Don’t Give Up! (or Keep On Pestering God)

One of my favorite parables in the New Testament is found in Luke 18:1-8. It’s often referred to as the Parable of the Widow and the Judge or the Parable of the Persistent Widow. As with most of the parables Jesus told, it’s not all that complicated.

There are just two characters, a judge who didn’t fear God and didn’t care what people said about him and a widow who had been treated unfairly (we’re not given the details). The widow went to the judge expecting justice, and apparently went more than one or two times – she went persistently until the judge agreed to hear her case.

In the end the judge ruled in the widow’s favor, not because it was the right thing to do (although the implication is that she had been wronged) but because she was becoming a pain in the neck.

The text is explicit that Jesus told this parable to teach us that we shouldn’t become discouraged in prayer even when the answer isn’t readily apparent.

That in itself is a lesson. God knows that we are prone to give up easily. O we of little faith.

The part of the parable that always challenges me is the application Jesus made in verse eight: When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?

That is, when Jesus returns will he find people who have enough faith that they are willing to pray, and pray, and keep on praying without giving up even though they haven’t seen an answer to their prayer?

It takes a deep faith to keep on praying when heaven is silent.

The implication to His question is that when Jesus comes that kind of faith will be rare. There won’t be many Christians who will have enough faith to keep on trusting. Trusting that prayer is the right way to handle the situation. Trusting that prayer really works. Trusting that God actually hears prayer. Trusting that God still answers prayer.

In a recent study on prayer I came across an interesting thought. The writer asked the question, How do we know which prayer God answers? Does He answer your first prayer? Or will it be your one hundredth prayer? Or will be the culmination of all of your prayers?

The answer is that we don’t know. We don’t know how God works, especially in the area of prayer.

So we keep on praying.

We don’t give up. We’re persistent. We keep knocking on the door of heaven. We keep pestering God (from our perspective, not His).

We keep exercising faith.

Don’t be like the judge whose actions were dictated by his earthly, self-centered view of life. Be like the widow and refuse to quit on God even when you can’t see the answer.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Advertisements

Spirituality by Osmosis

We all know it’s not possible. You can’t become spiritual by osmosis – the process of unconsciously assimilating something while you sleep. You won’t wake up one morning more spiritual than you went to bed the night before.

It just doesn’t work that way – but we act like it does.

Growing in spirituality is a process. But it’s more than simply a process – it’s an intentional process. You have to choose to be godly and then take the proper steps to move in that direction.

And that’s where so many Christians today come up short. They want to be more godly but they don’t want to do what it takes to be more godly. There is a spiritual neglect evident in the church today. Call it spiritual laziness.

Some people blame it on our culture. We live in a culture that wants instant access to everything. So we have fast food. We have same day delivery. We have apps that eliminate the need to wait for a cab, a date, a table at your favorite restaurant or the latest movie.

When was the last time you were upset with your computer because it didn’t load fast enough?

And we want our spirituality to be served up the same way. Easy and fast.

But blaming the culture is too easy. And it eliminates personal responsibility. Your responsibility for your own godliness.

Yes, it’s true that without God’s work in our lives none of us would ever be spiritual (Psalm 127:1, John 15:4-5, Philippians 2:13, 4:13). But every command of scripture tells us that we also have a part in God’s plan and a responsibility to grow in grace (Ephesians 4:15, Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 2:1-2, 2 Peter 3:18). You have a responsibility for the level of your spirituality. It won’t happen by osmosis.

Here’s how scripture describes it.

Reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

Pursue peace with all people, and [pursue] holiness; without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

From a human perspective it’s up to you.

Fortunately God has provided the means to godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). God has given us everything we need to become spiritual people. The old theologians called them the spiritual disciplines. They were talking about things found in the Bible that, if practiced on a consistent basis, would promote holiness of life. Included among the spiritual disciplines are bible reading and study, prayer, fasting, worship, meditation, and service. There are others and depending on who you read the lists will verily slightly. The point is that there are specific things that you can do – that you need to do to promote holiness in your life.

Practiced on a consistent basis with a humble heart, the result of the spiritual disciplines will be spiritual growth. Ignore them consistently and you will be a spiritual pygmy. Or as scripture says, a spiritual infant (Hebrews 5:12-13).

If you would like to know more about the spiritual disciplines we’re teaching on them in our Adult Bible Fellowship at SVBC or you can read Donald Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, published by NavPress.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

You Have Been Called to Give Up

Every Christian has been called to give up for Jesus. So the question for each of us is simple, What are you willing to give up? What is God asking you to sacrifice for the good of His kingdom?

It’s not a comfortable question but every Christian has been called to make sacrifices for the Kingdom of God.

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve probably read a missionary biography (if not, you should) or heard a missionary speak about the sacrifices they had to make for Christ. But the idea of sacrificing is not just for missionaries. The Bible teaches a theology of sacrifice that touches every Christian.

-We’re to give ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).

-We’re to offer spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Peter 2:4).

-We’re to give the sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15).

-Our lives are to reflect the sacrifice of Christ (Ephesians 5:2).

-In the Communion we celebrate sacrifice (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

-We’re taught to take up our cross to follow Christ (Matthew 16:24).

-We have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20).

Sacrifice is an integral part of the Christian life.

So, What are you will to give up? What are you willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God?

Here’s the catch – it’s only a sacrifice when it’s something you really love; something that you want to hang on to; something that hurts. Otherwise it’s not.

I teach each year at a small Bible school in Haiti. This coming year will be my thirteenth year. It’s something I really love. Some people think that I’m making a sacrifice. Are you kidding?!! I remember Harry Bollback, the co-founder of Word of Life and my wife’s former boss, say something like, To serve God is not a sacrifice, it’s a privilege. He was right.

I love having the opportunity to train pastors. I love being with my Haitian friends. I love working with the missionaries. I love the fact that God lets me do this. I love teaching theology; I love preaching in the Haitian churches; I love the diversity this gives me in ministry; I love the Haitian people. I love authentic Haitian food – boy do I love Haitian food! In fact I love everything about this part of my life and eagerly look forward to it each year.

Recently God has given my wife and me the opportunity to help a young graduate of our Bible school continue working on his Master of Divinity degree (MDiv) at another school in Haiti. Eventually he would like to teach at our school. We need good, qualified, Haitian men to teach.

As we’ve worked through this process it has dawned on me that God has a plan going on here and I’m wondering what it is. I’ve even thought that this young man might be the one who takes my place and teaches my classes.

Not that I want to end this part of my ministry. In fact my plan is to teach as long as I have good health and the necessary funds to travel. If I’m still doing it when I’m 85 I’ll be a happy camper. I’m not being facetious. But what if that’s not God’s plan? What if He asks me to give it up because there is someone better qualified to teach?

I’ve been reading in 1 Samuel recently about Saul and David. It was no secret in Israel that God had chosen David to be Saul’s replacement instead of his son, Jonathan. That really rankled Saul (1 Samuel 20:30-31). His plan was for Jonathan to assume the throne (figure of speech – not sure Saul had a throne). God’s plan was for David to be the next king in Israel. Saul had a choice – to submit to God’s plan which meant sacrificing his goals, ambitions, and legacy, or not to submit. To sacrifice or not to sacrifice. To give up or not to give up something for the good of the kingdom.

When the time comes for me to step aside I don’t want to be like Saul. It won’t be easy but I want to be willing to give up this thing I love for the Kingdom of God. I want to make the right choice. I want to be willing to make the sacrifice.

We have been called to give up, to make the sacrifice for the good of His Kingdom.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Is This the Beginning of the End?

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nations, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows (Matthew 24:6-8).

CNN headline of September 9, 2017: Mexico’s strongest earthquake in a century leaves dozens dead. Read article here.

Washington Post article of April 11, 2017 reporting that 20 million people are living in famines: Starving to Death. Read article here.

New York Times headline of September 9, 2017: Hurricane Irma Is One of the Strongest Storms In History. Read article here.

By now you are familiar with the headlines and the disasters. Not only are they affecting us but disasters are taking place around the world.

The question that people are asking is: Are Natural Disasters Increasing? According to an article of the same name published by the Borgen Project the answer is Yes. You can read it here. The evidence seems to point in both directions depending on who you listen to.

The question on the increase of natural disasters is especially important to Christians, many of whom believe that there will be a dramatic increase just before the return of Christ. Two well-known evangelicals, Anne Graham Lotz and her brother Franklin Graham have both released statements recently pointing to the end times. Her statement is here.

Franklin Graham wrote on his Facebook page:

Wildfires raging on the West Coast. Violent hurricanes, one after the other, ravaging everything in their paths, with one of the worst—Irma—bearing down on Florida. A magnitude 8.1 earthquake shook the southern parts of Mexico this week, and we even recently experienced a rare solar eclipse. The Bible says in Luke 21:25, “…there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.” In Matthew 24:7 it says, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” These are some of the Biblical signs before Christ’s return. Nobody knows the day or hour, not even the Son of God, but it is a reminder to all of us to be ready—to repent and confess our sins, and ask for God’s forgiveness. In the meantime, we can find comfort, peace, and hope in Him. As we pray for all those affected by the current disasters, we should also remember God’s promise to us in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Whether the things we are seeing today are the beginning of the end or not is a question that can be debated. As Graham points out, no one knows the exact time of Christ’s return. Christians have expected His return in every generation since the beginning of the church.

What so many Christians miss in their discussion of end times events, natural disasters and the return of Christ is how all of this relates to our lives. The Apostle Peter addressed this in his second epistle in the context of the Second Coming.

Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness (2 Peter 3:11)?

Great question!

Peter was not concerned that we are able to explain all of the events of prophecy; his concern was how we live.

Anne Graham Lotz may be right that we are seeing God’s judgment on America, but maybe we’ve missed another message that God is sending His people. If Irma and other natural disasters do anything for us they should move us to live holy and godly lives. Maybe that’s what this is all about.

Let’s not waste a great opportunity to be lights and salt in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).

God is more interested in how you live not in how much you know.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Let’s Be Jesus People

As a pastor I often find myself occupied with issues that are good but that are not the primary thing – How we can grow our church?; What should I preach on next (actually I plan my preaching schedules 6-12 months in advance so next does not mean next Sunday, or even next week)?; Where can we get someone to teach a Sunday School class?; Where can I find a guest speaker for when I’m on vacation?; and the list literally goes on and on and on and on.

Your list probably looks different from my list but you have one and it goes on and on and on.

Most of the things on our lists are good and necessary and they need to be addressed. But they are not the primary thing. The problem is that they tend to dominate our time, occupy our attention and suck the life out of the primary thing.

So what is the primary thing?

As I was thinking about all of this the thought came to me that what we need most and what we need to make primary in our lives is to Be Jesus People.

It’s not an original thought (I haven’t had one of those in a long time – if ever!). In fact I think that this is the message of the Bible especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul. He didn’t say it in those words, but he said it often:

Walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called (Eph 4:1).

Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil 1:27).

Walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him (Col 1:10).

Walk worthy of God (1 Thess 2:12).

Adorn the doctrine of God (Titus 2:10).

What Paul is saying is Be Jesus People!

Be People who reflect Jesus. People who teach Jesus. People who walk with Jesus. People who walk LIKE Jesus. People who honor Jesus with your life.

Make Jesus central. Make Jesus the focus. Make Jesus important in your life. Make much about Jesus.

Make Jesus the primary thing in your life.

All of those other things on your list have to get done. Just make sure that they get done in the context of making Jesus the primary thing.

Do them in the context of Being Jesus People.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

The Christian Life Isn’t for Sissies!

I don’t know about you but sometimes I just get weary trying to live the Christian Life. Think how easy life would be if we could just forget all the “do’s and don’ts”. You wouldn’t have to be concerned about temptation – you could do whatever you wanted. You wouldn’t have to worry about your own sinful desires – again, do what you want. You wouldn’t have to lose sleep over Satan because he wouldn’t care what you did. In fact he would be delighted in your spiritual indifference.

What may come as a shock to you is that God knows that the Christian life is like that. That’s why in the New Testament He compares the spiritual life to a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3-4), a marathon runner (Hebrews 12:1), a boxer (1 Corinthians 9:26), and a hard-working farmer (2 Timothy 2:6). All strenuous and difficult occupations.

The difficulty of the spiritual life and the ensuing weariness that we experience doesn’t take God by surprise. In fact you could make the case that He designed it that way. It’s one way to separate the true from the false, the wheat from the chaff, the “I’m in it for the long-haul” from the “let’s see if this works” crowd.

But to those who are in it for the long-haul, there is a word of encouragement from the pen if the Apostle Paul: Don’t grow weary in doing good (living godly), for in due season we will reap if we don’t lose heart (and give up!) (Galatians 6:9).

The problem for most of us is that we keep looking at how hard the Christian life is instead of looking at the goal.

How long do you think a marathon runner would last if all they thought about during training (and the race!) was how hard they were working? How long would a farmer work in his fields if he didn’t keep the harvest in mind?

The goal for the Christian is a harvest that comes out of a life lived in godliness and for the glory of God.

Sure we get weary. There are even days we want to give up. But as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, you haven’t yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood in your struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:4). In fact some of us haven’t even been bruised yet.

So when you feel like I do some days, keep your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and on the harvest. Do the battle. Run the race. Fight the good fight. Plant the seed. And keep telling yourself, in the words of the old hymn, it will be worth it all when we see Jesus!

If you need to be reminded again, you can listen to it hear.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve

Some Thoughts on Prayer

Prayer is one of those mysterious and somewhat confusing aspects of the Christian life. We know that we’re supposed to pray but we often struggle with the Why issue. And when we don’t have a good answer we default to, because we’re told to (Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Sometimes that’s a really good answer.

But we want more. We want answers to questions like, If God is sovereign, why should we pray? Or, If God has planned everything, how much difference can my prayers make?

These are legitimate questions that deserve thoughtful answers. But I want to offer two, perhaps simpler reasons for you to pray.

Prayer is a way of acknowledging who God is.

When you pray about problems you are saying, God I can’t handle this by myself. It’s bigger than me. I need help. I need You.

When you pray in confession you are saying, God I sinned against you. I want our relationship to be right. I don’t want this to come between us. I don’t want to face life with a strained relationship.

When you pray in thanksgiving you are saying, God I recognize that you did this. It wasn’t anything that I did. You did it. I’m grateful.

When you pray in adoration you are saying, God you deserve all of my praise. You alone are worthy.

Prayer is our way of acknowledging that we need God, that we are willing to humble our self before Him, that we’re a thankful people and that He is the object of our love.

Prayer is also an expression of your faith.

Even when you don’t understand how prayer works – and especially when you don’t understand how it works, to pray says something about your faith.

It says that you believe when you don’t understand.

It says that you trust Him when your way is dark.

It says that you won’t give up when giving up is the logical and easy thing to do.

It says that you value prayer even when you don’t see the value of spending time in prayer.

Prayer is perhaps the greatest expression of faith available to the Christian.

It’s questionable whether or not we’ll ever find completely satisfactory answers to some of the great and difficult questions about prayer. But you don’t need answers to those questions in order to pray.

Pray to acknowledge that God is your God and you need Him. Pray to express your faith in Him.

Stay in the Word
Pastor Steve