Lessons on Prayer

Lessons on Prayer

Day 8

bibleToday’s reading is from [youversion]Luke 7:1-11:54[/youversion].

Often I hear people ask why God has not answered their prayers. This can always be a difficult situation since we often do not know the mind of God and what his greater purposes might be.

In the book of Luke, Jesus gives a brief lesson regarding prayer after the famous passage known as the ‘Lords Prayer’. I want to look at the lesson Jesus gave after this prayer. [youversion]Luke 11:5-13[/youversion] Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, `A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, `Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

Through this parable Jesus explains that there are times that God does not answer your prayer when you might want him to. That you need to be persistent and keep asking. It is not that God does not hear the prayer, but God wants to see how earnest your request truly is. When we are persistent it shows we have faith that God will respond. When we give up easily we show that our faith is weak, yet when we continue to ask the same request over and over, we prove that our faith is strong.

So, when we pray we should not lose heart when our request is not answered. We need to continue praying and be persistent because we know that God is good and hears his people.

What does real faith look like?

What does real faith look like?

Day 7

bibleToday’s reading was [youversion]Luke 1:1-6:49[/youversion]

The Book of Luke has always been my favorite gospel account. I love how Luke is an outsider. He wasn’t one of the disciples. So, he tells the story of Jesus life as an outsider, explaining in more detail various events and filling in the gaps from some of the other gospel accounts. I am also very fond of the fact that he took time and effort to investigate about Jesus, he didn’t just sit down and start writing what he had heard. [youversion]Luke 1:1:4[/youversion] Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. He verified it and researched to learn the real story about Jesus. I also love that we know that this book is written specifically to a man named Theophilis for the purpose of validating all that he had learned about Jesus.

I have always been the type of person that wants to dig deeply into an issue and look for evidence. I want to know the truth, not simply be told the truth. When I first accepted Christ I forced myself to learn more about Him before I would accept Him. I needed evidence. The book of Luke was very instrumental when I first accepted Christ as it gave me a strong foundation to know who Jesus is. So, I enjoy the level of detail that Luke provides in this gospel account. I am far more comfortable reading Luke’s findings than I am reading the Book of Mark, which seems more like a summary of Jesus ministry. There is nothing wrong with the book of Mark, but I would always choose Luke’s version over Mark’s.

As I have been reading this past week the overall question of ‘What does real faith look like?’ has been what has been on my thoughts. In Matthew and in Mark I see Jesus giving some fairly clear direction regarding what he considers real faith to be. The Faith that I am seeing Jesus describe throughout his ministry is one of action and obedience. Knowledge is a key part of it, but He focuses on action or fruit as is described in a few parables. In [youversion]Luke 6:46-49[/youversion] Jesus says the following: “So why do you keep calling me `Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

Jesus words here seem very similar to what is quoted in Matthew when Jesus says: “Not everyone who calls out to me, `Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, `Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, `I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ — [youversion]Matthew 7:21-23[/youversion]

Jesus again is focusing on those who take his teachings and follow them. Those who are obedient, not simply those who believe him. I know not all Churches nor all Christians teach that we simply need to believe in Jesus to be saved. Many pastors, teachers, and Churches clearly teach about Faith, a faith of action, not simply a faith of knowledge. But I have met numerous Christians that seem to have missed the faith that Jesus is describing. He is describing a faith that follows through action more than just words. A faith that can be seen as good fruit in the lives of his followers. A faith that is recognizable. This means that if people are unable to tell if you are a Christian by how you live your life, then you should ask yourself is your faith real? Jesus words are clear and harsh on this issue. So this is something that needs to be thought deeply about. Does Jesus know you? It isn’t just about you calling on his name, it is about Him knowing you as one of his followers, and Jesus is clearly marking out that this is determined by what your faith looks like, not about the accomplishments you have in your life, or the things you have done in Jesus name, but whether your faith has been one of obedience.

I heard this story told once:

There is a man who takes a long rope and stretches it across the Grand Canyon. He then walks back and forth on the rope and a crowd gathers to watch him. They watch him hop across, walk across on his hands, and many other feats as he crossed the rope. He made it look so easy, yet even the slightest miss step and he would fall to his death. He then called on the crowd and said “Who believes that I can carry someone across on my shoulders?” Everyone in the crowd said “Yes, we believe you can.” So, the man said “Who wants to go first?” A young man stepped forward and said “I will go.”

For someone to step out and actually get on this mans shoulders would show that they have real faith, that the man can actually carry them across the Grand Canyon on the rope. The rest of the crowd simply believed that it was possible. Jesus is asking us to step out and have real faith, to follow him, not to simply believe that what he says is true. Often we have confused the concept of belief and faith together because they can be used interchangeably in English. But the difference is that one is based on knowledge and the other is based on action. Jesus is calling us to have a Faith that is obedient, not simply a belief or knowledge of the truth.

Marks Alternate Ending

Marks Alternate Ending

Day 6

bible Yesterday and today I read the book of Mark on my iPhone through the course of the day. My big question from the book of Matthew has still been very much on my mind as I have been focusing on the words in the book of Mark.

The book of Mark does not go into great detail on most events. I would consider this book to be a summary of some of the most important events in Jesus ministry. In fact it says nothing about Jesus birth at all. It truly focuses on the ministry of Jesus.

As I was reading Mark various items have popped up that I thought I might write about, but as I got to the final paragraphs in Mark this verse has jumped out. It follows the theme of my question from the book of Matthew.

[youversion]Mark 16:15-18[/youversion] — And he said to them, Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. (ESV)

This section is highlighted in the New Living Translation as an ‘alternate ending’. This is a section that is not found in the two earliest manuscripts of the book of Mark, but it is consistently found in later manuscripts. So, there are some that do not believe that this ‘alternate ending’ is actually scripture. I wonder if that is somewhat based on the words spoken here by Jesus do not seem to follow our experience of faith? He gives some specific signs that accompany those who believe. Casting out demons, speak in new tongues, pick up serpents, drink deadly poison and not be harmed, and heal the sick through laying on of hands. I know that I have some friends in the Assemblies of God Church that believe that speaking in tongues is a sign of true faith, and this verse certainly confirms this idea. But I have never met a Christian that does all of these things. And in fact I have only met some who speak in tongues, but they do not heal with their hands or cast out demons. So, where are these believers?

I continue to try and wrap my mind around the words in Matthew (which are also found in Mark) regarding the power of faith to literally move mountains, and now these signs of faith in this ‘alternate ending’ to Mark. I am continuing to wonder what does real faith look like? Does it look like what Jesus is describing here at the end of Mark? If so, I do not believe I have ever seen it, nor do I possess it. Or is this a non-scriptural entry added by scribes after the book was written or is Jesus using an analogy to simply describe that his followers will do great things?

I would appreciate any thoughts or comments on the subject you may have.

Moving Mountains?

Moving Mountains?

snowmountain-800x600On Christmas and today I finished reading the book of Matthew. But today I write with only a question. It is something I have thought about before but have never come to a clear consensus with my own thoughts on.
Here is the scripture that I have been thinking over since early Christmas morning.

[youversion]Matthew 21:18-22[/youversion]
In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. The disciples were amazed when they saw this and asked, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, `May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.”

Why do we not see Christians performing miraculous things today? Do we not have real faith? Do we simply doubt?

If you have thoughts please chime in.

Purpose, Plot, Parables & Faith

Purpose, Plot, Parables & Faith

Day 2

bibleToday’s reading comes from Matthew Chapter 10 through Chapter 16.

Purpose

Chapter 10 begins with Jesus sending out his 12 disciples to spread this message. “The Kingdom of Heaven is near.” He gives them very detailed instructions about what to do. They are to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons. They are to take nothing with them and seek out hospitable people to stay with. They are to leave a town that does not accept their message and move on to the next. Essentially, Jesus sent his followers out to do what he has been doing. The first missionaries were sent. And this is the very same purpose that Jesus has for his present day disciples. That we will spread his message and care for those in need, heal the sick, and cast out evil.

The Plot

This is probably something I should have already known, but I learned this just today. The plot to kill Jesus begins in Chapter 12 of Matthew. I always thought that the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus only because of his claim to be God. But the plot began with a much lesser offense. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the Pharisees “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” Right after this the Pharisees began to plot how they could kill Jesus. Why? Were they really troubled by Jesus doing good deeds on the Sabbath? I don’t think that was their issue. They were concerned that Jesus was turning all of the things they had been teaching people upside down. He was taking away their authority and power. This is why they began their plot.

The Parables

In Chapter 13 Jesus teaches a number of Parables. I have always been intrigued by the way that Jesus taught people. He shared deep truths through stories. Stories that can only be understood in their deepest sense by those who follow Him. And this is not a guess. Jesus tells us in [youversion]Matthew 13:12-13[/youversion] these words:

“To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.” — [youversion]Matthew 13:12-13[/youversion]

The parables are to hide truth from those don’t believe and to reveal truth to those who do believe. It is a truly unique marriage between faith and understanding. This method also causes us to think more deeply about the idea being presented so that we can unwrap it and understand it. In some sense by thinking about these parables we make the idea our own by thinking deeply and unwrapping the mystery of Jesus words. And the things we know best are the things we learn through effort.

Faith

In Chapter 14 a great feat of faith happens. Jesus comes walking on the water to the boat where his disciples were staying. There was also a storm at this time tossing the boat about. At first the disciples were afraid but when they realized it was Jesus, Peter made a bold move. He asked if he could walk out on the water with Jesus. Jesus asked him to come and Peter pulled himself over to boat and into the water during the storm. And he walked on water with Jesus. Now, as the waves tossed around him his faith wavered and he began to sink and Jesus grabbed him. Would you step out of a boat during a storm and truly believe that you could walk on water? This is what Faith is all about, and when we have Faith in Jesus we need to be able to step out and follow Jesus even if that following seems impossible. If you can’t step out, do you really have faith?

In Chapter 15 there is another great story about a gentile woman who is persistent in her faith.

Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.” But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.” But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!” Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.” “Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed. — [youversion]Matthew 15:21-28[/youversion]

At first reading Jesus may seem like he is being unkind to this woman. He first ignored her, then he told her that he was sent for the people of Israel, and she is a gentile woman. But she continues and literally pleads for the scraps of his blessings that would be worthy of only a dog. This persistence is the reason that Jesus says her faith is great. Have you ever prayed for something and thought that God was ignoring you? We know He is not ignoring us, but He could be testing our faith. Do we really believe that He can do it? Do we really believe that He will do it? Many of Jesus miracles are done out of a response of someones faith, not simply their request. If we believe Jesus can do amazing things, then He will. If we only give lip service to it, then I doubt we will truly see the amazing things Jesus can do in our lives or the lives of others around us.

Who is Jesus?

In Chapter 16 Jesus identity is revealed to his disciples. But as Jesus loves to do, he has his disciples figure it out rather than outright telling them. Jesus asks his disciples a question. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

The disciples tell him that some say he is Elijah, some John the Baptist while others say Jeremiah. All prophets. But then Jesus asks the personal question. “Who do you say I am?”

This is when Peter responds. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

How amazing it must have been to be sitting there and then realize that you are sitting with the Messiah. That you are not sitting with a prophet or simply a wise man or a good teacher. But that you are sitting with the literal Son of God. That you are following him and doing His work. It must have been truly amazing. I would love to place myself in one of the disciples shoes during that night to experience that.

But what is even more amazing is that we, as believers today, are able to learn from the Messiah, the Son of God in an even deeper way than the disciples could when Jesus walked the earth. The truly astounding thing is that Jesus now dwells in us. So, we don’t need to sit at his feet to hear his lessons. Our Faith connects us with Jesus in ways that we may never fully comprehend.

Seeing the power of Faith in today’s reading reveals to me how often my faith and other believers faith is so weak. How can we strengthen our faith? How can we be the people that step out of the boat during a storm and believe the impossible?

Day 1 – 30 Days

Day 1 – 30 Days

bibleToday’s reading was Matthew Chapters 1 through 9. I was able to read these on my lunch break on my iPhone, which may end up being how I read most of the New Testament during this 30 day journey. (using technology for good things, gotta love it.)

Todays reading took me from Jesus birth into his ministry beginnings. What stood out the most to me was how Jesus challenged his followers thinking from the very beginning. His first major teaching begins in Chapter 5 and is called ‘The Sermon on the Mount” by Christians today. It really is a powerful sermon. It made me wonder if a minister has ever attempted to simply read an adaptation of this sermon on a Sunday morning? Maybe there would be too much for people to digest? Or maybe this would be a very cool idea. (maybe I can get some pulpit time somewhere in the future and give this idea a go.)

Since my 90 Day read through of the Old Testament I have always loved the following passage that is in todays reading.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” — [youversion]Matthew 5:17-19[/youversion]

This is one of Jesus first teachings and likely his first teaching in front of a large gathering of people. So Jesus makes it clear that He is not abolishing the law of Moses, but that He is there to fulfill it and accomplish what it was truly meant for. To show us our deep need for a savior. The law of Moses is important, and we as Christians should study it, learn it and teach others about it. I have often thought the modern day Church fails to dig into the Old Testament as much as we should and we fail to give disciples a good big picture of the story of how God has redeemed people by focusing so heavily on the New Testament, which is the climax of Gods story of redemption. The Old Testament is a place where we can learn to know God at a much deeper level than we may expect. So check it out. It is the big ‘half’ of the Bible.

Jesus goes on from there in his sermon and challenges peoples beliefs regarding anger, adultery, and love. He turns some commonly held beliefs on their head. Ideas like it is ok to be angry with someone if they have harmed you, or that you can look at a woman as long as you don’t get involved with her, and that you don’t need to love those who despise you. Jesus challenges the crowd by telling them that even anger places them in front of the Judgement seat of God, that lusting after another woman is the same as adultery, and that we should all love our enemies, because where is the power in love if we only love those who love us? Challenges that continue to be the opposite of what many many people think to be true today. And some say that the Bible is irrelevant for people today.

Out of all of the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount I have always found the following to be the most interesting.

“Not everyone who calls out to me, `Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, `Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, `I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ — [youversion]Matthew 7:21-23[/youversion]

I know in Bible College I would sit around with some of the guys and we would wonder about these words. As believers these verses can seem haunting. They can cause us to possibly doubt our standing with God. But should they? Today, the second sentence and the very last sentence in this passage have jumped out at me. “Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.” and “Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.” Jesus is talking about obedience. Obedience to Gods laws and following the will of God. The challenge in this for us as believers is “Is there a teaching that we continue to fail to follow? Do we know what God wants us to do yet we do not do it?” I would think that if you can say ‘yes’ to either of these two things then you should look at this passage and deeply consider what Jesus is saying. Essentially, are you truly following Jesus or are you using Jesus to do the things you want to do? Jesus is saying that there were people going around and casting our demons in His name. People performing miracles in His name. I mean this sounds amazing, these sound like people that would certainly be ‘saved’. But they were doing these things outside of the will of God, which tells me that they were doing these things for some personal gain or in direct disobedience to God. Are you using Jesus to travel the world as a ‘Missionary’? Are you using Jesus to get a paycheck at a Church? I believe the fruit of following Jesus is that we will obey his teachings and truly serve Him and others rather than ourselves. It comes down to what is in our heart, our motivation. This is an issue that we, as believers, should never become the judge of. God is the Judge. He knows peoples hearts. I am by no means asking us to look at Missionaries or Ministers and question if Jesus would ‘know them’. This is a challenge for each of us individually as believers to come to grips with and grow in our faith. If we know that the answer to either of those two questions might be ‘yes’ then any doubt you have might be a healthy push to get you back on track with God. If the answer is ‘no’ and you are having doubts because of these verses then you need to push those doubts away and trust your savior.

I will finish my thoughts for todays reading with the last section of scripture that I read today.

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” — [youversion]Matthew 9:35-38[/youversion]

These words mean so much for us today. There are more people on this planet now than there were 2,000 years ago. Which means that the harvest is even greater now. Which also means that there continues to be a shortage of workers. Will you be a worker to bring people to know Jesus and participate in the harvest?