A Prayer about God’s Kingdom and Our Little “Flock-ness”

A prayer by Scotty Smith that was meant for me today – maybe you, too.

 

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:32-34

 

Lord Jesus, it’s a joy to begin this day hearing your calming voice and experiencing your transforming presence… “Do not be afraid, little flock…” I gladly own my place among your little flock—one of your beloved lambs, no stranger to uncertainty and fear. The best news is that this little flock is your little flock. There’s no safer place than to be in your hand and heart, for you are the Good Shepherd, indeed.

 

I totally understand why you warn us about setting our hearts on the wrong treasure, especially at times when we feel vulnerable. During times of stress and threat, we often look to the wrong things and wrong people for safety, stability, and security. But I’ve seen what happens when we make anything or anyone, besides you, our ultimate treasure. There’s only One inexhaustible treasure.

 

I have friends who’ve inherited millions and others who’ve inherited the wind. I’ve seen families deeply stressed as they prepare for the reading of a will and then permanently divided over the execution of the same will. I’ve seen windfall profits turned into landfill waste in a matter of months. I’ve seen dads and moms go through enough money in a couple of years to have built two orphanages in Haiti, and educated their kids and grandkids for a couple of decades.

 

Foolishly, there have been times when I’ve treasured the approval of man, the illusion of control and the idol of a pain-free heart more than I’ve treasured you. So many false currencies, “fool’s gold” and diminishing riches clamor for our heart’s trust. But nothing, absolutely nothing threatens you and the value of your everlasting kingdom.

 

On this very day and in this season of life, we reaffirm that you, Lord Jesus, are our priceless treasure and most-to-be-desired portion. Because of you we call God “Abba, Father” and the new heaven and new earth our inheritance. Hallelujah, what a Savior! Hallelujah, what a salvation!

 

Jesus, melt our fears with your peace; strengthen our hearts with your grace; and send us forth into kingdom service with your irrepressible love. So very Amen we pray, in your sane-making, soul-centering name.

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What Do We Owe Our Master?

by Joel Taylor at 5 Pt. Salt blog

What do we owe our Master? We do call Jesus “Master” do we not? Do we owe our master loyalty and fidelity? Obedience? Do we owe Him singleness of mind? Do we owe Him honest service, and not just works done to the satisfaction and approval of our family or fellow church members or people at work?

If Jesus is our genuinely our Master, is He not our primary concern? And if He is our primary concern, do we not handle all our many other secondary concerns with an eye to His approval? Do we hope to please this Master by our ongoing ignorance of the details of His Word? Are we hoping our Master will shrug at our disobedience to those teachings when we do manage to confront them in His Word? Are we secretly hoping that Jesus will wink at our sins since we have a overall Christian persona?

Allow me to interject my own experience here. I had thought that increasing old age would make discipleship to Jesus easier. (It has not always worked out that way.) After all, only a fool does not see the road of our temporal lives on this earth ends for most before seventy, and for those relatively few that live on, time is obviously short. Why then do not older people become increasingly fixed in their attention on things above? Well, some do, but most do not. If we have been remiss in recognizing Christ as Master in our youthful years, what possible excuse do we have for our latter years? At minimum, does not our own prudent self interest dictate growing attention to our Lord Jesus, if only as a pragmatic choice? Why then our reticence?

The answer is obvious, and the answer is no different for the old than for the young. There is in us this thing called “self” that refuses to relinquish control and bow the knee of life to every aspect of Christ’s dominion. Oh, we make a pretty good show of it generally, but inwardly many of us reserve an area or two that says “private” or “don’t even bother to knock.” The problem with this is that we cannot rightfully call Jesus “Master” while we are content sheltering His enemies. Bitterness, anger, lust, resentment, pride and such – and the sins they incubate are incompatible with Lord Jesus – and while we knowingly harbor such pools of rebellion, we may publicly call Christ Lord, but we know unless we are completely and utterly deluded, that whatever we call Him, we do not truly serve Him as Lord without unfeigned obedience.

A Prayer for the Gospel to Run “Wild” in Our Churches

by Scotty Smith

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. Col. 1:3-6

Gracious Father, we bring our church families before you today… with their brokenness and beauty; frustrations and fruit; drama and doxology. It’s not only a privilege but a necessity to pray without ceasing for one another in the body of Christ. For until the day Jesus returns, the church is your chosen means for revealing your glory, lavishing your grace, and advancing your kingdom. No wonder she is constantly being assailed by the world and assaulted by darkness.

In harmony with Paul’s prayer, we ask you to inundate, saturate, and liberate our churches with the gospel of your transforming grace—new church plants and aging communities alike. May the gospel run “wild” and wide. There’s no other story, power, motivation, or resources adequate for the calling you’ve given your beloved people. Infuse the DNA of the gospel into everything we are and do.

Deepen and strengthen our faith in Jesus—for he is the Lord and center of the gospel. It’s not the size of our faith but the object of our faith that matters most, so keep revealing more of his mercy and majesty to us. Help us boast in his work, not ours. May the name of Jesus be the most heard, loved, and trusted name in our churches.

Help us to love one another as Jesus loves us—the surest and most necessary mark of our discipleship. For your glory, fill our hearts with his compassion. By your mercy and grace, give us love for all the saints—not just those who are mirror images of ourselves. Tear down our divisions. Rescue us from our prejudices. Heal our wounds. Transform our conflicts. Rebuild bruised and broken trust. May we never get used to loving poorly.

By the hope-filled gospel, liberate our time, talents and treasure for the work of your kingdom, in our cities and among the nations. May the gospel bear fresh and lasting fruit, in us and through us. May we be like well-watered gardens in our cities—offering much needed nourishment to many. By the irrepressible gospel, revive us, transform us, and free us for your sovereign and saving purposes. So very Amen we pray, with longing hearts in Jesus’ exalted name.

What does the local church look like?

A evaluation of the healthy church by , Savannah, GA at Deconstructing Neverland blog

This doesn’t seem to be a very difficult question but from what I gather, the answer many give is made of men’s traditions and not what we see in scripture. Even those who believe that the New Testament churches only serve to describe the church gatherings and are not to be considered as a blueprint for what the church should look like today often pick and choose traditions that are based on a handful of out of context verses that they think should be followed like a law.  It is very inconsistent to say the least.

I recently watched a video from the Gospel Coalition with the same title as this post.  It was long so I mostly skimmed through it just to get an idea of what they were talking about.  According to these men, the local church is mostly defined as a place where the scriptures are preached in an expository manner, there is a focus on making disciples and they have proper guidelines for membership status.  Really???  I keep looking for the passages that describe the church congregation or elders voting someone into the church and I can’t find it.  Maybe someone could help me with that.  Likewise I haven’t found the passages that show a leader preaching a sermon to a body of believers.  If these are the marks of a healthy church then the first century churches that Paul planted were not worthy of imitating.

Why would we want to be like the first century church anyway though?  It’s not like they were the picture perfect group of folks that were sold out for Jesus.  There was fighting over their favorite leaders, bickering amongst the women, show-offs dominating the gatherings, greedy people eating up all the food before everyone else arrived, some were teaching that real followers of Christ had to be circumcised to prove it.  I mean really, these folks were jacked up.  Surely we have matured a lot since the first century as a church, right?  Why would we give up our comfy pews where we listen to a skilled communicator and teacher break down God’s Word for us?  And…don’t our modern membership guidelines keep the jacked up people out of our congregation and make sure everyone is on the same doctrinal page?

Not exactly…

So, what does the local church look like?  If it’s a biblical church it will look very similar to what we see in the New Testament.  It will be full of folks who have a lot of room to grow.  They may even be as jacked up as the ones we read about in the Epistles.  Yet, they will have one thing in common:  faith in Christ.  They will need to be constantly reminded to focus their gaze and minds on Him.  They will give of themselves, of their time and resources in an effort to build others up by pointing them in the direction of Christ.  They will depend completely on the indwelling power of Christ’s Spirit to bring about their growth and they will boast only in their weaknesses.

What doesn’t look like a local church?  The opposite of the above.  It will look drastically different from what we see in the New Testament.  It will be full of folks who think they have it all together.  They will give the impression that everything is just hunky-dory in their daily life.  They will have one thing in common:  a church covenant.  They will keep themselves very busy with programs and church functions so that they are not distracted to commit the most heinous sins.  They will come to church and be a part of the programs that benefit them the most.  They will depend completely in the right teaching of their preaching pastor and Sunday school teacher to bring about their growth and they will boast in how much they love their pastor and church because they are doing everything right.

If you’re looking for the 9 marks of a healthy church you can start by looking for the marks on their knees from prayer, the marks on their hands from service, the marks on their Bible from persistent study, the marks of their past where the Lord has corrected them, the marks they have made on the lives of those they come into contact with, the mark of humility, the mark of joy and the mark of peace that comes from walking with the Lord everyday but most of all look for the marks of the Spirit living through them to love, serve, grow and bring others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Sorry to bust your bubble but expository preaching, evangelism, and strict membership guidelines including a voting process for new members is not what makes a church.  It certainly doesn’t mark a healthy church.

A flesh and blood body of Jesus Christ living by His Spirit is what makes a church.  Period.

4 Ways to Pray the Gospel Over Your Life

by JD Greer at The Resurgence

The revolutionary idea of the gospel is that we begin to do what we ought for God as we are captivated by the story of what he has done for us.

Spiritual fruits do not develop in us as we focus on them; spiritual fruits come as we abide in Jesus (John 15:5). Spiritual “fruit” is much like physical “fruit.” When a husband and wife conceive physical “fruit” (i.e. a child), they are not thinking about the exact, scientific mechanics of making that child. They get caught up in a moment of loving intimacy with one another, and the fruit of that loving intimacy is a child. In the same way, spiritual fruits do not grow by focusing on fruit production, but by becoming intimate with the doctrines of the gospel.

 

Grow Your Fruit with the Gospel

Jesus said that saturating ourselves in the gospel, or “abiding” (lit., “making our home”) in it, is the way to abundant fruit. Sanctification is the daily process of pulling up the roots of our hearts from the flesh and grounding them in the soil of the gospel. Or, to change metaphors, we must send out missionaries to the unreached parts of our heart to preach the gospel and bring our heart under the subjugation of the gospel.

Things like radical generosity and audacious faith are not produced when we focus on them, but when we focus on the gospel.

 

A Prayer of God’s Righteousness

About four years ago, I wrote a prayer for our church to help to this end. We often talk about “preaching the gospel to ourselves daily,” but how can you do that? This four-part prayer confronts us with the reality of God’s gift-righteousness and love:

    1. “In Christ, there is nothing I could do that would make you love me more, and nothing I have done that makes you love me less.”

Pray about this “gift righteousness” of the gospel (2 Cor. 5:21) and go to war against the incipient works-righteousness hardwired into our hearts.

    1. “Your presence and approval are all I need today for everlasting joy.”  

Pray about this value of God’s presence in our lives. It’s one thing to know that Jesus is your possession; it’s another for that approval to have such weightiness in our hearts that our captivity to other idols is snapped.

    1. “As you have been to me, so I will be to others.”  

Pray about and consider the extravagant generosity of God toward us. His generosity toward us leads us to radical generosity toward others.   

    1. “As I pray, I’ll measure your compassion by the cross and your power by the resurrection.”

Pray that God would help you view the world through the lens of the gospel. Seeing the compassion and power of God revealed in the gospel produces bold, audacious faith in our hearts. 

 

Focus on What Jesus has Done For You

Things like radical generosity and audacious faith are not produced when we focus on them, but when we focus on the gospel. Focusing on what we ought to do for God creates only frustration and exhaustion; focusing on what Jesus has done for us produces abundant fruit. Resting in what Jesus has done for us releases the revolutionary power of the gospel.

For Paul Christianity is Christ

Found on the Already Not Yet blog

James Dunn argues that the much-disputed ‘center’ of Paul’s theology is, simply, Christ. Dunn writes–

For Paul Christianity is Christ. Any restatement of his theology, any theologizing which seeks to sustain a dialogue with Paul will simply have to recognize this.

The centrality of Christ, as showing what God is like, as defining God’s Spirit, as the channel of Israel’s blessing for the nations, as demonstrating what obedience to Torah means, as the light which illumines Israel’s scriptures, as embodying the paradigm of creation and consummation, his death and resurrection as the midpoint of time, as the magnet for faith, as the focus of all sacramental significance, as determining the personal and corporate identity of Christians, as the image to which the salvation process conforms, is simply inescapable in the theology of Paul the apostle.

~ James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Eerdmans, 2006), 729

Combatting Militancy in Spiritual Warfare

Okay, all you “soldiers” out there – here are some challenging thoughts to cause you to get your bible open and check it out. Some good thoughts by Lisa Robinson at Parchement and Pen blog:

(Lisa Robinson)

It doesn’t take long for a Christian to realize that accepting Christ enlists them in a struggle.  We learn very quickly that God has an enemy, Satan.  He can’t really do anything about God’s plans since what God had purposed he will bring about (Ephesians 1:11).  But there is the case for him to frustrate God’s people.

One passage that clearly identifies this is Ephesians 6:11-12:

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

As Christians, we must rightfully understand that there are forces at work against us, that there is a spiritual warfare occurring.  In fact, I am observing an increased focus in Christian messaging on spiritual warfare.  However, I am concerned that spiritual warfare has been amplified in both content and practice to the extent of producing an unwarranted militancy.  What has been construed as a wrestle beyond flesh and blood has translated into a war-like posture that makes us take a proactive charge against Satan, and sometimes in a physically hostile way.  It peppers our language and produces prescriptions of seizing authority over Satan and his demons.  We take certain passages of scripture as charging the Christian to fight the devil.

I contend that what has developed into a war-like motif of taking aggression against demonic activity is a misplaced emphasis on how struggles against us are overcome.  There are other passages that get overlooked in this aggressive posture and these passages indicate that we have no cause to fight the devil.  Moreover, nowhere in scripture is the Christian charged to fight the devil.

There is no doubt that the New Testament is full of imagery of arsenal and warfare.  For example looking at the fuller Ephesians passage, it does seem to suggest that we should take a posture of fighting.

Finally, by strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all of this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayer and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.  (Ephesians 6:10-18)

The first thing to note is that while there is a spiritual battle, what we are fighting against are the devil’s schemes.  These are strategies and methods sourced in lies.   It is a tactic to get us to doubt or give in to temptation, in the same way the serpent tempted Eve.  But the second thing to note is that the governing verb in this passage is “stand”.  The counteraction against these strategies is not to fight the devil but to stand firm.  I also note in 1 Peter 5:8-9 and James 4:7 that our charge is to resist.  This is how we fight, by resisting.  It is not taking a charge against the devil but a resistance that is sourced in who we are and what we have.  Every one of those components speaks to something that has already been provided for us.  The only offensive weapon cited here is wielding the sword of the Spirit.  We proactively counteract strategies with the word of God – believing it and living it.

Another passage that I believe contributes to hyper-militancy is 2 Corinthians 10:3-6

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your disobedience is complete.

Certainly, this passage is chalk-full of war imagery.  But I believe the imagery is designed not to encourage an outward hostile militancy on our part, but to demonstrate how radical a shift the Christian worldview is from the pagan society in the 1st century Greco-Roman society.  It is meant to highlight the seriousness of the spiritual warfare that existed in this environment and should compel the same level of seriousness in contemporary times.  But it is not an encouragement to engage in hostile behavior.

Secondly, what is it that is being fought? – arguments that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God.  It is a way of thinking that is contradictory to the revelation of God.  The weaponry in this case is not to charge against the devil but charge against contradictory philosophies.  How is it counteracted? – by taking thoughts captive and making them obedient.  I contend this can be as quiet as surrendering to the will of God, aligning our thinking according to his will and ways and taking serious the call of obedience to scripture.  This is in line with Romans 12:2 – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Moreover, I contend that a significant attention towards Satan is misdirected and myopic.   Everything I’ve described points to the enemy of a worldly philosophy that is sourced in self-reliance and opposition to God.  But there is also the flesh.  Many times the outward focus is misplaced because we need to direct the attention inward.  There is a serious enemy called “I” and seeks to rebel and have its way at all costs.  This is why James says “a man sins when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed.” (James 1:13).  We can be our own worst enemies.

And this does get to what I think is the misplaced counter-strategy that we have engaged with in spiritual warfare.  I get the sense from a more outwardly militant approach to spiritual warfare that we are working side by side with God fighting the enemy.  But this negates the victory that Christ already gained over him at the cross.  As believers, we have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and translated into the kingdom (Colossians 1:13).  We are united to Christ and found in him (Ephesians 1:1-8Romans 6:3-7).   We are not fighting alongside him.  Though there is a proactive response required on our part, the battle is the Lord’s.

So our warfare does not have to look militant or hostile.  It can be lived out quietly when we surrender to Christ, follow after the Spirit and engage in intense prayer as noted in Ephesians 6:18.  It is being kind when we don’t want to or loving that otherwise unlovable and difficult brother or sister.  It is seeking the concern of others and the Christian community above ourselves.  It is being obedient to scripture when temptation says otherwise.   It is allowing ourselves to be conformed to the image of Christ and living that out in meaningful and tangible ways.  I don’t know about you, but seems pretty radical to me.