A Prayer Experiment

Written By: John - Sep• 02•14

On Sunday I preached through Acts 10. For the last few weeks I’ve been returning to the passage I preached on Sunday morning and preaching from that same passage in the evening. As I study I find so many things that need to be addressed, but there just isn’t enough time to do it so I’ve been able to cover some of those items in the evening time.

Last week I noticed something…an angel appeared to Cornelius in a vision “about the ninth hour of the day.” (Acts 10:3) In Acts 10:9 we find Peter going on a housetop “about the sixth hour to pray.” It is interesting because Peter and John were going to the temple at the ninth hour to pray in Acts 3. Peter and Cornelius had visions from God at times set-aside specifically for prayer.

My point was that setting aside time for specific prayer will enable us to be in a position to hear from God, to be transformed by God, and to learn to avoid temptation. I challenged our church to join Peter and John and other early Christians in setting aside three separate times to get away and seek God in His Word and in prayer. I am not trying to set up a new legalistic approach, but to set aside time—in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night to get alone with God and to hear from Him.

The greatest resource you and I have in prayer is the Word of God. Yesterday afternoon I was reading and praying through the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. I came to chapter 5:18-20, “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart…” (ESV)

That Scripture led me to pray for God to supply my needs, but also for the power to enjoy the things He gives me as a gift from Him. I love the idea in verse 20 and that is where I spent my time, “For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” The writer just spoke of the toil of life and in this life there are many hardships, but as I read this verse I found myself asking God to so occupy me with His joy in my heart that the suffering would seem like nothing.

This afternoon I found myself praying through the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. I did pray through it, but to be honest, I never moved from the first thing listed—love. I found myself asking God to help me love Him with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. I found myself praying that God would help me love Kim as Christ loves the Church. I found myself praying and asking God to help me love my girls in a way that would demonstrate the love the Father has for them. But the more I prayed the more I found myself asking the Holy Spirit to simply help me love Jesus with all that I have.

I have to confess, I hate that I have to ask Him for help in that area—I should not have to have help loving the most glorious of all, the most wonderful of all, but I do. I’m in Christ, but the flesh is still echoing so strongly that I need all the help I can just to love Him as He deserves to be loved.

I finally just asked the Holy Spirit, who Romans 8 says “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God,” to help me by simply loving Jesus through me with all that I have. I share this with you because I want to encourage you to pray with me during the month of September. I call it a Prayer Experiment because I want to urge you to set aside, for the month of September, three specific times every day to get alone with God, to get into His Word, and to pray His Word back to Him. Will you join me?

“We must be prepared to suffer…”

Written By: John - Sep• 01•14

Each week I receive an e-mail from Harry and Nancy Lucenay. It’s called This Week in Hong Kong and I have to admit it is one of the best things I read each week. It is their weekly story of serving as pastor of an International Baptist Church in Hong Kong and often is seems like an additional chapter in the book of Acts.

This week Harry included a quote from a pastor in China. He said,

“Dr. Samuel Lamb was a faithful pastor in China. He died more than a year ago, but his words continue to inspire. “I can understand Job’s victories and Job’s defeats,” he often said. “It taught me that grumbling does not help. Not against God and not against those who persecuted me. My dear wife died while I was in prison. I was not allowed to attend her funeral. It was like an arrow of the Almighty until I understood that God allows the pain, the loss, the torture; but we must grow through it…We must be prepared to suffer. We must be prepared for the fact that we may be arrested. Before I was sent to prison, I already prepared a bag with some clothes, shoes and a toothbrush. When I had to go to the police station, I could just pick it up. I was ready. People are still being arrested. You don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Today the authorities are not bothering us, but tomorrow things may be different. I pray that we will receive the strength to stand firm…”

I don’t know about you, but that slaps me in the face. We are so prone to whine about small stuff, but are we willing to stand for Christ and to count the cost? I hope and pray that today you will enjoy your time off with family, but I also hope you will spend some time preparing yourself to follow Christ no matter what the cost.

A Prayer to Understand the Word

Written By: John - Aug• 27•14

I reserve the majority of Wednesday and Thursday for sermon preparation. As I turn to the next passage in Acts I turn with the following prayer in mind.

“O GOD OF TRUTH,

I thank Thee for the holy Scriptures, their precepts, promises, directions, light.

In them may I learn more of Christ, be enabled to retain His truth and have grace to follow it.

Help me to lift up the gates of my soul that He may come in and show me Himself with I search the Scriptures, for I have no lines to fathom its depths, no wings to soar its heights.

By His aid may I be enabled to explore all its truths, love them with all my heart, embrace them with all my power, engraft them into my life.

Bless to my soul all grains of truth garnered from Thy Word; may they take deep root, be refreshed by heavenly dew, be ripened by heavenly rays, be harvested to my joy and Thy praise.

Help me to gain profit by what I read, as treasure beyond all treasure, a fountain which can replenish my dry heart, its waters flowing through me as a perennial river on-drawn by the Holy Spirit.

Enable me to distil from its pages faithful prayer that grasps the arm of Thy omnipotence, achieves wonders, obtains blessings, and draws down streams of mercy.

From it show me how my words have often been unfaithful to Thee, injurious to my fellow-men, empty of grace, full of folly, dishonoring to my calling.

Then write Thy own words upon my heart and inscribe them on my lips;

So shall all glory be to Thee in my reading of Thy Word!”

Valley of Vision, pages 346-347

Satisfied!

Written By: John - Aug• 26•14

This past week I was able to be a part of a men’s gathering at Eureka Baptist Church in Talladega, AL where Jason Grissom serves as pastor. It was the first time I’ve met Jason, but I sincerely hope it won’t be the last.
His concept was simple–seven preachers preached through 2 Timothy on Saturday. I loved it…we sang a few songs between each sermon, we ate lunch together, prayed together, but the focus was on the Word of God. I throughly enjoyed the preaching and the worship time. One of the songs we sang was an old hymn…Satisfied. The words struck me so I’m going to share them, but I’m also going to include a video of the Gaither’s singing it. Their version is a little different from the one we sang, but I still love it…even though I’m not the biggest Southern Gospel fan in the world. You can watch the video here or you can simply read the lyrics below.

1. All my life I had a longing
 For a drink from some clear spring,
 That I hoped would quench the burning
 Of the thirst I felt within.
Refrain
Hallelujah! I have found Him
 Whom my soul so long has craved!
 Jesus satisfies my longings, 
Through His blood I now am saved.

2. Feeding on the husks around me, 
Till my strength was almost gone, 
Longed my soul for something better,
 Only still to hunger on.
Refrain

3. Poor I was, and sought for riches,
 Something that would satisfy,
 But the dust I gathered round me
 Only mocked my soul’s sad cry.
Refrain

4. Well of water, ever springing,
 Bread of life so rich and free,
 Untold wealth that never faileth,
 My Redeemer is to me.
Refrain

“Revival in the period of persecutions!”

Written By: John - Aug• 18•14

It is amazing to see the persecution against our brothers and sisters across the world.  ISIS or IS has been in the forefront, doing its best to rid Iraq of not only all Christians, but all Muslims who don’t agree with them.  You may or not be aware of a systematic crackdown in China against many of our fellow Christians.

In one particular city the government just destroyed a church and they are ripping down crosses from the churches all over the city.  God blessed me with the opportunity to visit China and one of the translators lives close to the action.  I sent an email letting them know that I was praying for them and this is the response I received.  I’m going to block the city and the names, but I love the spirit of this dear Christian.

“Dear John,

Thank you for the prayers. We firmly believe that God has a big plan for churches in (City Name) and now He’s doing a wonder among all of us followers. The gov may take away the crosses from churches, but it can never force us to deny our Lord. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. Though suffering all these trials, brothers and sisters here and there have the boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Christ, and we are reaching out to people in a broader range. Churches are sending out more missionaries and we are praying for a church revival in the period of  persecutions. Please also keep praying for us…”

I love that…revival in the period of persecutions!  Sounds like the book of Acts doesn’t it?  I want to urge you to pray for our brothers and sisters and to prepare for the same persecution.  I do believe it is coming to us who hold to the absolute authority of God’s Word and the absolute exclusivity of salvation in Jesus and in Jesus alone.

Son of Adam or Son of God?

Written By: John - Aug• 12•14

In Romans 6:6 Paul said, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (ESV)  Sinclair Ferguson spoke of this verse in his book The Holy Spirit.  He said,

“Old self…: In this context, this expression does not refer (as suggested by NIV, ‘old self,’ and by NEB, ‘man we once were’) merely to what I was in volume one of my biorgraphy.  Its significance is derived from the background of Romans 5:12-21; it sets the former life in its cosmic, that is its Adamic, context.  ‘Old self/man’ suggests an unwritten contrast with what I am now in Christ, the ‘new self/man.’  The ‘old man’ is all that I was in Adam before I was united to Jesus Christ: in the flesh, under the dominion of sin, under the condemnation of the law, and destined for death.” (page 147)

I was born a son of Adam, but I have been born again and I’m now a son of God.  I was dead in my sin, but now I am alive in the Spirit.  That old son of Adam was crucified with Jesus and now I am no longer enslaved to sin…there is nothing within the sons of God that force us to sin—when we sin we sin entirely by choice, but that isn’t our nature.

Ferguson said, “The reign of sin is ended.  We are no longer its subjects.” (page 146)  He went on to say, “To continue in sin would be to deny our basic identity as Christians…” It is not that we do not sin…it just means we who are in Christ cannot casually sin.  We cannot live in continual sin because that goes against everything for which our new nature stands.  We are united with Christ, we are in Christ and He is in us…everything about us should change accordingly.

Five Days to Live!

Written By: John - Aug• 11•14

Recently a couple in our church told me about a visit their son made. He is a minister and went to see someone who had been given five days to live…five days. What would you do if you had five days to live? Would you get bitter? Would you spend the remaining days on yourself? Would you spend those days with those you love? Would you spend them getting things right with God? This lady had five days and yet when the minister came to see her she was working on her Scripture memory!

I absolutely love that! I want to live my life like that. I want to live my life for the glory of God so that when the time comes for me to see Him in His glory I won’t have to do anything, but what I’ve already been doing. Recently Tim Challies posted about Scripture memorization. He quoted from Don Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. His blog caused me to go back and read the chapter, but I couldn’t find a better way to summarize the chapter so let me just quote him,

 “Memorization Supplies Spiritual Power. “When Scripture is stored in your mind, it is available for the Holy Spirit to bring to your attention when you need it most.” No wonder, then, that David write, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” “A pertinent scriptural truth, brought to your awareness by the Holy Spirit at just the right moment, can be the weapon that makes the difference in a spiritual battle.”

Memorization Strengthens Your Faith. “Memorization strengthens your faith because it repeatedly reinforces the truth, often just when you need to hear it again.” But it can only reinforce truth that you have already committed to memory.

Memorization Prepares Us for Witnessing and Counseling. “Recently, while I was talking to a man about Jesus, he said something that brought to mind a verse I had memorized. I quoted that verse, and it was the turning point in a conversation that resulted in him professing faith in Christ. I often experience something similar in counseling conversations. But until the verses are hidden in the heart, they aren’t available to use with the mouth.”

Memorization Provides a Means of God’s Guidance. David wrote, “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” “Just as the Holy Spirit retrieves scriptural truth from our memory banks for use in counseling others, so also will He bring it to our minds in providing timely guidance for ourselves.”

Memorization Stimulates Meditation. “One of the most amazing benefits of memorizing Scripture is that it provides fuel for meditation. When you have memorized a verse of Scripture, you can meditate on it anywhere at any time during the day or night.” Then you can be like David who exclaimed, “Oh how I love your law, it is my meditation all the day.”

What A Day That Will Be!

Written By: John - Aug• 02•14

I’ve been saved longer than I was lost.  I’m 48 and I was saved over 30 years ago, but I still haven’t gotten over the despair of lostness and I don’t want to forget it.  It’s a lot like the horror when you realize that the smell you’ve been smelling is on the bottom of your shoe…you know that smell…the smell that your dog should have taken a little further out in the yard.  You do your best to get rid of the cause, but the smell still lingers!

What bothers me is that I’ve been alive longer than I was dead and yet the dead mentality still permeates my thinking, my talking, and my actions.  I hate the old man and I am absolutely convinced that he hates me because my new Master told me that my old master—the old man’s boss—has a three part plan from my life—he wants to steal, kill, and destroy me.  He hates me, but it isn’t a sadistic serial killer kind of hate—he doesn’t come after me with destruction on his lips…If he would just come at me like Freddie Krueger I’d recognize him and run, but he comes like the serpent in the Garden promising a better life…a life that I can earn, a life that I can merit, a life that I can look back upon and feel good about myself.

I find myself like the Israelites in the wilderness—they were free, but they still had a slave mentality.  When they were in Egypt they cried out to God to deliver them, but when they were in the wilderness they looked back on their slave days with fondness.  They said, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  Do I ever insult God like that?  I’m afraid I do.  I remember the days of the past and smile and all the while I forget that it was like to be lost.

Lost—always seeking the approval of another, always seeking the next high, always seeking the next great thing, but always empty…empty…as empty as what we could have done if we just had one more play; as empty as I wish I knew then what I know now; empty as I wish I had never…empty.  It feels good to think about what might have been, but what might have been has never been and I’m left hung-over on works and self-effort dying for just a drop of grace.  And then it comes…GRACE!

When I’m drunk on grace I see clearly.  When I’m intoxicated on the bottomless pit of God’s unmerited favor I know myself and see me for who I really was, for who I really am, and for who I will one day really be.  That’s something on which to ponder.  That’s something to spend a sleepless night meditating upon—not should have, could have and would have, but what was, what actually is, and what will be when the New Heaven and the New Earth is populated with those who have been graciously, mercifully, and lovingly regenerated by a God whose sense of smell is much better than mine so He simply makes us so new the stink goes away…never to be smelled again.

As I type this all that can come to my mind is the chorus of a song…so let me close with it and encourage you to join us tomorrow as we look at an Ethiopian Eunuch who was gloriously saved on a desert road somewhere between Jerusalem and Gaza.

“What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.”

A Few More Rambling Confessions!

Written By: John - Jul• 31•14

Have you ever stopped to consider what it means to be redeemed? To have been dead in sin and yet now made alive in the Spirit? To have felt the choke of the dead man, marring the very image in which we were created, suddenly released? It’s like diving deep…deeper than you’ve ever been and realizing you are almost out of air—you turn toward the air, you swim, you struggle, you hold it in with lungs bursting and burning reminding you—beating in your brain like a hammer on a nail the reminder—WE NEED AIR!—and then suddenly you break the horizon and air…precious air…fills the lungs and all is well. That’s a picture of what it means to be redeemed except we were so dead we didn’t know we needed to breathe. We were just grasping at something—anything—to fill the void and yet chocking on the surrounding…knowing that there was a void, but unable to fill it with the only Thing…the only One who could satistfy.

Why is it that we who were once dead and yet now alive still dabble in the tombs? Why do we who were once breathless—still try to go to the realm of the airless vacuum of sin? Why do we make such stupid and pitiful excuses?

I’m just a man,

I’m still a sinner,

I can’t help it…

Just a man? I am created in the very image of God and that image has been renewed and I am in the process of being glorified into His presence! Still a sinner? There is nothing within me, as a Redeemed Man, that forces me to sin except my own weak desires—desires that Lewis described as a child who’d rather make mud puddles in the slum because he can’t image what is meant by a holiday at the sea…I’ve been redeemed, I’ve been transformed, I’ve been brought to life, I’ve been…and I have the audacity to say, “I can’t help it.”

Here I am stuck between the judicial reality of Romans 6 and the glorious heights of Romans 8 supported by the bottomless depth of Romans 9-11. Here I am stuck in the reality of Romans 7,

 “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me…”

Here I am crying out with Paul,

 “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

I’ve walked the Green Mile… a dead man walking…but Jesus took my place and all that was left for me was freedom…glorious freedom. Freedom to breathe new air—celestial air. Freedom to step on new ground—holy ground. Freedom to take a new hand—the hand of God. Freedom to walk in a new spirit—the Spirit of God. Freedom to be what I was destined to be from before the foundation of this very world that bears the curse of my sin…your sin…our sin.

Here I am sitting in a chair, which is sitting on the carpet, which is sitting on a concrete pad, which is connected to a ball of rock spinning at over 67,000 miles and hour and I’m not dizzy! That lack of dizziness doesn’t surprise me as much as the fact that I’m not daily dizzied by the grace of such a Grand God. I’m surprised that I’m not daily drunk on the dregs of mercy to which God has displayed to me. How can I, again in the words of CS Lewis, consider “the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards in the Gospels” and go on like a half-hearted creature “fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered me?” Why am I so easily pleased with the things of the world?

When will I learn to be like Joshua and stay in the tent? When will stop being like Peter who in the presence of the Transfigured Jesus spoke and to be reminded that Jesus was the Father’s Son and that he should listen to Him? When will I take my eyes off the thirty pieces of silver and look to the Savior who hung on the cross so that I might be relieved of my love of money? When will I…when will I find all my pleasure in Him and glory in Him and make much of Him and Him alone?

I know that day will come…I know that I will be in His presence and that eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, and hearts have not imagined with the Lord has in store for those who love Him. I know that this is true, but I want to know what Tozer called the “Blessedness of Possessing Nothing.” I want to be like my forefathers who lived acknowledging that they were strangers on the earth, who sought a homeland…a better country…a heavenly home that God has prepared for them…for me…for you.

I want to live a life here on earth knowing that all the glorious things I see here are just shadows of what is to come. I don’t want to get caught up in the shadows when the reality is before me!

How about you?

A Confession…

Written By: John - Jul• 30•14

I’ll admit it…I can be a little grumpy from time to time.  I get caught up in what has to be done and lose sight of the now.  Two nights ago I KJ and I took the golf cart around the block a few times.  It was just getting dark, the creation was screaming a ‘good night’ to its Creator, and KJ was chattering the entire way.  Instead of delighting in her voice and in her excitement—I tried to get her to be quiet…I can be a grump sometimes.

I don’t want to be that way.  I want to enjoy the moment.  I want to return to that childlike fascination that stops everything to watch a bug scurry across the side walk or enjoys the spider in the web, but I’m often too busy with the urgent to enjoy the now.  I don’t want to be that way.

I want to wake up early with a smile on my face singing praises to God.  I want to go to bed late thanking God for the day.  I want to eat every bite with gratitude for the food, but more than that—for the extraordinary taste in every bite.  I want to attack every bite with the joy I found in first bite of banana pudding!

I want to talk to my bride with the joy I found the first week we met.  I want to cherish her with the love I found around Shadow Lake in Macon, MS.  I want to love her like Christ loved the Church and serve her because I love her.  I want to do all of those things, but I’m a grump sometimes.  I don’t want to be that way.

I want to dance in the joy of God’s grace as I did that moment on the creek bank in Tennessee when I finally knew what it meant to be saved.  I want to read the entire Bible over and over again with the joy I found the first time I read the Sermon on the Mount.  I want to pray with an awareness of His presence, preach with a dependence upon His power, and visit with a love for His body, do benevolence ministry with Matthew 25 in mind, and study with a passion for knowledge of His revelation…I want to do all of that, but I’m a grump sometimes.

Maybe I need a long vacation.  Maybe I need resuscitation.  Maybe I need vaccination.  Maybe…maybe, I just need the Cross.  It is at the Cross that I die to myself.  It is at the Cross that I see His great love.  It is at the Cross that I find myself, deny myself, renew myself, and find Him renewing myself.  It is there I find love and joy and peace.  It is there the grump dies and the joy revives.  Would you join me in the daily funeral I must attend—the funeral of dying to self and living to Him.  Let’s make much of Jesus and enjoy every single moment of the life He has given.