Friday, August 23, 2013

"Since God Is Sovereign--Four Reasons To Pray" 2 Corinthians 1:11 Message #8

A Florida Highway Patrolman spotted a car puttering along at 10 mph on I-10 just west of Jacksonville and pulled the car over for going way to slow and being a danger to traffic.  As he approached the car he noticed that there were three other elderly women in the car who were wide eyed, looking like ghosts, and mumbling prayers.  The driver obviously confused said, “Officer, I don't understand, I wasn't doing over the speed limit! What seems to be the problem?" "Ma'am," the officer said, "You are driving so slow, you are a danger to everyone else on this interstate". “But, Officer, I am only driving the posted speed limit of 10 mph.” The highway patrolman, realizing her confusion, explained that 10 was the route number, not the speed limit. A bit embarrassed, the woman grinned, thanked the officer for pointing out her error. But before letting her go, and still noticing her distressed passengers praying, he asked, "Is everyone OK?  To which the driver replied, "Oh! They’ll be alright in a minute Officer, we just got off I-95."

There’s lots of reasons to pray isn’t there and being in fear for your life is just one of them.  But today I want to talk about other reason for praying and especially praying when we know God’s sovereign will is perfect and thus, not subject to change.  As we saw or as I hope we saw last week, our prayers are God’s ordained means of bringing about His ordained plans and purposes which are perfect.  They enable us to participate with God in the unfolding of His eternal purpose which He foreordained before the world began.

But not only should we pray because God has ordained that He will use our prayers and our work in accomplishing His Purposes on the earth—We should pray for the simple reason that God commands us to.  Listen if God said it—that settles it…right?!  Have you seen the bumper sticker that says:  “God said it.  I believe it.  That settles it!”  There’s only one thing wrong with that sentiment.  Do you know what it is?  It’s the “I believe it part.”  Listen, whether you or I believe it or not—if God said it—that alone settles it.  So, we pray because God tells us to.  That’s enough.

But, in His grace, God goes beyond telling us to pray and actually does give us several reasons to pray even though He is sovereign and in control of all things.  So, besides the fact that we need to pray because God has planned to use our prayers in accomplishing His purposes—why else should we pray?  In this message, let me give you four very important reasons why we should pray.

1.    Prayer Enables Us To Do The Work of Christ On Earth

Here is a major accelerator to my motivation to pray, and it stems from an amazing statement Jesus made in John 14:12-14. It would be good to open your Bible there because you’ve got to see it to believe it.  It is the night of the Last Supper, and Judas has left to betray Jesus. His leaving allows Jesus to talk to His true disciples about some really important stuff such as His deity, His union with the Father, and the works of God in the world.  And in this private teaching time, He makes this statement:

“Truly, truly . . . he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he shall do; because I go to the Father.”

Look at that statement carefully.  Jesus does not say, “greater works than these they shall do.”   Rather, He says, “greater works than these, he shall do” referring to the one who believes in Him—the Christian.  What works did our Lord do on earth?  He cleansed the lepers, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, restored hearing to the deaf, raised the dead, preached the Word of God, disciple leaders, and ministered to children to name just a few.

So, in what way can one believer do these same works that Jesus did and as Jesus said—even greater works than these?  How is this possible?  Well, look at the verses which follow verse 12.  Verses 13 and 14 relate directly to verse 12 and they are talking about prayer.

13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Jesus’ point is that it is through prayer that one single believer has the power to do the very works that Christ did and even greater works than Christ did.  Listen, most of us will not be worldwide evangelists, though a few will be.  Most of us may not be spiritually gifted in the healing of others, though some could be.  Most of us will not be great preachers and teachers, though there may be a couple among us.  But every one of us can kneel down and pray.

We can pray, asking Jesus to touch the lost masses of earth and help snatch them from eternal darkness to eternal life.  Every one of us can pray asking God to open the eyes of unbelievers to see Jesus and then draw those unbelievers to Himself, and then save them.  Every one of us can participate in Christ’s healing power spreading both medically and miraculously across the earth by prayer.  Every one of us can be involved in missions and never leave our bedrooms just by praying.  Every one of us can have a stronger marriage and a stronger more Christ like family simply by giving ourselves to pray for the same.  And every single one of us can be involved in the fight to uphold the sanctity of human life, prevent marriages from crashing and burning, giving our church kids a passion for living for Christ, and seeing our churches fulfill their mission just by praying.  And let me also add, you can have a better pastor if you’d just pray for him more!  Every one of us can do these things through our prayers!

Listen, today you can spend 10 minutes pouring your heart out to God to give you a greater appetite and passion for Him and He will.  Today, you can spend a few minutes in prayer and impact entrenched Muslim minds all over the world.  Today, you can stand against abortion, pornography, rape and incest, and child abuse in the far-flung towns of this country.  This afternoon, you can go anywhere in the world through prayer and touch the unreached, the orphan, and the outcast for Christ.  You see, every day, I get to participate with Christ in accomplishing His mighty life-transforming works through my prayers.  It matters not what type of gifts, talent, or personality I have; it matters only that I take this time to cooperate with Him in my praying.

2.   Prayer Helps Us In Preventing And Overcoming Temptation

Prayer is also an important instrument in our overcoming sin and temptation.  And you can really see this in Luke 22:39-41. Luke sets the scene. It is the night before Jesus’ death. Jesus and His apostles have left the upper room and have navigated the winding path they knew well, up the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane.  Jesus knows that great temptations are soon to assault His men and Him.  Mindful of their need for fortitude, He says to them:  “Pray [in order] that you may not enter into temptation.”  What did He mean?   Simply that their antidote to yielding to the temptations that fear, discouragement, and horror would soon present, was prayer.  Prayer would fortify their trembling faith and courage.

How could He know this?  Because He, too, faced His own darkness. Looming in the next few hours were insults, torturous beatings, being nailed to a cross.  But far beyond that, He knew He would, on that cross, absorb the full fury of His Father’s wrath for the sins of every single person who would believe in Him.  And He knew He would be deserted and abandoned by His Father as He paid the full penalty for our sins as that was part of the punishment He endured in our place.  Can you imagine the terror that must have clutched at His throat?  We are naive if we think it did not occur to the humanness of Jesus, to abort His mission, to find another way, to look for a way out.  But what did He do?  He modeled exactly what He had told His disciples: He prayed so that He could defeat temptation.

We are told by Luke that His prayers were so heartfelt, His struggles so intense, that He was literally sweating blood.  He began His prayers with, “Father if there is any way that this cup can pass from Me…”  At the end of that hour, He rose from prayer, having settled the issue with His Father, saying, “not My will but Yours be done.”  Prayer was the means of His victory.

But when He returned to His men He found them . . . asleep!  He had told them to pray.  Instead, they followed our motto: “When in doubt; sack out!”  He confronted their tiredness, probably their crankiness at being awakened, and said again “pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Notice that He commanded this in the beginning of this passage, then He demonstrated it in the body of this passage, and He reiterated it at the end of this passage.  When you face temptation, PRAY!  That is what will see you through.  But instead, usually we pray only after we have yielded.  What about seeing prayer as our first option so that God can give us courage and strength prior to our temptations?  If we would pray more, we would yield less!

3.   Prayer Helps Us In Spiritual Warfare

Prayer is a major weapon in fighting the spiritual battles we are all engaged in as believers.  Ephesians 6:10-20 reminds us that ultimately our struggles are not against humans, but against powerful spiritual beings and forces.  The picture here is that of a war.  Life as a Christian is not a playground; it’s a battlefield.

We are instructed by Paul, an experienced soldier in this combat, to be appropriately prepared for our struggle.  Modeling a Roman warrior, we put on the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, loins girded with truth, feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel, shield of faith, sword of the Spirit (the Word of God).

Now, it seems we have a complete set of armor and weaponry.  And if I were writing this passage, I would say, “Now get out there and fight the battle!”  But interestingly, Paul does not say that.  In fact, he waits until verse eighteen to get to the heavy artillery of this arsenal of God.  Notice what he says: Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, praying for all the saints.”  In one verse, we are commanded to pray four different times.

Do you think God is making a point?  He is attempting to seize our attention concerning prayer’s power in our fight against Satan, his minions, and even our own sinful flesh.  Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 10:3,4:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.”

The weapon of prayer softens up Satan’s fortress. It is the cannon, reducing the wall to rubble so that the troops can go through.  Too often, the gospel moves slowly because the softening-up process of prayer has been neglected.   When practiced, however, prayer “puts the wind at the back” of Christ’s soldiers.

4.    Prayer Takes Us Into Heaven

In Hebrews 10:19-25, the writer of this great Book is talking to us about our right, our duty, our privilege, and in fact, our great joy in being able, as those who have been forgiven of our sins through the blood of Christ—to enter into the holy place and to draw near into the very presence of God.
And that Holy Place he is talking about is that place where God’s presence, holiness, power, majesty, glory, magnificence, and beauty is most fully seen and experienced and that is Heaven where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father.  But, this passage is not talking about our future entering into heaven—it is talking about us going into heaven now and drawing near to God now even as He sits on His throne.

Look at how verse 19 reads—it is present tense.  Look at verse 22—it says we are to draw near now not later.  In other words, the Holy Spirit of God is telling us there is a way to experience Heaven right now while we are on earth and that way is through prayer.  That is the only way in which we can come into God’s throne room right now.  So, when you pray—you are not bringing God down—He is bringing you up for a visit and a chat.

Wow, no wonder God wants us to pray!  When we really pray—really take the time and put in the effort and pour out our hearts before God—we are able to experience heaven on earth.  And in this time of prayer, God gives us a reprieve from earth’s pull and problems to give us a taste and a desire for Heaven.

But this kind of prayer requires more than we sometimes want to invest.  This is not saying “grace” or asking God to fix your broken toys. This is the kind of praying that requires time—maybe all night like Jesus prayed.  It requires work and maybe even some sweating—like Jesus sweat.  It encapsulates and encompasses our whole being as we fight to lift our hearts before the Almighty so as to draw near and enter His gates with that bold confidence that believes that in Christ Jesus you are welcome in God’s presence.
This is the kind of prayer that wants one thing and one thing only and that is to see and experience Jesus and His glory as much as is possible this side of glory.  This is the kind of praying that Moses did when he beseeched God to see His glory.

This is the kind of praying David did when he said in Psalm 27:4 who while being surrounded by enemy troops ready to kill him asks God for just one thing—listen to what it is:

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”

He wants to dwell in the “house of the LORD” all the days of his life to just simply gaze at and enjoy the beauty of the LORD.  And keep in mind…he is not talking about the Temple because it has not been built yet—he is talking about heaven.  And he is talking about coming before the LORD in heaven through his prayers that he might enjoy the presence and the beauty of God.

Listen, this is really what prayer is all about!  It is about coming into the God of Heaven’s presence and spending time enjoying His company.  Man…you want to talk about something that will get you out of bed in the morning or out of the pit you are wallowing around in.

And note back in Hebrews 10:25 that as we draw near to God in prayer—we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together as is the habit of some.  This verse is in the context of prayer not just church on Sunday as we so often use it.  God wants us to experience Him individually and corporately through prayer!  Why does He want us to not forsake praying together?  Because there is a sense that when we pray together and worship together and praise Him together we intensify our joy as we magnify His glory.

That is what he says in 2 Corinthians 1:11 the text we started with last Sunday when we began talking about prayer.

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

When we pray together and then God answers our prayers—He receives the thanks and the praise and the glory from many people not just one and thus His glory is magnified and multiplied.  He gets the intensity of the glory which He deserves and we get the joy that surpasses understanding which, we do not deserve!

Friday, August 16, 2013

What Does It Mean To Be Gospel-Centered?

When talking about a gospel-centered life I am referring to a life where the Christian experiences a growing personal reliance on and experience of the gospel that protects him from depending on his own religious performance and being seduced and overwhelmed by his or her “performance” idols. Being gospel-centered is growing in the experience of the truths of his or her salvation such as: being fully reconciled to Christ, completely forgiven of all sin, perfectly justified before God, as accepted by the Father as Jesus is, identification with Christ, and enjoying an indivisible living union with Christ. 

When these truths are not only known but also experienced they produce the hallmarks of a gospel-centered life—such things as:

Confidence (Heb. 3:14; 4:16) When the gospel is central in our lives we have confidence before God - not because of our achievements, but because of Christ's atonement. We can approach God knowing that he receives us as his children. We do not allow our sins to anchor us to guilt and despair, but their very presence in our lives compels us to flee again and again to Christ for grace that restores our spirits and gives us strength.

Intimacy (Heb. 7:25; 10:22; James 4:8) When the gospel is central in our lives we have and maintain intimacy with God, not because of our religious performance, but because of Jesus' priestly ministry. We know that Jesus is our mediator with God the Father and that he has made perfect peace for us through his sacrifice allowing us to draw near to God with the eager expectation of receiving grace, not judgment.

Transformation (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13) When the gospel is central in our lives we experience spiritual transformation, not just moral improvement, and this change does not come about by our willpower, but by the power of the resurrection. Our hope for becoming what God designed and desires for us is not trying harder, but trusting more - relying on his truth and Spirit to sanctify us.

Community (Heb. 3:12, 13; 10:25; 2 Tim 3:16, 17) When the gospel is central in our lives we long for and discover unity with other believers in the local church, not because of any cultural commonality, but because of our common faith and Savior. It is within this covenant community, if the community itself is gospel-centered, that we experience the kind of fellowship that comforts the afflicted, corrects the wayward, strengthens the weak, and encourages the disheartened.

In speaking about the church being gospel-centered what I am talking about is the primary emphasis of the church.  Is the church oriented to and from the gospel or is it oriented to and from issues?  Only churches that see the gospel as central to all that they do can be said to be gospel-centered. 

Gospel-centered churches are driven by a love for Jesus and His Gospel. Therefore gospel-centered churches are so focused on Jesus and the hope of redemption that they are passionate and articulate about their theology. Their desire to make Jesus and the Gospel known are driven by their desire to see Christ receive the reward of His sufferings.  They understand the need for doctrinal integrity and theological precision.  And their understanding of the Scriptures and their Gospel-centeredness incites deep passion to work toward seeing as many people as possible repenting of their sin and trusting in Christ for the glory of God. When the gospel is central in a church it leads them out into the world on mission, while preserving their counter-cultural character as the people of God.  Finally, the gospel-centered church is driven by love for God first and then others and this leads to joyful obedience that points back to God.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


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Monday, August 12, 2013

If God Is Sovereign--Why Pray? 2 Corinthians 1:11 Message #7

The story is told about a small town in the South that for many years had been “dry” and so no alcohol was ever sold or served there.  But one day a businessman in the area decided to build a tavern.  In response to this new tavern, a group of Christians from a local Church became concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene.  Shortly after the prayer meeting that night, lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground.

In the aftermath of the fire, the owner of the tavern sued the Church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible for his loss.  But the Church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible.  After his initial review of the case the presiding judge began the trial with an official statement.  He said: “No matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear: the tavern owner believes in prayer, and the Christians do not.”

I don't think there is any doubt that we believe God does indeed answer prayer.  But given that belief, I wonder why it is that we pray as little as we do.  I wonder why our prayer meetings are as lackluster in attendance as they are.  Ironically, we believe in prayer but rarely pray.

There can be many reasons for this.  Some people simply don't believe in prayer.  They don't believe God responds to prayer.   They see prayer as a sentimental type of thing which probably more resembles talking to yourself than talking to God.  But then others who take their Bibles seriously and Bible doctrine seriously struggle too when it comes to prayer.   And the struggle I hear from some of these folks that is the result of their beginning to grapple with the subject of God's sovereignty is--If God is Absolutely Sovereign, why pray?

In other words, Why bother requesting that God do anything when, as the Bible teaches, everything has been ordained by Him beforehand?  If prayer consists of pleading with an unchangeable God to change His eternal and unalterable purposes, isn’t such an undertaking an effort in futility?  And the answer to that question is “YES”.  If all prayer consists of is trying to change God’s mind or trying to get God to act—then, yes it is a waste of time.

But that is not what prayer is all about.

Prayer is not just asking, it’s not just about getting.  Prayer is about communicating with God.  Talking with God as well as talking things over with God.  It encompasses thinking, feeling, speaking, and listening.  It’s a relational exercise or discipline designed to deepen our faith so as to increase the depth of our relationship with the Lord.

And prayer is also, among several other things, one of the primary and essential means by which God has ordained to accomplish His pre-ordained purposes.  It is this relationship between the sovereignty of God and the prayers of God’s people that the Bible is going to lead us into today as we continue in our study of 2 Corinthians.

But before jumping right into 2 Corinthians 1, I want to lay the foundation for us when it comes to what the Bible does teach about God’s sovereignty and then we’ll answer the question so many ask when they first hear of God’s providential sovereign control—“If God is absolutely sovereign—why pray?”

But before answering that question let’s take a look at the question itself—a question we have all probably asked one time or another.

The word, “if” in the question, “If God is Absolutely Sovereign why pray?” seems to suggest that God may not be Absolutely Sovereign- as though that issue is up for debate.  It isn’t. The Bible is crystal clear about this issue-

God is Absolutely Sovereign.  

Consider the following Scripture passages that speak of God’s sovereignty.

Isaiah 46:9-10
Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’

Psalm 115:3
Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases him.

Psalm 135:6
The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.

Daniel 4:35
All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.  No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”

2 Kings 19:25
“‘Have you not heard?  Long ago I ordained it.  In days of old I planned it now I have brought it to pass”

Isaiah 45:6-7
I am the LORD and there is no other.  The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity.  I am the LORD Who does all these things.

Proverbs 16:4
The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil.

Proverbs 16:9
The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.

Proverbs 16:33
The Lot is cast into the lap but its every decision is from the LORD.

Job 42:2
I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.

Ephesians 1:11
We . . . having been predestined according to His purpose Who works all things after the counsel of His will.

Romans 9:15-16
I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Acts 13:48
As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

You see, the Bible teaches that God not only brought creation into being together with all of its properties and powers but that He is also exercising sovereign control over it.  In fact, if the truth be known, God’s Word speaks more about God’s providence and absolute control over His creation than it does His work in creating. 

The Scriptures plainly teach that God exercises sovereign rule, authority, and control over Satan, demons, angels, stars, the physical universe, weather, plants, animals, nations, individual people, history, sin, death, coincidences, what we call luck, and all of life’s circumstances including any every person’s salvation.

And the primary reason for God’s providential governing authority, control, and sovereign power over his creation is that His very essence and nature as God demand it.  Because of Who God is and How Powerful God is—He has to be in control of all things.  His sovereignty and providence are the natural by-product of His attributes.  In fact, if God were not sovereignly in control of the creation, He would not be God.

So, with all this in mind—why pray when God is ultimately in ultimate control of everything?

I mean, if you know God is sovereign and you know God is all wise and all powerful and all knowing and has purposed everything from the beginning to the end and all the way through the middle, what in the world is the point of praying?

Because God told us to!

Because God does answer our prayers!

Because our prayers do matter and do make a difference!

Because God ordained the end including the means!

And Because God is glorified in answering our prayers!

These are the points Paul helps us to see in 2 Corinthians 1:11.

Let’s turn there and flesh them out of the verse.

Paul has been talking about his severe trial and how it brought him to his knees in order to teach him not to rely upon himself but upon God.

Then in verse 10, Paul makes the point that whereas God did deliver Timothy and him from this particular trial—there would be more trials and more deliverance coming in the future.  And that’s the way life is.  You just get through one problem and find yourself facing another.  That’s one of the things Paul is pointing out in verse 10.  We are going to always have trials and struggles but we are always going to experience God’s grace and help as well.

Then in verse 11, Paul brings his readers into the equation by making the point that through their prayers they are also helping and contributing to Paul’s present and future deliverance through his trials and troubles.

Listen to how the NASV and the ESV Bible translations render this verse.

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.  (ESV)

You also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.  (NASV)

No matter how you render the original Greek of 2 Corinthians 1:11, it appears that Paul really believed that the prayers of God’s people did make a difference and would make a difference in his circumstances.

And so he is making the point that when we pray we are joining God in His work which, He ordained and is going to carry out.  In fact, we are joining Him through our prayers because this is exactly what God ordained that we would do so as to participate with Him as the means by which He fulfills His purpose and plan.

Furthermore, our prayers were ordained and prepared by God before the foundation of the world to be used in bringing about His purpose in Manchester today.  That’s what Ephesians 2:10 means when it says:   “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

The phrase—“prepared beforehand” is referring back to Ephesians 1:4 where Paul says we were chosen before the foundation of the world.  Thus, not only were we chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world was set but our good works including our prayers which God would use for His purpose were also ordained back then as well.  And furthermore, according to the rest of verse 11, our praying glorifies God because as we enter into this work of prayer—God is glorified when He answers our prayers that are in accord with His purpose.

And the more people there are who pray—the more people there will be to thank God for His answer—and thus the more people there are who are glorifying God and receiving the joy of experiencing answered prayer as well as working with God to accomplish His purpose.

Now Paul wrote more about the sovereignty of God than anyone and he knew that God’s purposes and plans were not only perfect—they were perfectly set from before the foundation of the world and would not and could not ultimately be changed.  And yet he believed in the power of prayer and exhorted believers throughout his epistles to pray without ceasing.

Look at what he says in Romans 15:30-32:

Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints;  so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.

Paul makes the point here that it was these believers and their striving together with him in prayer that God was going to use to rescue him and do all the other things he was asking God to do.

Paul believed in the sovereignty of God but knew that the sovereign purpose of God included the sovereign means of God and those means included the prayers of God's people.

Now check out Philippians 1:19:

For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

In this passage, Paul is attributing his future deliverance to the prayers of the Philippian church and the Holy Spirit--Who is the provision of Jesus Christ.

I take this to mean that God's sovereign purpose will be achieved as the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the prayers of God's people are used as the means to bring about that sovereign goal.

And remember what James, Jesus’ half-brother had to say about prayer in James 4:2-3.

We don’t have because we don’t ask!

And sometimes when we do ask but don’t get what we are asking for it is because we are asking out of wrong motives.  In other words, we are not praying according to the will of God which He has revealed to us in His Word.
Listen, if you want to have answered prayers start finding out what kinds of prayers God loves to answer by digging into His Word.

And when praying for those things which you simply don’t know whether they are God’s will or not—say so!  It is not a lack of faith when you are praying but do not know whether what you are praying for is God’s will to simply admit this and ask God to have His will be done.  That’s what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane right?!  He asked His Father to remove the cup of His wrath from Him but then said—“Not my will but yours be done”.

Now go with me to Nehemiah 1.

Israel is in captivity, God knows that. And the land of Israel and the land of Judah, in particular the southern kingdom and the city of Jerusalem is in ruins and the people are in great distress.  The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, the gates are burned with fire. God knows all that.  In fact, God made sure that happened because God brought the Babylonians to execute His judgment upon Jerusalem and do all this damage in the first place—So God knows all of that.

But look at Nehemiah’s response in verses 4 and 5.

"Now it came about when I heard these words,I sat down and wept and mourned for days.  And I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.  I said I beseech Thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who preserves the covenant and loving kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments."

Wow, here's Nehemiah and he believes in the sovereignty of God and knows God will keep His covenant promises and yet he is praying day and night and fasting and weeping too.

And look at how he prays in verse 6. 

"Let Thine ear now be attentive and Thine eyes opened to hear the prayers of Thy servant which I am praying before Thee now, day and night on behalf of the sons of Israel.  I am praying before You day and night, fasting, weeping, mourning, praying before the God of heaven,"

I mean, He's really storming the gates, He's saying, "God, open Your ear and open Your eyes and look at this situation."  I think he is praying far more boldly than we do.  You know, we sort of go into God's presence with this idea that we are bothering God or that God really isn’t too interested in what we have to say.  Maybe, we are too concerned about being disrespectful or maybe too brash.

And I think that God may just be willing to put up with what appears to be disrespectful in our praying just to see some passion and power in our prayers.  I think, if anything, that God finds our prayers far too weak, way too anemic, and unbelievably dull.  We just don't pray for anything worth praying for sometimes.  Listen most of the prayer meetings I go to in church today are just plain boring.  I wonder if God gets weary of our continual organ recitals in which we just inform Him about everyone's body aches and "organ" pains. What a kool thing it would be to go to a prayer meeting where God comes down and acts on behalf of the passionate, powerful, praiseworthy, and pointed prayers of God's people who are praying for God to be glorified by showing Himself strong by doing the impossible.  But that's not going to happen if we keep on praying like we do in the church today.  

And listen, this lack of confidence we have when we pray was not part and parcel of the prayers of those mentioned in the Bible.

Listen to David pray in Psalm 27:7.

“Hear O LORD when I cry with my voice, And be gracious to me and answer me!”
Check out his prayer in Psalm 55:1.

“Give ear to my prayer, O God.  And do not hide Yourself from my supplication.  Give heed to me and answer me.  I am restless in my complaint and am surely distracted.”

Essentially, what David is praying to God is—“I'm telling you, things aren't going right and You need to listen to me and don't you be going off and hiding somewhere”.

Psalm 102 is another one.

"Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry for help come to Thee. Do not hide Thy face from me in the day of my distress, incline Your ear to me."

Again it's that same sort of demanding, it almost seems rude doesn’t it.

But its not being rude or demanding in a bad sense--it is being confident in the sense that God will act to bring about His sovereign purpose through the confident prayers of His people who really do believe He will act and aren't afraid to remind Him of this.

And I don't know about you but I'd rather be a part of God's means than anything else.  So, I pray knowing God is sovereign and knowing that in my praying God will act and use my prayers in bringing about His plan.  I suppose I could be a spiritual couch potato and not care whether I participated as the means which God uses to reach His end.  But I'd much rather be engaged and involved in being the means because the affect it has on me is wonderful, it is His goodness and blessing in this life and eternal reward in the life to come.

Listen, prayer is not about changing God's mind. It's not about changing God's plans.  It's not about giving Him information He doesn't have. It's not about a tweaking of the circumstances that He might not have anticipated. It's simply about being used by God.  As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:11—it’s about joining together with God in accomplishing His purpose by being the means to His accomplishing His plans in and for and through your life.

Look at Jeremiah 29:12-13, and we'll kind of close with those two verses.

Listen to verse 11.

"For I know the plans that I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare not calamity to give you a future and hope."

There is an affirmation of God's perfect knowledge, perfect sovereignty, and working out His purpose.

But then in verse 12 He says,

"Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you and you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart."

In a sense the two seem like they contradict. I know My plans, they're set, they're fixed, they're good.  I'm telling you, come and pray and I'll make you a part of the means of the fulfillment of those plans when you seek Me with all your heart.  And what comes out of this is an experience of the goodness of God. An experience of communion with God.  This is the richness of what we enjoy in this life and in the life to come, the eternal reward for being eager participants in the purposes of God.

Next time you pray, be bold. Next time you pray, which should be at all times, praying without ceasing, be shameless.  Next time you pray, go into the presence of God eager to pour out your heart.  Next time you pray, ask God to listen and to see and not to turn away and to hear the cry of your heart.

And as you pray and God unfolds His purpose, you will be enjoying the experience of having been a part of what He is accomplishing and will accomplish in and through your life through in and through your prayers.
This is just the beginning of why we should pray even though God is sovereign.

Next Sunday we’ll take a look at another reason—the ultimate reason and motivation for prayer and it may blow you away.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Get Out of The Church!

In his Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7, Jesus makes the point that those who follow Him as disciples are both salt and light (Mt. 5:13-14).  He does not say that we are to become the salt of the earth or the light of the world but rather that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Thus, the apparent questions that come to bear upon our lives are how salty are we and how brightly does our light shine?
However, in describing, as the light of the world, those who are His disciples, Jesus makes the even more subtle point that it is not enough to simply be the light.  Nor is it enough to simply let our light shine.  Rather, what Jesus says is that we are to “let our light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works” (Mt. 5:16).  Therefore, that which manifests us who profess and follow Christ as our Lord and Savior as the light of the world is our good works. 

Note as well, that these good works which manifest us as the light of the world are to be worked on and worked out before men so as to be plainly seen.  Jesus is saying that He wants our good works to be seen by men who do not know Him.  Therefore, He wants us to perform our Christ-like, Holy Spirit empowered, Gospel-fueled, “good works” in such a way that the people around us may see them.  This then requires that we be in the world so as to be seen.  It demands that we be rubbing shoulders with the down and out, the rich and famous, the grocer and the butcher, democrats and republicans, pro-lifers and pro-choice, gay marriage advocates, anti-gay marriage advocates, tree-huggers, tree-slayers, soccer moms, and every other label we humans can conceive—so that they will glorify God.  I take that to mean that they either end up trusting in Christ or continue to reject Christ so as to finally get what we all deserve which is hell.  Either way, God is glorified as He will save those who see our Christ-honoring works and believe and condemn those who see them and do not.  The point is--that they see!

It goes without saying that it’s a whole lot easier dealing with people, especially the ones we disagree with and really don’t like, from a distance and as spectators--complaining about them from the safety and security of our pulpits and pews.  But this doesn’t cut it when it comes to obeying and following Jesus.  He told us to get up out of the pew, go out the door, and start doing some good things in this bad world so that people who don’t know, love and cherish Jesus can see what Jesus is actually all about and be brought into a saving relationship with Him which really glorifies God.  

So, can the world see us?  Can people see our good works?  Not if the only place we are known is at church.  In the same way that lights are not meant to be covered up by baskets, Christians are not meant to hide out in their homes and churches.  Let’s do something really drastic this week—let’s get out of our churches and our homes and go hang out with some unbelievers and let our light shine so they can see it.  They will glorify God one way or another and so will we!  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

How God Loves Us In Our Pain 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 w/ John 11 Message #6

The following is the sermon transcript from a sermon Mark preached 8/4/13 at Northshire Baptist Church in Manchester, Vermont.

A man once found a cocoon of an emperor moth and took it home so he could watch the magnificently colored moth come out of the cocoon. 

One day a small opening appeared.  The man sat and watched the moth for several minutes as it struggled to try to force its body through that little hole. 

Then it seemed to stop making any progress.  To the man it appeared as if the moth had gotten as far as it could in breaking out of the cocoon and was stuck.

Out of kindness, the man decided to help the moth.  He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon so that the moth could get out. 

Soon the moth emerged, but it had a swollen body and small-shriveled wings. 

The man continued to watch the moth, expecting that in time the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would simultaneously, contract to its proper size.

Neither happened.  In fact, that little moth spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.  It was never able to fly.

The man in his kindness didn't understand that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the moth to get though the tiny opening were God's way of forcing fluid from the body into the wings so that the moth would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

In other words, the moth couldn’t become the glorious creature it was meant to become apart from persevering and working through the struggle God had designed for it.

And just as the moth could only achieve the glory of freedom and flight as a result of struggling, we too need to struggle through trials to become all that God intends for us to be.

In fact, the Bible makes the point in Acts 14:22 that “Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God.”

Sometimes, we wish that God would remove our struggles and take away all the obstacles; but just as the man crippled the emperor moth, so we would be crippled if God did that for us. 

God doesn't love us best by not letting us struggle.

And if that is true—How Does God Love Us In Our Pain?

With that in mind, let’s go to 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 which is where we left off last week.

Now, last week we saw that Paul makes the point that there was a purpose in his and Timothy’s severe suffering—whatever that suffering was all about.

And I made the point that if there is a purpose in something then there must also be someone behind the purpose and in Paul’s case the One behind his suffering is God Himself.

And in reading the verse, we see that the purpose for which God brings the suffering into Paul and Timothy’s lives is that they would not trust in themselves but in God Who raises the dead.

Therefore, we can conclude that from God’s point of view, Paul and Timothy’s being to experience a severe trial so as to learn to trust in God rather than themselves was of greater value and a greater expression of divine love than not having suffered.

In applying this to us, God’s love for us is oftentimes best manifested when He brings trials into our lives that force us to trust and rely upon Him rather than upon ourselves—
Because going through tough times in which God’s presence and power is seen and experienced in extraordinary ways is far more valuable and far more loving than allowing us to stay in our comfort zones where we don’t even sense or realize our need for God let alone see and experience Him in extraordinary ways.

Now, let me show another place in Scripture where I think you will see this even more clearly than here in 2 Corinthians.

Turn to John 11 where we have recorded for us an account of Jesus’ involvement with dear friends who were dealing with a very sick family member who finally died

Let’s read John 11:1-7.

Jesus had a special relationship with this family made up of three siblings who lived together—Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.

Their special friendship apparently started months before when Martha invited Jesus, who was traveling, into their home in Bethany which, was just a couple miles east of Jerusalem.

Again, it is apparent from reading this account in John 11 that Jesus enjoyed a special and intimate relationship with this family.

When Lazarus became ill, the sisters felt perfectly at home with sending a messenger to tell Jesus about it in verse 3.

Then in verse 5, we see John making the point that Jesus did indeed love Martha, her sister, Mary, and Lazarus.

Then in verse 11, Jesus refers to Lazarus, as “our friend Lazarus”.

When you also consider the account in Luke 10 of Jesus accepting Martha’s invitation to stay in their home and then in John 12 of Mary anointing His feet with very costly perfume and then drying His feet with her hair, you can see the depth of friendship between this family and the Lord.

And I find it interesting that this depth of intimacy and fellowship with the Lord did not prevent this family from experiencing trials and specifically, the loss of a special loved one.

Thus, their closeness—their intimacy with the Lord did not keep them out of the line of fire when it came to having to deal with trials and again, in particular, death.

I also find it interesting that when this trial of serious sickness enters this family’s life, they immediately send word to Jesus.

It is as though their first instinct is to contact Jesus and then notice what they say.

They sent word to Jesus saying:  “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
Wow, a prayer to God of only eight words.

Notice, they don’t give God all the background info on the sickness.

They don’t even inform Jesus on who is sick because they know He will know.

They don’t feel it is necessary to tell God how to answer their request.

And note too, that they didn’t tell Jesus that Lazarus was worthy of help or healing.

They didn’t appeal to Lazarus’ goodness, usefulness for ministry, or even his love for the Lord as reasons why Jesus should come and help.

What they did—was to appeal to the fact that Jesus loved him—“Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”

Now, according to John 10:40 Jesus was on the other side of the Jordan in the place where John the Baptist had been baptizing which, was called Bethany Beyond The Jordan.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are in another village called Bethany about 17 to 20 miles away and so it would take a messenger at least a day to get the message to Jesus.

Now this sickness that Lazarus had must have been pretty serious to dispatch a messenger 17 to 20 miles through some pretty rough country in order to tell Jesus.

Thus, when Jesus gets the message, he knows it’s serious and he knows that the expectation Martha and Mary have for him is to immediately drop everything and rush to Lazarus’ side.

I mean that’s what you do when you love someone—right?!

Well, that’s not what Jesus did.

In verse 4, he makes the point after receiving the message about Lazarus that the sickness was not going to end in death—but for the glory of God so that Jesus the Son of God would be glorified by it.

Well, we know that Lazarus’ sickness did end up taking his life so that it would appear it did end up bringing about his death.

So, why did Jesus say it wouldn’t end up that way when it did?

Because death was not going to be the final outcome or result of this sickness.

Rather, the final outcome and culmination of Lazarus’ sickness would end in God being glorified.

So, note, that the first thing Jesus does when he hears the news of Lazarus’ illness is put it in relation to the glory of God and his own glory. This illness is about God’s glory.

In other words, this critically serious illness is not about Lazarus, Mary, or Martha even though they are in the middle of it—it is about the glory of God and the glory of Christ.
And this is the case with every act of suffering we as believers find ourselves involved in—it’s not primarily about us—it’s about God and His being glorified in it and through us.

Now, when Jesus says in verse 4 that, “this sickness is not to end in death”, it is apparent that He knew that at that moment Lazarus was still alive.

Then in verse 11, Jesus knowing without anyone telling Him that Lazarus is dead tells His disciples that He is going to bring him back to life.

In other words, He already knew the end of the story.

In fact, there was no need for Mary and Martha to have even sent Him the message about Lazarus being sick.  Jesus already knew that just as He knew that at this point in verse 4 Lazarus was not yet dead but would soon be and that He would raise Lazarus from the dead.

And Jesus knew all this because He as God had planned all this for His glory.

But Mary, Martha, and Lazarus didn’t know what God had planned.

So, when they receive the message back that Jesus’ reply was:  “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it”----

What do you think they were thinking?????

I think, they thought that their brother wasn’t going to die because Jesus was going to come and heal him resulting in Jesus being glorified as God.

I mean, they would be no different than us in this kind of situation where when a loved one is dying—we hear what we want to hear which is, he or she will be fine—they’ll pull out of it.

So, once they receive the message back—which probably took a day or more to get back to them they are thinking Lazarus is going to be healed as soon as Jesus gets there.

This helps to explain why, in verses 21 and 32, when as soon as both Martha and Mary see Jesus, they say the same thing—“Lord, if you would have been here my brother would not have died.”

Now, let’s take a really good look at verse 5.

Note that John under the direction of the Holy Spirit makes a point of emphasizing that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.

John doesn’t want us to miss this—He wants us to know that everything Jesus is doing—He is doing because He loves this family.

Surely John is stressing Jesus’ love for this family because he knows that what Jesus is about to do here will not look like love to most people.

In fact, this text may turn your perspective on God and what is really “love” upside down.

So, making sure we know that Jesus loves them, John then drops the bombshell in verse 6.

And the key word that unlocks the shock is the word “so” at the beginning of verse 6.

It’s really there in the original, and it means “therefore.”

So verses 5 and 6 read like this: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So [therefore], when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

Are you getting this?

Jesus, the one who loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus—“When He heard that He was sick, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.”

Do you see what Jesus did.  Jesus purposely did not go to Lazarus so as to heal him but instead purposely and intentionally delayed going so as to let him die and this He did because He loved this family.
In other words, Jesus’ love for Lazarus was best seen and experienced in letting him die.

And furthermore, Jesus’ love for Martha and Mary was best demonstrated and experienced in letting their brother die.

Now that is a stretch for us—isn’t it?!

To think that it was love that moved Jesus to let Lazarus die is a hard thing for us to swallow.

But that is what the Bible is saying--It was the love of Jesus for this family and for his disciples—and for you and I who are reading this text—that caused him to choose to let Lazarus die.

But not only that.  Look at verses 14 and 15

After Jesus explains to His disciples that Lazarus is dead—He then says, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there so that you may believe.”

The inference Jesus is making is—I am glad for your sakes that I was not there to heal Lazarus because it is better for you to see my great power and believe even more deeply in Me.

So, here is Jesus saying He is glad Lazarus died because there is something more important and more valuable than preventing death and that is that people see the power of God and trust Him even more.

So How Is This Love?

That is the question the Spirit of God Who inspired this text wants us all to ask.

It’s the question Jesus intends—for everyone seeing this to ask: How is this love?

John has gone out of his way to set this up. Jesus loves them. He loves them. He loves them. Therefore, he does not heal him but lets him die.
How can this be love?

And the answer to this question is that Lazarus’ illness and subsequent death and all the grief experienced by his family over losing him to death will end up bringing great glory to God as Jesus’ glory, authority, power, and divine majesty are put on display.

Therefore, love lets Lazarus die because his death will help him and his family see, in more ways than they know, the glory of God.

Listen, love is not always about giving us what we want most—it is giving us what we need most.

And what we need most is not healing, but a full and endless experience of the presence, power, and glory of God.

Love means giving us what will bring us the fullest and longest joy.

And that which will give the believer full and eternal joy deep down in his or her soul is experiencing, seeing, marveling at, being in awe of, and savoring the glory, presence, and power of God in Jesus Christ.

Love is doing whatever you have to do to help people see and treasure God as their supreme joy—because He is!

And when God is willing to let you suffer temporary pain such as the losing of a loved one—to give you an experience of Himself and His sustaining grace, and then one day enable you to have that person back at your side again through His omnipotent resurrection power—he really loves you.
The aim of divine love is to progressively bring people to the fullest knowledge, the greatest experience, and the fullest enjoyment of the glory of God which, culminates in our finally going Home to Heaven to be with the Lord and have all things which we have lost restored to us.

But, keep this in mind—between the death of Lazarus and his resurrection four days later his family could not see how God would be glorified in it or how they could experience joy in it.
Look at John 11:33-38.

Jesus was with the mourners and He mourned with them not because He did not know what He was going to do in just a moment but because they did not know what He was going to do and really could not know until He did it.

Therefore, if that is where you stand today—not able to see why you have to hurt and not really able to see how God can make it better—know this that Jesus understands your dilemma and weeps with you until He can show you the end of the story!

And as we close, let’s look at the end of the story in John 11.

Look at verses 39-44.

Jesus did not do what Mary and Martha had hoped He would do—He did not heal their brother—He did not keep him from dying.

He did far more!  He did what they did not know He could do and this brought Him great glory and them great joy!

And God will do the same for you in all of your trials—perhaps in this life—but if not—for sure in the next—at the Resurrection—when He restores to you all that you have lost that was good, makes all things right, all things beautiful, all things new, and all things more wonderful than you can imagine.

In the meantime, trust him, learn to interpret your circumstances by the love of Christ rather than interpret Christ’s love by your circumstances, and then above all else—treasure him above all things.

Pursuing the Glory of Christ as though He were the most important pursuit in all the world--Because He Is!

" Looking for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of The Glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Titus 2:13