God's truth for today's world

090726-confession-commitmentThe Bible tells us that God has marked out a path or track that each person should follow in life. Following God’s path for your life is the best possible way that you can life your life. Unfortunately, a lot of people have never found God’s path for their life or they have left God’s path. The writer of Hebrews, likens our journey through life as a race.

Hebrews 12:1 (NIV) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

According to this verse, there are things that can hinder you in the race of life. There is sin than can entangle you and get your life totally off track. God has given each person a sense of whether their life is on track with Him or not. However, if you are off God’s track long enough, your sense of right and wrong may be permanently warped. God’s Word provides the standard to determine whether you are on track with God or not.

How can you get your life back on track? The answer is through confession and commitment. When God convicts you of sin in your life, it is a good thing. The proper response is to confess that sin to God and make a commitment with God’s help to stay on track. Biblical repentance involves a turning away from sin through confession and a turning toward God through commitment. God is in the life change business, but you’ve got to cooperate with Him in order to see your life get back on track.

All too often, people pray and ask for God to change their dire circumstances, when those very circumstances are the direct result of sin in their lives. God won’t answer those prayers until there is confession and commitment. That’s what it takes to get your life back on track.

Listen to my July 26, 2009 message “Confession and Commitment” based on Nehemiah 9-10 (message notes).

090610-planning-with-godPlanning is important. Those who do not plan, who put their emphasis in life on spontaneity, have problems. A wise person will take the time to make careful plans.

Proverbs 21:5 (NIV) The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.

It takes time to plan, but planning leads to success. Doing things quickly, leads to failure and poverty. However, not just any type of planning leads to success. Some plans are doomed to failure because of bad motives. Other plans fail because the planner did not take all the necessary factors into consideration. Since none of us knows the future, how can we possibly plan for it?

In order to ensure that your plans succeed, you must align your plans with God’s purpose for your life.

Proverbs 19:21 (NIV) Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

God knows everything and He has determined a plan or course for your life. When you align your planning with God’s perfect plan, you will find success in life. Here’s the three-fold formula to ensuring your plan succeed.

  1. Read the Bible, pray and ask God to show you His plans for your life.
  2. Decide to overcome any fear and commit to following God’s plan.
  3. Take action with God’s help to put the plan into operation.

In the book of Nehemiah, we see how one man changed the course of history by putting God’s plan into action against incredible odds. Nehemiah accomplished this through total commitment to God and His Word, prayer and action.

In my message, “Planning with God” from June 14, 2009, I look at the principles of how Nehemiah was able to obtain resources from the world-ruling Persian empire to succeed with God’s plan. If you follow these principles, your plans and life will succeed as well. (Message notes).

The number of people who never or rarely attend church continues to increase. A George Barna poll shows 38% of adult Americans are in the category of being unchurched. Of the people who regularly attend church, a staggering 45% are willing to try a new church. So we have a large group of people who see little or no value in church and another even larger group who are dissatisfied with their current church. I believe that behind these statistics lies a great misunderstanding of church.

Based on my understanding of the Bible, here’s my definition of a local church.

A church is a group of believers in Jesus Christ who committed themselves together to extend the kingdom of God in a particular locality.

Just as many people who claim to be Christians, are not believers in a biblical sense, so many groups that claim to be churches, are not churches in a biblical sense. So, we have people who have left or are thinking of leaving “churches” that are not truly churches. That’s actually a good thing, as long as they are searching for a true biblical church. Unfortunately, many lump all “churches” together and think they are all the same. On the other hand, we have people who claim to be believers leaving or thinking about leaving biblical churches because of some perceived imperfection. That is not a good thing.

Is it possible for a true believer to exist outside of a church family? The surprising answer is that no, it is not possible.

1 John 3:14 (NIV) We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

Here the apostle John tells us that one of the proofs of being a believer is love for other brothers and sisters in the family of God. If someone claims to be a believer, but has no desire to be around other believers in a church family, it proves they are not a believer at all. So, for the true believer, a biblical church family is not optional, but a necessity and something to be cherished.

The importance of being part of the family of God is seen in the Old Testament. To be cut off from the people of God because of some sin, was considered a fate worse than death. In the New Testament, the concept of a believer who was not part of church family is almost unheard of. The only mention of it is when someone was put out of the church through church discipline because of sin. This process was called “being handed over to Satan” (1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 1:20). The whole idea was that being outside of the protection of the church would drive the sinner to repentance and back into the church family. Today, we also see terrible things happen to people who have placed themselves outside of the protection of the church.

In my message, “Depending on God” from June 7, 2009, I look at the story of Nehemiah’s passion and prayer for the people of God in Nehemiah 1, as an example of what our attitude should be toward our church family today (message notes).

Waiting on a big God is a very important part of growing spiritually. Although none of us likes to wait, God seems to have a particular liking for making people wait for Him to act. The Bible is full of people who had to wait on the Lord. Moses waited 40 years before he led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Abraham waited 24 years until the son promised to him by God was born. The Bible has many verses that command us to wait on the Lord.

Psalm 27:14 (NIV) Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

It’s a strong person who learns to wait on the Lord. The bigger your perception of God, the more patient you will be in waiting for Him. If I pull up to the drive-though lane for a fast food restaurant, five minutes is too long to wait. However, if I have an appointment to meet with the President of the United States, I will wait until he shows up. God is far more important than the President.

Waiting on a big God has a lot to do with trusting God’s promises.

Hebrews 6:12 (NIV) We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Impatience is a form of laziness. In order for God’s promises to be fulfilled in your life, you need both faith and patience. It’s takes patience to keep on believing God until the answer to your prayer comes.

Why does God make us wait? There are a lot of reasons. First of all, the world does not revolve around one person. God’s purposes in the world are enormous and involve many people and interrelated events. Oftentimes, things that we want to happen yesterday, need to be waited on for God’s perfect timing. Probably, one of the most important reasons that God makes us wait, is that waiting changes us for the better. Waiting on God builds your faith, your patience and your strength.

Isaiah 40:31 (NASB95) Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

Waiting on the Lord, empowers you with God’s strength. Sometimes you have the strength to effortless wait on God like an eagle soaring in the sky. At other times, God gives you to strength to keep on running until you reach the end of the race. However, there are times when God will give you just enough strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other without becoming weary.

What are you waiting on God for today? What promise in God’s Word are you praying will be fulfilled in your life? When you wait on the Lord, you will be tempted to give up. You will be tempted to think that God is not big enough to come through. Resist those temptations. Be strong, take heart and continue waiting for the Lord until the answer comes.

Listen to my May 31, 2009 message “Waiting on a Big God.”

One of the mysteries of the Christian life is unanswered prayer. There are many promises in God’s Word regarding God answering prayers. One example is given by Jesus in John 14:12-14 (NIV) I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. On first glance, someone may take these verses to suggest that they should receive answers for anything they ask God for. However, this doesn’t happen for most people and they may become discouraged in prayer. In this post, I want to begin to explore some of the common reasons for the mystery of unanswered prayer.

I am going to assume that the person praying is a believer, that is, they have admitted their sin to God, believed that Jesus died to forgive that sin and have committed their lives to following Jesus as their Lord and Savior. To grow in your prayer life, you must understand what God teaches about answering prayer. Almost all of God’s promises in the Bible are conditional. A conditional promise is one that will only be answered by God if you meet the conditions. Some conditions for promises are found in the promise verses themselves and other conditions are found in other related verses in Scripture. If you meet the conditions of God’s Word for His promises, God always keeps His promises.

James 5:16b (NIV) The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Prayers that are powerful and effective are certainly prayers that are answered. The implied condition for powerful and effective prayer in this verse is the character of the person praying the prayer. James says that the prayer of a righteous man will be answered. A righteous person is first and foremost a believer, someone who has trusted in Jesus’ righteousness to forgive their sins.

However, the righteousness of a believer must also be a practical righteousness that is lived out. 1 John 3:7 (NIV) Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. A true believer is someone who does what is right, they live with a practical righteousness. What happens when a true believer sins? 1 John 1:9 (NIV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If a believer sins, they must immediately confess their sin and ask for God’s forgiveness to be purified from their unrighteous behavior. The problem is that many people continue to live in known sin without confessing and turning away from it.

Unconfessed sin therefore is a major cause of unanswered prayer. Psalms 66:18 (NIV) If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; To cherish sin in your heart is to hang on to it, to not confess it and turn from it. When someone has unconfessed sin in their hearts, God does not listen to their prayers and the prayers are not answered. Peter shows us a practical example of this by warning that if husbands do not treat their wives properly, it will hinder their prayers from being answered. 1 Peter 3:7 (NIV) Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. Problems in your marriage relationship, caused by not respecting your spouse, will lead to unanswered prayer.

In some churches, there is very little emphasis on righteous living. Many believers have areas of their lives that they have not submitted to Jesus Christ and are indulging in known, often habitual sin. This sin is often excused as being small and inconsequential. However, any unconfessed sin will decimate your prayer life. What makes this such a mystery for many is that you may be praying a prayer that truly is God’s will, but sin in another area of your life will prevent God’s answer from coming. In effect, sin short-circuits God’s answers to your prayers.

A viscous cycle then ensues in which people blame God for not answering their prayers. Their faith grows weak and they often give up on praying at all. The solution is to confess your sin, turn away from it and begin to live righteously through the power of God. This removes one of the most common hindrances to unanswered prayer, the hindrance of unconfessed sin. In The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer – Part 2, I will look at another cause of the mystery of unanswered prayer.