Effective Prayer

www.bible.com/72/jas.5.16.hcsb

Ever feel like your prayers are ineffective. I know I do. I heard a long time ago that God offers three answers to prayer: yes, no, and wait. It’s hard to tell the difference between the third and the first two sometimes. I know there are many who feel like their prayers don’t reach past the ceiling, that God isn’t listening at all. I do know from 1 Peter 5 that sometimes God leaves us alone for a while in order to test our resolve. But there are others who don’t pray enough or at all.

This verse stresses righteousness for powerful and effective prayer. It presents this in the context of forgiveness for sin. Here is a definite contrast between sin and righteousness. Those who have sin, confess it to a fellow Christian. Allow that Christian to pray for you (this is in light of the previous verse about being physically ill). And pray for one another. James poses here that physical illness may in fact have something to do with spiritual sin. And that confession and prayer have the power to effect healing.

There are some illnesses, we call them psychosomatic, that directly link one’s emotional state to their physical well-being. When you feel uneasy, your stomach starts to churn. When you are under stress, you get a headache. Tell what guilt does? Tell me what shame does to the body? Sometimes, extended shame and guilt lead to unexplainable physical illnesses. When the doctor can’t figure it out, maybe it calls for confession and prayer. That’s why we include Chaplains in our healthcare system, just to make sure all of our bases are covered. Include your pastor and your church in your health care. It might make a difference.

Just s thought for a Wednesday.

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Lead Me Away From Temptation

www.bible.com/72/1co.10.13.hcsb

in the Lord’s Prayer, you might remember the phrase, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” James adds “The Lord does not tempt anyone.” So it has always seemed a bit odd to me that Jesus would say we ought to pray that the Lord lead us not into temptation. Does the Lord lead us into temptation unless we ask Him not to? James would say no. Perhaps the first phrase then is to emphasize the second. While the Lord does not lead us into temptation, we certainly pray He would deliver us from evil. And today’s verse emphasizes this last part.

We are constantly tempted. I know that sounds harsh, but even as I sit here to make this blog post, I am tempted to put it down and walk away. I have many other things I could be doing right now. Sitting here and typing out this comment on a Bible verse is something that I don’t have to do. I want to, but I am tempted not to. Temptation can be subtle. It can overt. But it usually appeals to your sense of self and what you deserve. It’s always like that McDonalds ad, “You deserve a break today.” It always appeals to you, to your sense of fairness and equity, your sense of justice. Temptation never feels wrong at the time. That’s why it’s so hard to spot when you aren’t looking out for it. When you are spiritually weak, temptation comes upon like an armed man and gives no quarter, no mercy.

But God reminds us that temptation is common, meaning don’t beat yourself up over it. Everyone is tempted. Even Jesus was tempted. Temptation is not a sign of spiritual weakness. Spiritual strength is measured by how well we recognize temptation and how well we find God’s offered way of escape. God will deliver us from evil, but we also need to let Him. Sometimes we don’t want to be rescued.

Just food for thought today. God bless you.

Waiting

www.bible.com/72/psa.130.5.hcsb

in context, our brother David is waiting on forgiveness. He is feeling the iniquity of himself and his nation, and is waiting earnestly, like the watchman for the morning, for God’s grace to fall. There is a poignancy here to his request. He is feeling the stab of guilt and the crushing weight of sin. Sin is not kind once fostered in your life. It is like a growing gangrenous wound, slowly eating away at your healthy spirit until you feel dead inside.

I wonder if I feel this. It is one thing to be aware that you have sinned, but do I notice the guilt and sense of iniquity that comes along with it? Or have I ignored it, with my conscience seared and burned away to certain sins that I commit so frequently? Lord I pray restore to me my sensitivity to sin, that I may feel that guilt again and seek your forgiveness, that you may cleanse my heart afresh upon my confession. May I like David wait upon the Lord and put my hope in the grace He has promised through His Son.

We have these precious and certain promises, that if we confess our sin, He will forgive us our sin and cleanse our hearts from unrighteousness (1 John 1:7).

My prayer is also for you today, dear reader, that you have not let sin get under your radar by stealth and familiarity. May your eyes be open to sin and alert to temptation. Help us Lord to watch as the Watchman for the morning, waiting for your cleansing blood to move through us and make us clean, unshackled by the sin that so easily entangles us. (Heb 12:1-2)

God bless you all today.

Nowhere to Hide

Jesus Reached Out

No matter where you run, or how buried you are in work and circumstances, there is no place that God cannot find you. This is a comfort to some, and a fear for others. Don’t add God to your list of fears. When Adam sinned against God, he ran and hid. God called out into the garden and said, “Where are you Adam?” Adam hid because of his sin, but his sin did not hide him from God. God knew exactly where Adam was, just as our parents could always see our foot sticking out or our hair just above the back of the couch. We pretend that we can hide from those that love us the most, but we are only fooling ourselves. God sees us in our sinfulness, our wretchedness, even our busyness, and stills calls to us. He still reaches out His hand. God loves us, even when we sin against Him. God loves you, especially today.

Taking Sin Seriously

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Do you take sin seriously? As Christians, it is one area that we are especially good at: identifying sins in others. Since we know the Bible, we usually have no problem pointing out the sins of others for their correction. After all, aren’t we supposed to do that?

Jesus once addressed this problem with the Pharisees. He likened their “helpfulness” as one who has a log in his own eye helping someone else get a speck out of theirs. Honestly, the reason we know sin so well is probably because we’ve committed a few ourselves, not out of any serious study of Scripture.

But one thing that our culture is famous for is miscasting sin as “disease”. There are lots of diseases, like alcoholism, substance abuse, sex addiction (and the host of addictions), obesity, and the like that are caused not by a virus or a malady which the victim was helpless against, but by the power of his own elbow. The result is that many of these sins are being “treated” by medicine rather than cured by the power of God.

What happened if we took God at His word and treated sins like, well, sins? What if instead of “mental health” we strove for soul health? Who can truly change the heart of a man? Is it medicine? Therapy? Conversations with a psychiatrist at $200/ hour? Or is it Jesus?

Surprisingly, many of the things we diagnose as mental disease may only be diseases of the soul. And who can cure all our soul’s diseases? Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. But in order to pursue this “soul health” we must first identify the problem, and admit that it is the problem. There are actual mental problems that have to do with biology, and they fall into a different category that what we will deal with, and I will try to help you discern the difference. For example, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are actual diseases of the brain, not necessarily a result of sin directly.

Are you suffering from something that a psychologist has told you is a mental health issue? Have you been told only a long series of one-hour a week sessions are the only thing that will keep you sane? Do you really think God has nothing to say about “mental health”?

Calling Out Sin

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February is the month we honor presidents, among other things. But the recent batch of presidents we’ve been witness to has been a bit lacking. When you read about the early men who held this post, you wonder where men like that have gone to. Where are the honorable men who sough to defend the honor of this country and the sacredness of freedom? When you think about it, those men began to disappear when we stopped talking about sin.

We turn to look at the sins that we commit, and how we can deal with them as Christians. God did not leave us orphans. He intends to be with us every step of the way.

Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.  (Heb 13:5)

So it’s time for a personal inventory. Sin is the very power of Satan over our lives. As long as we resist confessing sin, we resist the will of God in our lives.

  • Check your worship
    • Does God have your attention when you worship?
    • Does your prayer life and Bible study reflect God’s hold on your life?
    • Does your church attendance reflect your commitment to the Kingdom?
    • Are there any areas of your worship you need to improve?

     

  • Check your witness
    • Does your walk match your talk?
    • Does anyone else know you are a Christian?
    • Do God’s values show clearly in your conversation and friendships?
    • Do you have strong Christian friends that help hold you accountable to your Christian commitment?

These questions are designed merely to get you thinking more in depth about your faith in Christ. I want to encourage you to find a deeper path this month as we learn how to put aside the sins that so easily entangle us (Heb 12:1) and learn to take a closer walk with Christ.

Jesus Christ is like a Pan of Brownies

How, you may ask, is that news? Why it is the single greatest news story in the history of the world. All of us, whether young or old, have been victims of an insidious conspiracy. We have been led to believe a lie! We have been told that if we do enough good things in our lives, that the balance sheet at the end will show us to be good people. We hear it everywhere, from TV, Movies, Radio and the like that our eternity can be earned. “Just do enough good deeds to get by,” and then our eternity is secured in a Heaven filled with all the things we want, like gold, good food, and so forth.

While there is always time to do good, and good people should do good deeds, we’ve been lied to. How do I know this? Because of Jesus.

Rather than think of our lives as a balance sheet, think of it as a pan of brownies (Mmmm). A balance sheet has two columns, for good deeds and bad deeds, which we’ll call sins for short. A pan of brownies on the other hand is everything mixed together. Now I could probably eat a pan of brownies if the only ingredients were good, like flour, salt, cocoa, sugar, milk, eggs, and so forth. But when you put not so good ingredients in there, like coffee grounds, egg shells, kitty litter, and such, the brownies don’t smell, or even taste very good at all.

All of our lives we’ve been laboring under the delusion that our good deeds erase the bad ones, but in reality, our lives are the sum of both our good deeds, and our sins. There is no amount of good that we can do to erase the bad. It’s just not in our power. We can’t do it. No one can. This is why the Bible says, “No one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3) The more I think about it, the more I wonder what God wants with us at all.

This is why I have such good news! Jesus Christ is Lord! Remember the events of just a few weeks ago we remembered at Easter? Jesus, the Jew of first-century Palestine, died on a Roman cross at the hands of sinful men, only to rise from the dead three days later. While that information may seem merely remarkable on the surface, and interesting tidbit of history, it has profound implications for you.

The New Testament (which is proven true every time it is tried) says that that cross was God’s instrument to solve our sin problem. When Jesus died, he wasn’t just anyone, He was God’s Son. As such, he was perfect, and sin-less. Jesus’ pan of brownies smelled wonderful. He was absolutely pure. And it was his death on that cross which was a vicarious (vocabulary word meaning, “instead of me”) sacrifice. He died for you, so that when you put your faith in Him, His death covers your sin. The Bible says that “the wages of sin is death.” Jesus had no sin to die for, so he died for yours. Only his death (and his blood) can erase your sins.

There are consequences for this of course, which is why you may have put off putting your trust in him. I don’t blame you, because everyone needs to make this decision with their eyes wide open. Putting your faith in Christ means you will now need to live like Him. His death can save your life, but only if you become like Him, in faith, in confession, in repentance (from your sin), and in immersion. Only then does He guarantee eternal life with Him.

The down side of trusting Jesus, if you consider a down side, is that you give up your effort to earn your salvation by good works, and give in to Him. I think it’s a really good trade off, since you don’t have to wonder anymore if you will go to Heaven when you die; you know you will. That’s good news too.

Jesus Christ is Lord! Not that he was, or will be, but is. He is Lord now! He wants you, not to use you, or make you do stuff, but to love you, more purely, more lovingly, and more wholly that anyone person ever could. Do you feel unloved? Do you need a friend? Or are you just tired of trying to live life by your rules? Turn whatever you’ve got over to God. Let Him work with your ingredients, so that your brownies will smell GOOD!