Thoughts on Prayer

freely-10139In whose presence do I walk? In whose hall do I enter? He is the one who burns with all-consuming fire. He knows all and sees all, including every detail of my life that shames me. Each is well-lit, easily seen by His eyes. Yet, He lavishes me with grace. He pours love over me. He died and rose so that I might live and walk here in His presence. Here I stand–trembling boldly in His presence.

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A review of 41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate

41willcome41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate is an encouraging book on the importance of waiting for God’s breakthrough in life’s tough situations. Tate is the founding pastor of RockChurch in Illinois.

Tate bases his book on the premise that in the Bible, 40 days (or whatever period) of a trial is followed by the 41st day, a time of God’s intervention, blessing, and work. Tate is correct in seeing this pattern in Scripture. It is why I always take note when I see the number 40 in the Bible. Tate focuses on the story of Goliath defying the army of Israel for 40 days until, on the 41st day, David in faith faces him.

The Good

Tate is a “warm and friendly” writer, encouraging. It is obvious that he has concern for people. The writing style reminds of that of Craig Groeschel and Matt Batterson. The book is illustrated not just with Biblical stories, but also with the lives of people today. The reader passing through difficult days will likely find some encouragement in this book. (I did.) The book is very practical.

But…

Sometimes it is practical to point of passing over deeper theological truth. For example in the chapter on the Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (another 40 in the Bible), Tate emphasizes Jesus use of the Word in terms of claiming God’s promises and launching toward God’s purpose. All of that is fine and well, but a deeper theological truth is at work in that passage. Jesus was tempted as we are, but without sin. He faced what the first Adam faced and did not sin as Adam did. Because He was sinless, He was worthy to be our Savior. He still is.

However…

Tate’s purpose was not to write a systematic theology but to encourage those waiting for God to help them or to fulfill their dreams. Such people are looking for encouragement based upon God’s Word that will them get to their 41. This book fits that need, and I recommend it.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Tyndale’s Blog Network program in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Christian Citizenship: The Duty of Prayer Part 1

A few weeks ago, I attended a National Day of Prayer observance for the first time. As Christians, we have a responsibility to pray for our government. However, that is not where I want to begin. I want to start with the church’s responsibility to pray for herself–for the church.

I suppose it will strike many as self-centered to say that the church’s duty is to pray for herself. What about praying for leaders? Well, I plan to cover praying for leaders in my next post in this series. However, I think the church will never be active in its mission—its first duty—of making disciples of all nations unless the Church draws near to God and becomes what God desires.

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When many speak about renewal or revival, they reference 2 Chronicles 7:14. I see one common misapplication of this verse. Many take the reference to “My people” as somehow being a reference to the United States of America. Without getting into if the Founders founded America as a Christian nation or not, we just cannot theologically conclude that this verse applies to all Americans. The people of God, those called by His name, can only refer to those who have a covenant relationship with Him. Under the New Covenant, only those who have trusted in the substitutionary atoning work of Christ upon the Cross can truly be God’s people.

However, some say that this verse only applies to Israel under the Old Covenant. To use it today as a call to prayer for renewal is to rip it from its context. I disagree. “My people” refers to the covenant people of God, and the Church is the covenant people of God. The actions called for in the verse are timeless principles applicable to the church now as they were in Israel. Though the Church does not occupy land as Israel did as a political entity, the Church is in need of healing, renewal, and revival.

As the people of God, we face many challenges. Our influence in society has decreased. Others marginalize us away from public debate. Politics divides. Our society no longer shares the values that we hold, and in fact, many find our values repugnant.

Therefore, in light of the challenges we experience as a result of being both people of this country and His people, we need to humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from any evil in which we participate. If we are to have any power at all, it must be God’s power working through us to witness, make disciples, and to transform the world in which we live.

Christians* in a Pagan Empire

I see the panic in some people’s eyes. I see the confusion.  They seem to be saying, “What happened? I thought we were a Christian nation.”

The point of this blog post is not to debate if the Founding Fathers of the  United States of America founded it as a Christian nation. The answer to that question seems to depend on the perspective from which one begins. Clearly, in the early 1800s, Christianity in its Protestant and comparatively speaking, evangelical form, had an enormous influence over the direction of the country. What some stand in shock of today, the loss of that influence, began gradually in the late 1800s, but it has accelerated exponentially in recent years. In other words, we shouldn’t be shocked.

Also, we should not panic. On one hand, we should not retreat from the public square, build walls around what remains of us, and scream and shout at those outside. The Pagan Empire that I refer to in the title is not the USA but rather the Roman Empire. Christianity has been in this situation before today. In fact, it thrived there. It may thrive again if we prove ourselves to be faithful, which brings me to the other hand.

We must not give in to the temptation to compromise with the world, to heed the call to “modernize” or “post-modernize” or whatever philosophy rules this month. So-called progressive Christians who encourage us to compromise with the world so that we can continue to have a voice are terribly deceived. First of all, to compromise Biblical truth in exchange for worldly influence (yes, some conservative, fundamental Christians are guilty of this as well) is not progress but regression. Also, historically, such assumptions have proven false. Sociologists Peter Finke and Rodney Starke in their book, The Churching of America 1776-2005, point out that the churches that thrived in the USA were “aggressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness.”(Finke and Starke, 2005, p. 1) They also assert that those churches and denominations that “rejected traditional doctrines” and “ceased to make serious demands of their followers” declined.

So, the the first step for Christians and churches to thrive in our present situation is to accept it for one it is. We are one voice among many competing voices, some of which also claim to speak for Christianity. We live in a pluralistic nation, but we do not accept pluralism. (For a more in-depth discussion of that last sentence please find and read the book that I reviewed here.) Yet, we have the right to speak (at least for now) and to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us do so faithfully and boldly. And let us learn from Scripture–from those who came before us–how to live as Christians in a “pagan” world.

Over the next several days or weeks (I don’t know yet), I will write blog posts about Scripture passages that speak to how we should relate to government and society, even when both stand against us. Today, I dealt with the first step we must take–accept reality for what it is. We do not live in a Christian nation, nor do Christians have the influence that they once enjoyed.

Our priority is to share the Gospel and make disciples. But the Bible says other things about how to relate to those around us. What will follow are steps that have no particular order. I hope to write a blog post on each one.

  • Pray for leaders, for our nation, and for the church.
  • What the Bible says about paying taxes.
  • What the Bible says about obeying laws.
  • What the Bible says about doing right to all people.
  • What the Bible says about the priority of obeying God above all others.
  • What happens when the price for following God is high.

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*Yes, I am using Christian here to refer to conservative, evangelical Christianity. Yes, I know there is a broader meaning. I do not mean to exclude so much as not to have to explain what I mean in every paragraph.

Finally, Another Thought…Sort of

In reality, I don’t have an original thought tonight. For the past week and a half, I worked on the prospectus for my Ph.D. dissertation. I finished it last night. As a result, thought is not something I am capable of at the moment. All of my thoughts went into the prospectus. Hopefully, I will be able to make another post or two this week. I have one in mind about being a Christian with dual citizenship in the Kingdom of God and an earthly nation. I also hope to write three more book reviews by the end of the month. In June, I hope to highlight some works by independent authors. I have three lined up, possibly four. If you are an independent writer, I can handle one more book in June. Please check the page link to the side to find out what my reading interest are. Contact me through Twitter if you think I would be interested in your book.

In the meantime, I would like to share a couple of links to articles that I found helpful. One is an interview with John Eldredge. Honestly, he is not among my favorite Christian writers. However, he has some good insights in this interview about prayer. Also, at Crossway, there is an insightful article on how Christians can disagree with one another without being disagreeable to paraphrase my seventh-grade homeroom teacher. I hope you find both articles helpful.

When My Heart And His Word Disagree

This morning I studied Psalm 57. Psalm 57:7 in the English Standard Version reads:

My heart is steadfast, O God,
My heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!

Those words struck hard. My heart is not steadfast. I doubt. I worry. I despair. Like the words of the hymn, “Prone to wonder, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.”

How can a heart be steadfast? David had every reason to feel as I did this morning when he wrote this Psalm. In fact, he had more reason. He, the man anointed to become king, was hiding in a cave from jealous King Saul. David likely wrote this Psalm around the events of either 1 Samuel 22:1 or 1 Samuel 24. God anointed David for kingship, but instead, David was hiding like a criminal. The quickest way out was to compromise his beliefs and to kill God’s anointed King. He would not do so. Despite his circumstances, his heart was steadfast. How could that be? A few other verses point us toward understanding.

I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness. (vv. 2-3)

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. (v. 10)

David’s heart was steadfast because of his faith in the steadfastness of God. God would be faithful to fulfill His promise, His purpose for David’s life. David trusted in God’s constant love and perfect, unchanging nature. David had faith because even hiding in a dark cave he could see the light of God’s faithfulness. When I was younger, I used to have a poster hanging above my bed. It was a picture of a tall mountain with words written above, “Our faith does not rest in our feelings: it rests in the unshakeable character of God.”

Steadfast hearts do not come from willpower or training. They come from resting in God and His unchanging love.

 

 

Are Voters Ready to Ask the Question?

Ask The Question by Stephen Mansfield challenges voters and the media to take the religion of presidential candidates seriously. He encourages citizens to dare ask how the religious beliefs of candidates shape them as individuals and how those spiritual ideas shape their policy position. Mansfield is the author of other books dealing with politics and presidents: The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama. In this book, Mansfield deals with the faith of past presidents, past candidates, and a potential president. He gives examples of how faith shapes each person.

Mansfield deals with a variety of religious positions ranging from conservative evangelical to progressive mainstream. Mansfield treats each one with respect and objectivity. He assumes religious sincerity on the part of each candidate. Thus, he models the point that he is trying to make. Reporters and voters tend to believe statements of faith by candidates are political posturing. Such assumptions particularly happen when the candidate holds views that the reporter or voter finds distasteful. Some conservatives carry the assumption that all liberals are godless and discount the sincerity of their faith. Some liberals still assume that evangelicals are uneducated and easily manipulated leading them to believe that conservative candidates use religious rhetoric for purely political purposes.

Another key point that Mansfield is our postmodern era makes the question of religion more important rather than less important. He points to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln as past examples of “nones.” Mansfield both would have been considered as such because they were not members of an organized religious group. Both had strong religious and spiritual understandings. Postmodernism makes labels meaningless today. One must not just know a candidate is Baptist or Roman Catholic. One must understand the full spiritual foundation of the candidate and how it influences their policy decisions.

This book is an important one to read. Hopefully, more voters and reporters will take the book’s advice and ask the question.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy from Baker Books for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)