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A Great Secret of Prayer…

Here is John Calvin from his Institutes of the Christian Religion expressing a great truth about prayer:

“If we would pray fruitfully, we ought therefore to grasp with both hands this assurance of obtaining what we ask, which the Lord enjoins with his own voice, and all the saints teach by their example. For only that prayer is acceptable to God which is born, if I may so express it, out of such presumption of faith, and is grounded in unshaken assurance of hope. He could have been content with the simple mention of faith, yet he not only added confidence but also fortified it with freedom or boldness, that by this mark he might distinguish from us the unbelievers, who indeed indiscriminately mingle with us in our prayers to God, but by chance. The whole church prays in this way in the psalm: “Let thy mercy be upon us, even as we have hoped in thee” (Psalm. 33:22, Comm.). Elsewhere the prophet lays down the same condition: “In the day when I call, this I know, that God is with me” (Psalm. 56:9 Comm.). Likewise: “In the morning I will make ready for thee, and watch.” (Psalm. 5:3 Comm.). From these words we conclude that prayers are vainly cast upon the air unless hope be added, from which we quietly watch for God as from a watchtower.”

What is He saying? Don’t pray unless you “add hope” that God will answer! Grasp with both hands the truth that God answers prayer, and never let go of that truth. Prayers should always be sent to heaven with an “assurance of obtaining”. Look in particular at the verses Calvin quotes. He is saying that our heavenly Father wants us to be confident in praying; He wants to know that His mercy will be upon us (answers will come) according to how we have hoped in Him.

So pray an “acceptable” prayer today…the kind of prayer which believes a prayer-answering God is hearing you.

 

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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When Jerry Bought the Farm

Christmas break has brought beloved son and guest blogger, Josh Knowlton, home from Wheaton College. Today he weaves a tale for us…

It was the year 2050 and the end of the world was imminent. The advanced alien race—called the Barbylons by the humans—had taken over the entire world. Burning down entire civilizations and harvesting earth’s precious resources, they were a brutal force, and left nothing but destruction in their wake.

Only a small town in Wisconsin was left—its numerous prisons providing some shelter and protection for the town’s population. But the Barbylons were encroaching, and it looked as if this small town would soon fall into their dreadful hands.

Most people in the town were concerned about protecting their families. Making sure they had enough food and water to last through the worst of the alien occupation. The world—as they knew it—would soon be gone forever.

Or would it? One old man thought differently than the rest. He had faith—or what his neighbors called a “naïve hope”—that God would restore humans as rulers of earth once again. His name was Jerry.

How did everyone hear of Jerry’s hope? It’s simple. One day, in the midst of a fierce, bloody battle against the Barbylons, Jerry gathered all his resources—his cash, his precious jewelry, and his 401k—and marched to this outskirts of town to his cousin’s farm.

Cousin Hank opened the door. He was there with several others from the town.

“I’d like to buy the farm”, said Jerry, “All of it.”

At first they stood there in disbelief. Then suddenly, as if on cue, they all broke out in laughter—a kind of haunting doomsday hilarity. They thought it was a joke. Only a fool would buy a field days before the aliens came and seized everything.

“I’m serious,” Jerry insisted. “I’ll take the field.”

This time, Hank knew by the look in his eyes that he wasn’t kidding. If this was truly the case, no one could reasonably pass up such an amazing deal! So they signed the papers. Jerry got the deed to the farm, and Hank got all of the money.

When the town heard about the whole ordeal, they jeered at him. “Fool!” “Madman!” “Lunatic!” they would shout as he walked past. Hardly was there anything more senseless to do than to buy a farm in the midst of an alien invasion. “The Barbylons will soon take it,” they yelled, “and then you’ll really have nothing left!”

But Jerry was not a fool. He was not a madman. He did not have a naïve hope—he had a real faith. By purchasing a farm in these hopeless times, he was making a point.

“You see,” Jerry told them, “We will lose this war now. The Barbylons will take my farm—they will even take some of your houses and your family members. We will be obliterated! But that’s not the end of the story. God has told me that, one day, he will restore humans again to rule this earth. He will restore our houses, our farms, and our families. And one day, this field I bought will be restored—to me, the proper owner now. Wait on him and trust in him!”

But Jerry’s words fell on deaf ears. No one believed him. Not one person.

——————

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for” says the author of Hebrews. Buying a field in the midst of an alien invasion is the assurance of some pretty crazy hope.

Just like Jerry and the townspeople, you can have your faith in one of two places—this kingdom, or the kingdom yet to come. You’ll look like an idiot if you choose the second one. Yet that is what God asks of us.

So… where’s your faith?

——————

(This story really happened! Kinda. Read Jeremiah 32 to find out the real story…)

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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The Prayer of Faith

And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. Matthew 21:21 (ESV)

There are a few places in the Bible where God promises great things will happen if we will only have “mountain moving faith,” or if we “believe that we have received it” (Mark 11:24). It’s important that we get our understanding of this right, because a wrong interpretation will cause us problems.

For instance, I read one writer who said that, “Faith takes the handcuffs off God.” Nice idea – it just doesn’t strike me as an accurate picture of the power and character of God. The true God wears no handcuffs, though He may carry them around to place on the wrists of lawbreakers.

So, is answered prayer dependent on you and me working up faith to such a degree that God answers our prayers? Is it ultimately up to us?

James seems to echo this thinking…

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  James 5:14-15 (ESV)

Again, here we read about a particular kind of prayer – a prayer of faith. What is this prayer, and how do we get it?

Martyn Lloyd Jones speaks to it…

People have often taken those texts and have tried to work themselves up into a kind of certainty – “When you pray, believe you have received it” – and have tried to persuade themselves that this is true. But then the prayer is not answered or at any rate not answered in the way that they asked or expected, and they are cast down and begin to doubt God and his promises. But all that is due to a misunderstanding of the meaning of this “prayer of faith.” It seems to me that the only adequate explanation of these passages is that they are a typical example and illustration of praying in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit is a prayer that is given to us by the Holy Spirit himself, created within us by Him, and as he does this he gives us an absolute certainly with respect to it.

Martyn Lloyd Jones, Living Water, Studies in John 4

That rings true, doesn’t it? When we read these texts, “Believe that you have received it…” we falsely tend to think that we need to scrunch up our faces and get on our knees and convince ourselves that we believe by saying over and over again, “I believe, I believe, I believe…” But that can’t be right.

Instead this kind of faith is a gift, and we are right to ask for the gift, and not feel like we have to manufacture it ourselves. But there is a balance to this, as Lloyd Jones also points out – we should not “just sit down until we are moved…That is to misunderstand the work of the Spirit because we are commanded to pray.” Amen. And in our praying itself, we show whether or not we have faith to begin with.

So there is a special gift of God for certain prayers, and there is just simple obedience, exercising the faith we do have, and asking God to do what only He can do.

For Tuesday, November 10th: 1 Peter 1

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Do You Have a Little Faith…or a Lot?

As Christians, we know that we are called to have faith, certainly a faith that saves. (Ephesians 2:8, 9) But Scripture also seems to speak of a type of faith beyond that, the faith we are called to “exercise” daily, a faith that “moves mountains.” (Matthew 17:20) In this area, some Christians apparently have more faith than others. More than once Jesus described the disciples as having “little faith.”

So…how do you know if you are exercising this kind of faith? And more importantly, exactly how much faith do you have? A little…or a lot? Is there a way that you can tell?

To answer this I’ve been drawn to the story that Jesus tells at the beginning of Luke chapter 18. It’s a parable about prayer, and we know this, because Jesus tells us at the outset…

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1 (ESV)

And thus begins the story of the widow and the judge. She needs help against her enemies, and her only hope is this judge who could care less about God, or her or anyone else for that matter. So of course, the judge doesn’t help her, at first. And then, because of her persistence, he gives in “so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” (Luke 18:5 ESV)

Jesus then makes the point…

And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

So far so good. We understand that Jesus is not saying that God is like the judge. In fact, He is the opposite. So if the judge answers the widow, how much more will God come to the aid of His people.

But what we find almost out of place is the note that comes at the end of the story:

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8 (ESV)

Wait, we wonder, when did this become a parable about faith? We were led to believe at the outset that it was all about prayer. Ah, and there’s the answer to our first question about exercising faith. It is a parable about prayer, but that makes it a parable about faith also…because the way to know if you are exercising faith is by looking at your prayer life.

This is why Jesus can ask this question at the end, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith?” Or, to put it another way, “Will He find people…praying?” Because if people are praying persistently to a good and loving God…it will be the foremost sign that they have faith.

Faith and prayer are inseparable in the Scriptures. So the Psalmist said…

And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10 (ESV)

Do you see it? The ones who trust God…are the ones who seek Him.

The writer of Hebrews pulls it altogether for us:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)

This is the way to measure your faith – look and see how much you seek God, in other words, how much you pray. And therefore, do you want to be a person of great faith?

Then be a person of great prayer.

 

For Monday, July 27th: Luke 19

 

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Why Do I Need to Repent if Salvation is by Grace Through Faith?

For years I was confused about the call to repentance in the Bible. I knew that salvation was by grace through faith, and yet I wondered about the emphasis on repentance which I saw in the New Testament. This emphasis is certainly all over the place, and so it’s clear that to become a Christian, a person must repent and believe in Christ, but repentance seemed like a “work” and therefore a contradiction of the idea of grace by faith alone. Here’s what I came to understand:

I got it confused because I misunderstood the word repentance in the first place. Repentance is not changing the way we act. In fact, it is not an action at all, but instead is turning away from sin in your mind.  Now, don’t be mistaken, turning from sin in word and deed is what always happens when there is repentance, but repentance is not doing anything; instead it is changing your mind about sin.

When a preacher says, “Repent!”, what he is saying is, “Change your mind.”  The word for repentance is metanoeo.  Meta – means with.  Noeo – means, the mind, or thinking.

Literally, with the mind.

Therefore, repentance means…change the way you are thinking about sin. This makes perfect sense – if a person is going to call on the name of Jesus for salvation from their sin, wouldn’t they first have to think differently about sin? Of course.

It’s only when a drowning man realizes the water is killing him that he calls for help. To him, water is a big negative, and that’s an understatement. And it’s the same way with sin. 

Therefore, in order to call on Jesus for help, I have to realize that sin is a mega-negative. It has caused me pain and loss.It has severed relationships and broken me time and again.  Therefore I need a Savior, and to repent is to realize the harmful, negative nature of sin. The call to faith is also the call to see sin for what it is.

This idea gets clarified in Luke 3:8 when John the Baptist takes repentance to the next step and says,

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. Luke 3:8a (ESV)

In this, John is saying to do something, but this is distinct from the call to salvation. If you have really repented, he is saying, then you will change.  Your deeds will be evidence that you have repented, but hear this – deeds are not necessary for salvation – they are only evidence that salvation has come, as in the case of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10 ESV). If a Christian has really decided that a particular action is sinful, then by the power of the Holy Spirit Who reminds us of our sonship, that person will work to stop doing that particular action. But it will not be perfect work. There will be fits and starts. He will stumble and fight…all his life, but he will fight.  Because of what Christ has done for him, he will fight against sin and slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, bear fruit.

But we do not call people to salvation by saying, “You must do something and believe.”

Instead…we call them to repent.

For Monday, July 6th: Luke 4

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A Declaration of Dependence

Jesus not only loves the little children, He also demands that all of His followers be just like them…

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10:13 – 16 (ESV)

So if we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom, what does it mean to become like a little child?

Of course, little children will generally believe whatever you tell them, so many people think that to become like a little child is to simply trust. And I’m sure there is an element of that in Jesus’s word. After all, trusting is key to eternal life. But I think there is another trait of children which is even more in view.

It is the trait of dependence. Little children are nothing if not dependent.

They…need.

They need someone to feed them, and they need someone to clothe them. Someone else provides their shelter. They speak because someone teaches them to speak. They need someone to teach them right from wrong. They are desperately, totally, needy.

And so are we. We are all needy, but only some of us recognize it. And that’s what Jesus is looking for – followers who recognize their dependence on Him. In fact, I think we can say that recognizing our dependence is the great trait of godliness. Consider that dependence is not only the way to become a Christian, but also the way to live the Christian life.

You become a Christian by renouncing independence, that is, renouncing dependence on your own works, and declaring that you need Jesus’s works. And you continue in the Christian life by daily declaring in prayer that you need Him. In fact, prayer is the great act of dependence.  Therefore, the Christian who spends very little time in prayer is not being child-like.  And the Christian who spends much time in prayer is honoring God who loves to be depended on.

The facts are this – we are all like little children, that is dependent. But some people act like they’re all grown up. This is a foolish plan. So today…if you are under the impression that you are “good enough” to one day be granted access into heaven, recognize that your righteous deeds are like a filthy garment (Isaiah 64:6), and act like a little child by declaring your dependence on Christ’s work at the cross for your salvation. And if you have become a Christian, then today…and all days…crawl up on your Heavenly Daddy’s lap and show Him that you need Him…by setting aside time to seek Him in prayer.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Great Key to Changing

During my seminary years, I had a friend named Mike who was a full-time firefighter and a fairly new Christian. Mike and I went to a weekly men’s prayer group on Friday mornings, and I remember one Friday morning Mike was lamenting how he would go on this two week canoe trip to Canada with a bunch of his friends. He loved to go, but he explained it had gotten harder in recent years.

You see, on the trip, he was around people who didn’t care about Christ and their language revealed it: they would swear and worse, take God’s name in vain. He wanted to know if he should challenge his lost friends to stop taking God’s name in vain.

On one level I thought it would be good, because the Bible says “God will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” So there’s a sense where you want to warn people.

But in the end I recommended he keep his mouth shut about the swearing and just tell his friends the gospel. Once they became Christians, the swearing, maybe not immediately, some Christians still struggle in this area, but eventually, the swearing would take of itself.

Or take the area of abortion. As a non-Christian high-schooler, I remember thinking that abortion was no big deal. I don’t remember arguing about it with anyone, but I might have. After all, it was a woman’s right; it’s her body, blah, blah, blah.

Then I came to Christ, and I just knew. I just knew. I don’t remember reading anything on the topic (other than the Bible), or hearing anyone speak on it, though this might have happened. But I think I just knew internally that abortion…was pure and simple murder. Evil.

Now Paul the Apostle understood the concept I’m illustrating with these two examples, and there is a phrase that expresses it in Romans that starts the letter and ends the letter.

I’m talking about the phrase, “obedience of faith.”

We see it in Romans 16:26…and Romans 1:5:

…through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, Romans 1:5 (ESV)

The NIV is helpful to understand what Paul means here:

Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. Romans 1:5 (NIV)

Something happens when people place their faith in Jesus as Savior – they start to obey. Oh, they’re not perfect – none of us ever will be this side of heaven – but when we believe in Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit and everything changes.

Obedience comes from faith.

The Old Testament Prophet Ezekiel expressed it this way:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV)

Here is one of the great keys, parents, to getting your kids to obey you: preach the gospel to them. Here is the key to helping your friends change: preach the gospel to them.  Here is one of the great keys to overcoming sin in your own life: preach the gospel to yourself.

It is like Paul once wrote to Titus:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

Do you see it? Better than the pointing finger, better than the law, better than any other method you might use – try the “method” of the Apostle Paul – the grace of God, which trains us to say no to ungodliness.

For obedience comes from faith.

Monday, March 23rd: Romans 2

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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