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The Righteous Warrior – No Flinching

Faith in Action 2Who Said It…John Piper

John Piper was raised in South Carolina and majored in literature in college (he’s now a prolific author who still writes poems).

He proceeded with biblical studies at Fuller Seminary and the University of Munich, and taught courses at Bethel Seminary for six years.

But sensing “an irresistible call to preach,” John shifted to Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, where he’s been senior pastor since 1980.

What He Said…No Flinching

Christian courage is the willingness to say and do the right thing regardless of the earthly cost, because God promises to help you and save you on account of Christ. An act takes courage if it will likely be painful. The pain may be physical, as in war and rescue operations. Or the pain may be mental, as in confrontation and controversy.

Courage is indispensable for both spreading and preserving the truth of Christ. Running from resistance in evangelism or teaching dishonors Christ. There’s a kind of cowardice that tells only the truths that are safe to tell.

Martin Luther put it like this: “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Adapted from Taste and See (Multnomah, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Give me the courage, Lord, to take a bold stand for truth and justice, even when it’s risky.

 

 

Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – Effective Prayer

Prayer 11Along with the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospels (Matt 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4), James’ letter also offers practical instructions on how to pray effectively.

Covering hardship, healing, happiness, and confession of sins, James gives us a glimpse into what vibrant prayer within the church community looks like.

And while personal, private prayer is essential to a healthy walk with Christ, these instructions make it equally clear that a healthy church depends on believers praying together and for one another.

Interact with God’s Word:  James 5:13-18

  1. What “hardships” were these Christians experiencing? (See Acts 11:19; James 1:1-3, 5:10.)
  2. How does prayer help believers through hardships?
  3. James encourages us to “sing praises” when we’re happy (v. 13). Why is it important to offer praise as well as prayers expressing pain?
  4. Verse 15 says “prayer offered in faith will heal the sick.” But what are important “stipulations” for answers to any kind of prayer? (See James 4:2-3; Mark 14:36).
  5. According to verse 16, what two qualities produce “great power” and “wonderful results”? How can we make sure we have these qualities?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank God for being a God who listens to the prayers of his people and ask him to help you pray more consistently and effectively.

James 5:13-18

13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.

 

 

Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – No Frills, No Flair

Prayer 11Key Bible Verse: O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. Psalm 139:1

Bonus Reading: Psalm 139:2-18

There was a time in my life when it seemed as if everyone wanted me to pray aloud at group gatherings. So I would pray, in properly respectful yet down-to-earth tones, choosing my words carefully.

I found myself mimicking my public “performances” in my private times with God. It was during one of these times, late at night, that I felt God speaking to my heart: Mike, exactly who are you praying for?

For months I had been so bent on shaping my prayers for audiences that I’d forgotten I was whispering directly into the ear of God.

I learned something that night: When we come to God in prayer, we must come as we are. No amount of flowery words will impress God. He knows our sinful thoughts and secret desires better than we do. We can’t fool him with impressive praying.

No, if we want to be people who passionately pursue intimacy with God, we must first and foremost have the courage to approach him honestly, completely revealing who we are, what we’ve done, and how we feel each time we call his name. To do less than that is an insult to God and to the miracle of prayer he’s given us.

—Mike Nappa in The Courage to Be a Christian

My Response: When I pray, am I always aware that I’m “whispering directly into the ear of God”?

Thought to Apply: In prayer, it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart—John Bunyan (British writer & preacher)

Adapted from The Courage to Be a Christian (Howard, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.

 

 

 

Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – Noteworthy Distractions

Prayer 11Key Bible Verse: The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16

Bonus Reading: James 5:13-18

For a long time I had been disturbed about the problem of a wandering mind during my time of prayer.

I would be trying to pray and suddenly my mind would jump to a business appointment I needed to make or something else I had to do.

For years I had forced these things out of my mind to get back to “spiritual things.” But now, thanks to a suggestion from my friend, Donn Moomaw, I began to keep a notebook by my side; and when the thought came to me to call someone, to make an appointment, or to do something for the family, I would jot it down and then go back to God.

I was at last realizing that God is interested in my total life and that these things which came into my mind during my time of prayer might be significant things for me to do, or places for me to go. This also made it easier for me to get my mind immediately back to my other prayers.

Sometimes a vision of someone I resented would come floating into my prayers. Instead of trying my best to suppress it, I began to ask God to make my thoughts about this person more like his. Before I knew it, I discovered that God was touching more and more of my life through this time of prayer.

—Keith Miller in The Edge of Adventure

My Response: I will strive to include all aspects of my life in my prayers by …

Thought to Apply: I beg you to see how absolutely vital prayer is.—Charles Spurgeon (British preacher)

Adapted from The Edge of Adventure (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.

 

 

Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – Just Stammer Away

Prayer 11Key Bible Verse: We don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  – Romans 8:26

Bonus Reading: Psalm 63:1-8

We don’t like to stand speechless or stammering before God, but that doesn’t mean God holds it against us when we do.

I remember a vacation with my parents in France when I was in high school. I had just completed two years of French, hardly enough to make me fluent.

Still, there we were, tourists wanting to make the most of our time. So when we needed a bathroom, when we wanted to find a cafe, or when I lost my eyeglasses on the steps of L’Eglise du Sacre-Coeur, I falteringly used my butchered French.

I was trying—to the politely suppressed laughter of others—to speak the language. But I remember more than the townspeople’s bemusement. I remember how they warmly received my efforts. They strained to hear past my fractured sentences. They honored me by responding.

Is God any less generous?

He hears all that arises from us—the words of our mouth, the longings of our hearts, the thoughts of our minds, the intentions of our wills. Regret, grief, thanksgiving, hope—God hears our emotions, not just our grammar. Because of his grace, not our eloquence, we can pray. Even if we stammer.

—Timothy Jones in The Art of Prayer

My Response: I know God hears my feeble words and stammered prayers because …

Thought to Apply: Prayer is weakness leaning on omnipotence.—W. S. Bowden (Methodist bishop)

Adapted from The Art of Prayer (WaterBrook, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.

 

 

Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – Guilt Free A to Z

Prayer 11Key Bible Verse: I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.  – 1 Timothy 2:1

Bonus Reading: Daniel 9:1-19

Have you ever created a massive prayer list and then broken it down for each day of the week? If you have, you’ve probably discovered that this approach works well—at producing a whole lof of guilt!

The first day you miss your prayer time, you decide to double up the next day so that no name gets skipped. But this requires that tomorrow you pray for a boatload of people. Eventually, you’ll let dropped days stay dropped—and then feel guilty about all those people for whom you failed to pray.

Let me offer you a guilt-free approach. I keep an A to Z list of friends on one page, front and back, in a notebook I use to record my daily insights from Scripture. I stick a little Post-it note under the person’s name I last prayed for.

Some days I have the time to pray for five or six people. Other days I’m in a hurry and may get to only one or two names. And occasionally I miss interceding for others altogether. I just pick up where I left off and continue down my list. It may take a few weeks to cover everyone, but there’s a steady thoroughness to this approach that gives me a sense of deep satisfaction.

—James Nicodem in Prayer Coach

My Response: Without increasing guilt, how might I improve my own intercessory prayer times?

Thought to Apply: Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men!—Phillips Brooks (American clergyman & author)

Adapted from Prayer Coach (Crossway, 2008)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.

 

 

Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – At a Loss for Words?

Prayer 11Key Bible Verse: Never stop praying.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Bonus Reading: Psalm 86:1-7

Some Christians may dismiss written prayers as leftovers of a formal church style they’d just as soon bury.

Yet when we feel down or dull, reading a prayer may get us going when otherwise we wouldn’t pray at all. When we read the prayer and truly pray it as we read, the written prayer becomes our own expression to God.

The largest source of written prayers is the book of Psalms. With 150 to choose from, we can always find one to start off our prayer (like today’s Bonus Reading).

We have psalms of praise, comfort, and encouragement. Most of all we find laments—over a third of the Psalms begin with complaints. (People are often surprised to discover that God actually lets us complain to him.)

Psalms of lament start with expressing sadness, frustration, or even anger to God. Then they generally progress toward finding hope and comfort in God. They’re a great example of dumping our problems on God and turning to the path of faith and optimism.

Reading written prayers can also stimulate our own prayers when we internalize the words and express them as if they were our own. This gets the flow of our thoughts going. Then we can set the written prayer aside and go on praying.

—Peter Lundell in Prayer Power

My Response: How might written prayers enliven my own times of prayer?

Adapted from Prayer Power (Revell, 2009)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.

 

 

Effective Stewardship – Month #14

The primary way we are to obtain money is to work for it.

“ . . . to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs,

and to work with your hands” (1 Thes. 4:11).

 

What comes to mind when someone mentions “work”? Is your initial tendency to moan and groan, wishing you could avoid work?

It might surprise you to learn that God described His creative acts as “work” and that he brought “work” into being shortly after He created man. Adam worked in the Garden before and after his fall due to his sin. Cain worked by raising vegetables. Abel worked by tending sheep. Throughout Scripture, people worked. Even the Lord Jesus worked while He was on earth, and He described God the Father as having worked. Work has always been part of God’s nature and eternal plan for mankind.

Wait a minute — If God created and owns everything, why should we His children have to work? Couldn’t He just provide for us in some supernatural way that would enable us not to have to work? Surely, God could do that, but He doesn’t do so. According to the admonition in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, one of the primary benefits from working and providing for our needs is to be able to lead lives marked by integrity and a healthy self respect. And God’s plan is that we are best able to accomplish these worthy goals by working.

God also knows that by utilizing our talents and abilities through work, He will be able to minister to others through us in an effective way. Work, then, is one of the primary avenues by which we can demonstrate our Christian faith, particularly as we do our tasks to God’s glory. Work is also the primary way through which we obtain money to give to God.

What should be the Christian’s response to work? First, thank God for work and for the ability to work. As Solomon observed, this is a “gift of God.” Second, view your work as a means of bringing glory to God. Third, whatever you do — no matter what your vocation or occupation — do it “with your might,” as unto the Lord. And finally, remember that by providing work for us to do, God enables us to give to Him and to His ministry at Central United Methodist Church.

Jumpstarting Sluggish Prayers – Crank Your Engine

Prayer 11Who Said It … Peter Lundell

Peter Lundell is a former missionary to Japan and currently pastors Walnut Community Church in Walnut, California. Along with publishing articles in numerous magazines, he’s the author of Armed for Battle, When God Bursts In, and the recently published Prayer Power.

Peter’s hobbies include woodworking and surfing the Pacific with a specially designed “surf kayak.” He has a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Missiology from Fuller Theological Seminary. Peter and his wife, Kim, have one daughter.

What He Said … Crank Your Engine

When the automobile was first invented, no one had conceived of a starter. So while one person sat at the wheel, another person stood in front of the car and cranked a handle connected to the engine. Round and round they’d heave the crank until the engine started. This led to phrases like “crank the engine” and “crank it up.”

Sometimes prayer may feel like a dead engine, and it takes deliberate cranking to get the communication started.

Too many times I have experienced the truth of Jesus’ words: “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Mark 14:38). I may sit or stand or walk while I try to talk with God, but my mind is like a dead engine. These are times when I “start in the flesh and end in the Spirit.”

Starting in the flesh and ending in the Spirit means that we may not feel like praying, but we go ahead and pray anyway. As we do this, our prayer starts to flow naturally.

Adapted from Prayer Power (Revell, 2009)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Heavenly Father, help me to pray more consistently, more fervently, and more selflessly.

 

 

Encouraging and Supporting Your Friends

FriendsToday’s Bible study looks at only four brief verses from Proverbs. But like all of the adages found throughout this wisdom-filled book, these tersely crafted verses are jam-packed with powerful, practical, and timeless insights.

And in keeping with this week’s theme, the insights go straight to the heart and soul of what it means to be someone who seeks to bring out the best in his friends. So, dig into these four short verses and then put them to work in your friendships.

Interact with God’s Word:  Proverbs 27:5-6, 9, 17

  1. When have you been grateful for a friend’s “open rebuke” (v. 5)? Why was this rebuke helpful to you?
  2. How does a wound from a “sincere friend” (v. 6) differ from a wound from an insincere friend?
  3. Why are wounds from a “sincere friend” better than “kisses from an enemy”?
  4. When was a time “heartfelt counsel” (v. 9) kept you from making a mistake or gave you the courage to do what was right?
  5. Who is a friend you could “sharpen” (v. 17) through an encouraging word, a piece of timely advice, or a loving rebuke?
  6. Take time to memorize one or two of the verses from this week’s study.

Spend Time in Prayer:  Thank God for friends who offer you encouragement and who seek to bring out the best in you; ask God to guide you and give you wisdom as you seek to encourage and challenge your own friends to greater godliness.

Proverbs 27:5-6, 9, 17

5 An open rebuke
is better than hidden love!

6 Wounds from a sincere friend
are better than many kisses from an enemy.

9 The heartfelt counsel of a friend
is as sweet as perfume and incense.

17 As iron sharpens iron,
so a friend sharpens a friend.

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, show me how to best encourage and challenge my friends to deeper faith; show me how to support them during their struggles.

 

 

Encouraging and Supporting Your Friends – We Need Each Other

FriendsKey Bible Verse: I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

Bonus Reading: Romans 15:4-6

Mark (not his real name) took the courageous step of joining a church group that encourages men who want to grow out of destructive patterns. I had been urging him to take advantage of this group.

When he did so, I told him how my respect for him had risen. But as I looked with the eyes of God, I saw a shadow in his face, a touch of discouragement, even a hint of fear. He needed some encouragement.

“But you know,” I added, “when you read the classics, they stress how once a believer begins taking God more seriously, Satan is likely to unleash his most fierce temptations against that person.”

The relief that flooded Mark’s face was immediate. “Thank you for sharing that,” he said. “It helps me understand what’s been going on.”

Just hours before I talked to Mark, two of my friends had spoken to me, ministering God’s presence and wisdom. If they hadn’t lifted me up, I don’t know if I would have been available to encourage Mark. True transformation is a community effort. We need each other.

—Gary Thomas in The Beautiful Fight

My Response: Who is a friend I need to thank for being there to encourage me?

Adapted from The Beautiful Fight (Zondervan, 2007) .

Thought to Apply: A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.—Arnold Glasgow (writer, humorist)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, show me how to best encourage and challenge my friends to deeper faith; show me how to support them during their struggles.

 

 

Encouraging and Supporting Your Friends – Get Real, Go Deep

FriendsKey Bible Verse: Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:14, The message

Bonus Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

If you were to share with a trusted friend that you struggle with watching television shows you know you shouldn’t, your friend could react in a number of ways. The reaction you receive will most likely reveal the depth of your friend’s commitment to you.

Your friend could say to you, “Well, just turn off the TV and pray about it.” In this case, your friend probably can’t really relate to your problem, but he thinks telling you this will help. He might be truly concerned, however, even though he doesn’t really understand. Or he may simply practice doling out spiritual-sounding advice.

On the other hand, imagine the difference if that friend makes a committed effort to help you. Think how you’ll feel if your friend says, “Let’s talk about your problem some more. Why do you think you’re having this struggle? Let’s pray about this together.”

The two of you spend some time talking over the struggle you’re experiencing—and then you spend some more time beside each other in prayer. Your friend is committed to helping you—as long as it takes—until you get through this problem. Now that’s a committed friendship.

—David Wardell and Jeff Leever in Daily Disciples

My Response: How can I best demonstrate empathy toward a struggling friend?

Thought to Apply: We are born helpless. … We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.—C. S. Lewis(British scholar, Christian writer)

Adapted from Daily Disciples (Promise, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, show me how to best encourage and challenge my friends to deeper faith; show me how to support them during their struggles.

 

 

Encouraging and Supporting Your Friends – Was It Worth It?

FriendsKey Bible Verse: When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.   – Romans 1:12

Bonus Reading: Philemon 7

To encourage the guys in a Bible study I recently led, I telephoned each of them every week, asking how things were going and how I could pray for them. One of the men was reticent on the phone, often answering my general questions with one or two words. Our typical conversation lasted for only a minute or two.

Was he uncomfortable talking with me? I wondered after each call. Was I annoying him with my repeated phone calls? Did he not even like me? Perhaps I should just stop calling him.

Before making any decisions, though, I needed some expert advice. I talked to my wife.

“I wouldn’t give up,” she said. “Those calls probably mean more to him than you think.”

I took my wife’s advice and called that man again. As usual, he shared little and offered no prayer requests. As I began to wrap up another uncomfortable conversation, he said something that stunned me.

“Jon,” he said, “I just want you to know that I really appreciate your calls. It’s encouraging to hear a friendly voice every week.”

With tears forming in my eyes, I thanked him for his kind words. I hung up the phone and looked forward to calling him the following week.

—Jonathan Wakefield

My Response: How do I react when guys don’t seem to respond positively to my attempts to reach out and encourage them?

Thought to Apply:Q: How can you tell if a person needs encouragement? A: If they are breathing.”—Truett Cathy (founder of Chick-fil-A)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, show me how to best encourage and challenge my friends to deeper faith; show me how to support them during their struggles.

 

 

Encouraging and Supporting Your Friends – A Team of Huggers

FriendsKey Bible Verse: Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. Hebrews 10:24

Bonus Reading: Acts 4:36, 11:22-24

Coach Peacock’s team had just won a state championship. They were celebrating in the locker room, and Coach was hugging his players right and left. As the congratulations continued, the coach noticed one player in particular sitting alone on a bench, watching him.

Coach Peacock knew that the young man’s parents were divorced and also that his dad was an alcoholic who never attended any of his son’s games. So he walked over to the player and asked if he was okay. The young man responded, “Yes, Coach, but I was just wondering … could I have another hug?”

The experience was a milestone in Coach’s life, leading him on a campaign to become a “team of huggers.” Starting with the coaching staff, Coach Peacock wouldn’t settle for a wimpy hug. It had to be a “bear hug.” Soon, the coaches began sharing hugs with their players.

Most of us would agree that hugs encourage us and remind us that someone cares about us. Of course, there are many ways to encourage others. Hebrews 10:24 says that we are to consider how to stimulate and encourage one another to good deeds. Let’s consider all the ways that we might encourage our fellow coaches, teachers, players, family members, and neighbors.

—Bill Burnett in Heart of a Coach

My Response: How do I feel about hugging my guy friends? Why do I feel this way?

Thought to Apply: There are high spots in all of our lives and most of them have come about through encouragement from someone else.—George M. Adams (writer)

Adapted from Heart of a Coach (Regal, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Dear Father, show me how to best encourage and challenge my friends to deeper faith; show me how to support them during their struggles.