Knowing About God vs Knowing God
Rejoice In Our Suffering!?
Romans 5:1-11 1“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we REJOICE IN OUR SUFFERINGS, knowing that suffering produces endurance,...”
Philippians 2:1-11 5 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by BECOMING OBEDIENT TO THE POINT OF DEATH, even death on a cross…. “
The “revival” at Asbury University took on a life of its own for the two weeks of its progress since February 8, when about 30 students stayed after a weekly chapel service and began to pray. The story goes that other students heard about the spontaneous prayer meeting and came to find out what was happening … and stayed and prayed… and more heard and came and prayed… and faculty and staff heard and came and prayed… and eventually people from a couple hundred other universities all across the USA heard and from several other nations and they, also, came and prayed. There was no organizational planning, no big-name speakers or musicians, no fanfare or public relations effort. It was distinctively a “God Moment” where the Sovereign Creator drew thousands of people together to worship Jesus.
The University, not wanting to quench the Spirit of God nor interfere with what He was doing, have moved carefully to allow the round-the-clock prayer meetings without oversight beyond normal security concerns, coordinating with local law enforcement in Wilmore, Kentucky, for traffic and logistics issues when more than 20,000 people came to a little town of 6,000. Now, sensing it is time for something to develop from the renewal, they are curtailing the 24-hour prayer vigils in Hughes Auditorium and restricting access there to students.
The “Word” that is missing so far from what I have heard is that the young people, having enjoyed confession, repentance and a beginning of a transformation of their minds, have not been adequately challenged to prepare for what is to follow. My concern is that many of them will leave the meetings, return to classes, their own campuses or their families and be confronted with those who did not participate and do not appreciate that they have heard from the LORD. The questions will be, “What did you hear? What is different now that you spent two weeks in prayer? What makes you think God spoke to you?”
The caution is given by Jesus in John 15: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. … And you will bear witness, because you have been with Me.”
I blogged recently on coming persecution, here , here and here, and those warnings to believers in Jesus still remain. If someone is looking for an easy life or one without trouble, do not come to Jesus. He promises that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few,” in contrast to the “wide and easy way that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” (Matthew 7:12-28) He challenges His followers to do to others what they WISH others would do to them; note, NOT what they actually do. He warns that false teachers will try to deceive them and show off many signs and wonders. Furthermore, they have to build their “houses,” that is their lives and understanding, on the foundation of the Bible; otherwise, they will be washed away in the flood of unrighteousness that will come against those who do not know it.
Peter and James both give clear warnings to those who want to follow Christ:
1 Peter 4:7-19 12“Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you… “
James 1:2-12 2″Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…”
As the university students and faculty get back to “normal,” the question is, What will be the new normal? As Watchman Nee asks in The Normal Christian Life, “How does it work out in life? How does it become real in our experience?” The clearest evidence that this was a true revival, God-ordained and guided, and not just some kids getting out of classes or emotional surges of people copying social media what they saw others doing, will be what happens next! How will it affect our society? How will it change the way Jesus is presented… in your neighborhood? At your job? Among your enemies? To those who hate anything Christian?
Are you willing to suffer for The Name? Will you go where He leads, even if it is to your death like John Chau? Or will this “revival” just turn out to be a refresher in arm-chair Christianity? Feel good and let the world go to hell? God loves me and won’t let anything bad happen. Or will He? I’m saved and that’s all that matters.
Or is it?
Natural Bridge State Park/Red River Gorge in Winter’s Coat
Never On a Sunday
Dad and Mother will be turning over in their graves this weekend. They passed into Heaven in 1973 and 1999 respectively. Christmases in ’66 and ’94, the last ones to arrive on Sundays prior to their deaths, were cause for special celebration as Dad and Mother considered Sunday to be a “Sabbath” (although they knew the Jewish practice of the true Sabbath being from Friday at 6pm to Saturday at 6pm). However, since Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week, Christians shortly after began meeting on Sunday rather than the Sabbath, and this was cemented in minds after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. as we Gentiles became the predominant population of Christ-followers.
Throughout the 1900s this coincidence of Jesus’ birth and our weekly worship time was a delight to ministers who would see crowds gather in greater number than any other time of the year (except possibly Easter). But something changed as we headed into the new century. Maybe it was the reaction to covid, or the development of the “Mega-Church” and the explosion of church staffs and production qualities that rival Academy Awards shows. The modern “worship service” takes more people and more tech than the Death Star development in Star Wars, especially if it is broadcast over multiple campuses and the internet! Why not just pre-record it?
Add that this year we have a “bomb cyclone❗” hitting the middle of the nation on Christmas “Adam.” (That’s the day before Christmas Eve… get it, Adam came before Eve? 😄) It seems like the weather forecasters need to cooperate with the fear-mongers at every level of government and large institutions, so they chose the most horrific words to describe what we used to call “a winter storm.” Yeah, yeah, big whoop, like we never dealt with snow and wind before. 🙄
When Christmas and Sunday rendezvous, some churches now feel the need to cancel Sunday worship so that the true meaning of Christmas can be experienced in all its fantastic, fabulous luxuriousness. After all, we know Christmas is about family and Santa Claus and presents … and eggnog! At least that’s what the agnostics and atheists say, and by actions (which speak louder than words) so does the Church when it cancels Jesus’ worship “in honor of Jesus’ birth.” Like my brother asks, “Why would I want to host a party in MY house on MY birthday!?” 😏
Happy Birthday, Jesus. We’re going to the movies rather than Your house today after we open all our presents we gave each other and not You.
Why would churches cancel worship on Sunday when it collides with Christmas?
- Does the Bible say we should? No. I’ve read the entire library a few times, and neither the celebration of Christ’s birth nor Sunday worship is mentioned.
- Perhaps Christians around the world are complaining, “We can’t go to church Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day! That’s just too much worship.”
- Maybe they are thinking, “Well, commercial places are closed on Christmas! Why should we stay open?”
- Folks really need time to marvel at Santa’s empty cookie plate, open presents, go out to eat, and still have time to go to the movies and it’s hard to fit all that in with an extra worship service on Christmas Eve.
It seems the only folks who actually say, “Let’s cancel Sunday worship if Christmas falls on Sunday” are church employees, including some ministers. After all, they spend their workdays all week celebrating Jesus; they deserve a day off from such tiring spirituality, right? But as another blogger pointed out, the extra work is “not as hard as being beheaded by ISIS for your faith or being a Christian in Saudi Arabia or India, but it is really, reeeally hard.” 😢
During the 20th century, the 25th of December was on a Sunday 14 times (*see list below). This century has started off with 2005, 2011, 2016 and now this year, 2022. Actually, I cannot recall any churches cancelling Christmas Day services before this year, but several in our fair city and many in other places are. The next time Christmas and Sunday bump into each other will be 2033 (2028 is a leap year). The following years* will probably have me watching from Heaven, unless Jesus has returned.
However, a big business needs to evaluate cost-benefit analyses, and if less than half of a church’s parishioners show up for Christmas Sunday, is the effort worth it? Don’t I recall something about “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them?” In any case, I suspect MANY people would show up for Christmas Day services at a church building:
- Nominally religious people who want to show off and need to be told the Gospel again.
- Christ-followers who love to meet with other believers who love to celebrate Jesus.
- Lonely people for whom the “family” orientation of the day exacerbates their loneliness; they need the body of Christ!
- Politicians: these folks need the Gospel more than our votes, but they’ll show up to garner them from the gullible.
- “Out-of-town” family members who are in town for the holiday visits.
- Atheists who are wondering, “What do those people do at a church meeting on a holiday?”
- People who love celebrations with beautiful Christmas music.
Perhaps we are buying into the secularization of Christmas and are idolizing our families over the One who said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
How do we claim, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” if we add, “unless His birthday falls on the day we usually gather to worship Him,” without looking silly, inconsistent and inconsequential? So celebrate Christmas this year with worship of the God Who Is and who loves us so much that He came to live as one of us, to experience our pain, sorrows and loss, and to die in our places. Yes, celebrate Christ’s birth … but Never On a Sunday.
*Christmas fell on a Sunday in these years:1904, 1910, 1921, 1927, 1932, 1938, 1949, 1955, 1960, 1966, 1977, 1983, 1988, 1994.
*In the 21st century, this will occur again in 2033, 2039, 2044, 2050, 2061, 2067, 2072, 2078, 2089, 2095.
Autumn Sundown – Wordless Wednesday
I’ve been here before: fasting.
Fasting is an intriguing spiritual discipline that I readily admit I do not fully understand. Thus, though I started to regularly fast several years ago, somewhere along the line I got sidetracked. We know that God does not “bargain,” as though we could approach Him and say, “Okay, I fasted ‘X’ number of times this month; therefore, You have to do ‘Y’ that I have asked for in prayer.” We remember that HE is God, we are not, and that He is never under obligation to His creatures.
Fasting does not particularly make us aware of spiritual realities more than if we simply pray with focused attention on Heavenly priorities. For me, prayer while fasting has never been an occasion of visions or angelic appearances, at least in my very limited experience. It just makes my stomach growl a little louder than usual, especially after drinking a little water.
Now, I must admit that fasting is not difficult for me. My body is unusual in this regard, and I hope on an autopsy someday, some researcher will look at my gut receptors and try to find some that would signal appetite, because I have never felt hungry. Even after going three days without eating (for whatever reason), if someone offered food, it was more a matter of “Oh, yeah, I guess I should probably eat something” than “OHHhh, I crave food sooo much.” If fasting is supposed to alert us to denying ravenous desires to promote spiritual ones, maybe that is why I have been lax with developing this as a regular discipline.
However, Jesus specifically expected His disciples to fast after He left the earth. “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” (Mark 2:20) I have addressed fasting before, so will not repeat all of that blog, but to say it is appropriate for a Christ-follower to fast at times. Specifically, Jesus mentioned fasting in Matthew 6 with a couple of prescriptions: go about normal business, don’t show off, focus on Heavenly things (Matthew 6:16-21). Like giving and praying, fasting was to be a normal part of a Christ-follower’s life.
Fasting should not be merely a time of dieting or controlling one’s intake for weight control (although that is one obvious side-benefit for us gluttonous Americans). It should also involve devoted time to prayer, utilizing time usually spent in meal prep or eating to a new routine of praying. And prayers should be more than merely, “Oh, Lord, teach me to pray.” We should know how to pray longer prayers than just “Our Father…” or announcing our “grocery lists.” (See A Catalog of Prayer here.) Be careful not to get caught in “vain repetition.”
Fasting also can involve immersing yourself in the Bible. In our busy lives, most of us spend every moment in moving from one task to another with very little time in Scripture meditation. Unlike Eastern meditative techniques that call us to “empty our minds,” Christian meditation is intended to fill our minds with what the Bible teaches, often focusing on Scriptures that we have not yet applied to our lives. This can overlap with prayer that is simply waiting on the Lord. “Remember that for the Christian, waiting is not about what you get at the end of the wait, but more importantly about what you become as you wait.” (Paul Tripp, The Gains of Giving Up)
The result of fasting should be to draw us closer to The God Who Is and to His word, and by that to reveal to us what kind of people we should be, where we are not measuring up yet, revealing hidden sin and opening our minds to new commitments that we should make.
There is a danger in any of the spiritual disciplines. Whenever we focus on what we do rather than on what Father is doing, there is always a risk of marking off a checklist, “There I fasted this week, so I am spiritual.” This was the major problem with most of the Jerusalem Pharisees in Jesus’ day: they thought that detailed observance of regulations was the way to serve God. With fasting, there is an additional danger if one is not prepared physically for it. It is not glorifying to Father when we put our health at risk or damage our “temples.” Look up Daniel fasts if your body or doctor tells you that you should not do an absolute food fast. I do not recommend absolute fasting that includes water avoidance.
So I have blogged on this before, but I have never developed the habit to do a “regular” fast, which is what this blog is inviting me to begin. You probably will not read here about any benefits I experience per Matthew 6:18, but enjoy exploring fasting on your own. Be thankful to a God who supplies our daily bread and then some! And let a growling tummy remind you of His blessings and how His steadfast love is new every morning.
‘Watch’ with Me one hour? What can you pray about for ONE HOUR!?
“So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40)
Having heard of people who spend lots of time in prayer, I used to wonder about what do they pray? I could list my family and closest friends in a prayer in about 10 minutes unless something bad had happened to one of them, and then it might stretch out to 15. So Jesus’ question to His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane always left me wondering, if your prayer is simply, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will,” . . . I mean, saying the line only takes a few seconds; how often would He have to repeat that to pray for one hour?
However, as I grew in my understanding I realized this “line” was just a summary, like a book report of War and Peace: A novel covering 1805-1820 that tells the story of five Russian families and their marriages, participation in military campaigns fighting Napoleon (suspected of being the anti-Christ), and how they triumph with devotion for each other. There, now you don’t need to read 1,225 pages! 😁
In the same way, Jesus’ conversation with His Father involved much more than the “book report” version Matthew presents. But how does one pray for an hour if a crucifixion is not on the venue for the next morning?
Let me make a few suggestions to help you get started.
The first thing is to recognize that prayer is a conversation . . . two-way communication, not just us presenting grocery lists for a celestial errand boy to run! Perhaps the most difficult thing about prayer is learning to listen and not just filling the room with our own voices. “Remind me Lord, that not everything needs to be said, and that there are very few things that need to be said by me.” (Elisabeth Elliot) We can use Mrs. Elliot’s prayer here to point out that even in prayer, our words do not need to be all that fills the time. Recall that Jesus would often leave His disciples and spend long hours, even entire nights, in prayer.
Then there are catalogs of prayer (one of which is linked here). This is vital that we realize that even our words in prayers need to be more than just, “Dear God, take care of so-and-so and do this for you-know-who.” Certainly requests and intercession may occupy a lot of time in prayer, but it is often valuable to begin with other forms of prayer, particularly praise and thanxgiving. It is still true that He “inhabits the praises of” His people (Psalm 22:3, KJV) and to draw near to Him is to begin to experience a Presence that is more astounding than standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. This can be precursory to learning to “Pray without ceasing.”
My “catalog” is not comprehensive and there are many others available either in print or online, and many prayerers’ prayers can lead you into a life of prayer if you make time to read some of theirs. One could even start with prayers within the Bible. Note how many of Psalms’ prayers are a mixture of praise and requests.
I began a series on January 18, 2015 with the instruction, “A Man (or Woman) of God will live a life Marked By Prayer.” This is as true now as it was in the days of Seth and Enoch in Genesis 4 and as it was in King David’s day, on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, in Martin Luther’s time and in Billy Graham’s crusades. John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress said, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”
I concluded a blog from September 20, 2015 with this caveat: “I still feel like a beginner in learning to pray, and my pattern for intercessory prayer may not work for others, but think about how much time you spend in prayer. While prayer cannot be measured in terms of volume or quantity, if we do not pray, it is pretty safe to say it is worthless. And while you are learning to pray, please, please, please, pray for me. I really need it!”
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Martin Luther King Jr.
How to Pray When Someone is EVIL!
I have often wondered how our worship songs always reflect on the mercy, the glory or the forgiveness of Father for our sins, and neglect the “imprecatory psalms” that call for justice or destruction of those who refuse His grace. (To imprecate is “to invoke or call down curses, as upon a person”.) A recent article in Christianity Today sheds some light on this idea, and I seriously doubt we will see many songs like “I Will Sing Unto the Lord” coming along again, “the horse and rider thrown into the sea,” sometimes cheerfully sung by children.
No one seems to be writing Psalm 109 hymns for the worship team:
8May his days be few; may another take his office!
9 May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow!
10 May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
11 May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
12 Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children!
And perhaps this is okay, in that there are times we tend to excuse our own inclinations to vengeance, when it is God who is the Judge, not us. In these times of polarization where even families cannot gather because of differing views on everything from masks, vaccines, border control and anything political, it may be more vital than ever that we focus our worship times on God’s mercy for the undeserving… like me. Remember “Standing in the Need of Prayer?” 😉
In line with this, often our reluctance to condemn the guilty is lodged in our own guilt because we do know we are not without sin. Like the accusers in John 8 who wanted to condemn a woman “caught in the act of adultery” (so where was the man who was also committing sin???), none of us wants to cast the first stone, knowing that we have been just as bad. But it leaves a sour taste in our mouths when someone does something so heinous that we would never do (or at least we think we would never do).
Then we feel justified in condemning the sinner, and therein lies the deceit of our enemy. OUR tendency is to condemn the person, more than the action. And that is the reason Father tells us to leave vengeance up to Him! “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:19-21)
But what we do in reaction to a person’s sin can be quite apart from how we pray for a person caught in sin! Leaving the actual judgement up to Father does not mean to ignore the sin, and we may even be called to justify or condemn an action based on the Law, not on our personal guilt or absolution. Jury duty, anyone? If we absolve a criminal driving offense because we have been guilty of the same, we abuse the law intended to protect us and others from criminal effects.
However, this is very different from personally attacking the person who has violated the law. Rather, it is allowing the law to proceed as it was intended. And it should serve as a warning to us to not abuse that law… again.
And this is very different from participating in national or tribal action against one acting criminally as in warfare, but that is a subject for another blog someday.
Anyway, I thought you might do some introspection on the theme of this article from CT, “Go Ahead. Pray for Putin’s Demise.” It is less “imprecatory” than the title suggests. Good reading in the magazine when you subscribe.
And check out these acapella Amish boys reminding us how holy Father is!
One Minute Past Midnight
There is something sobering about getting a couple phone call messages, texts and emails from your favorite doctor concerned with your latest lab results, especially on December 30, so close to the year’s end. Sobering, but not frightening, as it may be for those who do not have hope in Jesus. I know where I am going and I know the One who knows the way. (John 14:1-4)
All six of my strokes since 1999 have been ischemic (clot) strokes, meaning my body likes to throw coagulated blood at my brain. But getting a lab result that suddenly and without warning shows one’s ‘blood-thinning’ medication makes you at significant risk of a hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke is cause for concern. No changes in diet, no alterations in activities, no travels to strange lands (like Norway 😉), no deviations in sleep nor major stresses; so why the drastic change in medical results that two weeks ago were fine?
Suddenly my mortality faces me like an impressive off-season Halloween costume, trying to scare me by telling me I could have died this week if a significant blow had struck me, or I had fallen with just a simple trip on the sidewalk. But the Spectre does not alarm me; death has lost its victory; the grave has lost its sting because my life is hidden in Jesus, the Christ, and nothing will happen to me that my loving Lord does not allow for my good, even it the event is to take me Home. (1 Corinthians 15:50-57)
So as 2021 comes to its finale, I consider the New Year’s Resolution I made in 1969 at 18 years old and have faithfully kept every New Year: “Resolved, I will never make another New Year’s Resolution!”
This is not to suggest that we should not look back at the fading year and evaluate what we could or should have done differently. Nor does it mean that we should not plan some improvements and developments in the approaching New Year. However, as noted on , most resolutions do not make it to January 31! And none of us has any guarantee of tomorrow, much less the whole year ahead. Whether one runs like James Fixx or manages one’s food with self-control like Ang, there are no warranties we can claim any more than righteous Job.
Thus, I encourage you at this changing of the days to consider your life: its value, its impact on others, its final destination. And walk in fear of The God Who Is, one who loves you more than we can grasp in this life, and who has revealed Himself most clearly in the God-Man, Jesus. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
Then you will not fear when the clock turns to midnight, just because one minute after midnight you could find yourself in His arms and in His kingdom in Heaven.
Happy New Year to all who are reading this, and with all my heart I hope to meet you someday around the Throne of God to praise Him together.
yours and His,
A Prayer of Moses, the man of God; Psalm 90
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of Adam!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
7 For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!