Saturday, August 1, 2015

The dwelling place of God - Ephesians 2.19-22

This blog was written from the lectionary texts two weeks ago. 

 
What is your single passion? .  If you thought about all that you are passionate about regarding life in ministry, what would it be?  For David it was that he would find a dwelling place for the ark of the Lord. We see in Psalm 132 that David didn’t want to give any sleep to his eyes until this reality happened. The idea of the very glory and presence of God dwelling among his people burned in him.

In our first lectionary text in 2 Samuel 7.1-14, we see that what was in David’s heart was to build a dwelling place for the Lord. Up to this point the Lord's presence had been in the tabernacle. Grateful for his own house, David wanted to construct a permanent place for the Lord.  Ultimately this temple would be built by David’s son Solomon. In granting David's desire, the Lord made an eternal covenant with him: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” As we know, this was fulfilled in Jesus when he came, our King in the line of David, and was fully the dwelling of God.

In Ephesians 2.19-22, Paul shares that we are now “members of the household of God”, and “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” The very Spirit and glory of God is now dwelling in us, in the people of God. As David was consumed by the longing for the very presence of God to dwell in a house, we now have the this same presence living inside of us.  Does this reality overwhelm us and drive us to further seek the Lord?  It’s easy for prayer and worship of the Lord to be relegated to one of many spiritual activities that we do.  But as we come to understand the heart of God, to understand what it means to have his very essence in us, I pray that it would move and grip us to even deeper prayer and seeking him; that it would move us to even greater hunger for God; that we would ask for the absolute fullness of him to dwell in us; that we wouldn’t be satisfied without it.  God wants to fully dwell in us so that his kingdom will be established in us and that kingdom life will flow through our communities and many will experience it.  Let’s pray and cry out as a community that the full dwelling of God would be established in our lives and in our churches.  Let’s pray for a powerful move of his Spirit, and that his tangible presence will come down and rest in our cities that are so desperate for a touch from God.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Our identity in Christ: Ephesians 1.3-14

Each week for World Impact, I send out some short thoughts based one of of the lectionary texts for the week.  I am going to start putting that on my blog.  I will put the last few I wrote which have been going through the book of Ephesians. 



Our lectionary text in Ephesians 1.3-14 is an amazing passage that speaks of our identity and what it means to be in Christ.  I often meditate and try to fully comprehend what verse three says. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”  Honest confession here.  In the past I have struggled deeply with insecurity and comparing myself to other missionaries.  When you work with such talented and capable people, it’s easy to do.  The Lord has had to do a lot of healing in my life as I meditate on truths of who I am in Christ. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind on the truth in verse three: we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.  This means that we have unlimited access to all we need to live a godly life, all we need to see the Lord move in ministry, and all we need to live out the calling and assignment that the Lord has given us.



One way to look at this is to think that we have everything from Christ in our bank account. It is ours but all of those spiritual blessings are not yet in our possession.  That is the difference.  So how do we lay hold of these blessings?  The primary ways are by faith and the renewal of our minds and by constantly telling ourselves the truth and believing what the Lord has done for us.  Then as we continually seek the Lord, grow in our humility and obedience, the Lord will release more and more to our lives. So no matter what you are facing in your life and ministry, know that you have everything that you need in Christ. There is no need to be insecure or compare ourselves, but we can be confident of who we are in Christ.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Structured Prayer



In modern evangelicalism we seem to value a more individualized spirituality. There is great emphasis on personal Bible study and quiet times, but set and structured prayers have been lost. Praying at a set time in a structured way seems to fly in the face of our highly personal, self-focused culture.

My daughter spent much of her 5th grade year studying Church history—specifically monks—and she wanted to see it all first hand. So, our family headed to a Benedictine monastery in Tulsa, OK, for a three-day spiritual retreat. At this abbey, the monks follow a strict communal prayer life, praying in Latin seven times a day. They allow guests to come and participate in the prayer times as a spiritual retreat.

It was impressive to see the discipline and rigor of the monks. They get up at 4:45 every day and gather for prayer seven times a day. We were able to go to five of these prayer times and they gave us just a small taste of what that would be like. As I left the abbey, I thought about having more serious and fixed times of prayer for myself.

Prayer is hard work. It isn’t easy and it doesn’t come natural. Left to ourselves, it is easy to forsake prayer for other activities. While we know that prayer is important and valuable to our spiritual lives, it is just difficult to make it a consistent part of our schedule. God knew this human struggle; therefore, He set up structured prayer and worship to enable His people to better connect with Him.

The Psalmist says in Psalm 119:64, “Seven times a day I praise you...” In Daniel 6 we see Daniel’s regular practice was to pray three times a day. Jesus clearly modeled and needed regular times of prayer as he would rise early in the morning or spend the night praying to His Father (Luke 5:16, 6:12; Mark 1:35). This model of structured prayer times continued with some of the early Church Fathers, Tertullian and Cyprian, who promoted prayer three times a day. By 530 A.D., Benedict’s Rule was set up where monks prayed seven times a day, the same Rule the monks in Tulsa follow.

This is only a brief history of how structured prayer is biblically and historically sound. While there have been different modes and ways to structure prayer, consistent times are morning and evening prayer. The best way to start is to consider morning and evening prayer and then just pray through the Psalms. Below is a schedule to pray through the Psalms in a month. If you want more structured prayer and a way to connect to the ancient church, you could consider going through the Book of Common Prayer. 

There are many ways we can connect to the Lord, but structured times of prayer is one of the tried and true methods that the church has consistently done for centuries. 


Resources:
Book of Common Prayer http://www.bcponline.org/

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Prison Revival




A hot and windy evening of revival and prayer at a local prison doesn’t just happen. For days, weeks, months, and even years, God had been laying the groundwork led to this night. Two years ago, The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) began in the Hutchinson Correctional Facility with nine students. Around that same time, God was placing a call for prayer and revival on my heart. Not long after that, Matt Thomas, a man with a powerful testimony from his own time behind bars, became a World Impact ministry partner. Matt now runs a ministry called Firm Foundations for ex-offenders. All of this—along with two TUMI students, Abe and Randy, who were transferred to the East Unit—led to this night in the yard of their East Unit where we hosted the revival. With a team of 20 volunteers from World Impact and ministry partners of Firm Foundations, we went into the prison to partner with Abe, Randy and their church inside the walls.

We quickly set up the sound system, cookies, and soda. We didn’t know how many inmates would attend, so we optimistically prepared for all 500 men. When they were released to the yard, 100 inmates were eager to greet us and drink the cold Pepsi on such a hot afternoon. In the yard where we met were a group of Asatru and Wiccans gathering for their worship and men actively working out. But we were confident that the Lord’s presence was with us and the distractions would be silenced. We even saw some of the men who were working out walk up to the fence and listen.

After some worship led by Ben Wray and my wife Angie, we had two dynamic testimonies from Abe and Randy. Abe’s story in particular touched me. He initially was locked up around the age of 18. He spent his first 15 years of incarceration on the run from the Lord, but when he finally hit rock bottom, the Lord spoke to him: “Will you give me another chance?” When he heard the Lord’s voice, Abe finally surrendered and was radically changed.

This led to a clear Gospel presentation while incorporating his testimony from Matt Thomas. During the altar call, a group of 20 to 30 men came forward either to receive Christ or rededicate their lives to the Lord. As they circled up, praying arm in arm, Abe took the lead and shared more about following Jesus.

Following a second message from Coach Larry Allen, we came together for a time of prayer. This time, about 40 inmates locked arms and we led them in prayer of repentance and forgiveness. Men cried out to the Lord with tears and the desire to be set free. The presence of God was so clear and powerful!

As we said goodbye, I could see smiles of joy all around. One inmate told me that this time was the happiest he had ever been in his whole life. My lasting memory from this evening was a few of the inmates singing “I Can Only Imagine” during worship. The reality is that these guys live in a dark place and carry so many burdens. Yet, for that night, they were able to experience the presence of God in a tangible way. It was a definite foretaste of heaven.

A total of 125 people (including volunteers) attended the prison revival night. We drank around 450 cans of soda. Thirteen inmates prayed to receive Christ for the first time and another 20 rededicated their lives. Our next steps are to work on following up with these new believers.

Please pray that the seed of the Gospel would grow deep in their lives. Pray that this will be the start of more outreaches and revivals in our cities and prisons. Amen!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why we need a prayer movement to see a church planting movement!!


"Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house." Matthew 12:29

World Impact has a powerful vision to see "The empowered urban poor advancing the kingdom of God in every city through the local church." One of the most effective ways we can see this vision fulfilled is to launch and facilitate church planting movements. This is the rapid expansion of the gospel that results in many churches being planted. Overseas, these movements often plant hundreds if not thousands of churches within a few short years.  

Herein lies the great conflict. While our cities are in great turmoil and desperation, we fully expect incredible leaders for the Kingdom of God to be raised up from these neighborhoods. In the last six months, our cities have received incredibly negative press. This week alone, we have watched riots and anger filling the streets and the news in Baltimore. While there are many issues and layers to the problem, if we look with spiritual eyes and peel back the surface, we will see that there are deep and powerful strongholds in place. Note how the text above says there is a "strongman" who must be bound.  Ephesians 6:12 is clear that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Furthermore 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 says that "we are not waging war against the flesh. For the weapons of warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds."
 
If we want to see the Kingdom of God advance in the city with great power, then we are going to need to learn to fight with spiritual weapons. The enemy will not just let us walk in and simply proclaim the gospel and see healing and deliverances. We must first "bind the strong man" in order to "plunder his house." I believe that this is primarily done through prayer. God has ordained prayer to be one of the most powerful weapons we have in accessing the authority available in heaven and seeing it unleashed in our cities. Jesus, through his victory on the cross, has already won the victory. Through prayer we are merely declaring this victory over the powers of darkness.

Paul Billheimer writes on prayer in his book Destined for the Throne: "[Prayer] is God's way of giving the Church on-the-job training in overcoming the forces hostile to God. This world is a laboratory in which those destined for the throne are learning, by actual practice in the prayer closet, how to overcome Satan and his hierarchy. God designed the program of prayer as an apprenticeship for an eternity of reigning with Christ. Here we are learning how to use the weapons of prayer and faith in overcoming and enforcing Christ's victory so dearly bought." 
 
Why is it so hard then to tap into these truths and this power? Why is prayer so hard for us? Every church planter and missionary I know speaks of the importance of prayer. Yet it is very hard to sustain a constant prayer movement alongside church planting. There are probably many reasons for this, but one is that it just doesn't feel like we are accomplishing a lot while we pray. Actions like sharing the gospel, preaching, working on a Bible study lesson, or spending time with people are measurable. Something we can feel good about. But prayer is hard work. It's slow and requires waiting on God. There are times when it's so dynamic and we see powerful results, but other times it is just praying and praying and waiting for the right moment for God to break through. The temptation is to rely on our strategies, marketing ability, and our human effort to accomplish the work of God. This balance is so tricky because these seem to work. Furthermore, it's tempting to equate our numbers in church with spiritual success.

But numbers and programs don't equate with success. True success will be measured by the ministry of Jesus—where we see the power of God in preaching, the lost coming to Christ, healing, and deliverances as commonplace. When we see the ministry of Jesus being reproduced in our churches, then we will clearly see the power of God. Until that day, we must humble ourselves and seek the face of God for power and breakthrough. Let's not compromise what the Lord says in his Word and how we are to minister. Jesus equipped and sent out his disciples to do the works he did, and those works begin with prayer.  (Matthew10:1,7, 28:18-20, John 14:12-14)


Lastly, here are a few practical ways to implement more prayer in our church plants and churches.  
  • Let God Arise! - Consider starting a Let God Arise! (LGA) regular time of prayer. Rev. Dr. Don Davis and TUMI created LGA in January of 2000. It was birthed out of Dr. Davis’s heart and passion for revival to touch our cities. Here is a link for the heart of LGA and how to use it in a prayer time. You can visit letgodarise.com to see many more ideas and resources on it.
  • Prayer Walks - Consider doing regular prayer walks in your neighborhood. Prayer walks are an effective way to pray and look at your community with spiritual eyes. They are also a great way to get to know new people in your neighborhood especially as you are launching your church plant.
  • 24/7 Prayer - Houses of prayer and 24/7 prayer networks are springing up all over the world. While it is hard to sustain continual 24/7 prayer, consider doing a weekend of 24/7 prayer or join other ministries in your city that are doing it. Click here for a search of resources available to think through this kind of prayer. 
  • Brooklyn Tabernacle - Check out any of their resources. Jim Cymbala has led the way for prayer in his church for over 35 years. He has great books and resources on prayer. Brooklyn Tabernacle is located in the heart of Brooklyn and they have seen the power of God demonstrated in tangible ways in their services.

Let's humble ourselves as people of God and cry out for a powerful movement in our cities. Let's have concerts of prayer and praise and repeatedly ask God to bind the strong man and pour out his Spirit on us in fresh ways. Let's not stop until we see true revival in our midst and the explosive growth of the church and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.