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Thursday, May 31, 2018

I fear that the church in these days, especially in the West, has become shallow in our understanding and practice of forgiveness. We sometimes confuse forgiveness with overlooking sins. And agape* love in the church family certainly covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8) But the depth of forgiveness in the church family must be more than putting up with one another's faults and weaknesses. Nor is forgiveness the same as understanding. I have heard someone say, “Well, I can forgive him because I understand why he did that.” Real forgiveness does not demand understanding. It can come while you still hurt. Such forgiveness is the key to true reconciliation that releases the power of God in our midst.

In the years that I was pastoring churches I always used the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17 as a guide for church discipline when someone had sinned against the whole body. I believe that is justified to some extent. But that is really not the context in which Jesus spoke those words. They begin, “If your brother sins against you.” Because of the importance of this passage I want to present it here in its entirety including verses 18-20. And I encourage you to read it slowly and thoughtfully before I begin to unpack some of it.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

First, notice the goal of reconciliation. When someone wrongs you, you are not to go to them as the judge pointing out how wrong they are. Your goal is to heal the relationship. From the start you need to have worked through your willingness to forgive, and restore the relationship, possibly deeper than it ever had been before.

This requires humility produced by the Holy Spirit through time spent agonizing in prayer for the person. And that humility extends to a willingness to sit down with a person before an outside party. When you bring in another party, or failing that, go before the entire church, you have to be open for them to see things you haven't seen in the issue. And you have to be humble enough to submit to their authority over you for the sake of reconciliation. This will require nothing short of the agape* love that God is developing in our lives and in the fellowship of the church.

And even the judgment of the church, is to be carried out in heartbroken agape*. While treating people as non-believers does not mean we have no more contact with them, it does mean that the whole purpose of the body of Christ is broken. And seems to be very serious. Jesus says rather forcefully here, “Whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in heaven.” He says identical words in John 20 where He breathes on his disciples the Holy Spirit.

“And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
(John 20:22,23)

Finally we see the depth of agreeing together in prayer that can only come from forgiving from our very hearts. Peter comes to Jesus and asks how many times shall he keep on forgiving someone who has wronged him. Jesus tells the parable of the servant who has received great forgiveness, but won't forgive his fellow servant. And he concludes with verse 35.

“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

*Agape is the ultimate love of God poured out in our lives. The fullest description of agape in 1 Corinthians 13.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

SCRIPTURE MEMORY AND YOUR PRAYER LIFE

Can you see an orchard with trees covered with luscious fruit? I'll let you decide what kind of fruit you see. Whatever the fruit, those trees were almost certainly grafted. Any fruit tree has the DNA of two kinds of apple or apricot or whatever fruit. So the desired variety must be grafted into the existing root system either by budding or scion grafting.

Something like that happens as God's word is grafted into our lives. In John 15:7-8 Jesus said,
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

This particular passage speaks especially to our prayer lives. It clearly teaches that answered prayer flows from character shaped by a deep devotional life. 1 John 4:14 promises answers when we pray in God's will. As our understanding and character conform more to God's will, our prayer lives will become more fruitful. This is the process of spiritual growth.

In John 15:7,8 Jesus calls us to remain in continual fellowship with Him. And He connects abiding in Him with His words living in us. This surely includes memorizing Scripture. Many of our churches work at helping children memorize Bible verses. But adults, even church leaders, sometimes avoid the discipline of Scripture memory.

I recently made a commitment to increase the level of my Scripture memory in the twilight of my life and ministry. I wonder what this might have produced through my prayer life had I done it 40 or 50 years ago. Who knows what God may do through me even now.

For many years I have read the same chapter of The New Testament three days in a row trying to soak it up before moving on to the next. Several months ago I started memorizing the chapter verse by verse before I move on. This has slowed me down some. It usually takes me about a week to memorize a chapter. And this adds to my daily devotional time because I review each memorized verse every day for a month. I may have to do something different, because I am not retaining the verses as well as I would like. I have a long term goal of memorizing the entire New Testament even though the doctors do not think I will live that long. In the process I long for God to make me more like Jesus, and my prayer life more like His. God will continue to transform my thinking as His word is grafted into my heart.

I hunger for God to bear more fruit in the lives of others through my character, relationships, writing, and praying, showing more and more that I am truly a disciple of Jesus Christ.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

WILL GOD RAISE UP ANOTHER BILLY GRAHAM?



This morning I was going into a prayer meeting with a friend when he said, “What is this world going to do without Billy Graham?”


I said, “He is probably raising up another.” And I do suspect He will raise up many to preach the gospel to our world. I would be surprised if they were not already on the scene.


I don't necessarily mean God is raising up someone to impress the world in our day. I hope God raises some up with Christlike integrity. That is what He did with Billy. With all of his spiritual and intellectual gifts, and preaching ability, Billy's greatest strength was his nearness and faithfulness to God.


But while I hope and suspect God will raise up another Elijah for these days, I am earnestly praying for Him to do something else. Especially for our day and our world, I pray for God to raise up a mighty prayer warrior, or an army of prayer warriors who will slip under the world's radar, and yet shake its foundations of power. I don't know if any of these people should directly influence 5 or a dozen presidents. God will do what He desires. But I suspect He desires a prayer army more than anything else in these days.


Is He calling you? Are you one that God is calling to shake the world on your knees?


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Sunday, March 11, 2018

THE FOUNDATION OF OUR LIVES IN CHRIST



Our hope beyond this world is the foundation of so many things in our theology and discipleship. It is the ultimate anchor of faithfulness and emotional stability in the trials of life.


For some time I have been planning to write a book on Hope. And in preparation for that I am going to start a new blog on Hope. I will call it The Anchor of Our Souls taken from Hebrews 6:19.


“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.”





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I will soon add my blog on Hope to this list.

Monday, March 5, 2018

A PRAYER MOVEMENT



I'm praying for a prayer movement. I have been for years. I long to see God call His churches, His own people, to pray as we have never prayed, as we have never dreamed of praying before. And in an effort to encourage you to join me in this prayer let me spell out what I am asking God to bring about.


I would like to see churches across America and beyond assigning prayer lists to their members, setting up 24 hour prayer rooms and organizing small group prayer meetings praying for every member, for every visitor, and every person God has brought them in contact with. As Jesus asked His disciples in the garden if they could not even pray for an hour, I would like churches to encourage members to spend extended time in prayer every day.

Of course, if prayer like this begins to spread across the country the enemy of our souls will be upset. He will begin fierce attack upon us. We need the Bible, the sword of the Spirit and the armor of God, with our prayers. People will need a firm grip on God’s word. We need to pray for our pastors and for the teaching ministry of our churches. I want us to encourage people to memorize Scriptures and pray over them. This will be an essential part of a prayer movement.

I would love to see churches begin praying for their neighborhoods. Could we set goals to prayer-walk every street in every town in America. We ought to hunger to pray for every home, business, and institution in this country. I would like to see groups committed to pray for every church and every pastor in every town and every state. I would love to see teachers’ prayer meetings in every school. I would love for groups to pray for children in schools. We also need people to pray for universities and college students. Some of the greatest prayer meetings could be held among college students getting serious about prayer. Over the years I have heard many people complain about what is taught in colleges. I remember hearing someone talking about an evangelical college that they thought had lost its spiritual fire. I wanted to argue with them because I thought they were not seeing everything God was doing there. In fact both of us should have spent all our energy praying for the students, administration and faculty of that school.

I have been burdened that Christians put too much faith in our politics. But we do need to pour our hearts out in prayer for government leaders. We could pray earnestly for the Supreme Court of the United States. We need to pray for our President, for congressmen, even local politicians. I hunger for God’s people to pray even for politicians we believe are evil? I pray for such a movement of God in our hearts.

A prayer movement will call us to pray for the entire world. I would like every church and every believer to pray for hundreds of missionaries going out from us to the ends of the earth. I would like to see prayer centers with rooms devoted to praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters and for people groups in every part of the world.

Of course, I don't know what God will bring about or what it will look like. I suspect some of you envision facets of such a movement that I have not mentioned or even thought about. I would like you to share what you see with the rest of us. I fear God will have to allow us to see great tribulation before we get this serious about prayer. However He works, I pray tol see such a movement. But, even if God does not bring about a prayer movement, or if it does not happen in our lifetime, I want to pray for it, and urge people to pray as we would in the midst of such a movement.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

PRAYING FOR YOUR CHILDREN



How often do you pray for your children or grandchildren? I once heard Dee Duke say he was committed to pray for his daughter, and each of his children, everyday of their lives. Most of us come pretty close to this without making a commitment. How do you pray for your offspring? Are you asking God for insight on what and how to pray for them?


Many years ago now, I witnessed a clandestined baptism in a bathtub in small apartment in a city in China. Several of us crowded in to see the joyful event. As the candidate stood up, water pouring from his clothes someone said, “Stop! Does anyone have a prophetic word about our new brother at his baptism?” Although no one seemed to have a word from God concerning the new convert, I thought the question was appropriate. God certainly has great plans to work in the life of every new believer. And simply asking the question ignited a spirit of expectancy in the crowded room. Who knew what God was planning to do through the life of His new child?


Hebrews 11:23 God tells us something very interesting about one of the greatest people who ever lived.


“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.”


This always strikes me as funny. Can you imagine the parents of Moses peering at their newborn child? Suddenly his mother says, “He is red and wrinkled. Throw him in the river!”


I remember waiting through the night in the nervous father's waiting room in a hospital. It was after 3:00 A.M. when a nurse stepped into the room and told me I was a father, but I could not see my wife and daughter until they had moved them back to the hospital room.


But as a pastor I knew my way around the hospital. I made my way to a place where they would have to pass on their way to the room. When the bed came rolling round the corner I had our daughter in my arms before the nurse was able to speak. And she was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.


But I don't believe the scripture refers to physical or sentimental beauty here. Stephen clarifies this in his sermon in Acts 7 where he says the child was beautiful in God's sight. It seems his parents got a glimpse of what God saw in the life of Moses.


My children are all grown now with careers and families of their own. But I still pray for them. And I ask God to show me what He is seeing in their futures so I can be part of what He plans for them in my prayers.





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Monday, December 25, 2017

A FEW MOMENTS TO REST AND PRAY

Many of us have a few quiet days after Christmas. This is a good time to rest. You may want to read something you have not had time to read or maybe a new book given you for Christmas. This is also an important time to think and pray.
As Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart, it is well to savor all that God has done for us, for you. As you think of your celebration of Christmas, you may remember things that did not go as you wished or as God desires. Was there a conflict in your family? Pray for the people involved. Pray for God to heal the rift. Do you need to forgive someone? Do you need to ask God's forgiveness? Do you need to struggle with repentance until you can rest in the luxury of His grace.
You may need to look back at the tumultuous year that is coming to a close. It should alarm us, and cause us to pray. Americans need to pray for our country. We need to pray for the world. But even in the midst of the turmoil we need to rest in God. He is sovereign even in the face of immorality, lies, terrorism, war, disruption of homes driving needy people across the world.
And while you are thinking and praying, ask God to show you what you need to be praying for the coming year. What is God calling you, us, to join Him in?

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