God’s Bigger Purpose for Prayer

A godly man is a praying man. As soon as grace is poured in, prayer is poured out. Prayer is the soul’s traffic with Heaven; God comes down to us by His Spirit, and we go up to Him by prayer.” Watson

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1, Matthew 6:5-13) He used the phrase “when you pray” over and over.  Matthew 6:5-7 “When you pray...(6) “But you, when you pray…”And when you are praying.  He didn’t say IF you pray but WHEN you pray.  Prayer is to be a normal part of our life so much so that Paul said we are to never stop praying 1Th 5:17 pray without ceasing.  

Prayer is our ongoing means of encountering and communicating with God.  It is like oxygen to our inner man.  It is the continual breathing in of the life of the Living God. 

When Jesus was teaching His disciples on prayer the first order of business was the glory of God and His purposes being done “on earth as it is in heaven.” This was before specific daily needs and guidance.  The focus is on God’s greatness and His will.  It is the continual reminder that He is God and we are not.

A story that highlights this important truth 

The priority of God and His will is in contrast to the way many Christians learn to pray.  Their individual needs, will, and desires are often first and foremost. Here is a story that illustrates this.  Suppose there is life on another planet and the aliens found out that there are people on earth called Christians who have found the God of all creation.  If He is the God of all creation then our alien friends obviously want to find out what this God is all about.

They decided to send an envoy to observe Christians in both their habits and their interactions with God (prayer).  He was invisible so he was able to get an accurate account as he observed.  He watched and listened in on their communication with God.  He listened to their personal prayers.  Some hardly prayed at all while others prayed a little more frequently.  He also attended several varieties of Christians meeting together.  Most of the meetings had “prayer request times” or points in the gatherings where they prayed for each other.

Most of what he heard went something like this.

Pray for my second cousin Bill, he lost his dog and is heartbroken.  Pray that he will be comforted and find his dog.  Pray for me that I have the will power to lose some of those winter pounds so I can fit into my bathing suit for the cruise God helped me win in the drawing at work.  Pray that God would get the devil off my back, he has really been harassing me.  Pray that my daughter does well with her grades so she can get that scholarship to the school she really wants to attend.   Pray that my uncle Bob will feel better.  Pray that I find my favorite shoes I misplaced so I have something to match my new outfit.  I am feeling a little nervous about the challenges of the new job.  Pray that my cranky boss will either change his attitude about me or be removed and cause me to get a better boss.  How about making me the boss.

As the envoy not only observed the way Christians lived but listened to their prayers He was able to quickly determine what this Christian God is about.  He reported to those who sent him, “Christianity is all about the Christian God following His people around to be at their beckoned call.  He exists to give them the kind of life they want (fulfillment and personal happiness). He is always there to remove all obstacles to their happiness and make them feel better about their life and future.  The sum total of His existence is to serve them.  The response of the officials who sent him was both chilling and revealing,  “THIS DOESN’T SOUND LIKE MUCH OF A GOD TO ME.  IT SOUNDS LIKE THE PEOPLE ARE IN CHARGE AND GOD IS THEIR SERVANT ”

Spurgeon, “We should pray when we are in a praying mood, for it would be sinful to neglect so fair an opportunity. We should pray when we are not in a praying mood, for it would be dangerous to remain in so unhealthy a condition.”  

Three things prayer brings to our life

We must understand that prayer has a much broader effect than simply coming to 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 as we come under the force of His gaze.  Through prayer, we become more Christ-like and we become more inclined to do God’s will.  As we come under the force of His gaze (sight) we become softened towards repentance in the things that are hindering Him working in us.  We are also stimulated to do the things of God that may be dormant in our lives.  Through prayer, 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.
  2. Prayer affects our revelation and understanding. By praying and seeking God He is able to influence our thinking and sharpen our grasp of His will.  “In His light, we see light” (Ps 36:9).
  3. Prayer intertwines us with God’s heart and we are influenced to live for His will.  The Bible never implies that we can manipulate God through prayer. It does emphasize that God purposely chooses to connect much of what He does with prayer. Our hearts also become intertwined with His causing us to progressively live more for “His sake” nor ours.

Through prayer, there is an important sense of partnership and co-labor with Christ in what He is doing.

If you want help in having a more Christ-centered and less self-centered prayer life here is a resource you can download called “The Theology of Apostolic Prayer.”  It lays out the understanding of praying for God’s will then gives us examples as a guide to every prayer in the New Testament that the writers prayed.  This will help get us on track in co-laboring with God according to His will in prayer.

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Keeping Alert in Relating with God

alert-prayerThe things that often cause God’s people to avoid or quit praying is dullness, sluggishness, and drowsiness. There is a great need for alertness in prayer.  Paul says we can do this with “thanksgiving,” and in the Bible, thanksgiving is often associated with shouting.

Shouting is an act God prescribes over and over in His word.  It is something often forgotten or undiscovered in many circles. Many Christians don’t realize how often it is mentioned in the Bible.  Shouting and lifting our voice is by far the most prescribed expression towards God.  Shouting, lifting our voice, crying aloud is mentioned 265 times in the Bible.

Psalms 95:1-2 O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.  (2)  Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

This is in contrast to only about 11 times “silence” is mentioned (most of which are about meditating on things).  Only 3 mentions of silence are in terms of direct interaction with God.  These statistics are amazing when you see them in light of the other physical expressions God encourages His people to express in response to Him.

  • Shouting, lifting our voice, crying aloud 265 times
  • Playing music and instruments 58 times
  • Singing 29 times
  • Lifting our hands 14 times
  • Clapping our hands12 times
  • Bowing or kneeling 12 times
  • Dancing 9 times
  • Standing 7 times.

“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.” Harry Ironside

According to the Bible, shouting can break the power of fear, doubt, heaviness, barrenness, sluggishness, and grief. Circumstances and/or the devil often turn up the volume of the difficulty and hopelessness in our minds.  We must not be buried under these attacks but retaliate by lifting our voices in high praise.

Shouting and lifting voices are usually associated with Pentecostal or Charismatic tradition, but according to the Bible, it is associated with the Spirit’s activity in reminding us of our adoption by Christ.  The only two verses that speak about the Spirit reminding us we are adopted through Jesus are associated with shouting.

  • Rom 8:11-16...15  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a Spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out (to croak or scream, call aloud, shriek, cry out), “Abba! Father!”  16  The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,
  • Gal 4:6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying (to croak or scream, call aloud, shriek, cry out), “Abba! Father

When the enemy comes to lie to us about God’s love and Fatherhood towards us we need to let the Spirit “cry out” through our lips with thanksgiving.

My wife has taught grammar for many years.  Exclamation marks should be used only when conveying extreme emotions or important points.  She says that they are way over used in emails and texts. Often it is used to try to get people to pay attention, but they were intended, according to the dictionary, “to indicate strong feelings or high volume (shouting), and often marks the end of a sentence.”  In the Bible, exclamation marks appear over and over, especially in the Psalms.  The reason, to elicit strong emotions.  I like how the Message Bible portrays these truths.

  •  Ps 47:1″Shout God-songs at the top of your lungs!”
  • Ps 95:1 “Come, let’s shout praises to God, raise the roof for the Rock who saved us! Let’s march into his presence singing praises, lifting the rafters with our hymns!”
  • Ps 98:4 “Shout your praises to God, everybody! Let loose and sing! Strike up the band!”

3 reasons shouting can help us in prayer and worship.

  1. Shouting awakens us to God’s great power and authority. Many times the voice of the enemy and our own doubts and fears have turned up the volume in our mind and emotions. Shouting turns up the God volume.  It can break off the power of fear, heaviness, and doubt.  Sometimes we need more than just silent prayers, we need to shout.
  2. Shouting is a means to break us out of barrenness into fruitfulness.  Isaiah 54:1-3 (Gal 4:27) Rejoice, O unfruitful one that never bore; break out a song and shout… For more are the sons of the desolate than the sons of the married woman…(2)  Make the place of your tent larger and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings. Do not spare, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes;  (3)  for you shall break out on the right hand and on the left. 
  3. Shouting can release victory. The story of the walls of Jericho is a good example.  God used the shout to bring them down (Josh 6:20).  God released a great earthquake through Paul and Silas’ late night praise that set them free from their chains and began a move of God that resulted in the planting of the church in Philippi (Acts 16:22-26).

Self-dignity and Self-consciousness leads to Spiritual Barrenness

Christians are often too embarrassed to lift their voice and shout. Some think it is embarrassing to be around others who do.  Unfortunately, this was the same attitude Michal had towards David when he danced, sang, and shouted wildly when bringing God’s presence (the Ark of the Covenant) back to Jerusalem.  Scripture reveals the results; David was fruitful while Michal was barren for the rest of her life (2 Samuel 6:14-23 ).   

Some mistakenly think that shouting is a cultural or personal preference.  It is a Biblical preference!  Shouting is encouraged twice as many times as all other expressions combined, and over 4 times as much as the second most frequently mentioned expression (playing musical instruments mentioned 59 times).  Shouting is encouraged over 9 times as much as the third most frequently mentioned expression (singing mentioned 28 times).

Shouting saints are more like David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and many others, including those right now around the throne in heaven than those who choose the self-dignity route.  David was a shouter and even shouted while alone in his tent Ps 27:6 “I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy.”  We can do the same.

If you are dull, drowsy, sluggish, spiritually barren, or full of doubt and fear, don’t let it drive you from the place of prayer; shout your way past them into God’s presence Ps 47:1 Shout unto God with the voice of triumph.   

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Online Comparisons

“I I was shocked to hear they had separated!  All the way up until the time I found out her Facebook page indicated that they had a wonderful life, marriage, and family.  How could she publically put out that appearance when it wasn’t what was really going on?”  With bewilderment, she was referring to a college friend who lived in another city that she was close to and a godparent of one of her children.

Hungarian Proverb “If you keep wanting to be someone else who will be you?”

 

In our day and age, an online presence can become more influential than our real presence.  It is our current cultural platform through which we communicate.   It has spawned worldwide communication and opened great possibilities to share your life worldwide.  Like any other thing, it can be good or bad.  For God’s people, the good thing is to stay in touch with friends and highlight the good things God is doing in your life.

Unfortunately, It can also be a means of portraying a false online life that isn’t rooted in reality.  I have heard it referred to as people becoming curators of the display of self.  It can also provoke people to comparisons that can lead to something very harmful to all of us, jealousy and envy.

  • “Look at where they got to go on vacation…we have never gone to a place like that.  How do they do it?”
  • “Look at how nice their new house is…How did they manage that?”
  •  “Their kids seem to have no problems.  They are so cute, happy, and obedient.  What’s wrong with mine?”

It can even carry over into our life in Christ.

  • “We had 15 people baptized in the past 2 weeks.”
  • “I had 3 international trips in the past 3 months and am reaching the ends of the earth”
  • “I am preaching to the Alive Conference tonight with 6000 people; please pray for this humble servant of God (of course posted with pictures of the amazing meeting).
  • “Our new building is advancing rapidly and the money is pouring in.”
  • “I was asked to speak at the …(famous, big, and slick)… conference. Hope to see you there!”

Google the phrase “Facebook envy” and you will get 24,000,000 hits.  Google the phrase “Facebook depression” and you will get 91,900,000 hits.  These are growing trends.

Paul speaks of the danger of comparisons.

2 Corinthians 10:12-13  For we will not make comparison of ourselves with some of those who say good things about themselves: but these, measuring themselves by themselves, and making a comparison of themselves with themselves, are not wise.  (13)  We will not give glory to ourselves in over-great measure, but after the measure of the rule which God has given us, a measure which comes even to you.

When we start the comparison game we automatically fall into the trap of pursuing the wrong kind of glory.  We pursue a glory (even God’s glory) to give validation to ourselves.  The great problem for followers of Jesus is that it is validation from sources other than God.   Paul speaks of this as well.

Galatians 1:10-11 GNB  Does this sound as if I am trying to win human approval? No indeed! What I want is God’s approval! Am I trying to be popular with people? If I were still trying to do so, I would not be a servant of Christ.  (11)  Let me tell you, my friends, that the gospel I preach is not of human origin.

1 Thessalonians 2:4 GNB  Instead, we always speak as God wants us to, because he has judged us worthy to be entrusted with the Good News. We do not try to please people, but to please God, who tests our motives.

Ephesians 6:6-7  Do this not only when they are watching you, because you want to gain their approval; but with all your heart do what God wants, as slaves of Christ.  (7)  Do your work as slaves cheerfully, as though you served the Lord, and not merely human beings.

Glory Hounds

C.S.Lewis Mere Christianity “Pride is essentially competitive…Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more if it than the next man.  We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good looking, but they are not.  They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.”   

Constant comparison is fueled by one thing, pride.  It can be toxic spiritually because it has cousins called jealousy and envy that will always move in to stay.  When we constantly compare ourselves it becomes about our glory rather than His.  Even when Peter admonishes us to use our unique gifts that aim was “His glory” not ours.

1 Pet 4:10-11 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 

Three important things from Peter that helps avoid comparisons.

  • We all have gifts and value. Everyone is special and needful in God’s economy.
  • The purpose of these gifts is to serve His body so she reveals His glory (Eph 1:22-23 3:10-11). Gifts are not about boosting our ego.  We are to use our unique giftings and wiring so the church can flourish and God gets the glory.   
  • The ultimate goal of everything is so God is glorified through Jesus…forever and ever.

Chasing our own glory through comparisons leads to futility.  Jesus frees us from that futility as we “lay our lives down for His sake.”   Remember the more self-focused you are the more you will care about comparisons and the less self-focused you are the less you will care about these comparisons.

Remember the more self-focused you are the more you will care about comparisons and the less self-focused you… Click To Tweet

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“How did you get that from reading this Book?”

Authentic Christianity is not just being real, but being Biblically real

I was really stirred while listening to a leader that I greatly admire.  He was a very popular author and megachurch leader who became disillusioned with consumer Christianity, left it all, and is laboring to see authentic communities of faith who attempt to walk in Biblical church life together as they engage in God’s mission.  This is at the heart of the motto many of us use to describe God’s purpose for us, “God’s family of Spirit filled disciples together on God’s mission.”

He told a story about a trip he made to China visiting areas where Christians had been persecuted for their faith.  Most of the churches were part of the underground church movement that flourished under an atheistic communist regime.  He was amazed by the sincerity of faith he was witnessing and was asking them lots of questions about their experiences and how they did these things. One of the group asked him, “why are you asking so many questions and why are you so interested in our experiences?”  He replied, “because this isn’t the way it is in the Western church.”

Authentic Biblical church life is the best apologetic for the 21st-century culture.  Church is to be a compelling community.

He started telling them what church life is like in America.  “We have buildings we call churches we go to for an hour a week; if there is a better speaker at a different one we will go to that one; if there is better music at one we will go to that one; if we get in a fight with someone or are challenged about anything in our life we will switch to another church; and if the childcare or children’s programs are better somewhere else we switch to that one. The overall approach in trying to attract new people is come on in and sit down, we will take care of everything for you.”

It is common to see things like when you want to move to another geographic area you disconnect from that church and start shopping for another one in that area.  You stay connected  through Churchbook (Facebook), Churcstagram (Instagram), and Churchchat (Snapchat), yet the reality is that they are no longer part of laboring translocally together in Kingdom activity like you see in Jesus and the early church as they moved geographically (Mt 9-11, Lk 9-10, Rom 16:1-16, 1 Cor 16:10-24, Col 4:7-18, 2 Tim 4:11-22, Phil 4:1-23).

Then one of them raised their voice and their Bible in the midst of the laughter and asked, “How did you get that from reading this Book?” 

They began to laugh, not just snicker, but the whole group began to laugh deeply.  He wasn’t trying to be funny but they found what he was saying was so comical they continued to laugh and it became a little awkward.  Then one of them raised their voice and their Bible in the midst of the laughter and asked, “How did you get that from reading this Book?”

“How did you get that from reading this book?”  What a profound question.  I identify with that when I reflect on my background.  I was raised unchurched and secular.  When I began to follow Jesus as Lord I knew I was going to learn a whole new culture.  The Bible was God’s instruction manual.  If He said it that settled it.  What kind of church life do we live?  Our only option is what the Bible prescribes and describes.  It caused us to help start and raise up churches that attempt to allow Jesus to build along the lines of His word.  If what we were doing didn’t line up, we changed instead of changing His word.

In the western church we cater to the customers…what kind of church would you like; we will make it for you; you want meetings to only be an hour or less; we will cut the time down; you want a church that emphasizes this; we will emphasize it or we will create it for you; you want to come with no strings attached, we will keep it that way; you don’t want to believe something we will not bring it up; you want a support group with certain types of people, we will create them for you; we will keep making it easier and easier so we will get more and more Christian customers in the door.

An Experiment Revealing the Authentic

Try this experiment.  If you could describe church only using the Bible, not your experience or tradition, how would it look?  Here are some elements that will probably be there.

  • They are sincerely connected with Jesus in a real observable way.  He is in them and among them and their whole life is centered around Him (Col 1:18, 2:10-14, Acts 2:38-42).
  • The Kingdom of God (active rule of the Lord Jesus Christ) is expressed in and through God’s people as they live to submit every area of life to the His Lordship (Acts 2:36-42, Rom 10:9-10, Col 1:17-19, Rev 1-3).
  • The church is God’s family living out His relational way of life among the people He joins together.  It is not a building, meeting, or an organization where familiar strangers occasionally gather for meetings (Acts 2:38-42, 4:35-42, the 59 “one another commands in the Epistles).
  • God’s people hungering for and seeking more of a Spirit Filled life.  They desire to be continually led by, filled with, and moving in all the power and gifts of Holy Spirit both in meetings as well as everyday life (John 7:37-39, Acts 1:8, 2:1-4, 4:8, 31, 6:3, 8:12-24, 9:1-17, 10:43-48, 19:1-6, 1 Cor 12-14, Eph 5:18). It is an “earnest desire” (1 Cor 14:1) that sees this not as optional but essential.
  • The church is central, not peripheral to the plans and purposes of God and so it is central to theirs (Mt 16:18, Eph 1:23, 3:3-11, 5:25-32, Rev 19:7, 21:2-9, 22:17).
  • Church members are disciples who follow Jesus and seek to put into practice everything He says (Mt 28:18-20, Acts 11:23).  They are not just deciders who use Jesus to have a better life.
  • Church involvement is not just an audience of people attending and watching meetings but disciples who participte in seeing God’s life expressed in and through His church. 
  • All the Ephesians 4 ministries are involved and seen as essential, not optional, in equipping God’s people to the building up of local churches (Eph 4:11-16, Eph 2:17-22, Acts 13-28, Romans 16:1-16, 1 Cor 16:10-24, Col 4:7-18). Their input helps provide good foundations (Eph 2:20, 1 Cor 3:10-12), as well as fatherly and motherly care into local church families (1 Thes 2:7-11).
  • The local church is governed by a team of leaders, not just a one man “pastor” (elders with deacons alongside) chosen by God, recognized by people, with Ephesians 4 ministries involved in their training and appointment (Acts 14:23, 15:4-23, 16:4, 20:17-28, Phil 1:1, 1 Thes 5:12, 1 Tim 5:1-21, Tit 1:5-11, Jas 5:14, 1 Pet 5:1, John 17:11, 21-23).
  • The call of mission to the world is upon everyone, everywhere, all the time (Gen 1:26-28, Mt 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, Eph 1:22-22 etc.). Missions is not a program or a special call upon a few people who live in faraway places.  It is the daily call upon all the church whether it be across the street or across the ocean.
  • Praise and worship isn’t watching people sing songs on a platform. It is all of all of God’s people engaging in heartfelt, Spirit filled, Biblically described expressions of praise and worship.   This includes, but is not limited to the Biblical expressions such as shouting (found 265 times in the Bible), playing musical instruments (58 times), singing (29 times), lifting our hands (14 times), clapping (12 times), bowing or kneeling (12 times), dancing (9 times), and standing (7 times).
  • A multigenerational perspective that sees a priority of helping those younger while at the same time reaching forward to all that God has (Ps 78, Titus 2 etc).
  • Ministry isn’t relegated to a few people on a platform in corporate meetings. Ministry is about every person being equipped and using their God given abilities everyday to build up the family of God and reach the world with the gospel (1 Cor 12-14, Eph 4:10-32, Rom 12:1-17, 1 Pet 4:10-11, 1 Tim 4:4, 2 Tim 1:6).

This kind of life is what you get from reading that book!  Like Caleb said, “We must, by all means, go in and possess it” (Num 13:30).  

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Communicating An Offensive Gospel Without Being Offensive

Romans 9:33 just as it is written, “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE.“(1 Pet 2:8)  

I Cor 10:32  Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God;

2Cor 6:3  giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited.

We know that the Gospel message is ” foolishness to people perishing,” and has elements in it that are offensive. 1 Cor 1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.   Jesus Himself is the “rock of offense” (Rom 9:33, 1 Pet 2:8).  Unfortunately, I have observed over the years that much of what is considered offensive or foolishness isn’t as much about the Gospel as it is about the people communicating it.

What I have observed over the years is that much of what is considered offensive or foolishness isn’t as much about the Gospel as it is about the people communicating it.

We must understand that when we’re talking to people, we’re called to be gracious, kind, and full of His lovingkindness.  If not we will add personal offense to an offensive Gospel.   

Our Annual Example

We make an annual shopping trip to an area of Kansas City the day after Thanksgiving.  Every year a street preacher, complete with microphone and speaker is there yelling at people about the judgments of God. The whole area is packed with shoppers.  He yells at them about their sinful condition by shouting the demands of the law.   There is usually about a 20-30 yard vacant (no go) area around him, kind of like a killing zone.  I have never seen anyone in the kill zone.  Most of the people walking by trying to ignore him or pretend he isn’t there. I have never seen anyone even pause to listen to him.  

I admire his courage and am inspired by it, but every time I hear him I wonder about the offensive nature of the Gospel.  The Spirit spoke to me once as I passed by, “most people’s offenses aren’t with the gospel but with the way it is presented and the lives of the people presenting it.”

God’s people are called to both demonstrate with their life and declare with their mouths the gospel.

God’s people are called to both demonstrate with their life, and declare with their mouths the gospel.  How we demonstrate the gospel with both is where the problem often is found.   Philippians 2:14-16  Do everything without complaining or arguing,  (15)  so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky,  (16)  as you offer them the message of life.

We mistakenly think they are offended by the Gospel and rejecting Christ when in fact they are rejecting us and our approach.  The “fruit of the Spirit” is very attractive while the “deeds of the flesh” are very ugly.   Religion without Jesus’ life and the Spirit’s fruit will be unattractive.  Galatians 519-23…the deeds of the flesh are…strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, envying…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  (23)  gentleness, self-control.  People need to taste the life and fruit of the Spirit in the people of God.

How Do We Help Remove Our Offense from the Offensive Gospel?

  • Exhibiting life of God in the fruit of the Spirit (gentleness, patience, love, lovingkindness, and respect).

Titus 2:7-14 In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified,  (8)  sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us… They must not talk back or steal, but must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.

Religion without Jesus’ life and the Spirit’s fruit will be ugly and unattractive. 

Peter said that as we respond to others with “gentleness and respect in a good conscience” people that oppose us will “become ashamed” because of the life observed before them.  As the world gets darker the life of God will become more appealing and get people’s attention.  They may disagree with our words but cannot deny our great attitude and conduct.

1Pe 3:15-16  GNB…Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you,  16  but do it with gentleness and respect. Keep your conscience clear, so that when you are insulted, those who speak evil of your good conduct as followers of Christ will become ashamed of what they say.

  • Love the image of God in people.  

This creates courtesy and respect.  It is rooted in the Imago Dei, the concept that each of us was created in the image of a loving God. That is what gives each person—every person—dignity and makes each of us worthy of respect.  James 3:9-11  With our tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;  (10)  from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.  

  • Use all the aspects of salt we have been given (Mt 5:13).  

Salt preserves from deterioration and adds spice, but another thing it does, that we often don’t think of, is that salt when it is in water, keeps things from sinking.  It tends to lift things up and cause them to float. We are called to lift up people.  The devil, circumstances, and emotions tend to pull people down into the pits of despair.  Darkness brings death.  God’s people, full of God’s salt look for ways to lift people up by bringing His blessing.  Jesus greeted Nathanael, “behold an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (Jn 1:47).  This brought blessing and got his attention on Jesus.  

Jesus said “Come to Me you who are weary and heavy laden…My yoke is easy and My burden is light” Mt 11:28-30. God’s people should be known as bringing God’s blessing.  The gospel is good news.  Yes, people need to know the bad news that they are separated from God and under a curse, but there is great life and blessing in Jesus.  Let’s not forget to communicate that.  I recently witnessed to a young man who was having problems with his live-in girlfriend and her son.  I was able to share the blessings of 38 years with my life because of the change Jesus brought in us.  Living under His rule helps us daily overcome the things that were destroying his relationship.  Jesus and His kingdom is good news.

When Jesus sent the 12 and 70 out in Mt 9-11 and Luke 9-10 their first order of business was to bring “blessings” into receptive homes.  Mt 10:12-13 “give your blessing of peace.”  Luke 10:5 “first give your blessing of peace.”

  • Remember we were drawn by His loving kindness so make sure we communicate it.  

The prophet Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet because of the failures and judgments he experienced with God’s people.  Those things moved him deeply.  He wrote the book of “Lamentations” which means “a passionate expression of grief, sorrow, and weeping” over the condition of God’s people.  In His prophecies, he presents something of the heart of God that is one of the biggest draws, His lovingkindness.

Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.

Psalms 63:3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.

Lovingkindness is an aspect of love, but it has some distinct features.  Love wants the best for the object of love, yet it sometimes means discipline or allowing unpleasant things.  Every good parent has had to discipline and deny their child something that the child would think is not reflecting love.

Lovingkindness on the other hand is evidenced by goodness and charitable behavior, a pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others.  It is a caring heart that wants to alleviate all suffering and lift the other up.  It is faithful feelings from the heart and acts of kindness that are motivated by love.  

I know in my own life I experienced the great drawing of His lovingkindness.  I had been challenged by the fear of God.  I knew I was in trouble because of the way I was living.  In that “severity of God” I also was also made aware of His lovingkindness.  Romans 11:22  Behold then the kindness and severity of God.  In the midst of my mess, He let me know He loved me and wanted me to be saved.  Even in my sin He cared about me.  I was drawn by His lovingkindness.  

His lovingkindness is a fruit of the Spirit that makes the Gospel appealing to others.  We need to embrace this aspect of God’s heart toward people.  Yes if they don’t follow Jesus they are under His judgment but at the same time God loves them and wants His lovingkindness expressed to them through His people. 

Seek God for His heart and attitude toward people.  May we feel for them and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.  It is okay if “Jesus is the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense” but out of immaturity or a wong heart we shouldn’t be.

 

  

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Feelings, Culture, or Scripture Alone

“Jesus of Nazareth always comes asking disciples to follow him–not merely “accept him,” not merely “believe in him,” not merely “worship him,” but to follow him: one either follows Christ or one does not. There is no compartmentalization of the faith, no realm, no sphere, no business, no politic in which the lordship of Christ will be excluded. We either make him Lord of all lords, or we deny him as Lord of any.” Lee Camp 

I remember hearing a story of a dad reading Matthew chapter 7 to his 4-year-old son.  While reading the son began to snicker and then broke out laughing.  The dad was somewhat serious and wondered what was up.  His son imagined in his mind the preposterous picture of a man with a big beam in his eye trying to remove a speck in someone else’s eye.  The little boy instinctively knew a big beam couldn’t fit into someone’s eye and just the thought of it caused him to laugh.

While humor and sarcasm can be hurtful, used in a right way they can make excellent points.  Jesus used both humor and sarcasm.  This is contrary to the picture people often present of Jesus walking on the earth as an emotionless Zombie (except for anger) who lacked any sort of personality.  Jesus often used sarcasm to both offend the self-righteous as well as making points of truth.

I had the great privilege years ago of inheriting a book from my wife’s grandfather that is no longer in print called “The Humor of Christ” by Elton Trueblood.  He did a masterful job of showing both the humor and sarcasm used by Jesus to make important points.  It is a pretty ridiculous picture to see a camel on it’s knees trying to squeeze through a small opening in the city wall of Jerusalem “the eye of a needle” (Lk 18:22-27, Mt 19:24, Mk 10:26).  How about “choking on a small bug while at the same time trying to swallow a camel (Matthew 23:24)?

Jesus also used offensive sarcasm when directly confronting religious people who were trusting in their own version of what it means to be right with God.  He called them names like “brood of vipers, snakes, devils, blind guides, whitewashed tombs, and murderers” Mt 3:7, 12:34, 23, 16:23).

Wisdom from “The Babylon Bee”

A satirical evangelical Christian website, the Babylon Bee, released a humorous article that strikes at the heart of a problem among self-identified Christians.  It was aimed at Christians who think following Jesus and living according to His word is somewhat optional.  Simply believing in Him and living by one’s own version of what is right is good enough. This is in contrast to the 25 clear calls by Jesus in the Gospels to “follow Me and live according to My word.”  He only called people to “believe” 4 times. There is a clear emphasis that real belief entail’s following Him and seeking to obey His word.

John 8:30-31  As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.  (31)  So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word (believe and live by it), then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

The website reported on a fictitious meeting in which progressive evangelical leaders met to affirm a doctrine of “Sola Feels.”  It was an obvious spoof of the great doctrinal truth that came out of the Protestant Reformation from the Latin phrase “Sola Sciptura.” It means God’s word is our only objective basis of faith and practice above traditions or our feelings.  “Sola feels” means that our feelings are the only proper way to interpret what is true which is how our culture, even many self-identified Christians live their lives.  The article puts it humorously well.  Quite simply, ‘Sola Feels’ means that all spiritual truths only become true once they are filtered through, and accepted by our feelings.

Quite simply, ‘Sola Feels’ means that all spiritual truths only become true once they’e filtered through and accepted by our feels-all the feels,’ popular author and speaker Jane Hansen told reporters after the meeting.  “Thus, things that make us feel bad, those are wrong.  The things that give us all the happy feels, those are true, right, and good.

What is true is what feels right more than what God says is right in His word. This is the current mantra both of our culture as well as many self-identified Christians.  The word of God is optional and subject to what our feelings and/or the culture around us dictate.  Anything that opposes “feels” is seen as oppression.

The movie makes a point 

There was a satirical movie in the late 70s, Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”  that had a scene that was a very revealing about some of the current cultural confusion as well as that among self-identifying Christians regarding “Sola Feels.”  The story line of the movie is almost prophetic as it was about someone who was mistaken for Jesus then attempted to start a Christian movement around this falsehood.  Sounds like believing but not following or obeying Jesus’ word (John 8).  It is an alternative Christianity that often favors things Jesus clearly said He is opposed to.

There is a great scene in the movie called “Loretta” that is eerily similar to some of the confusion today (I don’t recommend the whole movie as it has some bad parts).  The scene is about whether they are going to give place in their movement to a man who wants to be a woman and have a baby.  The point is debated among 4 followers and the last line is prophetic as one person says it’s, “a struggle against oppression,” while another man says it’s really, “a struggle against his reality”  (God’s design).  For disciples, it has to be “Sola Scriptura” (God’s reality) not “Sola Feels” (our desires).

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