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devote yourself to prayer

As a pastor, I receive emails from time to time asking me to complete a survey in exchange for a copy of an ebook. I completed one of those surveys this morning. To be honest, I really didn’t like my answers!

Today’s survey questions asked about my prayer life:

  • How much time do you spend praying?
  • What do you spend the most time praying for?
  • How often do you pray with other people?
  • When was the last time you spent more than ten minutes in prayer?
  • When was the last time you spent more than thirty minutes praying?
  • When was the last time you spent more than an hour praying?
  • How satisfied are you with your prayer life?
  • etc.

Like I said, I didn’t like my answers. But they were great questions; questions that believers need to be asked from time to time.

In today’s Bible reading from Colossians 4, Paul tells the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer. In light of today’s survey questions, I thought I’d dig a little into what Paul actually wanted his readers to do.

The English word devote is translated from a couple of different Greek words. But the words Paul uses in Colossians 4:2 are used elsewhere in a similar way. Here are a few examples.

  • They all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. Acts 1:14 (CSB)
  • They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Acts 2:42 (CSB)
  • Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, Acts 2:46 (CSB)
  • But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. Acts 6:4 (CSB)

One of my Greek lexicons (a fancy word for a dictionary) says that this Greek word means,
1. to adhere to one, be his adherent, to be devoted or constant to one.
2. to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing.
3. to continue all the time in a place.
4. to persevere and not to faint.
5. to show one’s self courageous for.
6. to be in constant readiness for one, wait on constantly.[1]

Another lexicon says this Greek word means, “to continue to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of despite difficulty—‘to devote oneself to, to keep on, to persist in.’”[2]

Let me merge a couple of those definitions: To give unremitting care to something with intense effort, despite difficulty.

In other words, “devoting oneself to prayer” is much more than “saying your prayers”. It’s much more than going through a list of prayer requests. In the context of praying with other people, it’s much more than merely updating the names of people and their needs on our corporate prayer list.

My answers didn’t fit very well with what Paul was telling the Colossians to do!

Ouch!

Application

How would you answer those questions? Would you be satisfied with your answers?

So what are some practical things you can do today to change your answers to fit more with the actual instructions Paul was giving the Colossian church?

Write your answers in a journal. Then devote yourself to prayer.

Periodically go back and review your answers and see how God has grown you in the spiritual discipline of prayer.

[1] Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.
[2] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 662. Print.

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Holy Spirit

In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about living a consistent Christian Life. (Ephesians 5:15-22) Nobody wants to see a hypocritical Christian. And nobody wants to live a hypocritical Christian Life. So how do you live a consistent Christian Life? Paul answers the question in verse 18.

And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit Ephesians 5:18 (CSB)

Paul contrasts getting drunk on wine with being filled with the Holy Spirit. Many years ago, I heard a preacher say, “Getting drunk on wine makes you do foolish things. Getting drunk on the Holy Spirit makes you do things that seem foolish.”

Being controlled by alcohol leads to reckless living. And Paul spells out what being controlled by (which is what the Greek word “filled with” means) the Holy Spirit leads to:

speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. Ephesians 5:19–21 (CSB)

Being controlled/filled by the Holy Spirit expresses itself in praise and thanksgiving to God. It also expresses itself in mutual submission to other believers.

In the following verses, Paul expounds on how being filled with the Holy Spirit and submitting to each other expresses itself: it bubbles up and overflows into marital relationships, relationships between parents and children, and relationships between employers and employees.

But what is being filled with the Spirit? First off, the verb expresses a continual process. In other words, you aren’t just filled with the Spirit once and that’s all you need. Paul says, “Keep on being continually filled/controlled by the Holy Spirit.” Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t a one-time experience; being filled with the Holy Spirit should be a moment-by-moment experience.

Next, being filled with the Spirit results in relationship changes, beginning with a believer’s relationship with God and extending to the believer’s relationships with other believers.

So how is someone filled with the Spirit? Some would say by someone laying their hands on you and you speaking in ecstatic words. But is that what Paul says? Look at what Paul tells the Colossians in a parallel passage:

Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16–17 (CSB)

Just like being filled with the Holy Spirit is a continual, moment-by-moment process, letting the word of Christ live in us is a continual, moment-by-moment process: Let the word of Christ “keep on continually living in you”.

Notice: The expressions of being filled with the Holy Spirit are identical to letting the word of Christ live richly among you: relationship changes between the believer and God (praise and thanksgiving) and relationships with other believers. Just like he does in the verses following Ephesians 5:18, Paul spells out these marital, parent/child, and employer/employee relationships in the verses following Colossians 3:17.

So being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same thing as letting the word of Christ dwell in you. In other words, as believers spend time reading God’s Word, studying God’s Word, and memorizing God’s Word, our relationship with God and our relationships with other believers change. These changes won’t happen overnight. It’s a continual process as we keep on being filled and as we keep on letting God’s Word fill our lives.

Application

Are you keeping on being continually filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you let the word of Christ live in you? Do you read it? Do you study it? Do you memorize it?

How would you describe your relationship with God? Are you full of praise and thanksgiving to Him?

How are your relationships with other believers? Is your life characterized by mutually submitting to other believers? How is your relationship with your spouse? Your children or parents? Your employer or employees?

Again, being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting the word of Christ live in you is a continual process. Don’t be discouraged by the process. Trust the process. Spend some time in the Word today. And spend some time today just praising and thanking God.

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Today’s Bible reading begins one of my favorite books of the Bible: Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul begins his Magnum Opus Systematic Theology by laying out the gospel message with a description of man’s descent from the time of Creation to his day — and to our day.

Paul says that God’s wrath is already being revealed against ungodliness because mankind has been able to clearly see God’s revealed glory, and yet refused to acknowledge God’s existence. He wrote this around AD 57. And yet, little has changed.

When the Jewish people cried out to the prophet Samuel for a king (1Samuel 8), he warned them that they didn’t need a king, since God was their king. The people said they wanted to be like other nations and to do that, they needed a king. The people kept asking Samuel for a king until he gave them what they asked for: King Saul. And he did everything that God warned the people he would do. (1 Samuel 8:11–18) They got everything they wanted.

In Romans 1, Paul says that God gave the people what they wanted. And the very thing that they wanted became their judgment.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.
For this reason God delivered them over to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The men in the same way also left natural relations with women and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error.
And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a corrupt mind so that they do what is not right. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful. Romans 1:22–31 (CSB)

Finally, Paul complete his description of God’s judgment against Fallen Mankind:

Although they know God’s just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them. Romans 1:32 (CSB)

Paul says, it wasn’t enough that people sinned against God. They took it one final step further: they encouraged other people to sin.

Even in my lifetime, I have witnessed this descent played out in society’s acknowledgement to leniency to approval of the sins that Paul spells out here. God has given mankind what mankind has asked for.

Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches. Romans 1:27 (The Message)

Here in verse 27, Paul is referring to Isaiah’s warning:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20 (CSB)

Application

You may not have personally participated in, approved, or encouraged other people to commit the sins that Paul spells out so clearly. But Mankind has. And America has. We, believers, are at least partially to blame for society’s sinful demise. We have not been the salt and light that we are called to be. (Matthew 5:13–16)

Believers, we must confess and repent for our own participation in the sins of our culture. And we must beg for God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy for our nation’s sins. Our only hope of avoiding God’s wrath being poured out on us is to repent and pray. (2Chronicles 7:14)

Pray for God to send a spiritual awakening and revival, unlike anything our nation has ever experienced. Pray for the Holy Spirit to convict believers of their own sin, as well as our sin of silence while the world has gone to hell around them. Pray that pastors will faithfully speak God’s Word and disciple new (and old) believers in the faith. And pray that believers will hear God’s invitation to seek Him with all that they are.

If we don’t pray, no one will. Lost people definitely won’t do it!
Prayer is our job!

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Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
He has conquered sin and death!
He has made a way for us to be made right with a Holy God.


Many of my family members are United Methodists. Many of my friends are United Methodists. Some of my “Facebook Friends” (whom I have never really met) are United Methodists. I was saved during revival services at a small country United Methodist Church. My number one reason for leaving the Denomination and not pursuing vocational ministry in the UMC – aside for obvious theological differences – was I knew that I could not with a good conscience hold to my theological differences with the UMC while drawing a paycheck from the Denomination. Those theological differences are unrelated to this post.

Last week, the United Methodists from around the world met in St. Louis, Missouri to try to make sense of its differences and chart a way forward. At the forefront was the issue of ordination of openly gay clergy and gay marriage. There were several paths they could have chosen, including a “One Church” Plan that would have allowed churches and their clergy, regardless of their position on these issues, to affirm or forbid gay clergy and/or gay marriage.

However, the “Traditional” Plan prevailed. The “Traditional” Plan, backed by a large number of delegates from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, affirms The Book of the Discipline, UMC’s statement of doctrine and practice. The Book of the Discipline states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. Therefore, by default, gay ordination and gay marriage would also be incompatible.

In several Facebook posts, several of my United Methodist Pastor friends have expressed their deep concerns for the future of the second largest denomination in the United States. They are concerned about those on both sides of the issue being hurt by the vote. This morning, one posted a link to an article posted yesterday by another Methodist pastor. In the article, Jason Micheli’s parishioner (the article’s actual content writer) says, “The United Methodist Church’s unfixable rot has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with polity.” The writer lays out his argument that the root of the problem in the UMC is its polity, and as such, the denomination was destined to reach the impasse they currently find themselves in.

While all of these things may be true, I think the article writer – and perhaps most United Methodists – miss is an even deeper issue, which I encountered a few days ago with a “Facebook Friend”. This person shared someone else’s post. Here’s the thread:

Original Post:
“Please don’t say the struggle for LGBTQ rights is dividing the church. No one is being divisive by simply claiming their rights as a human being. What is tearing the church apart is the hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.”

My response:
“No one’s being divisive by pointing out a denomination’s written statement of doctrine and practice and calling those paid by that denomination to adhere to it. No one’s being divisive to say the Bible is still authoritative. John Wesley held a high view of the Bible and based his own ethics and behavior on all of it.”

My Facebook friend’s response:
“Scripture does not condemn Homosexuality.
Policies are not scripture or the Church.”

My responses:
“Which Bible are you reading? I know which one you aren’t reading.
It shouldn’t be too much to expect organizational employees to faithfully represent the organization, regardless of the organization – McDonald’s, Starbucks, UMC, IBM, etc. – if they wish to keep a paycheck. The Book of the Discipline is what the UMC has codified. Those drawing a paycheck should faithfully represent the UMC, or find another organization they can faithfully represent.
This is reason #1 I did not pursue ministry in the UMC.”

– End of Thread –

The problem with the UMC which has brought division is not the “hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.” The problem with the UMC is that they can’t agree on the place of the Bible in the Denomination’s theology and practice. Therefore, they can’t define sin in an objective way, because they don’t have an objective source. From the reaction I have seen in the press and on social media, it would appear that “sin” would be to act in an “unchristlike” way: judgmental, intolerant, and unaffirming of others.

And therein lies the problem.

Those on both sides of the gay ordination/gay marriage issue claim the other side is being “unchristlike“. But how can someone actually define “unchristlike” apart from a Biblical standpoint? After all, everything we know about Jesus Christ and what He was like is in the Bible. Jesus had some very divisive things to say to a lot of people as He called out their sin. And those He reached out to in mercy and grace, He told to repent of their behaviorand sin no longer.

There can be no objective definition of “Christlike“/”unchristlike“, “sin“, “repentance“, and “reaching the world with the gospel” apart from the Bible.

And until the United Methodist Church decides the place and authority of the Bible, there can be no definition of “unity” or any of these crucial and highly relevant words.

Until good people are more concerned with fidelity to the Bible and historic, Christian teachings on homosexuality – consistent for nearly two centuries – than with their concern for “friends on both sides of the issue who are hurt by the vote”, the future of the United Methodist Church is bleak.

Methodist friends, you have passed a historic vote to stand firm on your position stated clearly in The Book of the Discipline. The only two choices you have is to remain true to Biblical truth (as you voted last week) or bend to the modern morays of the Sexual Revolution. I’m not saying that homosexuals and those ordaining them and/or performing homosexual marriages are evil. But the Bible unequivocally denounces homosexual behavior.

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