The problem with our prayer.

I have a problem with my prayer life.  Way more often than not my prayer is,

“Lord, bless me as I  [fill in the blank] .”

or

“Lord, be with me as I  [fill in the blank] .

Help me to honor you while I  [fill in the blank] .

Am I wrong to ask God’s blessing on my endeavors?  It is the desire of my heart that those things in which I choose to invest my time and energy to be blessed of God.

However.

When was the last time you stopped before an event, activity or endeavor for which you are asking blessing and simply asked God, “Lord, is this what you want me to do?”  Or better yet, when was the last time you thought about the future and just asked, “God what do you want me to do?”

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”  

 – James 4.13-15

Everything that we do is only that which God permits.  He is in control and he knows our steps, our hours and every intimate detail of our lives.

The mind of man plans his way, 
But the Lord directs his steps.

 – Prov 16.9

And while it is true that God is concerned about every aspect of our lives, He has given us instructions and He has expectations of us for how we live our lives.  So, for the sake of making a point, we know that God will not bless us or condone us – even if we ask Him to – if our prayer is,

“God, bless me while I murder these people.”

or

“God, be with me while I rob this bank.”

God will not eternally bless or join with us in spirit in our sin.  Unfortunately, what we often fail to recognize is that the Bible teaches us that whatever is not done in faith is sin (Rom 14.23).  Therefore we can do morally neutral or even good deeds, but apart from faith they are sinful.  And asking God’s blessing over our plans that have been established without His input is as ludicrous as asking Him to bless us while we rob a bank!

If we attempt to share the Gospel with someone who has never heard without the leadership of God and His prompting, it will fail.  Perhaps you will convince the person in his mind, but it is only God who gives life, and it will not be a genuine conversion.  If you share the Gospel under the compulsion of the Spirit, you may see no immediate fruit, but it is under His authority that we can remember,

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; 
It will not return to Me empty, 
Without accomplishing what I desire, 
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

 – Is 55.11

If we set off on a road trip and ask God to bless our travels, we might have a blast and no hitches along the way.  But if God was not sought in the preparation and if He was given no thought other than a request for safety, it was not of Him.  If we plan a trip through prayer and thoughtfulness, we might break down, have an accident or get robbed – but we know it was His plan and that He has a greater purpose in it.

God’s blessing does not necessarily mean our comfort.  God’s presence does not always mean our success.  Sometimes He blows our minds with his kindness, and sometimes He allows us to go through persecution and trials for our Spiritual growth and well being.  We know that to be like Christ, we will be hated and persecuted (2 Tim 3.12).  Why then do we not expect it?

But what we can be sure of, if we do anything apart from faith, it is sin.  And even if our activities go how we want and according to plan, God is not in them and is consequently not honored.

In much the same way we exemplify our lack of faithfulness in planning or preparation when we approach God and pray,

“We welcome you here today.”

or

“God, we invite you into this place today.”

At face value, this prayer exemplifies our lack of understanding of the nature of God.  He is everyone.  At all times.  We cannot escape His presence, power or authority (Ps 139).  We will not walk into a void church building, home or office complex and bring God with us, or invite Him to follow us.  But on a deeper and more serious level, it portrays the extent of our individualism and arrogance to assume that we have anything to offer Him.  We approach the throne of grace, we do not invite God to enter into our presence.  We get on our knees and recognize the fact that we deserve nothing, but his loving kindness reaches out and welcomes us and forgives us.  He is God.  He is perfect.  He is sovereign.  We are not.

So let’s stop making our own path.  Let’s stop writing our own plan.  Let’s ask God what He wants for our lives.  Let’s examine the Scriptures to understand what Jesus taught about how we should live our lives and then test our pleasures, our activities, our work, our free time, our everything against that infallible word!  And let’s trust Him that when we have examined His Word, when we have surrendered our desires, when we have sought His guidance and wisdom, that whatever happens is for His glory and our good (Rom 8.28).

worship leader

The Ultimate Act of Love

What is the ultimate act of love?

It is clear what we culturally believe in movies:  remember “City of Angels”?  Seth, the angel, gives up his angelic nature and takes on humanity and death for just a moment with Maggie.  The movies John Q, The Road to Perdition, Pay it Forward, X-Men, The Matrix all tell the same basic story:  one’s love for another (or the whole world – like Neo in the Matrix) drives him to give up his life for the other’s well being.

When men in America ask for permission of their girlfriends’ parents to marry their daughter, part of the expression of undying love and devotion is, “I will always put myself between her and danger; I would die for her”.

Sacrificial death.  The Japanese capitalized on it with the kamikaze pilots during WWII.  “Divine Wind” is the literal translation of the word kamikaze, and is built on the unifying belief in the culture which unites Samurai and Bushido codes alike:  Loyalty and honor until death.  The greatest act of devotion to the country was to give one’s life.

The jihad:  Service to God.  “The struggle” as it directly translates – either internally to the fulfillment of religious duty or externally against the enemies.  The greatest jihad according to Ibn Habbaan (author of Book of Jihad) is “the one in which your horse is slain and your blood is spilled.”  Death.  For God’s honor, or the furthering of Islam.

Around the world, in various religions and in various cultures, we unanimously agree that the greatest act of love and devotion is to give one’s life for another.

God is the creator of the the universe.  He established natural orders and He defined love because He is love (1 John 4.8, 16).  If God created us to understand love and placed that intrinsic understanding of love within human nature, then wouldn’t it follow that God would express Himself in the same manner by which He defined love?

Have you ever thought of the absurdity of Almighty God, the one who spoke all things into existence, humbling Himself to take on the form of man, and submitting Himself to human cruelty to the point of death (Phil 2.5-8)?

Some people believe that God is limited.  He is the giant clock maker who set all things in motion, and when pieces of His creation break, He has to jump in a fix them.  He does not know the future, He does not know what will happen, He is reactionary.  But God defined love, and it was His plan from before He spoke the world into existence, to redeem sinful human beings through His own death.

“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

 – Rev 13.8

Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world.  Not after however long Adam and Eve lived in Eden and then fell.  Since the moment God said, “Let there be light” (Gen 1.3).  And the plan was so settled that when Adam and Eve did sin, God told them He had a plan (while cursing the Devil in the snake’s body):

The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed; 
He shall bruise you on the head, 
And you shall bruise him on the heel.

 – Gen 3.14-15

Jesus is the seed of woman – the Devil bruised His heal by killing Him on the cross, but Jesus crushed His head when he defeated death through His resurrection.

God established the order of creation:  Mankind in need of a savior, the retribution for sin being found in blood alone (Heb 9.22), and Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for the sin of the believers.  Redemption.  God could have set up another route to salvation.  He could have created a world in which there is no sin.  He actually did create a world in which there is no rebellion from His ways:  Heaven!  The angels long to look into the mystery of salvation (1 Peter 1.12).  Because they are in a setting in which they are in God’s presence, they are worshiping Him continually, and they do not understand God’s plan of redemption experientially.  But they understand the magnitude and glory of it, and that is why all Heaven rejoices at the salvation of one soul (Luke 15.7).

But here on Earth God has a perfect plan of redemption by the blood of Jesus Christ:

But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

 – Is 53.10

God, who is love, defined what love was, and then acted it out.  He loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life (John 3.16).

And the only response to such great love is to die to our flesh daily, take up our cross and follow Him (Matt 16.24).  If God would die for us, and offer us eternity with Him, what less can we give back to Him than to offer our lives back?

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

 – Rom 12.1-2

Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.

Have you heard the rumors?  The end is coming.  The signs of the age are here.  There are wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, etc.  Surely America has become so vile in our thoughts and laws that the Lord will return any day!

I don’t know about all of that.  My intention is in no way to get political in this post, but I do want to point out the fact that the United States is not the new Israel.  We are not God’s chosen people as a nation.  The new Israel is any and all who are found in Christ – who have repented of their sins and have made Him the Lord of their lives.  We are not politically or geographically defined, rather Spiritually united!

And not only that, but we often get so concerned and scared that the Church does not have enough sway to impact the culture and world.  Yes, I am deeply grieved at the continuing decline of church attendance and moral decay in our culture.  But if glorifying God was not the foundational factor in our morality in generations past, then there is no loss truly to be mourned.  Because morality without God is still damnable.

The Church in the first century was at a highly more vulnerable state than we are today.  There were maybe 500 believers in the world, who were quickly scattered, persecute and killed because of their faith and claims.  The Roman Emperor Nero, by the year 64 AD began persecuting and killing Christians publicly and worldwide persecutions were dominant for nearly three hundred years.  The first multiple generations of Christians only knew existence as hated and persecuted people.  Then the tides changed and because of how quickly and broadly Christianity spread, it was made the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 300’s.  Thus an entirely new threat came upon the Church:  sordid interests.  Non believers bought offices, forced conversions and Christianity became a status symbol and lost integrity.  But it still continued to grow.

Often times when we return to Scripture to remember that our battle is in the Spiritual realm, we turn to Ephesians 6.10-12:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

And also to 1 John 4.4:

“Greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world.”

The Holy Spirit indwells believers and gives us power to fight internal sin and to stand strong and proclaim the truth in the midst of Spiritual enemies, making disciples of all nations!  But today I am so moved by and encouraged by the story of Elisha and his servant as they stood before a battle against the King of Aram:

“[The King of Aram] sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.  Now when the attendant of the man of God (Elisha) had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city.  And his servant said to [Elisha], ‘Alas, my master!  What shall we do?’  So he answered, ‘Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’  Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

– 2 Kings 6.14-17

God has a purpose for His Church.  He will bring people from every tribe, tongue and nation to repentance and salvation (Rev 5.9).  And He – the Almighty God – indwells all who have repented of their sins and turned to Him for salvation (Ez 36.26-27).  He gives us power from within to fight sin and to represent Him well.  But, we are also standing with an army of angels.  Sometimes it feels as though we are alone.  Elijah felt that and complained to God about Israel:

“‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have torn down your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’  But what was the divine response to him?  ‘I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal’.”

– Rom 11.3-4

And while God always promises to keep for Himself a remnant of faithful people, He also promises to charge a spiritual army around us.

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.”

– Ps 91.11

Llet us always remember that “those who are with us are more than those who with them.”  God is greater in power.  We have more soldiers.  And the battle has been won!  The end is written!  Therefore, let us stand firm.  Let us hold the line.  Let us press on.  Let us honor God.

From Murderer to Martyr

“For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.  But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia and returned once more to Damascus.”

Gal 1.13-17

The conversion of Paul is one of the hallmarks of the New Testament exemplifying the miraculous power and grace of God.  Paul was a Pharisee: a Jewish religious leader and teacher.  He was zealous, he stood out amongst the others in his heritage, in his teaching and in his passion.  He fully understood that the claims of Jesus to be God, if not true, were blasphemous and on that foundation he murdered Christians.  He is named as present at the murder of the first martyr, Stephen (Acts 7-8).

But then we have the account of Jesus calling him out by name on the road to Damascus – while he was en route to bind and imprison Christians to bring them back to Rome to be killed. Jesus appeared to him, called him to repentance, and he was blinded for three days until a prophet named Ananias came and restored his sight and prayed over him to be filled with the Holy Spirit and establish the beginning of his ministry.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains a bit about the timeline of his life post-Damascus Road experience.  He went away for three years to Arabia to commune with the Lord, after which he went and met with Peter to compare notes.  God called Paul to specifically minister to Gentiles – to anyone not of Jewish descent – so as to take the Gospel and salvation to the entire world.

But what stands out to me about his account of his own calling is that he said that God had “set me apart from my mother’s womb” (Gal 1.15).

Does that strike you?  God set Paul apart from before he was born to be the apostle to the Gentiles.  To be the key ambassador of Jesus Christ to the non-Jewish world.  Before he was born.  The election of God is evident and clearly taught throughout Scripture, but that means that his heritage of Judaism, working as a Pharisee and murdering Christians were all included in the perfect plan of God for his life.

God’s timing and plans are perfect and so far beyond our comprehension (Is 55.8).  God is always going to do what is right:

“Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

Gen 18.25

But sometimes it looks vastly different than you or I would imagine.  Scripture says that the Church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2.20).  Would you build your following on one who had murdered those who followed you?  God did.

He has established your path.  Everything in your past has brought you to where you are today.  So repent.  Embrace your heritage.  Cling to His grace poured out over you.  Praise God for all things.  And serve God.  Serving “as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4.11).

Is God Schizophrenic?

“…and may the Lord do what is good in His sight.”

– 2 Samuel 10.12

I grew up in a church that highly valued discipleship.  As a child, in 1st – 3rd grade I learned about God and his power.  In Sunday School I learned about God’s omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence.  Yes,  at 7 years old I was taught those doctrines and terms.

God is omnipresent:  He is everywhere at all times.

God is omniscient:  He knows everything, past, present and future.

God Is omnipotent:  He is all powerful.

I am reflecting today on God’s power.  He is sovereign.  So why the title of this post, “Is God Schizophrenic”?  Because sometimes – scripture teaches us – that He wills that something come to pass that He forbids or commands to not come to pass.  The most obvious example of this is the cross.

Exodus 20.13:  “Thou shall not kill.”  

God clearly forbids the murder of innocent people.  Yes, there were times in the Law that God commanded justice in the form of the death penalty.  But apart from the enactment of social justice, killing was forbidden.

Acts 4:27-28:  “Truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur.”

There are quite a few passages of scripture that speak clearly to God’s will and plan of Christ’s crucifixion.  We see the prophecy of it in Gen 3 at the fall. Isaiah 53.10 says that it pleased God to crush Him, and Acts 2 says that Jesus was crucified according to the predestined plan of God.

Salvation through grace by faith in the blood of Jesus was God’s plan from before creation.  Revelation 13.8 notes that all who would be saved have had their name written in the book of life of the lamb who has been slain since before the world began!

Now, I realize that that is a weighty doctrine that takes much humility and reflection to grasp with an American, entitled, presupposing humanity’s innate goodness mindset.  (Most other worldviews have no problem with this…)  But what does that have to do with me?

“Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.  And this we will do if God permits.”

Hebrews 6.1-3

This is what it has to do with me.  With you.  The author of this book implores us to 1) leave elementary teachings behind, 2) press on to maturity, and 3) not relay foundations.  The foundations are good.  They are great!  They are what we need to grow up to maturity.  But we need to be purposeful about practicing the basics – the foundations – so that our spiritual senses are trained to discern good and evil (Heb 5.14), and through this ability press on to maturity!

But notice the last sentence of this direction:  “And this we will do if God permits.”

We can only leave behind the elementary teachings, press on to maturity and not relay foundations IF God permits!  Hebrews speaks to this a few different ways.  In 13.20-21 he says, “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord 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.”  We can only do His will if He equips us.

And one of the most quoted verses in the New Testament about salvation is Eph 2.8-9 “For by faith you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works so that no one may boast.”  God gives faith.  You do not have faith in and of yourself.  You are dead in your sin apart from God giving you life (Eph 2.1).

Therefore permitting us to grow, allowing us to mature is God’s mercy towards us.  Leaving us in our sin and rebellion is God’s justified judgment.

And sometimes God’s perfect will includes sin.  Sometimes He ordains the most horrendous of sins (the murder of His son, who had never sinned and did not deserve any wrongdoing against Him), to work out His perfect plan.  Sometimes He ordains vessels of wrath to exist and sin in order to make His power known (Romans 9.22)!

So what does that mean for you and me today?  Let us press on towards maturity and let us repent as long as we are able, for there will come a time when – if we continue in sin – it will no longer be an option (Heb 12).  Let us trust God as the world continues in it’s worldly way that He is indeed in control.  He is indeed omnipotent.  He is not caught off guard by what is happening in your life, quite the opposite – He ordained it!  He is using it to His perfect end.  Love Him.  Cherish Him.  Embrace His plan.  And take comfort that He has allowed you and drawn you to repent, pouring out His mercy on your life.

Let us trust God.