Planting Seeds of New Life in Prayer

Matthew Henry wrote, “When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is to set them praying.” History affirms this maxim, as the great revivals that God has sparked around the world have always been launched by prayer. There may have been grand movements of Christians joined in crying out to God that brought the revival, but it hasn’t always been so. In countless instances, the hearts of just a handful of people united to plead with God for new life in their community, their country or their church were the passion to which God responded. It is not the size of the group praying that matters as much as the depth of that group’s heart. They need this depth for the perseverance in petition that renewal often requires. God does not put a shot-clock on these prayers, and He may respond to them at once, or it’s more likely that revival comes after a season of souls persevering in long hours of communal prayer.

God uses our commitment to prayer to prepare us for receiving the life-giving power of the Spirit, and this preparation is two-fold. He first sets out to prepare our hearts to burn for revival. The Christian must be able to see the dry bones of the church or the distracted hearts of their community and then believe that spiritual life can come to them if God moves. This hope is the second area in which the heart is prepared because these prayers for new life can require extraordinary perseverance. Revival may appear like a single cloud on the horizon, no bigger that a fist, and prayer warriors must be patient in the time it takes to blossom into a drenching storm pouring down torrents of living water. Without preparation, our hearts would often fail to have the vision needed or the strength to carry on when answer is not immediately forthcoming.

“From the day of Pentecost, there has been not one great spiritual awakening, in any land, which has not begun in a union of prayer, if only [among] two or three. No such outward, upward movement has continued after such prayer meetings have declined.”

A.T. Pierson

The prepared heart prays in complete honesty [JAS 5:16]. Christians recognize that the spiritual vitality of their church is not what it should be and the prayers that issue forth confess as much to God. Sin, cold fellowship, poor leadership – whatever the list of known deficits holds is boldly and openly laid before the Lord for his correction. Genuine repentance in revival prayer forges a heart soft and malleable for God to turn and shape, addressing these things so that new life does not germinate in rocky soil where it cannot flourish. When we pray for our community and for salvation to come, we are open with God about those areas in which we have not reached out or cared for. He may take the first step of turning our attention to knowing our neighbors and serving this community before He sends the Spirit with revival for the hearts of the lost. Honesty starts in the humbled heart, and a humbled heart is prepared by God and committed to Him above all other things.

Longing for Revival

I passionately believe in the possibility of renewal in the church, particularly the legacy church where the devotion to the Missio Dei has grown cold in favor of comfort and familiarity. I believe that the best way, but not the only, for revival to come to the church is through a return to first principles, a devotion to prayer and worship.

As a matter of regular meditation, I consider the list of things I believe:

  • The eternal God of the Bible created, sustains, and has a purpose for the universe and my life within it
  • Jesus gave His life to atone for the sins of the world (Mark 10:45) and by vesting belief in Him, people are saved (1 Corinthians 1:21)
  • The Holy Spirit of Christ miraculously indwells redeemed people (1 Corinthians 6:19)
  • The Colorado Rockies will win the World Series (someday, no scripture reference)
  • Many churches need and can have revival

I passionately believe in the possibility of renewal in the church, particularly the legacy church where the devotion to the Missio Dei has grown cold in favor of comfort and familiarity. I believe that the best way, but not the only, for revival to come to the church is through a return to first principles, a devotion to prayer and worship. A renewed sense of the mission of disciple-making results from the first sparks of spiritual life that ignite, giving evidence to my belief. I believe these things are Scripture honoring and God glorifying.

There are doubtless many reasons that churches fall into decline, some beyond their control. As we talk about revival, it’s important to distinguish between spiritual and material poverty as a contributing factor. Geographic factors and demographic shifts can be the reasons that churches find themselves in material decline, making closure a choice that has to be made. We can identify numerous other external factors as reasons for the death of a church, and we need to be clear-eyed in assessing these realities. Conversely, spiritual decline has but a single source, the dimming of the passion of the members of a body for the gospel mission. Jesus spoke of this as forsaking “your first love” (Revelation 2:4).

While external factors may be beyond the control of a local church, the spiritual fire they exhibit is not. I believe that the Lord’s promise to be with His Church always (Matthew 28:20) assures us that any spiritual spark can be fanned into a roaring flame through His power. What does it require? I believe this inferno lies at the juncture of a return to heartfelt worship and the restoration of the Church as a house of prayer. Does this guarantee revival? Perhaps not, but it ensures that any ministry that emanates from a church is glorifying to God.

Gospel By Faith

The good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is anchored in faith. This is incredible news for many reasons, not the least of which is that it removes the giving or receiving of this gift of grace from our hands. The apostle Paul speaks about the result of the good news, the power of the gospel and our utter dependence on God for its application; “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8 – 9) We must hear the good news in faith, respond to the gospel in faith and continue to believe in faith for the gift of salvation to have its effect on our life.

It is good news that the gospel of Jesus Christ is anchored in faith. This means that on our part we take no action that we can claim as our own. This means that nothing on our part is worthy of note. We hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus by faith alone. This means that

  • we do no preparation to make ourselves worthy of the gospel
  • there are no works that we perform their worthy of the good news of Jesus
  • there is no ritual that we must perfect and perform for the gospel to have its effect
  • there will be no wondering on our part whether we have done enough, or done anything properly for the good news to be good news

In the midst of the magnificent “Hall of Fame of Faith”, the author of Hebrews cements this good news:

“(And) without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

What sets this chapter apart is that the heroes of faith listed all exercise that faith before the gospel of Jesus Christ was realized in full. Their faith was rooted in the promise of the care and the mercy and the benevolence of God, all of these fully realized in the gospel: that Jesus Christ, God incarnate came into the world of man, lived and gave his life as the atonement for sin for those highlighted in Hebrews, those in our day and those who will come after us until that glorious day when Jesus returns again.

The good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is anchored in faith. We believe the incredible news that God has dealt with our greatest problem – our separation from him by sin – in Jesus. We believe in the full sufficiency of the Lord’s sacrifice to atone from our sin, no matter its degree. We believe that on that earth-shaking Sunday morning the Lord rose and lives again, continuing to this day his ministry of intercession and care for those who have placed their faith in this good news. We believe and keep on believing.

Facebook faith

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

In the pre-Facebook age, it was the fish badge of the back of your car. It proudly proclaimed to the world that you were a Christian. Not so explicit that others would be offended, but a sign among friends that you belonged. It was there for those sharing the freeway with you–your mark of heaven—if they knew what it meant. You drove with your gleaming chrome talisman making the proclamation that you were different. You were a Christian. Until you weren’t.

Until you started weaving in an out of the traffic to gain that additional minute at Starbucks. Until you began to honk and yell at your fellow travellers who somehow impeded your progress. Until you blew the red light, the crimson reflection of the chrome fish making it stand out even more. Actions speak louder than words chrome fish badges.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:14-17

The Facebook era has taken the words and actions divide to a new measure. We find ourselves able to post moving devotionals or spiritual sounding statement emblazoned across HDR photographs, all with the intention of espousing our Christianity for others to see. And admire. And to think of us differently.  Like a fish badge that hundreds or thousands of people can see now, thinking that I’m serving God at a level to which others might aspire. Until you’re not.

Until the difference between your words and your actions is discovered. Until the soaring words or scripture verses that we had so carefully arranged over the inspiring photograph are discovered to bear little resemblance to our real life. Until our practice is shown to be far out of alignment with our proclamation. Until it is discovered that our discipleship is found to be but a peripheral part of our life, or worse, a faith of our own creation.

The Bible warns the Christian repeatedly not to be two-faced, the classic hypocrite. The Bible demands of the disciple that their be no seam between their proclaimed faith and the tableau of their lives. There is no option for the follower of Jesus to be one of mere intellectual assent, particularly one who screams of a depth of faith loud enough to be noticed by others and gain their recognition. To be liked. 345 thumbs up. But to be distant from a faith community. But to be divisive and withhold your gifts from the works of God.

The disciple of Jesus Christ is concerned with only one like. The disciple of Jesus Christ is not seeking the approval of other disciples, even less so the approval of other ‘Christians’. The disciple of Jesus Christ allows no division between any public words that they speak or publish and all of the actions that they take. Word and deed go hand in hand.

Turn Left at the Blinking Light

The Fourth Fisherman by Joe Kissack

image[Fade from Black] Camera pans from a calm sea to the prow of a small fishing boat. Voices speaking Spanish in the background as a man walks the beach toward the vessel. As he comes into focus, he is not dressed for fishing and appears to be looking for something. The scene turns with his gaze, sweeping the ocean and then spying a dock further down the beach, the camera follows him as he walks toward it, away from the boat. [Title]

Stories that appear separated that intertwine to lead to an intersection unexpected by the audience are a Hollywood staple. Better yet are divine stories of lives brought together by The Director. Such is the The Fourth Fisherman, the tale of four lives transformed by circumstance unforeseen when the first steps were taken. Author Joe Kissack recounts how his life of Hollywood success led him to the fishing villages in Mexico while a group of impoverished Mexican pescadores  was simply trying to survive the ordeal of being lost at sea for ten months. A growing faith in God brings them together in the port town.

Kissack’s trajectory was taking him higher and higher on the success ladder. He had money, power and prestige. He was also medicating himself, burning himself out on the treadmill of the television industry trying to keep one step ahead. Though he has the outward trappings of success, he finds himself empty inside, wrestling with impressions of inferiority left by his father and the demands of  trying to have it all. Ultimately, he cannot, setting the crisis stage for an encounter with Jesus.

The alternate path through life is portrayed through the lives of five Mexican fisherman who set out on a trip that soon turns bad, leaving them adrift in the Pacific for months on end. Death, hunger and despair challenge them while their faith grounds them, giving them the hope needed to continue scanning the horizon for any sign of rescue. When a ship finally sees them bobbing on the waves little energy remains in the party for celebration.

Kissack skillfully weaves these two threads together to show how God arranged for them to intersect. Though the full ending remains to be written, the story is an inspiration for those wondering about the purpose of their personal crucibles. God doesn’t waste our struggles. They serve a purpose in His larger story, and we only pray that we have sufficient awareness to see that purpose further on down our own road.

I am grateful to Waterbrook Press who provided this Advance Reading copy for review. The book will be available on March 12, 2012. Contact for more information.

The Barnabas Calling

imageWhen he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. (Acts 11:23)

Barnabas, first introduced to us through his selfless charity in Acts 4:36-37, became a close companion and encourager of the Apostle Paul. We know him from this association and their joint ministries, and it is easy to overlook the fact that he was also an encourager of the Church and his brothers and sisters. It was a calling that he fulfilled to the utmost of his being.

This calling remains among us today. It may be lifetime tenure to be an encourager to those with whom you fellowship or it may be a special, more specific call to encourage. Called by God to preach the gospel, you may discover that the Spirit moves you to serve another pastor, to be a Barnabas to his Paul. For a season, you may be called to this support role in which you pray for, encourage, serve, and bear his shield as your way of serving the Lord above and beyond what the congregation is called to do.

Too many pastors are without this Barnabas, going it alone while being attacked from all sides. Many will fail because you or I did not respond to the Spirit’s movement and call to humility. To serve one another in love is our nature. To serve and support the pastor requires another level of selflessness. It cannot be done with the hope of return or in self-aggrandizement, or even in expectation of thanks. It is a calling that requires abiding love, trust in Christ, an expectation of holiness and a willingness to speak when that is absent. Just as one day in the Lord’s house is better than thousands elsewhere, one day called to service is better than a lifetime spent in worldly or personal pursuits.

Grace and peace to you.

Ted Haggard (mis)Interprets James

imageAfter doing immeasurable harm to the brothers and sisters of New Life Church, the members of the National Association of Evangelicals, and to the Church of Jesus Christ at large, Ted Haggard is again placing himself into a leadership position as he plants the new St. James church in Colorado Springs. The new body draws its name from the Epistle of James from which Haggard quotes verse 2:17 “ by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” and witnesses to the number of times in the past three years that he and wife Gayle have been the recipients of love in action. This is a noble application of the verse Ted, but what is the definition of faith? Is it to sin boldly so as to receive more grace?

Apparently he didn’t read any further in the book. Verse 3:1 of this practical letter says “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” There’s a higher standard Ted, a standard for those who influence the lives of so many others. “We all stumble in many ways.” (3:2) How true! None of us is sinless but we pursue holiness with a vigor that is unmatched.

And we do it every day to the furthest extent of our Spirit-led abilities so that when we step up to pulpit we have the integrity to look into the eyes of those that God has seated before us and to speak the Gospel into their lives…

…without having to worry about our hidden lives being revealed.

Are those who take to seats in St. James church going to know that Haggard has been pursuing holiness rather than drugs and sexual liaisons? What accountability will he have this time that he did not before? The nagging question that burns in the minds of many right now is whether or not the standards of holiness will be relaxed to accommodate the very behaviors that precipitated his previous fall. Will the standards be such that God will be present when the body is gathered?

As a brother in Christ I take seriously my responsibility to Ted. I love him and extend all measure of grace to him and his family and pray for nothing but redemption in his life. I believe that the Lord’s grace has blanketed and forgiven his sin and worked to knit together the Haggard family and make it whole. On the other hand, I don’t believe that he should be stepping back into the pulpit and leading a new body at this time. Had he placed himself under the leadership of another pastor and the accountability of another Elder board for some time to demonstrate a restored soul and measure of integrity this move would make sense but not this way. If God has called him back to the pulpit then I’m moving out of the way as fast as I can. If Ted has called himself back to preaching, it’s my responsibility to take his measure in accordance with the scriptures.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Who’s Up for (the exciting conclusion to) An Honest Reading? John 6:37-40

Theological discussion in various venues often pits one position of belief against its opposites. Supporters of one position or another like to issue proposition statements of the form ‘If they would give _____ an honest reading’, ‘once I gave ______ an honest reading’,’ you can’t read _________ honestly and still believe’ or various other permutations that are meant to couch the idea that your position is unsupportable in the light of clear interpretation. In other words, the veiled inference is that theological presuppositions have colored your interpretation of the text and if you would put them aside and engage an honest reading of the text, you would certainly see the validity of the opposing position. Let’s see if that’s a valid argument…

image Before we jump into the conclusion of this series, let’s have a look at how proof-texting works so that the danger in the practice becomes apparent. Suppose we want to ‘prove’ the horrible doctrine of infanticide exists in the Bible. [Atheist polemics use this argument all the time.] The proof-texter searches the Scriptures looking for individual verses or passages that appear to support this abhorrent practice so that they can proclaim the ‘truth’ that God approves the killing of children for pleasure or sustenance and they find these passages:

Psalm 137:9 -  he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

2 Kings 6:28-29 – She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.”

God killing the first born, the Flood, etc. Okay, a quick show of hands. Who believes that God advocates or even suggests a doctrine of infanticide?

No one? Why not?

Because we know the dishonesty of pulling a passage from its context to try to make it match our desired meaning. We know that we are not free to dismiss the surrounding circles of context in the process of developing doctrine and yet, we continue to do so.

The Honest Reading

In the previous post we looked at the importance of making sure that the language we are reading (in this case English) holds the same meaning in the text as it did in the author’s original language. In the passage we are studying, there weren’t any surprises for the honest reader but the reader who wants to load a theological presupposition into the passage might find a bit of difficulty.

Continue reading “Who’s Up for (the exciting conclusion to) An Honest Reading? John 6:37-40”

You, Theologian : Where We Begin


As we accept our call to be theologians, the next logical question is to ask what that means. Many in the Christian community will default to the image of the sequestered scholar, surrounded by mountains of books and poring over the scattered papers piled before him. Theology, in this narrow view, is a field with high barriers to entry, only to be approached by a select few while the rest of us wait to receive their wisdom. Nonsense. This stereotype is not only damaging to the faith, it is flat out wrong. Go look in a mirror Christian. There is a theologian. Regardless of background, social group, education, or denomination even, you and I are called to be theologians and our theology is formed in two ways. One is by our experience of being a Christian. This is known as our embedded theology.

Our first order theology comes from the Christian environment that surrounds us. This environment, usually our church and this immediate community, usually drives what we believe about our faith. Since every church believes itself to be living by Christian principles, the initial framework of how we think about faith is organized on a similar framework to that which guides our church. The practices, stated doctrine, and general atmosphere give us some idea of what it means to be a Christian. We trust that those who developed the doctrines and traditions knew what they were doing and this confidence tells us we can accept these things without too much worry.

This is as far as many believers will ever go. If our church teaches it, regardless of the initial reasons, it’s good enough for us. Embedded theology works well for a while but some cracks in the firmness of the foundation begin to show when it is challenged. The first challenge often arrives in the form of a comparison between our church and our neighbor’s church. We may worship within a tradition that has a dry tradition toward alcohol and so we live as teetotalers. One fine summer day our neighbor Ed invites us over for a barbecue. Ed and his family are Christians who go to a different church but we still look forward to some fine fellowship. Knocking on the door brings Ed quickly to answer it, swinging the door wide with the hand that isn’t gripping his beer. Beer! Your embedded theology sends a message to your brain: smile, but watch this guy carefully since you know that no Christians use alcohol.

The barbecue is fine and later, as you nurse your third cola, you get a chance to talk to Ed alone. “Say Ed,” you say. “I noticed you drink beer.”

“Yep, I have a couple now and then. Why?”

You don’t want to lecture (but secretly you do) so you put a big smile on your face and say “Well, my pastor speaks against alcohol at least once every couple of months. I was just wondering how often yours does.”

“I’ve only heard him talk about it once.” Ed replies and takes the last sip of his beverage. “He taught us that the Bible talks about drunkenness but doesn’t say we must not drink alcohol. Didn’t Jesus drink wine?”

So it seems that some Christians do drink alcohol. How can the Bible teach both things? We trust our embedded ideas but often find them quickly challenged.

Second order challenges are much more difficult for this type of theological thinking. Imagine the family of the child who wandered away at the beach and got too close to the surf. She was swept out of reach of her searching parents and they lost her. How will the shallow theology of our community answer this tragedy. Why did God take the child? Were the parents secret sinners who were being punished? Was the child herself punished? Embedded theology is usually to fragile to deal with something like effectively. To come to grips with a loss like this requires a depth in the answers. It requires an intentional approach to theological questions. It requires that we practice deliberative theology.

Deliberative theology begins work right where we are by setting forth to reflect upon our embedded convictions. We question the beliefs that we have taken for granted and seek to place them among the spectrum of Christian belief on a subject. The deliberative approach looks into the various positions and seeks to understand that which is most satisfactory. Sometimes this is easier said than done since seeking answers outside of our narrow understanding can lead to challenges that we would rather not face. Beloved traditions and beliefs can be toppled in an instant and many will retreat to the shallow end of the pool when this threat becomes too real.

Sadly, we discover our need for a more intentional approach to theological thinking when the deeper tragedies of life occur. Our embedded beliefs prove unsatisfactory to answer the questions we have and we embark on a quest to understand. When we are prepared to set aside simply believing what we are told to believe and to make the effort to understand why we believe what we believe, we finally grow and mature as Christians. We see God as more than just Daddy. We seek out a deeper knowledge of His revealed nature and character. The result is a more satisfying faith and a more complete worship. We are living out our calling.

image by rogilde

Day Eight in the School of Prayer : Be Persistent


Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’

Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. (Luke 11:5-8)

We have often read this parable or heard it preached with an emphasis on the persistence of the asker. The friend who responds to our knock would turn us away because the conditions are not right, yet if we are bold (persistent depending upon your translation) he will arise and provide the requested loaves. There is another emphasis in the Lord’s words that is not often heard and that is speaking to a friend on behalf of another.

Christ teaches us of the importance of intercession in this brief interchange. Our temptation is most often to pray for ourselves and our own needs or comforts. God is certainly not offended when we voice our needs but He is examining our trust of His provision if this activity becomes our sole focus. Jesus speaks here of shifting our focus from ourselves to the needs of others in prayer. We do not seek the three loaves for ourselves because we were too lazy to bake them. We seek the three loaves from a friend at midnight when he is in bed because we want to provide for a visitor who has unexpectedly appeared at our door and is in need of sustenance. We can be assured of answer to our intercessory prayer.

Perhaps the easiest word to read over is ‘friend.’ Jesus does not say we go our neighbor or a stranger to request to loaves, we go to a friend. Are you approaching God as a friend? Jesus proposed the simplest test for us to evaluate our friendship; “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14) The prayer as a friend of God is the one in which confidence can be vested.