Sunday, July 15, 2018

Praying on the Character of God...

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
    save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
    for you answer me.
(Psalm 86:1-7)
Almost always, as we read the prayers of the psalmist, the plea is based upon the character of God.  Here, in the midst of this prayer, the writer points out three key attributes of God: He is Good, Forgiving, and Loving. With those in mind, we can ask God to do all sorts of things: preserve, provide, and show grace - giving us whatever is appropriate, which we cannot do without Him stepping in. The possibilities are many. What about the character of God draws you to talk to Him today? 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Prayer: Limiting the Possibilities.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 11 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 (I Peter 4)
Prayer: a good thing. God calls on us to keep coming back to Him over and over, believing He cares and He can; with God all things are possible. But we can tend to make them less likely.  Peter says someting startling and unsettling: the way we live affects the power of - "the sake of" - our prayers. He is not saying that we earn brownie points so God will answer our prayers, but we should make sure our lives are not fighting our prayers - that our actions counter our words with God. Loving service, hospitality, using the gifts God has given, compliment our prayers. In other words, we cannot call out to God only when we mess up, having ignored Him in the way we live day to day, and ask Him to drop everything to do what we want. To do so contradicts the relationship prayer is all about.  Prayer and godly living go hand in hand, both aimed at bringing Him glory as we place ourselves under his dominion and rule in our lives. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Prayer: All the Possibilities!

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5)
James was a practical kind of guy.  He talked about what works. Prayer works - not in some sort of mechanical, vending machine kind of way, but in a powerful and personal way.  Suffering persecution? Pray.  Sick? Have others pray for you. Stuck in Sin? Pray and confess.  See a problem? Pray.  See someone else sick, suffering or stuck in sin? Pray for them too.  Unless you pray, you may never see or notice what God will do.  

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Something We Know about Prayer

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (I John 5)
One of the outstanding characteristics of John's writing in this letter is his use of the verb "we know." Seventeen times he uses it, as well as the times he says "you know." Here he tells us something we know about prayer.  First, God hears the prayer of faith of the one who trusts in Christ as Son of God and Savior; we can know we have eternal life. Secondly; we know that when we ask, He hears. Our prayers are not aimless soundwaves or heart cries.  Thirdly, we know He answers, acts, and is able to do what is needed, according to His will. Like all the other "we knows" in this letter, there is a promise and an exhortation. We can pray with confidence, and we should pray away.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Persistent Prayer for the Impossible

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26)
What an example Christ demonstrated here.  When heavily burdened He prayed. He persisted in prayer, going back to God again and again. He prayed for a way out, if possible, even when He knew it was impossible.  Why? Because God is the God of the impossible, even when He chooses not to do it.  The Father had shown Him enough of the plan so that Jesus knew what He had to go through. Yet, humanly speaking, it seemed impossible for Him to do.  There are many experiences we would rather avoid, but God wants to take us through them, not around them.  When we pray for the impossible, one of two things will happen: God will do it, or He will show us why He did not. He will make a way to do what is best.  So pray. Pray away. Pray: "Lord, if it is possible", knowing that it is, in Him, but that maybe possible is not best.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

It Can't Be Done! Or Can It?

18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” 27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18)
Jesus had a way of astounding his hearers - even those who heard Him day after day.  If a rich man, supposedly blessed by God for being so good, and having every possible advantage in this world, could not be assured of entering the Kingdom of God, how  could anyone hope to get in? It would seem... impossible.  This question is found in context in a discussion with a man who had come to talk with the Lord, and one the heels of a teaching session Jesus had just had with His followers about prayer. This man did not need to "pray" as we think of prayer; he was talking with the Lord directly. He asked Him what he needed to do to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus did not say it was impossible; the man made it so by his response. The bigger point is this: God is the God of the impossible; He can do what seems like it cannot be done. We simply need to trust in the One Who is able to do what we cannot do for the what, when and how.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Not in God's vocabulary...

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 2)
Mary was experiencing a once-in-human history event. God had given children to older women who were barren and it seemed humanly impossible. They too had trouble believing it could be so.  But this goes even further: a virgin birth. But Mary submits, accepting the news and the role.  It was not even something she asked for.  The this simple seven word statement by the messenger is a classic: "for nothing will be impossible with God." It is so classic that Jesus alludes to it when talking about the possibility of people being saved. Events such as this one are not provided to us so we will ask wildly for whatever we want, but to remind us Who it is that is the giver. God Himself. We ought not to think that a certain person will never get saved, a nation cannot be changed, or some addictive sin cannot be overcome.  If we truly believe God to be who He is, anything is possible which does not contradict His character. And God loves children, desires that all would be saved, builds and tears down nations, and specializes in giving victory over sin.  Do not be limited by the word "impossible."

Sunday, July 8, 2018

No Negligence

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.(Hebrews 10)
Sometimes it's not what we do, but what we fail to do.  The net effect of what Christ has done for us on the cross is far-reaching. Since He has opened the door to fellowship with God, that is what we should do - pray, talk with Him.  We should also witness with confidence. And we should live life in community with others who enjoy the same relationship with God, challenging and encouraging one another. In order to do that, we need to spend time with each other as well. So, let's not be negligent. Meet together with God and His people today. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Don't block the door!

Mark 11:15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
This is one of those passages we never outgrow.  Maybe because we see in it Jesus as some hero standing up to bullies.  But we need to make sure we do not become the bad guys; we need to make sure we are not blocking the way for people to come to God.  There were times when even Jesus' followers blocked the way, like the disciples keeping the children from Jesus, or the crowds keeping the sick and seeking out of houses where Jesus was teaching.  Jesus' point is simply this: "Don't get in the way," by your attitude, words, actions, or seeminly spiritual practice.  Open the door and let them in.

Friday, July 6, 2018

What kind of mercy do you need today?

I will extol you, my God and King,
    and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you
    and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
    and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another,
    and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
    and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
    and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
    and his mercy is over all that he has made.
(Psalm 145)
The Psalmist begins with words of praise for the LORD's greatness.  Over and over he declares the greatness of His name, acts, and character. His greatness flows with His goodness, which causes the psalmist to land on His grace, mercy, and love - in particular His mercy. We know from another Psalm that His mercies are "new every morning", and these acts of mercy come from His character of being merciful. What is amazing is that God shows mercy to all His creation - His fallen creation. Taken along with His grace, He gives us what we do not deserve and does not give us what we do deserve.  What kind of mercy do you need today? It may be due to the weather, your age, your sickness, your job, your family life, or your sin. God has mercy for that.  Will you receive it?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Setting up Perimeters

 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 10 for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.
13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter);17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Mark 3)
Early in His ministry, Jesus set up Perimeters - parameters around Himself that guided the way He did things. First, when looking out to humanity in need, He had a big circle, as far as He could see, which meant He could see deep into the hearts of those around Him for faith, as well as one up in a tree trying to hide. Secondly, he had a circle within His personal space, where he would pray, and where he would call one like the man here, and invite him to come receive God's work in his life. Thirdly, there was a boundary line, which when demons would come within that distance of Jesus, they would be compelled to deal with Him and confess who He was. Finally, Jesus surrounded Himself with faithful followers to share in His ministry, whom He would train and teach to pray.  May we have such perimeters in our lives - seeing deep and far into the hearts of people in need, places we can pray and spend time with God, an openness and vulnerability to reach out and draw others close, the ability to demonstrate Christ-like holiness to all those who see, surrounding ourselves with others in that pursuit.