The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: July 2016 (page 2 of 2)

Faith-Prayer

O PreacherMystified.  That’s me.  Over this . . .

Is any one of you sick?
He should call the elders of the church to pray over him
and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;
the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
(James 5:14,15)

Before I explain my puzzlement, let’s consider this final block of James’ letter.

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise (5:13).

The Greek kakopatheo can be translated “suffer affliction, endure hardship, be in trouble.”  These are the trials of various kinds” (1:2) those dispersed-among-the-nations Jewish Christians are facing  Any one thus afflicted “should pray.”  While that counsel seems obvious, too often prayer is our last resort instead of our default setting.

Likewise, if anyone is “happy” (Greek, euthumeo—encouraged and so cheerful) he should ‘sing songs of praise.”  With both imperatives, James is calling these believers, whatever their situation, to turn their minds Godwarrd.  Trouble should move them to God in prayer.  Happiness should move them to God in praise.

Before we dig into my confusion, we’ll define some terms.  “Sick” (Greek, asthanay) can also be translated “weak”.  Besides physical sickness, it’s also used of spiritual weakness and the weakness suffered from being beat up (as in persecution) and bed-bound.

Commentators suggest a myriad of meanings for“anoint him with oil.”  Since oil is a healing agent, perhaps James meant, “Rub it on like medicine.”  Or, he may encourage its use as an aid to faith, especially when seen as symbolizing the Holy Spirit.  Or, since oil is a sign of consecration, James may want it used to signify that the sick person is being set apart to the Lord (“anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord”) for the Lord’s authority to rule in this illness and his care be given.  Since James without explanation instructs the elders (Greek, presbuteros—“shepherd” leaders of the church) to perform this act, we’re left to speculate on anointing’s exact significance.

What is “the prayer offered in faith”?  Earlier, writing about prayer for wisdom, James hinted at the answer . . .

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting,
for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea
that is driven and tossed by the wind.
For that person must not suppose
that he will receive anything from the Lord;
he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
(1:6-8)

The “prayer of faith”, then, probably refers to a prayer prayed with absolute confidence that the person praying will receive from the Lord.

The promise offers great encouragement to the sick.

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;
the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
(5:15)

The sick will be “restored.”  ” . . . the Lord will raise him up” (from his sick bed).  And, “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”  The source of every illness is not the direct result of sin (though sickness and death are in the world because sin is (” . . . sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin—Romans 5:11), sometimes it is (“That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep”—1 Corinthians 11:30).  If that’s the case here, James promises, the sick sinner will be both healed and forgiven.

Therefore confess your sins to each other
and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a man just like us.
He prayed earnestly that it would not rain,
and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.
Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain,
and the earth produced its crops.
(5:16-18).

Such sins should be confessed “to each other.”  Then praying for each other will result in healing (Greek, iaomy—used of both physical and spiritual healing).

James offers the explanation and promise—“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”—to encourage his readers.  The ESV translates:  “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”  We might ask, then, who is a righteous person?  Answer:  one who has trusted his life to Christ (to be credited with his righteous) and is learning to practice righteous living.

Elijah, that great Jewish prophets, provides the classic model.  He had “a nature just like ours” (ESV).  He was “a man just like us” (NIV).  Yet see the powerful effect of his earnest prayer!  No rain for three and a half years.  Then Elijah prayed again.  Drought and famine ended as rain fell and crops grew.  James means for us to be fortified in faith as we turn Godward on behalf of the sick.

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth
and someone should bring him back,  remember this:
Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way
will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
(5:19,20)

These dispersed Jewish Christians, enduring trials and facing persecution, are vulnerable to “wander from the truth.”  Why not, for instance, recant faith in Jesus and return to the safety of Judaism?  So the church must watch out for each other.  To turn “a sinner from the error of his way” is to “save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” that would otherwise separate him from God  This, too, (perhaps especially) is living a Godward life.

My Mystification.

Is any one of you sick?
He should call the elders of the church to pray over him
and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;
the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
(5:14,15).

I’m mystified, because James clearly means these words to encourage.  Sick?  Turn Godward! He’ll heal you.

Yet, after 44 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve almost never seen this “work”.  As an elders team member I’ve prayed for more sick people than I can remember.  I myself was prayed for many times.  But I can’t remember one immediate (or soon thereafter) miraculous healing.  Not that no one’s health returned; it just happened over time in due course.

James lays out few conditions.  Church elders should be called.  (Though James seems to envision the elders being called to the ill person’s sick bed, I don’t think prayer in a church building violates this.)  We often used oil and prayed “in the name of the Lord.” 

Faith?  We could have prepared better in order to fortify our faith.  But in the end, God gives faith. “

The apostle Paul taught . . .

” . . .to another faith by the same Spirit,
to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit.”
(1 Corinthians 12:9) 

If ever we needed the spiritual gift of faith, it was then.  Also, the writer to the Hebrews taught,

“God also testified to [his salvation]
by signs, wonders and various miracles,
and gifts of the Holy Spirit
distributed according to his will.”
(Hebrew 2:4)

Couple that with 1 John 5:14,15 and we can comfortably conclude that God gives his gifts and answers our prayers according to his will . . .

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God:
that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
And if we know that he hears us– whatever we ask–
we know that we have what we asked of him.”

James himself recognizes the Lord’s sovereign will when he reproves those who make their tomorrow-plans as if they are in control . . .

“Instead you ought to say,
‘If the Lord wills,
we will live and do this or that.'”
(James 5:15)

I’d rather let James explains James, rather than jumping around the Bible like a grasshopper.  But from generations of the Lord’s self-revelation recorded in the Jewish Bible (our Old Testament) and from God’s revelation in Jesus, these Jewish Christians understood that God is sovereign, as our Lord taught us to pray . . .

“Your kingdom come;
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
(Matthew 6:10)

Therefore, my mystification fog has (mostly) dissipated.  James 5:14,15 is a wonderfully encouraging promise to the sick.  The Lord keeps that promise.  And we must trust when it seems  he doesn’t—it’s better.

And we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.
For those God foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,
that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 
And those he predestined, he also called; those he called,
he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
(Romans 8:28-30).

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A Nation of Laws?

O PreacherMaybe FBI Director James Comey got it right.  Hard to think so after reading David French’s piece below.  I post it to warn of America’s “slippery slope.”  The more we skirt or outright ignore laws or treat different people differently before the law, the greater the danger of losing our freedoms.  That includes religious freedoms.
Hillary’s Banana Republic

 

By David French — July 5, 2016
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Hip-Hop Worship?

P.AllanI’ve written several times about worship music.  (See “Worship” on right -side column under “Categories”.)  To add more, here are some wise words from Ravi Zacharias and his colleague.

For those who don’t know, Ravi Zacharias is Founder and President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2014. Dr. Zacharias has spoken all over the world for 43 years in scores of universities, notably Harvard, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, and Cambridge. He has addressed writers of the peace accord in South Africa and military officers at the Lenin Military Academy and the Center for Geopolitical Strategy in Moscow. At the invitation of the President of Nigeria, he addressed delegates at the First Annual Prayer Breakfast for African Leaders held in Mozambique.  He has authored over 20 books.

May I ask you to listen to the short video now?  I’ll have a few comments to follow.

Image result for music notes

Music, as Dr. Zacharias noted, is a powerful instrument—the language of the soul that can seductively make the means (the music) an end in itself.  In other words, we can focus so much on the music (its rhythm, its style, etc.) that we lose sight of the song’s message.  This is particularly harmful in worship.  In worship, we want to be focused on the Lord and what we are singing to or about the him in that song.  If the instruments or the music itself become the dominant factor, then we have ceased to worship God and made an idol of the music.

The second point I want to reiterate is  the nature of the congregation.  Zacharias suggested we need to understand the audience to see what they will be engaged in.  Often, however, songs are chosen because they are newly-popular or they fit with the pastor’s sermon.  That’s all well and good.  But if the style of the song is such that the congregation struggles to sing it, they can’t engage in it to meaningfully worship the Lord.  This is true of some hymns as well as contemporary songs.  Some hymns are so familiar, their style doesn’t interfere with worship.  Musicians have written new melodies for some that aren’t familiar.  The important question here is, “How well can this congregation worship the Lord with this music?”

Clearly, balance is necessary.  The music some people can worship well with, others can’t.  The important point, however, isn’t hip-hop versus hymns.  The important point is, “How can this congregation best worship the Lord with music that conveys biblical truth?”

For the aim of worship is doxological (to give glory to God).  In such worship, we, then, find joy as together we fulfill our reason-for-being.

 

 

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Be Patient Until . . .

O PreacherThe words to this video don’t precisely fit James’ message today.  But, I can’t resist playing it, because when our kids were small, they loved Music Machine.  Give a listen.
* * *
Be patient, then, my friends, until the Lord comes. See how patient farmers are as they wait for their land to produce precious crops. They wait patiently for the autumn and spring rains.  You also must be patient. Keep your hopes high, for the day of the Lord’s coming is near.  Do not complain against one another, my friends, so that God will not judge you. The Judge is near, ready to appear.  My friends, remember the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Take them as examples of patient endurance under suffering.  We call them happy because they endured. You have heard of Job’s patience, and you know how the Lord provided for him in the end. For the Lord is full of mercy and compassion.  Above all, my friends, do not use an oath when you make a promise. Do not swear by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Say only “Yes” when you mean yes, and “No” when you mean no, and then you will not come under God’s judgment (James 5:7-12, TEV).
* * *
News about intolerance toward American Christians comes in occasional reports, making the acts seem isolated—until they pile up in the following summary from “Time Magazine” . . .
 “Some of the faithful have paid unexpected prices for their beliefs lately: the teacher in New Jersey suspended for giving a student a Bible; the football coach in Washington placed on leave for saying a prayer on the field at the end of a game; the fire chief in Atlanta fired for self-publishing a book defending Christian moral teaching; the Marine court-martialed for pasting a Bible verse above her desk; and other examples of the new intolerance. Anti-Christian activists hurl smears like “bigot” and “hater” at Americans who hold traditional beliefs about marriage and accuse anti-abortion Christians of waging a supposed ‘war on women’.

“Some Christian institutions face pressure to conform to secularist ideology—or else. Flagship evangelical schools like Gordon College in Massachusetts and Kings College in New York have had their accreditation questioned. Some secularists argue that Christian schools don’t deserve accreditation, period. Activists have targeted home-schooling for being a Christian thing; atheist Richard Dawkins and others have even called it tantamount to child abuse. Student groups like InterVarsity have been kicked off campuses. Christian charities, including adoption agencies, Catholic hospitals and crisis pregnancy centers have become objects of attack”.

Jewish Christians faced harsher intolerance in the decade after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.  While many Jews trusted Jesus as Messiah, many more held the Sanhedrin’s view that Jesus was a deceiver who diverted the Jews from ridding Jerusalem of the Romans.  Driven from their homes, these Jewish Christians often found themselves at the mercy of wealthy landowners.  To those Jewish Christians, James writes these encouraging words . . .

Call for Patience (5:7a).

“Patient” (five times in varied forms here) is the Greek makrothumeo—patient with stress on waiting.  How long?  ” . . . until the Lord comes.”  Then the need to patiently endure injustice will be no more.

Like the Farmers (5:7b).

Jewish Christian works see this daily:  landowners waiting for harvest they expect to come from the seasonal rains they expect to fall.  A lesson from God’s creation . . .

 Be Patient (5:8).

“Keep your hopes high” is “Today’s English Version’s” translation of the Greek stayrizo— “establish” or “strengthen your hearts” so they remain immovable.  Why?  ” . . . for the day of the Lord’s coming is near.”

No Complaining (5:9).

The stress of unjust suffering boils grumbling up.  Friend becomes enemy.  Nerves fray.  The closest brother turns into a convenient target.  But they mustn’t “complain against one another” so that they will not incur God’s judgment.  And he is near.  At the door.

 Remember the Prophets (5:10,11).

Suffering isn’t strange for God’s people.  Their prophets are their models.  These Jewish Christians stand in the prophets’ line.  And when we think of them, James reminds them, “We call them makarizom (blessed, happy, favored) because they endured.”  A beatitude:  “Blessed are those who endure suffering for the Lord is full of mercy and compassion.”  Not only with his coming will injustice end, but in today’s suffering there is favor for the forebearer.  And how can we be confident the Lord is full of mercy and compassion?  We see his mercy and compassion lavished on Job in the end.

 Speak Simply Honest (5:12).

 Perhaps in their suffering stress, these Jewish Christians brothers are promising to “do better next time.”  Hard to tell from the context.  One thing, however, is clear.  Swearing oaths to keep a promise should be unnecessary.  When they say “yes” they should mean simply “yes.”  When “no” they should mean simply “no.”  Plain, unvarnished honesty.
If these Jewish Christians lived in America today, they’d probably march in protest or sue the landowners!  Our society is litigious; that, is, we’re a contentious people prone to lawsuits.  So the imperative, “be patient until the Lord comes”, sounds quaint and falls on deaf ears.
Even so injustice remains.  Wrongs don’t get righted.  The poor and powerless are vulnerable to the rich and influential.  The summary of intolerance toward Christians (above) reminds us that, while we have legal recourse in America.  it seems as if anything pertaining to sexuality holds sway over religious freedom.

But the Judge, our Lord, is standing at the door.  He will come to right the wrongs.  And from then on forever righteousness shall reign.

BE PATIENT

 

 

 

 

 

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Corrective Tongue Surgery

O PreacherCan you believe it?  I preach or write about biblically-banned conduct, then find myself doing the very thing.  Just happened again.  James warns about the restlessly evil tongue, and I let loose angry words.  With trepidation, then, I move to the next block of James’ letter, where he takes his scalpel for more corrective tongue surgery . . .

Do Not Judge Your Brother!

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you– who are you to judge your neighbor? (4:11,12).

I take “slander” (or “evil” from the Greek katalaleo) to refer particularly to judging one’s brother or sister.  (James repeats the word “judge” in some form six times in these four sentences.)

In what way, we wonder, are these brothers judging others?  Perhaps according to their outward appearance, as James condemned earlier . . .

” . . . you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance.  Suppose a rich man wearing a gold ring and fine clothes comes to your meeting, and a poor man in ragged clothes also comes.  If you show more respect to the well-dressed man and say to him, ‘Have this best seat here,’ but say to the poor man, ‘Stand over there, or sit here on the floor by my feet,’ then you are guilty of creating distinctions among yourselves and of making judgments based on evil motives” (2:1b-4, TEV).

Such judging not only slanders the poor.  It also “speaks evil against the law and judges it.”  If a Christian speaks evil against the law, he presumes to put himself in the place of the “only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.”  Hence, the cut-him-down-to-size accusation:  ” . . . who are you to judge your neighbor?”

What law, then, is James thinking of?  The same law he noted earlier.  ” . . . the royal law found in Scripture:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (2:8).  Judge your brother/neighbor and you speak against that law.  Judge your brother/neighbor and you sit in judgment on that law.  Judge your brother/neighbor and you presume to take the place of the one Lawgiver and Judge.  Tame your tongue!  Do not judge your brother/neighbor!  Love him!

Don’t boast about tomorrow!

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.  Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins (4:13-17).

Spoken words are more than mere words.  They are the “leakings” of our heart.  Jesus:  “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

What heart do the words of these merchants’ “leaks” reveal?  Godless self-confidence. Deliberate and designed arrogance.  More than planning; these are men whose profits make them presume to be captains of their destiny, masters of their tomorrows.  So self-assured, they’re convinced they have a year for their next project, and they will “make money.” 

James pops their balloon:  “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.”  Not only are they sinfully ignorant about tomorrow; they’re sinfully ignorant about their life.  “You are a mist (like the early mists of the Mediterranean mountains) that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Self-assured merchants aren’t sovereign.  Only the Lord is.  So they should say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  Those are the words that should “leak” from the Christian’s heart.

To plan as if you hold the outcome solely in your hand is to brag and boast—and that is sin against the One who ultimately holds the outcome in his.

You wealthy, weep for coming miseries!

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you (5:1-6),

James switches to “you rich people.”  Like an Old Testament prophet, h e condemns them, though they can’t hear them.  “Misery” is coming on them.  Not because they’re rich, but because they’re greedy and unjust.  They abuse poor Jewish Christians—“the workmen who mowed your fields” are “crying out against you.”  The Lord Almighty” has heard.  On Judgment Day the rich’s wealth will stack up evidence against them.  Their riches will rot.  They will pay for their luxury, self-indulgence and murder “in the day of slaughter.” 

* * *

Here’s my prayer.  May it be yours too . . .

Father in heaven, my tongue is battered and bruised from James’ corrective surgery.  But it’s surgery I know I need because my tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  I cry out for your greater grace.  Enable me not to judge my brother or sister by appearances.  Empower me not to brag about tomorrow as if I hold it in my hand, when I know you do.  And please don’t lead me into the temptation of riches, so I need warning to weep and wail because of coming miseries.  Satisfy me with yourself and the good you supply, so my tongue will be free of wailing to sing your praises and speak love to my brother.  Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer!   In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

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Americans Not Seeking Church’s Answers

O PreacherAn odd situation.  After 44 years of church pastoring, I find myself church-less.  Mostly it’s disability that keeps me home.  Gives me an  outsider’s perspective.  I understand, for example, a person who thinks the church offers nothing special for him will likely not take the trouble of getting up and going.

Don’t misunderstand. I still believe everything the Bible teaches about the church.  I still care about the church’s mission in the world.  At the same time, I think I recognize  better the unchurched person’s view.

That gave the following article (from “Religion News Service”) greater impact.  While I’m generally suspicious of polls, there’s no explaining away the bleakness of this report . . .

God? Meaning of life?
Many Americans don’t seek them in church

By Cathy Lynn Grossman

Shavon Gardner, 17, prays as she sings with the Redeemed Christian Church of God youth choir at Redemption Camp in Floyd, Texas, on June 17, 2009. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-UNCHURCHED-SURVEY, originally transmitted on June 28, 2016.

Shavon Gardner, 17, prays as she sings with the Redeemed Christian Church of God youth choir at Redemption Camp in Floyd, Texas, on June 17, 2009. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

(RNS) The “seekers” have left the church — if they ever came.
LifeWay Research has taken a close look at what might draw them in, zeroing in on people who say they have not attended a religious service in the past six months except for special events or holidays.
Worship? Not particularly interested, 2 in 3 people told the evangelical research firm in a survey released Tuesday (June 28).
Talk about God? Not so much, said 3 in 4 of the 2,000 “unchurched” people in the survey –including 57 percent who identified as Christians.
“Are a lot of Americans on a conscious journey to learn who Jesus Christ is? I don’t think so,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay, which is based in Nashville, Tenn.
The survey was conducted May 23-June 1. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
The findings suggest most folks could be lured to church through events where faith is not explicit: community causes, entertainment and sports.
Even that old “seeker” standby — the search for meaning — doesn’t cut it for many who a decade ago might have read Rick Warren’s mega-selling handbook, “The Purpose Driven Life.”
Although 57 percent of those surveyed said finding “their deeper purpose” is “a major priority,” 31 percent disagreed at least somewhat and 12 percent were unsure.
That finding can be read two ways. Either folks are feeling secure in their salvation, even without church, or “most unchurched people don’t particularly care,” said McConnell in an interview.
Fully 70 percent of people who do not attend religious services agreed that “there is an ultimate purpose and plan for every person’s life.”
But whose plan is the unanswered question.
LifeWay deliberately didn’t mention God in asking about “plan” and “purpose,” McConnell explained, because it wanted to assess whether people had “a framework of wanting to make better, or the best, choices for life.”
If they already view life in terms of plans and goals, it’s easier to talk about the Christian faith. Evangelizing is like marketing a product — you need a value that matters to the customer, McConnell said.
The survey suggested that while evangelical churchgoers say heaven is the main benefit of their Christian faith, “that value proposition is not a product the unchurched are looking to buy,” McConnell said.
The survey found that 43 percent said they never wonder if they’ll go to heaven when they die and 20 percent can’t recall the last time they thought about it.
According to a new online survey of 2,000 unchurched Americans, LifeWay Research found few wonder, at least on a regular basis, if they’ll go to heaven when they die. Photo courtesy of LifeWay Research
The results were not entirely bleak, however: Nearly 62 percent would come for a meeting at church on neighborhood safety.
Offering a venue to “express compassion” can be a top draw for churches, Rick Richardson, professor of evangelism and leadership at Wheaton College, said in a press release. He is a research fellow for the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, which sponsored the survey.
Other ways people could be inspired to visit were for events such as concerts (51 percent), sports or exercise programs (46 percent) or a neighborhood get-together (45 percent.)
Most (51 percent) said a personal invitation from a friend or family member could draw them to church. And many are willing to at least listen to the benefits of being a Christian. Only 11 percent said they’d change the subject if religion came up in conversation.
But only about 1 in 5 would accept if that invitation came from a church member knocking at their door, a TV commercial, postcard or Facebook ad.
McConnell said bringing people into church is “a different kind of conversation. It’s like cajoling them to take a blind date with someone you want to spend your life and your eternity with. We need to say take it one day at a time: ‘Let’s introduce you to Jesus and see what you think.’”

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues.

* * *

Two thoughts from this dreary report come to mind.

One, this is a spiritual battle, not a creative-techniques one.  Of course, we need tactics.  And we probably have to think “outside the box.”  But giving out free Cokes at red lights won’t bring anyone to repentance and faith in Christ.  Nor will a coffee bar in the church lobby.

Two, we have to pray.  When the apostle Paul reached the end of his spiritual warfare instructions, he urged the church,Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads. For this reason keep alert and never give up; pray always for all God’s people.  And pray also for me, that God will give me a message when I am ready to speak, so that I may speak boldly and make known the gospel’s secret.  For the sake of this gospel I am an ambassador, though now I am in prison. Pray that I may be bold in speaking about the gospel as I should” (Ephesians 6:18-20, TEV).

 What might God the Holy Spirit do in Jesus’ name,
if we faithfully, persistently set aside time in Sunday Worship
for the church to pray for the community’s unchurched?
Will we find out?

 

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“I Hate Ants!”

O PreacherOur younger daughter posted this on Facebook today.  It’s well worth reading.  I’ll comment after . . .

Please Don’t Give Me a Christian Answer

Please Don’t Give Me a Christian Answer

June 30, 2016

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35 (NIV)

LYSA TERKEURST

I love Jesus. I love God. I love His Truth. I love people.

But I don’t love packaged Christian answers. Those that tie everything up in a nice neat bow. And make life a little too tidy.

Because there just isn’t anything tidy about some things that happen in our broken world. The senseless acts of violence we hear about continually in the news are awful and sad and so incredibly evil.

And God help me if I think I’m going to make things better by thinking up a clever Christian saying to add to all the dialogue. God certainly doesn’t need people like me — with limited perspectives, limited understanding and limited depth — trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense.

Is there a place for God’s truth in all this? Absolutely. But we must, must, must let God direct us. In His time. In His way. In His love.

And when things are awful we should just say, “This is awful.” When things don’t make sense, we can’t shy away from just saying, “This doesn’t make sense.” Because there is a difference between a wrong word at the wrong time and a right word at the right time.

When my sister died a horribly tragic death, it was because a doctor prescribed some medication no child should ever be given. And it set off a chain of events that eventually found my family standing over a pink rose-draped casket.

Weeping.

Hurting.

Needing time to wrestle with grief and anger and loss.

And it infuriated my raw soul when people tried to sweep up the shattered pieces of our life by saying things like, “Well, God just needed another angel in heaven.” It took the shards of my grief and twisted them even more deeply into my already broken heart.

I understand why they said things like this … they wanted to say something. To make it better. Their compassion compelled them to come close.

And I wanted them there. And then I didn’t.

Everything was a contradiction. I could be crying hysterically one minute and laughing the next. And then I’d feel so awful for daring to laugh that I wanted to cuss. And then sing a praise song. I wanted to shake my fist at God and then read His Scriptures for hours.

There’s just nothing tidy about all that.

But the thing I know now that I wish I knew then is that even Jesus understood what it was like to feel deeply human emotions like grief and heartache. We see this in John 11:32-35 when Jesus receives the news that his dear friend Lazarus has died, “When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother [Lazarus] would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept.”

Yes, Jesus wept and mourned with His loved ones in that devastatingly heartbreaking moment. And the fact that He can identify with my pain is so comforting to me.

You want to know the best thing someone said to me in the middle of my grief?

I was standing in the midst of all the tears falling down on black dresses and black suits on that grey funeral day. My heels were sinking into the grass. I was staring down at an ant pile. The ants were running like mad around a footprint that had squashed their home.

I was wondering if I stood in that pile and let them sting me a million times if maybe that pain would distract me from my soul pain. At least I knew how to soothe physical pain.

Suddenly, this little pigtailed girl skipped by me and exclaimed, “I hate ants.”

And that was hands-down the best thing anyone said that day.

Because she just entered in right where I was. Noticed where I was focused in that moment and just said something basic. Normal. Obvious.

Yes, there is a place for a solid Christian answer from well-intentioned friends. Absolutely. But then there’s also a place to weep with a hurting friend from the depths of your soul.

God help us to know the difference.

Dear Lord, thank You for being there in my darkest time. I know You are real and You are the only one who can bring comfort to seemingly impossible situations. Please help me speak Your truth to those around me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

– See more at: http://proverbs31.org/devotions/devo/please-dont-give-me-a-christian-answer/#sthash.rxElH0QU.dpuf

* * *
When someone’s mourning, we want to comfort.  Our heart outraces our brain, and too often we say something foolishly unbiblical like, “God needed another angel.”  We, of course, should comfort.  Of all people, we believers loved by God through Jesus should be the most prepared.  Usually, we think we should speak the most astute Bible verse to quickly start the healing process and somehow make sense of the suffering.  (If we’re pastors we feel especially pressured to speak the timely, golden word!)
Usually we mimic, as Lysa notes above, a packaged Christian answer that sounds to the hurter’s heart like, well, a packaged Christian answer, one size fits all.   More times that not, though, even if the packaged Christian answer is Scripture, it falls on a dazed mind and wounded heart.
When I’m struggling with my illness, Romans 8:28.29 comes to mind . . .
“And we know that for those who love God
all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose.
For those who he foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son,
in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
In those moments, what’s meant to make sense of suffering rings hollow.  The Scripture is true, but it’s not what I need at that moment.  I need someone to embrace me close and help carry my burden.  I need someone to agree that this isn’t fair, that it makes no sense, and that we’re in this together.
And, if an ant pile lurks under foot, say, “I hate ants!”  And, if no ants are available, “I don’t understand either.”  That’s when we need lovers, not theologians.
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