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Thoughts on Prayer

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Most of you that follow this blog have figured out that I am something of a throw back to a different time, even a bit old fashioned in some ways. As far as ministry is concerned, I am more closely aligned with those of the past who eschewed the latest fads and techniques in favor of simply proclaiming the word of God.

I can truthfully say that I have never attempted to follow anyone’s prescribed methodology of ministry. That’s not to say there haven’t been a few who have attempted to get me to follow in their footsteps, because there have been.

How well I recall the minister who told me to “just do what I do”. Thankfully, I chose not to do follow his advice because it wasn’t long before that particular individual was never heard from again.

Instead, I have held to the belief that if we pray and seek God He will produce the desired outcome. His desired outcome.

Like many of you, I have learned through the years that whatever is born out of prayer will stand the test of time. Likewise, that which comes from the heart of man will eventually falter no matter how much effort is put into shoring it up.

It is with this background that I approach the subject of prayer in the church. I’m referring to a specific time or season of prayer here, not merely saying a prayer. Perhaps you have heard of such a season referred to as ‘the prayer meeting’, or more simply ‘a time of prayer’.

Many church goers today are unaware that there was a time when the prayer meeting was the single most important meeting of the week. It was given far more emphasis than even the Sunday morning services. It was deemed so important that the great British pastor C.H.Spurgeon had this to say about it:

“The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if He be not there, one of the first tokens of His absence will be a sloth-fullness in prayer”. [1]

This is an incredibly powerful commentary on prayer in the church. Written by Spurgeon well over 100 years ago, it describes perfectly the relationship between God and His church and the effects a lack of prayer has upon her.

God has always called His people to pray. Going all the way back to the 4th chapter of Genesis we are told that after the birth of Enos (grandson of Adam and Eve), men began to call upon the name of the Lord. [2]

This ‘calling upon the Lord’ carried into the New Testament where we find Jesus teaching His disciples how to pray. [3]. The record we have of the early church gives us no less than four examples of how prayer should be made “without ceasing”. [4]

Starting to see a pattern here? Sounds like prayer is a really important part of man’s  relationship with his Creator, wouldn’t you agree?

This leads me to a question for us all: how much emphasis is being placed on prayer in our churches? A little? A lot? Hardly any? None? Sadly, I know exactly how I must answer this.

If Spurgeon was right in saying that the church may be gauged by its prayer meetings, what does that say about us today? What does this say about our relationship with our Heavenly Father if we have forsaken prayer?

I was discussing this issue with my wife and we started talking about all of the different metrics the church uses today to determine it’s effectiveness, or success. Things like attendance and offerings seem to be two of the most popular metrics, with ministry involvement and the number of conversions following close behind them.

One item you won’t find on any church’s flow chart however is the % of its congregation that is committed to regular prayer, whether at home or in a scheduled time of corporate prayer at the church. I’ll leave you to figure out for yourself why that is.

The result of what Spurgeon deemed “slothfulness in prayer” is the absence of the greatest church metric there is. I’m speaking of lives that have been transformed by the power of the gospel. Seriously, If we need to count something, why don’t we count something that really matters, like lives forever changed by the power of the gospel?

How hard can that be? Wait…maybe that’s the problem!

I see it all the time, and I’m sure that you do as well. Church services that are filled with hurting, desperate people all filing out at the end of the service exactly as they filed in. Unchanged, unmoved, and unregenerate. And we wonder why so few wish to join us. Why would they?

“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof”. [5] Do you suppose the Apostle Paul was looking into the future to our day when he said those very words?

As I look upon the landscape of the Church today, I see a famine of unprecedented magnitude. To be sure, we have preachers a plenty. And there is certainly no shortage of singers and musicians in God’s house. We have programs designed to meet nearly every need imaginable, yet fail to recognize that we now mirror the church of Laodicea that was “rich and increased with goods”, but did not know she “was poor, and blind, and naked”. [6]

Yet for all of these, the Church is starving to death for the Presence of God. When we do not pray, He will not come. Why would he show up uninvited, even in His own house?

I speak only for myself, but I cannot abide such an environment for even one more Sunday. I can no longer be content with another church service where we repeat the same tired, worn out routine again. I am desperate for the power and the Presence of God!

A form of godliness emanating from a man-centered, manufactured service does nothing for me or anyone else. And how are we to know that it is only a ‘form of godliness’? Because there is no transformation taking place.

If God were in our midst like we pretend that he is, I can assure you that lives would be changed on a regular basis. Needs would be met. Addictions would be broken. Diseases would be instantaneously healed. Marriages would be restored and families reunited. Those who handle the Word of God would cast aside their haughtiness and pride, finding themselves broken and prostrate before Him.

Maybe, just maybe what is needed is a return to the ‘Old Paths’ where “if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” [7will once again become the battle cry of the redeemed.

Who can tell if the Lord will reveal himself anew if only we would call upon Him in earnest and sincere prayer?

Actually, I believe that that is precisely what he is waiting on.

Be blessed,

Ron

 

[1] Spurgeon at His Best(Grand Rapids:Baker)

[2] Genesis 4:26

[3] Luke 11

[4] Acts 12:5, Romans 1:9, 1 Thess. 5:17, 2 Tim. 1:3

[5] 2 Tim. 3:5

[6] Revelation 3:17

[7] 2nd Chronicles 7:14

 

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When the object of our worship is US

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Assuming you attend church regularly, have you ever given much thought about what motivates you to do so? I know I have, and here lately I have been giving this a lot of thought.

Through the years I’ve heard a lot of different answers to that question. Some of them make perfect sense (to me), while others leave me scratching my head. Here is a sampling of what I’m talking about.

  • “It’s the right thing to do”…spoken by a man whose coarse language left me wondering if he really knew the Lord.
  • “It’s what ‘good people’ do”…I guess this means if you don’t go to church you are a ‘bad person’?
  • “To worship God”…hopefully this is one we can all agree with.
  • “I’ve always went to church”…so church has become a habit?
  • “I like the singing”…I can’t tell you how many people have said this one. I guess the opposite of this is if you don’t like the singing you stay home?
  • “I like the pastor”…similar to the preceding one.
  • “My wife’s family helped to start this church”…ah yes, the ‘my family’s roots run deep in this church’ statement. Tread carefully here!
  • “I’m being forced to attend by my parents”…otherwise known as ‘I’ve got a drug problem. My parents drug me to church all of the time’.

Like I said, a wide variety of answers from a wide variety of people. I’m sure the case can be made for what does it matter why I go to church, just as long as I go. I get it!

I wonder though, how many of us would admit that one of the primary reasons we attend church is for what we get out of it? In other words, we attend because we are made the primary beneficiary, or recipient, rather than God. Maybe I should explain this a bit more.

We go because we are made to feel happy. We go because we are made to feel important. We go because we are made to feel loved. We go because we are made to feel needed. And do you know what? All of those are wonderful things!

But here’s the thing, NONE of those things should be our primary motivator in attending church. All of those wonderful things are the outcomes, or the results of our worship and adoration of the King! The come only because we have first worshiped Him!

You see, isn’t a church service supposed to be about God’s children assembling together to worship Him in Spirit and Truth? According to Jesus it is, which means then that God is to be the sole object of our worship. [1]

As a matter of fact, you cannot find a single instance in the New Testament where we are taught that when we assemble together we are to do so with the expectancy that we will be made to feel a certain way or that we will receive anything.

Yet isn’t that the prevailing thought of many today? “Come to our church and you will receive a blessing”. “Sow your best seed and God will multiply it back to you”. “Give, give, give, and you will get, get, get”! In other words, it’s all about YOU!

Here is the inherent danger in adopting such a mindset. We risk prostituting the meaning of worship in the Church because we have replaced the object of our worship with ourselves.

Preaching styles, personality traits of the pastor, types of music and singing, formal or casual dress, coffee bars, pews or theatre seating, all of these reflect on our desire to please SELF.

They have absolutely nothing to do with the kind of worship that Jesus referred to in John 4:23. In that particular verse, Jesus makes it clear that the Father is seeking a specific type of worship because he said “for the Father is seeking such to worship him. (emphasis mine)

This emphasis on self worship also shows up in other ways in the church. For example, I had a lady come up to me and proceed to tell me that the message I had recently delivered on everlasting hope didn’t sit well with her. She said that she did not agree with my definition of hope. Since my ‘definition’ of hope was read verbatim from the Bible, her comments peaked my curiosity.

With that in mind, and knowing that this person tends to ‘disappear’ for long stretches of time (I am being very kind here), I simply asked her how her definition of hope was working out for her. She immediately went on the defensive and said that she knew the Lord Jesus Christ as her Savior and that’s all she needed to know. How that statement proved that my definition of hope was wrong, well, I’ll just leave that to her to work out.

My point being is that if our flesh doesn’t like or agree with scripture, we simply disregard it. What matters is not whether my life is lived in accordance with God’s word, but that I believe what I want to believe. I reign over my life, not God. In assuming such an attitude, I make myself the object of my worship. I exist for no other purpose than to make myself happy.

Beloved, we would do well to remember that the Lord is a jealous God. [2] Worship belongs to Him and Him alone. Creature comforts and the felt needs of you and I are not a part of true worship. They may draw a crowd on Sunday morning, but they have nothing to do with true worship.

That is reserved for God alone.

Have a blessed Lord’s day,

Ron

 

[1] John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

[2] Exodus 20:5, 34:14, Deut. 4:24, Joshua 24:19,

Five traits you never want to see in your pastor

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There are few occupations that can rival that of being the pastor of a church. Pastor’s are expected to be all things to all people, and no matter how good of a job they do it is a guarantee that someone will not be happy.

Depending on the size of the congregation, a pastor is called upon to do everything from visiting the sick and shut-ins to mowing the lawn and cleaning the restrooms. In very large congregations they also serve as a type of CEO, overseeing all manner of programs and activities.

Did you also know that a pastor is expected to be a mind reader? That’s right, they’re supposed to be able discern what you’re thinking and whether or not you’re having a good day or a terrible day.

Sounds like a carefree, fun, and exciting occupation doesn’t’ it?

The word “pastor” is derived from the Latin noun pastor which means shepherd and is derived from the verb pascere – “to lead to pasture, set to grazing, cause to eat”. [1]

Pastors, or shepherds have the grave responsibility of feeding and protecting their flock. They have been entrusted with a holy calling from God to defend their sheep from all predators, and have been divinely equipped to do so.

I trust that your pastor is fulfilling his calling and is watching over you with the careful eye of one who understands that he will give an account to God one day as to how well he performed his sacred duties.

Noted pastor, teacher, author, and theologian John MacArthur gives what I believe to be one of the best descriptions of what a pastor’s responsibilities are. Check out the video below. Please Note: this is not an endorsement of all of John Macarthur’s teachings or of his “Grace To You” ministry. I am simply including his remarks here because I happen to believe with them regarding the primary role of pastors.

How wonderful it would be if every pastor fit the description offered by MacArthur.

Sadly, we live in a time now when there are numerous ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ filling the nation’s pulpits. The Bible refers to them as “hirelings”, meaning they are simply there to pick up a paycheck. In other words, to a hireling being a pastor is just a job. [2]

With this in mind, here are five traits you never want to see in your pastor.

  1. Your pastor is never broken before the Lord. True shepherds are humble and possess a servants heart and attitude. They live to serve others, not themselves. If your pastor is loud, proud, self-serving and arrogant you can be sure that his heart is far from the Lord.
  2. The pastor never mentions that the Lord has been dealing with him privately about spiritual matters. God always works through the leadership of the church. The shepherd is His conduit to reach the people. If the pastor isn’t hearing from the Lord either through the word or his own private prayer time, something is horribly wrong.
  3. The pastor never calls your church to a season of consecrated prayer. Prayer is the lifeblood of a church. It is the means by which God’s people express themselves to their Creator. A church that is not drawn together in unified prayer is a church on the downgrade.
  4. The pastor fails to hold himself accountable to the biblical standards of a shepherd. There are strict moral and spiritual character requirements for the position. This is necessary because not just anyone should be placed in such an important leadership role in Christ’s Church. When a pastor fails to meet the standards as set forth by the Bible, he is in effect degrading the office. [3]
  5. The pastor sees his role as primarily that of a cheerleader rather than one who faithfully proclaims the whole counsel of God. Being a faithful pastor is not for the faint of heart or those who lack the willingness to confront ‘sin in the camp’. At times a pastor must employ biblical correction of wayward behavior among the sheep. A pastor who only wants to be a cheerleader and never impose discipline is not fulfilling the role as intended. [4]

As I said earlier, I sincerely trust that your pastor is fulfilling his duties and watching over you with love, care, and concern. By the same token, all of us should be praying for our pastors that the Lord will guide, strengthen, and encourage them daily.

If however you see any of these traits frequently on display in your pastor, especially if these traits have been discussed with him by those he is accountable to, it may be time to start looking for a new one because your current pastor is no longer hearing from the Lord.

Yes…it is that serious.

Be blessed in Jesus name,

Ron

[1] Wikipedia

[2] Matthew 7:15, John 10:12-13

[3] 1st Timothy 3

[4] Joshua 7:20

Pearls from the Princess

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Recently my Princess and I were discussing how important it is to remain teachable regardless of ones age or position in life. You probably know someone who has convinced themselves that they have ‘arrived’, and that they no longer need to work on improving themselves. Fun people to be around. NOT

Often these kinds of people feel that there are no areas in their life that are in need of God’s help or attention. In their minds it is enough for them to say “I got this”, meaning that they alone are in complete control over every circumstance in their life.

In actuality however, these are dangerous people. They are a danger to themselves and a danger to others. More often than not they are controlling and manipulative. They work tirelessly to build themselves up while neglecting others. Every thing they do points back to themselves instead of towards others.

No where are such people more of a threat than in the Church. That is because one does not expect to find such an attitude among the redeemed, as church has always been thought of as a safe haven. God’s house, or so we have been taught, is a refuge from the evil that is so pervasive in this world.

It is precisely this mindset that enables such dangerous people to hide in plain sight, blending in with the rest of God’s sheep. This is how sexual predators in the church get away with their deviant crimes for so long. It’s also how deceptive and manipulative individuals are able to exercise dominion over unsuspecting people.

These are described by the Apostle Paul as “having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away”! [1]

Conversely, people that remain teachable understand that they may have several short-comings. Perfection is not a part of their vocabulary. They are not self-reliant but rely upon the Lord to help them get those areas under control. Far from “having arrived”,  they know that they are a work in progress.

Through prayer and the study of God’s word they see that He is doing a work in their heart. Yes, it is a life-long process, but they are able to see progress nonetheless. The important thing is that they remain humble, not lifting themselves up with a prideful, arrogant spirit. [2]

Two very different types of people; those who remain humble and teachable and those who have convinced themselves that they “have arrived”and thus are in command of their destiny.

I have worked with and for both types in my lifetime, in the church as well as the corporate world. At some point in my life I am certain that I was both of those people. Just as certain is the fact that I much preferred one over the other.

I know that who I am today is not who I once was. In His own good timing, the Lord has a way of weeding out the hinderances to our spiritual growth if we will allow him to do so. And yes, that includes things, circumstances, and even people.

Having the choice of the two, I know the type of person I desire to be. I want to be the teachable, malleable, humble vessel that God chooses to work through.

There’s an old saying that says “you’re never too old to learn”. This saying should come with a disclaimer however that says “as long as you’re teachable”.

Have a blessed day everyone!

Ron

 

[1] 2nd Timothy 3:5

[2] Proverbs 16:18

 

Four words you never expect to hear in church

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“You’re Not Good Enough”.

Stinging, painful words of rebuke. Whether they were deliberately spoken in order to hurt you doesn’t matter. What matters is they hurt. They cut deeply and wound our hearts.

Some of you have heard these words spoken to you or about you. Maybe not verbatim, but they may as well have been because the hurt is the same. Those four little words possess an enormous ability to tear down and destroy.

I heard these words from someone at my church last Sunday. And they hurt. They hurt deeply because they cut me deeply. They reached a part of my heart that I thought couldn’t be reached with such words. I thought the walls guarding my heart were impenetrable. But I was wrong. I was so very wrong about that.

For accuracy’s sake, those exact words weren’t spoken. But what was spoken was interpreted as “You’re not good enough to be permitted to do a certain thing here”. And to make sure there wasn’t any confusion about it, the point was made that I would never be good enough.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH

All of my adult life, and particularly in the business world, I have been told that I wasn’t ‘good enough’.

  • Not enough education
  • Not enough experience
  • Not enough connections
  • Not good enough

Because I was labeled as such, I was forced to work much harder and longer to achieve what others did in a much shorter amount of time. I accepted that as just how it was, and never allowed others to impose their limitations upon me. That is how God created me, and it has served me well for over six decades now.

So, back to the point I wanted to make. It took me all of Sunday and part of Monday to process this. And do you know what the Lord showed me about this? He showed me that He alone sets the standard, not man. He reminded me once again that there is no one that is ‘good enough’ except for the Lord.

As for me, with the Lord’s help I have moved past those four stinging words. In fact, I choose instead to focus on a different set of words because in them I am assured that it is the Lord that ultimately gets to decide who is ‘good enough’.

But “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.   2nd Cor. 10:17,18.  NKJV

The next time someone tries to tear you down by telling you that you aren’t ‘good enough’, you just remind them that when it’s all said and done, God alone will determine who is ‘good enough’, not the person telling you that.

Have a blessed day everyone,

Ron

 

When God is your only option

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This past Sunday morning in my home church, I delivered a message about the undefiled and incorruptible inheritance that awaits us. I made several points about how short this life really is, and how that if our only hope was in what we can amass in this life, then our hope was not only misplaced, but also futile.

I tried very hard to drive home the point that in this life, while there will be seasons of hurt and disappointment that will severely test our faith, such testing is much more precious than gold which is purified in the fire. [1]

At the close of the message, as is the custom in our church, I invited anyone in need of special prayer to come forward. Our church makes this time of prayer a priority, and every week there are usually several people that come forward.

On this particular Sunday, a young lady who had only recently started attending our church came forward. Having met and spoken with her on her first visit, I was aware of some serious physical challenges she had been facing, so it was no great surprise to see her ask for prayer.

I listened as she shared with me that the disease that was supposed to be in remission had now spread to another part of her body. If that wasn’t horrific enough, she told me how fearful she was of what might become of her small children should the unthinkable happen to her.

As I prayed for her, she collapsed into my chest, sobbing uncontrollably and unashamedly. In short, she was broken. Broken in spirit and broken in body. And who wouldn’t be?

I have no doubt that some of you understand this level of desperation. You too have had to face death head on, with no guarantee of the outcome. Can life get any more real than this?

As I continued praying with her, she held on to me, unable or unwilling to let go. All I could think about was how this is what real ministry is supposed to be: bearing one another’s burdens in our most desperate moments.

That’s why we’re here, to express the love of Christ to all who need it. You and I are the hands and feet of the Master, and I believe with all that’s within me that no one is too hurt, too sick, too lost, or too desperate that God cannot get to them. He can reach anyone in any situation. He is our helper in the time of trouble. [2]

It may seem like God is this young lady’s only option at this point, but really…

Sometimes I wonder…is that so bad?

Please join with me in praying for Mary, and if you would, please share this with someone else that believes in the power of prayer.

Ron

 

[1] 1st Peter 1:3-9

[2[ Psalm 46:1

It’s ok to love from a distance!

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Do you struggle with making steady progress in your walk with the Lord because of certain people in your life that keep pulling you away from Him?

Do you ever feel like ‘taking two steps forward and one step backward’ sums up your life?

Do the failures, hurts, and disappointments from your past continually haunt you to the point of nearly paralyzing you, thus rendering you unable to effectively live for Christ?

familyradio316.com

If any of this sounds like I’m reading your mind, it’s because almost all of us are in these same predicaments. Let’s face it, the struggle is real, and we are locked in a very real battle with a very real enemy.

I have lived long enough to understand that all of us struggle at times, but not all of us struggle for the same reasons. In addition, we may also find ourselves struggling with situations not of our own choosing, and therefore out of our control.

With that in mind, I want to focus on a particular area of struggle that we can control, which is who we allow into our lives.

This can be a difficult subject to deal with for a Christian, first of all because God is love, and as his children we are taught to love people. The idea of keeping anyone at arms length is not easy for some because they equate that with a lack of love.

It was Jesus after all who said that “no greater love has a man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends”.  From this verse we find the heart of God, and it is only natural for us to desire to emulate that very same love.  [1]

So, again, we who are followers of Jesus Christ must love people because that is the commandment of our Savior.

No doubt you have heard it said that Christians are to “love the sinner but hate the sin”, or some variant of that. That means that we are to look past the sin in a person’s life and see their need for a Savior.

Personally, I believe this to be sound advice. We must be careful however to understand that while we should love without regard to lifestyle choices, habits, etc, we must be very careful as to how much influence we allow these same people to exert over us.

And yes, that includes those who profess Christ but live as though they know nothing about Him. This is made perfectly clear to us in Paul’s second letter to Timothy where he said we were to turn away from such people.   [2]

It is (hopefully) obvious to us as Christians that we cannot permit the enemy to gain a foothold in our homes and in the lives of our family members. We must remain vigilant against the methodology of the adversary, because he routinely transforms himself into something that we would be attracted to.   [3]

In other words, our enemy isn’t likely to appear on your doorstep wearing a red cape, horns, and carrying a pitchfork. He will however appear in such a manner as to put you at ease long enough to deceive you!

This is where loving from a distance comes into play. Instead of opening our hearts to things that might harm us, we should proceed with caution. And yes, it is perfectly alright to say NO to someone!

As a matter of fact, scripture teaches us to keep the world at an arms length from us. Paul actually used a stronger word when he said we should come out from among them and separate ourselves.

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. 2nd Corinthians 6:16,17

If we are to live victoriously in Christ, it will be because through Christ we have conquered our past failures and disappointments. Through Him we will have buried the demons that used to haunt us.

“You can’t defeat the demons you keep playing with” is a popular internet meme quoted frequently all over the web today by many preachers and Christian entertainers.

It is a very powerful truth as well.

To continue “playing with” them is to invite certain destruction into our lives because having fellowship with darkness is diametrically opposite of what scripture teaches us in Ephesians 5:11.  [4]

As children of the King, we are to love all people simply because everyone, saint and sinner alike, has been created in the image of God. Never forget that while we were yet sinners ,Christ died for us.

Wisdom, however, dictates that loving from a distance until you really get to know a person is not only prudent, it may just save you much heartache.

Have a blessed day everyone,

Ron

[1] John 15:13

[2] 2nd Timothy 3:5

[3] 2nd Corinthians 11:14

[4] Ephesians 5:11

 

 

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