🍁 Happy Thanksgiving 🍁

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers… (Ephesians 1:16)

Of all the things I am most thankful for this year, I thank God for my faith family – my local church.

While this year has been burdened with unusual challenges, I have witnessed the grace of God overflowing in the lives of so many who call fbc home.

Members have motivated to serve one another, check on one another, and continue in prayer for one another.

Members have stepped up to serve, learned new technology, put in additional hours, and sought new ways to connect.

I have been personally and directly encouraged by the gracious spirit and understanding that has been displayed as we seek to operate and minister in a context nobody has experienced before.

By God’s grace, even during these challenging times, we have been able to hire new staff, approve a new budget, and continue to reach out in limited ways to our community.

On top all all this… we have the confidence and comfort of being children of God – bought by His blood, brought into His Kingdom, adopted into His family, and protected by His power.

Even in 2020, grace abounds and blessings outweigh challenges. I pray this year, whatever your celebrations look like, that you experience the reality of the Lord’s blessing, and comfort, and mercy, and provision, and hope.

Happy Thanksgiving.

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4)

Why Jesus Came…

This past Sunday we began a series for the holidays entitled, “Why Jesus Came.”

We will be taking the next ten weeks to explore the reasons Scripture gives us for the birth, life, and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reason #1 – “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)

The Apostle John makes clear in his first letter that Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil.”

“The works of the devil”????

I don’t know what you think of when you hear “the works of the devil,” but John is very clear as to what he means. The work Jesus came to destroy is the work that has left humanity in bondage to sin through deception and false promises.

Jesus came to set us free from sin so that we can experience the abundant life of righteousness and closeness to God.

We cannot continue in sin and claim to abide in Christ.

We cannot make a habit of sinning and belong to the Father.

Forgiveness in Christ is not a license to sin more so that grace abounds. (Paul condemns this logic in Romans.) Jesus came to work back the curse that Mankind earned in the garden. Jesus came to undo the work of Satan’s deception, to undo the rebellion, and to undo enmity with God. He came to bring reconciliation, hope, and peace.

Jesus did not come so that we could be free to sin;

Jesus came that we might be free from sin.

He came that we might be given a new nature, one free of Satan’s tyranny, a nature set free from the bondage of sin, its influence, and its consequences.

In Christ, we are forgiven and free. We are forgiven from the penalty of sin so that we can experience the freedom of walking with Christ in righteouness and truth.

Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil… to set us free from sin so that we can walk in righteousness and life, exposing the enemy’s schemes, and proclaiming freedom to those who have been blinded by lies and enslaved to sin.

That is Why Jesus Came.

Who Can Be Saved?

You may be surprised to know that this question has been asked in some form or fashion since the time of the early church.

The concern in the early church was whether those outside Judaism could experience the full promise of a Jewish Messiah. The reason why there are multiple “Pentecost” experiences as the gospel begins to expand was to illustrate definitively that the gospel was for all peoples. The book of Acts settles this question and Paul also clarifies it in his writings. 

“The gospel and salvation are for everyone,” says the Holy Spirit.

“But you have to become Jewish first!  …or at least be circumcised!” insisted the Judaizers.

But Paul, the Apostle, writing under the Holy Spirit, declared, “No.”  And the other apostles agreed at the Jerusalem Council.

A person does not need to “clean themselves up” first.  There is no “getting your house in order.”  There are no prerequisites to salvation!  In fact, the gospel forbids that you try to be worthy, and it denies that you can do anything to be earn it.

So, who can be saved? 

Anyone who repents of their sin and believes in the gospel.  Anyone. 

Pick anyone from any country, from any background, speaking any language, of any ethnicity, of any occupation, anywhere on the socioeconomic spectrum, with any religious background… AND if they will receives the gospel through repentant faith, they can and will be saved.

Anyone.  N. E. One. 

Or to put it another way: NOBODY is exempt.  NO ONE is beyond the reach of God’s saving arm.

The apostle Paul, himself, (previously known as Saul) serves as a posterchild for this transformation.  Paul considered himself to be the least of the apostles and the greatest of all sinners.  Indeed, Saul was a terrorist, a religious terrorist who hunted down Christians and sought to lock them up in prison.

But God interrupted Saul’s plans.  In the middle of a terrorist campaign, the resurrected Christ intervened, stopping Saul in his tracks, blinding him, and sitting him in time out for three days.  Having invaded Saul’s life, Jesus would now begin to re-orient his heart to the gospel.

Saul’s mind could not have been less inclined toward the gospel.  His life could not have been any more in opposition to Christ.  If you were searching all of Palestine for the least likely candidate for salvation, you would have probably chosen Saul, the Pharisee.  In fact, “unlikely” would have been a gross understatement.

While more could be said here, we can sum up our answer this way:

1. ANYBODY can be saved. Period.

No qualifiers.  No caveats.  We’ve expounded this point already, but we’ll say it one more time.  In bold print. For those at the back.

This is the clearest, most concise, ultimate answer to the question, “Who can be saved?”  But, for the sake of clarity, let’s offer two corollary applications.

2. EVERYBODY must be offered salvation.  Because anyone can be saved, we pray for God to save souls – not merely generically but specifically.  We pray earnestly, daily, and urgently for unbelievers by name that they might embrace Christ by faith.

And praying for the salvation of souls, we also pray for opportunities to share the gospel,  and because we expect Him to answer those prayers, we watch for opportunities and then we make the most of the opportunities we see.

Finally…

3. NOBODY is excluded.  We are allowed to give up on NOBODY.  No one is “too lost,” “too hard,” “too stubborn,” “too opposed,” or “too _______” for the gospel.

If anything… N. E. THANG. …in your life or theology causes you to cease praying for others’ salvation, anything that robs you of the urgency of sharing your faith, anything that would deny salvation to anyone for any reason, then you should repent and seek change in that area immediately.  Leave a comment on this post or reach out to me directly; I would be more than willing to help you work through whatever issue it is.

This reality concerning salvation is intended to be encouraging.  So…

BE ENCOURAGED!!!

As long as there is life in a body, their soul can be saved.

Keep praying for that son, daughter, spouse, parent, best friend.

I know it’s been years, perhaps even a lifetime, but God can and does save.  He saves at young ages and He saves later in life.  It doesn’t matter what age, how determined, how angry, how opposed… when God shines the light of the gospel in someone’s heart, darkness is dispelled, eyes open, hearts receive, and lives are transformed.

Trust the Holy Spirit. God is working where we cannot see.

Keep praying.  Keep loving.  Keep sharing.

What About Those Who Fall Away?

Over the past several years, we have witnessed a number of well-known church leaders leave the faith.  For some that means theological compromise due to cultural capitulation and for others it means a false teaching, and for still others it has been a complete abandonment of faith.

While these episodes feed confusion and cause discouragement, these are not the most unsettling stories.  It’s the personal stories that don’t make headlines that shake us up the most: friends that used to go to our youth group, a co-worker whose faith encouraged us a year ago, or even a mentor that first shared the gospel with us.  These are the stories that cause more than confusion, they cause deep pain and sorrow.

How are we supposed to process these stories?  What does it mean for those who walk away?  Are they saved?  Did they lose their salvation?  The fear and doubt generated by these experiences can be overwhelming. 

Again.  No easy answers.  Each story is different.  Each person an individual, their circumstances and decisions are complex.  Thankfully, there are some handles we can reach for so that we can navigate this issue with faithfulness and clarity.

1. Our responsibility is to engage one another with truth in love.

It is not our job to determine if someone is saved or was saved.  Neither are we given the task of gauging the authenticity of someone’s faith.  What we are called to, our God-given responsibility is to speak truth to one another, encouraging one another, offering guidance and warning and even correction.

Faith is a team sport.  Holiness happens in relationship… yes, a relationship with God, but that divine relationship is demonstrated in our relationships with others.  We cannot say we love God whom we cannot see if we do not love our brother whom we can see (1 John 4:20).  Even so, we build relationships, offer friendship, ask questions, invest time, and build one another up in the faith.

2. We must acknowledge our limitations and weaknesses. 

We do not have perfect perception. We are subject to error.  More than error, we can be lead astray by our own experiences and deceived by our own sinful feelings.  Therefore we must be gracious in our assumptions and slow to draw conclusions.  We seldom have the whole story (especially if we have only heard one perspective), and our judgment can be clouded by bias and emotion.  There is a reason the Bible encourages us to submit to one another and to require more than one witness when considering accusations.

3. We can only engage the reality before us. 

As we seek to live our faith alongside one another in community, we must resist the temptation to speculate on situations, to fear hypothetical motivations, or to feed imaginations with worry.  Discernment, concern, and possibility all have their place, but we must guard against over-reaction and premature judgment.  These are not only counter-productive, they can be unloving and sinful (as previously mentioned).

Doing life in genuine community is an investment.  We must commit to believing the best about one another and seeing Christ work His plan in one another for His glory.  When correction is needed or suspected, we then come humbly and gently to deal with what we see, not what we suspect or fear.

4. As long as we have breath, the story is not over. 

Most judgements we are tempted to make this side of eternity are premature.  As long as someone is still walking on this earth, their story remains under development.  

When someone walks away from the faith, we cannot know in that moment what this behavior ultimatley means or how they will finally finish their course.  It could be that they are leaving the church and the faith as evidence that they were never born again (1 John 2:19).  It is also possible that they are experiencing a deep struggle and a dark season of the soul.  They might be saved but experiencing a season of disobedience or “desert wandering.” 

Only time will reveal if the Lord’s hand will remain on them and eventually turn them back to the way.

4. Remember the difference between hope and assurance. 

When all is said and done, we can only acknowledge what see God doing in one another’s lives.  When we see the fruit of righteousness on display in one another’s life, we should celebrate, affirm, and encourage. 

When we see a believer turn from the way, their godly affections wane, and their love grow cold, we are called pursue, inquire, and intervene. 

When we witness these dark seasons of the soul, our hearts become heavy and we don’t know what to pray.  Do we pray that our sister return to the faith?  Do we pray for the salvation of our brother?  Do we talk to our friend about returning to faithfulness or about coming to salvation?

How do we make sense of this??  We may not be willing (or able) to say with any degree of certainty that our friend is not saved, but we certainly cannot say int he moment that he or she is. 

In these times it is understandable, and I would say appropriate for us to acknowledge a lack of assurance regarding the salvation of another as they walk through a period of extended and willful disobedience.  However, we must never lose hope.

There is always hope that their faith was genuine and that they will come back to it because God is faithful.  There is always hope that they might come to faith as if for the first time because God is merciful and good.

Even when assurance is minimal, hope remains.  Assurance is grounded on the visible work of God and the evidence of grace.  Hope is anchored to the faithfulness and mercy of God.

So, pray as you are burdened.  Pray for your friend as you understand their situation.  Pray all possibilities as you throw your hope on the altar of His sovereignty, submitting your uncertainty before His omniscient throne.

Hold onto hope and ask Him to hold onto you.  If our perseverance was dependent on our strength, we would all fall so we must pray for each other in humility as we trust others to pray for us.

How Can I Know I Am Saved?

Having established a basic biblical understanding of salvation, we are now ready to wrestle with a few specific questions.

Perhaps the most asked and most personal question is, “How can I know that I am saved?” This is the issue of assurance.

Whether you ask this question for yourself or are asked it by another person, we must resist the temptation of rushing toward comfort and affirmation of the individual (or ourselves).

The goal cannot be comfort or affirmation or even assurance (for assurance’s sake).  The goal must be truth.  We must engage in the difficult heart work of seeking truth and searching thoughtfully so as to answer biblically. Only then can we best care for the soul who is asking the question.  If our goal becomes simply comforting an individual, we will rush ahead grabbing anything and everything we can only to make him or her merely feel better.

But that won’t make them better.

If are to bring true comfort and lasting encouragment, we must guard against these temptations (rushing toward assurance, risking truth for the sake of comfort), and navigate our way to authentic assurance by using these four reference points:

1. Assurance of salvation must not be grounded in ritual.

We must reduce the temptation ground assurance in a past religious ritual.  Now, this may be a good place to start.  If someone is asking “How can I know I am saved?’, and they have not yet confessed Christ in repentant faith, then we want to make the gospel clear and offer them an opportunity to repent and believe. 

In this way, going back to or looking for a salvation experience can be helpful, BUT to simply return to an experience and declare the matter settled is to reduce salvation to a religious formula or even a superstitious practice. While there is value in remembering a time where God met us and moved us, a time where we responded to His Word and encountered Him in a significant way, seeking assurance can begin here but it cannot end here.

2. Assurance of salvation must not be rooted in works.

If we (or someone we are talking with) has had a meaningful encounter with God and expressed a faith-response to the gospel, we must then ask, “Where is this doubt coming from?”  Is there depression or fear or insecurity waging war against our soul?  Or perhaps it’s an issue of sin that is causing doubts.

We must be careful here.  While the evidence of our lives serves as a valuable indicator of what is in our hearts, at the same time, we do not want to communicate in any way that salvation is of works.  It cannot be earned, maintained, or improved upon by our works.  We do not want to say “you said this, did this, and completed that, so you are saved.”  Neither do we want to say, “You cannot be saved and have done this, that, or the other.”

I trust this warning becomes clearer as we consider where assurance should rest (as opposed to where it cannot).

3. Assurance of salvation must be anchored to God’s faithfulness.

We have said that salvation is the work of God, therefore, we must find our assurance in His work and not our own. There are at least three anchor points to which we can attach our assurance.

Anchor point #1 – The unfailing promise of the Father.  Our Heavenly Father is a good Father who delights is giving good gifts.  He is generous, but, more than that, He is faithful.  When we doubt because of our sinful mistakes we are questioning His faithfulness. We are saved, and will remain saved, not because we are worthy or capable.  Our salvation is secure because God is faithful to His promises.  When we are struggling, when we feel weak, we cannot hope in our ability to “get it right next time.”  Our assurance is in the fact the “He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.” (Phil 1:6) He is greater than our weakness; He is in this for the long haul and will not abandon us but will continue to shape us after His image. 

Anchor point #2 – The saving work of Christ.  The sacrifice of Christ on the cross purchased our salvation.  On the cross He said, “It is finished.”  We do not need to add self-loathing to Christ’s blood or sit in a spiritual “time-out” before the cross applies to us again.  If we sin, we have an advocate before the Father, and if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  No waiting period! No additional fees.  Christ paid our debt IN FULL, so repent, believe, confess, and walk with Him again.

Anchor point #3 – The abiding fruit of the Spirit.  When we see the evidence of His work in our lives, it is encouraging and affirming.  Holiness and obedience are not our works offered in repayment for His gift of salvation.  Who seeks to repay anyone for a gift?!  No, obedience and holiness display His continuing work of salvation.  While there is a partnership with His Spirit as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” but it is ultimately Christ “who is at work both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  Here is where works come in, but they must be seen as fruit of His continued work in our lives not as our works so as to maintain His good favor.

4. Assurance of salvation should be affirmed among God’s people.

Finally, all this must be processed in the context of relationship and community.  What I am offering is not a 3-point check list by which you can score your salvation.  Checklists can be worked out privately, one-on-none, individually, on your own.  Faith, however, is a contact sport: life-on-life, in community, alongside brothers and sisters in the faith.  Every anchor point of biblical assurance must be reinforced by the strength of community.  Applying them to our own lives by our own wisdom under our own strength is like hanging shelves on finishing nails and sheetrock.  It might look good for a season, but it won’t hold anything of substance and is destined to fall.

I pray that we would walk in the community of the local church(es) he has placed us, strengthening one another in the faith with the truth. We should come together regularly in worship, but also around dinner tables and in living rooms, reminding one another of all that God has promised (anchor 1).  We need to remind one another of the sufficiency of Christ (anchor 2) so that we can pursue Him with freedom.  And then we can affirm and encourage one another by what we see God doing in our lives (anchor 3) – for our encouragement, for His glory, and for a witness to our neighbors.

Assurance is about far more than “Will I go to Heaven?”  It’s about what has God done? What is God doing? Where is He calling me? and how can I get there?  These are much more meaningful questions, and they have much more incredible, life-giving, soul-enlarging answers.

Understanding the Divine Nature of Our Salvation

Now, given our five foundational assumptions, let us begin building a frame of Biblical truth. If we are going to battle back confusion and fear, we must anchor deep in the Scriptures.

Specifically, if we lack assurance of salvation, if we are confused surrounding issues of salvation (can you lose it?), if we are fearful concerning those who appear to walk away from their salvation, then let’s study what the Bible says about salvation.

It seems a simple diagnosis: confusion over issues surrounding salvation are caused by misunderstandings about salvation.

So, here are some basic truths, clear truths concerning salvation on which we can begin to build a greater understanding: *

1. Being saved is not a one-time event.

The work of salvation is spoken of in three tenses: we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. Without expounding on the richness of each tense, let us just say for now that all three are the work of God.

In Christ, we have been saved from the penalty of our sin (Eph 2:8). He has died on a cross for our sin, removing our offense before a holy God, and has clothed us in His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21) so that we can by faith stand before God justified and in right standing with Him (Rom 5:1ff).

By His Holy Spirit, we are being saved (2 Cor 2:15-16) from the power of sin in our lives. Having been made new creations in Christ(5:17), we are being conformed into His image (Rom 8:29) one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor 3:18). Our minds are being renewed by His Word (Rom 12:2), our wills are being conformed to His will, and our perspective is being shaped by eternity (2 Cor 4:16-18). As we work out our salvation, God is at work in us, to will and to work His good pleasure, our sanctifying transformation toward holiness (Phil 2:12-13).

Finally, we will be saved at the end of the age (1 Peter 1:5) when the Father sends Jesus back to the earth to rescue His children. His angels will gather us from the four corners of the globe (Matt 24:31) and we will be caught up with Christ in the air (1 Thess 4:16). We will always be with the Lord, never to suffer the pains and temptations of sin. We will finally be like the Lord Jesus for we will see Him in His fulness (1 John 3:2).

2. From beginning to end, salvation is ultimately a work of God.

Each of these is the work of the Lord. God, through the Holy Spirit, brings conviction of sin unto repentance (John 16:8), takes up residence in our hearts (John 14:17), and seals us for the day of redemption (Eph 1:13). Every one the Father gives to the Son is secured by the Son (John 10:28-29) for He said He would not lose a single one (John 6:39). Every work the Lord begins, He promises to finish (Phil 1:6).

3. Salvation is by grace, through faith, and not by works. (Ephesians 2)

While we are saved for good works (v.10), we are not saved by good works (v.8-9). Salvation is wholly the work of grace demonstrated by faith apart from works. Salvation given by grace cannot be maintained by works (Galatians 3:1ff). If ever salvation can be achieved, maintained, or improved by works it is no longer of grace.

4. The grace that saves us works transformation within us.

Paul told Titus that grace trains us in holiness and faith, making us eager to produce good works (Titus 2:11ff). For all who are in Christ are new creations (2 Cor 5:17), producing spiritual fruit (Gal 5:22-23) to the glory of God (John 15).

5. Salvation is the gift of “eternal life.”
“Eternal life” by definition cannot be temporary. It is everlasting. When God saves someone it is a forever, unalterable act. We are moved from one kingdom to another, from one family to another, and one identity to another (John 1:12, 1 Pet 2:9-10). We are given a new family, a new citizenship, and a new nature (Eph 2:19). In salvation, we die to ourselves and our lives become hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). We die, no longer to live, and given a new life by faith in the Son of God (Gal 2:20). Having become like Him in His death we are raised to newness of life (Rom 6:3-4)… eternal, ever-lasting, never-ending life.

There is much more we can say about salvation. Yet, exploring and understanding these clear realities concerning salvation will help us wrestle through some of the other issues surrounding salvation and the questions that weigh heavily on our hearts because of painful experience.

When our experience creates questions and the answers seem to elude us, these clear gospel realities serve both to anchor us to the truth of God’s Word and provide handles by which we can seek answers. Answers to which we can explore next.


* Remember the “rule of faith” is that we use Scripture to interpret Scripture, and that clear, more easily understandable Scripture should be used to interpret less clear passages.

Wrestling With Tough Questions About Salvation

How do we know if someone genuinely accepts the gospel?

How can we know if we have genuinely accepted the gospel?

I believe the Scriptures speak clearly about salvation and yet many (too many) people are confused, discouraged, deceived, and even defensive about basic truths as they relate to salvation. Yet, God desires us to live confidently in our faith, assured in our salvation, and discerning as we experience life and reach out to others.

I am convicned that Scripture speaks clearly to tough questions such as:

  • How do I know if I’m saved?
  • How can I tell if someone is really saved?
  • Can a person lose his/her salvation?
  • What about those who fall away?

This week I hope to tackle a few of these questions. (You can help by asking questions in the comments.)

Be aware, though. The goal is not formulas and checklists.  There is no system or algorithm into which you can plug data and quatify your spirituality or someone else’s salvation.

If we are going to approach these issues biblically and find answers that makes sense, we must have the following handles by which we can grab hold and reach clarity.

1. God wants us to know Him and be confident in our salvation.

God is not a god of confusion (1 Cor 14) and He has spoken at large about salvation and how we can know we are His children.  The apostle John wrote in his first epistle so that we might “know that [we] have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, emphasis added).  His Word speaks so that we might be confident of His promises and our participation in them. Throughout the Biblical record it is clear that He does not intend for us to be uncertain of our status as His children.

2. We must rely on the Holy Spirit.

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”(Romans 8:16).  His Spirit seals us, intercedes for us, brings conviction, and empowers us for ministry.  The fruit of the Spirit displayed in our lives is another way we know we are saved.  Assurance of salvation is ultimately a work of the Spirit and not the product of a scorecard.  We must prayerfully, humbly, and earnestly rest in His Spirit.

3. We must prioritize God’s Word.

If we trust our experience, our reasoning, or our religious traditions we will continue to be confused, uncertain, disappointed, and discouraged.  God’s Word has everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), but we trust His declaration of truth over our perceptions of reality.

4. We must weigh the totality of Scripture.

This is a big issue with many facets.  We must look beyond reductionistic conclusions expressed in bumper-sticker theology based on our favorite verses.  We must look into the totality of God’s Word to shed light on these issues from every angle.  When we do the hard work of digging deep and thinking deeper, we will discover that Scripture offers three-dimensional solutions where we were only seeking one-dimensional answers.

5. We must wrestle in relationship.

Much of the New Testament was written to local churches encouraging them and guiding them to live faith together, seeking truth and glorifying God.  We need one another.  These issues were meant to be explored in the community of faith, the local church.  Much of our confusion is rooted in our self-sufficiency.  We have privatized our faith that was designed for communal expression.  True, our faith should always be personal, but it should never be private.  

God has always intended for our faith to be expressed in community and for our questions to be wrestled with in community.  Where we want checklists, God offers relationships.  He will not allow us to evaluate ourselves with a checklist; He wants us to submit ourselves to a people. 

With these handles we can not only wrestle with these questions but we will discover satisfying, encouraging, and faith-building answers.  But it’s going to require endurance and a lot of heavy lifting, so get yourself a team and let’s start digging.

Staying Anchored & Serving Others During COVID and Quarantine

A Message from Tim Keller | Resiience & Burnout

People love people.

Whether you’re a minister or not, you probably spend countless hours caring others, and even more time identifying ways to care for others. Throw a crisis in the mix and compassionate hearts begin racing while servant’s hands tirelessly move from need to need.

Be careful. Burnout is a real thing.

It may feel as though you are simply tired, but there is more happening than you realize.
Tim Keller, popular pastor and author, recently lead a devotional for pastors. While directed at pastors, his encouragement is profitable for all who care are navigating this time, especially those who are seeking to care for others.

I hope you will spend 25 minutes as he identifies and discusses four things essential to surviving ministry during this crisis.

  1. Extraordinary prayer
  2. Resilience without stoicism
  3. Radical refocusing
  4. Gospel resolve

Need ancouragement, prayer, or have something to add? I would love to hear from you in the comments.


Two additional notes:

  • Don’t skip over the introductory comments. I think you will resonate with them and find encouragement there as well.
  • Thanks to a friend who sent me this link so that I might be encouraged. You know who you are.

A New NDP Model

The First Thursday in May. …the National Day of Prayer. (NDP)

May 7, 2020.

What is today for? What’s this about? The answer might seem simple: Prayer. But that simple answer leads to a flood of other questions…

Who is being called to pray? What are we praying for? Who are we praying to?

Well, “the nation,” of course. We’re calling the nation to pray. But is it biblical to call a nation to prayer? I beleive so. Although, maybe not the way we’re doing it. I think we need a new template, a new pattern. Not only does modeling our national call to prayer after 2 Chronicles 7 (and other pleas to God’s people), appear to have serious hermeneutical problems, it does not appear to be producing widespread fruit.

Let’s consider what our nation’s NDP meetings have produced. (This is not meant to be a criticism to the creators, promoters, and participants of NDP over the years. Many of these are dear brothers and sisiters in Christ who are laboring well for the Kingdom. My intent is to simply evaluate what has become of this effort and where we can get it back on track.)

Today will be filled with programs that are not only ecumenical among Christian traditions (which can be a good thing), but many of these representatives will be from traditions and churches that have denied the gospel. More than that, non-Christian faiths are also being represented at NDP gatherings in city parks and on courthouse steps. Which begs the question, who are we praying to?

America, regardless of her foundations, is a secular and plurastic society. If you are going to call a plurastic nation to pray, you will create a pluralistc prayer movement. It has, in a sense, become a Jonah 1:6 call: “Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” (ESV) It has become a “cover all bases, come together in solidairty, work toward the same goal” kind of partnership, and Christ has become lumped in with our cultural spirituality, yoked together with other gods.

Please don’t misunderstand, we can still show respect to those of other faiths, enter into dialogue with them and even partner with them in certain efforts, but prayer is not one of them.

This is why the National Day of Prayer should not be a 2 Chronicles 7 prayer meeting. Even when we keep our meetings Christian and orthodox our prayers (for whatever reason) manage to avoid or underplay what must be the centerpiece of a widespread, cooperative, national call to prayer:

Repentance. Serious, humble, painful, transparent repentance.

Listen to the rhetoric; hear the prayers offered from platforms across our nation today. Read the outlines on the published programs. You won’t see it. It won’t be there except, perhaps, in the periphery.

We will gather to recognize our blessings and to thank God for them? That’s a good thing to do.

We will gather to recognize God, His glory and His throne, to implore Him to bless our families, cities, governments, and nation. I think these prayers are necessary but should not be the meat of our intercessory banquet.

Instead of 2 Chronicles 7:14 (a powerful call to prayer for God’s people), we should be following the lead of Jonah 3:6-9:

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (ESV)

This should be the model for the National Day of Prayer.

The model of Nineveh and not Israel. A call to an ungodly nation must sound like Jonah not Solomon.

Consider, what if Jonah (the book not the prophet) became the template for our national call to prayer.

  1. An imperfect prophet (the church) preaches God’s message of warning to a godless people.
  2. Conviction falls on that nation’s leaders.
  3. A proclamation is issued calling for repentance and humility before the One true God.

Then and only then will our NDP actually bear fruit, abundant fruit… far-reaching and enduring fruit. The kind of fruit that leads to salvations, transforms lives, impacts families, and averts plagues.

The fruit of repentance.

Faithful proclamation, serious warning, sharp conviction, and national repentance. These are the true precursors to revival. Let’s seek them with all our hearts. Let’s seek Him.

O Lord, please, let us abandon empty displays of religious activity and grant us humility, repentance, and revival.

Seeking Wisdom Amidst Controversy

Controversy breeds conflict.

Conflict exposes pride and arrogance. When we encounter differing opinions, our pride becomes kindled.

Case in point: Coronavirus Response.

Everybody has an opinion and those opinions come with strong emotions and even stronger certainty.

Because genuine dialogue between varying perspectives has evaporated under the heat of controversy, the wells of knowledge and solutions have also dried up.

In contrast, God’s wisdom implores us to learn from varying perspectives, for among multiple counselors there is wisdom. (Proverbs 11:14, 24:6)

So, how can we trust that we are among those truly seeking and holding fast to wisdom?

Consider these diagnostic questions:

  • When listening to a different point of view, can you acknowledge any truth in an opposing argument while identifying specifically what you disagree with and why?
  • How many perspectives are you exposed to first-hand? (I mean, do you listen to the entirety of their ideas in context, listening in good faith, or are you content to merely hear about what was said?)
  • Do you already have an opinion on what will be said even before you hear what is said (either because of who is speaking or what “camp” they’re representing)?
  • Do you assume the worst about the motives of those you disagree with?
  • Do you understand the limitations of data sets, surveys, and projections as well as any possible bias in their presentation?
  • Can you admit your limitations?

These are just a few diagnostic questions that will expose each of us to varying degrees as part of the problem. Which, I suppose, is another question. “Can you admit that you are part of the problem?”

We are all biased and unable to fully compensate for our tendency to assume, presume, react, distort, and misunderstand. So, we must learn to listen with patience, charity, and grace. This takes both effort and humility.

The benefits for the church go beyond modeling wisdom and charity when it comes to societal discourse. For the church, this is how we love one another well. This is how we value one another, see the image of God in one another, and abide in the wisdom and presence of God.

So, let’s work on application. As this Corona & Quarantine continue and as talk swirls around opening back up businesses and meetings, let’s be intentional with our words and attitudes.

Let’s strive to do the following:

  1. Admit we don’t have perfect knowledge; we are limited in wisdom, and have a plethora of presuppositions (many of which we are not aware of).
  2. Realize that while we may think we have accomplished #1, the reality of those limitations are exponentially greater than we know. Even though we may acknowledge these limitations we cannot fully compensate for them.
  3. Remember that many intelligent, informed, and capable individuals differ on the interpretation of data and best way to move forward.
  4. REFUSE to demonize people who disagree with you and make different choices than you. False dichotomies are not true and are even less helpful. One dimensional perspectives are grossly inadequate and simple solutions are for the simple-minded… we can be better than that.
  5. Acknowledge this is a multi-faceted issue, compounded by complex intersections of intricate societal overlap.
  6. Allow grace to reign in our interactions and humility in our opinions.

While I’m sure there are a bajillion more caveats and considerations, these are a good starting point.

What would you add??