Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dealing with the prayer circle

We've all been there; maybe in a home group, or before church, or after music practice, on a camp or even in a deacons or elder's meeting; but I am sure we've all experienced sitting as a group of Christians to pray together and finding yourself enduring minutes of awkward silence.

I don't get it... when we say we are going to pray let's pray!  To be honest I do remember as a teen feeling unfit or unprepared to pray when an older person pulled us together to pray, that was immaturity on my part and I can understand younger people could feel a bit uncomfortable, so I try and find other ways to pray with teens say at youth group or in small groups on a high schooler's camp.

But for Christians who have been in the faith long enough to experience the maturity of the Gospel impacting truth to change who you are (which is different for all people, and I know many young people who do this so not saying teens can't), then praying, even in a group, should come naturally.

So why the awkward silence?  I have a few ideas I feel need to be addressed.

1. You don't pray on your own
Why would you feel comfortable talking to Jesus with other people around if you aren't comfortable doing it on your own? But as I sit in a silent circle and consider what's going on I have to say this is the saddest reason straight up.  I mean prayer is a life-source for Christians, communicating with the one who saved you, who loves you has to be the most uplifting thing a Christian can do. If people don't do this their faith will go stale... so how scary is that thought if you're in a prayer circle with youth leaders, or deacons and this is the reason behind the silence.  First and foremost we must be communicating with God ourselves, so that our relationship and faith is growing, fresh, healthy and foundational.

2. People aren't taught how to pray
Some people have a gift of prayer.  From the moment they meet Jesus they are in constant communication with Him.  It is the first thing they think of when they wake up, the last thing they do as they fall asleep and they relish every moment in between to talk to God.  I  am not one of those people, and I know many are not like that.  For me it took years to understand God, understand prayer, to learn from others, to learn from Jesus and Scripture.  I mean before Jesus shares 'The Lord's Prayer' with the disciples he says this; "this is how you should pray...".  Jesus knew the disciples needed some guidance, so we should not think that we don't either.  So do we teach people how to pray?  As a pastor I reflect and wonder if we do it well, or if we just get everyone in a circle, hold hands, close our eyes and expect each person to know what they are doing.  I think as pastors we need to intentionally do some teaching on prayer, and its importance.

3. People aren't living in Gospel community
Today's western society is a very individualistic society.  When people live lives individually then it inherently lets selfishness creep in.  It may be controversial but I think the selfishness of independence ruins churches, not just corporate prayer.  However since it is the prayer circle we are talking about here let's leave the wider issue and just look at how it impacts this.  'My faith is my thing'; 'Prayer is personal'; 'I don't want others to know what's going on'... these are all reasons people don't pray and they are all inherently selfish. Right at the beginning, we hear that the church in Jerusalem was totally unified in all they did and committed themselves to teaching and prayer.  I am sure in their unity they didn't see prayer as a personal individual thing.  It was their opportunity to talk to Jesus together, and knowing that Jesus was God, saviour, conqueror, king, and brother they knew their needs could be met, their inhibitions blown away, their sins forgiven and their identities only found in Him.  Because of that they recognised they (all together) were the same, and individualism had no place because they now all had the same standing that they were simply 'in Christ'.  That's a Gospel community, that's what I want to see our home groups, youth groups, worship teams, leadership teams and entire churches living in, but it comes at the cost of selfish individualism.

4. The prayer circle isn't right for the current context
Group dynamics are different from group to group.  There are different ways to pray in groups, sometimes there are better ways than just talking about a list of prayer points and then closing our eyes and expecting people to repeat them now as we pray.  But somehow the traditional prayer circle has become something we cling to, even when it constantly is met with minutes of awkward silence before finally the leader puts everyone out of their misery by praying and saying "Amen".   If it is a constant issue for your group, and you have addressed the previous three points, then maybe look at a different way to pray together.  Maybe getting people to write on paper a few worries and a few praises and then read them out to the group after which someone can commit them all to God in prayer.  Maybe incorporate music to centre people's hearts, or go for what I call the 'African prayer' where everyone talks allowed at the same time, praying individually to God but as a unified group (that's how we did it in The Gambia all the time).  Maybe you could use Jesus' teaching and step through the Lord's Prayer and stop at each element and have people share what's going on in their lives regarding say 'seeing God's kingdom come' or 'giving us our daily bread'.  There's no prescribed way to do corporate prayer, so don't cling to something that isn't working.

It breaks my heart to sit in silence when a group has turned to God in prayer.  I long for a community of people who themselves long to communicate with Jesus and so at any opportunity express their thanks, their love and their need of Him.  Those are rich corporate prayer times. So I am not content to let awkward silence prevail, either lives need changing, people need more understanding, selfish individuality needs to be crushed or we need to find a new way to talk to Jesus together.  Let's at least commit to trying to enhance and better the way we pray together!

**I am aware I have not quoted Scripture in this post, and merely paraphrased without giving reference at times.  I anticipated a conversational styled post here, but am happy to give further references if people want, just contact me.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Tweet of the Week

We want to please the heart, resemble the life, and promote the glory of the one who has saved us.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Want to read the Bible in it's original language?

I came across this fantastic new website this morning.  Rob Plumber (N.T professor at Southern Seminary in Louisville) makes a 2 minute video each day, reading through a verse in Greek, he then explains it very simply but proficiently.

If you've studied Biblical Greek this is a great way to just keep it rolling around in your head each day.

If you haven't, Rob has a whole section of videos to help you learn a bit about Greek too.

What a fantastic idea, and website! - http://www.dailydoseofgreek.com/

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Just needing Jesus more and more.

The more I find myself diving deeper into the world of pastoring, the more I find myself needing to cover myself with Jesus' grace.  People turn to me for advice, for leadership and sometimes for their spiritual identity... yet the deeper I go the more I realise how much more I need Jesus.

This means I find that my only desire in being a pastor is to push my congregation to find themselves deeper and deeper with Jesus so they realise themselves how much more they need Him.
I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!
~Psalm 34:1-3
I fret when I pick up that people are putting their own spiritual identity in who I am, or what I do. Because when people don't own their own faith, when they rely on the pointers of others then we're not really doing what the psalm above says; 'exulting his name together', what is actually happening is one or two people are exulting the Lord and the rest are just doing what they see others doing.

Francis Chan said something amazing at the start of his sermon at the Passion Conference in February, that his desire, and the only desire of the entire conference was to bring people to the foot of Jesus' cross and leave them there.  As humans all we can do is bring people to the cross and from that point it is between the individual and Jesus.  In this way I've realised I live a life kneeling in the dust at the foot of the cross, even as a pastor, that's where I need to be, and where we all need to be, there's nothing more special we need to do ourselves.  Jesus does amazing, supernatural works in our lives, but there is some element of individual response that is needed on our part... something that ultimately you can't fake, or just copy off someone else.

My heart breaks at the thought of people not getting that, and never realising grasping that praise 'continually coming from their mouths, their souls boasting only in the Lord, and being humble and glad'.

But I know all I can do is bring people to the cross, from there it's between them and Jesus.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Speak what is true

A song which has felt really relevant since preaching on Sunday night, and reading that tweet from John Piper last night.

"Here's my heart Lord, speak what is true."

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Bless those who speak the truth, hinder those who don't

Wow - I love the directness John Piper brings to the table of Gospel proclamation, but sometimes I have to double take to get where he's going. Within this tweet I see the weight of what I do each week as I get up to preach the Word of God.

Today, just before the service I realised I had lost half of my sermon notes for tonight, and so preached my introduction then opened up to the passage and stepped through it verse by verse with some thoughts of application and illustration thrown in.  I felt power and clarity in what I said, which I can only point to the power of God.  All glory to Him.

My topic was the truth in the statement of the Roman Centurion in Luke 23:47 where he says "surely this was a righteous man" or the idea that this man realised the truth of who Jesus was, and we need to as well.

I pray that I continue to preach truth with clarity and power, and never fall into a place where I need to be hindered with weakness and confusion.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Rely on Jesus.

In the sport of cricket, a bouncer is a type of delivery, usually bowled by a fast bowler. It is pitched short so that it bounces on the pitch well short of the batsman and rears up to chest or head height (or even higher) as it reaches the batsman. Bouncers are used tactically to drive the batsman back on to his back foot if he has been freely playing front foot scoring shots.
Sometimes in life we get into a place where we feel we are just driving at the ball, scoring points and then suddenly life bowls us a bouncer, it's unexpected and drives us back into a defensive position.

Sometimes it's God doing the bowling, maybe we've become too complacent and self-reliant so God serves up a bouncer to bring us back to depending on Him.

Sometimes it's just a result of the broken world we live in.  Not every bad thing, or tough thing, can be blamed on God or His plan to challenge us.  There are times it is our fault, our own sin brings a consequence that bounces up into our faces... but again, other times it is just a result of a sin-filled, broken world.  Disease and sickness can usually not be blamed on anything but the world we live in.  But it can still bounce up at us.

In all cases, though, the answer is the same... rely on God.  Jesus died, He went through some tremendously horrid stuff, but He did it so we can fully rely on Him. When you get bowled a bouncer know that you aren't facing it alone.  Jesus has promised He is with us, and that in the end, or in the light of the most important things we need, "all things work to the good of those who love Him" and "we are more than conquerors" (Romans 8:28 &37)  Even when God is bowling a bouncer you're not the only one handling the bat, Jesus is there too, in you.  You can always rely on Him to help you through anything, even long term, life changing stuff.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Send some missionaries to your face...

...here's a video I used in my sermon last Sunday night, it relates to the previous post as well because I was preaching on the story of the ten lepers.

Thanks Ken Davis for providing such great illustrations for us.

Healed and grateful... My desire for you all.

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers 
On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.
Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
~Luke 17:11-19
When we read this story we are forced to recognise that in this world a human can only fall into 1 of 3 different categories.  Either we are a;
  1. Sick and dying leper
  2. Healed and ungrateful person
  3. Healed and grateful person
That's it, there's no fourth option - no "healthy person" category... no excuses or cop outs.  The simple fact is that everyone at some point or another has been a sick and dying leper... or a human in a state of death, dying from a disease called sin. No one has ever been healthy, we are born already infected with this sin disease - it's not as visible as leprosy, but sin is just as deadly.  

When God created the world He created it to be in line with His own nature, and His very nature is perfect, there in nothing within God (and can be nothing within God) that is not good.  However God is also full of love which in itself includes the choice to show love (love can only be real if it is freely given), hence our world was created with the ability to love, which must include the ability to not love (or love is worthless).  The choice to love ourselves first must mean we choose to not love God as a first priority, and this is not good.  This is sin, any choice made not to put God or His will first.  Once sin enters the realm then we can never be healthy, for we have all sinned, which is not good, and nothing not good can be associated with God.

 But this was not how God planned His creation to be - and His love is true, genuine and enduring.  So He enacted a way to make things good again.  The only person who would be worthy of paying the penalty for sin was someone who had never sinned (a criminal can't pay the sentence for another criminal can he? That would defeat the purpose of justice). No mere human could do that, but a human must pay that price... so God became human, He limited His divinity and Jesus was born, without the disease of sin since Mary was a virgin and Jesus' conception was a divine intervention.

Jesus lived a perfect life, He is the only one who can say He was 'healthy' in regard to sin, but He then offered himself in our place, He died the death that our disease was driving us towards. On the cross our disease was placed on Jesus, so much so that God could not be with Jesus (God saw Jesus [Himself] as not good, because of our sin).  The substitution was made, the disease was conquered because God, having paid the price, rose to life and set Himself in authority.

So just as Jesus healed the lepers in the passage above, He can now healed our sin disease.  The lepers had faith Jesus would heal them, they asked for mercy.  That is how we are healed as well, turning to Jesus, repenting of that sin that causes so much trouble and asking Jesus for His mercy to save us.

But just like all ten lepers were healed and only one realised he needed to show thanks, we do the same thing.  We accept that forgiveness, that saving grace, and we go on focusing on our lives. We are ungrateful.  We must take the example of the one leper, and we must seek Jesus out again and be thankful always for what He did for us.  Anything less is cheapening the sacrifice Jesus made for us, it is simply rude to not be thankful, to show Jesus' worth through worship and letting the emotion of it totally encompass our entire lives.

Where are you today? Are you still sick? Know Jesus can heal you.  Are you ungrateful, nonchalant, ignorant, stale or bored? Focus once again on the sacrifice - don't let your humanness or your independence or selfishness get in the way of your thankfulness.

Stop right now, turn to Jesus, and be thankful... worship Him!

Friday, 5 September 2014

Doing life together is tough.

Sometimes life and ministry raise more questions than finding answers. I know the Truth of the Gospel is the Answer, and that Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life - but sometimes it's with those practical things of life and everyday relationships/interactions that seem to raise more and more questions.

Doing life together is tough, the Christian life is a life of community, especially of unity in community, and though our normal human disposition is relational, and communal there is also a distinct independent and selfish that can fight against that unity within community.  It's for that reason even within Christian communities doing life together can be tough.

I think I just feel the need to express that I know I get it wrong a lot of the time, I am by no means any better at doing life in unified community than anyone else because I know and recognise my own independence and selfishness. In that regard I know I find myself with more questions than answers at times.

However; as a Pastor, I feel the need to call people back to that only Way, Truth and Life, because it is only in Jesus that we can truly be unified. I will continue to remind myself of this as well, and pray Jesus replaces my selfishness with His grace, both for myself and others.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Between the sinless birth and sin-bearing death...

With the "He Changed My Life" series currently in our evening services looking through the interactions Jesus had with people in the Gospel of Luke, I have been reminded again of the ministry that took place during Jesus' life. We constantly (and for good reason) reflect of his substitutionary sacrifice for the propitiation of our sins (His work on the cross), because belief in this is what saves... but for living day to day life as a Christian here and now, there is no better source for encouragement, example, correction and guiding than Jesus himself.
Most theologies seem to move from a sinless birth to a sin-bearing death, and most ignore all that lies in between. This is a terrible misstep since Jesus' ministry, beginning in Galilee with his baptism by John and ending in Jerusalem with his crucifixion, puts into motion crucial events in the divine drama of redemption. Let us remember that the books we call "Gospels" narrate Jesus' redemptive death as the climax to his messianic career, and that career should be part and parcel of our study.
~Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology, p375
Jesus spent a lot of time teaching, and this teaching was regarding either the coming of the kingdom of God, what the kingdom of God was, or proper living for those in the kingdom of God.   He especially poured his knowledge and example into twelve Apostles who became the fathers and spreaders of His church.  Within his teaching, and the proclaiming of the Apostles of what Jesus taught them, was the source to the restoration of Israel (which they had been waiting for for so long) and the inclusion of all nations into the family of God.

Israel had been waiting for a Messiah who would bring about the restoration of their nation which God had promised.  Jesus didn't bring a physical restoration by driving out the Roman occupying force and setting himself up as the king on a throne in this nation.  Instead Jesus taught that God's kingdom was more important than the earthly kingdom, and that this was what God had intended all along... that people would be able to come to Him - that the Holy Spirit would dwell within humankind and a spiritual kingdom would be established.  The only way this could happen was for Jesus to go to the cross.  But His life was spent teaching about what He was about to bring about.

So we can turn to Jesus for so much more than salvation - even though salvation is our primary need.  I hope as people have heard the "He Changed My Life" messages (available on www.dbaybap.com to listen to if you aren't a regular attendee)  that they have seen some of these other areas where Jesus changes who and what you are!
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