Wednesday, November 30, 2016

12. Praying beyond merely "Our Father..."

We should observe how Jesus prayed.
1)   Privately–Luke 11:1, Matt. 6:5-8, 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 9:18 “As He was praying” / “Go into your closet”
Jesus prayed like, as they say, “no one was watching.” A century ago, these were called “secret devotions”. Now we say “Quiet Times” or devotionals with the Lord alone, preferably early in the morning.
2)   Personally–Luke 11:2-4, Mark 14:36   “Our Father” (only 59 words in the Lord’s prayer) / “Abba, Father”
There is an intimacy that Jesus prayed with God and that He encouraged us to pray intimately as well.
3)   Persistently–Luke 11:5-8, 18:1-8; Matt. 7:7-11; 15:21-28; 26:41-44   “because of his persistence”
Our Lord instructed us to pray with diligence and persistence.
4)   Purposefully–Matt. 6:7-8; Mark 11:34   “vain repetitions” / “whatever things you ask when you pray,”
In our persistence, it is also with purpose. Repetitions is not what Jesus spoke against but mindless, purposeless rote prayers.
5)   Powerfully–Luke 11:9-10; Matt. 21:21-22, John 5:4-7; 14:13-14, 16:23   “Ask, and it will be given”
We should not think that there are some things too big to pray for. Ask for God-sized answers.
6)   Positively–Luke 11:11-13, 7:1, 8:48; Matt. 8:5-13   “How much more will your Father give to those who ask”
We pray believing that we have already received. “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” Mark 11:24
7)   Penitently–Matt. 6:17-18, 17:21 “When you fast”
We should pray humbly, penitently and with contrition, as shown in fasting. Notice Jesus did not say, “If” but rather “When”.
8)   Purely–Matt. 6:5, 21:13; 23:14; Luke 6:28 “Do not be like the hypocrites”
We discussed this last week with the eight woes Jesus listed in Matthew 23. God wants us to worship and to pray with sincere hearts.
9)   Publicly–John 11:41-42; 6:11 “Jesus…said, ‘Father… because of the people who are standing by, I said this.’”
There are times for private prayer and times for public prayer. Public prayers are actually encouraging for others and shown not only by Jesus but also numerous times in the Old Testament.
10) Passionately–Luke 10:21; Heb. 5:7 Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit” / “with vehement cries and tears”
Jesus prayed with weeping, laughter and with loud cries. Prayer time with Jesus was surely moving and emotional.
11) Periodically–Mark 1:32-35; 6:46; Luke 6:12-16; Matt. 26:36-46
Jesus prayed before and after major periods of His life, such as before His selection of the 12 disciples, in times of great sorrow, such as the loss of John the Baptist, and of course most famously before His crucifixion in Gethsemane).

12) As a Pattern for us to follow–Luke 11:1-2 shows that because of the pattern in which Jesus prayed, His disciples asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” I can imagine that this request was made by John or Andrew, both of whom were disciples of the Baptizer. The Lord’s prayer, found also in Matthew 6:9-13, is truly a model prayer and His pattern of prayer is one which we should follow.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

12. Prayer: Do this before you pray

      So much has been written on about prayer that it is almost pointless for me to write (or you to read) another 500 words today about prayer. Would it not be far better for you to simply stop reading and me to stop writing and for us to go and pray?

      If so, then why are you reading this and why am I writing?

      Namely this: I hope that at the end of the week you will have been inspired to talk and listen to the God of the universe more than you did last week.

      And I believe there is something we should all do before we pray.

      Our memory verse for this week says that if you are not morally pure, then don’t expect God to answer your prayers. It is a waste of time. Commit yourself this week to keep yourself clean and pure. And if you are not, then pray, but do not pray for anything else except your moral and spiritual purity before God.

      Read and memorize Psalm 66:18.
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; 19 but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. 20 Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!

      The word “cherished” is translated “regard” or “harbored” or “been aware” or “seen”. Can you “see” your sin? Are you “cherishing” it or holding it closely? And the verse says not only in your actions but in your heart.

      I have been a Christian since before astronauts walked on the moon! I am married to a strong believer and I work in a Christian environment. I pray daily and read the Bible daily. And yet, I struggle daily with sin and I confess there are times in my life that I have held it closely.

      My sin is different than your sin but it is no bigger nor smaller than yours. We as Christians need to be ashamed of our sin regardless of whether it is “socially acceptable.” If you cherish sin and are not giving your regards to God, there is a scandal in your life. If not in public, certainly there is a scandal in your personal devotion before God. Confess and forsake whatever God convicts you of. Then claim 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

      One more verse before we pray. Prov. 28:13 says this, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” We must stop concealing and confess our sins. We also must go from forgiveness to the forsaking of our sins.

      Are you finished with “cherishing” your sin in your heart and actions? I am! Have you confessed and forsaken it before God in prayer? I have! Then now, we are ready for prayer. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Chapter 12, Prayer: Making Prayer Personal

     It’s hard to believe it’s only been a little over a year since War Room came out (the picture above is when we rented out a movie theater on Aug. 30, 2015) and then the DVD was released on Dec. 22, 2015. So much has happened in the past year. Since then, we’ve taught “The Battle Plan of Prayer Bible Study” several times with nearly one hundred who have gone through the course. I have sensed a growth in our church in regards to prayer: our Wednesday night prayer attendance is up, as is our men’s prayer time on Thursday. There is a sense of spiritual strength in our church and I believe it is because of prayer.

     But we can always grow in our prayers, not as a duty, not to get what we want, not to even seek God’s blessings...We need to pray because prayer is a personal communication with our God who loves us. This Sunday we will study Prayer and in the Spring, I plan to have five different Discipleship  tracks for us to study what I believe are the five essentials to Christian ministry. Those five areas are:

Prayer & Worship
OutReach & Evangelism
InReach  & Fellowship
Need-meeting & Missions
Teaching & Discipleship

     Please pray for these five key essentials in our church. This is week 12 in our BELIEVE series. Prayer is a vital action in our foundation of beliefs. If you wrote down your prayer requests when this blog was first published on Aug. 25, 2016, review your prayer list and see how God has answered your prayers.

The following devotional is from Zondervan.
KEY QUESTION: How do I grow by communicating with God?

 Our God is a personal God who desires a real relationship with us. He is not a distant, cosmic being, but a good father who longs to interact with his children. Prayer is a conversation between God and his people. We serve a God who is not threatened by our questions and doubts. We don’t have to put on a false persona to please him. He permits us to be honest about our fears, our feelings of isolation and our disappointments. When we rehearse our story before him, we see his good involvement in our lives.

Because we are God’s most prized creation, he wants to know the desires of our hearts. Scripture encourages us to, without hesitation, lay our requests before him. For example, see Gen. 18:20-31 for a conversation between Abraham and God that displays the freedom we have to talk honestly with him.

 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me! (Psalm 66:18–20)

 I pray to God to know him, to find direction for my life and to lay my requests before him.

KEY APPLICATION: What difference does this make in the way I live?
We pray to align our lives with God’s will and story. We pray to lay our burdens before God to find peace. We pray to avoid making any major decision without seeking God. We pray for others.

Let me share a story with you. Our son David was born without a left hand. Prayer was a key spiritual practice to not only help me process this difficult event in our lives but also to move the reality of my identity, and my son’s identity, in Christ from my head to my heart.

During this time, I began by praying psalms of lament to the Lord: Why, Lord, did you let this happen to me? I serve you as a pastor of a church — not perfectly, but wholeheartedly. Why could you not pass this burden on to someone who doesn’t even believe in you? Have I done something wrong to deserve this?

I never sensed God was angry with me for speaking to him with such honesty. Actually, I felt as though he were whispering to me, Go ahead, I can handle this. I love you. Keep talking honestly to me, and we will get to the bottom of this. I will show you something I have wanted you to see for a long time.

In many extended moments of silence, when I didn’t know what else to say or how to pray, God began speaking back to me — not in an audible voice, but directly to my spirit. “Randy, my son, I have nothing in my being that seeks to harm you. The darkness and pain of the world are caused by sin, not by me. I have come to redeem the pain caused by sin. Randy, my son, I will use this situation to show you — and your son — who I really am. If you capture this, it will be more valuable than having three hands. Randy, my son, I have given your son everything he needs to be and do everything I am calling him to be and do. Randy, my son, it is time to shift your sense of worth from your performance to your position. You are my son. You do not have to perform to be a somebody; you already are a somebody in my eyes.

“Randy, my son, you need to teach this to your son. He will learn this from how you live, not by your words alone. You have four years before he realizes he is missing a hand. This gives you four years to learn to place your identity in your position as my son. Randy, my son, if you get this truth embedded into your heart, you will be free — free from the exhausting life of trying to gain and sustain status in the world. This is a great gift to give to all your children.”

Prayer is a conversation with God. We lay our honest requests before God, our need for daily bread. Yet, we clarify, as Jesus did, that we want God’s will to be done over our will, trusting his way to be good and right. As we rest in the presence of God, he will speak and show us his will in his perfect timing.


What do you learn about prayer from David’s psalms? (You’ll find some ideas in Psalm 77:1-20.) 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

11. Worshiping God includes many ways to praise

     Transitioning between worship (this week in BELIEVE) to prayer (next week) leads us to the final study this week on worship. When we study praise and thanksgiving, which are both a part of worship and a part of prayer, we should recall what we have studied this week about worship:

Worthy of our worship

Obeisance to God

Reason and rationale of worship

Sincerity of my spirit worship

Honesty and truth in worship

Intimacy in our worship

Praise and Thanksgiving

    When I was first in ministry our senior pastor would lead our prayer time by asking, “Does anyone have any praise or thanksgiving tonight?” and made very little distinction between the two. Later on, when I took the youth to a conference, the speaker made a huge distinction between praise and thanksgiving. “Praise is for who God is. Thanksgiving is for what He has done.”

    One of our youth’s parents became very upset about the conference leader’s teacher. “That’s not the way our pastor teaches,” she later complained to me. I thought at the time that she was needlessly upset, but in reality, praise and thanksgiving are very significant in worship.

     Timothy Keller in his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God explained that the two are very related and in some cases hard to separate, referring to Psalm 135 which related to praising the Lord and Psalm 136 which related to thanking the Lord, but both for interchangeable reasons. “Ultimately, however, thanksgiving is a subcategory of praise…Thanksgiving for a blessing automatically draws our mind toward the attributes and loving purposes of the God who has done the blessing. Praise for God’s love and goodness transforms effortlessly into thanksgiving…”

     Praising God for who He is and thanking God for what He has done is an essential part of worship, for all of the reasons we have stated this week: He is worthy, we must bow before Him, it is reasonable, we must be sincere and honest and we must open our hearts intimately to Him. As we said worship and praise is not for God’s benefit, it is for our own. It displays our gratitude, our great need and His greatness.

     If you do not want to praise and glorify God, it doesn’t hurt God, nor does it diminish His greatness. But it does speak volumes about you. Look at the ways the psalmist in Psalm 150 sought to praise God. The Christian singer Carman had a wonderful song about seven ways to praise, explaining seven different words used in Hebrew to praise God in different ways.

Twice in our reading from Exodus 15 the word praise is used, yet both being from a different words and different from Psalm 150. Psalm 100:4 uses thanks and praise four times in one single verse, again using totally different words each time from any of the other verses mentioned!

     How about you. Can you praise and thank God in worship? In your everyday life? In everything you do?

Friday, November 25, 2016

11. Worship touches the inner part of who you are


When you say the word intimacy, what comes to mind? Are you intimate with God in your worship?

Yesterday we saw that worship by Jesus’ own description, requires the spirit, which is not necessarily intellectual, and truth, which is at its core cerebral. I summarized such worship as being of a sincere heart. You must worship God honestly.

We must declare His worthiness and physically and spiritually bow in submission to Him out of trust. It is reasonable, logical but also heart felt with our mind and spirit.

But worship must get to the inner you, deep down in your soul as well as your spirit and mind. That is why so many people feel so protective of their style of worship and not just musical style, but the worship that speaks to the deepest part of you.

Worship is to be vulnerable, emotional, personal, practical. Intimacy is what God calls us to when we are to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

True worship is intimacy reaching the inner you and you reaching the inner part of God. It is what led David to dance and Isaiah to proclaim he was undone and ruined. It caused Adam to seek God unaware of his nakedness before the fall and to shrink away in fear after the fall, knowing that with intimacy with God would not only cause him to be exposed physically but in shame for his sinful acts. Worship awakened Christ early in the morning to meet His Father in personal prayer.

Worship leads God to be called Jealous but in a holy sense of not wanting us to seek any other idols or gods or objects of worship.

It is on those inward parts that God wants to write His laws and words upon us (Jer. 31:33). It is the hidden person of the heart that God values (1 Peter 3:4). Intimate worship of God renews us day by day (2 Cor.4:16). That inner intimacy is what God seeks and what He praises (Rom. 2:29). He will strengthen our inner person when we come to Him to worship Him (Eph.3:16).

Intimacy is explicitly shown by Jesus when He called on God as Abba Father (Mark 14:36), and the Bible commands us to do likewise (Rom.8:15-16, Gal. 4:6). We are called to be the bride of Christ, recalling the purest of first love, when intimacy was fresh and new.

Intimate worship does not have to be emotional every time but it should contain some emotion, not only tears but joy, satisfaction, song, in purity, in solemnity, in generosity, in giving, in prayer, eyes closed or eyes lifted. When our hearts are exposed to God, true worship begins (1 Cor.14:25).

When we come to the Lord’s Table for Holy Communion, we truly worship intimately before God, examining our hearts for purity and impurities, to test whether we can partake worthily (1 Cor. 11:28-29).

"Search me, God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me." Psalm 139:23-24a

Thursday, November 24, 2016

11. Blessings or Woes. The answer is seen in how we worship

What did it mean when Jesus told the woman at the well that those who worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth?

Quite simply and quite complexly, it means that we must worship God with sincere hearts, with spirit-filled sincerity and with honesty. I didn’t quite get the connection of why BELIEVE gives the passage of the woes in this chapter at first but the more I read this week about worship, it makes perfect sense. 

Years ago I did a comparison of the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 and the Woes of Matthew 23. The contrasting thoughts are striking, even down to the different translations of the word “Blessed” which is sometimes translated as “Happy are those…” and the word “Woe” which is sometimes translated as “What sorrow awaits…”

(By the way, some translations actually omit one of the woes, even though it contained in the majority of transcripts, just not two of the oldest ones, and despite the fact that the woe is not contain exactly anywhere else in Scriptures. One of the irritating aspects of liberal textual criticisms and the inconsistent various renditions of the 27 versions of Westcott-Hort translations. Ugh).

For a more in depth look at the comparison, you can click here, which originally came to me when we were going through THE STORY, the predecessor to BELIEVE. 

The one sin that Jesus seemed to be the hardest on was not any sexual sin, or the sin of greed, or even unbelief. In fact, the so-called “seven deadly sins” are all forgiven by Christ, but He is the hardest and most condemning against the sin of spiritual hypocrisy committed by religious frauds. And nowhere is it more evident than in Matthew 23. God wants us to worship in spirit and truth, with sincere hearts, not out of obligation or guilt, not to do penance towards a hostile unmerciful deity but to truly express our love and devotion. 

It doesn’t matter whether we are in an ornate chapel or dark dungeon, we can worship God with sincerity of hearts. Observe the contrasts of a Blessed Relationship and Blasphemous Religion.

1. Matthew 5:3 to Matthew 23:13--The blessed admit their shortcomings and are admitted into heaven, But woe to those who aren’t going to heaven and keep others out.
2. Matthew 5:4 to Matthew 23:14--The blessed and happy receive comfort when they mourn, But what sorrow awaits (New Living Translation) to those who actually cause others to mourn. (Look it up, some translations actually delete this verse.)
3. Matthew 5:5 to Matthew 23:15--The blessed and happy are humble and inherit the earth, But woe to those who travel the earth to convert others to hell.
4. Matthew 5:6 to Matthew 23:16-22--The blessed desire righteousness and are satisfied, But woe to those who are never filled by the world’s goods, nor regard a righteous God and his sanctified representations.
5. Matthew 5:7 to Matthew 23:23-24--The blessed give and receive mercy, But what sorrow awaits those who neglect mercy, justice and faith, and are merciless on lesser matters.
6. Matthew 5:8 to Matthew 23:25-26--The blessed are those who are inwardly pure and shall see God, But woe to those who are inwardly wicked, for they are blind and can't see anything.
7. Matthew 5:9 to Matthew 23:27-28--The blessed are those who help others make peace with God, others call you God’s children, But what sorrow awaits those who appear to be like God's children; but are inwardly dead and unclean, filled with hypocrisy and not at peace.
8. Matthew 5:10-12 to Matthew 23:29-36--An extended list of blessedness for those who are persecuted for God, resulting in entering the kingdom of heaven, But an extended listing of woes to those who persecute others who stand for God, resulting in the condemnation of hell.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

11. Worship. It is a rational, reasonable response

     Why Worship God?

     Is it to offer an indulgence for God, buying some sort of favor to Him? Does our God have an insatiable desire for self-aggrandizement? Does He seek forced adulation?

     None of that.

    Actually, worship is necessary for us and it makes sense. One of the translations of Romans 12:1 says that the very act of presenting our bodies to Him as living sacrifices is our reasonable service of worship.

     So is it reasonable to worship God? The actual word used in Romans 12 is logikos. I have been fond of that word since my days of appreciating Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame. To give honor to one who is so much above who we are is indeed logical and rational. 

     Isaiah says it makes perfect logical sense to rationally and reasonable agree with God that He is worthy of all of our worship. “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord in Isaiah 1:18, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

     Yes God is worth and worthy of our worship, both physical (obeisance) and spiritual. But worship must be also intellectual and of our own free will, with no hidden motives or secret objectives. Worship comes from the heart and from the head. He doesn't want mindless worship.
     God gave us a brain and He expects us to use it. To acknowledge Him as supreme is to God's glory and to our benefit. Otherwise we would be self-sufficient and ungrateful.

     What does not make sense is to worship anything that is not eternal and not immortal. If it is perishable, all our adulation ends ultimately at the grave. Do you worship something that is temporal? That, my fictional friend Mr. Spock, would say is highly illogical.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

11. Worship-- "Whatever their bodies do affects their souls"


    “Obeisance” is not a word that comes flowing off the lips, but neither is the act of obeisance a natural act of our bodies. The word means a physical demonstration of honor, deference or homage.

    Clear now?

    Maybe not. In the New Testament, sometimes the same word “worship” is also translated as “bowed down before”. To proskeneo means to prostrate oneself before another. It was used like the kissing of a ring before a king and comes literally from a dog licking the hands of its owner.

    Satan himself used this word in demanding Jesus to fall down and proskeneo, worship him (Matthew 4:9). Of course Jesus refused, but the very thought of Satan wanting this means that a physical demonstration of our obeisance before God is not only desired by God, it is a natural outflow of our innate desire to worship Him.

    C.S. Lewis, using the persona of a demon who is writing to fellow and less knowledgeable demon, derides the human desire to not pay physical obeisance to God in our worship. Bear in mind that Lewis is, in the following quotation, saying the opposite of what is true, since the author is using the voice of one demon to instruct another:
“The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient” (that is, the Christian) “from the serious intention of praying altogether.  When the patient is an adult recently reconverted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot like nature of his prayers in childhood ... at the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget what you must always remember: that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.  It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds; in reality, our best work is done by keening things out.”
    So the next time you seek to worship God, consider doing more than merely folding your hands. Practice not only bowing your head but bend your entire body before God whom you worship. Demonstrate to Him (and any demons who may be observing your secret prayer life) that you will pay him spiritual and physical obeisance in your worship.

Monday, November 21, 2016

11. The Worth of Worship

     “How much is it worth to you?”
     As a kid, I remember hearing and using that phrase, meaning “Sure, I’ll do something for you, but it is going to cost you.”
     I’ve been in my current house nearly seven years and it needs updating. But for the past forever it seems like it has also been in need of major repairs (roof, air conditioning, pool, garage door, carpet). I’ve not been able to update the house because of the cost of the upkeep.
     How much is God worth to you?
     Sometimes my relationship with God is not what it should be for the same reason my house is not where it should be. I have so many “needs” that when I come to God to worship Him, my needs seem to overwhelm my knees bowing to declare how much He is worth to me.
     Unlike a house, God doesn’t need updating. I do. He doesn’t need me to worship Him. I do.  He’s not demanding I declare His worth to Him. I need to express His worth and worthiness of my worship. My needs, no matter how much they seem to me, are not more demanding for my time in prayer than His sufficiency. As a result, I should always exult in praise and thanksgiving for His ample supply.     
     My prayer request list is great, not only for me personally but for my wife and four children and grandson. I have other family members and several persons for whom I pray daily. I read through the lists of needs in our church and then turn my prayerful eyes towards the needs of my state, nation and world. 

     Despite all of that, there is implicit in my prayers a truth that I often overlook: implied in my prayers is my hope and trust that God somehow is greater than all my needs. If I didn’t think that He could answer my prayers, then I wouldn’t…


I wouldn’t…


I wouldn’t … pray.

Ah. That’s it! Maybe that’s why I (and maybe you too) often run around trying to do so much without praying because we don’t really believe what we say we believe: that God is able to deliver us.

What’s more, maybe that’s why we don’t have the jubilant heart of praise and thanksgiving because even if we are praying like we believe it, we are not believing like we pray it! We are not joyful in our prayers because we don’t think he is going to provide that job or pay that bill or restore that relationship. We are not trusting Him.

The writer of Psalm 95 understood this. He calls for singing, shouting, thanksgiving and music and song. From highest of heights to the depths of the earth, there is a resounding call for worship from the psalmist.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Chapter 11, Worship: Putting Our Beliefs Into Action

     As First Baptist Church, Killeen, transitions what think to how we act in our study of BELIEVE, we have just finished ten weeks of study on what we believe. In other words, we have been putting on the mind of Christ. Being a Christian and becoming like Christ is a change of our spirit which impacts our soul (our minds, our hearts, our beliefs) which will affect our bodily behavior and our inner being.  

     We now transition from part 1, what we believe, to part 2, how we behave. Being a Christian is transformation from behaving less and less like the world and becoming more and more like Christ. We are, as 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, a new creation, the old things have passed and new things have come. Ephesians 4:23-24 says we put on the new man with a renewed spirit of the mind. Colossians 3:9-10 says we put off the old anthropus and put on a new “humanity”. Elsewhere, Paul says the outer self is decaying but the inner self is being renewed (2 Corinthians 4:16). Acts 19:2 says we receive the Holy Spirit when we believe while 1 Corinthians 2:16 says we have the mind of Christ.

     How we “act” in accordance to Christ will answer the question, "How can we be relevant to the world and to the Killeen area?" The foundational area of our actions begins, not with ourselves, but with our worship of God.

Below is a devotional which comes from Zondervan to help prepare us for Part 2 of BELIEVE, which studies our practices of being a Christian.

Chapter 11: Worship

How do I honor God in the way he deserves?

Worshiping God for who He is and what He has done for us can be expressed in many different forms and diverse environments, but it’s the heart behind the actions that matters to God. Throughout Scripture we see how God’s people worshiped Him on towering mountaintops, inside homes with dirt floors, at a lavishly adorned temple and in dark prisons. They demonstrated their devotion to God with singing, dancing, sacrifices and public and private prayer. What’s most important to God is not the way that we choose to worship Him, but the motivation that directs our actions.

The Heart’s Intent
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
      let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
      and extol him with music and song.
For the Lord is the great God,
      the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
      and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
      and his hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us bow down in worship,
      let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
      and we are the people of his pasture,
      the flock under his care. (Psalm 95:1-7)

     When God calls us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, He is demanding that we hold nothing back from Him.

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. (Psalm 95:1–2)

I worship God for who he is and what he has done for me.

What difference does this make in the way I live?

  • We daily acknowledge God for who he is and what he has done for us.
  • We worship God, privately and corporately, with the songs we sing, the words we speak, and the way we live our lives.
  • When we attribute worth to God as a child of God, unmerited worth is attributed to us.

With what behaviors and attitudes of the Pharisees did Jesus take issue? (You’ll find some ideas in Matthew 23:1-28.) Join the discussion. Use hashtag #BelieveTheStory

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Eternity: This is the promise

Have you ever heard? Someone who died and came back to life has written a book about the experience, telling us what heaven is like. Oh? You have heard? It seems that dozens, if not hundreds, of “someones” have done that.

I and many people I know do not put a lot of “faith” in those stories. We are apparently in the minority, judging from the popularity of those books. While the books are interesting and many have even found them encouraging to their faith, they are not reliable, not objective, not verifiable and according to Father Abraham and Jesus Christ, they are not what we should build our faith upon.

Paul is one of those “someones” who went to heaven (the third heaven or paradise, he called it) and was so humbled by the experience, he described it in the third person as if it happened to someone else and could not verify if he was “in the body or out of the body.” You can read about it in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, but don’t expect a New York Times best seller, as he said it was indescribable and inexpressible on what he saw.

Another apostle, John, also had a vision of heaven, found in the book of Revelation. Try as he might, John’s description is almost incomprehensible. The best and most understandable part is Revelation 20:11-22:21. Randy Frazee encouraged us to read it aloud when we get the chance and I’ll tell you, it is exciting.  

Paul said that if the resurrection was not true, then Christians of all people are to be the most pitied. Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection and the promise of eternity. If Christ is not raised, then our faith is in vain. The tree of life is from Genesis to Revelation, meaning that the overarching theme of the Bible is eternity which was forbidden for us in our fallen state, and only granted to us because of Christ’s sacrifice. And yet so many people do not know what the Bible teaches it means to have eternal life.

This is week ten of BELIEVE, and we are one-third of the way through this study. This chapter also concludes the section on “what we think” or the theological portion of the study. These ten weeks have been deep, challenging, thought-provoking and even troubling for me personally … and I have been to seminary, prepared sermons and have studied the Bible for decades. 

Some have said they opted out of BELIEVE because it was too shallow (they must have CLEP’ed out of quantum physics in grad school) while others have said they didn’t participate because it was too much work. Indeed, the reading material has been 90 to 95 percent Scripture and perhaps ten times as much Bible as our regular Bible Study material. We will get a break from BELIEVE next week, as we prepare not only how to believe, but now for the next ten weeks, how to behave.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Eternity will be too late to show mercy on the poor and needy

The poor and needy scavenge the dump just outside Matamoros, Mexico.
     Unlike Elijah and the chariots of fire, we cannot emphasize enough how much we know about eternity because of the short parable of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19-21.

     First of all, after death there is a literal and an immediate judgment, either good or bad. There are two choices for us to make. I once witnessed with an atheist who said that wasn’t much of a choice between heaven or hell. “Yes,” I said, “but yet you are choosing hell by rejecting God’s free gift of salvation.” What’s more, that argument didn’t change his mind. The rich man was in literal, physical agony, with eyes to see, a tongue burning from the flame.

     Secondly, we cannot judge our eternity based on our earthly circumstances. On earth, Lazarus longed for the crumbs from the rich man’s table. Since he was at the gate, he was probably eating what was thrown out as left over garbage. Even more humiliating, dogs were licking his sores. Meanwhile, the rich man, dressed in purple fine linen, lived every day in luxury. For all eternity, however, the situation would be reversed.

     Thirdly, judgment is final. We get no second chance. We also have God’s perfect justice on our hearts. Abraham agrees with God that the rich man and his brothers have ample opportunity to choose righteously. There is no hope for the rich man that he will escape his torment. His suffering won’t release him. No prayers can be lifted up for him. No offerings can be made on his behalf. Both he and his brothers had enough chances to choose differently.

     There are other lessons I am sure, but one final lesson is not for eternity, but rather for now. The rich man could have had more pity on Lazarus. Although our eternity is not based on our earthly compassion, Father Abraham remembered the disparity of the rich man and Lazarus. Do you have food in your pantry? Are dogs licking your wounds? Have you seen someone who has less than you?
     Eternity will be too late for you to show mercy.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Eternity: When God was "fixin' to take" Elijah to heaven

Can we agree that we can disagree? No I am not talking about the election, although I could and I have, obviously. I am talking about the Bible.

When you get to heaven, you will not see me in the middle of it, telling all of the rest of the resurrected humanity where they were wrong and I was right! Nor will we see anyone else there, save only the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ and even then it won’t matter who had the best theology.

I will see people in heaven who were not baptized by immersion. I will see some surprised people who likely did not think I would make it. And I very well plan to be surprised myself when I see people there that I would not have thought would have made it.

There may even be a few people missing from heaven that we all thought for sure were saved. The disciples never would have guessed that it was Judas who was to have betrayed Christ. Even when he left that night to betray our Lord, the disciples all thought he was going to give money to the poor.

This week, the book BELIEVE for some strange reason chose to write about Elijah going to heaven as a way of talking about eternity. Problem is, not everyone agrees that Elijah and Enoch were translated directly to heaven without dying.

“But the Bible says, ‘the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven,’” some may say about 2 Kings 2:1, NIV. Now if I was going to translate it, I would have said that God was “fixin’ to take Elijah to heaven,” but that’s just the Texan in me. And then in verse 12, it says “Elijah went up to heaven.” So doesn’t that prove that Elijah went to heaven?

Well, actually, no and it is not because God was about to or fixin’ to. It is because the word “heaven” can also mean atmospheric heaven or the heaven of space where the stars and moon are or the divine supernatural throne room of God.

Some actually say that since Jesus said, “no one has ascended to heaven” (John 3:13) and since the writer of Hebrews said that “it is appointed for men to die once” (Heb. 9:27), that Elijah and Enoch could not have gone to God’s throne room without dying. What's more, ten years after Elijah's chariot ride, he wrote a letter to Jehoram. Did he write it from heaven? Probably and possibly...but not definitively!

So hence the disagreement I am writing about. We can agree, however, that God has in fact “put eternity in our hearts,” (Ecc. 3:11), that Job believed that he would see God in the flesh (Job 19:26), even though he pondered the question, “after a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:15). The Old Testament referred to death as being “gathered to their people,” even when they were buried alone (Gen. 25:8, Deut. 32:50). Old Testament prophets believed the dead would rise (Dan. 12:1-3, Isa. 26:19, Ps. 49:9, 15). The witch of Endor was allowed to raise the prophet Samuel from somewhere, hinting that there is life after death.

So yes, the Old Testament agrees there is life after death. I even believe that Enoch and Elijah may face death in the future, during the Great Tribulation, when they may return and be the two witnesses spoken of in the book of Revelation. You are free to disagree. But as to why the author and editors of BELIEVE chose Elijah’s chariot of fire to illustrate eternity, I am in agreement that it is okay for us to disagree with their choice!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Chapter 10: Eternity...What Happens After You Die?

    In August, we encouraged everyone to write the story of God's salvation in your life. I hope you did as that will be our theme for our evangelism conference for the Bell Baptist Association on February 7, 2017 when we have Johnny Hunt coming to speak.

     Here is my short story of salvation. My first experience with God wasn’t so great. My dad died when I was 4 years old, and my mother told me that Daddy went to heaven. So when I went to the funeral home, and there was Daddy, laid out in the casket, I wondered why everyone was crying in heaven!

    Four years later, I that same funeral home again, this time for my grandfather’s funeral. I knew this time that this was not heaven, but also realized I wanted to make sure I would go to heaven when I died. My mother explained that my life was like an unkept garden, with flowers and weeds, not really in order but in need of a gardener. If I asked Jesus to come into my life, He would take out the weeds, put my garden in order and give me a purpose. So I did!

    Four years after that, I had to go again to a funeral--this time to my mother’s funeral. Though I was sad, I knew for sure I would see her again, not because of anything I had done, but because of what Jesus, my Gardener, had done for me.

    The gospel is the greatest story ever told, because it is God’s story...the true story of salvation. It is how God came in the person of Jesus, who lived a perfect life, died on our behalf on the cross to take the punishment of our sins. He was raised from the dead to purchase our eternal life. And only He offers it to us, not of works, but by grace through faith. If we place our trust, our faith, in His death, burial and resurrection, we too can leave our lives of sin, death and separation from God. By His grace, we can have eternal life with Him. See 1 Cor. 15:1-11

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

The following devotional is from Zondervan to help us prepare for Chapter 10, Eternity, which will be taught and preached at FBC Killeen on November 13, 2016.

What is going to happen in the future?
    What happens when we die? The New Testament indicates that people experience an “intermediate state,” which refers to a person’s existence between their time of death and the promised resurrection of their new body. Their earthly body goes into the grave; their spirit lives on in one of two places — in God’s presence where they enjoy a time of peace until they receive their resurrected bodies or in a place of torment where they await final judgment. Jesus talked about this vividly in the story about a rich man and Lazarus (not the Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead). Jesus depicted the place of blessedness for the righteous as Abraham’s side and the place of torment for the wicked as Hades. (See Luke 16:19-31.)

    The grand promise of God and the ultimate hope for all Christians is the resurrection. Just as Christ was raised from the dead and received an imperishable body, so will all those who believe in Christ. Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, details this major truth.(See 1 Corinthians 15:51-58.)

    The event that will trigger this promised resurrection is the Second coming of Christ. Often the Bible refers to the return of Christ as the “day of the Lord.” Paul explains that on the great day of Christ’s return God will resurrect those who have died and then all believers will be brought together and will be with the Lord Jesus forever.

    After Jesus returns and we are resurrected into our imperishable bodies, there will be a final judgment by God of every nation. John saw and recorded a vision from God about what will happen at this time of judgment. John wrote down the final movement in God’s grand story — the restoration of what was lost in the beginning. What we read in the opening creation story of Genesis we see again in Revelation — a re-creation — but on a grander scale to accommodate all the people over the centuries who have embraced Christ and received eternal life. (See Revelation 20:11-22:21.)

     Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? (John 14:1–2)

    I believe there is a heaven and a hell and that Jesus will return to judge all people and to establish his eternal kingdom.

What difference does this make in the way I live?
    I ask you to prayerfully take a moment to do an inventory of your relationships.
How many non-Christians are currently in your circle of influence? And of these non-Christians in your circle, how many are you actively sharing God’s love with? 

What do you most look forward to in heaven?