In the early days, 30 plus years ago, I fell asleep in corporate prayer often, actually most of the time. I still kept scheduling corporate prayer times for our church and I kept going, because I knew it was the right thing to do. I knew what the Bible said about prayer and I had read dozens of books on prayer, revival, and the history of the church, and it was pretty obvious that God didn’t do much except in response to prayer by the church, so I kept scheduling prayer times, and I personally kept going to the prayer times and praying and falling asleep. I remember thinking, “I think the clock actually slows down during corporate prayer times!”, they used to just drag. It took about 7 years of faithfully praying until things started to change for me. Our prayer times started becoming a major source of joy, passion, and strength, and my sense of God’s presence in the prayer room started to grow stronger and stronger. My faith in the power of prayer continued to grow as well. I became totally convinced that there wasn’t much that our church couldn’t fix,or change if we were willing to pray long enough for it. So now, 30 plus years later, here I am, a 70 year old man, having pastored for 43 years, 5 months away from our 50th wedding anniversary, and I truly feel like I am at the peak of my effectiveness for God. I am confident that my best years are yet to come, simply because I know that the more I do nothing but pray, the more God will work. So my life purpose statement right now is, “I will pray as much as I can, and I will work at convincing as many people as I can to pray with me.”
Jefferson Baptist Church began our “Five Day Prayer” event this morning at 5:00 am. In this first 5 hours of prayer this morning we had about 160 hours of prayer meaning that we had a shade over 30 people in the prayer room together every hour. It was a very blessed and powerful time of fellowship and sensing the presence of God as He joined us.
Over the last 30 years I have chosen to make Prayer the highest priority of my life and the highest value of our church. I have also chosen to make “corporate Prayer” , that is our church praying together, in the same place, at the same time, for the same things the main focus, emphasis, and value of my personal life and the life of JBC. The reason is because that was the emphasis of the church in the book of Acts in the New Testament, and also every revival in the history of the church over the last 2000 years has been preceded by a major emphasis and practice of corporate prayer.
Over the last 30 years many people have argued with me or simply chosen not to cooperate with me on my strong emphasis on corporate prayer. I base my decisions in life on the truth of the Bible, but I also place a strong emphasis on determining what is true from the witness and testimony of faithful and trustworthy people who have experience and wisdom. Over the last 30 years I have averaged almost 700 hours every year of praying corporately with others in the church. I don’t share that to impress anybody, but to say that the reason I pray so much is because of the experience that I have had with the Lord over the 30 years and the answers that have come as a result of the hours of praying. I would throw that out there to help convince you to make prayer, especially corporate prayer a key part of your life. Come join us, 5 to 10 am, and 5 to 10 pm Monday through Friday. Friday at 7 pm will be our “Good Friday” service.
At the Jefferson Baptist Church marriage retreat this weekend at Odell Lake Lodge there was several feet of snow, and the lodge has miles of trails for cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and snowmobiling. I decided to try doing some snowmobiling with several others. I had done a little bit of riding on a snowmobile in the past, but it was over 30 years ago, and I am 70 years old now, so I was a bit nervous. We took off and as we road I got more confident and started going faster and going around corners faster. It certainly isn’t like riding in a car or even on a motorcycle! There are lots of bumps and holes so snowmobiling is more like riding a bucking horse. It really is a lot of work riding those things because you are using your legs to take some of the shock out of all the humps and bumps, and you are constantly leaning one way or the other as you take the turns and hanging on for dear life with your arms getting a major workout. So even though it was cold it wasn’t long before I was sweating pretty good. There was a spot in the trail where a tree had fallen over so the two guys in front of me went around it by going up and around it on the right bank of the trail, and as I attempted to follow I slowed down to much and the snowmobile rolled over down the bank. It probably looked worse than it was because the snow made a relatively soft landing for me. The three of us rolled it back upright and got it started again and off we went. Now, I was no longer riding with confidence and my speed went down significantly, so that the other two guys had to stop and wait for me often. The reason I rolled the machine was because I was going to slow on the sidehill going around the tree, but the thought that if what I had just done had been done at the speed I was normally going it would have hurt for sure! I discovered that riding with abandonment is so much more fun and exciting than riding like a chicken, but though I knew that I couldn’t seem to make myself turn lose and just go fast. So when when the guys asked how much longer I wanted to ride I said, “I am about done in, let’s swing by the lodge and I will bail out.”
In life there are so many things that people never attempt to do, because they are afraid of failing. They really do want to do the things that they have often dreamed of doing, but the fear of rolling that snowmobile over causes them to be overly cautious and they keep doing the boring and mundane that they have been doing most of their lives.
Patty and I are leading and teaching at JBC’s marriage retreat at Odell Lake Lodge this weekend. We are having such a blessed time with 20 plus couples that are up here at the retreat. John Ditgen and his staff here at the Lodge are treating us like royalty. Being at these marriage retreats is super and teaching at them is very rewarding, and I am always stirred by my own teaching to pursue a better marriage and never be content with where we as a couple are in the quality of our marriage. A major key to growing and improving is self examination and reflective thinking about where am I right now as a husband, so I thought out and wrote down these 10 questions to ask myself. On each question I will rate myself from 1 to 10, with 10 being near perfect, and 1 being unbelievably bad.
(1) Am I overly sensitive and self-absorbed so that I easily get my feelings hurt by things Patty says or does.
(2) When Patty does do something that is wrong, bad, inconsiderate, or selfish do I forgive her quickly, because Jesus has forgiven me of everything or do I hang onto it getting angry, hurt, and bitter.
(3) Do I take the initiative to start conversations with Patty about spiritual things in our life.
(4) Do I take the initiative to pray with Patty at least 3 times each week.
(5) Do I look for opportunities to serve Patty, doing something as simple as making her a cup of tea.
(6) When Patty shares with me the details of her day or about a certain event do I honor her by listening to her with attentiveness.
(7) Do I exercise self control so that I never express anger at Patty not even a little bit of irritation.
(8) Do I praise Patty for all the things she does for me, aggressively looking for many opportunities to praise her and tell her how wonderful she is.
(9) Do I look for opportunities to encourage and motivate her to develop her spiritual gifts and ministry at JBC.
(10) Am I faithful to take Patty on dates for the purpose of communicating about our marriage and how we can make it better.
We are saved by grace, no good works required, but if we are truly saved we will do good works and we will hunger and thirst always to be more holy and righteous, but the cool thing is that God gives us all that we need to grow and become more mature.
2 Corinthians 3:5-6 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit;
That is grace. He forgives us of all our sins because of what He did for us on the cross, and He gives us the will and the strength to obey Him, to follow Him, to love Him, to serve Him, and to become like Him. But we must choose and act, Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 12, “I worked harder than anybody, but I did it by the grace of God”.
We are saved (that is we are going to live with Jesus forever with incomprehensible joy, instead of in torment in the Lake of Fire with the devil and his demons)because of what Jesus did for us on the cross which we could not do for ourselves. We could never be good enough to earn our way into God’s family, but Jesus was sinless and died to pay the penalty of our sins, and when we admit that, accept what He has done for us, and choose to follow and love Him we are totally forgiven and adopted into His family. But many have a false conversion experience and belief, and will hear Him say when they stand before Him, “depart from Me, I don’t know who you are”, and it will be to late to do anything about it.
The Apostle Paul says that we ought to test and examine ourselves to determine if we are really saved. 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”
The best description of this test is in 1 John 2:3-6 “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”
Another very cool part of grace is that as we press on to maturity, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, we still mess up,but He continues to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness as we confess our sins to Him.
1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
One of the challenges theologically that many struggle with is, if we are saved by grace, not by any works of righteousness, what part does good works play in our life? Simply put, “we are not saved by good works, we are saved for good works”. What that means is if we are genuinely born again our life will change because God has changed our heart and the Holy Spirit lives in us.
A lot of people think they are saved, but they aren’t really, and it will bea very sad experience for them when they hear Jesus say these words recorded in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. . . . And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” This statement by Jesus of People who think they are christians, but will find out to late that they are not, is surrounded by 3 parables that Jesus tells. The first is the parable of the narrow and wide way in Matthew 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” This passage easily suggests that before we choose to follow Christ though we are saved by grace there is an understanding that it won’t be without effort and sacrifice. The next parable that Jesus tells as part of this trilogy is in verses 15-20, part of which is, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” Good fruit is obviously good works, and without them we will be thrown into the fire. The last of the 3 parables is the house built on a rock. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” To act on the words of Jesus is to obey them.
In the Bible we are admonished to examine our own life, our character weaknesses and flaws, our blind spots, our sins, especially repeated or habitual sins. I regularly and often just sit and think about me, where I have grown and where I am not growing, the words I speak out repeatedly that are defensive or accusing of others. When I have accurately figured out who I am, I confess all known sins to God, ask for His help to grow and change in the area of my weaknesses, and declare Him the Lord of my life and that I will follow and serve Him always. I try to have a daily time that takes care of the obvious blunders that I committed, but I take significantly more time to think through the “why” of my repeated offenses on a weekly basis and figure out my strategy for growth. I don’t ever want to get comfortable with where I am, my goal is to maintain and even increase a deep hunger and thirst in myself for righteousness.