Friday, January 31, 2014

Praying According to the Will of God

1 John 5:13-15
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

I like the boldness of John's declaration in these verses. It is addressed to YOU if you are among those who believe in the name of the Son of God.  That belief is constantly leading us to know that we have eternal life. 

If you knew you had eternal life, do you suppose that would give you the confidence to approach God? I used the word "boldness" in describing John's declaration, now he comes using the word "confidence," describing our assurance that we can approach God. No one can speak with that boldness nor posses that confidence without a strong faith in Jesus Christ. 

John then continues to proclaim if we have the confidence to approach God, we may ask anything according to his will, and he hears us. We may also know since he hears us, whatever we ask, we will have.  The world is going to be quick to inform us that isn't true. Those who are not believers will name instances where we prayed and did not receive what we asked. 

Our previous studies on prayer have taught us prayer is a vital part of the Christian life. As those who have loved, trusted, and obeyed the Lord, it should be natural for us to talk to our Heavenly Father. The one thing John points out in his declaration is the key. "If we ask anything according to his will."  

Sometimes even we Christians start thinking these verses can be the "gimmie, gimmie" kind of conversation where we give God a list of everything we want, and he supplies it.  That attitude toward prayer is not according to the will of God. The "name it and claim it" prayers become centered around our wishes, our wants, and even our will instead of God's. 

If it is so important to pray according to the will of God, then our primary objective in approaching God to ask for anything, must not be like our birthday wish list. How do we know what the will of God is?  One way is for us to stay close to the word of God. Regular Bible study and the application of biblical truth to our lives will lead us to better know God's will. 

Another way, and perhaps a way which will make his will more meaningful to us, is in the quiet silence of dwelling on who God is. Think of his infinite presence, his unending love, his willingness to forgive, his desire for us to be in relationship with him. In our silent meditations, God will make his will known to us. 


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Peace and Hope

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  Romans 5:1-5

When Paul talks about our justification through faith, and the peace we have with God through Jesus, do you have problems identifying with those descriptive phrases?   Join the club!  But God wants us to know and experience that justification and peace, while knowing it is through Jesus we have access to God's sustaining grace. 

Paul then switches gears a bit, when he introduces the concept of suffering.  Wait.  I like reading about justification and peace and faith and grace,  but when suffering is added to the mixture, that's a different story.   Regardless of who we are, how long we have been Christians, how much influence we have, suffering of some sort is inevitable. 

Perhaps that is why Paul mentions the blessings of justification and peace in the first part of his discourse, then tosses in grace, to better prepare us for the concept of suffering.  Many will give up and walk away from a Christianity that involves suffering.  But Paul continues and explains it is through suffering that perseverance is produced. The progress continues as perseverance produces character, and character, hope.  Then the icing on the cake. "Hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."

The greatest blessing known to sinful man occurs when he realizes God's love and forgiveness, and knows God calls him justified. The justified man is at peace with God, because Jesus has paid the sin-debt on the cross.  Paul is wanting his audience to understand from that relationship we have with God, when the Christian experiences suffering of some kind, God can use it to bring the progression of a deeper, stronger development in the Christian life. 

Ultimately, the Christian comes to know and experience the full measure of God's love because, as Paul says, that love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.   I am speaking for myself here, but any time God wants to pour any of himself into my heart, I am going to be open and receptive to it.  Think about it......if God wants to add something like love to our hearts, it's because we need it.

And notice how God does this.  He pours out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  It is no wonder this section of scripture from Romans is subtitled in the NIV Bible as "Peace and Hope."  You are invited to continue reading through verse 11 of this chapter.  God is sparing nothing in bringing you the hope and assurance of eternal life. 


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Fruitful Church

One of the functions of every church leader is to be active in implementing programs or practices in the church that honor God, demonstrate the eternal nature of following Jesus, and above all, yielding to the direction and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

The area I immediately thought of is the practice of hospitality.  That is the practice of making people feel welcome in our churches.  The importance of hospitality is easily understood.  If someone doesn't feel welcome to the assembly, they will probably be searching for another church to attend. 

I was looking through a stack of used books the other day and was immediately drawn to one book because of its title, "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations."  To my surprise, the first one listed was hospitality.  The other four were worship, faith development, mission and service, and generosity. 

The book, written by Robert Schnase, listed those five practices a little differently.  They were listed like the author wanted us to understand their eternal importance.  Here is the list. 

1.  Radical hospitality
2.  Passionate worship
3.  Intentional faith development
4.  Risk-taking mission and service
5.  Extravagant generosity

Sounds like a good book, huh?  I haven't finished reading it, and there are a few places where I have wanted to get an explanation from the author, but for the most part, he has done an excellent job in stimulating my thinking about these practices and how important they are to the growth and development of the church. 

Each of the practices can be found in scripture, and probably they are found in every church, to some degree.  To ask you to consider hospitality, worship, faith development, mission and service, and generosity, would be to ask you to find those passages of scripture which point to those practices in Bible times.  

However, I am finding the author is more excited than most folks, about seeing all five practices implemented in such a powerful way.  That is why I want you to consider his describing words, like  radical, passionate, intentional, risk-taking, and extravagant.  Those are the words which add the "punch" to the message. 

Have you ever become "radical" about anything pertaining to church?  Does the word, "passionate" describe you in worship?  How about that word "intentional."  How many of us have really been intentional about our own faith development?  I have heard the moans of many a church leader if anything involved "risk-taking."  And I don't know of too many churches that have been overly "extravagant" with generosity.   I mention these things only to get you to thinking and praying about the practices of your church.  Hopefully we can continue to grow, serve, honor God and serve one another in more effective ways.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Be Holy

The section of scripture we are looking at today is 1 Peter 1:13-2:3
13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.  23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
“All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25     but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you.
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Bible Understanding 101 suggests to us when the word "therefore" begins a section of scripture, it ties what was previously said to the things the writer is now saying.  So a look backward into the first verses in 1 Peter 1, introduces us to who we are in Jesus Christ, and establishes his authority in our hearts when we choose to belong to him. 

The lengthy text above is tied to those earlier thoughts and now encourages us to be a "holy" person through living a holy life.  Not sure about you, but as hard as I try, I have difficulty claiming that word holy as a description of me. 

Peter wants us to know about God who judges impartially, and about Jesus who paid for our redemption with his life, and this should bring us a strong faith and hope. Also, now that we have been cleansed through obedience, our delivered lives are to be lived in loving relationships with others.  We can love all people because we have been born again.  In these verses Peter wants to assure us we can be holy, because God is holy, and we can be forgiving and loving to each other because God has loved and forgiven us. That type of lifestyle is lived in "tasting the goodness of the Lord." 


Monday, January 27, 2014

The Manager

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.  Romans 12:3-8

And so, Paul gives his discourse on the subject of spiritual gifts.  There are other passages which support and add to the list of the gifts, and, we might add, there are some gifts which are not mentioned but are obviously gifts of the Spirit, as we see them utilized in the Body of Christ. 

If we start with just the ones listed in the verses above, can you find yourself?  Do you see yourself as motivated to be involved in the gift of serving, or the gift of giving, or perhaps one of the others? In your defense, sometimes the gift we receive and possess is not obvious for a while, however, even without recognizing it with our finite minds, it surfaces, not so much in ways we would expect, but in the way in which God operates through us to the benefit of others.  It is through us God uses our gift to bless all. 

I picked up a little book this week entitled "Managing God's Gifts," by Leo R. Van Dolson and Thomas A. Davis.  The publishers, in the preface of the book, reveal a phrase concerning our spiritual gifts which I think helps us to understand them more fully.  From the preface we get this line, "Every human becomes a "spiritual gift manager." 

Have you considered yourself as a manager of your gift or gifts?(Yes, there may be more than one.)  To be a manager, implies that to some extent, managing your gift involves you being in control.  Let's clarify that immediately by saying it doesn't mean you, in the flesh, are controlling anything.  It means that you, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, have turned yourself over to his direction so completely that you are allowing him to direct your life in the use of your gift. 

Needless to say, this type of subjecting ourselves to the direction of the Holy Spirit means we must be committed to his plan of strengthening us in our gift to be a blessing to our entire spiritual family.  It further means that our gift can become so powerful in our words and deeds, that we are actually an encouragement to those who are outside of Christ's Body.

The idea of you being a" gift manager" comes into the picture when you realize the individual and personal responsibility of commitment.  Are we willing to place ourselves completely under the guidance of God's Spirit, that we are easily identified as a person of mercy, or a person of generosity, or a person of whatever our gift might be?  

How do we know which of the spiritual gifts are ours?  It takes some time in prayer, sometimes lots of time in prayer, surrendering ourselves to the Will of God, and determined that our lives now belong to him.  In so doing, you will be blessed, the church will be blessed, and God will continue to receive all glory.