Tagged: prayer

The Power of a Cleansing Story

The next blog on our Summer Blog Tour is written by Jennifer Rundlett. Jennifer does a fantastic job of using her knowledge and experience in the world of fine arts to draw us into the story of Jesus in a way that I never could. If you appreciate this article as much as I do, please check out her blog: http://jrundlett.wordpress.com.

How do you most frequently see Jesus in your mind’s eye? When you pray, do you think of a well-worn prayer card that someone gave you as a child?  Perhaps you might think of a beautifully carved crucifix that adorns the altarpiece of your church sanctuary?

Jesus Good Shepherd 01Still others of us might think of the images evoked by a favorite hymn or quote a particular passage of inspiration that holds personal meaning. We all have personal and private ways of calling Jesus to mind and so to generalize might seem intrusive.

However, unpacking these thoughts and impressions can open our hearts to a new flowering of growth in our imitation of Christ. To live as Christian who fully love one another we must be willing to keep developing our picture of Jesus.

Since God has spoken “to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-3), picturing Jesus then is how we are meant to hear and understand the message of God’s voice in our lives. He is our life force and our connection to our powerful creator and by his presence in our lives we are fitted with his likeness so that we may become divine.

Knowing this we will pause then and cleanse our hearts by lingering over the painting of Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet by Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) and using it as a launch pad for our greater reflections.

Madox BrownMadox Brown was a British artist famous for his association with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood who by their use of vibrant colors and finely detailed realism these artists were “committed to the idea of art’s potential to change society”[i] says art historian Alison Smith “by picking themes that told stories that challenged prevailing attitudes.”

Madox Brown has composed this painting in such away that it tells the story in a new and refreshing way. If we learn to look closely it can work as a starting point to stimulate the mind into greater thought. Just as we can use a word study as the center of our bible devotion, paintings such as this can provide rich spiritual food as they lead us deeper into the scene allowing it to work as the fulcrum turning our thoughts.

A lifetime of knowing this story and yet I had not taken the time to linger with their different perspectives. As I fully considered each disciple’s reaction to Jesus’ simple yet profound action, it carried me away from the painting and allowed me to tap into various personal memories that then lead me into a deeper connection with the painting and in turn the story and ultimately — Jesus.

Devotional Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

We pause and rest now… fully breathing in the details of your last supper with your disciples. Help us to realize more deeply the profound meaning of this exchange between you and our brother Peter. Because we are separated by time and space, we struggle with our understanding of this tradition. Be with each of us, guiding our hearts so that we may hear this story, through the use of this painting. Help us to personally experience the power of your forgiveness so that it will purify our hearts.

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.”

(John 13: 12-17, NIV).

Jesus Washing Feet

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, 1876, Ford Madox Brown, oil on canvas, City of Manchester Art Galleries, Image source WikiArt

Reflections

Begin by noticing how Madox Brown paints Jesus from a unique camera angle. From this lower perspective we must mentally kneel to properly consider each disciples reaction as it is played out in a very intimate compressed space.

Viewing this then becomes mysteriously “iconic” as it simultaneously sears our mind with a vision of humility while filling our heart with admiration for a new kind of King—one who is tenderly serving us. With this act, Jesus becomes our “host” and we begin to understand the partaking of this meal as sharing in a new kind of hospitality from God. As we look on with the disciples, we can place ourselves among them… preparing ourselves for the meal…. and for God’s mind-shattering display of love with Christ’s death on the cross.

 ~~~~~~~

Rest your eyes now on how Madox Brown has portrayed Peter in this painting. Surprisingly, Peter is cast as an older man here and this causes me to think about how he must have remembered this as a sacred moment over the years. The act of Jesus washing his feet must have been a memory that kept returning like a reoccurring theme coloring the backdrop of his life. I can sympathize with his look of discomfort as it suggests he might be just humoring Jesus in letting him wash his feet. In this way, he gently reminds me of the arch of Peter’s journey and the thought of how often he was broken to begin again, touches me.

Observing the honest way Madox Brown portrays Peter’s relationship with Jesus helps me to know this brokenness is part of the process that unfolds over a lifetime. I can see pieces of myself in Peter’s reaction to Jesus here and I can hear my voice say, “ No, you will never wash my feet!” Viewing this painting helps me to realize that as much as I love and adore Jesus, I can still resist his control in my life. And I can feel a type of brotherly love for Peter as I look once again to the painting.

While I am still thinking about all this, I allow myself to consider the feelings of the entire group as they lean in and look on, some are awe struck and others are horrified and I think about Jesus question: Do you understand what I have done?

 ~~~~~~~

This time, as I look again to the painting, I see the disciple on the left who is leaning in and untying his sandal. He is eagerly anticipating the moment when Jesus will wash his feet. While the others are still unsure this one is coming forward without hesitation.

As I fully appreciate this disciple, I begin to think about being personally cleansed by Jesus. The idea of allowing myself to be renewed by his touch of grace so that his forgiveness will transform my life begins to powerfully move my heart towards Jesus.

I can see with new eyes that we must first allow him to cleanse our hearts from our misconceptions before we can humbly serve others. We can desire to serve others because we have confessed our sins and allowed Jesus to heal our wounds. Knowing and experiencing his grace causes us to feel a greater compassion and brotherhood with those around us.

I begin to feel myself in motion, no longer resisting Jesus’ call and as I am turning, I begin to hear deep down in my soul the call of the song Down to the River to Pray. The repetitive nature of the words become meditative and so they begin to fill my mind now with a vision of a slowly increasing crowd gathering at the river to be cleansed and renewed in their baptism.

~~~~~~~

 ~~~~~~~

Armed with the vision of this beautiful hymn, I return to the painting yet again. Now I can see and hear Jesus say to me “Do you understand what I have done for you?” And I stand in silence…then with tears in my eyes I shake my head and say, “No, Jesus, I really don’t understand the fullness of your love.

Feeling my brokenness, I look at all the faces in the room and consider how the road to the cross will personally challenge each of these men. One of them will betray Jesus…another will deny him and all but one will abandon him and my heart melts at the sight of Jesus, kneeling there and reverently washing Peter’s feet.

When I allowed myself to gaze deeply into the story through this painting, I realized that I have a Lord and King who has washed me, though I don’t fully understand it. He is willing to kneel at my feet and this thought opens and humbles me. …and I am refreshed to begin again.

~~~~~~~

[i] Were the Pre-Raphaelites Britain’s First Modern Artists? Alison Smith, August 23 2012, Tate Gallery Channel Blog, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/were-pre-raphaelites-britains-first-modern-artists

Jennifer Rundlett, M.M. from Peabody Conservatory/ Johns Hopkins University and Post Graduate diploma from The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester England, is the author of My Dancing Day: Reflections of the Incarnation in Art and Music. Her ministry of connecting with God thru the Arts is a new kind of reflective experience that leads you through a gallery of masterful art and music into the beauty and joy of a life in Jesus.

Jennifer currently lives in Frederick, Maryland and has been an active musician in the Mid Atlantic region for over 15 years. She has been the pre-concert lecturer for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Choral Arts Society of Frederick and has also been a speaker at the Pepperdine University Bible Lectures, Tulsa Bible Workshop, Lipscomb University’s “Summer Celebration” and Rochester College’s “Streaming.”

I Have a Complaint… Or Four.

Have you ever shared a weakness, mistake, or vulnerability with someone only to find yourself on the receiving end of criticism?  It that doesn’t hurt enough, how much worse might it be if you know the other person shares the same struggles?

  • Have you ever been mad at Adam and Eve wishing they’d resisted the temptation of the tree and the serpent?
  • Have you ever shaken your head at the Israelites refusal to enter the Promised Land?
  • Have you ever critiqued David’s behaviour in the chain of events leading up to his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite?
  • Have you ever marveled that so many people could harbour enough anger towards Jesus that they demanded his crucifixion?

As I grew up in a Christian family I had all these thoughts.Today, I find myself living out each of these circumstance more than I’d care to admit. I cave to temptation just as Adam, Eve and David did. I find my self paralyzed by fear at times I shouldn’t. I have no confidence that I would have stood up for Jesus in the face of the Jewish leaders teaching. To be honest, I find my story told much more often in the failures of Scripture than the heroes.

One of the traits I admire about Biblical history is it’s willingness to admit failures. That’s not to say that some accounts aren’t biased in favour of God’s people, but the Bible also shares tales of significant failure.

This brings us to my sermon text for this week: The Wilderness Wanderings of Israel.

How could the Israelites complain so continuously during their time in the wilderness? How could people who had walked through the watery walls of the Red Sea despair that God would provide food and water for them? How could the nation that so enthusiastically submitted to covenant with Yahweh prefer to return to Egypt rather than enter the Promised Land? How could people who saw God’s presence regularly meet with Moses at the ‘tent of meeting’ so often rebel against his leadership?

Where does this negativity come from?

All my life I’ve been trained to read these stories and criticise the complaining Hebrews.

complaints 01But then I jump on Facebook or surf various Christian blogs, and I’m overwhelmed by wave after wave of complaining about the Lord’s church.

  • I see complaints about nominal Christians.
  • I see complaints about the way some churches address the LGBT community.
  • I see complaints that worship services are too entertainment based.
  • I see complaints that worship services need more pizazz to reach millennials.
  • I see complaints because churches invest too much money in buildings.
  • I see complaints that churches aren’t evangelistic enough.
  • I see complaints that church don’t concentrate enough on discipleship.
  • I see complaint, after complaint, after complaint…

It’s not as though God’s people stopped complaining when Israel entered the Promised Land.

And just like that, I’m complaining about complaining!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got my list of things I’d like to see churches do better. I’m sure if you searched my blog you’d find plenty of instances where I’ve complained.  It comes so easily.

As I spent time over the last couple of weeks reading in Exodus and Numbers I noticed the importance of Yahweh’s reputation to the surrounding nations. Here are some passages,

God says, “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” (Ex. 14:18)

In Moses’ song:In your strength you will guide them
    to your holy dwelling.
14 The nations will hear and tremble;
    anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
15 The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
    the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;
16     terror and dread will fall on them.
” (Ex. 15:13-16)

Moses pleaded to God,Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.” (Ex. 32:12)

Moses again pleads,If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ 17 “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared.” (Num. 14:15-17)

It mattered to Moses what others thought about God.

Shouldn’t it matter to God’s people today how surrounding peoples think about God? Shouldn’t we consider how our words and actions will reflect upon God and His kingdom? Shouldn’t we care whether or not we present God and His church as attractive to those needing Him?

I fear that sometimes as Christians seek to “purify” the church we accomplish little more than smearing the name of Christ. Maybe we win a battle of a particular interpretation or custom, but in the way we conduct ourselves we lose the war.

A Closing Prayer

May we, as Children of God, present our Father to the world in way that honors and glorifies Him. May we dwell upon the riches of His grace. And may we live as people for whom this prayer from Colossians 1:9-14 is a reality.

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

“All people” Means “That Person” Too

When we allow ourselves some honest reflection most of us will admit that we struggle to like some people. Some people make us uncomfortable. Some people offend us. Some people hurt us. Some people oppose God and our faith. Does God really want me to be thankful for these people?

  • Read 1 Timothy 2:1-7  here.
  • You can listen to the related sermon here.

Here’s my key text for this discussion, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” A little later (v4) Paul reaches the climax of his thought when he writes that God “wants everyone to be saved…”.

Pray for ALL people. God wants EVERYONE to be saved.

The first meaning of verse 1 is that we should pray for the salvation of everyone. This means that our prayers for others are not limited by class, by race, by nationality, or by any other distinction we humans have a habit of creating. God loves all people equally and wants all people to receive His salvation.

Apparently Paul felt he needed to make this point because the church in Ephesus had decided to stop praying for the salvation of some groups. William Mounce (WBC, 78) cites a comment by Chrysostom in the fourth century relating to this passage. He sarcastically asks, “Was Christ then a ransom for the Heathen? Undoubtedly Christ died even for Heathen; and you cannot bear to pray for them.

In the context of 1 Timothy I find it fascinating that this instruction to pray for the salvation of all people arises out of the previous paragraph where Paul describes how he handed two men “over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.” (The NIV and ESV include the word “then” right at the start of this verse. It could also be the word “therefore”. This word connects chapters 1 and two as a continuous and related thought.) Paul encountered opponents. Paul encountered people who turned their back on God. Paul encountered people who discouraged him. In all of this his response is to pray for their salvation.

But then Paul takes it a step further. Not only are we to pray that all people may be saved. Not only are we to petition God on their behalf. We are to give thanks for them.

Did you catch that?

We’re to pray for ALL people and give thanks for ALL people. I’ll be honest. There are some people I would like to pray for like this,

God, I know you created this person. I know that you love and care for them. I know that you see the possibility of good within them. BUT, they just ………… me. They make me mad. They hurt me. They scare me. I don’t like them. I will pray for their salvation because I know you died for them and you can perform miracles, but please keep them away from me because I wish I’d never met them and I hope I never need to talk to them again.

But through Paul God challenges me to give thanks for these people.

So how can I be thankful for people who do me wrong?

Ever person and situation is different. When we struggle to love people and see God’s nature within them it will require we spend extra time talking our reservations over with God in prayer. Here’s some other thoughts that might prove helpful:

  • God is the source of all life, including that person who offends us.
  • Christ died for me when I was his enemy.
  • Each person is made in God’s image and contains that image in some way.
  • Jesus asked God to forgive those crucifying him as he hung on the cross.
  • More often than not the biggest problem is with me, not the other person. I need to examine my heart.
  • Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matt 5:44).
  • Sometimes our character is formed in fire. It’s not pleasant or easy, but it’s good for us.

I will leave with this exception. There are times when people have removed themselves so far from the influence of God in their lives and have caused so much hurt that it may not be humanly possible for us to give thanks for them. Certainly not in the short-term and maybe not ever. I think of a friend who had his wife and son shot by a church member. There’s nothing there to be thankful for. It would be macabre to insist that he thank God his family is dead or that he thank God he met the man who killed them. (You can follow God’s work in Les’ life at his blog, www.lesfergusonjr.com.)

In these extreme circumstances it is often all a person can do to present their grief, questions and accusations to God, rather than cursing Him.

Those of us blessed not to encounter these extreme circumstances need to work at praying for the salvation of all, and giving thanks for them. Yes, we should want to even give thanks for those who make our lives more difficult because they prompt us to grow our character in the image of Christ.

Why Don’t WE Pray for the Lost Enough?

So many books, seminars and DVD series exist on the topic of evangelism. Most of these resources describe mindsets, motivational pep talks, and above all else a wide variety of techniques. I want to suggest that in the midst of all these voices we often overlook the most productive evangelistic practice: PRAYER.

Last Sunday I was blessed to speak at the Center Road Church of Christ in Kokomo, Indiana. They asked me to address the topic of evangelism, so I did.

A significant part of my sermon focused on the benefits of prayer in the evangelistic process. I’ve provided a summary below.

5 Reasons to Make Prayer Central to Evangelism

  1. Prayer involves God in our circumstances. The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) begins with Jesus’ statement, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore…” Our evangelistic mission emerges from the fact that Jesus has all power! When we pray, we request the holder of all power to act on behalf of the lost in our  lives. This single function of prayer is 99.5% of the reason prayer should always be central to evangelism. The power of God that we request through prayer is real!
  2. Prayer reminds us that it’s not our expertise that’s on trial, we’re just joining God on His mission. Closely related to the previous point this reason just shifts the focus. If all power belongs to Jesus, then we need to remind ourselves that we’re just His tools. I suspect the #1 barrier to sharing our faith is that we take complete responsibility for bringing people to Christ. When we do that we subvert the work of God and the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Yes, we have to meet people, speak to people, express our faith, but we also need to give God space to work.
  3. Offering to pray for (unchurched) people is a a super non-threatening way of expressing our love for God, our love for the individual, and God’s love for that person all at the same time. It is amazing how people will open up when you ask if you can pray for them.
    One of the first time I asked a waitress if I could pray for her when I gave thanks for my meal she nearly burst into tears telling me how her cat was suffering and about the surgery it needed. Now I’m not a cat person, but I prayed for her cat (can’t remember its name) as I gave thanks for my meal. I was at a conference that week, but if that happened in Rochester, I’d have gone back to that restaurant to ask that lady how her cat was. I’ve gotta think that lady hated being separated from her cat while she was at work that day, but that God was able to give her some encouragement through my question.
  4. Offering to pray for people leads to spiritual conversations. How often do we psych ourselves out of speaking up for God because it just seems inappropriate. But when a stranger asks you to pray for something specific, they’re having a spiritual conversation with you whether they realise it or not. They’re asking you to approach God with a need on their behalf. Then as the above story demonstrates you can come back and ask how God responded to that prayer. Before you know it, you’re talking about God with a stranger and they’re viewing you as a conduit to God.
    Or you could just walk up to people and ask them if they know where they’re going to spend eternity. Try that with your waiter and see how it goes. 🙂
  5. When prayer for the lost is part of church gatherings it raises the awareness of the members. One of the few specific things that Jesus commanded his followers to pray for was workers to spread the Gospel. Do you remember this passage from Matthew 9:37-38 “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” When is the last time you heard this prayer at your church? Church leaders will often lament about church growth and evangelism, but are we praying as Jesus instructed us to pray?

Yeah, I know I cheated and there’s some overlap between those points, but I’d love for you to add to this list. Please leave a comment below.

And many thanks to Kairos Church Planting for helping me focus on prayer as the locus of evangelism.

Expanding Simplicity

I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard “Simplicity” named as a value within Churches of Christ, yet it exudes from each and every historical pore. Perhaps the value is best represented in our pioneers’ pursuit of “common sense” theology & philosophy. Consider the numerous ways the Restoration Movement has sought to distinguish itself from other churches.

  • We rejected human creeds as extra-biblical with with simple slogans such as “No creed but Jesus”, and “Bible names for Bible things”.
  • We taught against denominational structures in favour of self-autonomous congregations (not a Bible term).
  • The Restoration Movement has always emphasised the priesthood of all believers, and the ability of each individual to interpret Scripture for him/herself. This contrasts with denominations who have an ordination process for their clergy, dress them in robes, and call them by a title.
  • The leadership of local congregations rests with elders and deacons appointed according to the Biblical criteria of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3.  There is no elected board or constitution to negotiate.
  • Churches of Christ have seldom attempted to build cathedrals. Most church buildings have emphasised simplicity and rejected stained glass, paintings and ornaments as distractions and potentially idols.
  • Congregational singing has been a historical value and the introduction of specialists, either soloists or choirs, has resulted in controversy. The reason for emphasising congregational singing is to allow each member to worship from the heart. (And I’m sure in some circles a belief that if anyone omits an act of worship they’re sinning.)

All of these customs reveal an underlying value of simplicity, whether this term is ever used or not.  The Restoration Movement was all about Simple Church even before the book was written.

In my experience the church has rarely made the same application to Christians’ personal lives. Many preachers and church members have undoubtedly sacrificed a lot to spread the kingdom of God, but I don’t know that this has been widely preached as an expectation of the church.

Our Sunday morning Bible class is currently discussing Hicks and Valentine’s book Kingdom Come. In two chapters they demonstrate that James Harding and David Lipscomb (early 19o0’s) certainly encouraged personal simplicity. I believe this message has faded over the years.  Harding himself claimed to have never had possessions that totaled more than $500. In turn, Lipscomb didn’t promote simplicity as a goal in and of itself, but championed the poor while teaching that,

“Our fellowship for one another must be of this character… The man that can spend money in extending his already broad acres, while his brother and his brother’s children cry for bread — the woman that can spend money in purchasing a stylish bonnet… merely to appear fashionable, while her sister…[is] shivering with cold…are no Christians… notwithstanding they have been baptized for the remission of sins.”
David Lipscomb (Quoted in Kingdom Come, p98.)

Both Harding and Lipscomb lived this way as a result of their conviction that God calls all Christians to live as pilgrims, or resident aliens in the world trusting in the providence of God.  In The Cruciform Church (p169), C. Leonard Allen calls attention to 1 John 2:15-17.

“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.” The Message

At the end of the chapter, Allen states that “The church – God’s new social order – can serve the world most faithfully and sacrificially by being the church.” (p179) He goes on to give four examples, the fourth of which states that the church should “Sound a call to greater modesty, generosity, graciousness, and simplicity of life – and look to leaders who model such a life. As “strangers and exiles” in this world, Christians are called to travel light.” (p180, italics his)

Jesus kingdom is not of this world.  (Jn 18:36) We live in a society of gadgets. The advertising industry constantly entices us with the next hot thing: the thing that will truly make our lives simpler.  Often we buy into the deception that more stuff will create more space. It doesn’t work.  Removing stuff remains the only way to create space. When Jesus needed time with God he removed himself from his village, from his friends, from the crowds, and found the quiet space of a hillside.

I don’t want to use this post to suggest that Christians should sell everything and live under a bridge. I don’t want everyone to turn Amish. I don’t want to give the impression that God is simple, He’s not. I do want to call all Christians back to the fact that our faith and our lives orbit around God. He’s our centre. In a busy and materialistic world we need to create space to spend time with God. To listen to God. To talk with God. What have traditionally been called “spiritual disciplines” need to regain prominence in the lives of the church.  It’s not enough to have simple church buildings. We need a simple faith, and a simple relationship, that allows us to tackle the complexities of life.

Hopefully, in the next couple of days I’ll put up a couple of posts on Spiritual Disciplines.

  • Have you been part of a church that actively encourages members to practice spiritual disciplines? How did they do this?
  • How important are personal spiritual disciplines in your life?
  • Churches often promote prayer and Bible reading as standard disciplines. Are you content with the basics or is it important in your relationship with God to be creative?
  • Does your relationship with God benefit more by practicing a variety of disciplines or a variety of approaches to the basics such as prayer and Bible reading?

Matthew 28: Go Disciple Baptise Teach

  • Read Matthew 28 here.
  • You can listen to this sermon here.

The empty tomb, the defeat of death, and the hope of eternal life provides an appropriate ending to Jesus’ life story, but in many ways, it’s just the beginning.  What is the benefit of Jesus’ death, and resurrection if no one hears of it?  Matt 28:11-15 describes the efforts of the Jewish religious leaders to suppress this good news.  In contrast, Matthew’s Gospel closes with v16-20 where Jesus’ commissions his disciples to Go. Disciple. Baptise. and Teach.  Spread this Good News to every person everywhere on earth.  From this point forward, Christianity will be a proselytizing missionary religion.

At Lawson Rd we acknowledge that our version of the Great Commission currently begins with “Come”, rather than “Go”.  Of course, this is a problem.  However, I believe that it’s a vital starting point.

For the past 12 months our Sunday attendance has frequently consisted of 25-33% of people who are not members. Some of these are regular attenders, but many are newcomers to the church.  We praise God that he sees fit to bring people seeking Him through our doors.

The challenge for the congregation is to connect with these newcomers and welcome them into the piece of God’s kingdom at Lawson Rd.  The commands to Disciple, Baptise, and Teach are best fulfilled within the context of a church.  So the church must create an atmosphere conducive to this purpose.  As I discussed this with a group last night we considered the question, “How would a guest at Sunday morning worship react if you offered to pray with them?” The group’s response was mixed.

In some ways this question is unusual. People may feel that we’re being nosy, or too personal for a first-time meeting.  On the other hand, if we assume that people attend worship services for a reason then this question may provide them an opportunity to share what’s going on in their lives.  It may encourage authenticity.  I would hope that at a minimum it communicates sincere love and concern for the guest.

I am convinced that our “Go outside our comfort zone” will quickly evaporate if we already feel uncomfortable praying with someone who has come to a church seeking to worship God.  Since I’ve visited many churches and never been personally asked for a prayer need this blog is not a commentary on Lawson Rd in particular.  Why is it that when we come together as a church we feel more comfortable discussing, traffic, weather, football, kids, etc., than we do asking if we can pray for someone?  Under what circumstances would we feel comfortable offering to pray for someone?

I recently came across an article by Mark Taylor, the pulpit minister at Memorial Rd Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. In it he suggested a simple process for developing evangelistic awareness and transitioning from a “Come” to a “Go” church. “Going” doesn’t necessarily mean going very far.  Here’s four Great Commission things that everyone one of us can do:

  1. Reach Across the Pew
  2. Walk Across the Room
  3. Talk Across the Fence
  4. Pray Across our Town

Every single able-bodied member should be able to reach across the pew and introduce themselves to those they don’t know. Every single member should be able to notice someone in Bible class sitting alone and simply walk across the room and sit by them. Everyone can meet their neighbors and use conversational evangelism to mention what church they are a member of. And everyone can pray for God to bless our outreach efforts.

I think we’ll be discussing these concepts a lot more around Lawson Road in the coming months and years.

  • How would you react if you attended a new church and someone asked you, “Is there anything I can pray with you about?” (or something like that.)
  • Do you agree that established churches need to address “Come” as a precursor to “Go”?
  • How can churches better facilitate spiritual conversations outside of formal meeting times?

Colossians 4: Pray, Act, Talk

  • Read Colossians 4:2-6 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (5 December) you can listen to it here.

I’m running way behind in getting my blog updated, so I’ll make this a pretty short post.

These verses contain a pretty simply but important message for us.  This is one of the few passages that directly address how Christians should approach evangelism and interacting with the world.  Paul gives 3 clear steps.

1. PRAY  In verse 2 Paul asks the Colossian Christians to pray for his evangelistic mission.  But, perhaps surprisingly, he doesn’t ask for eloquence, or profound insight or wisdom.  Paul first asks for God to “open a door for our message“.  I wonder how often we place too much pressure on our presentation of the Gospel, and not enough time asking God to open doors.  How often do we make ourselves responsible for the salvation of family members or friends, rather than allowing God to work in their lives and soften their hearts.  It’s only after seeking God’s preparation that Paul seeks prayers for clarity in his own preaching.

2. ACT  Having brought his mission to God in prayer, Paul doesn’t immediately start thumping the pulpit or setting up Bible studies.  His next course of action is to consider how he behaves toward outsiders.  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. People will judge our actions before they listen to our words.  (This also assumes that we’re having interactions with people outside of the church.  Often this is not true, as Christians circle of friends and acquaintances gradually tightens to exclude outsiders.)  It’s not just elders who are to have a good reputation (1 Tim 3:7).  If the church is to have a good reputation in the community, the individuals must also have a good reputation.

3. TALK  Let your conversation be always full of grace… I’m often surprised how many Christians want to let their “actions do the talking”.  It’s often suggested in Bible classes I’ve attended that when people around us see our attitude and values that they’ll want to question us about our faith.  Perhaps that works sometimes.  No matter how pure our actions may be, they will never point others to Christ unless we open our mouths and explain our actions and our motivation.  While our actions often give credibility to our words, other times we need to speak first and unleash the power of God’s Word.  I suspect that some of the reticence to speak up for our faith is that we often don’t know how to verbalise our beliefs.

I’m interested to learn whether my observations match the experiences of others, so please leave a comment.

  • It’s always difficult to explain the relationship between God’s actions and ours.  We need to pray for his intervention, but still speak up ourselves.  Which side of the issue do you most often neglect, seeking God to “open doors” and then doing nothing, or taking all the responsibility for sharing the Gospel upon yourself?
  • Where do you interact with “outsiders” during any given week? (eg. work, school, etc.)  Do you find it difficult to befriend people who don’t attend church?
  • How often do you have a spiritual discussion with someone who doesn’t attend your church?  How would you seek to bring someone into relationship with Jesus?  Invite them to a worship service? Try to set up a regular Bible study?  Meet regularly for coffee?  Wait for the right moment?  Something else?

 

Colossians 1: A Shepherd’s Prayer

  • Read Colossians 1:1-14 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (10 October), you can listen to it here.

As a church leader, I find myself often bogged down in a lot of tasks and details that seem distinctly un-spiritual.  Surely I have a higher calling than comparing this year’s energy bill to last year’s bill and discussing who’s the best church member to manage the church’s thermostat.

Don’t get me wrong.  Thermostat management is an important function to church growth.  If members/guests are habitually too hot or cold their motivation to continue attending will no doubt diminish.  But is that really the responsibility of church leaders?  In a small church the answer may well be “Yes”, but it’s never our primary responsibility.

In Colossians 1:9-14 Paul provides a tremendous example of how church leaders should care for God’s flock.  I find his prayer personally inspiring.  (However, I also find that he uses a lot of run on thoughts and doesn’t take many breaths, so I outlined these verses)  He doesn’t beat around the bush.  He focuses on the Big Picture describing his vision of how the Gospel impacts people’s lives.

I love the heart behind Paul’s prayer for these young Christians.  His primary concern is that the Spirit fill them with the knowledge of God’s will.  But this is not his final goal.  The reason for the knowing God’s will is so they can 1. Live a life worthy of the Lord, and 2. Please him in every way.

As a church member I would be thrilled to know that this was the primary concern of my church leaders.  I would be enormously encouraged to know that they were regularly praying for my spiritual growth, not just in conforming my behaviour, but in my real relationship with God and knowledge of His will.  I long to live a life worthy of the Lord and to please Him in every way, but it’s an ongoing struggle.  While I assume my church leadership share these goals for me, it’s comforting to hear Paul, and my leaders, express it.

As a church leader I know that far too often I have prayed, both in leadership meetings and privately, that someone might attend worship services more regularly or for deliverance from a particular crisis a member is experiencing, rather than for the spiritual maturing of the church.  It’s much easier to be reactive, than proactive.  To be fair, most members are a lot more forthcoming about a co-worker’s mother’s kidney disease, than the total absence of their own prayer discipline, or their struggle with anger.  This lack of transparency within most churches increases the challenges elders and other leaders face as we care for the souls in our care.

I expect that church leaders who regularly pray for “the Spirit to fill their church members with the knowledge of God’s will” would also discuss different issues in their meetings.  They would be more likely to consider ways God could use them to increase the church’s knowledge of God.  They would discuss the growth of members, not just the struggles.  They would spend more time discussing how they could encourage members to “live lives worthy of the Lord“.  Thermostats might never be mentioned.

Have you known church leaders that you regard as particularly “spiritual”?

  • How did they express their spirituality?
  • How did they communicate their concern for your soul?
  • How did this person impact your faith?

Read Colossians 1:9-14 again.

  • Can you imagine Paul chairing a church business meeting or elders’ meeting?
  • How do you think Paul’s meeting would run?

NOTE:  I have been a member/minister at 7 churches since my baptism.  This post reflects my collective church experience in addition to other resources I have encountered.    I believe the vast majority of churches struggle to integrate the Spiritual and Physical needs of the congregation and to be more Proactive than Reactive.  As do most individuals.  I think that’s why I find the clarity and focus of Paul’s prayer so striking.

Neither do I recall having any particular conversations about thermostats, but used that simply as an example of the type of issues that can demand attention at times.

Nehmiah 8-10: Prayer

I’m back from my holiday after have a great time with family.  It might take me a little while to catch up with the blog, but I’m starting again and hope you find it helpful.

  • Read Nehemiah 9 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (15 August), you can listen to it here.

Chapters 8-10 of Nehemiah contain two significant prayers.  The first in chapter 9 confesses Israel’s past sins.  The people understand why God sent them into Babylonian captivity, but having acknowledged that, they then ask for God’s help in the present.  The second prayer in chapter 10 comes in the form of a written commitment to God by the leaders of the nation.  They sign their names to an agreement promising to observe God’s Law.

The observation I want to highlight here is to notice how Nehemiah addresses God.  He first addresses God in a prayer in 1:5  with the following descriptions:

  • LORD;
  • God of Heaven;
  • Great;
  • Awesome God;
  • Who keeps his covenant of love… [faithful, loving]

In 9:5-6 the people also address God with descriptions:

  • Glorious name;
  • Only LORD;
  • Creator of the heavens, earth, and seas;
  • Giver of life;
  • The prayer continues by recounting God’s mighty acts on Israels behalf.

Then in 9:32 they again address God directly:

  • Our God;
  • Great God;
  • Mighty;
  • Awesome;
  • Who keeps his covenant of love… [faithful, loving]

The pledge in chapter 10 doesn’t address God directly.

When I consider these prayers and their relationship with God, I’m embarrassed to think how often I absent mindedly begin my prayers by saying, “Dear God” or some similarly mindless greeting.  I recognise that the greetings in 1:5 and 9:32 are pretty similar, so maybe they were just rote in their day, but even if they were I’d rather have their rote than mine.

These prayers address God by calling upon the attributes of God that remind the people who they’re praying to.  They’re not writing a letter to person named God.  They’re talking to the Great, Mighty, Awesome, Faithful, Loving, Creator, and Sustainer of Life!  I believe that our prayers lives would be richer and our relationship with God stronger if we stopped to consider who we’re praying to before each prayer.  What if we addressed God in a way that’s pertinent to our needs at the time?

So when a loved one has cancer, we might pray to God as the Great, Powerful, Creator, and Healer. When we’re seeking direction with career choices we might address God as the Omniscient, Source of Wisdom, and Counselor. When we face financial difficulties we might call upon God as the the Owner of the Universe, and a Compassionate and Generous God. You get my drift.

Francis Chan makes a similar point in the first chapter of Crazy Love when he challenges his readers to “stop praying at God” and consider who we pray to.

  • How do you address God when you pray?  Do you have favorite greetings?
  • Do you think about how you greet God?
  • Do you believe it really makes a difference to anything?

The Church OF Christ: Part 2

  • Read Hebrews 4:14-16 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (16 May), you can listen to it here.
  • Follow the rest of the discussion here.

In this series of posts I intend to examine the implications of claiming the title “Church of Christ” for our fellowship.  I don’t recall having ever heard a church emphasise the significance of the name other than making the point that it’s take directly from Rom. 16:16.  So this discussion is not an explanation of it’s current significance, but rather an exploration of how this name could shape our identity if we take it seriously.

The points I choose to highlight appear in no particular sequence.  The earlier ones should not take priority over the latter ones, although you might choose to prioritise them for your own benefit.  They are simply some of the implications I see of acknowledging that we belong to a church that belongs to Christ.

The Church of Christ should also be The Church of Prayer.

When we acknowledge that The Church of Christ really means The Church Belonging to Christ, we should adopt an attitude of humility.  We acknowledge that submitting to Jesus for forgiveness and reconciliation started a process that continues today.  We never reach a point where we attain a status of sufficient righteousness and godliness that we can stop submitting to Christ.

Since the church belongs to Christ, we need to seek his will for the church.  In general, we do this through the study of Scripture.  In specific circumstances, we do this through prayer.  The very act of prayer assumes a posture of submission.  In prayer, we acknowledge our lack of answers and our dependence upon God for those answers.

Prayer declares that we serve a risen and living Saviour with a vested interest in the well-being of his church.  Hebrews 4:14-16 (cf. Rom. 8:34) describes Christ as actively representing us before the throne of God.  Verse 16 states that by turning to God through Christ “we receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” How tragic if The Church Belonging to Christ passes up opportunities to appeal to Christ: opportunities to receive his mercy, grace, and help.

In practice, I often find myself trusting my own wisdom and experience rather than submitting to Jesus.  When someone shares a concern with me, I listen to them, consider the issues and the Scriptures, and then share my advice, and if I remember, finally take time to pray together.

I believe that The Church Belonging to Christ should make prayer such a central part of its identity that it becomes our first and automatic response to difficulties we encounter.  Rather than problem solving and then praying, The Church Belonging to Christ should develop a culture that bathes a dilemma in prayer and only then begin problem solving in the quest of God’s will for the situation.

A Church of Christ, that doesn’t make prayer a central part of its identity quickly becomes The Church of US.

  • Can you think of any church/denomination that has a reputation as a “church of prayer”?
  • Does your church already emphasise prayer?  How does it do this?
  • Do you agree that the urge to problem-solve rather than pray is widespread and natural?  Do you have tips to help overcome this urge?