Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Power of Prayer

Acts 1:12-14; 4:23-31               December 27, 2015              Link for audio/video/manuscript 

The church exists as a consequence of the passion and boldness those in the first church had for the risen Christ. While we may not know when Jesus will return, we do know some things. We know that God answers prayer. We know that God powerfully answers the obedient, constant, unified prayers of His people. We do know that when we pray, God changes people and things. We do know that when God changes people and things – that He will do new and unexpected things. We do know that when we pray, God will change us and He will do new and unexpected things in our hearts and lives. And we also know that when God answers obedient, constant and unified prayer – He will do so in a way that will “shake the places we are gathered.” May we pray bold prayers to God that He might give us the power of His Spirit to be a bold people for Jesus!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The River - Tim Neufeld and the Glory Boys

Prayers of Praise for Salvation

Luke 2:22-40                   December 20, 2015           Link for audio/video/manuscript

Knowing Jesus as your Lord and Savior is more important than anything else in all of life. But God never intended that Jesus would be a comfortable, easy choice. Following Jesus means sacrificing the lesser treasures and contentedness of this world for the greatest treasures and contentedness of knowing Jesus and living our lives for Jesus. The only thing that really matters in life - is Jesus. He is answer and the response to the prayer of praise for salvation, the fulfillment of God’s promises to send a redeemer to rescue His people of the nation of Israel - and His people from all nations of the world - from their sins and restore them back into the relationship with God they were created for through Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Teach Us to Pray - John Piper

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Follow You - Ben Rector

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Jesus, in Matthew 11:28-30

If I Only Knew Why - Vaneetha Rendall

I contracted polio long after it was supposedly eradicated. The doctor misdiagnosed my symptoms because she had never seen polio before. And the wrong diagnosis led to widespread paralysis. With a childhood spent largely in hospitals, marked by painful surgeries.
Over thirty years later, my infant son died because the substitute doctor was unfamiliar with his heart condition. The doctor took him off his life-saving medicine. Within two days, my son was gone.
How could I possibly reconcile these losses? They were unspeakable. Preventable. Unexpected. And in the face of such catastrophes, my natural question was, “Why?” Why did this happen? If God was in control, why did he allow it? Why didn’t he stop it? Why? Why? Why?
That question haunted me for years.
That Elusive Explanation
I was certain that if I had an explanation for my trials, if I could understand God’s purposes in them, if I just had a reason, then I could have accepted my losses with more grace. And I’ve heard countless others say the same thing: If they only knew why, they would be able to move on.
Knowing why seems to be the elusive key that will somehow unlock all our pain. The key that will bring clarity and peace. Freedom.
Not knowing why, having to trust God in a senseless situation — when the world feels like it has exploded and we are left picking up the splintered fragments of our life — seems impossible.
Trust Him in the Dark
God is asking the unthinkable. To trust him in the dark. To accept his will when we don’t understand. To submit to his sovereignty in the midst of uncertainty. To believe he has a purpose when nothing makes sense. Unthinkable as it is, God keeps asking me to trust him.
This invitation is not what I want. I want to understand. I want to see. I want to agree. Accepting God’s invitation takes faith, which I possess in great measure when I’m not in the furnace. But that faith wavers when the flames envelop me and my dreams fall apart.
My son’s death, my failing health, my shattered marriage — each brought inexpressible agonies. After each loss, I resolved to trust God implicitly, but fresh losses inevitably brought in new pain and brought back old questions. Are you good? Do you love me? Why is this happening?
Each time it took time to come to the place of release and trust. But as I saw how my questions only fueled my agitation, I eventually surrendered my demand to understand. And paradoxically, it was this surrender that held the elusive key for which I had been searching. This trusting, accepting, submitting, and believing is what transformed me in my grief.
True Freedom Is Trusting God
The process of relinquishing my demand to understand is what freed me.
While I thought that freedom would be found in answers, true freedom was actually found in surrender. I didn’t need to figure it out. It didn’t need to make sense to me. I didn’t need to understand the details. I just needed to trust God. Trust him because he is infinitely wiser, more loving, and more purposeful than I am.
He has a reason for my pain. Many reasons. Even when I am at a complete loss to name even one. John Piper says, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” We may see a few things God is doing, one or two ways he is redeeming our pain, but we will never see the full picture on earth. Often all we can see is our loss.
But if we could see what God sees, we would be stunned. There is much more taking place in the heavenly realms than we can fathom.
Encountering God in the Grief
The book of Job gives us a unique glimpse into this unseen world. We, the readers, are taken backstage to the throne room of God. We are privy to much of what Job cannot understand about his tragedy.
Job’s initial response to his unimaginable trials was acceptance and worship. But as the days and weeks wore on with no relief, Job began arguing with God, lamenting his situation, questioning why his life had been torn apart despite his faithfulness.
Then Job encountered God personally. And once again, his response was acceptance and worship. Now Job no longer needed to know. He repented in dust and ashes for questioning God. For accusing God of injustice. For demanding an answer.
Job learned that the Lord had a purpose. God had unequivocally demonstrated that all of his actions were intentional. From determining how far the ocean could go, to commanding the morning, everything God oversaw was perfectly orchestrated. Nothing in all of creation was random, or escaped his watchful eye.
After God revealed his incredible power to Job, Job declared, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). But remarkably, Job had no idea what that purpose was. God never gave Job any explanation for his suffering. Instead the Lord demonstrated his absolute wisdom and power. And that was sufficient for Job.
“God doesn’t defend himself,” says Ron Deal about Job, “he just defines himself. And somehow, in this response, Job’s faith is transformed.” Deal goes on to say, “Suffering had invited Job to ‘see’ God in a way he never had before. . . . Job learned that he could trust God with the things in this life he would never have the privilege of understanding.”
And so it is with us.
The Answer Is God
As we trust God with the things in life that we may never understand, we are transformed. We may never know why we are going through trials. But we can take comfort in knowing there is always a reason for our suffering — 10,000 reasons. Reasons that are bigger and more magnificent than anything we can imagine.
One day our faith will be as sight, and we will see all of God’s glorious purposes in our trials. But for now, as we wait, we must trust him.
There is always a “why” to our pain. We may never understand it in this life, but this we can know: As we surrender our questions to him, God will answer us with nothing less than himself.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Prayer for Restoration

Nehemiah 1:1-11                   December 6, 2015               Link for audio/video/manuscript

It has been said that prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven but rather prayer is man getting God’s will done on earth. But in order for God’s will to be done on earth, God needs broken people who are surrendered to God to be used by Him. While Nehemiah was praying, his burden for Jerusalem became greater and his vision of what needed to be done became clearer. In following the pattern of prayer for restoration, Nehemiah came to understand God was calling him to be the instrument of God’s mercy and grace to rescue God’s people and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This is what happens when we pray out of a deep intimate relationship with God. When we pray to God for restoration, He will answer our prayers when we put ourselves under the burden that God for those we are praying for!

It Takes Work to Stay Warm - Jon Bloom

I live at latitude 44.9778° north, longitude 93.2650° west. If you’re not a geography or cartography geek (I’m not either), those are the coordinates for Minneapolis, Minnesota. Perhaps all “Minneapolis” means to you is cold. Some think Minneapolis is a suburb of the North Pole. Not quite true, but it feels like it sometimes.
With the return of December, winter is now bearing down on us. We Minnesotans will spend a considerable amount of the next four months managing snow, ice, and frigid temperatures. Our furnaces have fired up and we’ve dug out our sweaters, coats, hats, gloves, scarves, boots, shovels, and (for those fortunate ones) snow blowers. Once again we’re allowing extra time to brush snow and scrape ice off our cars before driving anywhere. We veterans of the tundra understand this very well: It takes a lot of work to stay warm.
Fire: Key to Surviving the Cold
But 150 years ago it took a lot more work to stay warm during a Minnesota winter. I have great respect for the native peoples and settlers who endured the Lord’s cold (Psalm 147:17) before the days when natural gas was piped directly into homes equipped with automatic, thermostat-regulated heating systems. A sesquicentenary ago, most people had only one way to keep a house or teepee warm: Tend a fire.
Life during winter revolved around tending fire, because fire was key to surviving the cold.
And tending a winter fire was a lot of work. It began during the warm seasons, because you had to think and plan ahead for the winter fire. You knew unpredictable snowstorms and severe cold were coming. You’d still have to do nearly everything you had to do in the summer, but everything would take longer in the winter, and you would have less daylight in which to do it. If you ran out of fire fuel in the bitter cold, you would be in trouble. So you were cutting down trees long before the first flurries, chopping them into logs, and figuring out ways to keep them secure and dry.
When winter hit, the fire was always on your mind, no matter what else you were doing. If you didn’t fuel the fire, it went out. If the fire went out, the temperature dropped quickly and it took a lot more — more wood, more work, and more time — to reheat a cold room and cold furniture than to keep them warm in the first place. So every day, besides the rest of life’s demands, you split wood, restocked the fireside, kept the fire fed, and cleaned out ashes. The fire was the first thing you tended in the morning and the last thing you tended at night.
Tending the fire was a lot of work, but it was necessary work because fire was key to survival.
Cold Is a Stealthy Killer
If you wonder why some of us live up here where it gets cold (sometimes we wonder too), one answer is that we are given the privilege of living a parable of a spiritual reality.
The constant spiritual climate of this world in which our souls inhabit is much more like Minneapolis in December in 1865 than it is San Diego — whenever. The spiritual temperature is dangerously low and if we are not careful, our love, like many, will grow cold (Matthew 24:12).
And the thing about severe cold, which we Minnesotans know well, is that it damages us before we realize it. The effects of frostbite are typically not felt when it’s happening. Only later do we realize the seriousness of our injury. Every year people lose digits and limbs to the cold. And some freeze to death. Cold is a stealthy killer, for a heavy drowsiness descends on its victims and they lose consciousness, drifting off to death.
You Must Tend Your Fire
The key to surviving the spiritual polar climate we live in is fire. We’ve got to stay warm. If we don’t, it can result in injury or even death. And it takes a lot of work to stay warm. You don’t just wing it in the winter. You’ve got to dress for the weather and keep your fire burning, which requires preparation and maintenance.
The fire is your faith-filled love for, your desire for, your hedonistic delight in the Triune God. And this fire is fed with the Holy Spirit fuel of the kindling of the word and fervent prayer.
But I don’t mean a passive Bible reading and cool praying. Simply passing your eyes over words of Scripture won’t keep your fire going, and neither will minimal, distracted, disengaged praying. This is like going out to the woods of Minnesota and thinking that if you looked at the trees and said, “God, I need some logs to burn,” you would magically have logs for your fire.
No. You need to chop at the trees, you need to split logs, you need to protect them from the elements, praying earnestly all the while for the grace to keep the fire burning. Yes, the fire is God’s grace, and the work it requires is God’s means to obtaining the grace. Making firewood is hard work, but its reward is a warm, abundant life. The alternative is the damaging numbness of the cold.
The fire needs to always be on our minds, no matter what else we are doing. If we don’t fuel the fire, it will go out. If the fire goes out, the temperature in our souls drops quickly and it takes a lot more work to reheat them than to keep them warm in the first place. If you need some fresh help for Bible reading and prayer, take advantage of what’s available.
Spiritual cold is a stealthy killer. It lulls people to sleep and they lose consciousness not realizing their peril. That’s why our lives must revolve around tending the fire, because the fire is key to surviving the cold. And the fire should be the first thing we tend in the morning and the last we tend at night.