Monday, December 31, 2012

The Problem With Our Missionary Zeal - Part II

The second problem that affects our missio0nary zeal, according to Biblical Ministries Worldwide, was this: Christians have lost the purity battle somewhere along the way. The Laodicieans thought they were clothed in the finest of garments, the latest of styles and the best of fabrics – the best money could buy. But Jesus considered them naked. Why? Because they had not clothed themselves in the righteousness of Christ but in their own human righteousness

In Matthew 22:11-12, as Jesus told the parable of the wedding feast, He said:
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The issue is, we are like the children’s story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. We think we are decked out in our finest, but we are really spiritually naked. But the good news is, Jesus clothes us with His own righteousness. We are urged to buy gold from Him and (18) – “and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.” And we’re clothed when we come to the cross in faith. Positionally, at salvation, we are righteous. But, yet, we need to learn to live in accord with our position.

But there is a further lesson for us in this. For we who are believers, we need to understand that where there is no purity, there is no power. Without moral purity, we are powerless to accomplish anything spiritual for God, which is why we are often so content to accomplish only the secular.

According to James P. Steel,
“It is not likely that you will go down in an instant, in one ill-directed moment of indiscretion. It is more likely that the leeches and ticks of impurity will attach themselves to you silently, one at a time, until the passion for purity has been drained from your spiritual veins.”

Little by little as you compromise with the world, your spiritual vitality will be robbed. And missionary zeal is usually the first to go. Are you letting the world suck zeal from you?

The third problem, according to Biblical Ministries Wordwide, is an eye problem,
We said: Christians have simply lost the desire – they’ve lost the vision of a lost and dying world. We simply don’t see, or don’t notice that there is a vast world filled with lost and dying people who need to hear about Jesus the Savior.

Jesus told us in John 4:35
“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! “ Yet, we never lift our eyes to look

I doubt the Laodiceans looked. So Jesus wrote to them: (18) – “and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” Friend, the eye of your soul may need healing. Apply the salve of God’s Word. Get your focus back on what God would have you see. The fields “are already white for harvest,” but who will do the reaping? Who will obey God’s call?

Even though the last command of Christ before He left this earth was to take the Gospel to furthest reaches of the globe, the number of missionaries for the task has been dwindling and the support for them has been dwindling because too few people have heeded the call of God on their life to act. Have you heard God’s call? Not that God is necessarily going to call you to Africa, or South America, or anywhere else, but have you heard Him call you to do anything? Something? We already said that the most cost effective way to do missions is to provide help, not go, but are you willing to do your part?

I came across an article that decries the lack of volunteers in missions. The title is, “Demystifying the Missionary Call.” It talked about how when a thriving, top-paying church has an opening for a senior pastor, literally hundreds of resumes flow in from pastors all over hoping they will be the one to be “called” to that church; while the cries of mission boards for volunteers fall on deaf ears. Almost no one responds. Do you wonder why that would be?

The article concluded: “Reduced to its barest essentials, a ‘missionary call’ is nothing more than obedience to a command.”

What command? How about this one:
Matthew 28:18-20
18 “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.”

What part of that can you fill?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Problems With Our Missionary Zeal - Part I.

Let’s think about some issues that affect missions for a moment. The United States has gone from being the largest missionary sending country to now needing missionaries to come here. Why? What has happened to our missionary zeal?

All my life, I’ve been hearing of a crisis in foreign missions. There is never enough money and there are ever enough volunteers to do the job or meet the need. Mission boards constantly report more missionaries retiring and leaving the field than new missionaries going out to the field - all while the world population continues to explode. Every year, we lose ground in fulfilling the great commission. Why?

There are a lot of possible reasons. You can examine your own life to determine what level of missionary zeal you might have and what reasons it might not be greater. But here are some possible reasons:

An article I read from Biblical Ministries Worldwide written by James P. Steel listed three problems that face us:

1. People are not willing to pay the price when they really begin to consider what missions is all about.

2. Christians have lost the purity battle somewhere along the way.

3. Christians have simply lost the desire – they’ve lost the vision of a lost and dying world.

Those make a lot of sense.

But, Biblical Ministries Worldwide also gave a passage of Scripture that might help us understand. It’s in the book of Revelation, in the letter from Jesus to the lukewarm church of Laodicea.
Revelation 3:17-18 -
17 “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”

Do you see? The Laodiceans made the same mistake that many of us make in America. We use the wrong standard to judge ourselves by. We use the standard of the world, and think we are doing fine, rather than the Word of God to see the truth. The Laodicieans said, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” Indeed, their pockets were full of cash, and their bank accounts were flush.

We too are filthy rich, at least by the standards of the rest of the world. We have a standard of living unheard of historically and unheard of in 90% of this world’s population.

Here are some statistics: If earth’s population were shrunk into a village of just 100 people with all the human ratios existing in the world still remaining, here’s what this village would look like:

30 would be Christian, 70 non-Christian
30 would be white, 70 non-white
6 people would own 59% of everything, and all 6 would be from the U.S.
80 would live in substandard housing
70 couldn’t read, 50 would suffer malnutrition
1 would be near death, 1 would be pregnant
1 would go to college, 1 would own a computer

The following is an anonymous interpretation:
“Think of it this way: If you live in a good house, have plenty to eat, and can read, you are a member of a very select group. And if you have a good house, food, can read, and have a computer, you are among the very elite. If you wake up in the morning with more health than illness, you are more fortunate than the millions who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people of the world. If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, and death, you are fortunate; more than 3 billion people in the world can’t. If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish somewhere, you are among the top 8% of the wealthiest of the world.”

By those standards, we are doing great, just like the Laodicieans. Except, Jesus wanted to puke them out. I wonder what He thinks about the modern church?

Revelation 3:15-16 says:
15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”

The problem is, they picked the wrong standard. Spiritually, they were (Revelation 3:17) – “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” They had invested in all the wrong places. But where it counted, they were bankrupt.

They failed to heed the words of Jesus in:
Matthew 6:19-21
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “

They had worked hard to accomplish this world’s temporal riches, but they had neglected to lay aside any true spiritual gold so their heavenly bank account was empty, even as their earthly one was full. Therefore, Jesus said: (18) – “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich.”

You buy that kind of gold every time you deny yourself and pick up your cross and follow Jesus; every time you bow your head in prayer and pray for the lost people of this world; every time you dig into your wallet and give toward a mission cause; and especially when you yourself do the work of reaching the lost somewhere on this globe, even if it is next door, or within the walls of your own home.

So, do you see? This first problem is with our priorities. What is most important in your life? Is it your ease and comfort, is it your bank account? Or is it serving Christ?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Partnering with Foreign Missions

As I get ready to head off this week for a short term mission’s trip to Ghana in West Africa, I thought it appropriate to record some thoughts. Something is afoot in missions. During the 1800’s, Britain led the way as the largest missionary sending country on the planet. Now they are a post Christian society.

During the 1900’s, it was the United States. But those days of fervent missionary zeal are slipping away from these shores. Now, during the 2000’s, the United States is becoming more a mission field, than a sending field as our country has gone more and more secular and lost the vision and the passion to save a sin cursed world.

Now, the center of Christianity has gone abroad. Actually, there isn’t any center anymore because Christianity is thriving in such unlikely places as China and Iran, and Africa. But the trend is for the Christians in each country to reach their own people, not to rely on foreign missionaries to come and minister cross-culturally.

Back in the 1980’s, an Indian man named K.P. Yohannan felt a deep burden for the lost multitudes in his own country, and he founded a mission organization called Gospel for Asia. Actually, it was formed in 1979. But he championed the idea that it was much more cost effective to support a native pastor on the field than to train an American in the culture and language and send him over at great expense for a period of four years.

How long does it take a person to learn a new culture so they can communicate effectively? How easy is it to overcome cultural barriers? How can you get an affluent American to live like the third world populations in abject poverty? How can you get them to forgo the comforts of home and adequate medical care far from anything or anyone familiar?

But a native pastor doesn’t have any of those worries. Train them in the Word of God, give them a bicycle, and away they go. They are right at home, because, well. . . they are at home. And they can do it full time for a few hundred dollars a year, rather than several thousand dollars each month as is the case with an American sent missionary.

One of the missionary families our church has supported, for instance, is shy about $2,500 per month of their need to go back to the field so they can minister again in Papua New Guinea. But the amount of money they are short each month could support a native pastor for a full year.

Not to mention, many of the most needy fields are closed to missionaries. The communist and Muslim countries don’t readily open their borders to those coming in to proselyte their people. So it requires one of their own – their fellow citizens – to reach them, someone who is already there.

Well, that’s the philosophy of IPM (International Partners in Ministry), the mission agency sponsoring this trip to Ghana. They provide, not missionaries on the field, but aid to the native pastors and workers.

For instance, I‘m going to Ghana to teach at the Solid Rock Baptist Bible College in the Master of Divinity Program. It was founded by, and is operated by, the Solid Rock Baptist Mission which is entirely operated out of Ghana by natives. They plant churches, operate Christian Schools, and train and place native pastors. They are doing a great and effective work throughout West Africa, and they only need a little help, which I can in part supply.

IPM came along side them at their invitation to help in areas like providing qualified seminary instructors as well as financial help in the construction of their new school buildings. But that is where I come in. I’ll be going in January to teach a one week course on the Pastor’s Family. I and one of their career missionaries will be sharing the teaching duties. My share will be to teach on child training and family devotions. I will be training native pastors from the Word of God so they will be better able to reach their own people throughout West Africa. We are partnering in their ministry.

This is something I have wanted to do for a long, long time - something I have felt God has wanted me to do for a long, long time. Now it is becoming a reality. I will be using the teaching gifts God has given me to, in part, replicate myself in those native pastors. I feel blessed and privileged to do this, and I feel blessed for your support and prayers as I go.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Born a King

What, really, was promised in Micah 5:2 as Micah foretold of “One” coming “to be Ruler in Israel?” From the time of that prophecy, things only went downhill for the nation. They went into exile in Babylon in 586 BC. For over 500 years to the time of Jesus birth, there had not been a descendent of David sitting on the throne. Israel had been ruled be a series of foreign invaders. So for one of David’s descendents to rise to the throne again, it would take a miraculous restoration. So the prophecy itself first of all brings hope to a downtrodden and discouraged people.

But second: It speaks of a special king. He will not one of many, but the ONE Ruler - the rightful and legitimate monarch of Israel. Yet, isn’t that what Micah promised?

Look at the precise wording of the prophecy:
Micah 5:2 – “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

How can this “One” be “from of old, from everlasting?” How can a baby born in a stable and laid in a manger fit that bill? It can only if the prophecy is speaking about the eternal Son of God.

Yes, Jesus would be a true man, born of a human mother. Yes, He would be a descendent in the kingly line of David. But, He would be so much more. He would also be the eternal Son of God.

Isaiah 9:6 speaks of that:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. (Meaning He shall be a king) And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Do you see? “A Child is born” – that speaks of His humanity. He would be born in the usual way of all babies, although born to a virgin by the Holy Spirit. But, “a Son is given” - that speaks of His deity. Jesus is indeed, the “Mighty God.” And as such, He would be given as God’s greatest gift to us.

That is John 3:16 right there:
“For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

God gave His Son. And God gave Him for a special purpose - first to redeem us with His death on the cross, then to rule over us at His second coming.

But notice something else: It calls Him something strange when it calls Him the “Everlasting Father.” Doesn’t that sound odd when we think of our theology of the Trinity? How can the Son also be called the Father? But that is the essence of Micah’s prophecy: The one coming would indeed be God Himself, the one rightful ruler of Israel, the one entitled to be King.

An old hymn contains this line describing Jesus:
“Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king.”

Born a king? Babies are born as a prince or princess. Not a one of them is born a king. But Jesus was. The reason for that is simple. Jesus had been a king from eternity past. He had ruled form heaven over His creation as Sovereign Lord.

Even when the angel came to Mary to tell her she would carry this special child, the announcement highlights that Jesus is king:
Luke 1:30-33 –
30 “Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

The promise of forever is given to the Son of the Highest – to this Jesus who would sit on David’s throne. And the prophet said, “And of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Micah’s prophecy was so well known that when the wise men arrived in Jerusalem following the star and they inquired where the newborn king could be found, Herod consulted the elders who immediately told him – Bethlehem.

You can read all about this incident in:
Matthew 2:1-6 –
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”

Amazingly none of the Jewish leaders bothered to go look for Him. But they knew where to find Him. They knew because the prophecy told them.

The point I want to leave you with is this: If Jesus is sovereign ruler over His creation, are you a subject of His? Have you bowed your knee to Him as Lord over your life? If not, why not make this Christmas Season when we celebrate His birth as the time you start?

In the hymn, O, Little Town of Bethlehem, the 4th stanza says this:

“O holy child of Bethlehem,
Descend on us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.”

Is He your Lord?

As James Montgomery Boice put it: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could sing it honestly and with understanding?” Hopefully today, you understand a little bit more about this one who was born in Bethlehem. Hopefully, you can sing it honestly, because today Jesus is your Lord, because you have bowed your knee in submission to Him as your King.

But where does that start? It starts by recognizing that Jesus came the first time to be your Savior - that He came to offer His life a sacrifice for your sin. That is why He came.

He could rule just fine from heaven. But He had to come, to be born a man, to die; because death was the penalty for sin. And He came to take your penalty, my penalty.

But, you must acknowledge that sin in your life, and you must recognize that you need a savior. And when you realize that He purchased your life from hell with His own blood, it will be easy to bow your knee to Him in submission. He will be your Lord and Savior.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bethlehem - The Birthplace of Kings

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, a prophet mentions Bethlehem. It’s in Micah 5:2 – “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”

One of David’s descendents, also to be born in Bethlehem, would not be just another king, but the ultimate king – “the One to be Ruler in Israel.”

This is what distinguishes this dusty, little crossroads, a crossroads indistinguishable from thousands of other little villages in Judah. It is the birthplace of kings. It wasn’t just the birthplace of David, Israel’s greatest king, but the birthplace of the King of Kings, the ruler of the Universe. It would be the birthplace of David’s greatest heir - the rightful king to sit on his throne, the one to whom the eternal promise is ultimately given

We know the story of Micah’s fulfillment: Two young people of Davidic descent were betrothed to each other - a young carpenter from Nazareth named Joseph and a young virgin named Mary. And lo and behold, Mary is pregnant. Pregnant, not by Joseph, Oh, no! but as the angel told her, (and thankfully, Joseph as well) pregnant by the Holy Spirit. And she was very, very soon to give birth

But, wait a minute. Their ancestral home was Bethlehem? But they were living in Nazareth? How does that fit? How could their child be the ruler of Israel if he wasn’t born in Bethlehem? How could their child be the fulfillment of this prophecy? He couldn’t, if he wasn’t born there in Bethlehem.

Well, it just so happened that Caesar Augustus got into an argument with King Herod who really wasn’t a king, but an appointed administrator over that portion of Israel. But Caesar had the power, and he determined that from now on, Judea should be taxed as an imperial province instead of being considered independent. In other words, Caesar Augusta was stripping away some of Herod’s power.

But how do you tax what you don’t know? To find out, Caesar required that everyone return to their ancestral homes to be registered. Why there and not their current home? The ancestral home was where the birth records were stored. So back everyone had to go – it became the law of the land.

The account is found in Luke 2:1-5:
“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.”

Ah, God thinks of everything. How else could He get Joseph to take his very, very pregnant wife, due any day, all those many miles and all those many days travel to the south? But you couldn’t defy Caesar, so off they go.

And thus prophecy is fulfilled. Mary gives birth to the Christ Child in a bustling little town where there was no room for her in the inn. The only place they could find any privacy was a stable. Perhaps it was simply a cave where animals were kept out of the elements. But here the new king was born and all the traditional events of Christmas happen.

Wow! What perfect timing. Joseph and Mary happened to be in the right place at the right time, and prophecy was fulfilled - all because God had made a decree way back in Micah 5:2, hundreds of years before it happened, and all because Caesar Augusta made a decree hundreds of years after the prophecy. Praise God, what He declares, He makes happen even though it takes a decree from a Caesar to get a pregnant girl to a village far away all so that Scripture might be fulfilled. Does stuff like that amaze you?

Let me read you what Charles Haddon Spurgeon had to say about the timing:
“It was Caesar’s whim, but it was God’s decree. Oh we love the sublime doctrine of eternal, absolute predestination. Some have doubted its being consistent with the free agency (the free will) of man. We know well it is so, and we never saw any difficulty in the subject; we believe metaphysicians have made difficulties; we see none ourselves. It is for us to believe that man does as he pleases, yet not withstanding, he always does as God decrees. If Judas betrays Christ, ‘thereunto he was appointed;’ and if Pharaoh hardens his heart, yet, ‘for this purpose have I raised thee up, for to show forth my power in thee.’ Man does as he wills; but God maketh him to do as He willeth, too . . . Everything is of God and unto Him who guideth the stars and wingeth sparrows, who ruleth planets and yet moveth atoms, who speaks thunders and yet whispers zephers unto Him be glory, for there is God in everything.”

God makes His sovereign decrees, and man, acting totally in accord with his free will, does what he wants. He makes his decisions and acts on his choices, but, somehow, through it all, God’s decrees are accomplished. God sees to it that they happen, because He does rule this universe. And they happen because people are exercising their free will.

Indeed, Caesar was following self-interest and doing what he wanted to do in making the decree for a census. Joseph and Mary were obeying Caesar’s decree to go and be registered in Bethlehem. And God was orchestrating it all to fulfill a 700 year old prophetic decree.
What a great God we serve. We can trust His decrees to come to pass. The prophecies He gives will always come true.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When God Doesn't Answer

We’ve spent a lot of time in the past few articles listing things that can hinder our prayer life. I’ve encouraged you, if you feel hindered at all, to examine your life to see if any of the listed reasons could be yours. I trust you have done that.

However, what if you’ve examined your life and find no apparent reason for the lines to heaven being closed? You’ve searched your heart, and you are clean. All your sins are confessed, and you’re praying with a good motive. And you do have a heart that desires to please and serve God. Yet, the lines of communication seem blocked. What about those times? What about those times when you pray till we’re blue in the face, but no answer comes?

Those times happen to the best of us. Trials come into our lives and we pray, but the trials just seem to come faster and harder with no end in sight. The heartaches, the financial setbacks, the loss of a loved one, the illnesses; they seem to overwhelm us. Yet, God appears absent. We search for a reason within us, but we find none. Yet God is absent, and we are so alone and so empty.

Perhaps this is a time of testing for you. Remember the man Job? The bottom to his world fell out. He lost everything, including his family and his health. Yet, God never told him why any of it had happened. God was silent for some thirty eight chapters, and even then didn’t tell him why.

It was a test. We are told that in Job 1:9-12:
9 So Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”
12 And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.”

God allowed Satan to sift Job like wheat to see what he was made of, and Job passed the test. Job passed with flying colors. Job said in the midst of the worst of his troubles: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him (Job 13:15).” Do you have that kind of faith? Would you pass that kind of a test?

Look at this last passage and we’ll close
1st Peter 1:6-9
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.

When the trials come and God remains silent, God wants to know, “Will you trust Me? Will you trust Me no matter what? Will you trust Me even through this?” That is the question I want to leave you with

Monday, December 10, 2012

Wanting to Be Clean

Over the past several articles, I have been listing reasons why our prayers might be hindered. Here are some more reasons: The first is indifference to the Word. Proverbs 28:9 says, “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”

An abomination is something that is repugnant to God, so this is saying that our prayers will be repugnant in God’s ears, if we turn away from hearing the Law. The Law, of course, is found in God’s Word. The Old Testament was often called the Law and the Prophets. We can’t turn our ears away from hearing the Word of God and expect God to hear our prayers.

So this begs the question: Are you spending time in the word? Are you eagerly devouring it to see what God has to say? If not, how can you pray?

But, perhaps the hardest of all hindrances to deal with are the self sins - the self-righteousness, the self-pity, the self-sufficiency, the self-admiration. You know, the ones that feed your pride and egotism. We must yield ourselves up to God in humble submission in order to pray effectiively. That’s the part that so many miss. They refuse to submit – refuse to acknowledge a need.

But the ball is in our court. It’s as if we are standing outside and stewing because there is a sign at the door that says, “Take your shoes off before entering.” And we refuse to do that. But isn’t that what God told Moses to do at the burning bush? God told Moses to take off his sandals because he stood on holy ground. What if Moses had refused?

Remember, it’s not God who ran and hid. It is us. We are like Adam and Eve following the fall who ran and hid when they heard the sound of God coming. We are too proud or too ashamed to stand before God and admit that we have failed, we have sinned, so we stand outside, alone, or we run and hide from God.

What should our response be? This: Psalm 139:23-24 asks God to:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.”

That is the first step. Simply pray and ask God to show you what the problem is. If the problem is a problem on your part, God will reveal that to your heart.

After all, a depositor in good standing at any bank expects to have his checks honored. If he gets an overdraft notice he is sure going to check out why. “Where did I add or subtract wrong? What did I forget to add in?” We will want to get it corrected as quick as we can.

In the same way, if our prayers aren’t answered, we should want to figure out the problem just as quick. That is, unless we already know the reason, and we aren’t willing to fix it. But why would we not want to fix it? We need to give God permission to shine His Word on our hearts and reveal all the dirt that is in there so we can get out the broom and dust pan and clean it up.

Let’s look at the confession of David as we close
Psalm 51
1 “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, (That’s confession) and my sin is always before me. 4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.”

Isn’t that the attitude God wants from us?
Psalm 51:7 - “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
That should be the longing of our heart - to be clean from all our defilement - to be right before our Holy God.

Psalm 51:10 – “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Psalm 51:12 – “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

If sin is the reason why your prayers are not being answered, deal with the cause. Confess your sins before God, and be clean.

Friday, December 7, 2012

More Hindrance to Prayer

Last time, we talked about how sin can hinder our prayers. But, some of you will ask, “What sins?” You might say, “I’m a good Christian! I try to do what’s right! I can list all kinds of sins that I don’t do.”

I’m sure you could. You don’t murder, or steal, or get drunk, or cheat on your wife. But God might ask, “What about the secret sins? What about the ones down deep in your heart?” It’s not just the “Big ones” God is concerned about. God is looking for purity of heart.

The Song of Solomon talks about the little foxes that cause the damage.
Song of Solomon 2:15 says, “Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes.” It doesn’t take a massive army to destroy a crop, just a few little foxes.

Perhaps your fox is envy, or gossip, or secret lust. And sure, we’d never gossip maliciously, but we can share prayer requests that are sometimes a little too revealing: “Pray for Deacon Jones. He’s been slipping in his spiritual life, you know.”

And certainly, we would never cheat on our wives, or click on to pornography on the internet, but do we ever let our looks linger a little too long? It’s not the severity of the sin, but the love of it that hinders our prayers to God.

Here’s another possible reason your prayers might be hindered: Your prayers may be hindered because of unbelief. Hebrews 11:6 tells us: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him.”

How does fit in relation to prayer? James 1:6-8 ties it in pretty well. I says: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” A double minded man gets nothing from God.

The words of Jesus in Mark 11:24 also make this clear: “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”

Way too often, Christians enter into prayer with little faith that their prayers do any good. R.G. Lee put it this way: “Unbelief clips our wings so that we, like crippled birds, flutter near the earth.” Could it be that unbelief hinders your prayers?

Well, what about inter-personal relationships? Perhaps, for instance, things aren’t right in your own home. 1st Peter 3:7 gives this warning, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them (Your wives) with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”

Why treat your wife with understanding and respect? One reason is so your prayers won’t be hindered. But, you might say, “I’m not running around on my wife. What does she have to complain about?” Well, the Bible says that if you leave a hurt in the heart of your woman, God will not hear your prayer. And maybe that hurt comes from simply not listening, not caring, not paying attention to your wife; and God, in turn, turns a blind ear to you.

You can’t treat people like dirt, especially your wife, and then go before God as though everything is all-right and He will answer. He expects you to get your earthly relationships right.

Here’s another hindrance to prayer: It is an unforgiving spirit. Do you remember how Jesus taught us to pray? In the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13, one of the lines says, “And forgive us our debts, (How?) as we forgive our debtors.” Do you see? We are asking for forgiveness to the same degree we forgive others.

Now just a bit further down, Matthew 6:15 says, “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Now, don’t take this too far, like you are going to lose your salvation, but you are certainly hindering your relationship with God at the very least. Take care of those earthly relationships, or your prayers will be hindered.

“Please God, forgive me for my sins, well, except for that sin of un-forgiveness. You know what that skunk of a brother-in-law did to me. You can’t expect me to forgive him.” Well, God can! God says, make it right

Mark 11:25-26 makes that so clear, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Every wrong against others which is not made right stands between you and God, and that hinders your prayer.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Roadblock of Sin

The good news is: Jesus provided access to God through prayer. Oh, but the bad news is: For too many, the way is still blocked; or, at least it seems to be that way. But, why? Why do so many people have such difficulty with prayer? We have this great invitation in Hebrews 4:16 to “come boldly.” And we have these nifty, awesome promises like in 1st John 3:22 that God will answer. And we even have the testimony of great men like George Meuller, Hudson Taylor, and David Brainard who have experienced it. So, what is our problem?

Can the problem really be with prayer? Or could the problem be with us? Well, let’s think about it: Have you ever felt like your prayers bounced back at you off the ceiling and never got out of the room? Did your prayers echo hollow in your ears? Did you feel all alone as though God’s presence wasn’t even there? What could be wrong? Well, a lot of things could be wrong. So let’s look at some possible answers. Perhaps one of them fits your particular situation.

The first thing that could be wrong is sin in your life. This is perhaps the most common problem. This is what the Old Testament says about it: Isaiah 59:2 – “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”

“Yeah, but that was back in the Old Testament, a time of law and all that,” some of you will say, “Back when God wasn’t so gracious and loving. Certainly, it isn’t that way in the New Testament, is it?”

Let’s see: 1st Peter 3:12 says, “For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.” Isn’t that the same principal?

Is this simply a matter of God being intolerant and vindictively refusing to listen to those who won’t abide by his rules? Is it like our kids who cover their ears and say, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!” Of course not! God isn’t petty.

The rationale is simply this: In Habakkuk 1:13, the prophet says truthfully to God: “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.” The fact is, our sin hurts God. It wounds His heart. It injures His perfect holiness.

Ephesians 4:30 confirms that: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Our action can cause the Holy Spirit to grieve - to mourn in His heart.

How do we do this? Check out the immediate context. Ephesians 4:31 explains, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” Why, that is all about how we treat one another – that is what either pleases or grieves the Holy Spirit. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we treat each other with a lack of love and respect. That fits right in with the arguments of 1st John, doesn’t it? We can’t treat people like that and expect God not to be upset.

Rather, this is what we need to do: Ephesians 4:32 – “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Those are the acts that love would foster

The moral is found in Ephesians 5:1-2, which says: “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

Do you see? When you walk in love, that makes God happy; when you act more like Him, He is pleased. Are you getting the picture?

Ephesians 5:3-4 continues, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

Now, there’s a thanksgiving sermon. Don’t be messing around with all those vile sins we’ve been talking about, but rather, give thanks.

But, do you see? Sin hinders our prayer life. Here’s a verse that might crystallize your thinking: Psalm 66:18 – “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.”

First of all, this doesn’t say, “If I have sinned, God won’t hear my prayers.” We’ve all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. So if that was true, God would never hear any of us. 1st John 1:8 made it clear: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” So this can’t be the simple fact of sin.

What Psalm 66:18 is saying is: “If I regard iniquity in my heart.” That’s entirely different. To regard iniquity means to hold onto a particular sin in my heart. It means to love it, to excuse it, to make excuses for it, to cover it up. It’s not the fact of sin, but the love of sin that hinders our communication with God.

So what sins are you cherishing?