It is a Prayer

A Lukewarm coffee sits beside my computer in the bagel shop.

Cars pass by the window, driven by people I only glimpse.

A smell of burnt toast wafts through the air.

A running man passes the shop window.

There’s a quick bang of a pan or two behind me in the kitchen.

A customer in nursing attire stirs creamer into her coffee at the counter. She has a black headband.

The coffee equipment is making an electrical, rattling noise.

An elderly couple graze over their food. They have careful hair; she with thick make up, and him with a shirt buttoned to his neck.

The workers are bantering at the end of their shift.

I have a message and a mandate of which to tell them.  Where do I begin?

It is a prayer.

Visible Grace

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Acts 11:23 “When he (Barnabas) came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.”

Grace is like air, gravity, coldness, or amoebas.  You don’t readily see these things, but they certainly exist.

There are aspects of God and other theological terms we don’t expect to be visible.  Grace is one of them.  However, when Barnabas came to Antioch it says he “saw the Grace of God.”  It is the only place in Scripture where this phrase is used.  What did he see at Antioch which made grace appear from the shadows? What was it that enthused him to go back and get Paul?

Before we answer that, I had an intriguing thought while reading the passage.  What if Barnabus came to the church I worship with?  Would he see the Grace of God?  What if he came to your church –  would he see the Grace of God?  Just what is it about a church that make’s God’s grace become visible: the name on the sign – Grace Fellowship Church?  The type of music or the clothes people wear?  How about the “associations” it cooperates with?  Just what is it about a church that would make someone say, “I saw the Grace of God in that place”?

I believe the passage makes it clear. We see four characteristics of a church with visible grace:

1 – Jesus’ name was being lifted up.  The passage says they were, “…preaching the Lord Jesus.”  The name of Jesus Christ was being communicated to everyone: Jews and Greeks.  He was being spoken about out in the open, regardless of the crowd. They were bold and direct about sharing the name of Christ.

2 – Faith: people were being converted.  The passage says, “…and a great number believed and turned to the Lord (v21).” People were being saved by the message being communicated.  The Holy Spirit was moving and people were believing on Christ.  It was obvious to all who were in the proximity.

3 – Teaching of the Word of God.  After Barnabus came, the first thing he did was to send for a “teacher”, namely Paul.  It says, “…they assembled with the church and taught a great many people (v26).”  The teaching, studying, and learning of the Scriptures were important in this place of visible grace.

4 – Testimony.  Verse 26 makes an important statement, “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”  The community saw these followers living for Christ and called them “Christians”.  This was a label given to them by outsiders not themselves.  The people watching what was going on gave them the most appropriate term they could imagine, Christians, which in essence meant: little Christs.

I recently shared with our church that I would like us to be known as “living out loud!”   That is, living our “faith” out loud.  Not “out weird”; but OUT LOUD.  This is what comes to mind when I read about the church at Antioch.  They were known for what was happening in their midst.  People were attracted to it; hearing the message; getting saved and joining the work.

If a church lifts up Jesus, helps people come to faith, studies the Word, and has a bold testimony – I think they will experience “visible Grace.”  May God raise up churches in our community, including ours, that are “living out loud” for Christ.

Classic Conversion Stories: A.W. Tozer

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“We had a neighbor by the name of Holman.  I do not know his first name or initials.  He was just Mr. Holman.  He lived next door to us. I had heard that he was a Christian, but he never talked to me about Christ.”

“Then one day I was walking up the street with this friendly neighbor.  Suddenly, he put his hand on my shoulder. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I have been wondering about you.  I have been wondering if you are a Christian, if you are converted.  I just wanted the chance to talk it over with you.’”

“‘No, Mr. Holman,’ I answered, ‘I am not converted, but I thank you for saying this to me.  I am going to give it some serious thought.’”

Late one afternoon in 1915 – three years after arriving in Akron-as he walked home from work, Aiden noticed a small crowd of people gathered on the opposite side of the street.  They were clustered around an older man who seemed to be talking to them.  Not being able to hear what the man was saying, Aiden crossed the street to satisfy his curiosity.

At first, the man’s speech did not make any sense to Aiden.  He spoke with a strong German accent, and Aiden had to listen carefully to catch what the man was saying.  Finally, it dawned on Aiden. The man was preaching!  Preaching, right out on the street corner!  ‘Doesn’t this man have a church to preach in?’ Aiden thought to himself. ‘And it isn’t even Sunday! Why is he so excited?’ But as Aiden listened, the words of the elderly street preacher began to find their mark in his young heart.

The preacher startled Aiden. “If you don’t know how to be saved, just call on God, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner,’ and God will hear you.”

Those words burned in Aiden’s heart. He could not get the voice of the preacher out of his mind.  As he slowly walked home, he thought over what the man had said.  Never before had he heard words like those.  They troubled him.  They awakened within him a gnawing hunger for God.

Saved. If you don’t know how to be saved…just call on God…’God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’

When Aiden arrived home, he went straight to the attic, where he could be alone to think this out for himself and to wrestle with God.  No one knows all that transpired in the Tozer attic that afternoon in 1915. But Aiden Wilson Tozer emerged a new creation in Christ Jesus.  His pursuit of God had begun.

Aiden’s conversion to Christ was a transforming experience in every way.  Inclined to be cynical, he thought nothing of turning to agnostics or even to atheists for counsel.  Suddenly, his entire life as radically and wonderfully redirected.  A whole new world had opened up to this youth with unbounded intellectual curiosity.  It was a world that would take him a lifetime and more to explore fully.

In later years he would say of himself that as a young man he was so ignorant it was a wonder the top of his head did not cave in from sheer emptiness.  From the moment of his conversion, however, Aiden had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a ravenous hunger for God.

The Tozer household was crowded with eight family members plus boarders. Aiden had to find the time and place to get alone with God, time for prayer and Bible reading and study.  In the basement there was a small unused space behind the furnace. Aiden claimed it, cleaned it and made it comfortable.  It was a refuge where he could get away from everything and everyone and literally spend hours in prayer, study and meditation.

Long years later Essie remembered how at first, when she would go down the cellar stairs for canned goods, she could hear frightful groaning coming from behind the furnace.  Soon she came to recognize the sound as that of her younger brother wrestling with God in prayer.  For Aiden, it became a lifetime habit. Nothing would take the place of knowing God firsthand.

Excerpted from, “In Pursuit of God, The Life of A.W. Tozer”, by James L. Snyder, pp 35-38, Christian Publications: Camp Hill, PA, 1991 (with permission)

A lesson from deer about temptation

Deer, deer, deer.  I’ve spent a lot of time on the Midwest highways this fall and it seems that deer and cars must somehow be attracted to each other.  The evidence of these unfortunate encounters (for the deer and insurance premiums) is everywhere.

So – it just got me wondering.  How can an animal with such great reflexes, the ability to see at night, which has truly incredible speed and jumping ability not stay away from terminal encounters with vehicles?  I mean think about it – deer are a truly amazing animal that you can’t get close to when you want to (ask any hunter); but they just get slaughtered on the roads.

I finally figured it out.

It’s because of context.  In the woods there are few things faster, larger, and more wary than themselves.  Very, very few predators have the size and speed to overtake them.  In the woods a deer knows the speed of other animals.  They know what is dangerous or not and they have the speed to deal with dangerous encounters.  They know their territory and enemy.

However, out of this context – on the road – they don’t understand the threat.  They see a car 200 yards away and can’t imagine the absolutely frightening speed and size of this predator.  They deal with it using information from a context which doesn’t apply.  And they lose.

I thought about this regarding our spiritual enemy. Although he has been beaten by Christ, he is still dangerous.  And he has ages of experience in knowing how to tempt his prey.  A person may think they have the ability, in and of themselves, to withstand him. But in our own strength it is a mismatch.  Men (Herman Cain? Jerry Sandusky? Bill Clinton? Bernie Madoff?) think they have the power to face the temptations of the evil one on their own and they are fatally wrong.  All we have to do is read the papers to see the travesty the evil one can inflict on humanity.  We cannot face him in our own context; we need Christ.  We need the Holy Spirit.  We need other believers to hold us accountable and hold us up.  It is a fatal mistake to think we can face him on our own.

But, by relying on the spiritual resources given to us, we can face him successfully and live a spirit-filled, powerful life for the Lord.

Perhaps you have been facing temptation in your own power and losing.  Christ gives you the ability to face it and win. Why not try relying on Him instead of relying on your own strength.

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1Co 10:13 NKJ)

Who Is This Guy?

 

“Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well…”  John 4:12 

The woman at the well asked Jesus a question that is still being asked today.  Jesus told her that he could give her living water; water that was more satisfying than the water in her well.  Her response was, “Who is this guy?” Or, in the words of Scripture, “Are you greater than our father Jacob…”  She wanted to know who Jesus was, how could he do this, what made him greater than any other man that he would be able to give her living water. 

In essence people are still asking the same question today.  It’s phrased a little differently; but essentially the same.  Some of the questions you hear are: 

* Was Jesus greater than just a good teacher?

* What makes Jesus greater than any other prophet or religious leader?

* Were his miracles greater than others done in the day  (or did Jesus do those miracles – from the skeptics)?

* Is Jesus great enough to make the claims he made?

* Is Jesus greater than my current god?

* Just who is this Jesus anyway?

In a nutshell, “Jesus, are you greater than ____________”.  Fill in the blank yourself. 

Interestingly enough, Jesus answered the woman’s question.  She told him in further conversation that she knew a Greater one was coming and would “tell them all things (vs. 25).”  She also called this anticipated person, the “Messiah” or anointed one. 

Jesus answered her first question by stating, “I who speak to you am He (vs. 28)” 

The answer today to those asking the similar question, “is Jesus greater than ____________,”  is…

yes.

Why Worry? (Friday Devotional)

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Have you ever tried to make yourself grow taller?

Maybe as a child or teenager you wanted to be just one more inch taller to catch a friend or sibling. Perhaps you would stretch in front of the mirror by lifting your arms high and standing on your toes. Maybe you hung from a bar in the closet while willing yourself to grow. Silly thought isn’t it.

Jesus says worrying is as effective trying to make ourselves grow. In fact, he uses this as a comparison. He said, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (Mt. 6:27)

There are many things which we can worry about: finances, health, our children, our parents, jobs, war, economics, etc. Yes, there are many legitimate concerns in this life.

However, God is bigger than all these concerns. He loves us more than all His creation.

If He takes care of the birds and clothes the flowers, He will take care of us. Jesus said, “Are you not of more value than they?” The answer is emphatically, yes! We are of more value and God promises to take care of us.

Thought for the day – The problem looming before you is still beneath the feet of God.

What Makes You Sing – Psalm 32

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“…You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.” Psalm 32:7

The ancient Hebrews sang when the Lord would deliver them from difficult events or enemies.  They sang a lavish song of praise and Miriam’s women danced in celebration when He rescued them from Pharaoh and brought them through the Red Sea (Ex. 15). 

David teaches us to praise God for something even greater than physical deliverance. He praises the Lord for deliverance from sin.  Of all the needs we have as humans, being forgiven of sin and becoming reconciled to God is our greatest.  The Psalm says that when God delivers us, we shall be surrounded by “songs of deliverance.” 

David doesn’t say who will be singing these songs which surround us; but in Revelation we see angelic creatures singing.  As they watch God redeem His creation, they sing songs of deliverance rejoicing that God is faithful, has reconciled us to Himself, and has rescued us from the penalty of sin and death. 

Now that is something to sing about.

Lord, Thank you for delivering me from the penalty of sin through your Son Jesus Christ.  Teach me how to celebrate my deliverance. Help me tell someone today that they too can be set free.  Amen.