Prayer and the Church (from the book of Acts)

I am a minister for a small, make that micro sized church. We are now running 15. That’s after months of averaging 10. we are growing slowing. We have had group of believers join us and that is what we need right now, Christians. In order to function, we need believers who will exercise their gifts for the Lord in the church.

ford_model_tWe looking for the Lord’s way, but it has been slow and that may be a good thing. Most of our folks are seniors and limited by health and energy. It’s like the difference between a Model T Ford and a Shelby Mustang. The Model and Shelby are both cars that offer transportation, but just try to make a Model T go fast and it will probably shake apart. A Model T cannot go anywhere near as fast as a Shelby Mustang. Our congregation has been a Model T and God is taking us along as fast as we are capable of moving.

We have been praying and being patient and waiting on the Lord at times is hard. Cruising images (1)along at 28 mph can be frustrating when you want to reach people with Jesus. But we are running as fast as the Lord allows at the moment. But how do we proceed. What plan of action do we need to move forward?

We need to pray. Oh, wait, we have been. We have been praying. But are we asking for the right things? How should we pray? It struck me this morning that the prayers in the book of Acts may be the Biblical source to inform our prayers. I am going to study this out. I intend to share what I learn and how our church goes.

We are the Linn Creek Christian Church of Linn Creek, Missouri. Please join us by praying for our congregation.

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Where Are We Going?

With the advent of the affordable Health Care Act in a week or so, we, as a nation, will quit asking, “Are we there yet?” and begin to ask, “Where are we going?” The whole thing seems to be very confusing and most of us just don’t know what to expect. Please note that I am not endorsing or condemning the new government health care, just noting for the sake of illustration we that we are confused about it.

The books of prophecy in the Bible give us the same uneasiness. Are the prophecies for the people who heard them, or for us today to look forward too. We might ask, “Where are we going?” based upon our lack of knowledge and understanding and doubts.

The books of Daniel and Revelation are probably the most relevant to this question. What do they mean? Who do they affect? How do I understand them? How should I react to what they reveal?

God questions and questions that we can answer. I say that knowing full well that a lot of people believe we cannot understand them completely, that the meaning of their message is hidden to us. But, the fact is, that God gave us his word so that we can understand, so that we will know the truth and ways of God.

There are essentially three views about the books of eschatology. If you don’t know, eschatology is about end times, the final days of the earth. Though the word carries a more present meaning then the future, that is the current definition.

The three main views are:

  1. Post-millennialism (Jesus will return after the millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ).
  2. A-millennialism (Jesus will return during the millenium, the Christian age, the era of the church beginning on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2).
  3. Pre-millennialism (Jesus will return before the millennium begins).

The post-millennial view has almost completely been abandoned.  The pre-millennial view is the most common, and there are variations within the pre-millennial view. The a-millennial view makes the most sense to this author. But the point is, not what do the prophecies mean, but how are we take them? How are we to live?

Revelation is a book of encouragement and hope for Christians and the church in the crisis of persecution as the devil attacks it from a social, political, and religious standpoint. God is telling us in the time of eschatology not the events that are taking place and the things to look out for (though we learn a lot here), but that we are to remain faithful to him throughout the difficulty. He will overcome, he will defeat the devil and those the devil has deceived, the cultures we live in, the governments who govern our world, the religious leaders who buy into a gospel that does not honor the revealed word of God, especially the truth about Jesus Christ.

“Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you life as the victor’s crown” Revelation 2:10.

Are we in the end times. I believe we have been since the church began. We have seen the events of Revelation play out in the 350 years after God gave Revelation to John. But, the reality of what happened with the Roman Empire and the church, is replayed again and again as Satan works to destroy the church, to stop its missionary influence and take as many of us with him to hell as he can destroy.

Be faithful to God and you will receive the reward he has in store for the faithful.  Read Revelation chapters 2 and 3 and see the many descriptions of eternal life God uses for those who remain faithful.

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Irrelevant Church

It is has always been a concern that the church may be irrelevant to contemporary culture and society. The questions: can the church realistically speak to the society in which it has been placed; can society understand the tenets of faith and the value of belief (in the Savior, Jesus Christ); will the church make a difference that saves the lives of sinners and benefit the world around it?

The church began in the mind of God, and was a part of the kingdom purpose of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and was established on the Day of Pentecost with the power of the Holy Spirit of God (see Acts 2).

Bill Gaither composed a song in the 1970’s called The Church Triumphant. “Let the church be the church; let the people rejoice; for we settled the question, we made our choice. Let the anthem ring out; songs of victory swell; for the church triumphant is alive and well.” Bill Gaither, like myself and many others love the church. We should because the church is the bride of Christ, reflecting his glory in the present world until he returns and we experience the Church Eternal.

The church is triumphant because of one fact: it is the church of Christ. He is the victor; our triumph is based on no other truth and reality than the death and resurrection of Christ to save the church. We are victorious over sin and death. We are freed from sin and live holy and righteous lives in gratefulness for our Savior. We are eternally hailing Jesus for the quality of life that is set in a permanent relationship of love and honor with Almighty God.

Our salvation makes us victorious over our culture, but are we, the church, irrelevant to our culture? Does our faith, our hope, and our Savior make sense to the society in which we live?

The group of churches which I have been associated with throughout my life seems to almost constantly continue to be mired in the past. Though the message does not change, God is Creator and loves us; Jesus is the Savior; salvation is offered to all people regardless of race, gender, status, or anything else, the message we share with the world gets lost in 1950’s rhetoric and 1970’s methodology. In other words, we tend to favor being old fashioned and if it was good enough for my grandpa, it is good enough for everyone. That may be true, but not always.

Then, there are the churches and church groups and denominations whose purpose is less about the message of the Gospel and almost completely about serving and helping others. They go out of their way to provide food and clothing for the needy, and help those who are behind on rent and utilities. They have a comprehensive social aspect to their focus. It is often called the “social gospel.” In a lot of cases, they ignore the Gospel of Christ to serve as Christ served by helping those in need, thereby making the gospel less about salvation and more about Christian service to the world.

Then there are churches who are very concerned with missions. One church I served focused almost 20% of their budget on missions, both foreign and domestic. That is substantial. I have heard of churches that intentionally increase their missions giving 1% at a time (maybe annually, or every five year). And I heard of one church whose missions giving was 70% (I suppose that includes both foreign and domestic missions). Most churches support missions either directly or through a mission organization like Christian Missionary Fellowship International (www.cmfi.org), Team Expansion (http://web.teamexpansion.org/) , Outreach International (http://oionline.org/)or any of a number of other mission organizations. Fortunately, with few exceptions, the churches that support missions at a level of 10% or more of the giving their church receives tend to be very evangelistic.

But the relevance of the church to our society; is it relevant?

How do we become relevant if in fact, we are not?

Let’s consider the three S’s; Send, Serve, Support.

The three types of churches described above tend to focus on one the three S’s, sometimes to the exclusion of the others.  Some churches are better at one than the others and some churches have more opportunity with one of the S’s than the others.

But the New Testament Scriptures show us through teaching and example, that all three; send, serve, and support, are essential to the church not just reaching their society with Jesus Christ, but it keeps them relevant to the culture in which they are set.

First, we the church are sent. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel and make disciples of all people, immersing them in the name of the Father (God), the Son (Jesus the Christ), and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow everything I have commanded you (“you” being the apostles, “them” being the church)” (Matthew 28:19-20; my paraphrase). Jesus has sent his disciples, the church to preach the Good News of salvation in Christ to those we encounter. The church is to go into the whole world with the Gospel.

Second, we are to serve. The model of serving comes from Jesus. He met a lot of people’s needs, many times through healing. He got down on his hands and knees and washed his disciple’s feet like a servant. Paul informs us in Philippians 2 that Jesus came in human form and took on the capacity of a servant. And the early church followed Jesus’ example as they cared for the widows (Acts 6) and sources outside the Bible tell us they saved discarded babies and raised them as their own (no one did that in those days). James tells us that true religion involves not letting the evil of this world spoil our righteousness and to care for widows and orphans. The aspect of caring would be broader if James wrote his letter in the 21st Century.

Third, missions support. When a missionary takes the Gospel to another country: that is their one focus. They usually are unable to have an occupation wherever they are at, either practically or legally. They need support to enable them to preach the Good News in places that don’t have the Bible or haven’t ever heard of Christ. Supporting missions financially is significant and important. Paul received support from several churches (and individuals). There were times he couldn’t work to support himself (time constraints, imprisonment, lacking opportunity) and the church, especially Antioch, provided financial support to enable Paul and his companions to preach the Gospel.

When the church (and we mean both the world-wide church at large and the local church) as they study the Word and put their faith into practice by going with the Gospel to their area (Sent), and helping in big and small ways in their communities (Serve), and provide financial assistance to world-wide missions (Support) God provides a focus that allows them to know their culture and bring the message of Christ to the world in a relevant way.

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Read This Article from Relevant Magazine online

It is interesting that all at once there are several discussions about Christian -vs- Saints.  Here is a good one. Why-They-Called-Us-ChristiansClick on the link and it will take you to the Relevant article entitled, “Where the ‘Christian’ Name Really Came From.”

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/where-christian-name-really-came

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All the Saints in the World

My small group has been working through Aaron Chamber’s book, Remember Who You Are.* During a recent small group get together, as we examined the chapter about being a saint, ideas about Christians in our culture ran through my mind.

The common cultural mantra goes something like this, “I like Jesus but I hate the church.” That hurts! The church, Christians, people of God are the excuses people have for not completely checking out Jesus or the church. To be honest, there are Christians in the church who are hypocrites, and there are those who are inconsistent in their faith walk, and there are some who don’t get it at all and don’t know how to live as a Christian. Then in the public’s eye you have extremists churches who are fundamentalists and judgmental to all people, and of course your celebrity Christians who have fallen because of sin. I suppose we could make a long list of excuses people have for ignoring Jesus and the church.

The thought occurred to me that evening, the world hates “Christians,” but what about “Saints?”

To qualify, saints are not those 3000 or so people over the 16-1700 year history of the Catholic Church that have been canonized by the Catholic Church. “Saints” are what the Bible calls Christians the most; People who have through faith become followers of Jesus Christ and have been saved by God’s grace.

The Bible calls people in the Bible who are saved, saints, Christians, disciples of Christ, followers of Christ, the family of God, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ,the Church of Christ, etc. We are called Christians a couple of times and Saints a lot in the New Testament. Even the Old Testament refers to saints. For instance, Psalm 16:3, “As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.” Daniel 7:18, “But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come” (NASB).

Saints belong to God. Why? Because of what has happened to them when they came to Christ for salvation. They have been “sanctified.” Cleansed from sin, freed from the slavery of sin, freed to live a holy life in God, made to be like Christ free of the guilt of sin, pure, no longer defiled in their character, they are saints.

Now, if we Christians were more aware of our sainthood, how would the world view the church, how would they look at Christians?

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*Remember Who You Are, Unleashing the Power of an Identity-Driven Life, Aaron Chambers, Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, http://www.standardpub.com/Products/24324/remember-who-you-are.aspx

New Year’s Ideas

Here we are. It is 2013. when I graduated from high school, 1975, I thought the year 2000 was so far away it might never arrive. I was wrong, lol. We are now in the thirteenth year of the 21st century. Go figure.

With every new year, many people have made “new year’s resolutions.” And it won’t take very long before most people lose track of their resolutions and fail to meet them. I personally do not know anyone who has ever accomplished their new year’s resolutions. I haven’t broken one in over a decade. There is a simple reason for this. I don’t make any so I don’t break any, LOL.

However, each year with the church I serve as pastor, we begin each year with a new focus. For 2013, we have chosen to direct our focus completely around the Bible. Our motto is “Connecting people to God; connecting people to God’s Word.”

We have all made commitments to read through the Bible together. We are determined to let the Bible our only source of teaching for understanding the Bible and life. And I am making a more concerted effort to preach less topically and more exegetically where we let the Scripture speak for itself.

I believe that is close to a series of new year’s resolutions. But it is not just personal, it is corporate. We are doing it together. We are chosing to learn and grow in faith together because we are a church that belongs to Christ.

We want to be people of the word. Will you too?

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Visiting Day

This devotional first appeared in the LaPlata Home Press, August 7, 2002

He was looking forward to this moment all day long, after six days of labor, it finally arrived-Visiting Day!! The man with the keys arrived to swing open the large, heavy doors. The cold, grey hall springs to life in the warm glow of light. He could hardly control his emotions.

The families began to arrive. He peers from the corner of the room longing for the first glimpse of his loved ones. He lives for the weekends. He lives for the visits.

As the cars arrive, he watches intently. Then finally she arrives, his bride, for whogs used to be. At one point, they break into singing, with interruptions of laughter and applause.

But all too soon it is over. A tear comes to his eye as his bride departs. Then the man with the keys closes the doors. He hears the key turn in the lock marking the end of a special day. There he stands, alone again. He knows that most of his visitors will not contact him again til next week. As the last car pulls away from the parking lot, Jesus retreats into loneliness as He waits until next Sunday-Visiting Day. [Borrowed from the Knob Noster Christian Church Newsletter, The Door Knob, David Jordan, Minister].

I share this story with you to ask you these questions. How much time do you spend with Jesus? Has Sunday just become visiting day for you? Is it the only day that you spend with Jesus? And is it only for an hour or two? Does visiting day come around less frequently than it used (maybe once a month or even less)? Or do you spend time daily with God as you should?

My wish is that you take of Jesus’ promise that He is always with us (Matthew 28:20). The truth is that our lives have become so compartmentalized that we have our life at work, our life at home, our life at school, our life at church, etc…and we conform to the image of the situation rather than conforming to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29). The result, the weakening of faith and convictions. The power of the Holy Spirit is in the life of the Christian and yet not utilized and Satan wins another battle in our lives.

My challenge to you is to let the presence of Christ permeate every aspect of your life. Let Christ dwell in your hearts and fill you with his power so that daily you are becoming more and more like Christ. Let’s live every day for him. Let’s strive to be like him. Don’t miss the opportunity to be near him all the time, to hear his voice, to love his people, to remember our first love (Revelation 24-5).

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At What Level?

I am convinced that the measure of a person’s faith and the effectiveness of a church does not amount to how big things are. How big an impact is made. How big a program or an event is. How powerful something is that makes you feel spiritual, blessed, or simply just makes you feel good.

We live in the Mega-age. Everything is huge. Mega-stores, mega-malls, mega-events, mega-churches and on it goes, mega-trends. Something is troubling about the mega-trends to me, especially in Christianity.

I wish to address this in generalities for the moment. The Bible, our only rule and final guide of faith, in the New Testament overall, presents faith and Christianity as small group interaction and evangelism after the day of Pentecost, mostly as one-on-one, individual. Think coffee-house sized groups and sharing your faith with someone in their living-room.

A friend of mine is a campus minister, once for over 20 years at a small university of about 6000 and now at a major university in the Midwest of about 40,000. The way he leads these campus ministries is mostly through small groups and one-on-one encounters. There are small groups of all sort, men’s, women’s, fraternity, and various Bible study groups and his evangelism and mentoring is even smaller, individually. In terms of methods, it is most effective.

Yet in this culture of mega-everything, the count is about the largest number of people, and/or programs, and/or small type of big thing. Yet, Philip preached to an Ethiopian official (Acts 8), Jesus mentored a small group of 12 (read the Gospels). Paul spoke to large groups of people but mentored people and evangelized individuals in small groups and individually.

Grab a cup of coffee, sit down with me as we consider what level spirituality and faith grows in.

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What I’m Thinking

I’ve been thinking quite a bit but haven’t been able to articulate what is running around in my head. I have been concerned with celebrity worship, especially in our churches. I am concerned with everything Christian having to be so big and everyone participate in nationwide programs. I am concerned with Christianity that is placid and inactive.

Coming soon!

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The Bungee Truck

This devotion first appeared on September 18, 2002 in the LaPlata Home Press.

A commercial a few years ago by the GMC truck division showed a truck sitting on a ramp mounted on the side of a bridge over a very deep gorge. All at once, someone pulls a lever and the ramp tilts and the truck rolls off the ramp. The truck is attached to a bungee cord and as it falls, the first thought one might have is, “Will the bungee cord snap?” Of course the truck stretches the cord to its limit and bounces back into the air (see commercial below).

This seemed like a bunch of foolishness to me. I saw the commercial many times and still wondered what the purpose of the commercial was, until, one day as I watched, I also paid attention to the commentator. Before, the only purpose I could imagine the commercial to be about was to show that the bungee cord was capable of holding the weight of the truck and the physical properties of gravity as the truck reached the limits of the cord. As I listened to the commentator, I realized that they were illustrating the strength of the truck’s frame and towing capacities as the forces of gravity worked against the truck.

When we study the Bible, especially prophecy, and in particular the book of Revelation, we see pictures described and wonder, “What is the book really about?” and, “What do these symbols and pictures mean?” Though the pictures are real, the message is given by the author, who is Jesus. That message is one of encouragement, hope, and victory for the Christian. Therefore, instead of focusing all of our attention on the pictures in Revelation, we need to focus on the message presented to avoid the confusion of misunderstanding and misapplying the pictures. It is like seeing the commercial and not understanding the meaning at all.

The key to understanding the book is presented in the first three chapters of Revelation. The one who overcomes by faith and faithfulness, no matter what, will inherit eternal life with God the Father and Christ the Savior. What a picture! What a promise! What a God!!

All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_dXgp4dpAE