Tag Archives: God

Satan Is As Real As Evil

A recent news story reported that an after-school Satan club now meets at a high school in Pennsylvania. This is not the first after-school Satan club. Others have already been established at public schools in our nation.

No surprise that one of their core issues is abortion. The Satanists teach kids that they are empowered to end the lives of unborn children. They compare abortion in Satanism to baptism or the Lord’s Supper in Christianity, a solemn ritual – outrageous!

They teach kids a song that includes lyrics saying that Satan is your friend, he wants you to have fun, and there is no hell. The song ends by saying that Satan doesn’t really exist. Sounds confusing and evil.

The Bible warns us that believers have three enemies: the ‘flesh,’ the world, and the devil (Satan). The ‘flesh’ is not a reference to our physical bodies. It is Bible terminology for the corrupt sinful desires that tempt us to disobey God and rebel against him. The ‘flesh’ threatens our peace and blessings from God.

The devil appeals to our ‘flesh,’ our sinful nature, stirring up the desire to disobey God. As followers of Jesus, however, we have crucified the ‘flesh’ with Christ. We are no longer in bondage to the sinful nature. We can choose to follow Christ instead of our sinful desires. We have God’s Spirit in our hearts empowering us to grow in our victory over sin.

The second enemy of believers is the world. In this case, “the world” is not creation, but the cultures, institutions, ideas, and attitudes of sinful humanity. This broken world is like a tide that always goes out to the sea of confusion and destruction. The devil exerts great influence on the world, using it to pull people away from God through skepticism and unbelief.

We face the temptation to be like the lost world around us instead of distinguishing ourselves as followers of Jesus, as a people with an eternal perspective. Jesus warns that the road to destruction is broad and many find it, but the path to life is narrow and difficult and only a few travel its way.

The third enemy of believers is the devil himself: Satan.

In Genesis 3, Satan makes his debut into the biblical account. He appears in the Garden of Eden and tempts Adam and Eve to disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit. Sadly, they were easy to persuade. And, sadly, people are still easily led astray by Satan and his lies.

Evil is real. It is not a human or cultural idea that we can redefine. Good and evil are defined by God. The standards for right and wrong are established and uncompromising.

Evil is powerful. We are helpless to stop it without God’s intervention. By any reasonable standard, humanity is not making progress at defeating evil. War, hatred, violence, deception, immorality, they still grow like weeds everywhere. No continent, country, community or culture is free of evil.

Evil is personal. Satan is a living personal being. He is a fallen angel who led a third of God’s angels astray and into rebellion against God. Now he wants to deceive us and lead us into tragic rebellion against God.

We cannot destroy the devil, but we can resist him and his temptations. James tells us that the first step in resisting the devil is submitting to God (James 4:7). With God’s power, we are able to stand against our enemy. Ephesians 6 urges us to put on the full armor of God so that we will stand and not be destroyed (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Once fitted with the full armor of God, we pray in the Spirit at all times with all kinds of prayers and requests. Our power to overcome is in our Lord. Let’s submit to God, resist the devil, stand against evil, and walk in victory!

May God’s Holy Spirit always inspire us and enable us,

Brother Richard

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Don’t Go Halfway To Church

Jesus promised to build his church. He assured his disciples that the gates of Hades will never prevail over his church. This wonderful promise is recorded in Matthew 16. It is the first appearance of the word “church” in the Bible.

The underlying term used for church in the ancient Bible language is ekklesia. Bible teachers sometimes point out that ekklesia consists of two parts. The first part is ek, which means from or out of. The klesia part of the word is closely related to klysis,the ancient word for call or calling.

When we put the two parts of ekklesia together, we get something like “called out.” Some Bible teachers conclude from this combination that church means the called out ones, or those who are called out. In other words, “church” means those who are called out from this world of unbelief, called out from those who are in rebellion against God.

Come out of the world and be different! Be holy! That’s certainly an important part of God’s call to his people, his church. Believers are called to come out and be distinct from the unbelieving world. However, the word ekklesia means more.

First of all, we should note that combinations of words don’t always determine or even hint at the resulting meaning. For instance, butterfly does not mean that dairy products sail through the air on wings. The combination of butter and fly creates a completely new meaning: a delicate little critter with beautiful markings.

The word ekklesia is not bound by the meaning of its parts. The combination creates a fresh emphasis. Ekklesia is not focused entirely on what Christians leave behind, called out of the world. Instead, it points to what we are called to. The word emphasizes the fact that followers of Jesus are a people who gather together in an assembly.

We are the “assembly” of believers, so we assemble. We gather. Another English word that expresses the meaning of ekklesia well is “congregation.” As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we congregate with one another.

If we limit the word ekklesia to a negative connotation, being called out from, then we could stay at home alone and convince ourselves that we are being the church. After all, we have left the world behind, right? But leaving the world and being alone is not the meaning of church.

Staying at home to worship alone is halfway church. Retreating alone to a favorite place in nature for private worship is only going halfway to church. It is retreating from the unbelieving world, but it is not gathering with believers.

When we follow Jesus, we gather with brothers and sisters in the Lord. We congregate with Christ’s people, his church. We assemble for Christian fellowship and God meets with us in a special way.

When we assemble for Christian fellowship and worship, we send a message to the world: God is alive and well and working in us and among us! Our meetings are meant to be a positive witness to the world. Our meetings are meant to show the world the love of Christ.

Every enemy we have tries to keep us from church. The world works to lure us away by planning its best activities during church time. The devil whispers in our ear about what a failed and pathetic group God’s people is. Our own flesh, the sinful nature, urges us to pursue personal fun instead of public faith.

When we listen to God’s Spirit and follow his ways, we fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We worship and serve God together. We are a light in a dark world. We fulfill our eternal calling.

Going halfway to church is not far enough. Let’s be faithful in our generation. Let’s go all the way to church!

Brother Richard

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Does God Love An Un-Cheerful Giver?

The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). That is, God loves it when we give our tithes and offerings with a glad heart.

To tithe means to give a tenth of our increase (our income) to God by supporting his work (the local church). Offerings are the contributions we make in addition to our tithe.

What if our heart is not cheerful? Should we give when we can’t be happy about it? If we think of giving as a duty, should we stop giving?

The great missionary Paul spent a couple of years gathering an offering from various churches in Gentile cities. The money was meant to provide relief for poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who were struggling to survive.

When the time approached for him to deliver the offering, Paul wrote to believers in Rome and shared his plans with them. He asked them to pray that things would go well in Jerusalem.

Paul saw the threat of a division in the church between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. He hoped a generous offering from Gentile churches to Jewish believers would not only provide for their needs, but also create goodwill and promote unity between the two groups.

As he wrote about the offering, the apostle noted that the Gentile churches were pleased to contribute to this project. Then he wrote that they were obligated to give material assistance because the Gentile believers had enjoyed spiritual blessings from the Jewish Christians (see Romans 15:26-27).

His remarks seem to be contradictory. Did the Gentiles give financially to the work of the church because they were pleased to do so or because they were obligated to do so? Did they give as an expression of delight or from a sense of duty?

Giving to God’s work is a joyful responsibility. Joy and responsibility, delight and duty, they can stand together. They need not cancel each other out. A duty can be an act of discipline and an act of discipline can bring deep satisfaction.

Think about parents and their kids. We believe parents have a responsibility to provide loving care to their sons and daughters. Those of us who are parents and grandparents agree. We accept the notion that we have an obligation to our children. We are responsible.

But we also have a desire to care for our children. It pleases us. Knowing that it is a responsibility does not rob us of our desire to do so, nor does it erase our joy in caring for them. In fact, knowing that we are fulfilling our God-given responsibility only adds to our pleasure.

Giving to God’s work is a duty, but it can also be a delight, a joy. Duty and desire combine without diminishing one another.

The apostle also believed that the offering he gathered would have a spiritual benefit not only on the individual givers, but also on the larger community of Christians. He wanted the gift from Gentiles to Jews to inspire unity among believers, to remind them that they were part of an eternal family with a shared mission.

The spiritual discipline of giving binds us together in our common Christian faith. We can accomplish more when we combine our efforts. And, we share the joy of a job well done when our Lord uses our gifts to advance his kingdom.

May the Lord inspire us to honor him with our giving,

Brother Richard

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Oops! Another Reminder Of Life’s Frailty

On Saturday morning, June 11, I decided to trim a holly in front of our house. It had gotten too tall. I wanted to shorten it significantly so it would be easier to trim in the future.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I engaged in an ill-conceived strategy to reach the top of the holly that included non-sanctioned supporting equipment. (OSHA would have been appalled!) Suffice it to say that it included a bucket turned upside-down and other sundry items.

The instant I fell, I knew that this would not be my finest hour. Every breath was a struggle. A trip to the emergency room let me know that I cracked/broke (is there a difference?) four ribs and two vertebrae. My movements over the next couple of weeks were curtailed, to say the least.

Thanks to all who went to the emergency room, brought meals, did shopping, gave rides, filled in at the church, checked on us, and most of all, prayed for God’s mercy and healing. Church family made a difficult time so much easier.

I’m sorry for taking an unnecessary and foolish risk, but I’m grateful for the grace and mercy of God, demonstrated through the love and concern of brothers and sisters in Christ. Oh, and I’m so grateful to God that he made our bodies so that they heal!

Accidents and illnesses are reminders of how fragile life is. Things can change in an instant. The world says, “Your days are numbered!” That’s certainly true, but it sounds so negative. In fact, it sounds a bit like a threat.

The Bible, on the other hand, says, “Teach us to number our days aright” (Psalm 90:12, NIV). This is no threat. It is good advice. It is wisdom from God’s word.

We know that God has blessed us with a certain number of days in this world. He urges us to be aware of how precious time is and to be fruitful in spending it. This includes healthy balances of work and rest, productivity and pleasure, family and friends, worship and service, being in the church and being in the world (but not of the world), staying home and getting out, and so forth.

Jesus told his disciples, “We must do the works of the One who sent me while it is day; night comes when nobody is able to work” (John 9:4). The word “day” in Jesus’ saying signifies the time of opportunity. “Night” symbolizes the time when opportunities are past.

Jesus said that we must do the works of the One who sent him, that is, the works of God. The Lord holds out opportunities to each of us to participate in his great kingdom work in this age. These are opportunities to number our days aright, to use our time in a fruitful manner.

Every day that we can get up and go is a gift from God. He is inviting us to be fruitful and to enjoy a harvest from the work he gives us to do. Know your calling and pursue it with wisdom and passion.

May the Lord enable us to go and do, for him and for his glory,

Brother Richard

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The Great Signpost To The Other Side Of Death

Skepticism has reduced Christianity to an empty shell for some people. One writer described the unbelieving ‘liberal’ version of Christianity in words like these: A God without wrath brings people without sin into a kingdom without judgment by a Jesus without a cross.

Just one problem: A tomb without a body means a Savior with great power and a life after death. Jesus’ resurrection is a striking reminder that the Bible promises more to our existence than what we see in this world or what we experience in this age.

The Bible assures us that everyone is appointed to die once then to face judgment (see Hebrews 9:27). Many in our skeptical world want to believe that God’s final judgment is a myth, yet people have a surprisingly strong desire for justice.

Justice requires judgment. The ultimate justice requires the ultimate judgment. And the ultimate judgment requires the ultimate Judge: God himself.

Is this world our only chance for justice? If so, we are apparently doomed to tragic disappointment. Justice now is certainly worthy of our best efforts, but it is also important enough for us to be realistic and admit that this broken world always falls short of justice for all peoples, justice in all things, and justice at all times.

Jesus’ preaching and teaching ministry placed much emphasis on the final judgment. Of the 39 or so parables of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, 18 of them focus on final judgment. About half. Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins, 5 foolish and 5 wise, is about final judgment. It points out that some will be ready, but not all.

The separation of the sheep from the goats is about the final judgment. It points out that judgment will be focused on how we acted in this life, especially with regard to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, the church.

His parable about the wedding celebration is about the final judgment. One who came in without the proper garment was cast out into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, eternal condemnation.

The parable of the talents is about final judgment. The Lord tells each of his servants, “Well done my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a little. Take charge of much!” Words that every follower of Jesus should long to hear.

God is able to make perfect judgments. He uses the perfect standard: his own personal holiness. He is not corrupted. Nobody can bribe him because everything is already his. Nobody can force him to act. He has all power. Nobody can deceive God. He knows all the truth.

The final judgment will not be an inquiry to determine the facts. There will be no depositions or investigations. The facts will be fully known. One of the challenges of justice and judgment in this world is that we don’t know all the facts, especially the secrets of the people involved. Sometimes the guilty go free. Sometimes the innocent are condemned.

On God’s judgment day, even the secrets will be revealed. In fact, all the secrets will be revealed. My secrets and yours. Once we know all the facts, even the secrets, we will know that God’s judgments are right, just, and true.

If we are concerned that God is too harsh (or too lenient), we needn’t be. We can trust him to do what is right. We can be certain now that when judgment day comes and all things are finally revealed, God’s judgments will be vindicated.

Judgment day will also reveal God’s grace and mercy. Once we know the full story of evil, we will appreciate the full value of God’s grace. What we know about God’s grace is truly great now, but it is nothing compared to what our understanding will be then. For all eternity, believers will praise God for his marvelous grace, astounded by his love, inspired to worship and enjoy him and his blessings.

The resurrection of Jesus is the great historical marker of God’s justice and mercy. According to his justice, God provided judgment for sin through faith in Christ Jesus. According to his mercy, he offers forgiveness and eternal life through trust in Jesus Christ. The choice is ours. Trust God and his ways, or trust ourselves and follow our own ways, hoping that the Bible gets it wrong.

The resurrection of Jesus is a clear signpost that more awaits us on the other side of physical death. A day of weeping and gnashing of teeth for some. A day of rejoicing and celebration for others. Choose life. Follow Jesus.

May the resurrected and exalted Jesus Christ be Lord of your life both now and forever,

Brother Richard

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Praay With All Kinds Of Praayer

The Bible urges us to pray with all kinds of prayers (Ephesians 6:18). What are the kinds of prayer we should be using? A careful search of Scripture reveals at least five general categories of prayer:

Praise God. Praise God for who he is. He is holy. He is all-powerful. He is infinite and unchanging. He is faithful and righteous. God is love!

Praise God for what he does. He creates. He is the Maker of all things. God spoke into existence the heavens and the earth. The Lord made the earth rich in beauty and resources for our benefit.

God made us. He is the giver of all life. He gives us life. We praise him for our lives and for the provisions he makes to meet our daily physical needs. We are blessed by his abundance.

God saved us. He saved us from sin and condemnation. He sent Jesus to die for our sins and raised him up to be our Lord and our Shepherd. God sent his Spirit to dwell in our hearts and to transform us into the image of Christ, empowering us to live holy lives and enjoy God’s blessings to the fullest.

Praise and worship are an inspiring part of prayer.

Repent of Sins. If we deny that we are sinners, we make God out to be a liar. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just. He will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Our goal is to experience victory over sin, but when we stumble and fall, we have an Advocate at the throne of our Father: Jesus Christ the Righteous one. He gave himself as our atoning sacrifice. He was raised up and exalted to God’s right hand in majesty. Now he always intercedes for us.

Confession and repentance are necessary for approaching God in prayer.

Ask Favors from God. Ask and it will be given to us. Seek and we will find. Knock and it will be opened to us. For everyone who asks receives. The one who seeks finds. To the one knocking it will be opened.

God is our loving Father, Abba, who knows how to give good gifts to his sons and daughters. God desires to give his greatest gift of all: himself. Will he not give the Holy Spirit to those who are asking?

We can approach God’s throne of grace and mercy with confidence, believing that he will always do what is best.

Petitions and intercessions are heard and answered by God.

Ask Questions and make complaints. We can ask God our questions. In doing so, we must remember two things. First, never forget all the answers he has already provided. We should not let a mystery overshadow the many important revelations God has given us.

Second, we must trust God to know what we need to know. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may obey him.

In addition to our questions, the Lord will also hear our complaints. Obeying God in a world filled with rebellion and disobedience can be challenging, frustrating, and sometimes depressing. God knows our hearts already. We can pour out our most intimate thoughts and emotions to him.

Questions and complaints are welcomed by God in prayer.

Yield to God. We spend much time in prayer asking God to help us with our needs, to forgive us for our sins, to answer our questions, and to listen to our complaints. We can also bring something to give him: our commitments.

We can promise God to worship him and to walk in his ways, to obey him and to serve him. The Lord makes commitments and promises to us. We can make commitments and promises to him, agreeing in prayer to honor him in our hearts and in our households, through our worship and while we work.

Covenants and commitments can be made with the Lord both publicly and privately, both by individuals and by groups.

The various categories of prayer are not like the major parts of a car. A car needs an engine, a transmission, a body and suspension, an interior with seats and all the necessary controls for operating it on the street. If any of these things are missing, the car could be dangerous, or not function at all.

The different types of prayer are more like assorted colors of paint on the artist’s palette. The colors serve the painter. One picture may be dark with gray, black, and red. Another painting is bright with vivid yellow, green, and white. Our circumstances and mood will determine which types of prayer we use on any given day. Different prayers will use different categories, serving the one who has come to speak with the Lord.

We should be comfortable with all types of prayer. When the mood is right or the circumstance appropriate, we should be capable of praising, confessing, asking, or yielding. If we learn to use all the categories of prayer, we will enjoy a deeper and more satisfying dialogue with our Maker and Savior.

Bowing on our knees or standing with hands raised, joining together with other believers or alone in our prayer closet, speaking out loud or silently in our hearts, in public or in private, in sorrow and in joy, in the morning and in the evening, in the Lord’s house and in the world, we pray without ceasing. We pray believing. We pray in the Spirit with all types of prayer!

May God inspire us to commune often with him in prayer,

Brother Richard

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Enrich Your Prayer

“Lord, teach us to pray!” The question came from one of Jesus’ disciples. Not that they knew nothing at all about prayer. But they had been listening to Jesus pray. His prayers inspired them. They wanted more from prayer.

Jesus could have told his disciples that they had no need to learn about prayer. He could have told them that their prayers were good enough. But he did not.

Jesus could have told his disciples that they were unable to improve their prayers. He could have said that his proficiency at prayer was beyond them, that it would be futile for them to aspire to praying like him. But he did not.

Jesus apparently believed that his disciples could do better at prayer. So he instructed them. He taught them a model prayer that we often refer to as The Lord’s Prayer.

Many Christians have memorized the Lord’s Prayer and they recite it individually as a personal expression of communion with God. Believers also recite the Lord’s Prayer together in public worship settings. Using a common prayer enables a congregation to join their hearts in unison as they approach God’s throne of grace and mercy.

Others are uncomfortable with the idea of reciting a prayer from memory. Using someone else’s words can feel artificial and contrived. They prefer prayer that is impromptu, prayer that expresses their thoughts and feelings in their own words.

Did Jesus expect his followers to memorize and recite his prayer? Matthew and Luke each recorded Jesus’ prayer (in Matthew 6 and Luke 11). The two versions are very similar but not identical. This indicates that Jesus expected his disciples to use the prayer as a template.

For instance, the Lord’s Prayer, which should probably be called the Model Prayer, can be divided into two main sections: (1) focus on God’s kingdom and (2) focus on our needs. This basic pattern can give some organization and direction to the content of our prayers. The basic pattern can be useful but need not confine or limit our expressions of thoughts and feelings when we talk to God.

The content of our prayers can come from at least three sources. First, we can use great prayers recorded in the Bible as templates or models without reciting them word-for-word. The patterns found in these prayers can give shape and direction to our prayers, providing frameworks for new content that is personalized to our circumstances and concerns.

Second, we can memorize and recite existing prayers. Doing so is a great way for Christians to share the experience of prayer and to learn from the prayers of other believers.

Third, we can pray without reciting existing prayers and without following any established pattern or outline. Freestyle prayer is certainly a valid approach to prayer. Many of the prayers in the Psalms are apparently impromptu (which is ironic since they are written!).

Finally, we can use hybrid prayers that combine recitation of memorized prayers, patterns modeled by prayers in the Bible, and freestyle prayer that depends on the words of the one praying. By employing all three approaches in combination, the possibilities are endless.

Jesus’ disciples were ready and willing to learn from the Lord about how to improve their prayers. As a result, they learned from the Master about how to talk to God.

We, too, can get better at praying. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we can be inspired by the prayers of our Lord which we read in the Bible.  His prayers create a desire within us to improve our ability to communicate openly and effectively with God.

Prayer is fundamental to our spiritual life. Prayer is our lifeline to the Lord. As we learn from our Savior how to get better at communing with God, we grow stronger spiritually both as individual followers of Jesus and as a church family.

Enrich your prayer.

May God inspire us and enable us to enjoy his presence to the fullest,

Brother Richard

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Christmas and Time: Numbering Our Days

Are we losing our eternal perspective?

Current events have certainly challenged our perspectives and viewpoints on many things. How can we get our bearings and find our way forward with any confidence?

In Psalm 90, Moses begins his worship by acknowledging God’s eternal nature. “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by” (Psalm 90:2, 4, NIV).

In contrast to the Lord’s eternal nature, Moses notes our brief existence in this world. “You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning—though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered” (Psalm 90:5-6).

Then, Moses appeals to the Lord: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). What does he mean by the words number our days aright?

Moses is asking the Lord for more than the ability to count the number of days which we have already lived, or to estimate the number of days that we may expect to live before passing away. His thoughts are on quality more than quantity. How will we spend the days God gives us? What will they be worth?

The New Testament also speaks about our days in this life. In Ephesians 5 we are instructed to “redeem the time,” which means to make the most of our days. How do we do that? Why should we do that?

The goal, according to Moses’ statement in Psalm 90:12, is that we may gain a heart of wisdom. The Bible tells us that wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. In other words, we cannot gain wisdom without first acknowledging and respecting our Maker and Redeemer, Almighty God.

True wisdom is more than knowing things or gaining information. True wisdom is knowing how to live according to God’s will, knowing how to live to please God. A life that pleases God is a life that bears fruit for eternity. A life that pleases God is a life that enjoys the fulness of God’s blessings.

Christmas is an opportune time to focus our attention on eternal realities. Christmas reminds us that God himself stepped into history, joining us in this world of limits and choices. In a mere thirty-three years, Jesus lived the most momentous human life in all human history.

Through his life and teaching, Jesus revealed more about God and his ways than Moses or anyone else before or since. Jesus modeled a life that made the most of his days. Jesus taught us how to make the most of our days. Jesus calls us to come and follow him, to discover and experience God’s will for our lives.

As we gather for Christmas, we can step aside from the business of daily life and refocus on the eternal matters of life. We can slow down, allowing God’s Spirit to give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to embrace an eternal perspective on the days our Lord gives us.

May God’s Holy Spirit teach us to number our days aright and gain wisdom,

Brother Richard

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Enrich Your Prayer Life: Use All 5 Categories of Prayer

Giving thanks is an important part of prayer. We should express gratitude to God for the personal blessings he has given us. More than that, we should thank God for the promises he has made to bless us in the days ahead, including his promises for us in eternity. Gratitude for future blessings is an expression of praise.

Thanksgiving is one way of praising God. In addition to praising God for what he has done, we should praise God for who he is. We should also praise God for his attributes, his character. We can praise him because he is holy, because he is powerful, and because he is love.

By his power, he made the universe. He made us. He is worthy of our praise for giving us life and for giving us an incredible world in which to live.

By his love, God has given us salvation. We should praise God for sending his Son Jesus to be an atoning sacrifice for our sin.

Our sin reminds us of another category of prayer.

Confession and repentance are vital parts of our prayers. When we confess our sin, we affirm God’s holiness and righteousness. If we refuse to confess our sin, then we are defying God by rejecting his standard of goodness, his commands.

Repentance is also necessary. Not only do we agree with God’s standard of righteousness, including our agreement that we have fallen short, but we commit ourselves to turning away from sin and turning toward God. By following God and submitting to his Spirit, we learn to live in a manner that is not only in compliance with his standards, but in a manner that is pleasing to our heavenly Father.

After acknowledging God through worship and reconciling with God through repentance, we can move on to the next category of prayer: petitions and intercessions. Petitions are requests that we make to God for ourselves. God invites us to bring our requests to him in prayer. We should be transparent with God about the desires of our heart.

Intercession is like petition. We intercede by asking God to do something for someone other than ourselves. The other person may be someone we love deeply or someone we have never met. As followers of Jesus, we even intercede for our enemies and those who persecute us.

When we approach God with our petitions and intercessions, we must remember that God is not a cosmic vending machine. We don’t just ‘pull the lever’ of prayer and get anything and everything we want. Our wise and loving Father in heaven hears our requests and responds as he should. He sometimes says yes. Other times he says no, or not now, or yes, but. . . .

The fourth category of prayer may be a surprise to some people: questions and complaints. We can ask God questions in prayer. Most of us are full of questions about spiritual realities. God’s answers may come to us as we read the Bible, listen to Bible preaching and teaching, or through other avenues, but we can learn to recognize his responses to our questions.

Saints from Bible times onward have lodged their complaints with God. He is willing to hear them. The secret to complaining in prayer is to avoid disrespect. We can bring our frustration, disappointment, and impatience to God without slandering him.

The fifth category of prayer is covenants and commitments. Covenant is a word from Scripture that speaks of agreements between two parties. God has made certain commitments to us. We should make commitments to him. Prayer is an appropriate place to do so. We commune with God in prayer not just to get things, but also to give something.

The five categories of prayer are not rules to follow, but tools to handle. Having fewer tools makes the job more difficult. The more tools we have, the more details and the more beauty we can create in our prayers. Learn to use all five categories of prayer and your prayers will be enriched!

May God always hear and answer our prayers,

Brother Richard

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Spiritual But Not Religious?

Some people say they are spiritual, but not religious. That resonates well in a culture that views the word “religion” as something negative. They always note the failures of churches but rarely notice the successes.

Others say they are spiritual, but not affiliated. That works for people who don’t want to participate in efforts requiring cooperation. They have apparently concluded that commitment and devotion to groups is too much trouble. Any kind of membership is best avoided, supposedly.

Religion and affiliation imply organization, institution, policies, and politics. These things come into play when groups of people work together toward a common goal.

It’s true, working with a group can be challenging. Sometimes group efforts generate disagreements and conflicts. Then the negative aspects of politics surface. Power struggles and ideological divisions can be maddening. The results can be frustrating, causing more harm than good.

Why can’t we avoid the risk of organizations and institutions and simply pursue our individual personal spiritual lives on our own terms, at our own speed, to enrich ourselves? What does the Bible say?

When reaching out to believers in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Just as we have many members in our one body, and all the members do not have the same function, in the same way we are many members in the one body of Christ, and all the members belong to one another. (Romans 12:4-5)

The various parts of the human body need one another to function and grow. In the same way, followers of Jesus need one another to serve God and grow spiritually.

God has distributed different spiritual gifts to each believer. These special skills are vital for the health of the group, the church. No individual believer has all the spiritual gifts that he or she needs to serve God well and to grow toward maturity in Christ. Every believer needs other believers to succeed at being spiritual.

The community aspect of Christian life is also emphasized in Ephesians 2. There, we read about something that I like to call the KOG, FOG, TOG.

KOG stands for the kingdom of God. Every believer is a citizen in God’s kingdom. Citizens need one another. Without patriotic cooperation, a nation is weak, ineffective, and vulnerable to its enemies. Working together, citizens are strong, secure, and productive.

FOG stands for the family of God. Every believer is a brother or sister in God’s family. Families may squabble at times, but they love one another and care for one another. God is our Father in heaven. His amazing love binds us together, enabling us to share our joys and sorrows.

TOG stands for the temple of God. Scripture tells us that believers are living stones in God’s temple, the place where he dwells through the presence of his Spirit. Only when they are carefully joined together do stones become a beautiful cathedral or sanctuary for meeting God and standing in his presence.

Each Christian is sealed with the presence of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in the heart. The presence of God in each believer draws Christians together into community. If someone has no desire for fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a danger sign that the Holy Spirit may be absent from that person.

These pictures of the Christian life all speak of unity in diversity. One body with different parts. One kingdom with different citizens. One family with different members. One temple with different stones.

More than unity in diversity, these depictions of the Christian church speak of mutuality. Believers have a mutual relationship with one another. The New Testament assures us that every believer is endowed by God’s Spirit with spiritual gifts. Every believer has an important contribution to make to the church, the body of Christ.

Group efforts can be challenging, but they are often extremely rewarding. If any group is worthy of our effort, it is the church.

I love Jesus. Jesus loves the church. So, I love the church.

Jesus doesn’t love the church because she earned his love or because she deserves his love. Jesus loves the church by the grace of God. We, too, should love the church by the grace of God.

May the Lord our God bind us together in Christian love,

Brother Richard Foster

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