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“My house shall be called a house of prayer”

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My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.

Those were the words of Jesus, quoting Isaiah 56:7 after he had entered the temple and drove out all who were buying and selling, or profiting off of God’s house. The Jews had turned the house of God into something it was never intended to be, and Jesus had literally had enough and decided to do something about it.

Many of us have a problem envisioning the gentle Savior becoming angry, don’t we?Harder still is imagining the scene where Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. Images of tables overturned, coins tossed all about, and men scrambling to get out of his way are not the images we associate with Jesus. [1]

Yet this was Jesus in action, whip in hand, taking authority over what had become the desecration of the temple. The temple was the place where men assembled for one purpose: to worship God. This was a sacred and a holy place, for it was here that men went to call upon the Lord.

Because their hearts were so far from the one true God, the Jews had long ago stopped worshiping Him and instead had resorted to using the temple as a means of profiteering. They knew that since the people came from many different areas to worship, that they would need to purchase animals to sacrifice.

Money changers would be needed to exchange the various types of money for shekels so the people could purchase these animals, and these money changers were all too happy to tack on a little extra charge for the privilege. In other words, they found a way to profit off of God.

A religious racket if you will.

This is what had infuriated Jesus that day. Worship now came at a monetary cost. If you wanted to worship in the temple, you now had to pony up and pay the going rate, otherwise you were left on the outside looking in.

The Jews had distorted the true meaning of worship. They had prostituted the worship of God in exchange for money. The new order of the day was ‘you wanna play, you gotta pay’.

All of this in a place designed as a house of prayer. A place where devout worshipers went to meet with God had been turned into a cold, dead, lifeless building operating under the marketplace mentality of those who knew not God.

How sobering is that?

I submit to you that it is no more sobering than seeing what we Christians have done to God’s house in our day. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the church has taken this to levels the temple Jews never dreamed of.

It didn’t start out this way, of this much we know for certain. The early New Testament church faced an unrelenting persecution levied against it by king Herod. It was this Herod who made James(the brother of John) the 1st of the Disciples to be martyred for Christ. [2]

Seeing that this pleased the Jews so much, Herod then took Peter and threw him in jail, intending to kill him as well. Knowing full well what had happened to James, the church then began an earnest prayer meeting on behalf of Peter. [3]

So intense was this prayer meeting that the Bible tells us that “prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him(Peter). No two minute prayer read from a prayer book meets the definition of ‘prayer without ceasing’. No, this was praying on a whole different level. [3]

These men and women were praying around the clock for Peter because they knew that his very life depended upon them interceding with God for him. I liken this type of prayer to a woman in labor. Intense prayer, prayer wrought with tears of desperation and anguish.

If you know this story at all, then you know that God did indeed intervene. He sent an angel to deliver Peter from the prison, a pattern of deliverance that was repeated time and again in the early church. Their formula was simple: whenever a great need arose, the church banded together in one mind and one accord and prayed until they saw the victory.

These early believers knew something we don’t know today. They understood that God intended for his church to come together in meaningful and enduring prayer, hence the prophet Isaiah’s words that “my house shall be called a house of prayer”.

Is that how we would best describe your church or mine today? Are we gathering together in seasons of meaningful, enduring prayer as the early church did?

Unlike so many of us, they understood that the connection between God’s power and presence was solidified through prayer. Not preaching or teaching, not singing or music, not programs or activities.

God showed up when people prayed.

None of those other things are capable of bringing the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit unless they are first bathed in meaningful and enduring prayer. There is an anointing, or spiritual power that exists in our efforts when those same efforts are saturated in prayer.

There is no anointing my friends on the flesh-centered mindset that permeates so many of our churches today. Services that have been carefully designed to make you feel as though you are the most important thing in the building are devoid of any Spirit that “breaks the yoke” of sin. [4]

Do you see the difference? I have commented on this before, this absurdity of believing that someone can “lead us into the presence of God” or somehow ‘bring a word’ when they themselves never approach Him in prayer. Yet for some odd reason, God’s people seem to be content to have it this way. [5]

Could it be we don’t even know what we’re missing?

Prayer is the key whether we are talking about an individual or an entire church. Without it we are left to stumble along, guided by our own ideas and methods that can never have the impact they could have were they birthed in prayer.

I think it’s time that Christians everywhere were reminded of the fact that the church was birthed in a prayer meeting. This thing we call ‘Church’ began in an upper room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, when the Disciples of Jesus along with several others were filled with the Holy Ghost. [6]

My hope is that all of us would stop to consider that if the Church was birthed in a prayer meeting, wouldn’t it make sense that the Church should continue in the same manner?

Be blessed everyone,

Ron

 

[1] John 2:15

[2] Acts 12:2

[3] Acts 12:5

[4] Zechariah 4:6

[5] Jeremiah 5:31

[6] Acts 2:4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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,

If it’s not in the Bible…

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I just had to share a link to an article that really resonated with me. In a day when many people who attend church do not study the scriptures and therefore will accept just about anything as the “Gospel Truth”, it is indeed refreshing to see that not everyone has jumped off the cliff!

From the “Messed Up Church” website:

“If God really wanted us to “Achieve our Dreams” and “Fulfill our Destiny,” wouldn’t the Bible clearly tell us that? Wouldn’t there be verses in the New Testament where we (the church) would be instructed to “Dream Big” or “Get out of your comfort zone” or “Follow the dream in your heart” or something like that? Did Jesus die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, or did He die on the cross so our dreams can come true”?

You can read the rest of this enlightening article here:

https://www.themessedupchurch.com/blog/dear-christian-stop-it 

Be blessed!

Ron

Relinquishing Your Freedom in Christ is an Expensive Proposition

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Freedom

Just saying the word evokes thoughts of sacrifice and struggle, oppression and conflict. It also calls to remembrance our sincere appreciation and gratitude for those who have sacrificed to ensure freedom for people’s everywhere.

As children of God we know that in Christ we have been made free. Those who know the Lord as Savior know a freedom unlike any other, as “free indeed” is unlike any other freedom……”whom the Son sets free, is free indeed”. (John 8:36).

Other verses inform us of the fact that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, and while we are now free from sin, we have become slaves to righteous living.            (II Cor.3:17 & Romans 6:18)

All this to say that as Christians, we willingly, lovingly embrace the liberty we have in Christ. Nonetheless, this liberty is fraught with potential dangers should we be tempted to dangle our toes in unfamiliar waters.

All of us, and I do mean all of us, face temptations that appeal to our flesh. Whether we are tempted by power, drugs, alcohol, sex, or money, the fact is that any of these can quickly become our master, overpowering our senses and bringing us again into bondage.

We must remain ever vigilant to counter such temptations if we are to live in victory. Prayer and the reading of the Word are key weapons in this never ending struggle.

These points have been driven home to me again this week while reading the story of how Israel came to have a king reign over them. What started as a nation fully dependent upon and loyal to God, soon turned into full blown rejection of His leadership.

Without launching into a long, detailed history lesson, Samuel was the prophet who had the unenviable task of anointing the first king of Israel. While crowning a new king would normally be cause for great celebration, Samuel’s task was heartbreaking because he knew that in anointing an earthly king, it signaled a severing of the cord between Israel and their God.

As most of you know, throughout Israel’s history they demonstrated a propensity to wander from God. This tendency to stray eventually culminated in their demanding a king to rule over them, just like all the nations around them. In other words, they wanted to be just like everyone else.

Have you ever been told, or have you ever told someone “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”? This is about to happen to Israel.

Even though they had received an advanced warning as to the quality of leader they would be getting, Israel was determined to proceed with having things their way regardless of the cost. And oh what a price they would pay!

If you will read 1st Samuel 8:10-18 you will see the details of what was to come upon Israel. Take note especially of how many times the word “his” or “take” appears in the description of their new king.

The takeaway I want to leave with you is just how much this new king was going to take from them. Whereas we look to new leadership with an eye for what they can do for us, Israel’s new king would be a taker, not a giver.

What’s the lesson for the New Testament Christian in all of this? The lesson is that we are called out of sin to be the Church. We are not called to be like everyone else.

We also have a Leader who is unlike any other. We are different because our King is the difference maker!

Once God has delivered us from sin, we are not to go back. Not even to look back! We have a freedom known only by the redeemed, and that freedom was purchased by the highest cost imaginable.

Relinquishing your freedom in Christ is an expensive proposition, a proposition I have no desire to entertain.

How about you?