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Archive for January, 2020

Two thousand years ago in Palestine those who were devout observed three prayer times every day – 9 a.m., 12 noon, and 3 p.m. It was believed that prayer was especially meaningful if it was offered in the Temple. Therefore, every day at these three scheduled times many people could be found in the Temple praying. Jesus was there one day and called attention to two men who were praying (Luke 18:9-14).

One of them was a Pharisee. He was not there to pray to God. His prayer sounds very much like a dialogue with himself. True prayer is always offered to God and to God alone. He wasn’t dependent upon God. Rather, he was dependent upon himself. God doesn’t listen to this kind of insincere prayers.

God does not hear a comparative prayer. The Pharisee took the wrong measurements, comparing himself with a tax collector. He was looking down on another human being rather than up to God. He grasped this scheduled prayer time as an opportunity to brag on himself by putting another man down. No person’s status with God is based on being better than others. We are to be all that God gifted us to be. In our prayers the only acceptable basis of comparison is to compare our lives with Jesus Christ.

God does not hear any prayer that is based merely on externals. The Pharisee’s prayer was based on the unstable foundation of what he had done, not what he was or needed to become. Both what he had done and what he had abstained from doing were on the surface. He had accomplished it all himself. He had not depended on God to accomplish anything. Basically, he wanted God to know what a good fellow he was.

Jesus wants us to understand that pride twists and distorts our capacity for self-scrutiny. God created our minds to be truth-gathering computers. But prayers such as that of the Pharisee will make us ignore reality and forget the things that are beneath the surface agenda of our conscious perceptions and desires. Prayers such as the one prayed by this Pharisee delude us into believing that we can be right with God because of our own accomplishments and self-imagined goodness.

The purpose of prayer is to see things as they are: ourselves as we really are and God as He has reveals Himself to be through His Word. The Pharisee could only see himself. He went away from the Temple conscious only of his self-imagined goodness. Thus, he went home as empty as he came. What a pity!

The other man to whom Jesus called attention was a tax-collector. He stood afar off, and would not even lift his eyes toward heaven. His prayer was simply this: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” His implication was not a reluctant admission that he had made a few minor mistakes. He had really screwed up his life, and he wanted God’s help. Jesus was saying, “It is heart-broken, humble prayer that God hears and blesses.”

No one who is full of pride can genuinely pray. It has been said that the gate of heaven is so low that no one can enter it unless he is on his knees. All a person needs to say is, “Just as I am, without one plea, But that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidd’st me come to thee, O lamb of God, I come, I come.”

No one who despises or looks down on other persons can pray sincerely. In prayer we do not lift ourselves above others. We remember that we are sinners, and that we stand in need of God’s mercy and grace. No matter how great our need or how heavy our burdens may be, God is only a prayer away. If we will hem in both ends of every day with prayer, they won’t be nearly as likely to unravel in the middle.

And remember this: nothing lies outside the reach of prayer except that which is outside the will of God.

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In 1869 the world’s most famous farm was in Cardiff, New York. Workmen digging a well claimed to find the fossilized body of a man over ten feet tall that weighed nearly 3,000 pounds. Owner William Newell looked happy. Who wouldn’t have been? He saw it as a quick way to become both rich and famous.

What a fantastic discovery! Two professors on Yale University’s faculty, one a paleontologist and the other a chemist, agreed that the giant was authentic. So did poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes. The news spread rapidly across America.

Other experts smelled a hoax, but that didn’t hurt ticket sales. The discovery helped Newell raise prices from five cents per visit to one dollar. P.T. Barnum, the circus showman and master of deception, offered to buy the act. Somehow Newell seemed to be expecting him. Intense negotiations followed, but Newell was overconfident. He spurned Barnum’s offer of $60,000 for a three-month lease of the fossil.

Barnum turned around and walked away. “He will be back with a better offer,” Newell boasted. The slick showman went out and hired a skilled sculptor to create a duplicate of the fossil. The following year the people interested in seeing the unusual fossil did not need to travel way out in the country to see Newell’s prize possession. They paid higher prices to see a “twin fossil” when Barnum’s circus came to their town. Having lost his best prospect, Newell sold to other investors. This group lost heavily and sought an injunction against Barnum, claiming that his fossil was not real.

They were surprised when Barnum admitted his giant wasn’t real. He told them that he had hired a stonecutter to chisel a copy of Newell’s fossil from a block of gypsum, then age the creature with sulfuric acid. There was no law against creating duplicates, and the public caught on. The original was also a hoax. An investigation revealed that Newell had a silent partner, George Hull, who had once purchased a huge block of gypsum in Indiana and employed George Hull, a Chicago stonecutter.

Pressured by mounting evidence Hull confessed. Angry investors then sued Newell. The only money anyone finally made was by P.T Barnum, probably the original target of Newell’s scam. Both Newell and Hull learned that you should never try to con a con artist. You will lose money every time.

In the wilderness temptations of Jesus, Satan tried to convince Him to take a shortcut on His earthly mission. “Avoid the pain and rejection of people,” Satan said. “Make a deal with me and you will not have to suffer the agony of a crucifixion or the darkness of death. You only need to bow down and worship me.”

If Christ had accepted Satan’s offer it would have been the ultimate hoax – and history’s biggest disappointment and greatest tragedy. But it didn’t happen that way. Read the four gospels. Jesus went willingly to the cross. It was God’s way of demonstrating how much He loves every single individual who has ever lived – or will ever live in the future. With His Son’s mission fulfilled, God raised Him from the dead. He did this so that every human being who accepts Him as Savior and Lord might have everlasting life.

Are you a Christian? The road to heaven begins at the foot of Calvary’s cross. If you want to travel that road there is only one way to do it: You must go to Calvary’s cross, confess your sins, lay them down, accept Christ as your Savior and Lord, turn to the right, and keep straight ahead.

There is no other way!

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The book of Psalms contains more prayers than any other section of God’s Word. These prayers are in the form of inspired poems that God’s people sang and recited in expressing their faith: during worship, while traveling down the road, in their daily activities at home, and in every other kind of circumstance. They contain and project full emotions – all the way from exuberant joy to frantic despair.

From a biblical point of view, prayer may be defined as a believer’s communication with God. There are three main elements in prayer: (1) God, (2) the believer, and (3) the communication. If one of these components is missing, prayer cannot occur. Take away God, the believer, or communication and prayer becomes impossible. Why is this true? Without God no one listens; without the believer no one speaks; without communication nothing is said.

The second element in our definition of prayer is the believer. Prayer always involves a human source. God Himself ultimately gives us the ability to pray, but the human instrument still serves as the creaturely source of communication. Prayer emerges from the human mind and heart. We must take care to appreciate this gracious and remarkable gift. We talk to God and He listens.

Whatever a believer’s need may be, and however strong it may be, it can be fully expressed in prayer. It is why the psalmist prayed: “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes” (Psalm 38:9-10).

The third element of prayer is the communication. Many Christians design their prayers by using the anagram ACTS – “Adoration, Confession Thanksgiving, and Supplication.” Others design many of their prayers by using the anagram JOY– “Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself third.” These models for designing the content of prayer help many Christians to pray effectively – especially new believers – to balance all they want to include in their prayers.

The prayers found in the Psalms contain all kinds of expressions and patterns. And so can the prayers of twenty-first century Christians today. A mother who has given birth to a stillborn child may find it difficult to begin her prayer with adoration. She would probably need to express her grief and pain. Whatever the need or circumstance with which a believer is dealing, it can be and should be expressed freely and openly with God. Openness and honesty is always appropriate for any believer’s prayer.

The only prayer God cannot answer is one that has not been prayed. That is why He said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Am I only a God nearby, and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him? Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:23-24).

Remember this: God is only a prayer away. This thought is captured in these words by John Newton:

Behold the throne of grace!
The promise calls me near:
There Jesus shows a smiling face,
And waits to answer prayer.

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Gerald Mann, in When the Bad Times Are Over for Good, tells the story of a hunting trip he had taken in eastern Alberta, Canada. When his group jumped into their truck to head out for the first day of their hunt they discovered that all the forward gears were broken. The guide said, “We’ll have to back up to the nearest town and get another vehicle.” The nearest town was 40 miles away.

They started down the narrow road backward at about 20 miles per hour until they came up behind a farmer pulling a trailer full of heifers. He was going about 10 miles per hour and had no rear view mirrors. This, of course, would have made the 40 miles by the hunters an exasperating experience. Finally they saw an opening to pass. The driver inched out into the oncoming lane and gunned it.

The farmer had been totally unaware that another vehicle was traveling behind him. Imagine his shock and surprise when he looked to his left and saw a truck passing him that was going backwards. It startled him so totally that he plowed into the snow bank on the side of the road. His trailer came unhitched from his truck, and the heifers he was carrying were scattered in all directions.

Fortunately, no one was hurt in the accident. The hunters helped the farmer get his heifers back into his trailer and they continued on their way – still traveling in reverse gear, of course. All of a sudden the road was a mass of red lights.

The hunters couldn’t think of a single thing they had done wrong. When they voiced that thought to the Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, the officer said, “Oh yes, you did something wrong. We have a law in Canada that prohibits drivers from going forward down the road while driving in reverse gear!”

Going forward while driving backward must not be illegal in our country in some ways – because a lot of people try to do it – in government, in various organizations – and, yes, also in churches. Some are so satisfied with where they have been that they are not interested in where they should be going. They either do not have a forward gear or else they are not willing to use it. They spend their time backing up.

Any organization – church, civic club, business, school, industry, etc. – that spends its time and energy backing up, even in the best case scenario, has arrived at the point of mediocrity – and is rapidly heading in the direction of non-existence. This is especially true of lots of churches in our country today. They are not growing because they are not reaching their community with the message of the Christian gospel. They are satisfied to remain as they are.

They are like the hunters in Alberta, Canada described by Gerald Mann. They say they would like to go forward, but they are backing up. They are so wedded to their yesterdays and satisfied with their present that they cannot see the harvest all around them that is ready and waiting to be gathered.

Jesus said to His disciples, “Do not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’; I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, and even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together” (John 4:35-36).

What Jesus, in essence, is saying is this: “No church will ever be able to go forward by backing up!” Is your church moving forward? Or is it backing up? It can’t do both simultaneously.

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Just as athletes are recognized by their team insignia or badge, Christians are recognized by a God-given badge. At the close of His earthly ministry, Jesus said to His disciples, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). It is when we lack love for others that we are most unlike Jesus.

The Apostle John may have been thinking of these words when he wrote, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of Satan are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; neither is anyone who does not love his brother” (I John 3:10).

It is important that what Christians believe be based on the truth found in God’s Word, but believing correct doctrine is not the badge of a believer – as important as believing the right things happens to be. Nor is it to have a high level of involvement in the ministry opportunities of his or her church. Every pastor thanks God for faithful workers without whom the church could not function efficiently. Even so, the fact remains that the best way to recognize believers is by their words and deeds that demonstrate love.

The early Christians took these instructions of Jesus seriously. Tertullian, one of the early Church Fathers, said that pagans commented again and again, “See how these Christians love each other!” Far too often today it can be accurately said of some churches, “See how these Christians argue, disagree, and fight with one another!”

About 125 A.D., a Greek philosopher named Aristides penned the following tribute to the Christians he knew: “They love one another. The widow’s needs are not ignored, and they rescue the orphan from those who would do him violence. He who has gives to him who has not, ungrudgingly and without boasting. If they find poverty in their midst, and they do not have spare food, they fast two or three days in order that the needy might be supplied with necessities.”

Wow! No wonder the Christians of the earliest two or three centuries made such an impact on their world. No wonder Josephus, the Jewish historian, referred to first century Christians as “those who are turning the world upside down.”

Of course, such a glowing description of Christians has not always been earned. In far too many instances today, arguments are a frequent occurrence rather than a rare exception. Arguments produce plenty of heat, but not much light. And usually the weaker the argument is the stronger are the words.

Little more than lip service is far too often given by professing Christians to the importance of loving one another. True, there are some believers in every church who are easily loved, and to be in their company is a blessing. But we all know a few Christians who, like porcupines, have many fine points – however they are the kind of points that can be painful if you get too close to them. This reminds me of an anonymous author’s poem encouraging church members to be positive rather than negative, constructive rather than destructive:

“A good thing to remember
And a better thing to do,
Is to work with the construction gang
And not with the wrecking crew.”

I read recently the story of a much divided congregation that was frequently the scene of strained relations. Different opinions were often expressed in strong and unkind ways at business meetings where committee reports are regularly given and decisions are made. Also, the church had fired the last three pastors who tried to lead the congregation in a positive direction.

When their current pastor saw that the church was unwilling to change its pattern of fighting one another and firing preachers, he knew that his days were also numbered. He wanted to get out of town before a posse formed. So, he applied for and received an appointment to serve as chaplain at the nearby state prison. Elated to be rid of another pastor they had grown to dislike, the church was packed on the Sunday he preached his farewell sermon. He chose as his text, “I go to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

His choice of a text included a not-so-subtle message that unless the church changed its ways, he could possibly have the opportunity of preaching to some of them again – at the state prison!

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