of the best places to find these people is in the local church, but you may also find a spiritual friend at work or in your neighborhood. You do not have to go to the same church as your friend in order to share spiritual fellowship with them.

 What Spiritual Fellowship Looks Like

  1. A Common and Consistent Time to Meet. If you are going to have a relationship with a person for the purpose of fostering spiritual growth, you must meet regularly. You may meet weekly for breakfast, or every other week at lunch, you may talk on the phone on Thursday evening or you may go to lunch Sunday after church. Whenever and wherever, aim and arrive.
  2. A Simple Conversation. Just talk with each other about what God is doing in your life, what you are struggling with, what God is teaching you in His Word. You may want to spend some time just reading the Bible together and sharing your insights with each other.
  3. A Shared Prayer. A time of lifting each other up in prayer can be very encouraging and meaningful.

Spiritual Fellowship can take many shapes but it is an essential part of our growth in Christ. Seek out others who can walk with you as you walk with the Lord.

Encouragement “In Every Need”

8 Jul

This is a great old song based on an old hymn. I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday’s Sermon — Philippians 1:3-8

9 Jun

Paul’s Heart and Thanksgiving for the Philippians
Philippians 1:3-8
Sunday, June 8th, 2014 Pastor Rob Kaylor

A. INTRODUCTION:
1. Last week Pastor Scott got our study in the book of Philippians started by looking at
verses one and two of chapter one. This morning we will continue with verses three
through eight of chapter one and as is quite common with Paul’s letters he begins with
an expression of thanks following his greeting. But this particular letter is different
than any of Paul’s other letters because it is the only one of Paul’s letters that
does not express criticism or rebuke, but instead it highlights his personal affection
for the church and his exhortation toward their Christian maturity. And as a result, this
letter to the Philippians overflows with Paul’s heart of affection for them. As you
read through this wonderful book, you get a glimpse of Paul wearing his heart on his
sleeve (so to speak), and unable to stop smiling as he pens every word of this remarkable
letter. So, as we examine these verses together this morning, I want to share three
things about Paul’s heart and thanksgiving towards the Philippians, but let’s first
ask God for His guidance on our time together. 

Broughton Knox, a young pastor who was serving as a chaplain in the British Navy on a
ship preparing for D-Day and the invasion of Normandy, noted that the minds of all the
sailors on board, regardless of rank, were so fixated and focused on the mission at hand.
No one thought of his own interests, but only how he could help his shipmates in their
commonly shared task. He later shared, “I remember noting in my mind how I had never
been happier,” and as they returned to England, everyone noticed a difference in the
atmosphere on the ship. It was still friendly, but several sailors sensed the difference,
and asked the young chaplain why things had changed. Knox reflects, “The answer was
quite simple. During those months that preceded and followed D-Day, our thoughts had a
minimum of self-centeredness in them. We gave ourselves to our shared activity and
objective. Once the undertaking was over we reverted to our own purposes, as we do
normally.” Broughton Knox is reflecting on his ships experience of the fellowship that
people experience in pursuing a common goal. The friendships we have and share are
wonderful things, but fellowship goes beyond friendship. Fellowship occurs when friends
are committed to a common cause or goal and flourishes through their common pursuit of
it. This the exact type of fellowship that Paul writes about here in the verses we will
look at this morning.

Join with me in reading Philippians 1:3-8
SCRIPTURE:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you
all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first
day until now. I am sure of this that he who began a good work in you will bring it to
completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all,
because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my
imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness,
how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus

B. Paul Was Thankful for their Fellowship (3-5):
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you
all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first
day until now.
1. This church in Philippi must have been some church because Paul does not write this
letter to rebuke them or correct them. Instead he just swelled up with pride as he
thought about his remembrance of them, the impact that they had on his life and their
fellowship in the Lord. Right from the beginning we see Paul’s heart for them as he
says, “I thank my God.” Paul gives thanks for his brothers and sisters who are in
Christ, who over the years had brought him so much abundant joy and blessing. The phrase
“my God” reflects Paul’s deep intimacy and communion with the Lord, to whom he
belonged and served. It was his thankfulness for them to God, emphasizing that God is the
ultimate source of all joy and that it was the Philippians relationship through Christ
that caused Paul to “thank God.”

2. It is in his remembrance that he thought of those who had helped him form the church
and progress the church. As he wrote these words, it’s as if his heart began to over
flow with joy and excitement for Lydia, the slave girl, the jailer and others who had
been such an encouragement and blessing to him. For example, one of the things that I
learned from Paul in these verses is in order to have a genuine love for others I must
not focus on their shortcomings or weaknesses. Now, this may not sound like a big deal,
but let me explain my thought. In order to have a genuine love for others we must first
look beyond their shortcomings, their past and weaknesses. I thought about 1 Corinthians
13 and the instructions that Paul gives us on how to truly love others. Paul was patient
in love and he rejoiced with them as they gave their lives to following Christ; which is
why Paul was able to have such love and joy for them because he was seeing them as Christ
saw them.

3. Paul’s joy doesn’t stop at his remembrance of them, he takes it one step farther
when he says, “always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.”
Paul remembered their encouragement, their love and support and so he prays for them with
joy! Think about that for a moment: These weren’t just occasional prayers he prayed
for them, it was always in every prayer and with joy! And I’m sure many of you can
relate to Paul in that there are people in your life that as soon as you begin to think
about them, your heart automatically begins to swell up with such love for them, that you
can’t help but start to smile as you think about them. It’s as if you have such love
for that person that you, in a sense, forget that you are praying for them. Also, Paul
was sitting in prison while he was writing this letter and it amazes me how he didn’t
allow his situation or circumstances to steal his joy has he thought about those dear to
his heart. Now for some of us, this may seem strange. How could Paul still have joy while
he was in prison? Simply put, the joy that Paul expresses and experiences is not joy in
the sense of an emotion, mood or feeling. For Paul, his joy was an attitude. Sitting in
prison and awaiting possible death would not evoke a feeling of pure joy, but, the source
of Paul’s joy was “in the Lord.” Pastor John MacArthur describes Paul’s joy this
way, “An infallible test of godly joy is the degree to which a believer prays more
earnestly for the benefit and blessing of others than his own.” In other words,
Paul’s joy wasn’t coming from his situation or paychecks, it was coming from being
united with the Lord Jesus Christ and that’s why his joy has not been robbed while in
prison and it was important for him to model this because he will command them to
follow in his example later on in the letter.

4. As Paul is sitting here writing these words, it’s no wonder that his soul erupts
with thanksgiving and joy because he then begins to remember their “partnership” with
him in sharing the gospel. Verse 5 really stood out to me this week as I was preparing
this sermon, even though I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve read the verse
before. This week there was just something completely different about it and let me
describe it this way. Depending on your translation, the word “partnership,”
“fellowship”, and “you have been my partners” is used. Now, the idea of
partnership and fellowship is somewhat different today than it was when Paul penned this
letter. For example, the word fellowship is one of those words like “love” that has
greatly lost its meaning and has been greatly watered down and no longer carries the
weight it once use to. You know what I’m talking about, how loosely do we use the word
“love” in our vocabulary every day? We say things like “I love you,” “I love
pizza”, “I love that outfit”, “I love that movie”, etc. The word has lost some
meaning over time. Well, the same is true with the word “fellowship”. Today, that
word refers to getting together and sharing a good time. Kind of like, let’s get
together over a cup of coffee or we’re having a “fellowship” dinner at church in
our “fellowship hall” after service. Now don’t misunderstand me, I love getting
together for coffee and meals, but Paul was speaking of a different type of fellowship,
one that meant the sharing of everything to really care for one another. Fellowship is
participating in something greater than the people involved and it’s more lasting than
any activity. Throughout the Bible the word “fellowship” means being caught up in a
communion created by God. That’s why our morning scripture came from Acts 4:32-37
because those verses give us a great picture of what true fellowship looks like. The
Christians in the first church gave us an example of what this unity and fellowship
should look like. Paul understood this, he probably knew that not everyone is going to
agree with each other and see eye to eye on things, but he was thankful for their unity
and fellowship to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were united by their commitment
to the truth of the gospel.

5. One of the best examples of this idea of unity and fellowship is found in J.R.R
Tolkien’s book “The Fellowship of The Ring.” The book is made up of individuals of
disparate origin and ridiculous diversity that exceed any of our social differences: four
hobbits, tiny beings with large, hairy, shoeless feet- Frodo Baggins, Merry , Sam and
Pippin; two men, warriors who are always dressed for battle- Boromir of Gondor and
Aragorn, son of Arathorn II, King of Gondor; one wizard, Gandalf the great who is full of
wisdom and supernatural power; an elf, Legolas and a short, hairy, axe-wielding dwarf,
Gimli.
These nine members of the fellowship bore few affinities. But these nine individuals were
bound together by their great mission to defeat the darkness and save Middle-Earth,
became inseparable and formed a covenant that would last all the days of their lives.
That’s why I love Tolkien’s books, “The Lord of the Rings” because we see a
fellowship that goes beyond friendship. Earlier I said that Fellowship occurs among
friends who are committed to a common cause or goal and it flourishes through their
common pursuit of it. Think about the church in Philippi, it was started by people of
different lifestyles and backgrounds, yet through Christ they came together for the
purpose and pursuit of the gospel. And this fellowship in sharing the gospel was what
Paul was thankful for. Paul will mention fellowship three time within this letter.
Pastor Kent Hughes says, “If you are looking for true fellowship, give yourself to the
gospel at home and around the world. Serve together. Do short-term missions. Join mercy
work to alleviate suffering. Take the good news to the poor. Join a band of brothers and
sisters to pray for the world. This is how you will experience genuine Christian
fellowship.”

6. I thought about our church this week as I pondered this verse and I am thankful for
the fellowship that I see within the life of our church. I’m thankful for those that
participate in the Wednesday afternoon Bible study and fellowship together. I’m
thankful for the fellowship in our Sunday school classes (and let me encourage you, if
you are not involved with a Sunday school class you are missing out!) I’m thankful for
those saints who go and fellowship with our homebound every week. I’m thankful for
those who come and help serve in our food ministry every month and help share the gospel
with our community. I’m thankful for our home groups that met this past week and for
the sweet fellowship that took place. (If you haven’t joined a home group, again I want
to encourage you to get involved with one this week.)

The second thing we see about Paul’s heart and thanksgiving is:

C. Paul Was Confident in God’s Promises (6-7):
And I am sure of this that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion
at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I
hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment
and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

1. Paul places his confidence in the God who saves, rather than in the church or man.
See, people lack perseverance. We are great at starting things but we are horrible at
actually following through and finishing them. Let me give you a couple of examples, has
anyone here ever made a New Year’s resolution? At any time did have you ever make a
commitment that you were going to exercise and diet more or you were going to read
through the entire Bible (cover to cover)? How long did it take before you threw in the
towel and gave up on your commitment? Another brief example is that I enjoy reading and
collecting books but more times than not I end up collecting books more than reading
them. See, I enjoy starting a new book but I am horrible at actually finishing the book.
I have the greatest intentions in the world to read, but for whatever reason it may never
get finished. As people we are good at starting something but never finishing it, but God
never starts anything the he does not finish!

2. Paul’s confidence was much more than mere human hope, it was the absolute confidence
that comes from knowing and believing God’s promises. Paul’s prayer for them was
based off his confidence in knowing that God is going to finish what He started in them.
As Paul is sitting in prison he is absolutely confident that the good work of their
gospel partnership was going to succeed and here are two reasons why.
1. He was thankful for the work of God’s grace in their lives and that He was going to
complete what He started.
2. Because they had a right relationship with God, their lives evidenced Christian
maturity. Paul saw this good work in their lives, but he also saw how they responded to
God working in their lives.
3. This good work that Paul mentions is the benefits of salvation. Our justification (our
righteous standing before God), our sanctification (the daily progress from the power of
sin), our glorification (the idea of an immortal, incorruptible body). It is “good”
that it corresponds to the very nature of God, who alone is good in and of himself. We
become Christians because God has begun to do a good work in us, not because we are doing
good works for God. And it is because of this confidence in God that Paul responds with
an intensely personal declaration, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all,
because I hold you in my heart.” The idea of Paul holding them in his heart means that
he was always present with them in spirit, rejoicing and agonizing over what was taking
place in their lives. In other words Paul cherished the thought of them even while he was
in prison! I heard a pastor say one time, “my experience has taught me that it is
virtually a law of spiritual relationships that you will hold very dear to your heart
those who have come to Christ under your influence or have grown and benefited from your
ministry.” Still to this day I couldn’t agree more with that statement! It is an
amazing blessing to stay in touch with those whom God has allowed me to have a spiritual
impact on their lives and seeing them serve God as young adults now! For Paul, I think of
Lydia, one of his first converts and how she had to keep coming to his mind as he wrote
this letter but also the jailer, the slave girl and the many others that Paul cherished.
The love and affection that Paul had for them went beyond sending them a cute little
Valentine’s Day card or referring to them as his BFF. He had a deep affection
that was at the very center of his being!

4. He also says they are “partakers with me of grace”. The word partaker refers
to the same word meaning fellowship and partners that Paul used in verse 5. The idea here
is “Tolkienesque” because the partakers of grace are action based like those in the
“Fellowship of the Ring.” The idea of grace here is “saving grace”. Both had been
saved by grace and both were experiencing sustaining grace in the midst of their
respective trials.

5. At the World Congress of Evangelism held in Berlin, Germany, in the fall of 1966, many
nationalities were represented, and all had their distinctive ways and appearances. There
was one pastor who was especially distinct. He was a native of central Africa, and his
face was marked by heavy cuts and had been colored in tattoo fashion by primitive dyes.
He spoke French and his tribal language. No one could mistake him. The testimony written
in his face made him one of the most striking Christians at the Congress.
This man was present one night when two Auca Indians from Ecuador were giving their
testimony. One of the Aucas had been among a troop that had killed five missionaries. The
other was a leader in the tribe. The Aucas spoke only their own dialect and were
culturally distinct from all the other delegates to the Congress, but they gave their
testimony through a translator and it was thrilling. They told how they had been held in
superstition, how they had feared the gods of the jungle, how they had marked their lives
by the great episodes of spearing brought on by warfare between the tribes. They told how
they had killed men in their ignorance and how later they had learned the gospel of
salvation from sin through the death of Jesus Christ. They told how they had believed.
Now they said they wanted to tell that good news to other tribes scattered downriver.
That was their story.
As the Aucas spoke, the African believer jumped from his seat in the back of the
1,200-seat auditorium, ran down the aisle, and threw his arms around them with tears
streaming down his face. He did it because he recognized in the experience of the Aucas
that which had taken place in himself. He saw them not as those of another culture, not
as those who spoke another language, not as those who lived four thousand miles away. He
saw them as sinners saved by grace. He knew that they were participants with him in the
matchless grace of God.

This is what must tie Christians together is the passion for the gospel, this fellowship
in the gospel! We can talk about our favorite sports teams, our latest golf game,
political views, favorite books, favorite movies and everything else, but they will not
hold us together, as it’s only the gospel-the good news of Jesus Christ-which brings
about a wonderful God-centeredness that we desire to share with others that will bind us
together.

And the third thing that we see about Paul’s heart and thanksgiving is found in verse
8:

D. Paul Had A Deep Longing For Them (8):
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

1. The last thing Paul says about the Christians in Philippi is that he longs for them
greatly! Such a statement or oath was rare in Paul’s letters, be he wanted to prove his
point of the truth of his longing and affection for them by calling God as witness
because God alone knew the contours of his inner life. This is a very vivid expression.
The literal translation is: “I yearn for you all with the bowels of Jesus Christ.”
The Greek word for bowels is splagchna. The splagchna were the upper intestines, the
heart, the liver and the lungs. These the Greeks believed to be the location of the
emotions and the affections. So Paul is saying: “I long for all of you with the
compassion of Christ Jesus.” He is saying: “I love you as Jesus loves you.” The
love which Paul feels towards his Christian friends is nothing other than the love of
Christ himself.

2. Pastor Alec Motyer says it best, “It expresses a yearning that is as much physical
as mental, a longing love which moves the whole inner being. But what a remarkable
expression Paul uses! He loves them in the inner being of Christ Jesus. Certainly
this means that he patterns his love for them on that of Christ (cf. Eph. 5:1), but the
wording demands something more than the notion of imitation. Paul is saying that he
has so advanced in union with Christ that it is as if Christ were expressing His love
through Paul. Two hearts are beating as one. Indeed one heart, the greater, has taken
over and the emotional constitution of Christ Himself has taken possession of His
servant.”

E. Conclusion
I want to conclude by saying that these verses teach us that true, biblical fellowship
between God’s people should be a fellowship of joy. Despite our inevitable sorrows,
disappointments the pain of life, believers can always be joyful! True, biblical joy is
not based on our circumstances because it is a bond that is based on fellowship with the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul’s affection for the Philippians overflowed because 
He held them in his heart
They shared in the difficulties and pain of the ministry of the gospel 
Paul truly longed for them with the affection of Christ Jesus.

How’s your joy today? Better yet, in who or what is your joy found? Is there someone
that you think of that you are thankful for their fellowship in the gospel? If you are a
Christian today, aren’t you glad that Christ who has begun a good work in you isn’t
finished with you yet?
Maybe you’re here this morning and you’re still trying to do good works to earn your
way to heaven, let me just say that no matter how hard you work or how good you try to
be, aside from trusting in Jesus Christ and calling on Him you will never have peace with
God. If you want to know more about trusting in Christ and giving your life to Him,
Pastor Scott and I are ready to talk with you today.

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