links: this went thru my mind

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American exceptionalism: What “American Exceptionalism” Means to Me

“True American exceptionalism is saying ‘We did wrong; we apologize and promise never to do it again.’ Unfortunately, and very ironically, true American exceptionalism is becoming the exception.”

Assessment, bucks & butts, church & statistics: Counting Correctly: Create the Right Scorecard for Churches

“Fifty years ago, many churches had signs posted within the building showing weekly numbers on them: worship service attendance, Sunday School attendance, offering total, and even how many people brought their Bibles. We live in a different age now. … Among our churches, we need to ask if we are reaching people. We need to ask if we are discipling people. Are we reaching our goals or are we falling short? These are important questions to ask and important things to count. … What percentage of people in the church are serving? How many are serving inside and outside the church? How many are in small groups? How many are being trained into leadership in groups and in the church?”

Church giving, contribution, electronic giving, technology & the offering: Church Giving Tops $50 Billion A Year In U.S.—And Its Future Is Not A Collection Plate

“Churches are no different than any other operation in that they need to be relevant and convenient …”

Depression, emotions & seasonal affective disorder (SAD): 9 Ways To Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder

“Roughly 10 to 20 percent of Americans report feeling tired or sad when there are fewer hours of daylight in the winter month. … While many people can still function even if they’re feeling a bit melancholy, for some, winter brings a clinical form of depression called seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD.”

Senses, sense of smell & worship: The Aroma of the Knowledge of God: How the Sense of Smell Inspires Worship and Awe

“… despite its meager number of occurrences in Scripture, the way biblical authors employ the sense of smell is truly remarkable. Here are three broad patterns regarding the sense of smell in Scripture …”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Church & expectations: * Church and The “Jacob Syndrome”; * 7 Things Churches No Longer Do (But Should)

* “The burden is on all of us to be serious about our faith while also being patient with the shortcomings of ourselves and others. So before you are tempted to say you would be a part of a church only if the did X, Y and Z…take yourself out of the driver’s seat for a moment and pray that God would shape your choices and decisions because God often has a way of using imperfect people and situations to really shape us in significant ways.”

* “Participating in church now means attending weekly services — but rarely requires anything beyond that. What if churches required their congregations to go out into the world and be missionaries, sacrificially, humbly, and passionately loving others just as Jesus did — practicing what is actually being preached?”

Discipleship & influence: The Trouble With Being Salt and Light

“Who among us will be common for God’s sake?”

Dogs: How Dogs Read Our Moods: Emotion Detector Found In Fido’s Brain

“Dogs always seem to know when you’re upset and need extra love, even though they hardly understand a word of what you say. How can that be?”

Discontent, disgruntlement, offense & unhappiness: * Spirit Airlines Taps A Nation Of Hate Fliers; * It Is Our Duty To Never Be Offended [essential reading]

* “The hate flier is the guy who knows what he’s getting into, doesn’t like it, but flies Spirit anyway because it’s so cheap.” [This article makes me how many Christians are – unknown to themselves – actually ‘hate members’ (i.e. – they know what the church they’re a part of is like, don’t like it, but stay with it anyway because – equally sadly – it doesn’t require much of them at all.)]

* “To be “offended” is an expression which should never be welcome in the Christian vernacular. There is no virtue in being indignant and we have no “right” to take offense. There is a lot progress the Church, and humanity as a whole, could make in understand each other if we stopped indulging in this petty and whiny reaction.”

Politics, power & temptation: The Seduction of Worldly Political Power [required reading]

“… why Christians ought to be wary of the seductions of earthly political power.”

Worship: The Risky Nature of Worship [essential reading]

“A world largely driven by consumerism, self-interest, and entertainment might just prefer worship services that have regularity, rhythm, and pleasantness. I am sure many would prefer worship that is relaxing, lovely, and safe. If necessary, one should be able to catch up on some sleep. But from the beginning, worship has not been so innocuous.”

this went thru my mind

 

Atheism: New Atheism is Dead

“… New Atheism is in decline because more atheists see the social benefits of religion.”

Books, publishing & sales: Why Evangelicals Have All the Bestsellers

“HarperOne just released The NRSV Daily Bible, a wonderful project that divides the Scriptures into 365 readings with prayers and meditations that deepen and amplify your daily practice. But chances are you will not have heard of it or seen it. Why is that? The answer has a lot to do with why evangelicals have all the Christian bestsellers and why there are so few (if any) mainline Protestant leaders who have a national profile. I thought it would be interesting for you to hear about our publishing challenge and to ask you for advice or counsel on how to solve the problem.”

Church: * The New Traditional Church by Tony Morgan [required reading]; * What If Target Operated Like a Church? by Tony Morgan

“This is going to sound a little sacriligious, but I’m wondering what would happen if we eliminated some ministries of the contemporary church. What would happen, as an example, if we only asked people to invest their time in this way: Participate in corporate worship and Bible teaching. Read your Bible. Serve others. Make disciples.”

“… churches are sort of notorious for worshiping methods and traditions whether or not they actually produce results.”

Churches of Christ: * The Dividing Line is the Solution to Unity by Terry Rush; * Why Churches of Christ Are Shrinking – Part 3: A Misplaced Identity and a Failure to Truly Believe in Grace by James Nored

“Do we look like Washington or does Washington look like us?  Polarization is now in chasmic proportion … in both places. The Republicans and the Democrats work against each other just like the Baptists and the Presbyterians or the Church of Christ and the Church of Christ. “

“… despite this clear command and the way that his followers will be known as his–their love for one another–Churches of Christ have tended to place their identity in something else. Churches of Christ have placed their identity–that which they hold most dear and which makes them “distinctive,” the way that you know a church is a church of Jesus Christ–by something else entirely. That identity is not placed in Christ and our love for one another, but in having the right, well, you know what it is. The right name, worship, and leadership structure, and a host of other things.”

Computer security & identity theft: Your Weakest Link: All Those Online Accounts You’ve Forgotten About

“Spend two or three hours tracking down all your accounts. After you’ve written them all down, separate them into categories of importance based on the information they hold. After you’re done sorting, then purge, baby, purge! Get rid of anything you don’t use weekly: Delete the account outright, or log into the account and delete all the personal information you don’t feel comfortable with.”

Evangelism & outreach: * Video: Texas Congregation Launches ‘Bar Church’ to Reach Outside Its Walls; * Bar Church

“The Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, is launching ‘Bar Church.'”

“The mission of Bar Church is to take the gospel of Jesus to people who are unwilling, as a result of feelings of unworthiness or prior negative experiences with a church, to participate in a traditional church gathering within a traditional church setting.  We believe it’s something Jesus might do.”

Forgiveness & guilt: Why Do I Still Feel Guilty After Asking For Forgiveness?

“We have to discipline ourselves to trust the fact of our forgiveness over the feelings of our phantom guilt.”

History: The Big Question

“Q: What day most changed the course of history?”

The Bible mini-series: Weird Things on the Set of ‘The Bible’

“The producers of the History Channel special The Bible (filmed in the Sahara), a show which got cable’s highest-rated audience of the year last Sunday (13.1 million viewers), reports the following oddities …”

sermon summation: pondering prayer (2)

 

These words ran like a recurring refrain through her e-mail to me:

“Don’t you believe if I’m sincere enough in my heart when I pray then God will give me what I pray for?”

He was pouring his heart out to me about his frustration with some things at church and he said:

“What we need to do is to pray harder!”

Skimming through a magazine my eyes fell on a page that contained these words:

“If you can’t get worked up in your prayers, then don’t expect God to work with them.”

Now in her golden years she had approached me privately to talk about how she had some troubles with her faith. She began by hanging her head and saying in a very quiet voice:

“I just don’t feel my prayers like I used to.”

As I was surfing through some channels on television I happened to hear a preacher emphatically say:

“Passionate prayers are the prayers that claim God’s promises for prayer!”

Question: What do those five statements have in common, aside from the fact they all deal with prayer?

Answer: They wrongly make our emotions the heart and soul of, and the determining factor in, prayer.

Now it’s true that prayer that’s real will often engage, and make mention of, our emotions. Read the Psalms and you’ll find those prayers are packed with every conceivable kind of emotion. After all, how can a person get real in talking with God and not do so with some feeling?

But when our emotions become the sun, and not merely a planet in the solar system of our prayers, we shouldn’t be at all surprised if our faith becomes a black hole.

While we are emotional beings, it’s our actions, not our feelings, that must take the wheel in our journey of faith.

Take Jesus for example. He prayed often to his Father and he prayed with intense emotion. But it wasn’t because he “prayed hard” that he got heard by God. No, there was something else at the center. Something else was the the fulcrum of his faith.

“During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion.” (Hebrews 5.7)

Did you notice where the emphasis was put? Jesus’ prayers were heard by the Father not because he expressed great feeling to God, but because he lived out great following after God. “He was heard because of his godly devotion.”

The Bible is absolutely full of this teaching and the Psalms are saturated with it. Take Psalm 4.3 as one small example:

“Know this: the Lord takes personal care of the faithful. The Lord will hear me when I cry out to him.”

The matter is so clear you’d have to work to miss the point: the psalmist is confident the Lord will hear his prayers because he’s confident that he has been “faithful” to God.

Need more examples? Read the following in the Psalms for a sampling of the many that are there: Psalm 17.1-3; 66.18-20; 141.1-5. And it’s the same when we turn to the New Testament.

“The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.” (James 5.16b)

It does not say “the passionate person.” It does not say that “emotionally intense” person. It does not say “the person who gets worked up into a frenzy of feelings.”

What it does say is “the righteous person” is the person who finds their prayers are promised to be powerful and effective. That is, prayer that is heard by God comes from the person who has been made right by God and who has built their life around living out what they’ve heard from God.

We won’t find a more precise example of this teaching of Scripture than what we find in 1 Peter 3.7:

“Husbands, likewise, submit by living with your wife in ways that honor her … Honor her all the more, as she is also a coheir of the gracious care of life. Do this so that your prayers won’t be hindered.”

As back up for what he says here, Peter then goes on to quote (in verse 12) the words of Psalm 34.15-16:

“The Lord’s eyes are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord cannot tolerate those who do evil.”

Husbands, do you want your prayers to ring through heaven? Then treat your wife right here on earth for it’s your ways that give weight to your words in the hands of God.

Emotions are elusive creatures; feelings are funny animals. God knows they’re not an accurate gauge of our faith by and they never were intended to be the engine for our prayers. And God knows whether we’re walking after him with the light he has revealed to us already. What he’s after is not the energy of our emotions so much as the efforts we’re making to be his in every way. Keep that in mind the next time to ask him for more light in your life as you pray.

pondering prayer: it’s about following, not your feelings

 

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow (Feb. 3). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon tomorrow morning. This sermon is part two in the Pondering Prayer series and is entitled It’s About Following, Not Your Feelings. Look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous discussion guides. All Scripture texts reproduced below are from the CEB.

Aim

To explore some of the most commonly misunderstood or mystifying aspects of prayer.

Word

• Know this: the Lord takes personal care of the faithful. The Lord will hear me when I cry out to him. (Psalm 4.3)

• Listen to what’s right, Lord; pay attention to my cry! Listen closely to my prayer; it’s spoken by lips that don’t lie! … You have examined my heart, testing me at night. You’ve looked me over closely, but haven’t found anything wrong. My mouth doesn’t sin. (Psalm 17.1,3)

• The Lord’s eyes watch the righteous, his ears listen to their cries for help. But the Lord’s face is set against those who do evil … When the righteous cry out, the Lord listens; he delivers them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34.15-16a,17)

• If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened. But God definitely listened. He heard the sound of my prayer. Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. (Psalm 66.18-20)

• I cry out to you, Lord: Come to me—quickly! Listen to my voice when I cry out to you! Let my prayer stand before you like incense; let my uplifted hands be like the evening offering. Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep close watch over the door that is my lips. Don’t let my heart turn aside to evil things so that I don’t do wicked things with evildoers … Instead, let the righteous discipline me; let the faithful correct me. (Psalm 141.1-4a,5)

• Those who turn their ears from hearing Instruction—even their prayers will be detested. (Proverbs 28.9)

• During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion. (Hebrews 5.7)

• The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit. (James 5.16b-18)

• Husbands, likewise, submit by living with your wife in ways that honor her … Honor her all the more, as she is also a coheir of the gracious care of life. Do this so that your prayers won’t be hindered. … ‘The Lord’s eyes are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord cannot tolerate those who do evil.’ (1 Peter 3.7,12; cf. Ps. 34.11-18)

Open

Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. What kind(s) of music cause you to “tune out?” What kind(s) move you to “tune in?”

2. Tell us of a time when having strong feelings about something blinded you to reality or truth.

Dig

These questions are meant to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. Read the five texts above from the Psalms. List all the things the righteous do and don’t do.

2. Restate the truth expressed in Proverbs 28.9 in your own words.

3. God “heard” Christ because of his “godly devotion” (Heb. 5.7b). So why note his feelings (7a)?

4. Elijah “was a person just like us.” (James 5.17)? In what way(s)? Recall some of Elijah’s life.

5. How is it how you respect your mate should affect how God respects your prayers? (1 Pet. 3.7)

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.

1. If right living and praying are connected, which comes first: the praying or the living?

2. What does it mean to be “righteous?”

3. What sort of things do “righteous people” pray about? And not pray about? Why?

4. Why is it that our emotions aren’t always solid indicators of our “righteousness?”

5. When your prayers seem to go unanswered, does that mean God thinks you’re unrighteous?

6. “Please give me some advice as to how to pray so as to grow in holiness!” What do you say?