Monday, January 22, 2018

Persisting in Prayer

Have you ever received calls from telemarketers? If you have a landline phone or a cell phone, I'm sure you have. One of the things that we can see in telemarketers is that they are persistent. If you don't answer their call today, they will call tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that. And if you do answer, and they get to talk to you for any length of time, they are persistent in trying to get you to purchase the product or service they are selling. This persistence, although we may find it quite annoying, is necessary for a telemarketer to be effective.

Like a telemarketer, we need persistence for our prayer to be effective. We must pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When we pray, we must persevere. We must never lose heart. This is what Jesus taught in the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-7). The widow kept going before the judge for justice against her adversary. At first, she was not successful but, because she persisted, the judge finally gave her the justice she sought. Like the widow, we must be persistent. We must persist in our prayers, believing that God hears us and He will answer our prayers.

In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus taught that we should ask, seek, and knock. In some translations, this passage tells us to keep on asking, to keep on seeking, and to keep on knocking. In other words, our prayer must be persistent. We need to keep asking God for what we need, we must keep seeking His will in our prayers, and we must keep on knocking at the doors of heaven as we wait for those prayers to be answered. When we show this kind of persistence in our prayers, what is the result? Jesus tells us that if we keep on asking, we will receive, if we keep on seeking, we will find, and if we keep on knocking, the door will be opened.

Keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. That is one of the keys to effective prayer.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Putting God to the Test

To test someone or something means to take steps designed to check the performance or reliability of that person or thing. The test is intended to reveal the strengths or capabilities of that someone or something. In school, we are tested to reveal what we learned. Products are tested to be sure that they perform correctly or to see if they are safe for use. We test drive cars to see how they handle and whether or not they meet our requirements or expectations.

These kinds of tests are all good and necessary. But, what about testing God? In Deuteronomy 6:16, God told the Israelites that they were not to put Him to the test as they had done at Massah when they quarreled with Moses demanding that he give them water to drink (Exodus 17:2). When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, He quoted Deuteronomy 6:16, telling Satan that he should not put the Lord to the test (Luke 14:12). So, it's pretty clear that Scripture tells us that we should not test God. 

But, there is one thing in which we can test God - our tithing. In Malachi 3:10, God told His people to bring the full tithe into the storehouse. God wanted them to put Him to the test, to see what He would do. And what He would do was to open the windows of heaven and pour down blessings. When we give our tithe to God, He will bless us. This is something that I can attest to personally.

In 1998, my wife and I began worshipping at a church in Brooklyn, New York. After having been there for a while, we decided to become members of that church and met with the pastor to discuss what we needed to do. One of the requirements was tithing. At that time, in addition to our other bills, we had a considerable amount of credit card debt, and we told the pastor we didn't think we could afford to tithe. His response was that we couldn't afford not to tithe. So, we began tithing.

Two years later, we decided to sell our home in Brooklyn and move to New Jersey. We put our house on the market and in only a few days, got a buyer who offered the price we had asked for. Then, when we found a house in New Jersey that we liked, the difference in price was enough so that, after paying off the remaining mortgage on the Brooklyn house, we had enough money to pay off all of our credit card debt. And we still had money left to do work on the new house! God, as always, was faithful!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Cross

When people have things they want to remember, like a wedding invitation, or things they treasure, like a child's drawing, where do they put them? Many of them may use magnets to attach them to the refrigerator door. When employers have important notices or memos for their employees to see or information that may be of interest to them, where do they place them? Many times, these things will be tacked up on a bulletin board.

When we, as believers, give our hearts to Christ, we hand over our sinful nature and our worldly passions and desires to Him. But we don't just hand them over. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there." (Galatians 5:24, NLT) We nail our sinful nature to the cross of Jesus Christ, the cross upon which He gave His life so that those sins may be forgiven.

The cross of Christ, where our worldly passions and desires have been nailed, becomes a reminder for us. Just like the bulletin board full of notices and memos, just like the refrigerator door full of notes and children's drawings, the cross serves a reminder that Jesus came to this earth and, in obedience to the Father's will, gave His life for us so that we may be free from our sins and our sinful nature and have eternal life with God.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Aesop's Fables tells a story of a lion who would prowl around a field in which four oxen lived. The lion often tried to attack the oxen but, when he did, the oxen would turn their tails to one another so that whichever way the lion approached, he would be met by the horns of one of the oxen. After some time, however, the oxen began quarreling among themselves and each of them went off to a separate part of the pasture alone. The lion then attacked them, one by one, and devoured them all. The moral of this fable is "United we stand, divided we fall."

We have an adversary, the devil, who like the lion in this fable, prowls around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). This is one of the reasons why unity is so important in the church. When we stand united, loving one another, holding one another up, and caring for one another, like the oxen in the fable, we can better withstand the attacks of our adversary. The devil will have a harder time attacking one of us when, in unity, our brothers and sisters in Christ are there watching our backs.

On the night before He died, Jesus prayed not only for His disciples, but for each of us. He prayed for unity among us as believers, that we would be one just as He and the Father are one (John 17:20). In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul stressed the need for unity in the church. He appealed to them that there would be no divisions among them, that they would be united in mind and judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10). Paul also told the church in Philippi that it would give him joy to know that they were of the same mind and in full accord with each other.

When we are united, we can stand against the devil. But when we allow things like gossip, grievances, disagreements, and generational differences to divide us, we make ourselves and the church vulnerable to his attacks. Unity in the church is a beautiful thing. Psalm 133 says that it is both good and pleasant when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity.

United we stand, divided we fall!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Deception is the Enemy's M.O.

"This is an emergency call. The license key for your Microsoft Windows software has expired. To renew the license, please call..."

Have you ever received a call with this recorded message? It's just one of many phone scams that people are bombarded with every day. In this call, the message is alarming and designed to make the person being called think that he will be unable to use his computer unless he calls the number given to renew a license that doesn't actually exist. It sounds official but is actually a con, a deception, intended to make the person give credit card information to pay for this so-called license. The best way to deal with this kind of deception is to seek the truth by contacting Microsoft or an organization such as the Better Business Bureau.

Like these phone scammers, the enemy of our souls uses deception to lead people away from God and into sin. His deception began in the Garden of Eden when he asked Eve, "Did God really say that you can't eat from any tree in the garden?" (Genesis 3:1) He tried to throw doubt into Eve's mind, to make her think that God had said something which He did not. Eve responded that God had said that they could eat of any tree but the one in the middle of the garden and if they ate or even touched that fruit, they would surely die (Genesis 3:2-3). The enemy's deception was already working as Eve was adding to what God said, adding that they could not even touch the fruit. Then his scam really began as he told Eve that they would not die if they ate the fruit and made her believe that God was holding out on them (Genesis 3:4). Eve, along with Adam, ate the fruit, and sin and death entered the world.

Our enemy still uses deception to pull us away from God and into sin. He may plant doubts in our minds about what is right and wrong. He may make us believe that we are worthless. He may make us question the Word of God. And, he may place false teachers in our paths, teachers who teach doctrine that is false, packaging it to make it seem like it is good and comes from God. In speaking of end times, Jesus warned that false christs and false prophets will arise and they will lead people astray, even believers (Matthew 24:24). The apostle Peter also warned of these false teachers who will, in their greed, exploit us with false words (2 Peter 2:1-2).

So, how do we avoid being exploited, being scammed by these false teachers? We need to stay grounded in God's Word, keeping it in our hearts and minds. We need to stay connected with God, seeking His presence every day. When we have this relationship with God, when we remain in His Word, then we will be able to test any false teachings to see if they line up with His Word (1 John 4:1). When you receive what appears to be a phone scam call, the best thing to do is to just hang up. And, when faced with false teachings, teachings that don't line up with God's truth, we must "hang up" and reject them.