Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Glad to See You! (Praying with Confience in God part 2)

View From Grand MesaMy mother died from cancer eighteen years ago at the age of 51. I remember the last time I was with her alive. It was Mother’s Day 1992. We had driven from Kansas City back home to Pueblo, Colorado to see her and my dad. She was very sick; yellow from the jaundice because her liver and kidneys were shutting down; almost too weak to get out of bed. We sat with her, read scripture together, sang hymns, and read her Mother’s Day cards to her. She was suffering and on pain medication. But on that day she was vibrant. She was positive. She smiled and radiated the love of God to all of us in the room with her.
Thinking about her and Psalm 119:74 has me asking myself: Are other believers encouraged when they see me? Do I have a positive, vibrant testimony? Do I have the type of smile and countenance that reflects patient confidence in the Lord?
Psalm 119:73-80 reflects that kind of patient confidence in God in spite of afflictions. Yesterday I told the first reason to have confidence in God and His word:  1. My Creator a Plan for My Life (Psalm 119:73).
The second reason we can pray with confidence is:
2. My God Can Still Work Through Me (74).
74  Those who fear You will be glad when they see me, Because I have hoped in Your word.
The writer of Psalm 119 is not free from affliction, but he responds to struggles in life in such a way that the Lord is glorified, others are benefited, and he himself sees it turn out for good in his life.
A beautiful example of this truth is in Paul in Philippians 1:12-14, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
That is one of God’s purposes in comforting us through our affliction, that we could then be used by Him to comfort others. Look at the truth found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”
Part of that comfort that Paul received was the encouragement of a man named Titus, “Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,” (2 Cor. 7:6). It is good for our eyes to see someone whose life testifies that the Lord is true. The sight of a faithful person gladdens the God-fearing. Hopeful men bring gladness with them.
Are you spreading gladness where ever you go?

Monday, December 6, 2010

How Do You Pray with Confidence?

RiverboatLong ago two boys on the bank of the Mississippi River watched a mighty paddle wheeler majestically move down the river. As it drew near, one boy laid down his fishing pole and began to wave frantically and yell. The other lad laughed at the effort of his friend to get the attention of the paddle wheeler, but suddenly the giant vessel began to slow down and then turned toward the bank.

In amazement, the second boy wondered aloud how his friend could possibly flag down a massive paddle wheeler. The excited boy simply told his bewildered friend: "My father is the pilot."

As children of God we, too, can have confidence that our Father will respond to our petitions. Psalm 119:73-80 is a prayer of confidence in a good God in whom we can trust. Verses 73-75 focus on the character and works of God. They form the basis for the psalmist’s confidence for making his petitions in verses 76-80. He prays trusting in God and in God’s word. So in this section of Psalm 119 we see three reasons for confidence in God and His Word and five requests based on that confidence in God and His Word.
Reasons for Confidence in God and His Word.
1. My Creator a Plan for My Life (73).
73 Your hands have made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.
The word “hand” is the key word of this whole stanza.  In fact, each verse of the stanza begins with the Hebrew letter yod.  It corresponds to our letters “y” and “j”, but yad is also the Hebrew word for “hand.” 
Your hands have made me and fashioned me.”  Those are very personal words that are rich, not only with the creative power of God, but also in expressing God’s involvement in creating each one of us individually. 
We don’t usually think of mass-producing things with our hands.  That’s what machines are for.  Hands mould pottery.  Hands craft wood.  Hands knit and stitch and embroider.  Hands create things that involve our personal attention.  God doesn’t have literal hands—God is spirit—but God has lovingly crafted each of us the same way the potter’s hands mould a pot, the carpenter’s hands shape a block of wood, or the seamstress’ hands stitch together a lovely garment.  God is involved, He cares, He loves his handiwork.  He doesn’t just make it—any machine can do that.  No, he fashions it.  That’s an expression of intent and thoughtfulness. 
Personalize this psalm by praying, “Lord, I know you will never forget me since I am the work of your hands. I am the vessel you made—and made with purpose.  Fill me up and use me.  Teach me, give me understanding so that I may learn to obey your commandments.”
Listen, if we can be sure of God’s continued interest in us simply because of our physical creation, how much more can we be sure of his interest in us now that He has caused us to be born again by His Spirit through faith in His Son?  He sent His only Son—the ultimate price—to die that God might create us anew. 
Doesn’t that assure you that God cares about you?  If you are in Christ, you have been washed by the blood of Jesus and renewed by His indwelling Spirit.  Pray that He will continue to work in you each day, giving you understanding and giving you strength to follow God’s way.
In my next post I will tell two more reasons for confidence in prayer.
What gives you confidence to petition God in prayer?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Praying to the Good God in the Bad Times, Part 2

Balance RockI don’t know what you are facing today—maybe the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of health yourself or from someone you love. Afflictions and trials hit all of us. No one is immune from trouble, it is part of life on this sinful world. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." For the child of God, afflictions can bring us closer to God. This often happens as we pray, as we talk with God during our trials. But how do we pray?
In my last post I saw from Psalm 119:65-67 two ways to pray to the good God in the bad times:
1. Lord, You are so good, though I’m so undeserving (v. 65).
2. Lord, give me wisdom to apply Your Word in this situation (v. 66-67)
Here are two more:
3. Lord, teach me in this trial how to glorify You (v. 68-69)
68  You are good, and do good; Teach me Your statutes.
69  The proud have forged a lie against me, But I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart.
Verse 68 says God is good and does good. His actions flow out of His attributes. This is a glory-driven, Godward, God-centered prayer. The focus of my prayer in my difficulty should not be first on me, and it must not be first on what others did to me (v. 69), the focus must be first on God’s goodness and God’s glory, that God would teach me (v. 68b) and help me to obey His principles (v. 69b).
God’s goodness is His very glorious nature; compassionate, loving, gracious. The very goodness of God and His dealings is seen in the very beginning of the Bible: As God creates the world and all its creatures, He repeatedly pronounces it good, and finally very good. It is God’s very nature to be good and do good, and it should be the very nature of someone saved by His good grace to pray thankfully, “Lord, teach me in this trial how to glorify You.”
David says in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
We cannot always know why God gives certain afflictions, nor do we have to know before we can know Him to be good. But one thing we can know is that ultimately one purpose in my affliction is that God would be glorified, that His goodness should be magnified for all to see.
4. Lord, help me to delight in You and Your Word no matter what (v. 70-72)
70  Their heart is as fat as grease, But I delight in Your law.
Do I find delight in God and His word or the world and its fat? Fat may taste good, but it’s bad for our health. Spiritual fat is a flabby fatty layer of spiritual cellulite due to spiritual inactivity and lack of exercise of the heart towards God. Often, prosperous sinners, because they live in luxury where every desire is gratified, have lost all feeling for God. Whatever God needs to do to wean us off loving this world is good. So affliction in this case is a blessing:
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.
Martin Luther confessed, “I never knew the meaning of God’s word, until I came into affliction. I have always found it one of the best schoolmasters.” Affliction is not good in itself and does not usually seem good to us when we are enduring it, but it has a good purpose when God sends it, as he frequently does in the case of his cherished children.
Some of God’s purposes in afflictions:
To show Himself good through His dealings (v. 65).
To give us discernment and knowledge (v. 66).
To restore us from straying (v. 67).
To teach us how good God is (68)
To bring about wholehearted obedience in us (v. 69).
To cause delight in God and His Word (v. 70).
To cause us to learn His Word and ways (v. 71).
To make us see the priceless nature of God’s Word (v. 72).
Verse 72 says, “The law of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of coins of gold and silver.” This verse reminds me of one of my favorite hymns and the story behind it. In 1933 our nation was trying to recover from the Great Depression. Business curves were still heading downward and there was rumor of a salary cut at the New York insurance office where a twenty-two-year-old man was employed as a clerk. With his deep melodious voice, he was offered a radio contract with NBC and immediately saw opportunities for fame and possible riches in his regular appearance on the radio program.
He had been pondering the matter for several days when he sat down to the piano early one Sunday morning to rehearse a hymn he was to sing in church that morning. As he played and sang his eyes fell on a piece of paper. It was a poem by Mrs. Rhea Miller that had been placed there by his mom. As his eyes raced over the words, the lines struck his heart. His fingers unconsciously left the tune he was rehearsing and began to set this poem to music in a melody which is today known to millions. George Beverly Shea, instead of singing on the radio, devoted his life to Christian ministry travelling with Billy Graham. Maybe you’ve heard the song that was on the piano that day:
 I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand.
Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway,
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

Has this Psalm given you something to pray in your affliction?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Praying to the Good God in the Bad Times

Landscape ArchAfflictions come in all shapes and sizes. An affliction can be as small as an aggravating head cold or as large as a major illness, the loss of a job, public persecution, or rumors spread by your enemies. Or an affliction could be the sort of cosmic suffering Job experienced. Some affliction is self-induced, sometimes others bring affliction to us, sometimes affliction is just the result of living in this fallen world. One writer said that we don’t need to seek affliction because sooner or later, it will seek us. I’m sure that’s true. David writes in Psalm 34:19, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.”
Suffering, bad times, afflictions, and trials drive a true believer to his or her knees more than most other times. But when we face these tough times, how should we then pray? Psalm 119:65-72 reminds us that God is good even when times are bad.
The word “affliction” appears two times in this passage (v. 67, 71) but it’s not the theme of this section. The real focus is on the goodness of the Lord. The word “good” actually appears three times more than the word for “affliction,” a total of six times in eight verses. So both exegetically and experientially, both statistically and practically, affliction is over-powered by the Lord’s goodness.
This passage shows me at least 4 ways to pray to a good God in the bad times:
1. Lord, You are so good, though I’m so undeserving (v. 65).
65  You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.
It is always a great place to begin in prayer when we begin with the person and character of God. Notice this God-centered first line – the focus of this undeserving servant is clearly on the Lord: 4 references in 1 verse: 65 You have dealt well with Your servant, O LORD, according to Your word.
Here he begins by acknowledging what we do not always see when in difficulty, how good God is and has been to us. God has treated us so well even though we are so undeserving. We can become so focused on how we think things should be different in our life that we lose the focus of God’s goodness and we lose the perspective of who God is and who we are, undeserving servants.
God has been good to us, not because we deserve it but because He acts “according to His word.” We need to quit looking down at the dirt around us and look up and see the glorious goodness of God.
2. Lord, give me wisdom to apply Your Word in this situation (v. 66-67)
66  Teach me good judgment and knowledge, For I believe Your commandments.
67  Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
This part reminded me of James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” In that first chapter of his letter James wrote about facing various trials with joy. James says we can have joy in trials because through them God is working to bring us to maturity in Christ. So James says to pray for wisdom.
How do you pray when you are facing trials? Our typical prayer request is for God to remove the trial, but James says we should pray for wisdom to apply God’s Word in the trial. God is teaching us.
Affliction may not be our preferred method for God to teach us, but it is often the one we need. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said God whispers in our prosperity but shouts to us in out pain. Pain is often God’s megaphone to get our attention. He recognizes the fact that affliction taught him to keep God’s word. Before he was afflicted he went astray (v. 67).
How many of you have experienced that God uses affliction as an alarm clock to wake you up to your sinful condition when you stray?
In my next post I will give two more ways to pray in trials.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What will it take for us to work together as Christians?

Battle of QuebecWhen the British and French were fighting in Canada in Octorber of 1690, Sir William Phips of Massachusetts, commander of the British fleet, was to anchor outside Quebec. He was to wait for the British land forces to arrive, and then support them when they attacked the city. Contrary to the plan Phipps’ navy arrived early. As Phips waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral, so he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked out, but when the land forces arrived and the signal was given to attack, the fleet was of no help. They had used up most of the ammunition shooting at the "saints." (Daily Bread, October 6).
Are we ever guilty of “shooting the saints?” Do become critical when another Christian church or group outside of ours expresses the truth we are teaching about Jesus in a different fashion, with a different style of music, or form of worship, or style of preaching or teaching, or a different emphasis in the community?
In my last two posts I looked at Luke 9:49-50 to see what it teaches us about people who serve Jesus who are not a part of my group. The passage reads:
49  Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us."
50  But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side."
So what is the point of Jesus’ lesson here? Jesus has a variety of servants. Those who are living and working in the name of Christ (by His authority) are not to be forbidden, even if they are unknown to us.
The twelve were not the only faithful disciples of Jesus! In addition to the apostles, many who heard Him were receptive, noble listeners.  "The multitudes pressed about Him to hear the word of God," and in the response of some to Him, Jesus "saw their faith," (Luke 5:1,20). "And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John," (Luke 7:29). The notion that the apostles were the only faithful disciples is not only assumption; it is error. Those "with'' Him were not the only faithful disciples. This unidentified man, based on every indication we have, was a faithful disciple of Christ, though he was not in the company of the apostles.
It’s so easy for us to criticize or minimize other Christians because they are “not one of us.” We can be guilty of the same spiritual bigotry that infected John.
When we look at v. 50 and its parallels, it brings up an interesting dilemma. Compare the following verses:
    *    “For who is not against us, is for us (Mk 9:40 NASB)
    *    "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you." (Lk 9:50 NASB)
    *    "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” (Lk 11:23a)
    *    "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” (Mt 12:30a)
Which is it? Are they for us or against us? These statements of Jesus almost seem to contradict one another don’t they? I believe the resolution is to notice that the first two are concerned with "us," or “you,” while the second two are concerned with "me," in other words, Jesus himself. The conclusion I draw is this: Being with or against Jesus is not always the same as being with or against us. Just because another Christian is different from me does not mean that they do not belong to Jesus.
The key to this lesson is that John pointed out this stranger was casting out demons in the name of Jesus.
I realize some people and groups use the name of Jesus in a way that is not legitimate. Not everyone who claims the name of Jesus really honors who Jesus is. What a group believes about Jesus is absolutely essential for us to cooperate and fellowship with them, that’s what it means to honor the name of Jesus. I’m not advocating some kind of universalism that says any religion is okay. There is only one way to God and that is through Jesus—and Jesus alone. Jesus is not just one of the ways to God. He is not even the best way to God: He is the only way!
But within those parameters we need to be inclusive. We need to realize those who don’t do it the way we do it are our friends, if they honor the same Jesus we honor. In fact they are more than our friends—they are our brothers and sisters!
Did you know in heaven, God is not going to corral us into different areas? St. Peter is not going to have a loudspeaker saying, “Okay, let’s have all the Catholics over here, Baptists in this area, Methodists over here, Church of God folks in this corral, Church of Christ folks, to that side … ”
Did you notice how these this lesson is connected to Jesus’ lesson about greatness and welcoming the child in His name (Luke 9:46-48)? When you become like a humble little child, you will be less exclusive of others. Long before blacks and whites started getting together in the South as friends, little black kids and little white kids played together without any qualms. It was only as they grew up they learned blacks and whites didn’t socialize. I think they had it right as children, don’t you?
Think about the attitudes of little children. They get out on the playground and have such fun with each other. They don’t ask each other which country club their parents belong to. They don’t inquire about where their parents graduated from college, or where they work, or how much money they have. They don’t ask what denomination they are. They just play together. That’s the kind of childlike spirit Jesus was talking about.
What will it take for us to work together as Christians?

Monday, November 15, 2010

How do I tell if someone is truly acting Jesus name?

Jesus' NameIn my last post I looked at Luke 9:49-50 to see what it teaches us about people who serve Jesus who are not a part of my group. The passage reads:
49  Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us."
50  But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side."
From this I concluded that Jesus has a variety of servants and many of them do not belong to my group. In the scripture story John’s complaint against this unknown exorcist is that "he does not follow with us." They knew the man was acting in Jesus' name. In fact John says to Jesus, “we saw someone casting out demons in Your name.” The problem was that he didn't belong to their group. He’s not in the “in-crowd” so he is an “outsider,” not one of the gang. We don’t know him, he isn’t one of us.
So the work of God gets shut down. Jesus, who has been breaking boundaries all over the place so that people could be free, now confronts His closest disciples who are, instead of following Jesus’ example and breaking down boundaries, are actually putting up new boundaries; finding new ways to keep people out, and restrict the Kingdom of God.
Now we do need to be careful in this area because not everyone who uses the name of Jesus has Jesus’ authority or His Spirit. There are a lot of things that have been done in Jesus’ name that He has nothing to do with. Think about the abuses of Jim Jones, David Koresh...and many others who have used the name of Jesus to lead people astray.
Also think of some of the actions of churches and church people. Not all church splits, policies, attitudes, or spirits glorify God. In these cases Jesus’ name is used, but He is not authorizing or empowering what they are doing.
Take for instance the interesting account of the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19. They were going around trying to invoke the name of Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." (Acts 19:13 NIV). One day these guys tried this, And the evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’” (Acts 19:15 NKJV). And Luke tells us the result of that encounter was, “Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” (Acts 19:16).
Another reason to be careful about how we apply these words of Jesus is that in our day many have made an idol out of tolerance. If we as Christians or as a church dare to confront false teaching or immorality in our midst we can be accused of being “intolerant.”
Here's the kind of argument you might hear: "The Lord said: 'Do not forbid him.' therefore, even though someone may not be with us; even if they happen to be teaching some things that are wrong; even though they approve of immoral practices, so long as they are not against us, and so long as they ascribe the name of Christ to their work, we should not forbid or criticize them.” This is the "practical lesson" some have derived from this text.
But John didn't say this man was guilty of some wrong. He didn't say the unidentified man was teaching false doctrine. The only thing John said was, "he does not follow with us!"
And consider what Jesus says about the man. Jesus said of this man, he is "not against us." In Mark's account, Jesus said of this man, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me," (Mark 9:39). It is clear, this man was not a false teacher! Had this he been a false teacher, what do you think Jesus would have said about him? Likely, as Jesus did with the scribes and Pharisees, He probably would have called him a "ravenous wolf," and compared him to a bad tree that bears bad fruit; a tree worthy of being "cut down and thrown into the fire," (see Matt. 7:15-20).
So, whatever this passage means, we can be certain it doesn't mean we must refrain from exposing false teachers and immoral practices. The text affords no ground for that whatever. Gospel preachers are to charge false teachers ''that they teach no other doctrine," (1 Tim. 1:3). Our duty is to "rebuke" and "exhort," (2 Tim. 4:2). Jesus never endorsed tolerance of anything morally or doctrinally wrong.
In my next post I will discuss more how to tell if someone is truly acting in Jesus’ name.
What other dangers do you see from people who claim to be doing things in Jesus’ name?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How do I interact with followers of Jesus who are not like me?

churchHow do I interact with followers of Jesus who are not like me? What if they being to a different group? What if their worship style is different than ours? What if they spread the gospel using a different method than my church? What if they have a different emphasis in the community?
Here is a truth I learned from Luke 9:49-50: Jesus has many servants and most do not look like me.
49  Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us."
50  But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side."
What is Jesus teaching us here? The context is always important. What had been going on before John made this statement? Did he just make this remark "out of the blue?" No. John's statement is connected to what had been just going on. John and the other disciples had been fussing among themselves about who was the greatest (see: Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37). John says this in answer to what Jesus had just said in verse 48: "Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great."
Don’t you see two great ironies in this statement of John? First, Jesus had just told His disciples about receiving, or welcoming, the child in His name and that by welcoming someone in Jesus’ name they would be welcoming Jesus and His Father. Now the disciples are doing the opposite of that. Instead of receiving and welcoming, they are forbidding and excluding.
Another irony is that this unnamed man is casting out demons in Jesus' name -- something that earlier in this chapter, the disciples were unable to do. This man was not part of their group, but he was out there doing ministry, casting out demons, apparently successfully. So John tells Jesus, “we forbade him because he does not follow with us.”
One day a lady criticized D. L. Moody for his methods of evangelism in attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody's reply was "I agree with you. I don't like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?" The lady replied, "I don't do it." Moody retorted, "Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."
John probably expected Jesus to commend him for his action, but instead, Jesus uses it to teach a lesson. Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” It’s like Jesus is saying, “I like the way he’s doing it better than how you’re not doing it.”
Jesus has a variety of servants and most do not serve in the same way as me.