links: this went thru my mind

 

Church, church decline, leadership, ministry, morale & vision: * How Churches Became Cruise Ships (part 2); * Six Subtle Signs Your Church is Dying [essential reading]

* “Eventually we will learn that no matter how much money, effort, or innovation the church possesses, it will never be as cool as the culture. Relevance is a race it cannot win, but in our misguided attempts to compete with the culture we risk losing sight of the only thing of value the church can offer the world–Jesus Christ.”

* “There is more talk of the past than of the future. … More effort goes into keeping people than winning people. … There is no budget for evangelism, outreach, missions, or advertising. … Everyone wants to know everyone in the ‘church family.’ … The church is mono-generational (relating to one single generation). … No new leaders are being trained.”

Corporate worship, nationalism & patriotism: Why Younger Evangelicals May Feel Uneasy in a Patriotic Service [required reading]

“The church transcends the state, a truth that should be proclaimed clearly in a worship setting.”

Cynicism, happiness & joy: The Giant Hole in Cynicism

“[There is] a radical difference between cynicism and joy. Cynics seek darkness wherever they go. They point always to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes. They call trust naive, care romantic, and forgiveness sentimental…They consider themselves realists who see reality for what it truly is and who are not deceived by “escapist emotions.” But in belittling God’s joy, their darkness only calls forth more darkness. [Henri Nouwen]”

Divorce & remarriage: Divorce & Remarriage

“‘A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.’ (I Cor. 7:39)

Holy Spirit & intercession: Weakness, Groaning, and the Holy Spirit

“The Spirit does not simply know our suffering in some mere cognitive sense. Rather, the Spirit is present within us and experiences our suffering as a sympathetic friend, and thus the Spirit groans as well. The Spirit groans with us and for us, and this groaning becomes part of the experience of the Triune God. God is for us not only in the intercession of the Son, but also in the intercession of the Spirit.”

Prayer: A New Way to Pray

“… rather than have one ‘quiet time’ a day … pray for at least 15 minutes four times daily.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Benevolence, charity, generosity, money, poor, poverty & Texas: * Boom Meets Bust in Texas: Atop Sea of Oil, Poverty Digs In [required reading]; * Let Them Eat Cash

* “One-third of Texas’ $48 billion in tax revenue last year came directly or indirectly from the oil and gas industry … but very little of it is spent on social services and programs to assist the poor, although some helps finance public schools and universities. So, despite the boom, Texas has some of the highest rates of poverty in the nation and ranks first in the percentage of residents without health insurance.”

* “… he was worried that people might spend the handout on drugs or alcohol. This pessimism (and paternalism) is common and understandable. But evidence from other countries suggests we should be more optimistic.”

Church & complaining: How Complaining Keeps the Church from God’s Mission

“If you want to be a part of a church that makes a difference, if you want your small group to make a difference, refrain from wasting your energy on easy targets. It’s not worth your time. Stop ranting on social media about all kinds of things that are wrong from your point of view. We all have concerns. We all know that life is not as it is supposed to be. Instead focus your energy on what you do have influence. Spend your energy on serving your family today. Invest in a co-worker who needs a listening ear. Pray for your neighbor. You can change the world if you focus on your circle of influence.”

Discipleship: Four Marks of Biblical Discipleship

“The question isn’t merely about the mission; it’s about how disciple-making should be defined. Is disciple-making broad or narrow?”

Efficiency, productivity & work: 5 Unusual Ways to Start Working Smarter, Not Harder

“… it’s easy to fall into a pattern of “always working,” rather than working smart …”

Intercession & public prayer: Using “We” in Public Prayers [essential reading]

“… we need to be very careful about how we use the word ‘we.’ … five groups, for whom the ‘we’ in the congregation/church/service might not apply: (1.) Our troops: what if foreigners are present? (2.) Our country: same. (3.) Our young people (or our older people): what of visitors? or those who have no children? (4.) Our children’s children: same (5.) Our environment, our world: is the world ours? or God’s?”

Marriage: Eight Things We’ve Done Right in Our Marriage

“The most important thing we’ve done right is we’ve never given up on our relationship … no matter how hard things got.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Change, church, leadership & ministry: Your Three Options When Instituting Change

“Change is hard no matter where it happens, but it seems like it can be hardest in churches.”

Choices, decision-making, poverty & time: No Money, No Time

“When Mr. Shafir first began to study poverty, he came in with an overarching assumption: The poor made the same mistakes in judgment as everyone else, except theirs ended up being more costly. He soon learned he was wrong. ‘They were making mistakes that were different. They weren’t the typical decision errors. They were worse,’ he recalls. ‘When you don’t have enough, you focus on the little you have, and it leaves you with less attention.” And the “little you have,” he found, didn’t have to come from financial hardship.'”

Ecology, eschatology, future & hope: Jesus is Coming: Go Plant a Tree

“Yes, we need to be saved; Yes, we are saved by Christ; but Why? So we can bring glory to God as God’s Eikons ruling creation on God’s behalf.”

Intercession, prayer & public prayer: Praying for Others in Public

“Hope is at the core of prayer, and this means we need to be immersed in Scripture in order to see how God has acted so we can know how God will act. We need to name God’s faithfulness as the foundation for our intercession. We need to dare to be imperative before God the Father. The resurrection, the transfiguration and the incarnation form the core of our intercessions. We ask — we don’t hint or suggest or go all vague. Expect results, spell them out, express our hopes. Be the change or become the answer to the intercession. Pray for the church to become what God wants it to become.”

War: After All – On the Folly of War

“In my lifetime, we have not fought in one single war that was a declared war, or met the Geneva conventions for a justifiable war. Not one.”

LIFE group guide: mothers I love to find

 

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (May 11) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this morning’s sermon.

To consider the value of someone who lives like a mother to another with prayer.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this sermon.

•  For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. (1 Samuel 1.27 NRSV)

•  The Eternal stays close to those who call on Him, those who pray sincerely. (Psalm 145.18 The Voice)

•  When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words … They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. (Matthew 6.7 CEB)

•  … as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. (Luke 2.37 NRSV)

•  … they don’t know what you are saying? You may offer a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving, but the other person is not being built up. (1 Corinthians 14.16b-17 CEB)

•  … pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6.18 NIV)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.

1. Have you ever met and conversed with a famous someone? Who? What did you say?

2. Tell us the first word that snaps to your mind when you hear the word “prayer.”

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this sermon.

1. Read Lk. 2.33-40. What is the point and significance of this story of a praying widow?

2. What might Paul mean when he says “pray in the Spirit” in Eph. 6.18?

Reflection

These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.

1. As knowing and powerful as God is, why would he tell us to pray? To benefit who?

2. How are private prayers and public prayers different (aside from matters of privacy)?

3. What Scriptures can you recall that speak directly to the fact that prayer truly matters?

4. A friend tells you: “Why pray, anyway? What will be, will be.” How do you respond?

5. Complete this sentence: “Without the prayers of others for me I would be ________.”

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Assess your overall spiritual health/well-being in light of your prayer habits/practice.

2. Select someone you’ll pray for daily this week whom you’ve not prayed for regularly.

links: this went thru my mind

 

Accountability, awareness, Christian faith, knowledge, social injustice & violence: We Cannot Say We Did Not Know [essential reading]

“The sage in Proverbs 24:11-12 warns us to rescue those being led away to death: ‘If you say, “We did not know this” – does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it? And will he not repay all according to their deeds?'”

Children, parenting & sex: 7 Suggestions for Talking to Children about Sex

“I recognized that helping my children live pure and healthy sexual lives would be a challenge in a culture that is often defined by sex. I wanted to be the primary influencer in their development as adults, because I knew no one had a stronger desire for them to make wise choices than me.”

Church membership: The 7 Commandments for Choosing a Church

“If you don’t like the church where you are, the problem is probably you (or at least partially you… but probably mostly you).”

Forgiveness, intercession, love & ministry: The Chaplain from Missouri Who Tried to Save the Black Souls of the Nazis at Nuremberg

“… he would ultimately minister 13 of 21 of Hitler’s most malevolent Nazi leaders on trial in Nuremberg after World War Two for their heinous war crimes.”

Guests, visitors & welcome: 7 Ways to Connect with Guests Beyond the First Greeting

“Your God is awesome. Your church is wonderful. Yet guests who visit your church don’t often return. No true connection was made. A parking lot greeter in our church expressed that concern: ‘We’ve got to figure out how to actually connect every guest with another person. Our flippant hellos or glad-you-cames just aren’t adequate.’ Why not challenge every member of your church to use these seven tips to connect with guests.”

Youth ministry: Tribal Youth Ministry (Part 1): The Necessity of Age Desegregation in Our Churches [essential reading]

“This article is by Duncan Campbell and is the first of three outlining his approach to transitioning youth ministry toward a more intergenerational approach. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest questions facing churches today as we are beginning to see the connections between our traditional approaches to youth ministry and the disconnect from parents and other adults being a part of the faith development of our children, and the mass exodus from church by young adults.”

a prayer for all civic leaders and politicians

 

Holy Father, God and King over all creation,

I come to you in the name of the Lord Jesus today, lifting up to you every civic leader and civil servant, every politician and government office holder, in this world.

Praise be to you for so ordering things that there is some semblance of order in this world gone wicked and mad.

Thank you not only for not writing off this part of your creation and allowing this world to descend into total disorder and anarchy, but for relentlessly pursuing it with your great love.

All glory and praise be to you in that you – wonder of wonders! – daily work your infallible will through fallible men and women.

And so may each and every one of these servant leaders know you, Father; truly know you and live for you for with every beat of their heart.

May you not be closed off from their first consideration in all their agreements, ballots, choices, decisions, deliberations, discussions, and votes.

Bring what you would to bear in the life of each of them to the end that they ever seek you foremost, seeking to honor and love you in everything by loving people with your love.

When they pray to you, listen to their prayers and give them the confidence that their prayers are heard by you.

Constantly call to their mind your promises as well the promises they have made to you, for these are ever greater than the promises they have made to others.

Ceaselessly broaden their field of vision, ever educating them to the needs of all the people they serve, and not merely those who like or support them.

May they ever learn, and love to learn, what is holy and good, pure and noble.

As they owe many people favors and kindnesses, ever guide them in the way of doing right, making them incapable of being bought or owned by others.

As they deal with much money often, guard their hearts, and all connected to them, from the love of money.

Shine your light on any and everything within them that even leans toward arrogance, deceit, deception, pettiness, pride, self-reliance, selfishness, or revenge.

Kill within them anything like even a single seed of the party spirit that kills the spirit of so many.

Enable them to recognize every form of subtle trickery, underhandedness, and manipulation, and as they identify such, may they not succumb to such or come to embody it themselves.

Surround them with good counsel, good friends, and good support, lest they find themselves surrounded by those who would seek to do evil to them or through them.

Remove any and all blinders with which others would mask them and summon up within them the vision to see through every unhealthy influence put to them by others.

As they are privy to and entrusted with far more than can ever be revealed to the people they serve, deliver them from being puffed up with such knowledge, along with their constituents in their ignorance.

Protect their hearts from the callousness that can grow from being constantly exposed to the friction and toil of gossip, lies, misrepresentations, misunderstanding, rumors, and slander.

As their families live constantly in the face of the camera and every watching eye, and as even the slightest matters of their loved ones are ever scrutinized and examined, safeguard all from bitterness and cynicism.

Still the tongues of all who mindlessly and heartlessly criticize, judge, and demean these servants of yours, putting within us all instead the ever present reminder to only do to others as we would have them do to us.

Help them to see beyond themselves, their dreams, and personal ambitions, and to perceive instead, your calling as to what you have in mind and would have done.

Shield them from despair and despondency when their good work surely seems in vain or once again goes unappreciated.

Forget not their righteous works and grant a good harvest from every seed of good mercy and true justice that they plant.

Give them a constant awareness of, and sensitivity to, the effects their attitudes and actions have on the most vulnerable in society, and grant them the courage to gladly stand up for such without hesitation, apology, or compromise.

When they are at an impasse with other leaders, may their efforts to work together never cease, growing instead only more sincere and humble, conciliatory and constructive with each passing day.

Pour out on them a steady shower of your discernment and wisdom that they may be quick to forgive of things past and equipped to forge a foundation for better relationships between all in the future.

Forgive them of their deliberate sins, as well as all unintentional slights to you or harm to any creature or aspect of creation.

Amen.

sermon summation: pondering prayer (1)

 

If you’re a Christian and have been for any appreciable length of time, you’ve surely been the recipient of a comment such as one of the following:

  • “We need more folks pounding on the doors of heaven!”
  • “To be effective, we need as many people praying about this as we can get.”
  • “If God listens to the one, just think how he listens to the many.”
  • “Our goal is to have X number of people praying that such and such happens.”
  • “Please forward this prayer request to everyone in your address book.”

When I hear or see those sort of statements I cringe. I always come away thinking: “Are you thinking at all about what you’re saying?”

And why is that? Because when someone says something like that, knowingly or unwittingly, they’re implying that numbers mean a great deal to God. They’re acting as if God’s character and mind is very different from what is consistently portrayed in Scripture. And they’re conveying the belief that human desire and will has a far higher value in the ultimate scheme of things than it actually does.

  • As if God himself is a “democracy” and the “casting of our votes” ultimately determines his mind.
  • As if we can divine “the magic tipping point number” so as to get what we want to see to happen and thereby change the mind of the Divine.
  • As if God is some sort of pollster or politician who is swayed to do on the basis of how many people are screaming in his ear.

Nonsense.

Yes, it’s for sure that the number of people praying about something can have a tremendous effect between humans (in terms of their enthusiasm, determination, etc.), but that’s an altogether different matter. What I’m saying here is that the power that is found in prayer in terms of its effect with God has nothing whatsoever to do with the number of people praying.

Now what would lead me to believe so?

In a single word: Scripture.

“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)

And though the number of Scriptures could be multiplied to prove the point, here it is: one person is plenty.

And all the more importantly is the fact that all prayer offered today, be it from the one or the many, funnels through the One who intercedes for us all: Jesus Christ.

“… he holds the office of priest permanently because he continues to serve forever. This is why he can completely save those who are approaching God through him, because he always lives to speak with God for them. It’s appropriate for us to have this kind of high priest: holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners, and raised high above the heavens.” (Hebrews 7.24-26)

The fact that a million sinners are all praying the same thing (and we all are “sinners”) doesn’t make prayer powerful to God. What does gives power to our prayers is not a what, but a who, namely the One who is “holy, innocent, incorrupt, separate from sinners” who “always lives to speak with God for” us. It’s not about the number of us here below, but about the name of him on high.

Have we forgotten that we commonly pray our prayers “in Jesus’ name,” often even saying so (though not necessarily) aloud. And what do we mean by saying such? When we pray “in Jesus’ name,” we’re affirming that it’s this One, Jesus, who makes the difference in all we’ve prayed. Only through him are our prayers conveyed and only by him can what we say come near the One who lives in unapproachable light.

Prayer. It’s about the One, not the many.