Monday, March 31, 2014

The Touch - a continuation of my message from last Sunday!

The message I preached yesterday has truly lingered in my heart and soul. Below is a moving clip of the transformation of a person who, by their faith, was made whole.  Have your tissues close by - and take the 9 minutes to have your heart moved.  Here is the linger thought I wanted to share:

The "Woman" knew the world had much to offer - except to her. Condemned by the Levitical law that pronounced anyone with an "issue of blood" unclean and untouchable, her life was one of shattered hopes. All she wanted was to be normal, to be loved. But it seemed impossible - everyone around her knew of her twelve-year affliction.

Experience the final moments of the woman's long journey and her trial of faith as she finds the one thing that can heal her - THE TOUCH.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My reflections from the message today at NRN March 30 2014

In faith, I believe our time today was awesome and God moved in our midst.  Today we looked at a passage of Scripture that is two accounts of Jesus' life that is known well by believers but not often known so intertwined.

Persistent Faith:

1. Does not determine the  TIMING  of God’s Response.
21Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. 22 Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, 23 pleading fervently with him. “My little daughter is dying,” he said. “Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.” 24 Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him.

25 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. 26 She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. 28 For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition. 30 Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?” 31 His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”    

32 But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”

 2. Persistent Faith does not determine the NATURE of God’s Response.

35 While he was still speaking to her, messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.” 36 But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”

3. Persistent Faith does not determine the BIGGER   STORY of God’s Response.

37 Then Jesus stopped the crowd and wouldn’t let anyone go with him except Peter, James, and John (the brother of James). 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing. 39 He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t  dead; she’s only asleep.” 40 The crowd laughed at him. But he made them all leave, and he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying. 41 Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!”  42 And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed.

Persistent Faith is HOLDING the FATHER’S    HAND.

My personal application:  Each Sunday since I have returned from sabbatical, I have looked across the congregation as the countdown is near it's end and saddened by the low number of people I see.  As the worship progresses people gather into the worship center and by the time I stand to preach the number in the congregation has grown.  I still look for those I prayed for this previous week and wanted to speak words of encouragement too, but they are not there.  The average continues that 1/3 of our church family is not at church each Sunday.   I have been encouraged by greeting first time guest each week and for some, welcome them again the following week. My place of persistent faith is, though I am fully aware of our current attendance, I see our worship center filled to capacity. I have faith that God is building His church and when we are ready - every chair will be filled and lives will be transformed by the power of God in our midst! I am committed to be persistent in my faith for our church future. 

 "Father, I am holding your hand and trusting You for the future of our church and of my ministry. In Jesus Name, Amen"

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Preparing for worship on Sunday March 30, 2014

As we gather for worship tomorrow at NRN I am very encouraged in the Lord.  I feel that God has clearly spoken to me about our time of worship and especially the message that has been marinating in my spirit.  I hope you will invite someone to join you at church tomorrow.  It could be a life changing moment for them.

Here are the songs we are planning to sing tomorrow.  Enjoy a time of worship to prepare your heart to gather with others in the morning:

We begin with a warm welcome and then lift our voices in praise:

Our greeting time comes early in the worship today and we honor the Lord with our tithes and offerings as we join the worship team in singing:

We continue in our worship in song as we bring the prayer request cards to the altar in preparation of our 24 hour prayer vigil coming soon.

Now we enter into a time of prayer.  We conclude out prayer with a declaration of the greatest of our God:

A bumper clip will begin and I will stand to preach by rightly dividing the Word of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Part 3: Persistent Faith

Mark 5:21 – 43
A father whose daughter is dying; a woman who has been suffering with an illness for twelve years: two people with nothing in common expect that each were desperately in need of Jesus. In a matter of moments their lives would be intertwined for life. Both who demonstrate persistent faith as they pursue Jesus and seek his help. Faith is not passively acquiescing to the circumstances of life. Faith is the persistent pursuit of Jesus. It is fighting through the “crowds” and, at times, ignoring the counsel of those who have lost hope, believing that Jesus’ presence will make a difference.

We bring our time together with a conclusion in the sermon that will linger in our hearts.  Then we will follow the example of the early church to sing and song and then depart. 

Here is the final song we plan to sing:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Left brain - Right Brain - Check it out!

Have you ever heard people say that they tend to be more of a right-brain or left-brain thinker? From books to television programs, you've probably heard the phrase mentioned numerous times or perhaps you've even taken an online test to determine which type best describes you. Given the popularity of the idea of "right brained" and "left brained" thinkers, it might surprise you learn that this idea is little more than a myth. 
What Is Left Brain - Right Brain Theory?
According to the theory of left-brain or right-brain dominance, each side of the brain controls different types of thinking. Additionally, people are said to prefer one type of thinking over the other. For example, a person who is "left-brained" is often said to be more logical, analytical, and objective, while a person who is "right-brained" is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective.
In psychology, the theory is based on what is known as the lateralization of brain function. So does one side of the brain really control specific functions? Are people either left-brained or right-brained? Like many popular psychology myths, this one grew out of observations about the human brain that were then dramatically distorted and exaggerated.
The right brain-left brain theory originated in the work of Roger W. Sperry, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981. While studying the effects of epilepsy, Sperry discovered that cutting the corpus collosum (the structure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain) could reduce or eliminate seizures.
However, these patients also experienced other symptoms after the communication pathway between the two sides of the brain was cut. For example, many split-brain patients found themselves unable to name objects that were processed by the right side of the brain, but were able to name objects that were processed by the left-side of the brain. Based on this information, Sperry suggested that language was controlled by the left-side of the brain.
Later research has shown that the brain is not nearly as dichotomous as once thought. For example, recent research has shown that abilities in subjects such as math are actually strongest when both halves of the brain work together. Today, neuroscientists know that the two sides of the brain work together to perform a wide variety of tasks and that the two hemispheres communicate through the corpus collosum.
"No matter how lateralized the brain can get, though, the two sides still work together," science writer Carl Zimmer explained in an article for Discover magazine. "The pop psychology notion of a left brain and a right brain doesn’t capture their intimate working relationship. The left hemisphere specializes in picking out the sounds that form words and working out the syntax of the words, for example, but it does not have a monopoly on language processing. The right hemisphere is actually more sensitive to the emotional features of language, tuning in to the slow rhythms of speech that carry intonation and stress."
In one study by researchers at the University of Utah, more 1,000 participants had their brains analyzed in order to determine if they preferred using one side over the other. The study revealed that while activity was sometimes higher in certain important regions, both sides of the brain were essentially equal in their activity on average.
“It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection," explained the study's lead author Dr. Jeff Anderson.
While the idea of right brain / left brain thinkers has been debunked, its popularity persists. So what exactly did this theory suggest?
The Right Brain
According to the left-brain, right-brain dominance theory, the right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks. Some of the abilities that are popularly associated with the right side of the brain include:
  • Recognizing faces
  • Expressing emotions
  • Music
  • Reading emotions
  • Color
  • Images
  • Intuition
  • Creativity
The Left Brain
The left-side of the brain is considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. The left-brain is often described as being better at:
  • Language
  • Logic
  • Critical thinking
  • Numbers
  • Reasoning
So Why Do People Still Talk About Right-Brain, Left-Brain Theory?
Researchers have demonstrated that right-brain/left-brain theory is a myth, yet its popularity persists. Why? Unfortunately many people are likely unaware that the theory is outdated. Today, students might continue to learn about the theory as a point of historical interest - to understand how our ideas about how the brain works have evolved and changed over time as researchers have learned more about how the brain operates. 
While over-generalized and overstated by popular psychology and self-help texts, understanding your strengths and weaknesses in certain areas can help you develop better ways to learn and study. For example, students who have a difficult time following verbal instructions (often cited as a right-brain characteristic) might benefit from writing down directions and developing better organizational skills. The important thing to remember if you take one of the many left brain/right brain quizzes that you will likely encounter online is that they are entirely for fun and you shouldn't place much stock in your results.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pray without ceasing - the prayer request for the annual 24 hour prayer vigil are being prayed for tonight!

A pilgrim, on a quest to "pray without ceasing", travelled widely and heard many sermons on the subject.  None of them seemed to help.  He heard many prayer lessons, but none taught him how to do it.

Finally, he heard of an old prayer warrior in a little village, so he went to him with his inquiry:  "How can I learn to pray without ceasing?"

 To this, the old saint replied, "Ceaseless interior prayer is a continual yearning of the human spirit toward God.  Pray and ask God to teach us to pray without ceasing.  Pray more!  Pray more fervently!  It is prayer itself which will reveal to you how it can be achieved unceasingly. . . but it will take some time."

(From The Way of a Pilgrim)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why carry that heavy burden?

In that misty state between wakefulness and sleep, I dreamed I was climbing a mountain with a heavy backpack on my shoulders, making the steep journey almost impossible. Then Jesus appeared on the path before me and asked why I was struggling so.

“My pack is too heavy,” I complained, “I don’t think I can make it.”

Then, Jesus gently said, “Let me see what I can do to help.”

He proceeded to open the backpack and remarked, “No wonder it’s so heavy! Why are you carrying these?”

Jesus removed two huge rocks from the pack and said, “You needn’t haul these heavy things around.” Then he hurled the rocks over the mountain’s edge. My load was instantly lightened, and I joyfully resumed the upward journey.

Reflecting later, I labeled the rocks “fear” and “problems.” I realized that in my ministry, I’d been carrying an unnecessary load.

The weight of everybody’s problems combined with fear of failure had overburdened my heart, leaving me frustrated and less effective in the pastoral work. Through that experience, God revealed that, although we are to carry one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), we cannot absorb them. Instead, we are invited to carry them to Jesus (1 Pet. 5:7). “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (Ps. 55:22).

Pastor Charles Tindley, counseling an anxious friend, said, “My advice to you is put all your troubles in a sack, take ‘em to the Lord, and leave ‘em there.”

Monday, March 24, 2014

Turning a church around is very difficult

Face it. Most congregations are declining or plateaued in attendance and membership.

While some churches flourish, the attendance and participation in most churches has been diminishing for years. Some churches seem to be holding their own as they work hard to stay at the same attendance level.

Many churches that are growing are doing so through transfer growth. That happens when people who are already Christians move into your church from another congregation. Transfer growth is relatively easy. It may take nothing more than having a better show than the church down the street.

It’s a good thing if Christians transfer to your church because they have recently moved into the area. It’s not that great if the transfers come because they are disaffected or disappointed by the church down the street.

Transfer growth, while it may feel good and look good in the statistics, does little or nothing to extend the Kingdom of God. It is far inferior to growth by evangelism. That’s when people who don’t know Christ become Christ-followers and identify with your church.

Way too many churches haven’t had that kind of growth in years.

Turning a church around is very difficult. The hardest part is to get the people to want to turn around.

Sometimes they know their congregation is in trouble. They see the empty pews. They realize that most of the congregation is made up of old people and that every funeral further diminishes the ranks.

They are alarmed, but not alarmed enough to do the things that it would take to return their church to health.

These diminishing churches die slowly. Their death is slowed because they either have a lot of money in the bank that they can slowly spend on safe things that enable them to get by, or they lure a naïve pastor to work there for nothing. They convince the pastor that he will be able to turn the church around and they will help him.

Too often, the congregation not only does nothing to help him, they stand in the way of the changes the pastor tries to initiate. If they make any changes, they are only small ones around the edges that only serve to extend the dying process.

The first step, the most critical step, for a church to turn around or get off a plateau is to admit their condition and seek help.

They have to realize that it will probably take radical changes for the church to return to health. Long-time church members have to willingly make those changes.

They have to accept that the changes will probably be uncomfortable and things won’t be like they have always been. The changes will make them uncomfortable, but they need to become more uncomfortable with the fact that people are going to hell that they could be reaching.

These long-time Christ followers need to become more desperate to let God use them to build His Kingdom than they are for their church to stay the way it has always been.

The desire for their church to return to being a place where lives are changed and people find Christ must override the desire for “the good old days.”

They need to begin to see their church and their community from God’s point of view.

Finally, they need to be brokenhearted over the opportunities they have missed to reach people with the Gospel, and dedicate themselves to seeing that happens no more.

God sent His Son into the world to die for our salvation; that had to be uncomfortable. Jesus died a horrible death on the cross; that couldn’t have been comfortable. The early Christ followers suffered severe persecution, torture and death; no way that was comfortable.


Yet, many church people today are unwilling to sacrifice their comfort for the souls of people they can reach with Gods’ help.

Church people need to resolve to become Kingdom builders.

That means to choose to do whatever God asks of them to help Him build His Kingdom in their community.

It’s time to step up to the challenge to be witnesses. It’s time, as the old hymn says, to “be done with lesser things.” It’s time for the church to rise up.

The world desperately needs our Savior and His love, hope and salvation.


BY: Ray Houser

A veteran pastor, Ray now is the administrator of Tina Houser Ministries, coaches pastors and consults churches. He is excited about helping churches that are plateaued get going again and seeing declining churches rebound. Ray believes there is hope for these churches, if they want to become agents of God’s love, hope and forgiveness in their communities.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reflections from my message today at NRN - March 23 2014

Today I continued in the Lenten teaching series:

We looked together at Mark 5:1-20.  Here is the outline of the message:


Part 2: Defeating Evil

Mark 5:1-20

1. We are all like the man living in the CEMETERY

They went across the Sea of Galilee to the area of the Gerasenes. Jesus got out of the boat. A man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him.  The man lived in the tombs. No one could keep him tied up anymore. Not even a chain could hold him. His hands and feet had often been chained. But he tore the chains apart. And he broke the iron cuffs on his ankles. No one was strong enough to control him.  Night and day he screamed among the tombs and in the hills. He cut himself with stones.        Mark 5:1-5

2. Jesus is our all-powerful LORD

When he saw Jesus a long way off, he ran to him. He fell on his knees in front of him.  He shouted at the top of his voice, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God, what do you want with me? Promise before God that you won’t hurt me!” This was because Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”

Then Jesus asked the demon, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied. “There are many of us.”  And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs. Let us go into them.” Jesus allowed it. The evil spirits came out of the man and went into the pigs. There were about 2,000 pigs in the herd. The whole herd rushed down the steep bank. They ran into the lake and  drowned.                                             Mark 5: 6-13

3. Receive Jesus’ MERCY  and MISSION
Those who were tending the pigs ran off. They told the people in the town and countryside what had happened. The people went out to see for themselves.

Then they came to Jesus. They saw the man who had been controlled by many demons. He was sitting there. He was now dressed and thinking clearly. All this made the people afraid. Those who had seen it told them what had happened to the man. They told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to beg Jesus to leave their area.

Jesus was getting into the boat. The man who had been controlled by demons begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him. He said, “Go home to your family. Tell them how much the Lord has done for you. Tell them how kind he has been to you.”  So the man went away. In the area known as the Ten Cities, he began to tell how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.                                                                          Mark 5: 14 -20

 Jesus, I want to know your POWER your MERCY and join your MISSION!
 Here is a song I about this message:

Join us at 3:00 today for the Baby Shower at the church.  Pastor Jordan and Alana are having a little girl due on May 20, 2014.  Come join us as we celebrate! 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Preparing for worship at NRN on Sunday March 23, 2014

Tomorrow at NRN I share the second message in the new teaching series:

I am really looking forward to lift my voice in worship through these great songs:

We will begin with a call to worship through the responsive reading of Scripture and then lift our voices by singing a great hymn of faith:

Then we transition into a new song for many at our church:

Now, we enter into a time of prayer by bringing our prayer request cards to the altars.  This is the first Sunday to begin collecting prayer request and to allow people to select there time to come to the church for the upcoming 24 hour prayer vigil.  Over the past years we have seen the faithfulness of out God in answering prayer and bringing forth miracles in our presence. Let us prepare our hearts for an out pouring of the Spirit of God upon us.

Following our announcements we present our offerings unto the LORD:

Now the preaching of God's Word.   Mark 5:1-20

We close our time of worship with a song of dependence upon God:

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Fun - Keep your church fun!

Usually on Fridays I like to bring a Friday Fun post.  Today I thought you would appreciate a little background on the important on laughter from the Scriptures and the importance of having fun in church!

When God led us to start New Vintage Church, we resolved to keep it fun. We wanted laughter to be commonplace. Our staff meetings are characterized by laughter–lots of it. We love to make fun of one another and be made fun of. We regularly enjoy watching/listening to comedy and tend to find what’s funny in nearly every situation. We love to make humorous videos to illustrate message concepts or make announcements. We. Love. To. Laugh.

Mission? That is always to be taken seriously–and we do at NVC. In fact, we can take it so seriously we need laughter all the more. Mission is better pursued with laughter. It keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously–while we take God’s mission seriously.

Without fail, whenever I’ve traveled as a speaker/consultant outside of my church home, I’ve noticed a correlation between laughter and church health. Churches that don’t laugh much (or where laughter is discouraged) tend to have more conflict and more fragile community than those comfortable with laughter.

Here are four reasons to keep church fun:

1. Having fun together builds community. Praying together, serving together, mourning together, worshiping together–all of these help bond Christians to one another. So does laughter. Having fun together connects people in a way nothing else can.

2. It enhances your church’s “friendliness.” People like flying Southwest because they are obviously having fun as they go about their job. Here’s a question: Do people who visit your church leave sensing your people like each other? They will grant you love each other for a while because they assume Christians love one another. Like? That’s another matter. Who wants to join a community that doesn’t like each other?

3. Providing opportunities for laughter is a form of pastoral care. Have you ever heard someone say, after laughing, “Oh…I needed that”? Life is extremely heavy these days. We need to remember that, “A cheerful heart is good medicine; a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Prov. 17:22) In its own way, laughter feeds cheerfulness of heart. If joy (a prominent theme in Scripture) is a Fruit of the Spirit, perhaps laughter can be thought of as a fruit of joy.

4. Laughter as witness. Wouldn’t it be something if we could say:
“Our mouths were filled with laughter, 
   our tongues with songs of joy. 
Then it was said among the nations, 
   “The LORD has done great things for them.” 
The LORD has done great things for us, 
   and we are filled with joy.” (Psalms 126:2-3)
I know the humor police may be nearby, exclaiming, “What about lament?” “Worship isn’t about entertainment,” and other things. So let’s add our caveats here. Obviously, lament has its place, and of course, worship isn’t about ‘entertainment’ (whatever one means by that). However, having been to hundreds of churches, I’ve never seen one where laughter had an inappropriate place. I’ve been to many in which it had virtually none.

Laughter is a good thing. It’s a godly thing. It will bless your church. 

By: Dr. Tim Spivey

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California--a fast-growing plant launched in 2011. Tim is also the purveyor of New Vintage Leadership - a blog offering cutting edge insights on leadership and theology and the author of numerous articles and one book: Jesus, the Powerful Servant.
More from Tim Spivey or visit Tim at

Thursday, March 20, 2014

For my pastor friends - How to avoid preaching plagiarism

Another thought from H. B. Charles Jr. :

I stood, called my text, and began to preach. There was a weird response by the congregation. Something strange was happening, but I didn’t know what.

I couldn’t catch the vibe. The congregation, to whom I had preached several times before, was tentative throughout the entire message. But I couldn’t figure out why.

After I sat down, it all became clear. Someone leaned over to me and told me the speaker who had opened the meeting several nights before preached the same text and/or message.

For some reason, this news made me nervous. At the same time, I was at peace. I had preached what I believed the Lord wanted me to say. And my message was the product of my Bible study and sermon preparation.

They gave me a copy of the other pastor’s message. When I got to my room,   I crawled into bed with my computer and watched the message.

Indeed, it was the same text. And it was essentially the same message.

We both preached the same doctrinal theme from the text. We organized the messages differently. We labeled the messages differently. I worked through the message with three main points in my outline. He had four. The homiletical approach was different. And the way we argued the message was different.
It really was the same message preached from two different perspectives.

This got me to thinking about the ethical matter of pulpit plagiarism.

The late evangelist, Vance Havner, said when he began preaching he was determined to be original or nothing. He ended up being both, Havner said.

This is true of every preacher. All faithful preachers deliver an unoriginal, “stolen” message — the word of God.

Biblical preaching simply explains what the word of God means by what it says. And if we read the text right, what we see will be pretty close to the conclusions drawn by other faithful Bible expositors.

In fact, if you come up with a reading of the text that no one else has ever seen, you’re wrong! Likewise, most Bible expositors use many of the same exegetical resources. So it should be no surprise for you to hear two messages that “overlap,” for lack of a better term.

But let’s be clear. Stealing other people’s material and preaching it as if it is your own work is wrong.

After the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, a certain pastor preached a message he claimed the Lord had given him. Later that week, his local newspaper outed him, revealing that the message was actually from a website that sells sermons. This “inspired” message had, in fact, been preached and posted by several other pastors across the country that same day!

I repeat. This is wrong. The eighth commandment should apply to our pulpit work: “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).

This is not to say that we shouldn’t use sources. To the contrary, it is arrogant for you to study a text and preach a sermon on it without consulting the wisdom of those who have, in some instances, spent a lifetime studying those passages, books or themes.

Milk a lot of cows. But churn your own butter.

When you do the hard work of personal study and sermon preparation, something wonderful can happen. For instance, you can stand and preach a text that was just preached in that same pulpit three days earlier. And you can make the point the previous sermon made. Yet, God can use your preaching — YOUR PREACHING — to declare the unchanging truth of God’s word in a fresh, new and life-changing way.

Just my two cents. What do you think about pulpit plagiarism?
Here are MY two cents:   Nothing is new under the Sun.   The Word of God never changes.  God is source of every message.  Every word I preach is nothing without the anointing of God.  Each message I preach is preached to me first! 
With the growing responsibilities and pressures of ministry I find that the one responsibility I have a as pastor of a smaller church is the privilege I have to preach each Sunday. I want my message to come from the Word of God and not simple stories or my opinion about current issues. I need the anointing of the Holy Spirit and I cry out fro this each Saturday night and Sunday morning before I even arrive at church.
God has blessed me in ministry.  I look back on times where I stood to preach  before congregations of hundreds before me.  I have flown high in ministry and soared as I pastored a growing church with excitement about what God was doing.  I have also stood below on the desert floor; thirsty; seeking a drink from the Lord and I labor and toil. In order to encourage myself in the Lord and bring balance into my ministry, I sought the counsel and wisdom from other ministers. A wise and successful pastor said to me, "Rick, let me help you.  We are both beggars holding our cup before the Lord for a drink . If I have something you can use - use it.  In other words - 'If my bullet fits your gun - shoot!'" 
I have established a "bullet club" with over 75 pastors now a part of this sharing forum of ministry.  The sermons recorded at NRN are posted on our church website along with the outline and I offer it freely to all ministers who could use it.  If the message God placed in my heart speaks to you and could speak the Word of God into your church family - take it, use it, make it better and applicable to your church - to the Glory of God. And I freely take from sources available to me to preach with Word of God to my church family to the best of my ability and in the most simple form with clarity. 
When I milk a lot of cows - and churn butter, salted of the Word of God and the message in my heart, inspired and anointed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why Prayer Changes Things

One of the most wonderful mysteries in the universe is that prayer changes things. God has so arranged his world that we have the ability to make significant choices, some good and some bad, which affect the course of history. One means God has given us to do this is prayer—asking him to act. Because he is all-wise and all-powerful, knowing "the end from the beginning" (Isa. 46:10), he's able to weave our requests into his eternally good purposes.
At this point our thinking can seriously go astray in one of two directions.
The first is to say, "If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, and if everything is preordained, then he's going to do whatever he wills anyway and thus our prayers can't have any significant effect. Sure, they may help us psychologically, such that talking to God helps us get things off our chest that may help us feel better, but prayers don't count for much in the grand scheme of things. So why bother?"
Here there's an overemphasis on God's absolute sovereignty.
The second route, though different from the first, ends up in the same place by denying the usefulness of prayer. Here's the objection: "If human beings are free to make up their own minds, then God can't be absolutely sovereign; he must take risks such that human decisions can thwart his purposes, so there are severe limits to what we can ask for without undermining human freedom. If, for example, you have been praying for your sister to become a Christian, and God has done everything he can to bring her to himself, but somehow she won't surrender to him, why bother asking God to save her? It's out of order to pressure God to do more than he can do. So just give up on prayer."
Here the emphasis rests on a certain understanding of human freedom ("libertarian").
Strange Logic
Taken at face value, both objections appear to have some force, but only because they employ a strange "logic" that goes beyond Scripture. It's always foolish and dangerous to play up one aspect of what the Bible teaches at the expense of something else it equally affirms. The God of the Bible is presented as the one who rules over all; he's all-knowing, all-wise, and all-powerful. He isn't surprised by anything we may think or do. On the other hand, Scripture also presents human beings as responsible moral agents who make significant choices, doing what we desire to do ("freedom of inclination"). God has chosen to relate to us personally without compromising the fact that he is God.
That said, Scripture describes the sovereign God as "repenting" or "relenting" in response to human prayer. Take Exodus 32, for instance. At this point in salvation history, the people of Israel have broken the Ten Commandments by building and worshiping a golden calf. Incensed, God vows to wipe them out. "I have seen these people, and they are a stiff-necked people," he says to Moses. "Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation" (vv. 9-10). But Moses steps into the breach and reminds God of his promises, arguing his reputation will be brought into disrepute for saying one thing—"I will save the people"—and doing another—destroying them, appearing to renege on his promises to Abraham. Moses appeals to God as the sovereign king to show mercy (vv. 11-13). And that's exactly what happens: "Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened" (v. 14).
Certain Means
The theoretical problem raised by a belief in the efficacy of prayer to a sovereign God is acknowledged by C. S. Lewis, who helpfully places it within the wider context of God using certain means to achieve desired ends:
Can we believe that God really modifies his action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or inanimate. He could, if he chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead he allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of his will. "God," said Pascal, "instituted prayer in order to lend to his creatures the dignity of causality." But not only prayer; whenever we act at all he lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God's mind—that is, his overall purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including prayers, of his creatures.
Our problem in trying to see how prayer "works" is that we often have a wrong view of God in relation to his world. Often we think of God like Bruce Almighty, sitting in a celestial office and feverishly dealing with all the requests that arrive: "Mrs. Green prays her husband's cancer be cured," "Mr. Young prays his wife might conquer alcoholism," and so on—with a million more worthy requests. It's seems to be in line with God's will that Mr. Green be healthy and Mrs. Young be sober. But what if both get worse? Does this mean that God doesn't answer prayer?
The tangled web of humans living in a fallen world makes things more complex. At times, the good ends God desires arise from certain evils. So at one level, cancer is an evil, part of the curse on a rebellious world. God sometimes does answer prayers for healing (and in one sense all healing is divine in that God is working providentially). But we also must recognize that since we're mortal, all people die sometime. What's more, other prayers may be offered and answered that can only be answered if there's not healing—like gaining patience through suffering or an increased focus on the world to come. Maybe Mr. Green's son has turned his back on God, and through his father's illness he'll return. So in order to "answer" one prayer, the return of the son, God doesn't "answer" the other, complete healing. God alone knows what is best.
As Jesus Did
Therefore, we're called to pray as Jesus did. As a result of our prayers, some things will happen that wouldn't otherwise. And we're responsible for whether we pray or not. Because God is a personal God, he invites us to share in his work through prayer. As Bruce Ware puts it, "God has devised prayer as a means of enlisting us as participants in the work he has ordained, as part of the outworking of his sovereign rulership over all. . . . The relationship between divine sovereignty and petitionary prayer can be stated by this word: participation."
God has the power and wisdom to use our prayers as he sees fit and to do what we could never imagine. If he weren't all-powerful, there'd be little point in praying. If he weren't all wise, it'd be dangerous to pray; after all, who'd want to ask an all-powerful but foolish person to do anything? But God is both perfectly wise and infinitely powerful, which is why you and I can pray with confidence.
This article has been adapted from Melvin Tinker's book Intended for Good: The Providence of God (InterVarsity).

You are invited to join with others for Corporate Prayer this evening at 6:30pm in Room 133 at North Raleigh Church of the Nazarene.