Friday, July 29, 2005

Love...Who Me?

We've seen that people who know they should be loving often aren't.

We've also seen it is sometimes amazing the mean things people will do, who know better. What is even more amazing is when they don't feel bad about it.

The question I want us to think about today:

Why is that?

The Bible reveals one of the primary ways we shield ourselves from really being challenged by all the calls to love. (You might say this is one of the ways we wriggle out of conviction...)

It's found in Luke 10.

Whether you know it or not, you are familiar with Luke 10. It contains one of the most popular stories Jesus ever told, the story of the Good Samaritan. We know the details of this story well. Sometimes though, we talk about the story of the Good Samaritan so much that we forget that there was a reason Jesus told it. He told it in the context of a conversation.

Actually, if you look at verse 25 he was responding to a very religious man. Luke says, “And behold a certain lawyer stood up…” When we hear lawyer we think some guy in a business suit who works downtown and goes to court. When Luke talks about lawyers he is talking about men who were experts in the Mosaic Law. This was a man who knew his stuff. This was not just some Joe Schmoe off the street.

You can imagine Jesus teaching when this lawyer stands up and the crowd just hushes. They might have been like wow, here’s a spiritual man, someone who knows it all. And you notice, this religious man does ask a very good question.

He says, “Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Sounds innocent even spiritual enough. But Jesus knows his intentions and turns the tables on him by responding to his question with a question, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”

Now what I want you to see is that the lawyer knew the Law very well. He says, “Love God with everything you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself…” You remember that’s the same answer Jesus gave when someone came and asked him what were the greatest commandments. So this lawyer...he did know his stuff. But again Jesus sees right through him and confronts him with the standard he’s just described. “You have answered correctly, ‘Do this and you will live.’” The lawyer knew what Jesus was saying. He knew that he hadn’t done that. He knew that he couldn’t fully do that. He had been exposed. He could quote the law, but he couldn’t live up to it.

But verse 29, when confronted like that, how does he respond? “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor…’”

It’s that phrase "wishing to justify himself" I want you to zone in on. Justify means here to prove that you are right.

So here’s a religious person who knew what the Word said who was confronted with his own failure to live up to what he claimed to know and how does he respond?

Does he repent?


He looks for a way to prove that he’s o.k. “Wishing to justify himself…”

Luke records that for a reason. He’s giving an incredible insight into the way so many times we shield ourselves from really having to respond to what Jesus is telling us to do. Instead of repenting, we seek to justify ourselves.

Listen have to hear this. The Bible makes it clear that the command to love is of supreme importance. And yet we look out at the church and we look into Scripture and we find that oftentimes real religious Bible carrying people aren’t putting this command into practice and you know that’s a big problem and you wonder why they can hear about love and not change and the Bible gives us one major reason why.

We are confronted with what Scripture says and how we are failing to obey and then instead of getting down on our knees crying out to God to help us change and working on changing, we come up with all kinds of excuses why what was said doesn’t apply to us. Instead of repenting, we rationalize. Instead of confessing and forsaking our sin, which is the right response, we seek to deflect the command from ever really hitting us where we are at.

This response is so deep rooted, it’s almost instinctive. And you know what – it comes out in so many different ways. In the next several days we'll look at a number of the ways the Bible shows us that people go about justifying their lack of love. But for now, I'd ask you to cry out to God and ask him to reveal to you the areas in your life where you need to be more loving...and specifically ask him to help you not make excuses when you are not!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Where's the love? Part two...

The Bible doesn't only tell us that supposedly spiritual people are often mean, it also provides us with all kinds of specific examples of how supposedly spiritual people fail to love their neighbor.

Take Cain to begin with. He becomes jealous and then goes out and actually gets physically violent with his own brother.

Jealousy is a pretty big problem for spiritual people. That was one of Saul’s main issues.

You remember how Saul started hating David when David started getting popular with his fellow Israelites. After that, Saul started strategizing to bring David down, got angry with his own family members who sided with David, began throwing spears, thinking irrationally about what was going on with David, and all sorts of other crazy stuff.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan the religious people are condemned not so much by what they do, but by what? What they fail to do.

When they walked by the man who was beaten on the side of the road, does Jesus say they stepped on him? That They spit on him? No, they just walked by him. And by doing so, Jesus says they didn’t fulfill the command to love their neighbor.

So get this, we don’t only break the command to love by doing something like with Saul and Cain, we can also break the command by not doing something, by our inaction, by seeing someone in need and failing to have compassion and reach out to them.

We could give so many examples of ways in which the gospels tell us Pharisees, the religious elite of Jesus’ days failed to show love.

One of the most graphic to me has to be in Luke 13. There is this woman who had been sick for eighteen years, Luke says she was actually doubled over and couldn’t even straighten up, and Jesus heals her, but the synagogue official, instead of getting all excited, he freaks out and starts ranting and raving because Jesus healed her on the Sabbath. He had so distorted the purpose of God’s commands that he couldn’t even see the woman who was hurting and in desperate need right in front of him.

In the story of the Pharisee and the Publican, what does Jesus say the Pharisee was doing? Treating other people with contempt. He was looking down on the people all around him.

Paul in Romans 14, he’s dealing with Christians who rightfully think they can eat certain foods but are so committed to eating those foods that they run right over their weaker brother who doesn’t understand that it’s all right for them to eat those certain foods. They’ve got this biblical conviction but then they are using it as a hammer to pound on their brother and Paul’s like if you are doing that you are not walking according to love, in verse 15.

In James, the church member were showing partiality, which means that they were relating to people on the basis of what they could get from them. And then later, James says that they were blessing God and at the same time cursing their brothers. So you’ve got two examples of ways that religious people fail to love their brother there, favoritism and slander.

John talks about someone who sees his brother in need, has the means to help him, but just closes his heart and fails to reach out. He says how could a person like that how the love of God within him. Again, what we’ve got there is inaction. He doesn’t say the person walks all over the person in need, doesn’t say that he says nasty things about the person in need, but instead says that he doesn’t reach out and help the person that he sees is in need when he has the means to do so. And then he closes up with a very general example of a person who says he loves God while in his heart just hating his brother.

Those are just a few of the examples the Bible gives of ways in which supposedly spiritual people go about breaking the command to love their neighbor. But even these few illustrations give us a great checklist to examine our lives by.

We say we know what the Bible teaches about love but do we?

...come to worship while we are just infuriated with someone else.

...pray to God and then get physically violent with someone who does something we don’t like.

...go through the motions of worship when there is someone in our life who is hurting and we have totally closed our heart to them and we are not willing to reach out to them and help them.

...claim to be a religious person yet when we see someone closing your heart and failing to act. Mark that down, failing to act. Remember we’re not just talking about action here. We’re talking about inaction. We’re talking about the lazy person, the person who doesn’t devote his life to helping others.

...go to church,pray and then go home and on the way home talk about how terrible we think someone else is. the Bible, learn what’s right and becoming so proud over what we know that we use it to hurt and bash our brother.

...claim to be amazed by the gospel, yet in our personal relationships with others, base how we treat them on how they treat us or what they have to give us.

...sing hymns and say all kinds of great things about God and then go home and yell nasty things at our spouse.

...pretend to be all spiritual while having all sorts of bitterness in our heart, an unwillingness to forgive someone else, an unwillingness to reach out and love someone else, to look all good on the outside, but inside to be filled with hateful, unkind, unloving thoughts.

Obviously, that list is just a beginning, but I think if most of us were going to be honest it does help expose some ways in which we need to work harder at obeying Paul’s command to put on love.

Now the real scary thing about that list though, is that from what we can tell, many of those who were pretending to worship and pretending to be all spiritual, who knew what God commanded about love and yet were flagrantly disobeying Him, don’t seem all that convicted about it.

And so you wonder how could a person be going to church, hear sermons on love, read passages on love, talk about love, and yet go out and live with himself while breaking all those commands?

Well, the Bible is such a spotlight. It doesn’t only tell us that religious people are often unloving, and it doesn’t only show us ways in which religious people are often unloving, it also reveals ways in which religious people often respond when confronted by the flat-out straight-commands of Scripture that they are disobeying. We'll talk about that tomorrow.

Soul Searching Questions...

It's helpful to stop on a regular basis and think about what God is doing in your life. I'd encourage you to ask yourself the following questions, then get together with your husband, wife or friend and talk about your answers.

1.) What Scripture has God been using to teach you lately? What spiritual truth is He teaching you?

2.) What are some of the ways God has answered prayers in your life lately? What specific things are you thankful to God about?

3.) What has caused you to shout out, "God you are great" recently?

4.) Is there something new or perhaps old that you have learned about who Jesus is recently that has refreshed your heart and caused you to think more about how great He is?

5.) What comfort has the gospel given you in recent days?

6.) What are some of the specific areas in your walk with God that you have been challenged about lately? What are you repenting of and by God's grace trying to change?

(I'll get back to the "where's the love" discussion later today)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Where's the Love?

The Bible is filled with examples of people who were very "spiritual" and at the same time very mean.

You can start all the way back at the beginning.

Think about Adam’s boy, Cain.

It'd probably be too much to say Cain was a very religious person because we don’t know that. We can say though that the first time we meet him he is 'worshiping.' Genesis 4 tells us that Cain became very angry and that he became angry, this is what is so fascinating, after doing what? Presenting his offering to God.

Immediately after supposedly going to worship and honor God Cain becomes infuriated with his infuriated that he actually takes him out to a field and murders him.

Fast forward thousands of years to the reign of King Saul.

Now again, Saul is not someone we would normally consider very spiritual, but if you flip over to 1 Samuel 10:24, we do find Samuel saying that he was the man God had chosen to lead his people, and reading the rest of the story we discover throughout Saul’s life he received godly counsel from great men of God, in fact he heard the Word of the Lord on several occasions, and on some occasions it appears Saul did at least pretend to be about what God wanted.

Yet in spite of all those privileges by the end of his life he was a man literally consumed by rage, bitterness and hatred.

Perhaps a better example would be the Israelites themselves.

If we just keep moving on in our Bibles to Isaiah 1, we find the Israelites are very spiritual. They, verse 11, are multiplying sacrifices, verse 13 are observing all sorts of solemn assemblies, going through the motions of presenting their offerings before God, verse 14, celebrating the festivals God had commanded, and even verse 15, spreading out their hands in prayer; yet at the same time, verse 21 God says many of them are murderers, and verse 23 they don’t defend the orphan and they don’t look out for the helpless widow.

Jesus tells a story about people like that in Luke 10.

He talks about a priest and a Levite who just walked by a man who had been beaten and left by the side of the road. The terms priest and Levite don’t mean much to us, but Jesus is talking about very religious people. He’s talking about people who knew their Scriptures, knew what it said about loving their neighbor, men who were respected and admired by others for their spirituality, and yet at the same time, men who when someone in desperate need was staring them right in the face, completely failed to show him love.

In Luke 18 Jesus tells another story about a religious man.

The scene for this story is actually the temple. We come upon a religious man in the temple supposedly worshiping God. He’s actually praying. And what's he doing as he prays? Lambasting and despising someone else who came to worship. Coming before God, pretending like he’s praying, hating his neighbor.


How about Matthew 25?

I’m bombarding you with these Scriptures for a reason. I want you to be overwhelmed with what a problem this is. Jesus, beginning in verse 31 is talking about judgment day. He’s describing how he’s going to separate and distinguish between people on that day, the picture being like a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. Now the thing about this passage, and I just want to focus on the goats for a minute, look down at 44, they are surprised. Jesus condemns them and they say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you…” Here they are calling Jesus Lord so they are religious people who are surprised that they are being condemned and yet Jesus still condemns them why? Ultimately here it is their failure to truly obey his command to love.

If you are still tracking with me, think about Romans 14.

Paul’s talking in this chapter to Christians who are concerned about doing what is right. In fact, they have developed deep heartfelt convictions about right and wrong. They just disagree. And what’s happening here is that their convictions about right and wrong are turning into something ugly, because if you look at verse 10, we find that they are judging their brother and they are going so far as to regard their brother with contempt.

James, James 2.

James is talking about a group of believers gathering together to worship God. In verse 2 he says, “For if a man comes into your assembly…” Assembly indicating that here a group of professing Christians had gathered together most likely for a worship service. And yet even though they came together to worship God like this, look what they were doing, they were showing favoritism, verse 4, they “made distinctions among themselves, and became judges with evil motives.” Specifically verse 9, they were showing partiality and as a result were convicted by the law as transgressors. They were verse 8, failing to love their neighbor as themselves.

Two more.

1 John 3:17. John is writing to professing Christians and says “whoever has the world’s good and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

And then I think John clinches the case I’m trying to make here, in 1 John 5:20 where says “If someone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother he is a liar…” As far as I can tell John is describing something he expects will actually happen. This is not something far removed from reality. There are going to be people who stand up and say that they love God and yet who at the same time hate their brother.

We all know it's important to be a loving person.

But are we?

That's the question.

We aren't loving simply because we know what the Bible says about love.

We have to be careful we don't fool ourselves into thinking that we are loving just because we can quote 1 Corinthians 13 or because we know the meaning of the word agape. It's good to know what the Bible says about love - how we can be loving if we don't? We just have to realize that if we're not acting on what we know, we're completely missing the point. We just have to realize that sometimes people use what they know about love as a mask to disguise the fact that in actuality they are not.

I think this is a big problem, and because of that I want us to look a little more closely at it together tomorrow...what are some of the ways spiritual people typically fail to show love?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Never give up!

One of the most important lessons to be learned from George Mueller's prayer life is how to respond when prayer requests are not quickly answered. For the thousands of Mueller's prayer requests God answered quickly, there were thousands which He delayed in answering. As one reads through Mueller's narratives it is striking how often God made George wait for an answer. How did Mueller respond when God delayed? Through prayer. If God is slow in answering prayer, do not give up. Rather, pray more often.

Mueller writes, "One or the other might suppose that all my prayers have been thus promptly answered. No, not all of them. Sometimes I have had to wait weeks, months or years, sometimes many years . . . During the first six weeks of the year 1866 I heard of the conversion of six person for whom I had been praying a long time. For one I had been praying between two and three years. For another between three and four years; for another above seven years, for the fourth above ten years, for the fifth above fifteen years, and for the sixth above twenty years. In one instance my faith has been tried even more than this. In November 1844,I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without one single intermission, whether in sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements may be... two remain unconverted . . . But I hope in God, I pray on, and I look yet for the answer." (Steer, p.266,267)

On one of Muellers many missionary tours, a man who was greatly discouraged came up to him for counsel. This man had six sons for whom he had been praying many years. His sons, in spite of all his prayers showed no interest in God or their souls. He wanted George to tell him what to do. Mueller simply replied, "Continue to pray for your sons, and expect and answer to your prayers, and you will have to praise God." (Brooks, p.73)

When Mueller desired to increase the number of orphans from three hundred to one thousand, he began to pray for God's help in the matter. He kept on praying day after day for eleven years until God answered his prayer.

When Mueller was opening a new home and needed more helpers for the orphan homes he sought the Lord in prayer. Yet when the home was about to open, he did not have enough applicants to fill the position. How did Mueller respond? By thanking God for previous answered prayers, and deciding not to pray just once a day for this
matter, but to pray three times a day for helpers. He did this daily for four months, and was pleased to see God answer his prayers in an incredible way.” (Brooks,p.50)

Mueller sums up his attitude by simply saying, "When once I am persuaded that a thing is right and for the glory of God, I go on praying until the answer comes. George Mueller never gives up." (Steer, p.310)

Mueller was persistent in prayer for several reasons.

First, he truly believed that God did answer prayer. God's slowness did not shake Mueller's faith. Before Mueller opened his first orphan house he prayed daily for fourteen months and three weeks. "Never during all that time had I the least doubt that I should have all that is needed." (Brooks, p.46)

Many of us have a difficult time continuing in prayer because in our heart of hearts we aren't sure whether God is really listening to our prayers. We must feed our faith with the promises of God. When we become discouraged we must remind ourselves that Jesus himself tells us, "What man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone. Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake will he. If you then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him." (Mat.7:9-11)

Mueller was confident in this promise and because of that he did not doubt the Father's goodness. "For through grace my mind is so fully assured of the faithfulness of the Lord, that in the midst of the greatest need, I am able to go about my other work. Indeed, if God did not give me this [this confidence in the faithfulness of God] . . . I should scarcely be able to work at all." (Miller, p.57)

Second, he believed that God had good reasons for being slow to answer certain
prayers. Mueller could actually rejoice when prayers were not immediately answered because of his complete trust in the wise purposes of God. When God did not immediately answer his prayers, George took it as a sign of His love, because by doing so, God was strengthening Mueller's faith. "Truly it is worth being poor and
greatly tried in faith for the sake of having day by day such precious proofs of the loving interest which our kind Father takes in everything that concerns us. And how should our Father do otherwise. He that has given us the greatest possible proof of His love which He could have done, in giving His own Son, surely will He with Him freely give us all things." (Brooks, 25,26)

Mueller taught that God would often wait to answer prayer in order to strengthen the believer's faith. When a believer's prayer are not answered quickly, rather than trying to take the matter into one's own hands, they should continually look to God for help and wait upon Him for His deliverance. This does not mean that the Christian should do nothing. Mueller believed that a do-nothing attitude was a "counterfeit of faith." (Steer, p.331) Instead the believer should persistently cry out to God and act in obedience to the Scriptures.

Third, Mueller kept praying even when he wasn't seeing 'results' because he believed that God delighted in His people's earnest prayers. The parable of the widow and the unjust judge gave Mueller great encouragement to continually bring His concerns before His gracious God. God wants His people to pray persistently.

Fourthly, Mueller was persistent in prayer because he longed for the glory of God above all else. "His glory was my chief aim . . . i.e that it might be seen that it is not a vain thing to trust in the living God." (Brooks, p.15) He puts it simply, "The glory of God should always be before the children of God, in what they desire at His hands . . ." (Pierson, p.456) The Christian's patience under trial can bring glory and honor to God. Mueller wasn't primarily concerned about Mueller, therefore he was content in all circumstances.

He had the attitude of the apostle Paul who said, "Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in all circumstances." Why could Paul say this? Because Paul was not living for Paul - Paul's life was hidden with Christ, and therefore it did not matter what his life circumstances were like so long as God was glorified. One of the primary reasons many of us have difficulties being persistent in prayer is that we pray with selfish motives, "You ask and you do not receive because you ask with the wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." (James

A person who is primarily motivated by the glory of God will not become overly discouraged when his prayer requests are not immediately answered, instead he will rest in the promise of Romans 8:28, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

We must follow Mueller's example and continue in prayer even when it is most difficult. "Therefore beloved brethren and sisters, go on waiting upon God, go on praying, only be sure you ask for things which are according to the mind of God . . ." (Steer, p.257)Never give up!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Till I Don't Like You Anymore?

Marriage vows...ain't what they used to be.,2933,163251,00.html

Prayer...story by an unknown author

“Once upon a time, the king of Jerusalem left his city in the custody of an eminent Captain, whose name was Zeal. He gave to Zeal many choice warriors, to assist him in the protection of the city. Zeal was a right hearted man, one who never wearied in the day of battle, but would fight all day, and all night, even though his sword did cleave to his hand as the blood ran down his arm. But it happened upon this time, that the king of Arabia, getting unto himself exceeding great hosts and armies, surrounded the city, and prevented any introduction of food for the soldiers, or of ammunition to support the war. Driven to the last extremity, Captain Zeal called a council of war, and asked them what course they should take. Many things were proposed, but they all failed to effect the purpose, and they came to the sad conclusion that nothing was before them but the surrender of the city, although upon the hardest terms. Zeal took the resolution of the council of war, but when he read it, he could not bear it. His soul abhorred it. “Better” he said “to be cut in pieces than to surrender. Better for us to be destroyed while we are faithful than to give up the keys of this royal city.” In his great distress, he met a friend of his, called Prayer, and Prayer said to him, “Oh! Captain I can deliver this city.” Now, Prayer was not a soldier, at least he did not look as if he were a warrior, for he wore the garments of a priest. In fact he was the king’s chaplain, and was a priest of the holy city of Jerusalem. But nevertheless Prayer was a valiant man and wore armor beneath his robes. “Oh! Captain,” said he, “give me three companions and I will deliver this city – their names must be Sincerity, Importunity, and Faith.” Now these four brave men went out of the city at the dead of night when the prospects of Jerusalem were the very blackest, they cut their way right through the hosts that surrounded the city. With many wounds and much smuggling they made their escape, and traveled all night long as quickly as they could across the plain, to reach the camp of the king of Jerusalem. When they flagged a little, Importunity would hasten them on; and when at any time they grew faint, Faith would give them a drink from his bottle, and they would recover. They came at last to the palace of the great king, the door was shut, but Importunity knocked long, and at last it was opened. Sincerity threw himself on his face before the throne of the great king and Prayer began to speak. He told the king of the great straits in which the beloved city was now placed, the dangers surrounding it, and the almost certainty that all the brave warriors would be cut in pieces by the morrow. Importunity repeated again and again the wants of the city, Faith pleaded hard the royal promise and the covenant. At last the king said to Captain Prayer, “Take with thee soldiers and go back, lo I am with Thee to deliver this city.” At morning light, just when the day broke for they had returned more swiftly than could have been expected, for though the journey seemed long in going there it was short in coming back, in fact they seemed to have gained time on the road, they arrived early in the morning, fell upon the hosts of the king of Arabia, took him prisoner, defeated his army, divided the spoil, and entered the gates of Jerusalem in triumph. Zeal put a crown of gold upon the head of Prayer, and decreed henceforth that whenever zeal went forth to battle, prayer should be the standard bearer, and should lead the army into the fray.”

Top priority...

It is absolutely impossible to read the life of George Mueller and miss this simple point: He made prayer a top priority.
He prayed privately. He prayed publicly. He began his days with prayer, sometimes he'd pray for hours. He lived his days in prayer. He would often go for long walks with his New Testament spending the entire time reading his Bible and crying out to God. He led his family with prayer. He had a daily time of prayer with his wife. He led his ministry in prayer. He had a regularly scheduled prayer time with his staff. He devoted himself to prayer. When asked if he spent much time on his knees in prayer, Mueller replied, "More or less every day. But I live in the spirit of prayer. I pray as I walk about, when I lie down, when I rise up." (Steer, p.130)
Some may object and say that they are too busy to pray. Mueller, "used to say to brethren who had 'too much to do' to spend proper time with God that four hours of work for which one hour of prayer prepares is better than five hours of work with the praying left out." (Mudge, p.112)Mueller did not just teach this principle, he lived it. In spite of his preaching schedule, providing care for thousands of orphans, managing a large staff, and taking care of countless details, He always made time for prayer. He explains, "Here is the great secret of success. Work with all your might, but trust not the least in your work . . . pray and then work." (Pierson, p.458)
Still others might complain that prayer and study of the Scripture are not enjoyable. Mueller warned against giving in to feelings when it comes to prayer and urged believers to continue to pray and study even when they don't feel like it. We will never feel like praying and studying the Scripture unless there are times when we refuse to give into our feelings and instead work hard at praying and studying the Scripture.
If we are going to grow to become more like Christ we must recognize that there is hardly anything if anything that is more important for us to do today than to pray. We must make prayer a top priority. Mueller would tolerate no excuses for a lack of prayer, and neither should we!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Freebie Friday...J.C. Ryle on Prayer

“I ask whether you pray, because prayer is an act in religion to which there is great encouragement. There is everything on God’s part to make prayer easy, if men will only attempt it. All things are ready on his side. Every objection is anticipated. Every difficulty is provided for. The crooked places are made straight and the rough places are made smooth. There is no excuse left for the prayerless man. There is a way by which any man however sinful and unworthy may draw near to God the Father. Jesus Christ has opened that way by the sacrifice he made for us on the cross…There is an Advocate and Intercessor always waiting to present the prayers of those who come to God through him. That advocate is Jesus Christ. He mingles our prayers with the incense of His own almighty intercession. So mingled, they go up as a sweet savor before the throne of God…There is the Holy Spirit ever ready to help our infirmities in prayer. It is one of his special office to assist us in our endeavor to speak with God. We need not be cast down and distressed by the fear of not knowing what to say. The Spirit will give us words if we seek his aid…There are exceeding great and precious promises to those who pray…There are wonderful examples in Scripture of the power of prayer. Nothing seems to be too great, too hard, or too difficult for prayer to do. It has obtained things that seemed impossible and out of reach. It has won victories over fire, air, earth and water. Prayer opened the Red Sea. Prayer brought water from the rock and bread from heaven. Prayer made the Sun stand still…Well might Mary Queen of Scots say, ‘I fear John Knox’s prayers more than an army of ten thousand men…’ What more can a man want to lead him to take any step in religion, than the things I have just told him about prayer. What more could be done to make the path to the mercy seat easy, and to remove all occasions of stumbling from the sinner’s way?”

A Biblical Prayer Life

If we want to be people of prayer, we must be people of the Word. If we want to be people of the Word we must be people of prayer. We see this exemplified in the life of George Mueller. Mueller's prayer life helped him in his study the Word, and his study of the Word helped him in his prayer life.
He often emphasized the importance of reading the Scripture prayerfully. When he sat down to study the Bible, he refused to do so without seeking God's help. He continually came to God as he was studying, asking God to teach him what the passage meant. He was concerned that people often looked to other humans for help understanding the Scripture before they went to God for help. He often warned against becoming too devoted to Christian books and commentators instead of being devoted to the Scripture and crying out to the Holy Spirit for wisdom. (Brooks. p.117)
To Mueller prayerful reading of Scripture was essential for effective times of prayer. He believed that studying God's Word should result in praying to the God of the Word. During the last twenty years of his life, Mueller read the entire Bible approximately four to five times every year. By the end of his life, he had read the entire Bible almost two hundred times. Because he read the Scriptures prayerfully he could pray scripturally. He prayed Bible. James Mudge writes that, "No secret lies nearer to the root of Mueller's success than this devout meditation and continual refection upon Scripture." (Mudge, p119)
He began to practice this principle early in his Christian life. Before he prayed in the morning he would meditate upon a portion of Scripture. As he would meditate upon Scripture, his soul was drawn to prayer. He would then begin to pray Scripturally. He writes, "...after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned out almost immediately more or less into prayer." (Steer,p.109)
He emphasized the importance of the Word of God in prayer for several reasons.
First, praying Scripturally helps the believer develop a proper understanding of who God is and this will strengthen his faith. As the Christian reads of God's mercy and God's power and sees the wondrous workings of God in the past, he will grow in his faith and thus have greater confidence in the God to whom he prays. (Brooks, p33,34)
Second, praying Scripturally produces courage during difficult times. When trials come and our circumstances seem difficult we must rest in the promises of God. Mueller writes, "Further, when sometimes all has been dark, exceedingly dark, with reference to my service among the saints, judging from natural appearances; yea, when I should have been overwhelmed indeed in grief and despair, had I looked at these thingsafter outward appearance; at such times I have sought to encourage myself in God by laying hold in faith of His mighty power, His unchangeable love, and His infinite wisdom...for it is written 'He that spared His one son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?' Rom.8:32
Thirdly, praying Scripturally informs the believer's prayers. Mueller emphasized the importance of not praying according to our own will but according to God's will. He would often evaluate his prayer requests in light of Scripture in order to make sure that what he was asking was according to God's will. How can we know God's will so we can pray it? We learn God's will through the study of God's Word.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

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Getting Specific...

We often pray in generalities.

Sometimes we pray like that because we don't want to expect "too much" from God. Other times it is because we don't want to do the hard work of getting specific.

George Mueller prayed specifically.

He prayed to God about financial matters.

One time, George wanted to buy a certain piece of land to build an orphan house on. Unfortunately, the owner wanted to sell it at a much greater cost than he could afford, so he went to prayer. He prayed several times a day about this specific matter. After several weeks of prayer, the owner consented to sell the land at the cost George had been praying for. (Steer, p.183)

He cried out to God for physical needs. When he lost a key, he would pray to God to help him find it. When someone did not show up for an appointment, he prayed that the person would come quickly. (Answers to Prayer, p.32)

He did not view anything as too small to pray for. One of his favorite young friends once came to him and told him that she wished God would answer her prayers like He did his. He repeated to her God's promise to listen to His children. So she sat on his knee and he asked her what she wanted to pray for. He prayed with her that God would send her some wool. She ran outside to play, but then realized that she hadn't asked God what kind of wool she wanted. She ran back inside to Mueller. 'I want to pray again.' 'Not now, dear, I am busy.' 'But I forgot to tell God what color I wanted.' Taking her up on his knee again, Mueller said, 'That's right, be definite, my child, now tell God what you want." That was Mueller's practice in prayer: He was definite and he told God what he wanted.

We have every reason to do the same.

We can and should pray about specific issues, even about small issues because we serve a God who tells us He is concerned about the small specific issues of life. To prove that, Jesus tells us to think about birds. What could be more inconsequential than a sparrow? Who has ever woken up in the middle of the night crying out, "Oh no, there is one less sparrow in the world today?" Sparrows seem much too small and unimportant for us to be concerned about. Yet, Jesus tells, God is intimately involved in the life and death of the everyday sparrow. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father."

We can and should pray about specific issues, even about small issues because by doing so we demonstrate our trust in God for all things. We claim to have trusted God with our eternal salvation, yet we often don't trust God with the minor issues of life. If we believe God is able to take care of something as big a problem as our eternal salvation, we should demonstrate that faith by trusting him to take care of the smaller problems throughout our life in this world. One way we prove that we believe He is able to do so is by taking all of our concerns to Him in prayer.

We can and should pray about specific issues, even about small issues because in doing so we are following in the footsteps of great men of the faith. Jesus taught his disciples to pray about things as practical as their daily bread. The apostle Paul asked people to pray for him about things as specific as being able to speak clearly or to be released from prison or having confidence.

We can and should pray about specific issues, even about small issues because doing so will creat opportunities to give thanks to God for the ways He has answered prayers. When we pray in vague generalities we often don't "see" answers to our prayers. "God help me to be more loving..." Well, yes I can kind of see how I am becoming more loving. But it is a whole lot easier to see an answer to a prayer like, "God help me to be speak compassionately as I talk with her on the phone..."

It certainly is not wrong to pray in generalities, but we shouldn't only pray in generalities. Let's follow Mueller's example today as we pray, and get specific!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Relying on God Alone

One of the distinguishing marks of George's Mueller's life was his absolute dependence upon God for all things.

"By the grace of God, I desire that my faith in God should extend towards everything, the smallest of my own temporal and spiritual concerns, and the smallest of the temporal and spiritual concerns of my family, towards the saints among whom I labor, the church at large, etc." (Mueller, p.31)

He demonstrated this dependence by taking all his concerns to God in prayer. Mueller sought never to resolve a problem by leaning upon man or upon human methods, but instead by leaning wholly upon God. Thus, he made it a rule never to reveal the financial state of the orphanage to anyone or to ask for funds.

(Though we don't have to imitate Mueller in all the specifics of the way he did things - we certainly should be challenged by his willingness to depend upon God alone in all things.)

He began his work with the orphans by depending upon God for guidance and strength. His journals make it clear that he continually cried out to God to provide the means to open the orphanage, the staff to run it, and the money to support it. He writes, "So far as I remember, I brought even the most minute circumstances concerning the Orphanage House before the Lord in my petitions, being conscious of my own weakness and ignorance." (Mueller, 14,15) He ran the orphanages with an attitude of absolute dependence upon God. Story after story illustrates his humble attitude. For example, in November of 1838, he did not even have a single half-penny to pay for food for any one of the three orphan houses. What did George do? He did not get anxious, rather he took the matter to His father in prayer. He was confident that God would provide, even though he didn't know how. He began to walk home after praying with his staff, but since he felt he needed exercise, he walked the long way home. Only twenty yards from his home he met a friend who gave him twenty pounds to meet his needs. Had George been one half minute late, he would have missed him. George always depended upon God, and God always provided. This attitude gave George great hope and confidence. He writes, "They that trust in the Lord shall never be confounded! Some who helped for a while may fall asleep in Jesus; others may grow cold in the service of the Lord; others may be as desirous as ever to help, but have no longer the means . . . were we to lean upon man, we should surely be confounded; but, in the leaning upon the living God alone, we are beyond disappointment, and beyond being forsaken because of death, or want of means, or want of love, or because of the claims of other work. How precious to have learned in any measure to stand with God alone in the world, and yet to be happy, and to know that surely no good thing shall be withheld from us whilst we walk uprightly." (Mueller, p.19)

George often demonstrated his absolute trust in God. One of his biographers tells of an occasion when a rich man and some of his lady friends were visiting the orphanages. Amazed at the care the orphans were receiving, they looked at George and asked him if he had a large bank account so that he could provide for all these children. George simply answered, "Our funds are deposited in a bank which cannot break." This was quite a statement, as George did not have a penny at the time to provide for the children. (George Mueller of Bristol, Pierson, p.158)

George longed for all believers to depend upon God entirely. He did not want anyone to think that his situation was unique, but instead constantly exhorted Christians to take all their concerns to God in prayer. He often told Christians to make everything a subject of prayer, and to expect answers to requests they have made according to God's will, and in the name of Jesus. We live in a day and age - where it is easy to forget our dependence upon God - after all, we have credit cards, money in the bank account, etc. We must be very careful never to substitute dependence upon human things for dependence upon God. We need to folow in Mueller's footsteps and rely on God for everything, demonstrating our attitude of complete dependence by making a habit of constant prayer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Life of Trust

It is good to have heros.

One of mine is George Mueller.

George Mueller's life stands as a testimony to the power and faithfulness of our Almighty God. Is there someone who doubts whether God still answers prayer? Let them learn from George Mueller. Does anyone doubt whether God is able to accomplish beyond what they could ask or think? Introduce them to George Mueller.Here is a man who desired to live his life so that "men and women might see that God is faithful still and hears prayer still." (Pierson, 10) By God's grace, that is exactly the kind of life George Mueller lived.He was born in Prussia in September of 1805. There certainly wasn't anything special about his youth which would make one think that he was going to grow up to be a great man of God. In fact, by looking at his childhood, one would think just the opposite. He wasn't born into a godly home. His father "educated his children on worldly principles."(Mueller, p.47)For the first twenty years of his life, George lived an extremely sinful lifestyle. He was a thief. By the age of ten, he was consistently stealing money from his father. He was sent to prison at just sixteen for deception and theft. He stole from his friends, and even took money from his pastor. George wasn't only a thief, he was alsoa hypocrite. His father sent him to school to train to be a pastor because he knew pastors were paid well. While at school, George studied hard, but continued in his sin. He participated in the form of religion, but he had no heart for Christ. "Three or four days before I was confirmed, and thus admitted to partake of the Lord's Supper, I was guilty of gross immorality; and the very day before my confirmation, when I was in the vestry with the clergyman to confess my sins, after a formal manner, I defrauded him . . ." (Mueller, p.48) He would often resolve to live a better life, but to no avail. He didn't care about the Word of God. He writes, "I had no Bible, and had not read it for years. I wentto church but seldom; but from custom, I took the Lord's Supper twice a year. I had never heard the gospel preached. I had never met with a person who told me that he meant by the help of God, to live according to the Holy Scriptures. In short, I had not the least idea that there were any persons really different from me." (Mueller, p.54)

Many would have assumed George a hopeless case. Not for God. Around the age of twenty one, George's life was radically changed. One of his friends took him to a small Bible Study held in the home of a true Christian. There he heard the Word preached for the first time, and was never the same again. As he walked home after the Bible study had concluded, he remarked to his friend, "All we have seen on our journey to Switzerland, and all our former pleasures, are as nothing in comparison with this evening." (Mueller, p.55) He began to love studying the Scriptures and praying. Slowly but surely, he worked at putting off his old sinful practices, and putting on righteousness. He developed a greatpassion for witnessing and had a craving for fellowship with believers.During this time, God gave George a great desire to be a missionary. Eventually he was sent to London as a missionary to the Jews. Over the course of a few years, George became the pastor of a small church. He was wholeheartedly devoted to the authority of Scriptures, and his preaching and life was a testimony to that. He lived in complete obedience to the Bible and trusted God for his daily needs.Not too long after his move to England, God led George to establish a Scripture Knowledge Society for the purpose of teaching the lost about God. God used the Society to pass out two million Bibles and one hundred and eleven million tracts, to instruct one hundred twenty one thousand six hundred and eighty three students, and to aid one hundred and fifteen missionaries at a total of cost of over one million dollars.

George is most remembered, though, for the orphanages he established. He founded these orphanages for the express purpose of encouraging believers to trust and obey God no matter what the cost. He wrote, " My spirit longed to be instrumental in strengthening their faith, by giving them not only instances from the Word of God, of His willingness and ability to help all those who rely on Him, but to show them by proofs, that He is the same in our day. " (Brooks, p.9) Therefore, he refused to ever ask for money or to let anyone besides God know of his financial needs. Over the course of his life, God provided almost five million dollars for these orphanages which housed over ten thousand orphans. We can learn a great deal from George Mueller. He was a man of the Word. He dared to be obedient in all that he did. But perhaps we can learn the most from Mueller in the area of prayer.

He was a man whose life was saturated with prayer. Over the next several days I want to draw 7 principles that we can learn from Mueller's example of prayer.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Jesus is Lord. Really?

I don’t know what you think about statistics. (The exit polls from the last election show you can’t trust them.) But still, if you look at statistics of what Americans say they believe, there’s a whole lot to be excited about.

Newsweek December 5th, 2004 Princeton Survey Research Results, margin of error plus or minus 3 percentage points…

*79 percent of Americans say they believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary without a human father as the Bible says.

*67 percent say they believe the entire Christmas story is historically accurate.

*93 percent say they believe Jesus actually lived.

*82 percent say they believe Jesus is the Son of God.

* 55 percent say they believe every word of the Bible is literally true.

*52 percent say they believe Jesus will return to earth someday.

That’s good stuff.

But if you look at statistics as to how those individuals live, well, it leaves a whole lot to be desired. It becomes very obvious that while many people say they think much of Jesus they don’t think much of what Jesus says.

Take spending habits for example.

*What does Jesus say about money?

I'm not going to give you a big long sermon, so here's the short version: give it away.

Obviously there's a little more to it than that, but at the least we can all agree that what Jesus had to say about money is very different than what our world has to say about it. Yet in spite of that, research indicates the spending habits of most professing Christians is virtually indistinguishable from those of other Americans. On average, professing Christians give less than three percent of their money away. Only six percent of born-again Christians tithe their income to the church. Fact is, Christians spend seven times more on entertainment than they do on spiritual activities.

*What does Jesus say about purity?

"If you right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away..." (Mt.5:29)

Yet, get this, research indicates, quote “Most Christian households watch the same movies and the same television shows in the same percentages as non-Christian households…” In fact, I read recently “born again Christians spend seven times more hours each week in front of their televisions than they spend in Bible reading, prayer and worship.”

Hold on, it gets worse.

In August 2000, Christianity Today conducted an exclusive survey of its readership, both lay and clergy regarding Internet pornography. The good news was that 67 percent of clergy and 64 percent of laity had never visited a sexually explicit web-site. The bad news was that 33 percent of the clergy and 36 percent of the laity had.

Incredibly sad. One Christian college president recently said, that the most perplexing puzzle he and his staff face regarding their student body was that student leaders were outspoken in their Christian commitment and yet living with a boyfriend and girlfriend and not seeing the disconnect. (Kent Hughes, Set Apart)

*What does Jesus say about the importance of deep, committed, relationships with other believers?

"This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you..." (John 15:12)

Yet, many Christians don’t have any deep, committed relationships with any other Christian besides their wife, and what’s worse many don’t even see the need for church. Pollster George Barna notes, “the average adult thinks belonging to a church is good for other people, but represents unnecessary bondage and baggage for himself…Today there are droves of professing Christians who have never been committed to the local expression of Christ’s body, and never intend to be…”

I’m not trying to be depressing.

I’m trying to show the disconnect.

In many people’s minds there’s a fundamental disconnect between their relationship with Jesus and their attitude towards what He says. They feel like they can have a good relationship with Jesus without submitting to the authority of His Word.

The problem is, Jesus says you can't.

Luke 6:46,

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?”

Acknowledging Jesus' Lordship with your lips is a waste of breath if at the same time you refuse to acknowledge His Lordship with your life. The way you acknowledge Jesus’ Lordship in your life is through your submission to the authority of His Word over your life. How we respond to what Jesus says reveals who we believe Jesus is.

What does the way you are living reveal about who you believe Jesus is?

When you look at the way you talk, the way you relate to others, the way you work, the way you spend your money, does it reveal that you believe Jesus is Lord or instead that although you say Jesus is Lord, in your heart of hearts, you really think you are?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Know what you know

I'm a bad golfer.

Now, if you are a bad golfer or if you have ever met a bad golfer you know that sometimes we bad golfers like to think the problem is not so much with our golfing abilities as it is with our golf clubs.

We're constantly on the look out for that new club that will change everything.

Hey I'll admit, I sometimes walk through a golf store, pick up a golf club, and imagine myself the next Tiger Woods.

(Then I look at the price tag, and run...)

Obviously, sometimes bad golfers could use new clubs. But most of the time the truth is they need to learn how to use the clubs they already have.

I realize you might not be a bad golfer but I wonder if you think like one.

Some Christians think, when they are doing poorly, that what they need is something new. And you know, sometimes they do. Many Christians are struggling because of ignorance. But I've found, that sometimes the problem is not so much that they need some new piece of information but instead that theyhaven’t properly understood and applied the old information they already know.

They don’t need to go out and buy a whole new set of clubs. They need to learn to use the ones they already have.

They need to know what they know.

I think that's particularly true when it comes to the doctrine of God. Many Christians who have sat in church for a long time could tell you all about God's sovereignty, God's omnipotence. They could quote a few verses on various subject and spout the old cliches.

But they never apply those truths to their lives. They think about God in the abstract.

Take God’s omniscience.

We can sit around and say “God knows all things. God knows everything in the past, everything in the present, everything in the future.” And yet when life gets difficult, we never see how it applies to us, how it should change the way we react to our situation.

The doctrine of God’s omniscience is not a stuffy old truth for debate in the back of a seminary classroom; instead God’s omniscience is a most practical truth, a truth we must take and apply to ourselves as we struggle to understand the chaos that often is our life.

The fact that God is omniscient means that he knows you personally.

Let me quote Psalm 139. I want you to check out all the personal pronouns…“Oh Lord you have searched me…You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you understand my thought from far.”

David is not simply finding comfort in the fact that God knows all things. He finds comfort in the fact that God knows him, personally.

What’s true for David is also true for us. Hebrews 4:13 tells us there is not a creature hidden from his sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do…Psalm 33:13 says the Lord looks from heaven, He sees all the sons of men. From His dwelling place He looks out on all the inhabitants of earth.

God searched David, and He knew David. And God searches you, and He knows you, personally.

We’re not just another number to God. We're not just another face in the crowd.

The word David uses for search means to investigate or examine. It’s used in Job 28:3 to describe the way miners dig down into the earth; and over in Judges 18:2 of the way explorers spy out a land; and in Proverbs 25:2 of a king inquiring into a difficult, complex intellectual problem.

When David says God has searched him, he is saying God has performed a minute and thorough examination of his heart. The emphasis is on thorough.

David is painting a picture and the picture he is painting is of a God who is intimately involved with the lives of those He has created.

There are some who think of God as far removed from His creation, and there are some people who believe in God but don’t really think he knows them or cares about them at all, but David here shows us the truth is the complete opposite. God is so involved with His creation that He actually searches it out. He’s not up in heaven unaware of what is going on on earth or in our hearts. He knows us absolutely and completely.

That’s a pretty remarkable thought. We serve a God who knows.

God knows you.

Don’t allow your mind to run away from that. Enjoy it.

I like how Charles Spurgeon puts it, he says, Listen, “God sees you—selecting any one out of this congregation—he sees you, he sees you as much as if there were nobody else in the world for him to look at. If I have as many people as there are here to look at, of course my attention must be divided; but the infinite mind of God is able to grasp a million objects at once, and yet to set itself, as much upon one, as if there were nothing else but that one; so that you, this morning, are looked at by God as much as if throughout space there were not another creature but yourself. Can you conceive that? Suppose the stars blotted out in darkness, suppose the angels dead; imagine the glorified spirits above are all gone, and you are left alone, the last man, and there is God looking at you. What an idea it would be for you to think of—that there was only you to be looked at! how steadily he could observe you! how well he would discern you! But mark you, God does really look at you this morning as much, as entirely, as absolutely without division of sight, as if you were the only being his hands had ever made. Can you grasp that? God sees you with all his eyes, with the whole of his sight—you—you—you—you are the particular object of his attention at this very moment. God's eyes are looking down upon you; remember that!”

David finds comfort in that.

In the midst of all the uncertainty of his life, as he’s confronted by the fact that there’s so much he does not know, he finds comfort in the fact that there is One who does know. God knows him personally.

And he knows you personally too!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

God's delight

We should want to get to know God.

I think that's pretty obvious. I mean, we're talking about the most important person who's ever existed, the King of the Universe. We're talking about a person who can speak and entire galaxies come into being, the One who owns absolutely everything. It only makes sense for us to want to get to know God.

But you know what's amazing to me?

God wants us to know Him.

Think about it. The nations are a drop in the bucket to God, the most important people, peons. He's seen billions of men and women come and go. He's been around forever. But still He cares for each one of us so much that He actually wants us to enter into a relationship with Him, to know Him.

In fact, the Bible tells us it's actually something He delights in.

“...I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings…” (Hosea 6:6)

You know what makes God happy? You knowing Him!

I don't know if you watch country music television. They have a show called “In with the Band…” and on the show, they give ordinary fans a chance to meet their favorite country music star.

There was a guy on the show recently who got to meet Willie Nelson. He was so excited he almost started kissing Willie’s feet. Just before he met Willie, he looked into the camera and said seriously,“…just thirty seconds with him would be the best moments of my life.”

Here's a man who wanted to know Willie. That's why he was so thrilled when he got the chance.

Imagine how he would have felt if Willie had actually wanted to get to know him...if Willie had in fact pursued him, if Willie had looked into the camera and said, ", I just want to be friends with this ordinary fan."

He would have been flabbergasted - overwhelmed with joy. Getting to know Willie is a privilege, Willie wanting a friendship is even better.

If people get that excited about getting to know other people, how much more excited should we be about getting to know God. And if people would be so honored and so amazed by having someone famous want to know them, how much more should we rejoice in the fact that God wants us to get to know Him!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Better Than Seeing An Angel...

"The Scriptures teach us that angels are continually present in this world, and they are doing all sorts of things in the purpose of God. Since they are spirits, we can't see them with our eyes. So we go about our day and we are basically unaware of all that is going on around us. Now imagine, that God should somehow give you the ability to see these angels throughout your day. That would certainly change the way you went about doing things, wouldn't it? You would see angels where everybody else just saw nothing. You would be interested by the sight, you would want to talk with these angels, you would want to become friends with these angels. You wouldn't be like other men any more, would you? You would be something of a new person, angels would seem much more interesting to you than anything else. People would either think you were crazy or a visionary or just distracted. Now God did not make angels visible to us. But the light of God's Word does make the Lord of angels in some sense visible to us, at least now he is a reality in our minds, and the Scriptures help us to feel and act as if we saw Him who is invisible. The Scriptures bring God into the circle of objects by which we perceive ourselves surrounded, and in whatever circle he is seen, he will be seen to be the most important object in it. Now if the sight of angels would affect a change in a man's character, how much more will seeing the infinite God. His favor will appear all important, his anger dreadful; all other objects will, in a measure, lose their interest, and the man will be thought deluded, or visionary or distracted."[1]
[1] Edward Payson, Legacy of a Legend, Solid Ground Christian Books, Vestavia Hills, Al., 2001, p.43

In a Class by Himself

If we sat down together and made a list of everything you considered valuable in your life: your family, your work, your goals, your possessions and then compared the value of each of those items with the value of God we’d find they all pale in significance.
There is no one and there is nothing as valuable as God.
Honestly, even to make a comparison like that isn’t fair because God is totally unique. You can’t compare the value of things or people to the value of God because they are not even in the same class.
God is so valuable, He’s in a class by Himself.
That’s why Scripture tells us, “There is no one like the Lord our God.” (Ex.8:10) That’s why Moses taught Israel to sing, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Ex.15:11) And that’s why God Himself says in Isaiah 46:5, “To whom then would you liken Me, and make me equal and compare Me, that we should be alike?”
The value of God far surpasses the value of anything else. It so far surpasses the value of anything else that you can’t even make a valid comparison between the two. To quote Piper, “The value of God is infinitely greater than the value of the sum of all created beings.” (Brothers We are Not Professionals, p.13)
Sometimes when we think of how valuable God is we imagine Him as standing at the head of a long line of other things and other people. At the back of the line are things that are least valuable, and the line proceeds all the way up to God who is most valuable.
That’s a start but the thing is, it’s not enough. God is not only preeminent, He is transcendent.
A.W. Tozer explains, “Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf that between God and the archangel is infinite. The caterpillar and the archangel, though far removed from each other in the scale of created things are nevertheless one in that they are alike created. They both belong in the category of that-which-is-not God and are separated from God by infinitude itself.” (Knowledge of the Holy, p. 76)
We all know very well there are certain persons and certain things so important that it’s not optional to take them for granted. There are certain persons and certain things so valuable that it would be morally wrong to treat them as if they were cheap.
Imagine I take a hike with my three daughters. After a long, hard hike we come to the top of a mountain and are greeted by an absolutely stunning view. But as I am about to sit down and enjoy the scenery, I notice one of my girls is missing.
What would you think of me if I sat down and just stared at the scenery? “I’ll look for her later. Right now I just want to enjoy the view.”
You’d probably say I was evil, heartless and cold. You’d plead with me to get up and start to search.
But what if I argued with you? What if I said, “Look, this is beautiful scenery. I’m not going to be here for a while. I want to enjoy it. I’ve worked hard to get here. Give me a break. Why should I go and look for my daughter? Why is that so vital?”
You’d respond by asking, “What are you talking about? One of your girls is missing. The fact that she is your daughter ought to be reason enough. You should go looking for her because she is much more valuable than any old view.” (paraphrase of Tozer ill.)
Getting up and looking for my missing daughter shouldn't even be a question because she is my daughter. Anyone who would argue otherwise isn't just making a poor choice, they are twisted and perverted. The value of a person far outweighs the value of a view.
Likewise, God is far more valuable than anyone or anything in your life. The value of God far outweighs the value of anything else. Therefore to put anyone or any activity above God is not only foolish, it’s morally wrong, it’s perverted.
Pursuing God is not even a question, because He is God.
The prophet Jeremiah put it like this, “There is none like Thee, O Lord; Thou art very great, and great is Thy name in might. Who would not fear Thee, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Thy due. For among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like Thee.” (Jeremiah 10:6,7)
There is one God. He is absolutely unique. He towers in importance and value above anyone or anything else. Our response to that great reality should be worship. We should fear God simply because He deserves to be feared. We should give everything we've got to knowing God better. That is His due.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

It's about desire...

Our churches are filled with weak, malnourished Christians who claim they want to become spiritually strong but never seem to get there. The reason? They are starving themselves spiritually. The sad thing is, most of them are doing it to themselves. They are spiritual anorexics.

Just take a look at the lackadaisical attitude many believers have toward the preaching of God’s Word. Many view preaching as a take it or leave it matter. They don’t view careful listening as an urgent task. If they make it to church, they make it. If they miss, they miss. If the pastor is interesting, they’ll listen. If he’s not, they’ll fall asleep. They don’t eagerly anticipate the preaching of the Word of God. Instead, they just try to endure it, hoping their pastor gets finished in time for them to see the beginning of the big game. They view the sermon as a good opportunity for them to think about what they have to do when they get home, or at the office next week. They don’t think about the message until the pastor starts to preach and they don’t think about it again once the sermon is completed.

Or just take a look at the lackadaisical many believers have towards reading and studying the Word of God on their own. While many if not most if not all Christians know they ought to read and study their Bibles, many if not most don’t do so on a regular basis.

There are many Christians who are having major problems in their lives because they either a.) don’t know how to study God’s Word and apply it to their lives or b.) they aren’t studying God’s Word on a regular basis and applying to their lives. They know they ought to read and study their Bibles but they don’t. In all actuality, they spend little more time in God’s Word than people who don’t believe in the importance of the Bible at all.

I recently read a survey taken a couple of years ago among those claiming to be born again Christians that reported that less than two out of every ten professing believers read their Bible every day. 1 out of 4 admit that they never read their Bible at all.

That’s a shocking statistic.

The question you’ve got to ask yourself is: why?

Why would a person who claims to be a believer and agrees that the Scriptures are important fail to work hard to listen when the pastor is preaching from it? Why would a person who claims to be a believer and agrees that the Scriptures are important fail to read and study it on a regular basis?

Oh, I know there are all kinds of excuses people give.

Sometimes people will say, “I’m too busy. I’ve got lots on my mind. I don’t have time to study the Bible. And I’m too tired to really pay attention at church.”

But really we should change that to - “I won’t make time” because the truth is they have time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and they have time to sleep. They have time to do what they have to do. And they are energized when it comes to doing what they want to do. They just don’t see studying Scripture as something they have to do, so they don’t make a priority of doing so.

Sometimes people will say, “The Bible’s too difficult. I can’t understand it no matter how hard I try.”

But these same people can explain how other amazingly complicated things work. Studying the Bible can be difficult, but it’s not that difficult. As R.C Sproul puts it, if you are a believer and you can read and understand the newspaper, you can read and understand the Scripture.

Sometimes people will say, “I don’t understand why you are making this a big deal. I don’t need to work hard at reading the Bible, I just need to love Jesus.”

But that’s a little like saying you want to love your wife but you just don’t want to spend anytime with her. We need Scripture to really know Jesus and to know God. If we are going to know how to love God we need to know the Word of God. Apart from a regular, sustained study of the Word of God any love we have for Jesus is going to dry up real quick.

The truth is we could go on and list excuses for not reading the Bible all day long, but that’s all they are – excuses. If we are going to understand why many professing believers fail to study the Scriptures we need to move past the excuses and get to the root of the issue.

I’m convinced, at the root, one of the primary reasons, if not the primary reason, why many professing believers fail to discipline themselves to study God’s Word is because they don’t recognize its’ value.

Oh they may give verbal affirmation to the value of Scripture. They may nod their heads at all the right points when their pastor talks about the importance of Scripture. But in their heart of hearts, they either don’t understand it or believe it.

Listen to how one pastor puts it, “The diligence with which you approach the study of Scripture which is so critical to the blessing of your life, so critical to your joy, so critical to your usefulness, so critical to the glory of God, the diligence with which you approach this critical study of Scripture is directly correlated to your view of Scripture…directly. If you have a weak view of Scripture, I promise you, you will have a weak interest in it. It is the seriousness with which you hold this document that is the initial compelling matter to motivate you to study it.”

In other words there is a direct correlation between what you value and how you live. If you truly value God’s Word, you will study and meditate on it. You will make a priority out of hearing it and understanding it when it is preaching.

And if you don’t, you won’t.

You know that’s true. It’s not about the Scripture being difficult to read. It’s not about not having enough time. It’s not about just loving Jesus. It’s all about what you value. If you value something enough you’ll work hard to understand it even if it’s difficult, you’ll find the time even if you are busy, you’ll put down your excuses and get to work.

Meaning matters

I never liked learning Spanish. I was terrible at it. Still one year while I was in high school my parents sent me on a two week intensive Spanish study tour in the Dominican Republic. Sadly, it didn’t do me much good. At this point of my life, all I’m good for is getting through the Drive Thru at Taco Bell. I know how to say quesidilla, but that’s about it. If a person speaks to me in Spanish, I won’t understand him. I can hear what he is saying, but what he is saying won’t benefit me at all, because I don’t understand what he means.

The same is true when it comes to reading the Bible. If you read the Bible but don’t understand it you haven’t profited from it. Unfortunately, for many people the Bible might have as well been written in another language. They don’t understand it. Sure, their eyes glaze over the pages day after day but their Bible reading is nothing more than another ritual. They feel better for doing it. They mark a check next to Bible reading on their little list of things to do each day but they aren’t changed and blessed by their reading of Scripture, because they don’t understand it.

We all need to read our Bibles, but please don’t be mistaken, there’s no special benefit that comes from merely looking at words in your Bible for fifteen minutes a day. The Bible is not magic. To benefit from studying the Bible you have to understand what it means.

A while back I received a desperate telephone call at the church I pastor. I’d never met the woman before, but she wanted counsel. She struggled with fear, intense fear. After talking for a while I suggested she begin to work on memorizing Scripture. To which she replied, “I have memorized Scripture and I think that’s my problem.”

I was a little stunned by that response so I asked, “What do you mean?”

She answered, “I think reading Scripture is my biggest problem.” Obviously I was confused so I asked her to give an example. She said, “Take 1 Corinthians 13, that chapter about love. I started to memorize 1 Corinthians 13 and I came to that part that says love endures all things and it just threw me into a fit.”

I couldn’t figure out how love enduring could cause her so much anxiety so I asked her why that verse scared her so much. She responded, “Because it talks about enduring. And that makes me think about having to endure. And my life is so hard I don’t want to have to endure. I just want to give up. I don’t want to go on any longer. “

She had no idea what 1 Corinthians 13 meant when it talked about love enduring, thus she received no benefit from it. It did her no good to memorize 1 Corinthians 13 because she had no idea what it actually meant.

And the same is true for you.

The Scripture doesn’t mean whatever you want it to mean. There aren’t a million different valid meanings for every passage of Scripture. There’s only one. And if you are going to profit from your study of Scripture you must discover what that one meaning is. I can’t stress that enough. If your reading of Scripture is going to benefit you at all you have to understand what the passage you are reading actually means. It’s those last two words that are really important to catch - what it actually means.

If you fail to understand that, you fail. You can read and memorize Scripture until you are blue in the face but it will do you no good if you don’t understand what you are reading and memorizing because the power of the Word of God is in its meaning.

Honestly, that’s not all that profound.

We all know if we are going to effectively communicate with someone else we have to listen to what they are saying and try to understand what they mean by what they are saying. That’s true when we are talking with someone. If I’m listening to my wife, I can’t just make up what she means by what she is saying. Instead, if I’m going to benefit from talking with her, I have to understand what she actually does mean.

That’s also true when we are reading something someone has written. I was reminded of that recently when attempting to put together a Sparkly Princess bike we bought for my daughter for her birthday. Unlike many men, I’ve never minded using directions. I know I don’t know how to put a bike together by myself so I’d rather begin by going through the directions step by step. If those directions are going to help me, however, I have to understand what they mean. Specifically, I have to understand what the person who wrote those directions meant when he wrote them. I don’t get to make up what those directions mean. If I do make up what those directions mean, I can't blame the author when the bike doesn't turn out. If I don’t figure out what the author intended by his directions then his directions aren’t going to help me at all.

And the same is true when we study Scripture. We don’t get to make up what the text means. We don’t have that right. When we open up our Bibles to study we have to recognize we are servants of the text. We must not try to force the text to be a servant to us. We have to come to the Scriptures asking, “What does this passage say?” not “What do I want this passage to say?” It’s not about what I want the text to mean or what you want the text to mean, it’s about what the text means. And the text means what God originally intended it to mean when He wrote it. If we don’t understand that, the passage we are reading won’t benefit us at all.

Unfortunately many are not interested in what God originally intended the Scripture to mean. Their minds are made up before they even open up their Bibles and begin to read. As a result, they end up imposing their ideas on the text. The passage of Scripture they are studying becomes a puppet that they use to say whatever they want it to say. They put words in God’s mouth. They say this is what the Bible says when this is not what the Bible says. And then they can’t understand why they aren’t profiting from their study.

I recently received a brochure in the mail from a prominent ministry. The title of the brochure was, “Is the church dead?” The point of the brochure was to say that God is finished with the church and we all need to leave our churches and go start fellowship groups. Throughout the brochure the authors quoted Scripture after Scripture. But the problem was they tore those verses out of context. The Scriptures they were quoting had nothing at all to do with the point they were making, which means what they were saying had no authority at all, because as many others have said throughout the years, ‘the meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture.’

If someone quotes a passage of Scripture and says this is what the passage means when in fact that is not what the passage of Scripture means then what that person is saying is not Scripture. If he distorted what the text he was quoting meant, even though he was quoting a text of Scripture, in the end all he was giving was his own opinion.

And the thing is, we don’t need more opinions. We’ve got enough opinions out there. What we need is the Word of God and we’re only getting the Word of God if we properly understand what the Bible means. The only way we properly understand what the Bible means is if we discover what the author meant when he originally wrote it.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Willing to Change?

You can buy all the diet books you want. You can study them night and day. You can even go so far as to memorize them word for word. But if you are not willing to diet it isn’t going to do you one bit of good.

The same is true when it comes to God’s Word.

You can read it. You can pray about it. You can go to church and hear it Sunday after Sunday. You can come in for counseling from the Word. You can listen to it on Christian radio. You can talk about it with your friends. But if you are going to profit from it, you have to be willing to do what it says.

Sadly, many miss out on the blessing of Scripture because they aren’t really interested in doing that.

They are religious. They are at church every week. They hear the word. They nod their heads at all the right points on Sunday. But deep down, where no one else can see, their hearts are hard. Their minds are made up before they even come to Scripture. They are just going to do what they are going to do regardless of what Scripture says.

When the Scripture says something they don’t like, they either deny that it says that, ignore that it says that, or try to twist Scripture into saying something different than what it really says.

If you want to understand and benefit from your study of Scripture you must refuse to treat God's Word like that. Instead you need to come to Scripture with the attitude of the Psalmist in Psalm 119:

“Teach me O Lord the way of your statutes, and I will keep it to the end.” (v.33) “Give me understanding, why?” “That I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” (v.34)

In other words, if you are going to profit from Scripture you have to come to the Word of God with a desire to do what it says. If you don’t have that desire when you come to God's Word all you are doing is deluding yourself. You may read the Bible every day and listen intently to sermons from the Bible week after week but to quote James if you are not seeking to put what you learn into practice you are only “deceiving yourself.”

And that’s pretty sad.

It’s terrible to lie to someone else. It’s pathetic to lie to yourself.

Yet that’s exactly what many professing Christians are doing each and every time they study the Bible. They’re fooling themselves because they haven’t prepared themselves to benefit.

They don't come to the Word to be changed by it.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Unprofitable Bible Reading...

The brutal truth is there are many who do study the Word but don’t profit from it.

There are many who are in the Word every day, who can quote the Bible backwards and forwards, know their theology better than John Calvin himself but who are no better for all their study.

In fact, they are worse.

Jesus talks about people like that. In fact, he was constantly confronting people like that. The religious leaders of his day had spent years studying the sacred writings. Many of them knew the Word better than many of us. The rabbis in Jesus’ day memorized long portions of Scripture. They used to say that a man who repeated a chapter out loud one hundred times was not to be compared with a man who repeated it aloud one hundred and one times. One rabbi recommended four hundred repetitions of a certain passage for a dull passage, and then four hundred more. These men devoted themselves to studying and interpreting the Word of God. Yet, in spite of all their diligence, they weren’t profiting in the least.

There are many illustrations of that. Perhaps you remember the story in the gospels where Jesus was out with his disciples and they were plucking some heads of grain on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were bothered by what they were doing so they came up to Jesus to confront him about it.

They said, “Look your disciples are doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath.”

Do you know how Jesus responded?

He asked them, “Have you not read…”

Now, they had read. That’s the point. They had read the Old Testament. They knew it well. But, Jesus knew they hadn’t understood it and therefore they hadn’t profited from it.

I’m sure you’ve known people like that. I grew up in a Christian family and have been in church all my life and have been around many people who profess to be believers. As a result, I’ve met many people who know the Bible very well who at the same time were just not living it out. I’ve counseled many different men and women who knew what the Bible said and yet didn’t seem to benefit much from their knowledge of it.

In light of what we’ve seen about the power of Scripture, that reality, that people can study and study the Bible and not profit from it at all, kind of stuns us, and leaves us asking – how can that be?

You have to think about that or else you are going to become pretty frustrated. I’m calling you to study your Bibles on a regular basis. I’m calling you to make listening to the Word of God top priority in your life. I’m saying that’s essential if you are going to grow in your spiritual life. But I have to warn you, it’s possible to study your Bibles on a regular basis and to listen to sermon after sermon and still not profit from it.

The reason for that is simple. There’s more to benefiting from Scripture than merely reading it.

There’s a sense in which studying the Bible is a lot like studying any other book. It takes many of the same skills. You have to know something about the meaning of the words that are used, about the literature that is being used, about the purpose. But there’s also a sense in which studying the Bible is different than studying any other book. One of the differences between studying the Bible and studying other books is that certain things must be true of the person who is studying the Bible if he is going to understand it and profit from it.

We'll just look at one today.

To really profit from the Word you must be born again.

An unbeliever can understand certain things about the Bible. He can study the Bible and understand the meaning of words and particular sentences. It’s not as if when he opens up his Bible the words are somehow miraculously turned into garbly-gook. The unbeliever can read that Jesus came to earth and understand what that means as a fact. He can read that Paul was thrown in prison and understand that happened as a fact. He can know what the Bible says just like you know what the Bible says.

But in spite of all his study the unbeliever doesn’t benefit from his study of the Word because he won’t submit to what it means. He by nature is opposed to Scripture.

Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 2:6 that the unbeliever, because he lacks the Holy Spirit, has a basic bias against God’s Word. He doesn’t come to the Word of God in a neutral manner. “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” He has accepted the world’s wisdom and so he won’t understand God’s.

Paul gives a proof of that in verse 8, “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory…” The fact that people reject Jesus proves they don’t understand the wisdom of God. And the reason they don’t understand the wisdom of God is because they don’t have the Spirit. Verse 10, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”

That means if a person is going to understand the wisdom of God the Spirit has to work. That’s why the unbeliever won’t profit from Scripture. He doesn’t have the Spirit.

Paul says in verse 11, “No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God…” That’s why we as believers can understand and interpret this book. “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” We can understand this book because the Spirit opens our eyes and helps us understand what God says.

Paul pounds the point home in verse 14, “The natural person does not accept the things of Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” The unbeliever’s mind is made up even before he picks the Bible up. He rejects Scripture because the things of God seem foolish to him. And the things of God seem foolish to him because he lacks spiritual discernment.

Whereas, verse 15, “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself judged by no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” The believer can understand God’s Word because he is not alone. He has the Spirit teaching him. A person needs more than mental intelligence if he is going to benefit from the Word. He needs the Spirit to work on and open up his heart.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Does it work?

I love talking about the Bible. I guess you could say I am a fanatic for the Word.

There are many different reasons I am so passionate about the Bible. One of the big ones is because I believe the Word of God contains the answer to every spiritual problem you or I will ever face.

I agree with one old pastor who once wrote, “As a pastor for over forty years, I have found that nothing equals the power and help of God’s Word in ministering to human necessity. The unique contribution of the Bible in counseling is beyond my ability to adequately present. The Scriptures are a veritable fountain of life and healing. The Bible has no equal in its message to the human heart…”[1] Without a doubt, he’s one hundred percent right.

Yet in spite of that, every Sunday church buildings are filled with people who have come faithfully week after week to listen to God’s Word but whose lives aren’t very different from many of those who have never gone to church or ever heard a sermon at all. In fact, every Sunday our churches are filled with Bible carrying Christians who are struggling with the same problems as the typical non-Christian who doesn’t even own a Bible, and sometimes struggling even more.

Which leaves many people wondering: If the Bible is so powerful why are so many Christians so weak?

You have to admit, that’s a troubling question.

The good news is God doesn’t leave us guessing as to its answer. He speaks to this issue loud and clear.

One reason many professing Christians aren’t profiting from the Word is because many professing Christians aren’t studying it on a regular basis.

This book doesn’t do you any good sitting on the shelf. I like how my father once put it, “Suppose I had a disease and there were a medicine to cure that disease. Suppose also I didn’t faithfully use that medicine. Whose fault would it be if my disease was not cured? Obviously, the fault would not be with the medicine. The fault would be with me. The medicine might be the best remedy in the world for solving my physical problem, but it would do me no good if I didn’t use it. No one in his right mind would fault the medicine for not solving my problem. No one would have any justification for complaining that the claims of the developer and provider were untrue or even exaggerated. The fact is, even good medicine doesn’t work if it’s sitting in a bottle in a medicine cabinet. It works when it is used regularly. The same is true with the Scriptures. They only prepare us for every circumstance and occasion; they only thoroughly equip us when we use them. A Bible sitting on a shelf in a person’s home or even carried with him wherever he goes does a person no good until he picks it up and reads it and studies it regularly. Truth is, most professing Christian have Bibles; in fact, many of them have several Bibles and sometimes they have several versions of Bibles. Truth is, when it comes to regularly reading and studying Scripture, these same professing Christians who claim to believe the Bible to be the Word of God; these same people who would agree that the Bible is to be our standard in matters of faith and practice seldom, if ever, seriously read or study the Scriptures. Truth is, these same professing Christians are sometimes people who don’t attend a church where the Word of God is faithfully exposited and preached. They attend churches where they are entertained, but not edified; where the spiritual diet is not sound exegesis or solid theology, but cotton candy stuff with a little flavoring of Scripture. Or, if they do attend a church where the Bible is exposited and preached they are very sporadic in their attendance and thus they are not being consistently exposed to Biblical truth. Truth is that many professing Christians and churches are very flippant when it comes to their approach to the Scriptures. Whose fault is it that professing Christian are often not very well prepared and thoroughly equipped for every good work? The deficiency is not with the Bible; the deficiency is with the way people fail to use the Scriptures.”[2] That’s got to be reason number one on any top ten list of reasons many professing believers don’t profit from the Scriptures.

But we have to move on from there. Because the brutal truth is there are many who do study the Word but don’t profit from it. There are many who are in the Word every day, who can quote the Bible backwards and forwards, but who are no better for all their study. In fact, they are worse.

Over the next few days I want us to think about why.

[1] W.A. Criswell, Why I Preach the Bible is Literally True, Broadman and Holman Pub., Nashville, Tn., 1995, p.178.
[2] Wayne and Joshua Mack, The Twin Pillars of the Christian Life, Grace and Truth Books, Tulsa Ok., 2003, p.192,193.