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Archive for October, 2013

The primary reason many churches and individual Christians lack power is that not enough time and attention is given to prayer. This, for me, is both an observation and a personal testimony. There are so many things to do, and so little time to do them, that we do not take the time or give the kind of effort needed for genuine prayer to God.

If you would like to have a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God through prayer, let me share with you a tool I discovered several years ago that improved my prayer life. It involves the word ACTS – not the New Testament book of Acts, but the acronym ACTS. If you will use this tool it will transform you into a more effective vessel in serving the Lord. Here is the prayer acronym ACTS:

Adoration is worshiping God for His attributes – holy, merciful, just, loving, etc. By adoring God we honor Him for who He is, not for what He does on our behalf. Reading the Psalms is a wonderful exercise in adoration. Concentrate on God’s attributes and express genuine adoration and praise. Prayer should always begin by focusing on who God is.

Confession clears your mind and heart by confessing those attitudes and actions in your own life that have built a wall between you and God. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Confession reminds us that we should come before Him in humility, ready to hear what He has to say to us.

Thanksgiving gives us the right perspective: God has already given us everything we need. In response to His goodness, we need to listen and discover how He wants to use us today to be a channel of His mercy and grace. In other words, “Count your blessings; name them one by one; and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

Supplication gives you the opportunity to bring your requests before God’s throne. After you have adored Him, confessed your sins, and called to mind all of the things for which you have legitimate reason to be thankful, you are ready to intercede for others. Pray for your mate, your children, your neighbors, a co-worker or classmate, your pastor and church staff, your church, and missionaries who serve God in distant and difficult places around the globe.

Christ intends that prayer be the channel through which power is provided to the church so it can accomplish its divinely assigned mission. The ability of your church – any church – to bless others and glorify God rests on intercession – asking, and receiving heavenly gifts to carry to others. Prayer links the King of Kings on His throne with His church as it shares the good news of God’s love with those who need it.

Good things happen when we pray. The forces of darkness are driven back and the angelic hosts spring into action. We pray for a neighbor, and a still, small voice prompts us to meet a particular need he or she has. We pray for the members of our church staff, and God prompts us to write a note of encouragement to them. We pray for someone who is not a Christian and the Holy Spirit prompts us to visit that person and share our faith with him.

I read some years ago of the man who thought he didn’t have much time to pray, so he made a prayer list and taped it to the wall above his bed. Each night as he retired, he pointed at the list and said, “Lord, those are my sentiments.” Then he quickly turned out the light and went to sleep. It is not an effective way to pray.

Remember, God is always ready to hear every prayer. And never forget that prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue. Share your thoughts and needs with God, but also take time to listen to what He has to say to you.

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The biggest lie we tell ourselves in the area of action is, “I’ll do it later.” Putting things off is, of course, known as procrastination. The prefix “pro” means for, and “crastination” comes from the Latin word crastinus, which refers to things pertaining to tomorrow. Thus, procrastination is “putting off things until an ambiguous later.” It is always easier to put something off until tomorrow than it is to do it today, isn’t it?

“Never put off ‘till tomorrow,” Mark Twain once said, “what you can do the day after tomorrow.” Procrastinators have adopted the lifestyle expressed in Twain’s statement. The trouble with putting things off until tomorrow is that tomorrow never comes. Each new day they can be put off until the next tomorrow.

The interesting thing about “later” is that it can never be proven false, and no one can reproach you. If you are confronted, you can always say, “I said I would do it later. It is not later yet.” In this way, you can put it off indefinitely. You only run out of laters the day you breathe your last breath. Death is nature’s brutal way of saying, “No more laters left!” Following death you won’t have to listen to what people say about the things you kept putting off until the next day.

The important thing is not “who cares?” when you are dead; it is “who cares?” while you are still alive. And the answer to that question is you. If you are a procrastinator you know how many laters you have stockpiled from the past. You are aware that adding another and another and still another is like adding grains of sand to a beach. You don’t have to be told that “later” is a lie.

I have tried to live by the philosophy, “What I get done today I won’t still have to do.” Notice that I said “I have tried” to live by this philosophy. Like most people I know, I have sometimes been guilty of being a procrastinator. Still, the best policy to follow is this: if you can do now what needs to be done, do it. If it can’t be done now, decide (1) it’s not going to get done, or (2) when it will get done.

If something doesn’t get done, and you decide you will still do it, schedule a specific date and time when it will get done. Write it in your appointment book if you have one. If not, write it on your calendar. Schedule it in now. If it is not worth the amount of time it takes now to schedule it to be done at a later specific time, it is probably not going to get done at all.

Ask yourself, “Do I tend to procrastinate? Do I find it easy to put off until tomorrow the things that need to be done today?” If you answer these two questions in the affirmative, be aware that to do so drags the past into the future. The burden of yesterday’s incompletions becomes today’s and tomorrow’s burden. Refuse to carry it. When you develop the habit of doing each day what should be done – whether it needs to be done at the moment or not – it creates an inner freedom for the next moment, the next activity, the next day.

Hopefully this clever little poem by Gloria Pitzer doesn’t describe you:

“Procrastination is my sin

            It brings me naught but sorrow.

            I know that I should stop it

            In fact, I will….tomorrow.”

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The first five chapters of the book of Acts describe how the first century Christians prepared themselves through prayer and fellowship for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Following Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost there were three thousand conversions. So filled were they with power that they worked mighty miracles and proclaimed God’s Word with boldness. Privately they were fused into a loving fellowship.

It is at this point that we enter chapter 6, and how strangely it begins: “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of bread.” The early church was encountering its first big problem. As they were multiplying there arose a murmuring among them. What an unusual combination to find growth and grumbling linked together. When a church starts grumbling it usually stops growing. We tend to equate expansion with optimism, enthusiasm, and success, but here we have both multiplication and murmuring taking place at the same time.

The early church had previously set up a benevolent plan which sought to meet the needs of widows in the fellowship. The problem was not that there were insufficient resources available. It was that one group of widows felt neglected in the distribution of food. How could such a problem develop when so many things were going right? What kind of spontaneous combustion allowed the spark of controversy to create such division?

Though both groups were Jewish by birth and Christian by rebirth, one had adopted the Greek language, culture, and lifestyle, whereas the other was more Jewish in culture and lifestyle. One was more cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and progressive; the other tended to be more provincial, simplistic, and traditional. The problem was not so much a case of overt hostility as one of benign neglect.

The murmuring within the first century Christian fellowship can teach us a lot about the murmuring that takes place within churches today. Even the best and fastest growing churches are not immune to the dissention that can so easily and quickly happen. This is true because church growth, by its very nature, reaches out to include a variety of individuals and groups. Ironically, the more people are reached, the more polarization must be overcome. No church that reaches out to all people can escape the dilemma faced by the church described in Acts 6. The more a church multiplies, thus increasing its diversity, the greater is the possibility for murmuring.

Any church that does not respond to and deal with murmuring as soon as it develops is in for trouble. If conflicts are dealt with quickly and properly, not only can solutions be found, but greater growth and unity can be experienced. Solutions for conflicts can be found when a church has the right priority. The leaders described in Acts 6 had to give all their time to meet the need of widows, and the preaching of the gospel was being neglected.

Their solution: “it is not right to give up saving for serving” – so they enlarged the leadership pool. Deacons were chosen to minister to the needs of the widows, and this gave the pastors more time to study and preach God’s Word. The most encouraging thing about the problem described in Acts 6 is that God used the “murmuring” to launch a bold new mission. By effectively responding to the problem, the church became stronger than if it had never had a problem.

That same victory can be had by churches today. If we will learn to deal with the cultural diversity and the murmuring it creates, if we will refuse to sacrifice saving ministries for serving ministries (both are important), and if we will train spiritual leaders who are willing to do both outreach and inreach with equal dedication, God will multiply our ministry.

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Our lives are shaped both by the people who love us and by those who refuse to love us. Every marriage is an effort to find love. Every baby who cries and reaches out to its mother is a way of saying, “I want to be loved.” Even the bad and often inexcusable behavior of adolescent children can be a way of searching for love.

The culture in which we live promotes the idea that love is nothing more than an emotional response that you have to others – especially to those of the opposite gender. But love is not an emotion you feel – it is something you do. Works, not words, are the proof of love.

The Apostle Paul’s often quoted treatise on love found in First Corinthians 13 is unquestionably the finest ever written. After saying many things about love, he sums up its importance in these words, “Without love I am nothing.”

Nothing in literature is equal to this magnificent description of love – certainly not from what comes out of Hollywood – and not from Shakespeare, or Byron, or Shelly, or Keats or even Browning with his, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

The Apostle John stressed the importance of loving fellow Christians by asserting, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (First John 3:14).

What John is saying is that if you lack love in your life, “You remain in death. You do not yet have an established and meaningful relationship with God, no matter how many years you have been a member of a Christian church.”

Jesus said that love is the way the world recognizes us as His followers, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our love for one another is to be modeled after His love for us (John 13:34). We do not always represent our Lord very well in this respect, do we?

One of the most effective ways the members of any church can represent Christ in the world is to love their fellow Christians. Do the members of your church genuinely love each other? Can you honestly say that you love every member of your church family?

One person said to me some years ago, “Jesus said that we are to love mankind, and I do. It is just certain people I can’t stand.” Loving people in a general way is much easier than loving specific individuals, isn’t it? Loving others doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything they say or approve of everything they do.

Make no mistake about it: love can be costly. It was costly for Jesus Christ, and He said that it would be costly for those who follow Him. Loving others, however costly or difficult it may be, is the finest way any Christian can be Christ’s ambassador.

C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, says, “Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable . . . The only place outside heaven where you can be safe from all the dangers of love is hell.”

If you want to know what love is, I doubt that it could be expressed any better than that!

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Hypocrite” – what a repulsive word! It becomes even more repulsive when you have to deal with someone who is a hypocrite. This is true because a hypocrite never intends to be what he or she pretends to be. Hypocrites can be found, not just in churches, but in every area of life.

Hypocrites have been described as persons who preach by the yard, but practice by the inch. One of the reasons they are found in church on Sunday morning is that they admire righteousness. They admire it enough to imitate it. They can pray on their knees in church on Sunday, and then prey on their neighbors the following six day of the week.

Aesop in one of his fables tells of the time when the earth’s beasts and fowl were engaged in war. The bat tried to belong to both parties. When the birds were victorious, he would fly around telling that he was a bird. When the beasts won a fight, he would walk around on the ground assuring them that he was a beast. However, his hypocrisy was soon discovered and he was rejected by both the beasts and the birds. He became so unpopular that he had to hide himself while the sun is shining and can only appear openly at night.

What makes the word “hypocrite” so repulsive is that hypocrites always present themselves in the best light, even though they have a hidden agenda. The hidden agenda is generally a selfish one. In other words, what you see is not what you get.

Hypocrisy – saying one thing and meaning another – is also a well-established practice in the political arena. E.E. Smith, writing in The Wall Street Journal, quoted a U.S. Congressman as saying on the floor in the U.S. House of Representatives, “Never before have I heard such ill-informed, wimpy, back-stabbing drivel as that just uttered by my respected colleague, the distinguished gentleman from Ohio.”

Such double-talk is so common in the halls of government that it is not even noticed. Watching the members of Congress in action on C-Span makes one wonder how our country has survived almost two hundred and fifty years. When bills and amendments are being discussed before being voted on, only a half dozen or fewer legislators are present.

Hypocrisy, when practiced by parents in the home, will always have a negative influence on their children. This is true because more is caught by children from what their parents do than could ever be taught by parents through any amount of words they might use. In every area of life, actions speak louder than words. Nowhere is this truer than in the home.

Hypocrisy is particularly repulsive when practiced by the followers of Jesus Christ. Those of us who are Christians will never impact the world for Christ in a positive way by singing, “Standing on the Promises” in church on Sunday morning if all we are doing is “sitting on the premises.”

A rather pompous deacon was endeavoring to impress upon a class of boys the importance of living a Christian life. “Why do people call me a Christian?” he asked.

After a moment’s pause, one youngster said, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you.” I doubt that the deacon expected such an honest answer. I also doubt that he ever asked a class of boys that question again.

We are no better than the Pharisees, about whom Jesus said prayed on street corners to be heard by men, if our goal is to parade our piety in church in the hope it will impress others.

I have been a Christian minister for more than sixty years, and I have learned that the people who try to impress you with their spirituality don’t have any – certainly not a great deal of it, anyway. Those who are most spiritual don’t try to impress others. Their only desire is to be more like Jesus, who gave up the highest position in the universe, came to earth, and became a servant.

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