The “Impossible” that Really is IMPOSSIBLE!

prayer closetNormally when Christians with a positive orientation, or word of faith background, think of the impossible being possible they do so in light of what Jesus said.   Mar 9:23 And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”  Jesus further states that God makes impossible things possible.  Mat 19:26 …Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. 

There is another form of the impossible however, that many Christians try to do daily, that really is impossible! They try to live the Christian life apart from Christ.  They try to live as a Christian without daily interaction (abiding) with Jesus.  Jesus said this was impossible!  John 15:1-6  “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 

The word “abide” means “to continue, dwell, or linger.”  It has to do with an ongoing interaction with Jesus.  In the context of John 15 Jesus  equates “abiding,” with prayer, which is communication with God.   John 15:7-8  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  (8)  “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

What Jesus said is very true, but unintentionally Christians can try to prove Him wrong every day, “apart from Me you can do nothing.”  IT ISN’T WISE TO TRY TO PROVE JESUS WRONG!

Trying to do the will of God in any area of life apart from an ongoing relationship with Jesus (rooted in prayer) is impossible!  It is similar to trying to be justified under OT law apart from the work of Christ.   It is impossible to obey all the commands and be justified by our own efforts, Gal 2:16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus,…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.  

When I attempt to offer help to Christians who are struggling in various areas I often ask the most important question, “how is your prayer life with God?  Are you consistently abiding with Christ in prayer?”  Usually the look of shame comes on them because they are not.  I know at that point that any advice I give will do little good because what Jesus said is true, “apart from Me you can do nothing!”  Yet if they are walking with Jesus in prayer Godly advice will tend to work.

 Three things prayer brings to our life

We must understand that prayer has a much broader effect than simply coming toprayer closet 1 God and asking Him for things.  Scripture speaks of three broad roles that prayer plays in our lives that are critical to living for God.

1. Prayer first affects our inner life, attitude, and outlook.  Through prayer, we become more Christ-like and we become more inclined to do God’s will.  Our attitude and outlook is affected by prayer, thanksgiving, and reflection.  As we come under the force of His gaze (sight) we become softened towards repentance in the things that are hindering the will of God working in us.  We are also stimulated to do the things of God that may be dormant in our life at that time.  Truly He works in us what is pleasing in His sight.  Heb 13:20-22…, even Jesus our Lord,  21  equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

2. Prayer affects our revelation and understanding. By praying and seeking for God’s direction, we allow Him to influence our thinking and it sharpens our grasp of His will.   As this happens we are better able to determine the best of His direction, dreams, and goals for our life.

3. Prayer intertwines us with God’s heart and has an influence on God and His will being done.  The Bible never implies that we can manipulate God through prayer. But it does emphasize that God purposely chooses to connect much of what He does through what we pray for.  Our hearts also become intertwined with His causing us to progressively live more for “His sake” nor ours.

These first two roles have to do with prayer’s effect upon us and the third is its effect on God and His will being done.  All three of these roles are intertwined together.    This third role cannot function effectively without the first two. Our single greatest need as Christians is to stay in a daily relationship with Christ where He can encourage, equip and guide us as we participate in effecting His will being done.  Prayer clearly nurtures our relationship with Him in the three roles of prayer.

Through prayer there is an important sense of partnership and co labor (abiding in Him and Him in us) with Christ in what He is doing.    James Stewart said, “To the man who prays habitually (not only when he feels like it — that is one of the snares of religion — but also when he does not feel like it) Christ is sure to make Himself real.”  The main mystery we need to embrace about prayer is this, Do it! Do it! Do IT!   

 

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Building Healthy Churches and the Corresponding Effect on Legacy

Listening to Young AtheistGod has instilled among us many core truths we are pursuing together.  I want to highlight two of them and show their interaction with each other,  reinforced by recent research.  The two truths are the importance of building strong local churches and an emphasis on legacy (imparting into the coming generations).

One of the oldest magazines published in America, The Atlantic (founded in 1857 as a literary and cultural commentary magazine) recently featured an article containing research that shows an effect of local churches on whether or not children grow up to become atheist.  The article’s title “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity” is very revealing.  It contains research from a study about militant atheist’s journey toward unbelief.  I encourage everyone to read the article at http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/listening-to-young-atheists-lessons-for-a-stronger-christianity/276584/

The author, Larry Taunton, and his Christian organization launched at nationwide campaign to interview college students who are members of Secular Student Alliances (SSA) or Free thought Societies (FS). These college groups are the atheist equivalents to campus Christian organizations and they meet regularly for fellowship, encouraging one another in their (un)belief, and even proselytizing to atheism. They are people who are not merely irreligious; they are actively, determinedly irreligious.  What Taunton and his team discovered revealed the effect of local church experience on legacy.

 The research found a common profile of college atheist

AtheistThey had attended church.  Most of the participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity. Many had previous involvement in church during their formative years.

The mission and message of their churches was vague.  These students heard plenty of messages encouraging “social justice, community involvement, and being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.   Stephanie, a student at Northwestern said “The connection between Jesus and a person’s life was not clear.” This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. They heard this idea over and over.

They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions.  Many had gone to church hoping to find answers to challenging questions like evolution vs creation, sexuality, the reliability of the Bible, Jesus as the only way etc. Others hoped to find answers to questions of personal significance, purpose, and ethics. Serious-minded, they often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. As Ben, an engineering major at the University of Texas, so bluntly put it: “I really started to get bored with church.”

They expressed their respect for those ministers and others who took the Bible seriously.  Without fail, our former church-attending students expressed similar feelings for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told them that he is drawn to Christians like who have convictions, adding: “I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.” As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual as you might think.  Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian said, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…. How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

Ages 14-17 were decisive.  For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief.

Their decision to embrace unbelief was an emotional one.   It wasn’t just rational decisions but often emotional ones as they encountered difficult life and family circumstances, like abusive parents etc.

The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism.  There were many vague references to YouTube and other videos, not specific instruction or teaching on atheism. Lack of firm convictions by churches and mishandling of church problems also were a factor.  One college student, Phil reported, “Church became all about ceremony, handholding, and kumbaya,” Phil said with a look of disgust. “I missed my old youth pastor. He actually knew the Bible.”  His youth pastor was replaced by a hipper youth leader who could attract more youth with fun and games and a cooler approach.   

Overall the longing for authenticity was there but they didn’t find it in churches.  The students were, above all else, idealists who longed for authenticity, and having failed to find it in their churches, they settled for a non-belief that, while less grand in its promises, felt more genuine and attainable. One student Michael said,  “Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.”  Authenticity/sincerity was seen as indispensable.

This should be fuel to the fire of what God has called us to pursue together.  The way we serve Christ, build the church, and deposit in the next generation is critical and interconnected.  Please read the article.

 

 

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