Sunday, December 25, 2011

For to us a child is born…

For to us a child is born…
December 25, 2011
Pastor Lee Hemen

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2 NIV)
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In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-35 NIV)

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Luke 2:1-5 NIV)
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While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:6-14 NIV)
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When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:15-20 NIV)
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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'" Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." (Matthew 2:1-18 NIV)
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Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Luke 2:8-12; John 1:1-5 - The Word among us…

Luke 2:8-12; John 1:1-5 - The Word among us…
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 18, 2011 AM

From small beginnings mighty things can happen especially when God is involved. Take for instance the man known as Francis of Assisi. When he committed his life to Christ, he gave away everything he had. He came from a very wealthy family. For clothing, he put on a brown robe discarded by a peasant. For a belt he found a piece of rope lying on the ground nearby. It was a shabby outfit at best but ten years later his makeshift costume was the uniform of 5,000 men. Consider also the petite young woman who became huge in stature.

The missionary Lottie Moon was in China even before the great missionary Hudson Taylor. This tiny woman had a large vision for reaching the world for Christ. Taylor himself would remark, “God does not do His great work by large committees. He trains somebody to be quiet enough and little enough and then he uses them.” That’s what occurred with the birth of Jesus Christ. From the humble beginnings of being born in an animal feeding trough, Jesus entered into human existence to become the salvation of the world. Whether it is with a small woman quiet enough and little enough for God’s use, a simple brown tunic, or in a meager manger, it is often from small humble beginnings that mighty things can occur when God is involved. Jesus’ humble birth was the beginning of God’s complete revelation of himself to the world.

READ: Luke 2:8-12; John 1:1-5

As we look at Jesus’ humble beginnings we can see anew the miracle of the Bethlehem event and deepen our devotion to the son of Mary, who is also the Son of God and the Savior of the world. John’s Gospel contains no detailed account of the birth of Jesus. It does supply a strong statement on the incarnation: “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.” (John 1:14) This statement is at the heart of our study this morning, as we link Luke’s nativity story with John’s profound comments on the sublime mystery of Christ’s birth. This should be an experience of worship for us as we consider the Word among us. Let’s look first of all at the…

I. The paradox of Christmas! (Luke 2:8-12)

EXAMPLE: The paradox found here is in a person having seemingly contradictory circumstances. While the Word of God became flesh, it is still a fact that he also lived among us! Nowhere is this more graphically displayed than in the birth of Jesus in a humble manger. There is the paradox. The Savior of the world, God in human flesh, being born of a woman, in an animal stall! It was no ordinary birth, yet it was an ordinary birth. Luke reminds us of the supernatural nature of the event never experienced before. It kind of puts everything into perspective. Like the cub reporter, just out of journalism school who had landed a job with The New York Times. He asked a famous publisher for some advice. The publisher responded by telling him: “In promulgating your esoteric cogitations and articulating superficial sentimental and psychological observations, beware of platitudinous ponderosity. Let your extemporaneous decantations and unpremeditated expiations have intelligibility and veracious vivacity without rodomontade and thrasonical bombasity. Sedulously avoid all polysyllabic profundity, pusillanimous vacuity, pestiferous profanity, and similar transgressions.” The confused reporter asked: “What does that mean?!” The publisher explained, “Do not use big words. Keep it simple.” In communicating with mankind God chose to “keep it simple”.

1. Notice the common circumstances! (v.12) What the shepherds found hardly matched the expectations aroused by the announcement found in verses 9-11! Yet, it is appropriate for God’s use. Jesus is born into very humble and poor circumstances. With no particular social status the couple who had journeyed all the way from Nazareth, found “no room for themselves in the inn.” The immediate birth has to take place, not in a palace, but among the beasts of the stall and common barnyard.
2. Go back, however, and notice the angelic acclaim! (vv.8-11) The circumstances show that the modest shepherds had little time to comprehend the announcement of angels that “today... a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” or the physical conditions attending his birth. No time to wonder. No time to ponder. Just time enough to run. These unassuming folk pay homage to mother and child, and went on their way rejoicing telling others of what they had experienced and saw for themselves. That is the paradox of Christmas, God being born into the world in total humility!

People today would rather pay respect to a “Christmas spirit” of good will and peace to all mankind, rather than pay homage to the wonder of God incarnate. They disdain the fact of a Savior born in a manger. They revere good cheer, expensive gifts, and the art of getting instead. We notice as we read the Bible that as John thought through these things, he understood…

II. The eternal Word of Christmas! (John 1:1-5)

EXAMPLE: John refers to the Lord Jesus as “the Word.” It is an expression that some have tried to explain away philosophically or even esoterically in secretive and mystical terms. But in reality, Jesus’ whole life was never secretive or mystical in any way. Jesus would flatly declare that He had done everything openly (John 18:20-21) and that His followers were to literally “yell” the message from the rooftops (Matthew 10:27)! In the 70’s it was popular for hippies to garishly paint up their VW vans with peace symbols, bright flowers or large slogans. Today we see it in the simplistic socialistic political slogans of the Occupy Movement. Some people today have tried to reduce Jesus’ coming into the world down to “catch” phrases or slogans. Like a Nike ad, they try and sell Jesus simplistically. While Jesus’ message is simple, Jesus is not simplistic. Christians are not about selling a product called “Christ.” Jesus is more than that, he is the eternal Word.

1. We discover the startling fact that Jesus was in the beginning with God! The term used here is the common Greek word “logos”, which meant “speaking, a message, or words” John used the term because it would be very familiar to his readers. Jesus, the “spoken Word” was with God at the very beginning of creation. Jesus’ fellowship with God means literally that He was “in company with” God. It is a statement of fact, concerning the trinity’s existence, and so important is this to John that he writes it down twice (vv.1 & 2)! More than that, we find that the “Word was God” not “a god,” and not simply just a “divine” being as some cults would have you believe. Jesus, the Word, is God in human flesh! Humbly born in a human body, to a human mother, but also divine; born of the Holy Spirit of God! Jesus is the eternal Word of Christmas!
2. We discover therefore that Jesus is God! According to John we learn that “through him all things were made… without him nothing was made that has been made!” Paul would declare, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17 NIV)
3. We discover also that the eternal Word is the “light that shines in the darkness”! The Word is among us as a shinning light of holiness in a sin darkened world. The RSV renders this verse: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!” Since there is no darkness in heaven the Son of God had to enter this sphere of darkness where he was and still is met with rejection and opposition! Christmas is about the eternal Word, who was with God in the beginning, is God who created all things, and is the light that shines in a sin darkened world!

Conclusion:

Which elicits more response in your heart: the humble birth of Jesus or the glorious statement of the outcome of His birth?

Those who reject Christ lose the opportunity for life, eternal life. On the other hand, those who receive Christ are given a new standing before God. Ironside, a great Christian theologian, teacher, and preacher once said: “There is always the danger of keeping Christmas and losing Christ.” One day in December of 1903, Katherine, received a telegram from her two brothers. It read simply: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” The Wright brothers had flown! Katherine hurriedly ran to the local newspaper and showed the telegram to the editor. He read it, tossed it aside, and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” He had totally missed the big news that someone had flown for the first time in history!

We can make a similar mistake today when we hear the word “Christmas” and not place it in proper perspective. It is a paradox concerning the Word among us.
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Malachi 1:6-14 – Being honorable!

Malachi 1:6-14 – Being honorable!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 11, 2011 AM

We can dishonor someone by not holding them in high regard. The people of Israel had done this with God. Within the Ten Commandments given to them on Mt. Sinai was the first and most important command that instructed, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Following this command was the simple reasoning that they were also not to make any “idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” They were not only not to make them, they were not to “bow down to them or worship them (Exodus 20:3-4).” Yet, in all of this, the Israelites had dishonored God and done all of the above.

Malachi’s second burden therefore deals with the dishonor God’s people can have for the Lord. While it may be easy for us to point to specific denominations today that make idols and worship them, we often as evangelical Christians can fail to see the idols we form and impure worship in our lives. In this, Malachi’s burden is just as much a message for us as it was for the Israelites. We are to honor God with acceptable sacrifice. Let’s find out what Malachi teaches us about being honorable…

READ: Malachi 1:6-14

Relationship is important to God. We discover this from the very beginning in Genesis to the final chapter of the Book of Revelation. When God told the Israelites, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3 NIV) he meant it. It is also why Jesus reiterated that the greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30 NIV) Therefore, Malachi’s burden begins with…

I. A charge of a dishonorable relationship (1:6)!

1. A relationship by any other name is not a relationship!

1) Malachi spoke of proper relationships in his society. The Israelites understood the idea that “A son honors his father and a servant his master.” People respected relationships and the structure they had. In fact one of the Commandments stated that a person was to honor their parents (Exodus 20:12). However, God asks the applicable question that goes to the heart of the issue, “If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect (fear) due me?” If God was seen as the Father of the Israelite people and also as their Master, where was the respect due Him? God did view Israel as his “firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22) and the Commandments stated very clearly that children were to honor their parents. Israel recognized that “O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand (Isaiah 64:8 NIV).” What had happened then to the relationship Israel was supposed to have with God? They had allowed false and perverted ideas of worship to creep into how they honored God.

2) The absurd response of the people, especially the priests, proves the point God made through Malachi. So conceited and into themselves are the people and their spiritual leadership that they have no idea they had flagrantly and deliberately strayed from God! They act like they are the ones offended and arrogantly ask, “How have we shown contempt for your name?” (I can almost see Malachi stepping off to one side to get out of the way of the righteous fire from heaven!) Fear of God does not necessitate being terrified of him; but rather having a proper respect and reverence for him, a reverence that leads his people to worship and obedience! They had deliberately followed their own selfish desires instead and dishonored their relationship.

EXAMPLE: Their contempt was in the manner in which the Israelites totally disrespected their relationship with God. They called him “Father” and “Master,” but wanted what they could get out of God rather than what they could sacrificially bring to his temple and altar. America has become a nation of consumers. There is nothing wrong with this except where our relationship with God is concerned. We consume God instead of offering our sacrifice to him. We look for ways to get the most bang-for-our-buck instead. This is why so many hardly give anything to their church in time, talent, or treasure. Churches often do ask folks to join and instead offer up bigger and better Sunday morning shows knowing that the consumers in the pews may shop elsewhere. It is contemptible when we continually want God to fill our plastic bag with goodies, but never sacrifice anything for his kingdom. It is a matter of honoring our relationship with the one who sacrificed everything for us. The Israelites had dishonored God.

When folks give the Lord something that doesn’t really cost them anything, it is not a sacrifice. The idea of sacrifice demands that it cost the giver. Very little that is given in the church today is truly sacrificial in nature. The Israelites understood what it meant to sacrifice because they were required to give the very best they had to God in order to show that they truly honored the Lord. Malachi goes on to tell the people that if you really want an answer how they had dishonored God, well here is…

II. The evidence of dishonorable sacrifices (1:7-14)!

1. The proof was in the pudding and it contained a huge hairy fly!

1) The priests were responsible to teach the people God’s covenant and turn their hearts to God! If the priests failed to honor God, what could be expected of the people? The “food” here refers to the sacrifices that were to be offered to the Lord. They were warned against offering such sacrifices and thereby profane God’s name (Leviticus 22:2, 32). These sacrificial offerings were symbols of obedience, trust, and the cost involved. God savors and honors righteous sacrifice and they were bringing contemptible ones to his temple and table. Apparently they had become so hardened they rationalized their sin! They arrogantly brought blind, crippled, and diseased animals. If they thought it was okay to do, they should try offering them to their Persian governor! Would he be gracious and accept them? The answer is, “Of course not!”

2) In our day and age we think that if we feel it, it must be sincere! God knows better. He isn’t “pleased” with half-hearted offerings—they are contemptible and he “will accept no offering from [our] hands”. Notice it would have been better if they had “shut the temple doors” so they did not “light useless fires on” God’s altar! The Hebrew word “because” actually begins verse 11 and is not found in the NIV. It was “because” God’s name would be “considered great among the nations” that they needed to make “pure” sacrifices. It was a matter of the Israelites witness to the world! They not only profaned God’s table by bringing the worst they had but they contemptuously turned their noses up to it as well! Levitical law stated they were to get a share to eat, but they didn’t want the diseased food they had brought God! They were blatant hypocrites. God tells them, “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord.” Are there evidences where Christians “cheat” God with their blemished sacrifices and then say that God’s church is a “burden”? I suspect there is.

EXAMPLE: Both the priests and the people dishonored God. God related, “Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will spread on your faces the offal from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it.” Much of what is done as worship will end up being wiped waste on folks faces! Even today there are those who deserve the condemnation of Malachi, who have taken the holy out of worship. They do not bring pure sacrifices to God’s table, yet think God should bless them. It makes one wonder if the words of Jesus are not more accurate than we realize. He related that, “by their fruit you will recognize them.” And went on to admonish, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV) Is there evidence of dishonorable sacrifices in God’s church today? Malachi’s words should give us pause.

Conclusion:
What is disrespect? The dictionary defines it as “a lack of respect or esteem.” We can disrespect something or someone by not holding them in high regard. We honor God with a righteous relationship with him and our pure sacrifices.
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Malachi 1:1-5 – Being responsive!

Malachi 1:1-5 – Being responsive!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 4, 2011 AM

My Mom used to play mind games with us kids when we did something bad. A lot of mothers do this. Here’s what I mean: Right in the middle of scolding us over our bad behavior, she would innocently ask, “Don’t you love your dear old mother?” Or she would declare, “I work and I slave and what thanks do I get?” It was a form of psychological warfare to get a response from us and to have us think about the consequences of our actions. It’s called guilt.

Malachi is kind of like my mother. His message is for God’s wayward children. Didn’t they love God? Didn’t God love them? If that were true, then why were they acting the way they did? Had they gotten spiritually soft? God’s chosen people had gotten so lackadaisical about their faith that they forget what their relationship to God meant! Malachi’s message from the Lord is to illicit a response from his people. Malachi’s message applies to us as much as it did for the spiritually lax Israelites of his day. They needed to be responsive to God and what he continually did for them. The same is true for us today, let’s discover how...

READ: Malachi 1:1-6

Malachi ministered in the fifth century BC, about 100 years after the Persian King Cyrus had issued the decree in 538 BC which permitted Jews to return from exile to Judah. Life was not easy under the political rule of Persia. Most hearts were indifferent or resentful toward God. Both the priests and the people were violating the stipulations of the Mosaic Law regarding sacrifices, tithes, and offerings. Much like today, their hope in God’s promises had dimmed, as evidenced by their (a) intermarrying with nonbelievers, (b) divorces and (c) general moral apathy. They needed to respond to God’s love. Let’s discover what occurred and perhaps find a proper response for our day and age. We discover that...

I. God’s people need to respond to Malachi's message! (V. 1)

1. One man’s message is another man’s burden!
1) Malachi had a spiritually heavy message he had to share with his people. The word mas-saw’ (“burden”), which this book begins, sets kind of a sober mood. The NIV translates this word as “An oracle.” In the prophetic books mas-saw’ introduces messages of a threatening nature and this gives the prophet’s entire message a sense of anxiety and foreboding. Contrary to many modern religious pundits God’s messages are not always welcome and can often be sinister in nature! Especially if we know how we have been acting and we know how we should be responding! Notice that this spiritually heavy message was from God Himself! Traditionally Malachi, “My messenger”, has been viewed as the last prophet of the Old Testament period before John the Baptist, whose ministry Malachi predicted (Malachi 3:1). Nothing is known of his family and he is not mentioned by name elsewhere in the Bible. However, his message is so personal and intimate that the contents clearly indicate it was written by an actual person. Malachi was God’s voice speaking a heavy message to God’s spiritually lax people. Using a series of questions and answers, Malachi engages his listeners in a debate many would have rather ignored, but God’s people from all ages need to respond to Malachi’s message because it is a “word of the Lord” for his people!

EXAMPLE: My Dad always knew when I wasn’t listening to him when he was getting after me. I would let my eyes kind of glaze over and roll back in my head. Perhaps the blank expression on my face also gave me away. My father knew I wasn’t listening to him and he would confront me about it by declaring, “Young man, you haven’t listened to a single word I said to you!” I would try to play innocent, but we both knew better and the clincher would be when he would say, “All right, tell me what I just said to you.” He wanted me to respond appropriately and I knew I was in real trouble when he would finish by telling me, “This is going to hurt me more than it does you.” This is kind of the way God deals with Israel and us through Malachi. However, our sin and its consequences often hurt us more than it does God. Yet God’s people need to respond to Malachi’s message!

We can forget that while God is love, his love demands a response from us. Not that we can earn his love because God indeed always does love, but that we need to realize that when we fail to respond the way we should to his love we are rejecting what he has done for us! Malachi reminds us of…

II. Our failure to respond to God’s love! (Vv. 2-5)

1. An appropriate response to love is devotion!
1) Malachi brings the claim of God’s love for Israel (1:2a)! God had always loved Israel. In fact, He could have chosen anyone else but He chose Israel. The Lord’s claim over Israel was vindicated by two considerations. His love expressed in his free choice of his election of Jacob and his rebuff (hatred/rejection) of Esau. Yet, like a spoiled child, Israel’s questions God’s claim (1:2b)! How had God loved them? What a question to ask! God had deliberately decided not to follow the prescribed law of choosing the eldest son Esau over the younger brother. Instead God chose, out of love, Jacob! While Jacob had his deceptive faults, we soon learn Esau was willing to give up and cave in to his own natural sin rather than follow God. The Hebrew words here for “love” and “hatred” do not refer to emotions but rather actions. How can a child question a parent’s love when it was shown so dramatically? Yet, spoiled Israel did. Can we be like that as well? Yes! God has loved us and shown his love through Jesus Christ. In fact that Bible tells us that “God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son”! (John 3:16 NIV)

2) The vindication of God’s love claim is given by him (1:2c-5)! The verbs “I have loved” and “I have hated” (vv. 2b-3a) are in the perfect tense and therefore express not only God’s past relationship with Israel and Edom but also His historical and present dealings (in Malachi’s day) with these people. This then provided the second consideration which vindicated God’s claim of love. Israel needed to consider what her lot would have been like if she, like Edom, had not been elected to a covenant relationship with Yahweh. God restored Israel and not Edom. In fact, God would turn Edom’s “mountains into a wasteland” and leave “his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Edom may try to rebuild, but God would not allow it. They would be called “A Wicked Land,” as opposed to God’s “Holy Nation.” God tells spoiled Israel that if she doesn’t believe it, “You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD—even beyond the borders of Israel!’” Israel was guilty, like Edom, perhaps like we often are, of failing to respond to God's love! What about you this morning, have you failed to respond to the love of God?

EXAMPLE: I remember my mother giving me the parent’s curse. It goes something like this: “One of these days I hope and pray you have children just like you.” While God’s declaration through Malachi isn’t quite like this, it is similar in that he tells Israel, “You dare question my love after all I have done for you? Let me tell you something, Buster, there will come a time when you will see my love with your own eyes and recognize it for what it is.” That time would come through Jesus Christ. Paul says not only will spoiled Israel ultimately recognize God’s love, but every wayward child of God will: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).” We can be guilty of failing to respond to God's love in our lives!

Conclusion:
Perhaps you have forgotten just how much God loves you or like Israel, you may question God’s love. Let me remind you that God loves us with an everlasting love and proved it by sending Jesus into the world. Paul reminds us that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” and that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6 & 8 NIV) The heavy spiritual message of Malachi is just as valid this morning. God is telling us, just like he did when Israel questioned his love that he does indeed love us and has proven it through Jesus. How will you respond?
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Now thank we all our God! - Psalm 100

Now thank we all our God! - Psalm 100
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 20, 2011 AM

For some people being thankful is kind of like the story told about a 4-year-old daughter and her mother who were strolling through an open-air market. As the little girl stared at a large pile of oranges, a generous vendor took one from the pile and handed it to the little girl. “What do you say to the nice man?” the mother asked her daughter. The little girl looked at the orange, then thrust it toward the man and said, “Peel it!” Often, thankfulness is something we learn and grow into. How easy it is for us to respond to God’s graciousness like that 4-year-old. An attitude of being thankful is a mark of a maturing faith.

The early Pilgrims understood this. In fact, after surviving the first years in the American wilderness, they deliberately set out to print a song book of praise taken from the Psalms. The Bay Psalm Book is an important piece of our nation’s history. It was the first book entirely written and printed in the Colonies. When one considers the difficulties of mere survival during this time, accounting for the short time of 20 years after the first arrivals in Plymouth in 1620, the magnitude of the effort and accomplishment is even more impressive. The first printing press in New England was purchased and imported specifically to print this book in order to give God praise and thanksgiving! Why would our forefathers make such a big deal out of praising and thanking God? Let’s find out…

READ: Psalm 100

Music in worship by the Pilgrims was done without musical accompaniment, by the whole congregation, with men on one side and women on the other. Calling themselves “Separatists”, they believed in separating themselves from ungodly influences of the world and the Anglican Church even in singing! They had sailed to America from England for freedom of worship. Scripture was taught both literally and historically. This Psalm reminded them to be thankful for God’s provision. Why? Because…

I. An attitude of gratitude honors the Lord and changes our life! (Vv. 1-2)

1. Joy is the best proof of having the presence of God in our life!
1) Notice how the Psalmist sings in these first two verses – he relates, “shout for joy,” “worship… with gladness,” and “come… with joyful songs!” The focus of this glad, joyful singing and shouting is “the Lord.” A rejoicing believer is one of the best advertisements for God. It is a fact that when you are joyfully singing to the Lord, you forget about the cares of life. David would sing, “Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; let all the upright in heart praise him!” (Psalm 64:10 NIV) Paul would write the persecuted church, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NIV) Paul knew that a believer who joyful encourages others refreshes those around them. He wrote to Philemon, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” (Philemon 1:7 NIV) There are three things that are the enemies of a joyful heart: 1) boredom, 2) worry, and 3) self-centerness. However, when our focus is on the Lord and encouraging others to “come before Him with joyful song,” we honor God with the happiness of our hearts. A joy is multiplied when it is divided with others! Today if you are downcast, sad-faced, or wallowing in disappointment, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” An attitude of gratitude honors the Lord, and it can change your life!

EXAMPLE: The Pilgrims knew that joy is a decision of the human heart and a determination of our will. We decide whether to rejoice and be glad in each day that God has made or not. And in doing so, we bring the joy of the Lord to others around us. You cannot fake it, nor manufacture it. It is something that grows out of the happy heart of the believer, boils over in their soul, and splashes out on others. It is infectious, vibrant, lovely, and wonderful. Contrary to popular folk myth, the early Pilgrims were neither grim nor straight-laced folk. In fact they were some of the most happy, joyous, and loving people on earth. Pilgrims did not wear dire black clothing or big buckles on their boots and belts. Quite the contrary they loved colorful clothing, telling stories, dancing, and singing songs that remembered an attitude of gratitude which honored the Lord. They knew their attitude could change their whole outlook on life!

This attitude would serve them well the first few years of their settling on America’s shores. Most would die that first year from disease, cold, and the weather. Ill-prepared, they were resilient folk who loved God wholeheartedly. They left England for America in order to practice their faith the way God desired them to. This Psalm was one of their favorites. Why? They understood…

II. Gratitude should always be the keynote of our worship of God! (v. 3)

1. He who puts God first, will be happy at last!
1) Notice what David states: “Know that the Lord is God.” He calls the people to recognize and “know” God’s words, works, and character. When we “know” intrinsically who God is in our lives, our humble obedience is the only fitting reaction. We also understand that God is the one “who made us, and we are his.” When we recognize God’s authority and kingship in our lives, we become “his people, the sheep of his pasture.” This is why David could sing, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” (Psalm 23:1 NIV) David did not need to worry about anything. His Creator and Shepherd would provide. Later, the Psalmist would say, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” (Psalm 95:6-7 NIV) Paul would relate, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV) Our care is to be founded in the Shepherd of our souls Jesus Christ. “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me,” Jesus related. (John 10:14) Our gratitude should always be the keynote of our worship of God, who is our good shepherd!

EXAMPLE: After the Pilgrims survived the first year and began to see some sort of success, they paused to thank God for His love and care. They declared several days of thanksgiving and praise. Edward Winslow, one of the early pilgrims, wrote a small book in 1624 where he thanked God for the “hope of converting the Heathen of their evil ways, and convincing them to the true knowledge and worship of the living God, and so consequently the salvation of their souls by the merits of Jesus Christ….” He saw “the good providence of God working” in the “preservation from so many dangerous plots and treacheries, as have been intended against us; as also in giving his blessing so powerfully upon the weak means we had… they might easily have swallowed us up…. Blessed therefore be his name, that hath done so great things for us, and hath wrought so great a change amongst us.” He could not help himself; he just had to thank God for all his care! Gratitude should always be the keynote of our worship of God.

The religious practices of the pilgrims, as I stated earlier, included the unaccompanied singing of metered and rhymed versions of the psalms. To sing the hymns, many rural congregations practiced what was known as “lining out”, a technique that involved their own memory and the leadership of someone with a powerful voice; the leader would sing one line at a time, and the congregation would sing it back. Again, this Psalm was a favorite to sing. Why? Because…

III. God is worthy of our thanks and praise! (Vv. 4-5)

1. Thankfulness is a duty before it is a feeling!
1) Notice that David commands his listeners to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving.” It is a call to worship God with thankful hearts. God is found in two places – at home in heaven and a thankful human heart. This is why Scripture reminds us to “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever…. Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1-3, 26) Thanksgiving proceeds from a heart that has been redeemed by God. However, also notice that we are called to “enter… his courts with praise.” In fact, Psalm 107:31-32 commands us to “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men,” and to “exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders.” God teaches us that “the people I formed for myself” were specifically created to “proclaim my praise.” (Isaiah 43:20 NIV) The reason we thank and praise God is because he “is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations!” (v. 5) God is steadfast towards those who love him. Every generation, from David down to now, is reminded God is worthy of our thanks and praise!

EXAMPLE: Pastor John Robinson ended his farewell letter to the Pilgrims onboard the Mayflower, before they left England by encouraging them to praise God’s “name all the days of your and our lives.” Pastor Robinson could not go but wanted them to remember God who took care of them no matter what happened. It was good advice, because most would perish within the first year of landing in Massachusetts. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast to acknowledge God’s providence. It lasted three days and was interspersed with praise and prayer. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. The proclamation was written by Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward. It began, “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.” Whether surviving severe conditions or a “civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” our forefathers understood that God is worthy of our thanks and praise!

Conclusion:

What are some of the discouragements in our lives? They are not always the big difficulties, but often the petty annoyances, the little trials from which we cannot escape. If you are looking for a way to increase your thanks, why not this week memorize Psalm 100. These five short verses containing less than a hundred words could launch you into a new adventure of thanksgiving. Put it into your mind and heart today. Repeat it to a friend. Offer it as a silent prayer before each meal every day. Say it aloud and allow the Lord to change your focus from problems to praise.
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

John 17:20-26 - Jesus prayed for us!

John 17:20-26 - Jesus prayed for us!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 6, 2011 AM

“I’ll pray for you” are words often uttered as an empathetic gesture by many, yet they can have a tremendous impact on the life of a person. Have you ever had someone pray for you? Perhaps you were sick, maybe even in the hospital, and someone from the church stopped by and, after a brief visit, prayed for your recovery. Or perhaps there was a significant decision to be made, and someone from your family prayed with you and for you. How do you feel when someone prays for you?

We discover that Jesus paused to pray for his disciples, but did you know he also prayed for each of us as well? On the night he was betrayed, the Son of God himself prayed — not just for the little band of Galileans who followed him across the Palestinian landscape for three years — but for each one of us here this morning! Let’s discover what Jesus prayed…

READ: John 17:20-26

We may have forgotten that prayer is much more than the mere asking of requests or the wishful thoughts of Christians. Prayer is a sacred intimate relationship between you and God. Jesus understood this fully and often taught his followers how to pray by his own example. Here in this passage we find that having prayed for those men who were to become his apostles, Jesus now focused his prayer on his future followers, us. Let’s find out what he prayed for. First we see that...

I. Jesus prayed for our Godly unity! (Vv. 20-21)

1. God wants us to walk in the unifying light of His Son, not stumble in the darkness of the world!
1) It is found in the unity of the message! Christians today are included along with the disciples as those who placed their faith in Jesus because of their message. From the 1st century to the 21st century, we are all one in faith! Paul wrote, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve… and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5, 8 NIV) From then until now, the message of the cross has been handed down and given to those who believed their message! WOW!
2) It is discovered in the unity of prayer! It is always encouraging to know that someone is praying for us. How much more to realize that Jesus prayed for us and how much more wonderful to know that he prays for us still! He is at the right hand of God interceding for us even now! Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34)! Hebrews tells us that Jesus “always lives to intercede for” believers (Hebrews 7:25).
3) It is felt in the unity of fellowship! There is a purpose in Jesus’ desire for the unity of believers, “that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus saw the lack of unity as a hindrance to evangelism. We know from our own experiences that non-Christians often mention the division in the church as a reason for their lack of interest in the Gospel. This unity is described as koinonia, oneness in mind, will, and purpose that is expressed in our love for God and for all Christians. Paul recognized this “partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:5) and how Christians are to seek to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), being “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:2). Godly unity is important.

EXAMPLE: One of the major tragedies in the history of Christianity is the division among Jesus’ followers and the sheer hatred that they at times have shown to one another. An example of this may be seen in the reaction the Catholic Church had to the first complete translation of the Bible into English in the late 1300s under the influence of John Wycliffe. He was viciously castigated by the church, being called “the Devil’s Instrument, People’s Confusion, and Heretic’s Idol!” How terrible that someone who was trying to put the Word of God into peoples’ hands and in a language they could understand was considered an enemy of the God he loved and served. Several years after his death, Wycliffe was publicly condemned as a heretic, and his bones were dug up and burned. The ashes were then scattered in a nearby river. We need to remember that Jesus prayed for our Godly unity.

There is an incorrect theological undercurrent that says denominational loyalty causes disunity, thus all denominations are “bad” and that we do not need them. It is the Rodney King theology of “Can’t we all just get along?” This is a subtle lie. Christians are to be unified in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. However, Jesus never intended that his followers were to undermine the gospel or his teachings to do it. Unity disguised in compromise or the placation of basic Christian doctrines is ungodly. This is why...

II. Jesus prayed for our unified witness in the world! (Vv. 22-23)

1. It is a simple fact that if you walk with Christ, you can’t run with the world!
1) It is the unity Christians enjoy in sharing God’s glory! Jesus lovingly prayed about the glory (doxa - splendor) God had given him and how he gave it to each of his followers! Jesus lived in heavenly glory before he came to earth (v. 5). Eventually he would return to that glory at the Father’s right hand. This is the glory that Jesus shares with his followers, as verse 24 indicates! God “did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory” (Romans 9:23)! Paul wrote: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us… I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.” (Romans 8:18) We share in God’s glory because of the love of Christ in our salvation. It unifies us with God and his Son!
2) It is the unity of our loving witness! Such complete unity is a powerful witness to the world as Jesus prayed it would be! The world will know that Jesus came from God because of our unity. The world will also know that God dearly loves those who commit their lives to Jesus. Jesus taught, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Many in our society today are starving for such unified love that is different than the selfishness the world offers!

EXAMPLE: The other day as I was working around my yard I heard the little croaking of a tree frog. I paused from my work to see if I could find him. It took me several minutes and a little difficulty but I finally located him. His color was so well blended to the tree he was perched on that it was hard to distinguish him from the bark. Christians often take on the color of their surroundings as well. They can become like the people they associate with, whether good or bad. In Acts 4:13 it tells us that when the people realized that Peter and the other disciples "were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” The disciples had become like Jesus because they had spent time with him, learned from him, and followed his example. They were unified in Christ. We can become like Jesus as we spend time with him and his people in his church unified in our witness to a dying world. Jesus prayed for our unified witness in the world!

Jesus knew he would soon go to be with his heavenly Father again. There he would become our advocate before the throne of God. Knowing this, Jesus wanted those to come to always remember that there would be a time when he would not only come again, but a time when we would go to be with him when we die. It is one of Jesus’ most profound promises that has given all Christians throughout the ages a certain hope. What a joy to know that...

III. Jesus prayed for our future with him! (Vv. 24-26)

1. The last line in the life of every Christian’s story should be: “To be continued… above!”
1) Jesus now looked beyond his departure from his disciples and into eternity! He has been with these men for three and a half years. But he wants to be with them forever! The rewards of Heaven are not grudgingly given. Jesus wants all his followers to spend eternity in glory with him. The most precious promise all of us desire to hear, when we face our own death are the words the repentant thief heard from Jesus, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NIV) Yes Lord, I desire to hear that I will be with you forever!
2) Jesus’ desire was that his followers would continue the work he started! He relates, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” Jesus would go to the cross to complete his work. He desired that his disciples would continue in his work because he knew that the world did not “know” God (v. 25). In fact, since much of the world does not think it “worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God” (Romans 1:28 NIV) it was the disciple’s duty to tell the world! (Matthew 28:19-20)
3) Jesus’ prayer therefore was to make God known to the world through all of his followers – including us! Jesus said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26 NIV) Some of his last words to his disciples were, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21 NIV) Jesus continues to make God know through those who believe in Him. Just as Jesus made God known to us, he will be with us as we make him known to the world! He promised, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20 NIV) This is why the writer of Hebrews would state, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’" (Hebrews 13:6 NIV)

EXAMPLE: The American evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) told a story of a soldier in the Crimean War. Though severely wounded he was able to crawl back to his tent. When he was later found, he was laying face down, his open Bible before him, his dead hand stuck to one of its pages by the blood which covered it. When his hand was lifted, some of the words were clearly visible on the pages where his fingers rested. The words were, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25) Moody stated, “I want a religion like that.” I do as well. It is one that gives me a future and a hope. It is one that reunites me with my Savior and Lord and those who willingly live for him. How wonderful to know that Jesus prayed for our future with him!

Conclusion:
I am so glad Jesus prayed for me. Aren’t you? Jesus prayed not only for our unity in God, but for the witness we would have, and he prayed for our future with him. What a joy to know that Jesus prayed for us! Now, let me ask you – do you know the one who prayed for you?
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Great Awakening - Romans 1:18; Joel 2:1-2, 11-13, 15-18, 28-32

The Great Awakening - Romans 1:18; Joel 2:1-2, 11-13, 15-18, 28-32
By Pastor Lee Hemen
Oct 30, 2011 AM

Today, we will finish our study on prayer by putting into practice what we have learned from God through his Word. Everything we’ve focused on has been in preparation for this evening, when we will gather as one body of believers to pray for the dreams and plans God has for us as a church in the coming weeks, months, and years ahead. Why is this important? It is important because never before has there been a time when our nation and world is in greater need of a Savior. It is a time set apart time for personal and corporate prayer, crying out to God in repentance and fresh surrender for all his purposes and power to break forth upon our church, our city, and our country.

Since 1947, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has depicted on its cover what is called the Doomsday Clock. This clock registers how close the world is to nuclear apocalypse by the proximity of the minute hand to midnight. These nuclear scientists weigh both positive and negative factors in the world and make their determination about how close we are to ruin. However, far more ominous than any human danger is the unspeakably awesome wrath of God. The prophet Joel shocked the nation of Israel when he ordered the blowing of the trumpet, which is akin to turning on an air raid siren. At that sound, everyone dropped what they were doing to gather for war. Yet, what enemy was bearing down on them? What army threatened them? Once they gather Joel explains who is breathing down their necks and it is not some unforeseen enemy, it is God himself! Doomsday is at hand! The same could be true for our day and age as well! What needs to occur? I believe a great awakening within the church itself. Let’s discover what that means…

READ: Romans 1:18; Joel 2:1-2, 11-13, 15-18, 28-32

Christianity today has lost its focus in finding out what God desires, and rather centers on how we can manipulate God so we can feel better about ourselves. God is not fooled by our selfish duplicity. Romans 1:18 tells us that God’s wrath is against all godlessness and unrighteousness. What is the wrath of God? The word describes a settled and abiding disposition against something. Just as God always loves, he also always hates sin. What if all that we are experiencing in our society or in our own lives is the result of reaping what we have sown, that we are experiencing God’s wrath because of our sin? A great awakening needs to occur and the prophet Joel tells us…

I. That awakening occurs when an alarm is sounded and listened to! Joel 2:1-2

1. Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand… (Joel 2:1 NIV)
1) An alarm is only an alarm if it is recognized as such. A few years ago on the Oregon coast, they ran tsunami warnings complete with horns and sirens. Few folks heeded them because few had ever heard the horns before and many of them did not work! I believe the same is true for the spiritual alarm that needs to be sounded in our day and age. Many have never heard it and many pulpits are broken in declaring it! It is time for the church to sound the alarm and make Christians aware of what it means. I am not talking about the end times, but the judgment that is occurring. Interestingly, this section of Joel is spoken to the priests, whose business it was to blow the trumpets for calling solemn assemblies to meet in the temple. It gave notice of approaching danger, of enemies, or in this case of judgment. How do we sound the alarm in our day and age? We sound it by reminding God’s people about God’s wrath, “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalms 2:11-12 NIV) Christians can become spiritually arrogant in their relationship with Jesus thinking they will escape by God’s grace. Ultimately yes, but not in what they reap for their lives now. Believers can and will suffer the wrath of God when they ignore his grace. We are reminded that, “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day!” And that the person “who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made!” (Psalms 7:11, 15 NIV) Paul reminds us to “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 5:6 NIV) It is time to sound an alarm! To blow the trumpet in Zion! Awakening occurs when an alarm is sounded and listened to!

Paul made it very plain to those of the first century church that when believers try and hide their sin, God’s wrath will come on them. In fact, he admonished them to, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:2-6 NIV) This tells us…

II. That awakening occurs when we return to God! Joel 2:11-13

1. “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”(Joel 2:12 NIV)
1) Repentance is a harsh word for our day and age. We love to “feel” sorry for the things we do, and we want others to forgive us when we do them, even if we never ask for forgiveness, but this simply is not biblical. Repentance means we recognize the sin we are in, stop doing it, openly and honestly confess it, turn from it completely, and turn to God totally! In Romans Paul asks those who thought of themselves as enjoying God’s favor no matter what they did in life a very pointed question, “So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:3-4 NIV) Paul knew that “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV) For real repentance, God demands complete and utter brokenness, Godly sorrow. Otherwise, we “show contempt for the riches of his kindness.” What we fail to realize is that God’s wrath is coming and we will know the full force of it unless we repent of our sin and return to God! This is why Joel called the people to return to God with “all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” We are to literally, “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:13 NIV) Tearing one’s garment meant they were publicly displaying their sorrow, but God is not interested in outward show of feelings! He desires us to repent of our sin and turn back to him! True awakening occurs when we return to God!

Americans love to manufacture things, including spirituality. If we cannot gain God’s attention the way we desire, then we will mount an ad campaign and publicly pronounce that God is indeed in what we desired all along. Sadly, we get what we pay for or as the Bible teaches, we reap what we have sown. Simon, a first century sorcerer turned believer, wanted to buy the spiritual presence of God. He was sincere, but sincerely wrong. Peter tells him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.” (Acts 8:20-22 NIV) This shows us…

III. That awakening occurs when God’s people get serious! Joel 2:15-18

1. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. (Joel 2:16 NIV)
1) While your eternal relationship can be found immediately in the Lord, your daily reliance in him is not. What do I mean? Salvation is instantaneous, but abiding in Jesus takes effort. Holiness demands personal sacrifice. Paul would say it is a moment-by-moment occurrence, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1 NIV) You cannot find it once a week in worship on Sunday. This is why, I believe, much of what is done in churches today is to manufacture a sensation of holiness rather than true holiness! Joel saw with God’s perspective that his angelic army was marching toward the gates of Jerusalem. No power on earth could stop it. God’s wrath was coming. Joel realizes what most believers today are blatantly ignorant of, that God demands his people get serious about him! What is being done in many churches today is a convoluted spiritualized version of blind man’s bluff. We are spiritually blinded people trying desperately to bluff God into thinking we are holy! It is time for us to “Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, [and] call a sacred assembly!” The early church had folks caught up in trying to manufacture spirituality as well. So much so, they begin to see certain spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues, as more important than others. Paul met this heresy head on by asking, “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:7-8 NIV) The answer is, “No one.” They had forgotten their spiritual gift was not for their pleasure, but to declare the gospel clearly! It is serious business. Perhaps we have forgotten just how serious. Paul would remind us, “For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:13-14 NIV) It is time for God’s people to get earnest. Spiritual awakening will occur only when God’s people get serious!

As your pastor and spiritual leader, I am calling our church to a sacred assembly. Tonight, we will spend time in seeking God’s face for our lives and the life of the church. We have dreamed dreams and set aside some things we believe God is calling us to do, but these will not happen until we get serious about our walk with the Lord. This will be a service that will call each of us to “fast” in some area of our life that God asks us to in order for us to see him more clearly. James’ advice is good for us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22 NIV) We “do what it says” by listening to what God says to us through it! When this happens, we know…

IV. That God’s Spirit will be poured out when awakening occurs! Joel 2:28-32

1. And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. (Joel 2:28 NIV)
1) Perhaps Christians have forgotten that we are to be spiritual children first before we can be the physical adults God desires. Jesus perplexed Nicodemus by telling him, “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:5-6 NIV) We are to be spiritually reborn in order to live as God wishes. In fact, we know that whoever believes in Jesus, “streams of living water [the Holy Spirit] will flow from within” them! (John 7:38-39 NIV) This is why Paul would write, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:13-14 NIV) When God awakens his people to do his will he always uses his power through them! Paul gives us a good clue as to why this is so important for us to comprehend. He writes the Corinthian church, “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5 NIV) Notice that Paul’s emphasis was on his “weakness and fear.” He knew he could not do what God desired unless he was willing to be emptied of himself and to be used of God. He wanted his message to rest squarely on God’s power! God tells Joel, “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.” (Joel 2:27 NIV) When we get out of the way by getting right with the Lord, God’s Spirit will be poured out and awakening will occur!

Conclusion:
What if this was the time for God’s great awakening and we were not ready for him to use us? What if we as a church, and as individuals, allowed ourselves to get in the way of the Lord and not be a part of his great awakening? We have learned this morning that awakening occurs when an alarm is sounded and listened to, awakening occurs when we return to God, awakening occurs when God’s people get serious, and God’s Spirit will be poured out when awakening occurs!
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

The Great Awakening - Romans 1:18; Joel 2:1-2, 11-13, 15-18, 28-32

The Great Awakening - Romans 1:18; Joel 2:1-2, 11-13, 15-18, 28-32
By Pastor Lee Hemen
Oct 30, 2011 AM

Today, we will finish our study on prayer by putting into practice what we have learned from God through his Word. Everything we’ve focused on has been in preparation for this evening, when we will gather as one body of believers to pray for the dreams and plans God has for us as a church in the coming weeks, months, and years ahead. Why is this important? It is important because never before has there been a time when our nation and world is in greater need of a Savior. It is a time set apart time for personal and corporate prayer, crying out to God in repentance and fresh surrender for all his purposes and power to break forth upon our church, our city, and our country.

Since 1947, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has depicted on its cover what is called the Doomsday Clock. This clock registers how close the world is to nuclear apocalypse by the proximity of the minute hand to midnight. These nuclear scientists weigh both positive and negative factors in the world and make their determination about how close we are to ruin. However, far more ominous than any human danger is the unspeakably awesome wrath of God. The prophet Joel shocked the nation of Israel when he ordered the blowing of the trumpet, which is akin to turning on an air raid siren. At that sound, everyone dropped what they were doing to gather for war. Yet, what enemy was bearing down on them? What army threatened them? Once they gather Joel explains who is breathing down their necks and it is not some unforeseen enemy, it is God himself! Doomsday is at hand! The same could be true for our day and age as well! What needs to occur? I believe a great awakening within the church itself. Let’s discover what that means…

READ: Romans 1:18; Joel 2:1-2, 11-13, 15-18, 28-32

Christianity today has lost its focus in finding out what God desires, and rather centers on how we can manipulate God so we can feel better about ourselves. God is not fooled by our selfish duplicity. Romans 1:18 tells us that God’s wrath is against all godlessness and unrighteousness. What is the wrath of God? The word describes a settled and abiding disposition against something. Just as God always loves, he also always hates sin. What if all that we are experiencing in our society or in our own lives is the result of reaping what we have sown, that we are experiencing God’s wrath because of our sin? A great awakening needs to occur and the prophet Joel tells us…

I. That awakening occurs when an alarm is sounded and listened to! Joel 2:1-2

1. Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand… (Joel 2:1 NIV)
1) An alarm is only an alarm if it is recognized as such. A few years ago on the Oregon coast, they ran tsunami warnings complete with horns and sirens. Few folks heeded them because few had ever heard the horns before and many of them did not work! I believe the same is true for the spiritual alarm that needs to be sounded in our day and age. Many have never heard it and many pulpits are broken in declaring it! It is time for the church to sound the alarm and make Christians aware of what it means. I am not talking about the end times, but the judgment that is occurring. Interestingly, this section of Joel is spoken to the priests, whose business it was to blow the trumpets for calling solemn assemblies to meet in the temple. It gave notice of approaching danger, of enemies, or in this case of judgment. How do we sound the alarm in our day and age? We sound it by reminding God’s people about God’s wrath, “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalms 2:11-12 NIV) Christians can become spiritually arrogant in their relationship with Jesus thinking they will escape by God’s grace. Ultimately yes, but not in what they reap for their lives now. Believers can and will suffer the wrath of God when they ignore his grace. We are reminded that, “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day!” And that the person “who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made!” (Psalms 7:11, 15 NIV) Paul reminds us to “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 5:6 NIV) It is time to sound an alarm! To blow the trumpet in Zion! Awakening occurs when an alarm is sounded and listened to!

Paul made it very plain to those of the first century church that when believers try and hide their sin, God’s wrath will come on them. In fact, he admonished them to, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:2-6 NIV) This tells us…

II. That awakening occurs when we return to God! Joel 2:11-13

1. “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”(Joel 2:12 NIV)
1) Repentance is a harsh word for our day and age. We love to “feel” sorry for the things we do, and we want others to forgive us when we do them, even if we never ask for forgiveness, but this simply is not biblical. Repentance means we recognize the sin we are in, stop doing it, openly and honestly confess it, turn from it completely, and turn to God totally! In Romans Paul asks those who thought of themselves as enjoying God’s favor no matter what they did in life a very pointed question, “So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:3-4 NIV) Paul knew that “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV) For real repentance, God demands complete and utter brokenness, Godly sorrow. Otherwise, we “show contempt for the riches of his kindness.” What we fail to realize is that God’s wrath is coming and we will know the full force of it unless we repent of our sin and return to God! This is why Joel called the people to return to God with “all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” We are to literally, “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:13 NIV) Tearing one’s garment meant they were publicly displaying their sorrow, but God is not interested in outward show of feelings! He desires us to repent of our sin and turn back to him! True awakening occurs when we return to God!

Americans love to manufacture things, including spirituality. If we cannot gain God’s attention the way we desire, then we will mount an ad campaign and publicly pronounce that God is indeed in what we desired all along. Sadly, we get what we pay for or as the Bible teaches, we reap what we have sown. Simon, a first century sorcerer turned believer, wanted to buy the spiritual presence of God. He was sincere, but sincerely wrong. Peter tells him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.” (Acts 8:20-22 NIV) This shows us…

III. That awakening occurs when God’s people get serious! Joel 2:15-18

1. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. (Joel 2:16 NIV)
1) While your eternal relationship can be found immediately in the Lord, your daily reliance in him is not. What do I mean? Salvation is instantaneous, but abiding in Jesus takes effort. Holiness demands personal sacrifice. Paul would say it is a moment-by-moment occurrence, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1 NIV) You cannot find it once a week in worship on Sunday. This is why, I believe, much of what is done in churches today is to manufacture a sensation of holiness rather than true holiness! Joel saw with God’s perspective that his angelic army was marching toward the gates of Jerusalem. No power on earth could stop it. God’s wrath was coming. Joel realizes what most believers today are blatantly ignorant of, that God demands his people get serious about him! What is being done in many churches today is a convoluted spiritualized version of blind man’s bluff. We are spiritually blinded people trying desperately to bluff God into thinking we are holy! It is time for us to “Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, [and] call a sacred assembly!” The early church had folks caught up in trying to manufacture spirituality as well. So much so, they begin to see certain spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues, as more important than others. Paul met this heresy head on by asking, “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:7-8 NIV) The answer is, “No one.” They had forgotten their spiritual gift was not for their pleasure, but to declare the gospel clearly! It is serious business. Perhaps we have forgotten just how serious. Paul would remind us, “For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:13-14 NIV) It is time for God’s people to get earnest. Spiritual awakening will occur only when God’s people get serious!

As your pastor and spiritual leader, I am calling our church to a sacred assembly. Tonight, we will spend time in seeking God’s face for our lives and the life of the church. We have dreamed dreams and set aside some things we believe God is calling us to do, but these will not happen until we get serious about our walk with the Lord. This will be a service that will call each of us to “fast” in some area of our life that God asks us to in order for us to see him more clearly. James’ advice is good for us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22 NIV) We “do what it says” by listening to what God says to us through it! When this happens, we know…

IV. That God’s Spirit will be poured out when awakening occurs! Joel 2:28-32

1. And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. (Joel 2:28 NIV)
1) Perhaps Christians have forgotten that we are to be spiritual children first before we can be the physical adults God desires. Jesus perplexed Nicodemus by telling him, “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:5-6 NIV) We are to be spiritually reborn in order to live as God wishes. In fact, we know that whoever believes in Jesus, “streams of living water [the Holy Spirit] will flow from within” them! (John 7:38-39 NIV) This is why Paul would write, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:13-14 NIV) When God awakens his people to do his will he always uses his power through them! Paul gives us a good clue as to why this is so important for us to comprehend. He writes the Corinthian church, “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5 NIV) Notice that Paul’s emphasis was on his “weakness and fear.” He knew he could not do what God desired unless he was willing to be emptied of himself and to be used of God. He wanted his message to rest squarely on God’s power! God tells Joel, “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.” (Joel 2:27 NIV) When we get out of the way by getting right with the Lord, God’s Spirit will be poured out and awakening will occur!

Conclusion:
What if this was the time for God’s great awakening and we were not ready for him to use us? What if we as a church, and as individuals, allowed ourselves to get in the way of the Lord and not be a part of his great awakening? We have learned this morning that awakening occurs when an alarm is sounded and listened to, awakening occurs when we return to God, awakening occurs when God’s people get serious, and God’s Spirit will be poured out when awakening occurs!
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The principles of a powerful prayer meeting, Part 2

The principles of a powerful prayer meeting, Part 2
By Pastor Lee Hemen’
October 23, 2011 AM

Last time, we asked why Elijah, Moses, Joshua, Jesus and Paul were so filled with confidence when praying about the impossible that they often announced that it would take place even before they prayed! How could they be so sure that God would answer their prayers? I believe it was because they had paid the price of being alone with God. They had come to know the very heart and intent of God. They began to see life from his perspective instead of their own. Fervent focused prayer surged through their spiritual souls and it beat with the intense intimacy they shared with the Father. They sought the Lord until they knew what he was doing and joined him in doing it! Therefore, they saw the power of God displayed in response to their prayers. This is the very essence of what Jesus meant by abiding in him, without which we will not know what God’s will is or what to ask him.

We find that the early church experienced the very same thing in their prayers as well, so much, so that they were confident in their prayers and their outcome. Much of today’s church is based on so much programming, manufactured hype, and commercialism that it often does not depend on the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a look at what the rest of the principles are that the early church experienced that helped them to have empowered prayer.

READ: Acts 12:1-12

We are so instinctively “me-centered” in our thinking and praying that it will take spiritual discipline in addition, discernment to force it from our prayers. Until we do, we will not receive what we ask because, as James 4:3 teaches, we will ask wrongly in order to get something from God! However, God-focused prayer calls us to a different kind of lifestyle. When the early church took on this kind of prayer focus, they experienced the power of God. What we find is that the church experienced a…

I. Deep koinonia!

1. Christian fellowship is the opening of a Christian’s heart to one another!
1) There are three episodes from the life of the Early Church that teach us the power the church experienced because of prayer. In Acts 2:42-43 we find that the church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers.” Because of their sensitivity to the working of God in their midst a godly “fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles.” Then in Acts 4:31-33 we find that “those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them.” Finally, in Acts 5:12-16 we discover that “Many signs and wonders were being done among the people through the hands of the apostles” and that “believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers.” In fact, those that were sick “and those who were tormented by unclean spirits… were all healed.” What made the difference? It is something that many churches in our day and age lack: koinonia! It was a deep abiding fellowship with one another. Look again and you find that “they devoted themselves” to teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. They were of “one heart and soul” and decided to have “everything in common” with each other. Wow! Christians desire people in their lives who truly care, yet almost everything the modern church does, thwarts this. Mega cannot promote intimacy and you cannot program true fellowship. Koinonia comes from a spiritual connection that is based in our relationship with the Lord. John would write, “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.” (1 John 2:10 NIV) Peter would say, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22 NIV) The early church’s prayers were powerful because they enjoyed a deep koinonia.

EXAMPLE: John Franklin concluded from his study in Acts that “God worked in their lives in proportion to the degree of their koinonia, the quality of love between believers. Their favor with God flowed from his pleasure in their depth of fellowship.” (“And the Place Was Shaken,” by John Franklin, page 40.) Years ago, when speaker of the house Sam Rayburn heard he had terminal cancer, he shocked everyone when he announced he was going back to his small town in Bonham, Texas. People said to him, “They have got the finest facilities in Washington, D. C. Why go back to that little town?” Rayburn’s response resonates with something inside us all. He said, “Because in Bonham, Texas, they know if you’re sick, and they care when you die.” (Submitted by J. R. Love, Ruston, Louisiana, PreachingToday.com.) He was speaking of the kind of koinonia a small town displays. God empowers the prayers of those who enjoy spiritual koinonia one with another!

We will pray more impassionedly when we trust those with whom we are praying. Trust is built when our lives brush up against one another; when we share our faith and we walk the tough times together. This is why small groups are a key spiritual element to our church’s life. We simply don’t have time to build close relationships in Worship. Koinonia fuels fervent effective prayer that is real, binds wounds, and shares with one another so that friendship and care increases. Without it, our praying together will be surface only and the power of God constrained. However, we discover that it wasn’t just the close koinonia that empowered the early church’s prayer it also came from…

II. Clean hearts!

1. Purity in the heart produces power in one’s life!
1) We find this principle from the very first stories in Genesis where Adam and Eve hide from God to the final chapter of Revelation where God’s holy saints surround the heavenly throne! God has always required a right heart from those to whom he will reveal himself. All who miss this point miss God. Go back and look at when Cain and Abel brought their offerings to God. God respected Abel and his offerings, but he rejected Cain and his offerings. Why? The Bible makes it plain that God’s approval or refusal was squarely based on the person making the offering. God’s response is always directly linked to the condition of the heart of the one worshipping. At the dedication of the new temple, this is why he tells the Israelites, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” (2 Chronicles 7:14-15 NIV) God answers a person or a people in proportion to how they are walking with him. He never differentiates between the thing requested and the one making the request. Another way to say that is this: God doesn’t just answer prayer; he answers you! David understood this spiritual concept and why he would sing, “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalms 51:9-10 NIV) This is also, why Paul warned his friend Timothy, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22 NIV) Clean hearts lead to empowered prayer!

EXAMPLE: A classic example of this occurred in a prayer meeting in the Hebrides Islands off the coast of Scotland. Christians there had been imploring God for some time to send revival and spiritual awakening. Finally, during a Friday night prayer meeting, a 16-year-old youth prayed, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior.” (Psalms 24:3-5 NIV) He then began to ask God if his heart was pure. Others in the room began to inspect their walk with God, to confess their sins, and to renew a right relationship with God. At that moment, God began to transform lives on those islands. In fact, as they were praying God woke up most of the town at midnight, and they gathered at the village square asking how to be saved. Once the hearts of those Christians were cleansed, God worked mightily through them. God empowers the prayers of those with clean hearts!

I have often been amazed at churches with two similar worship services where one well be Spirit-filled, vibrant, and hearts responsive; while the other service, with the same message and music, will be cold, flat, and unresponsive. The difference simply depends on the spiritual condition of the hearts of those in attendance. The psalmist was absolutely right when he deduced, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” (Psalms 66:18-19 NIV) A believer either helps or hinders the movement of God’s Spirit in respect to their spiritual cleanliness. In fact, we discover that this extends to the unity of believers as well. In order to have empowered prayer a church needs to be in…

III. One accord!

1. The church consists of two types of folks: the saints and the aints!
1) Five times in the first five chapters of Acts, the KJV Bible relates that the disciples were in “one accord.” Each time the Greek word used is “homothumadon,” which is a compound word meaning, “same passion, combined heat, or shared glow.” The early church shared the same burning passionate heart. This spiritual unity reflected in their praying together, meeting together, fellowshipping together, beseeching God together, and doing miracles together! How important was unity? Jesus prayed, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23 NIV) We reflect and bring God glory through our loving, selfless, servant attitude toward one another! This harmony is directly connected to God’s patent presence and power in the pages of Scripture. Paul would admonish his readers that Christians were to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV) Those who deliberately tried to sow discord in the church were declared as “blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm--shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted--twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 1:12-13 NIV) God said they were like a “scoundrel and villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth!” (Proverbs 6:12 NIV) Wow! For a person or church to experience empowered prayer, they have to be in one accord!

EXAMPLE: David McCasland wrote in Our Daily Bread about “a demonstration of sheep-herding using a Border Collie, the dog trainer explained that because sheep are highly vulnerable to wild animals, their main defense against predators is to stay together in a tightly knit group. ‘A sheep alone is a dead sheep,’ the trainer said. ‘The dog always keeps the sheep together as it moves them.’” He continued by stating, “The biblical image of God as our shepherd is a powerful reminder of how much we need each other in the community of faith. When writing about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, the psalmist said, ‘[God] made His own people go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock; and He led them on safely, so that they did not fear’ (Psalm 78:52-53). As part of God’s flock, we who have trusted Christ are under His guiding, protecting hand while being surrounded by the shielding presence of others. We are part of a larger body of believers in which there is safety and accountability. While we don’t give up our personal responsibility for thought and action as members of the flock, we are to embrace the concept of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ in our daily lives. With Christ as our Shepherd and fellow believers around us, we find safety in the flock.” We are in one accord!

Conclusion:
We find that the early church experienced empowered prayer because of their deep koinonia, clean hearts, and their being in one accord. What kind of prayer do you experience?
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Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2011 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.