Category Archives: insights

Idly spent and squandered away

Do we  think that when the day has been idly spent and squandered away by us, we shall be fit to work when the night and darkness come – when our understanding is weak and our memory frail, and by long custom of sinning obstinately bent the wrong way what can we then do in religion? What reasonable or acceptable service can we then perform to God? When our candle is just sinking into the socket how shall our light “so shine before men that they may see our good works”? …I will not pronounce anything concerning the impossibility of a death bed repentance, but I am sure that it is very difficult and, I believe, very rare.

John Tillotson (1630-1694), Sermons

Have times changed???


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God’s measuring stick is not positivity

positivethinkingThere are various meanings of “positivity” from electrical charges to efforts to be affirming and encouraging to others. But it can also describe a rather unhealthy hyper-positivity found among many Christians nowdays that denounces all things “negative” and praises all things “positive”. They seem to think that ignoring anything we don’t like and only allowing ourselves to think of pleasant things is somehow the key to godliness.

Sometimes it seems as though an 11th commandment has been added – or has even replaced the original 10 commandments: “Thou shalt be positive.” Positivity rejects all criticism with a vehemence that is sometimes, well, not very positive.

I have seen positivity folk in action. Someone brings up a concern, say about an ill-planned policy, and before long Mr or Ms Positivity will jump up in distress demanding that something positive must be said to offset the “negativeness”. What is especially dangerous is when false teachers or corrupt leaders are excused and protected by a squad of positivity police.

Some people quote Philippians 4:8 as a sort of “proof text” that you should refuse to think about anything that is negative:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

A quick check of a concordance shows that neither “positive” nor “negative” occurs in Scripture. But what Scripture does talk about repeatedly is TRUTH vs falsehood. Truth is the measuring stick. In fact, truth is the first thing on the list in the verse above, and yet it seems many positivity people’s eyes just skip that word.

Psalm 51:6 6     Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will  make me know wisdom.

John 3:22 “But he who  practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

Ephesians 6:14-15 Stand firm therefore,  having girded your loins with truth, and having  put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having  shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

2 Tim 2:25-26 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all,  able to teach, patient when wronged, 25  with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition,  if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to  the knowledge of the truth 26  and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been  held captive by him to do his will.

And more ominously:

2 Thess 2:10-12 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of  Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of  the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason  God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who  did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

It would seem that God’s measuring stick is TRUTH, not positivity. And be sure to note that several of the above verses and others call for truth WITH LOVE. Truth with kindness and gentleness.

Positivity appeals to the flesh, the desire for sweetness and light. We do not want to correct others because we ourselves do not want to be corrected. The desire of our corrupt sin nature is to hide from the light, to hide from truth. Positivity does not acknowledge sin, or hell, or a need for a Savior. Positivity is pride.

It is not always easy for us as fallen people to tell the difference between truth and falsehood. We need practice in discerning the difference because sometimes it can get pretty subtle. But God’s Word is the standard for discerning between truth amd falsehood, between spiritual light and spiritual darkness.

I am NOT saying thet we should delight in negativity and gloom and doom. Being positive is pleasant and can be helpful to us and to others – but not if it is at the expense of truth. We are better off pursuing truth with love. Pursuing positivity can lead us into deception.

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Glossing over our debt

The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness but sometimes it’s easy to just gloss over what it is saying without it really sinking into our hearts.

A good example is the story of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35. To recap, a man who owed 10,000 talents was brought before the king. He was unable to pay it and begged for mercy. The king had mercy and forgave the debt, that is he cancelled it. Though the debt was forgiven, the man went out to collect from another man who owed him 100 silver coins. That man too begged for mercy but he did not have mercy, instead he had him thrown into prison. Though he had been forgiven much, he had no mercy on those who owed him.

What usually escapes us is the enormity of the first man’s debt.

How much is ten thousand talents? One silver talent is the amount needed to pay a day’s wage to 6,000 people. So for 10,000 talents you could hire 60 million people for a day. Or, you could hire more than 164,000 people for a whole year, or 656,000 people for 3 months. (Ands if these were gold talents, multiply all of the above by 30.)

How much is 100 silver coins? A day’s wage for 100 people.

That man’s ENORMOUS debt was forgiven, canceled. And he was worried about a measly 3 months wage for only one person????

That is a picture of us. God has forgiven us of a debt of offense we could never pay. So how then can we dare hold ANY grudge against ANYBODY?

Think about that the next time you start feeling offended!

Matthew 18:23-35 (NET-Rosa’s modified version)
23  “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. 24  As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed [money equivalent to a day’s wage for 60 million people] was brought to him. 25  Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made. 26  Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.’ 27  The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt. 28  After he went out, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him [money equivalent to a day’s wage for 100 people]. So he grabbed him by the throat and started to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ 29  Then his fellow slave threw himself down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you.’ 30  But he refused. Instead, he went out and threw him in prison until he repaid the debt. 31  When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told their lord everything that had taken place. 32  Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! 33  Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?’ 34  And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. 35  So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”

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We don’t deserve merit badges

Here’s a noteworthy quote from (In Phil Johnson’s book review of The Last Men’s Book You’ll Ever Need by David Moore)

…. I would add that I appreciate Dave Moore’s resistance to the therapeutic approach to human relationships that dominates so much of evangelical discourse nowadays. Moore points out that everyone is “wounded” and we don’t really deserve merit badges or undue sympathy for our personal hurts when we ourselves are guilty of waging war against righteousness. Also, while we’re carefully nursing our personal wounds, “we need to remember that we inflict our fair share of them” (p. 118). That’s wise advice, especially in our culture where so many men (and women) “focus on the hurt they’ve received [and] tend to discount or diminish the hurt they inflict on others” (p. 114)-not to mention the sins against Almighty God we’re guilty of. Moore calls us back to a more biblical (and manly) view of our own sin.
Not sure who exactly who to credit it to, Phil or Dave but it was well said!

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An advocate. Someone who comes along side and stands beside you to support you in a court of law.

My specially challenged brother has a lawyer, an advocate, who is going to court with workman’s comp over a work accident he had last year. That lawyer knows all about the law and its applications and implications. He knows the requirements and the obligations of workman’s comp. He also knows all about my brother’s situation, both the challenges he was born with and those added because of his injury. He knows that my brother definitely falls into the category of people covered by worksman’s comp insurance. If we the family had to plead on his behalf, we would not have much of an idea of what to ask for, other than to pay medical bills incurred. But the lawyer knows that future medical needs and rehabilitation needs will arise because he has a lot of experience in work accident issues. And if my brother had to plea for himself, well, he is totally clueless as to any of the matters above. Without an advocate, he would be totally unable to cope with the court situation.

How much more do we need an Advocate when we face the holy Almighty Judge of the universe!

1 John 2:1 My little children. I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Whenever we sin, and we will, it is inevitable, Jesus Christ stands beside us as our advocate before God the Judge . He Himself has paid the penalty of my sin and appeases the wrath of God towards me.

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When God says "no"

April 25

We had a devotional this morning about asking God for wisdom and believing, not being doubtful. Some of us were sitting around at coffee break talking about how God works. We were talking about how sometimes it seems God has said “no” to something we prayed for. And yet we find out later that He had a better plan. He knows more than we do and so sometimes though it seems to be “no”, it is really a big “yes” in a way we couldn’t have imagined.

For example, last month my househelper’s sister was involved in a motorcycle accident and had a bad bang to the head. She was knocked out momentarily and had a huge lump on her head. Two weeks later she had an excruciating headache, was fainting, dizzy, and vomiting. They were in a panic because of the recent head injury took her to a doctor in the nearby town and he told them she probably needed surgery. Her husband started running around trying to hock the family farm to get money for surgery. So they were asking people to pray that they would be able to find somebody willing to loan the money.

Then we had them bring her to the city to see a neurologist. He examined her and told them while he could be wrong, he didn’t think she was bleeding in her head (he didn’t do x-ray) but that her blood pressure was really high and he thought that was the cause of her symptoms. So he put her on blood pressure medicine.

The husband wasn’t able to find anybody to hock the farm – and it seems now, 3 weeks later, that the blood pressure was indeed the problem.

So here was a case where the prayer was to be able to find someone to rent the farm and the answer seemed to be “no”. Yet, after all, God knew there was no need to rent it out.

A colleague of mine has stomach cancer that had already spread to the liver and lymph nodes when diagnosed a year ago. He’s not doing too well right now and he had wanted a good friend of theirs from here (a pastor) to come and see him. So they were able to arrange an emergency interview at the US embassy in the capital city for him this morning to get a visa. But we just heard that the visa was denied. It is such a disappointment. Yet in the context of our devotional and discussion this morning, we have to believe that God has a better plan.

This later addition (4-28): my friend died Sunday night before the pastor had a chance to reapply at the embassy. So the unneeded trip was avoided.

Can we too trust Him even when the answer seems to be “no”?

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The Padded Cross

 You mind if I look over the crosses? I’d kind of like a new one. I’m not fussy, you understand, but a disciple has to be relevant these days. I was wondering, are there any that are vinyl padded? I’m thinking of attracting others, see, and if I could show them a comfortable cross I’m sure I could win a lot more. We have to keep up with the times. Right? And I need something durable so I can treasure it always. Oh, and do you have one that’s sort of flat so it will fit under my coat? We shouldn’t be too obvious.

Funny, there doesn’t seem to be much choice here. Just course, rough wood, that’s liable to hurt. Don’t you have something more distinctive, Lord? I can tell you right now, none of my friends are going to be impressed by this shoddy workmanship! They’ll think I’m a nut or something! And my family will just be mortified!

What’s that? It’s either one of these or forget the whole thing?

But Lord, I want to be your disciple! I mean, just being with you…that’s all that counts. Life has to have a balance too, but You don’t understand, nobody lives that way today. Who’s going to be attracted by this self-denial bit? I mean, I want to do what’s right but let’s not overdo it. If I appear too radical they’ll have me off to the funny farm or something.

I mean, being a disciple is challenging and exciting and I want to do it, but I do have some rights, don’t I? Now let’s see — no blood — O.K.? I just can’t stand the thought of that, Lord. Lord? LORD? Jesus?

Now, where do you suppose He went?



“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…” Hebrews 12:1-2


“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24

Well, here I am, Lord. You said, “Take up your cross,” and I’m here to do it. It’s not easy, you know, this self-denial thing. I mean to go through with it though, yes sir. I’ll bet you wish more people were willing to be disciples like me. I’ve counted the cost and surrendered my life, and …well…

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Anxious thoughts

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul. Ps 94:19

I memorized that verse many years ago back when I was still in college. Over the years I have gained a much greater understanding of some of what those consolations are:

He hears us (1 Jn 5.14-15)

He knows our thoughts (Ps 139.2,4)

The Holy Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8.26)

He is able to save forever those who draw near to God (He 7.25)

All things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8.28 )

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Rom 8.38-39)

He will supply all our needs (Ph 4.19)

He will complete the work that He has begun in us (Ph 1.6)

Disciplne…sorrowful…yet yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (He 12.10-11)

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (Jas 4.8 )

His Word will not return empty without accomplishing what He sent it out for (Is 55:11)

He will not allow temptation beyond what you are able (1 Cor 10.13

A couple of friends are going through some really hard things right now. I feel distress on their behalf. I want to comfort and encourage them. For the one it is a serious health issue. For the other it is an interpersonal conflict and I feel confused by the seeming lack of communication on both sides. I struggle with wondering why God allows these things to happen to them, yet I sense that He does have a purpose in it. How can I comfort and encourage them? Is there something I could do or say? Or is this the time to just sit back and continue to pray that they would come through as gold (Job 23:10)?

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Sermon on the Mount

While reading through the Sermon on the Mount today I jotted down some summary statements. The beatitudes of course listed praiseworthy attitudes: poor in spirit, mourning, gentle, hungry/thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness.

Then we are told to:

1) Let your light shine/ Be salt
2) As to the Law, be perfect. (Ie it is the following the intent of the Law that counts, not just the letter.
3) Practice your righteousness for God (not men)
4) Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (ie do not store up earthly treasure, do not worry about your life)
5) Treat/judge others as you would like them to treat/judge you.
6) Beware of false prophets.

The interesting thing was the last one. It surprised me. It has always been there but somehow it seems to get ignored in sermons and it had escaped my attention that this too is part of the sermon on the mount, part of basic kingdom teaching. It must be important yet we hear so little of it today…..hmmmm, I wonder why????

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Praise: because He is worthy

Praise must never become a pragmatic device for getting blessing from God. Whenever you sincerely praise Him, the blessing will come. Praise changes things – and people.*

I wonder if there is a name for this kind of statement. This is the kind of statement that makes my mind woggle! I agree completely with the first sentence. But the effect of the next two sentences is to reverse what was said in the first! When reading the next 2 sentences the corrupt old man/ sarks/flesh/ sin nature immediately tries to sneak in there and get me to praise God all the while subtly hoping to gain blessing and get things or people changed by doing so, deceiving me by reassuring me that it isn’t a pragmatic device. The result then is that I end up praising God precisely as a pragmatic device for getting blessing! It’s back to me doing good works to gain favor and blessing.

The only reason we should praise God is BECAUSE HE IS WORTHY! It has nothing to do with blessings or changing things or people.

And I would submit that the praising does NOT change anything. HE is the source of all goodness. God is totally and utterly in control. Knowing Who He is, His sovereignty, His righteousness, justice, love, mercy, and grace that gives us comfort, hope, and joy. It is because of His grace that any of us can hope for change, it is because of His mercies that we are not consumed, we are blessed because of His goodness.

*Found in church bulletin – possibly a quote from Warren Wiersbe “With the Word”, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991)? – I don’t have access to the book and so can’t check it out.

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In the beginning

Sunday, while driving gingerly home in a wild and windy snowstorm, I was pondering the pastor’s Christmas sermon. Matthew showed Jesus’ geneology from Abraham, Luke took it back to Adam, but John took it back to the beginning:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

Jesus was from the very beginning, He was face to face with God. He was God.

3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood a it

He created all things and He is the source of life.

9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Though not everyone recognizes Him or believes that He is who John says He is, yet whoever does is given the authority to become children of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

THIS is what we celebrate: God incarnate come into the world to bring us salvation. Thanks be to God!

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Sabbath ponderings

A couple of weeks ago I was working with people from three different language groups south of here. They were all trying to translate the 10 commandments into their languages. Although all three language groups have many Christians, they are from an animistic background and many of their neighbors are still animists. They found that nobody really knew what the “sabbath” meant, not even church people. So we discussed ways of translating it that would be meaningful, like “Resting Day” or “Stopping Day”. That was okay. But what do you do with “Remember the sabbath and keep it holy”? What exactly is a “holy” day? They do not have words for “holy”. In some contexts one could use “clean” if the meaning was understood to be “free from sin”. And earlier we had talked about a “holy mountain” and a holy place” in Exodus chapter 3. Mt Horeb is referred to as the “holy mountain” or “the mountain of God”. That gives the idea of the place being “holy” because God appears there. So when Moses was commanded to take off his shoes because the ground was “holy”, it was because he was in the presence of God.

But what does it mean to keep a day “holy”? Certainly “clean” or “free from sin” doesn’t fit here – that would imply you were free to sin on the other 6 days! A day when God appears? Not exactly. They were suggesting things like “go to church” or “a day to meet with God”. “a day to worship God”, “a day to pray and praise God”. But when you think about it, none of those things were specifically commanded. All are certainly good things to do, but none is really complete. I suppose if God had given a list of specifics undoubtedly the corrupt heart of man would have reasoned that do those things and tick them off and you’re done! No, it’s not that easy. The essence of keeping the sabbath holy is an attitude of mind. If you set the day apart as holy you may do many or all of those things. But neither are those things limited to the sabbath. You should pray and praise God EVERY day. You should meet with God EVERY day. EVERY day should be a sin-free day! Here the meaning is to make the day special in order to honor God. To stop working because you honor God. He commanded it, and He rested Himself giving us an example to follow. A “holy” day here means a special day, a day set aside, dedicated to God. All He actually commanded was to rest. To cease from daily labor. Why? As a reminder of the covenant between God and the Israelites. As a reminder that He had created the world in 6 days and then rested. To honor Him as their God, they observed the sabbath.

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Send the poor to the poor?

An interesting comment the other day by a guy from one of the ends of the earth. They had just done a devotional on Elijah how during a drought God had sent him to a poor widow of Zarephath. (1 Kings 17:8ff) The man asked, “Why would God send a poor prophet to be taken care of by a poor widow? If I sent my son to the city to go to school, I would look for a family that was well off for him to stay with. Why didn’t God sent Elijah to a family that was better off?”

Why indeed? Years later Elisha stayed with just such a family, the Shunnamite woman who provided him with his own furnished room.

Perhaps God sent Elijah to a poor woman so that His provision would be more clearly seen. If only the rich help others, then they get all the blessing. Maybe too, when the rich help, they are often just relying on their wealth and not on God to provide, whereas the poor woman had to trust God to provide the wherewithal for her to feed the prophet.

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On Death

This is from a recent thought-provoking post by Dan Phillips on

……I read a book on ministering pastorally to cancer patients. It historically traced the attitude folks used to have towards dying. I learned that our forefathers’ attitude was not the same as ours today

Most of us, I presume, would say that we do not so much fear death as we fear dying. We fear a dehumanizing, drawn-out, agonizing,financially-devastating process. Our “dream death” — odd phrase, that — is a quick death. You know: Sky Lab falls on us, or a whale. Something in our brain blows out, and bam! we drop like a lead
sinker in a pond on a summer day. We throw ourselves in front of someone taking a shot at a loved one, and are instantly killed. That’s our dream-death.

Not so, our forebears. Their “dream death” was a slow death.

Why? We recoil from the suggestion.

I think it was because they had a sense of judgment and responsibility that we don’t have. A slow death announced its coming. It’s like getting a “five-minute-warning.” A slow death gives the opportunity to prepare for the judgment of God. It gives occasion for trying to sort out any unsorted relationships, saying last words, arranging our affairs fully. It gives opportunity to prepare in the sight of the pulling of the last curtain on this life.

Knowledge of impending death was their Isaiah the prophet, announcing to Hezekiah, “Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live” (Isaiah 38:1).

Our forebears wouldn’t envy our longed-for quick death, our abrupt exit that leaves no time to prepare. That would be a sad death, to them.

Reading that broadened my perspective… but I’d be lying if I said it has made me feel different about the prospect!

But I think something else, too. Should we really need that kind of warning?

Isn’t our first heartbeat a “warning pistol”? Maybe we don’t have five minutes left, but on the scale of eternity, is there really that much of a difference between five minutes and a hundred years?

Isn’t it true that “you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14)? The statistics are pretty doggoned overwhelming: unless the Lord comes for us, our first heartbeat is #1 of a finite series, a series that has a fixed, definite and unalterable number known to God. While you’ve read this article, your total number of heartbeats has likely gone down by several hundred.

What… you didn’t know that?

I must say, most seem to live as if they don’t. Most live as if life will
go on as-is, forever—though they know as a detached fact that it surely won’t. When people ask me whether it was dangerous being a private investigator, I tell them the most dangerous part was driving the freeways of Los Angeles. People drive as if life is a video game, where if your “blip” explodes, you can just casually put in some more money and go again.

Yet such is not life. The beer commercial is only half-right: you only go around once in life. Then comes the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Usually there is no warning-sign, no “Five minutes, Mr. Phillips.”

Surely this is the wisdom at the heart of Solomon’s craggy observation that “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).

Whatever our cosmic eschatology is, our personal eschatology had better keep that truth in the forefront. However imminent the Lord’s coming is to the world, or whatever it may involve, our going to stand before Him surely is imminent.

Best be prepared.

Dan Phillips, July 3, 2007

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All men are like grass

I just returned from a 2-week study tour in Israel. It was a very busy time, we travelled from Dan to Beersheba and my head is stuffed to overflowing with information! We were given a 4 inch thick notebook as well which was crammed with maps, illustrations and more information. I have not had much time yet to reflect on it all but one impression that definitely stood out was this: the place is not important, what is important is the message.

In Israel, one era is built right on top of another. You can have today’s town standing over ruins of the Ottman Turks which in turn are standing over the ruins of an earlier Muslim era which in turn are standing over Byzantine ruins, which in turn stand over Roman ruins, which may be standing over Hasmonean or Hellenistic ruins, which may be standing over ruins from the Israelite monarchy era which may in turn be standing over the ruins from David’s time which may be standing over ruins from the time of the patriarchs, and sometimes those ruins are on top of even earlier ruins.

Today all of those kingdoms have crumbled into dust.

You think of Jesus being able to see the great Roman sites of Herodium from the Mount of Olives, or Sepphoris which is walking distance from Nazareth or Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. He could see those monuments to Roman greatness and power. Yet He didn’t seem to be bothered by them or even much concerned with them, His teaching was beyond them, a universal message to all people of all ages. We saw the remains of the magnificant Roman cities of Caesarea and Beth-shan (Scythopolis), the campsites of the Roman legions which besieged Masada. Ancient Egyptian and Canaanite military outposts.

Sobering indeed to reflect on the probable fate of today’s kingdoms!

What has survived all those great kingdoms is the Word of God. In Qumran near the Dead Sea we saw caves where precious texts were hidden in jars. A very large number of them have survived nearly 2000 years and today witness to the preservation of God’s Word.

“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord
stands forever.”

1 Peter 1:24-25a

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There’s a lot of talk about prayer these days. A lot of folk seem to be confusing prayer with meditation, even mystical meditation. See for example : where the author says:

But, at least for me, prayer is more often becoming a time of listening than talking. There is so much noise in our world and our lives (much of our own making); prayer becomes a quiet space enabling us to stop talking long enough to see what God might be trying to say to us. The disciplines of prayer, silence, and contemplation practices by the monastics and mystics are precisely that – stopping the noise, slowing down, and becoming still, so that God can break through all our activity and noise in order to speak to us. Prayer serves to put all the parts of our lives in God’s presence, reminding us of how holy our humanity really is. [?!!?]

Others say that prayer should be specific, concrete, detailed, out loud, and with confidence. (As if God needs to be told how to carry out His business, never mind that His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways not our ways.) Others say it is most effective when done by groups of people gathered in the same place at the same time in synergy. (As if God is a politician and pays more attention to bigger numbers of lobbyists.)

But what does the Bible say? In order to start to answer that question I did a search of the New Testament on words prays, prayer, pray, praying. (This could be expanded by also looking at words like ask, request, etc). You can do it yourself using a good concordance, or a computer Bible. I kind of organized the results according to the following topics:

When and where did people pray?
What did people pray for?
How are we to pray?
Are there postures?
What are the results of prayer?

My preliminary results (I won’t include my list or analysis because you really ought to try this yourself!) are as follows:

When and where did people pray? There are no specific commands as to time of day, location, what direction to face, or what constitutes a quorum. People prayed in prison, in the temple, in their houses, by themselves, in groups, on the rooftops, in an inner room, in the wilderness, on mountains, on the beach, and apparently just anywhere. They were told to pray when they are sick or suffering, to sing when cheerful. Pray all the time, at midnight, night and day.

What did people pray for? Surprisingly, not as many specific concrete things as you might think. Sinners prayed for mercy and forgiveness. Jesus prayed that the cup [of His imminent suffering] might pass – yet surely He knew it wouldn’t? He more than once told His followers to pray that they would not fall into temptation, that they would have strength to escape all the [bad] things that are about to take place. People prayed for those imprisoned for their faith. They prayed for the salvation of others. Speakers in tongues should pray that they can interpret. Paul prayed glorious prayers for people’s spiritual growth: that they do no wrong, be made complete, be given wisdom and understanding, knowledge of God’s will, strength, that their love might abound, that they would be sincere and blameless and thankful, that they would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, that the name of the Lord would be glorified in them and they in Him. For himself Paul often asked that a door would be opened up for the word to spread, that he would be bold in speaking it. He asked prayer for protection from evil men, and that he would be released from prison, and that he could visit again for the purpose of ministering to them. We are also told to pray for rulers and authorities so that we can lead a tranquil and quiet life. We are told to pray for each other, for spiritual leaders, evangelists, and for those who mistreat us. (Anybody else out there starting to feel like your prayer life has been missing the mark???)

How are we to pray? Jesus of course gave us a model: praise, request for daily food, forgivenss for sins, help in forgiving others, that we not be tempted but rather be delivered from evil. We should devote ourselves to prayer, pray in the Spirit (after all, He intercedes for us), but also pray with our minds. We are to be on the alert (not zoned out), persevering (not losing heart, nor a once for all time prayer). Prayer is also described as supplication, petitions, requests, thanksgivings, entreaties. (Doesn’t sound much like quiet meditation, does it?) Jesus is said to have offered up prayer with loud crying and tears, the Holy Spirit also groans, so prayer doesn’t have to be silent. We are to pray in faith, to pray without ceasing. We are to pray earnestly, one guy, Epaphras, was said to labor in prayer. We are to pray without wrath and dissention – and not treating your wife right can mean that your prayers won’t be answered! We must also forgive others when we pray – or we won’t be forgiven.

Are there postures? Doesn’t seem to be. Some people stood, some knelt, some threw themselves on the ground. No mention of prayer rugs. Some lifted holy hands. No particular posture required, nor are any forbidden.

Procedures? Do not use meaningless repetition. (If it bores us, how much more must it bore God?) Other procedures are mentioned such as wearing headcoverings for women and NOT wearing head coverings for men was discussed in 1 Cor (though it’s not clear if this was for public worship or for everywhere, for leaders of public worship or everybody, whether hair is enough, etc.) Anointing the sick with oil in James. Praying for others sometimes involved putting hands on them. Other than that, nada, zip.

Attitudes? First and formost believe. Have faith. Not doubting. Yet also with humility, “not my will but Yours”. Do not lose heart. Prayer with thanksgiving is mentioned often. Rejoice. Be of sober spirit and sound judgement, alert. Be anxious for nothing. Avoid long prayers for appearance sake. In fact, in one place we are advised to go into our inner rooms and pray to our heavenly Father in secret.

What are the results of prayer? Results in peace that passes all comprehension. Sinners are justified. People regained sight, were restored from their sicknesses, released from prison, delivered from peril, food is sanctified, it rained, it stopped raining, helps other people, prayers ascend as a memorial to God, and are incense on the altar in heaven whose fragrance goes up before God. God hears the prayer of the righteous.

So, I am encouraged to pray more. I don’t need to do washings and change clothes and face east at certain times of the day. I don’t need to wait until I find a group or a prayer partner. I don’t need to wait until I am in a church or on a mountain. Even if I am somewhere where I can’t stand or can’t kneel, I can still pray. Even if I don’t know the details of what someone is going through at the moment, I can pray that “they would be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith; and that they, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that they may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Wow! Wouldn’t you like people to pray that for you?

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Living by the Book

Quotes from Howard Hendricks in Living by the Book

This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book.

Dusty Bibles always lead to dirty lives.

You are either in the Word and the Word is conforming you to the image of Jesus Christ or you are in the world and the world is squeezing you into its mold.

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Are you grateful?

Here’s article challenging us to consider how much God does answer prayer. We all have those things we have prayed for time and again, maybe even for years and it seems that God doesn’t answer or maybe is saying “no”. We tend to remember the things not answered. But we tend to forget all the times He does say “yes”.

……What I am saying is that we characteristically forget that every critical, crying Not-yet is floating on a vast, billowing sea of Yes and Yes and Yes. If you are a Christian, reading this, God has said Yes to you far more often than He has said No; and you have every reason to believe that every No conceals a because I have a better idea. Behind our every prayer, our great Mediator, our Savior, our great High Priest the Lord Jesus Christ, pleads for us before the throne (Hebrews 7:25), adding His intercession to that of the blessed Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26).

I am saying that we all, on occasion, make the most spoiled-rotten brat look like a Model Child, through our bursting, thunderous ingratitude. At the very least, I am saying that for myself.

Indeed, what I’m trying to say has already been said better than I could ever phrase it:

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
(Psalm 103:1-5)

Weighing God’s Yes and No
by Dan Phillips
January 26, 2007

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Hard work

Quote by John MacArthur:

It escapes some people, that you can’t explain the meaning of the scripture, if you don’t study the scripture. Approaching the Bible is not some ‘mystical’ kind of event. It is just plain hard work! I’ve had young men say to me through the years – “What’s the secret to your Bible teaching?” And I will tell them this invariably: the secret to really good Bible teaching is the ability to keep your rear end in a chair until you understand what it means! “Oh, that’s not very mystical. It’s not very spiritual.” No, it’s hard work.

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