How Much Should We Give to our Local Church and other Ministries

Let us give till it hurts. Tithing (giving 10%) is a myth. We should give to the point in which we make financial sacrifices to give. C.S Lewis said, "I'm afraid biblical charity is more than merely giving away that which we could afford to do without anyway."

Proper giving for financially blessed Christians who live in nations that are prosperous is much greater than 10%. It would be impossible to put a number on what exactly is the right percentage for each person. Each individual must seek God's will for their life and give what they feel convicted to give, not what they feel comfortable giving.

We must always remain faithful in our giving. There is no legalistic point at which we can say, "Yes, I have given enough. The rest of my money is mine to use with as I like." All of our money is God's money.

We see in Scripture that it is those who give cheerfully and sacrificially that are held up as examples. The church in Macedonia is exalted in 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 because of their sacrificial giving. "They voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints."

Luke 21:1-4 shares the familiar story of the poor widow who gave sacrificially while the wealthy man gave his much larger gift. Giving out of our abundance is not as blessed as giving sacrificially.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4 (ESV).

Let us give till it hurts.

Dealing with Hurt and Unanswered Prayer - Part Three - Great Examples of the Bible

Unanswered prayers never leave us the same; we either grow deeper in our walk with the Lord or we turn our back on Him.  Inevitably, hurt changes us.  We can’t control whether we will get hurt in this life, but we can control how we respond.  What we need to do is commit ourselves to drawing closer to God no matter what happens in life. 

The only way we can be the people God wants us to be is if we are praying people; the only way we can be the church God wants us to be is if we are a praying church.  So sign up and jumpstart your prayer life as you join in on jumpstarting our church’s prayer life. 

To encourage us to move from disappointment over unanswered prayers to a life of faith, I want to share some of the great stories of answered prayers from Scripture.  We have the tendency to view Scripture as a story of exceptions, but what if, instead of a Book with exceptional stories, the Bible tells stories that are fairly normal of life with our exceptional God.  These answered prayers are a glimpse of the Christian life we were designed to experience.

In the book of Esther, we read the story of Haman who persuaded the king of Persia to kill all of the Jews.  Esther, a Jew who was one of the queens of Persia, was called to appear infrequently with her king. In order to appear without being summoned, she would have to risk her life.  But if she didn’t risk her life to persuade her king to stop the killing of the Jews, she and all of her people would die. 

Esther then proclaims:
“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Esth 4:16 (ESV)

The story ends with God answering the prayers of the Jewish people.  The law to kill the Jews is superceded by another law and Haman is hung on the gallows he had built for the Jews.  A prayer answered that seemed to do the impossible.

Then we read the story of Nehemiah, who hears of the destruction of Jerusalem’s walls and the sorry state of his homeland, while serving as the cupbearer to the king of Persia.  Nehemiah then began to fast and pray for the restoration of Jerusalem.  God heard these prayers and used Nehemiah to restore Jerusalem.  Another prayer answered that seemed to do the impossible.

And the last story is another one of my favorites.  I love these stories of answered prayer. 

After being ordered by the government to no longer preach the gospel of Jesus, the Apostles continued.  For like the people before them – like Esther, like Nehemiah, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and the other faithful people throughout history – their lives were secondary to the mission God had laid on their hearts.  The Apostle James was arrested and then killed.  Peter was subsequently arrested, “but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”  Acts 12:5 (ESV)  And then through a miraculous intercession of angels, Peter was freed.  Another prayer answered that seemed to be impossible.
Are we people who fast and pray together in crisis?  Are we people who start our attempt at the impossible with prayer?  Are we people whose prayer lives show that we trust wholly in God.

I’m going to be dangerously honest today and point out that the emperor has no clothes.  We are not that sort of people.  The church has pockets of prayer and vibrancy, but as a whole, we are lacking.  We are not people who pray together in crisis.  We are not people who try to do the impossible, let alone start it with prayer.  We are not people who trust wholly in God.  I see it in our fruit. 

But we can be.  With God on our side, we can be who He wants us to be.  We need to unleash God from being a person that we mainly pray about health problems to; we need to seek him, ask him, and knock on his door to bring about the life He wants us to live here and now.  Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.  We need to not avoid praying for things we feel are impossible.  We need to not settle for disappointments and unanswered prayers, although those will come.  Instead, we need to always strive for what He wants and petition Him to help us bring it about. 

So when it comes down to our prayer lives, we can either let our lives be defined by the unanswered prayers we have experienced, or we can let the Word of God and the great stories of the trailblazers of our faith define our prayer life.  We should have confidence when we petition God on his throne of grace because we are covered in the blood of Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit.  We are in the asking business.  God is in the answering business.  May we be bold enough to ask what is on our hearts, no matter how impossible it might seem.

Dealing with Hurt and Unanswered Prayer - Part Two - Jesus' Bold Teachings

The problem with our unanswered prayers is that these disappointments do not line up with the promises of Scriptures. 

Jesus taught, “whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Matt 21:22 (ESV)

Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  John 16:24 (ESV)

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matt 7:7-11 (ESV)

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  Mark 11:24 (ESV)

The Apostle John wrote:
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.  1 John 5:14-15 (ESV)

These are clear teachings of Scripture.  When our reality does not line up with them, we need to use that as fuel to ignite our prayer life and spur us on to bring about God’s will more fully.  We need to keep the faith and continue to pursue God’s will even when our circumstances do not line up to his promises.  We are in the asking with faith business; God is in the answering business.

Dealing with Hurt and Unanswered Prayer - Part One - My Personal Pain

It was January, 2003, a deep, cold winter. All was still. My wife was pregnant with twins and was going to the doctor for a checkup. I received a call at work telling me to meet my wife at the hospital. That was all the information I received. My mind figured that one of our babies had died. I walked out to the car and started to cry as I put my key in the ignition. I asked God, "Why? Why does this have to happen?" That was the first of many times that I repeated that question in the following days.

All I remember from the hospital that night is the ultrasound. That was the saddest moment of my life. All of the dreams we had of the future came crashing down. The death of a baby that isn't born isn't just a death of a life that hasn't taken its first breath of air; it's the death of every dream you have of the future. Each dream had to be thrown away and rebuilt. I was still clinging to hope at this point.

I sat in the corner of the semi-lit room. The floor was cold. The metal on my chair was cold. Everything seemed cold. Lindsay laid on her back. The ultrasound was out of her view, so she looked at me for confirmation that they might still be alive. At times I would just weep, more inside than out because I felt that I had to be strong. For about an hour the ultrasound technician took photos of the babies. She measured their heads, their hearts, everything. I kept praying in my dark, cold corner that God would heal them. I wanted to see them start moving. I wanted to see the heartbeats on the monitor. I wanted them to live so badly. I told God, "I will tell the whole world of this miracle if you would just give life back to them." They didn't move. Lindsay and I left that room broken and filled with more sadness than either of us have ever encountered in our lives.

The hospital gave my wife a prescription for sleep medicine and we headed home. I'm sure we held each other in bed and wept. The sleeping pill didn't work on Lindsay. I can't imagine what it is like to lay there in bed knowing that two lifeless babies rest inside of you, two babies you had dreams for and already loved. At some point during the night I awoke and joined Lindsay who couldn't sleep. We decided, out of desperation, to go get some oil and anoint Lindsay with it. We wanted a healing so desperately. We read Scriptures of healing and Jesus bringing back the dead. We prayed. It gave us hope that when we would go to the hospital the next day, the babies would be alive. They weren’t.

It’s stories like this that can define our prayer life if we let them. We all have our tragic stories of disappointment and unanswered prayer. Some probably more heartbreaking than mine. These are all part of life.

Priesthood of Believers - Part Five - Ministry is for Everyone, Not just Professionals

The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Indiana, reported an amazing story:  Store Refusing Cash - No Gag.

On Thursday, August 19, Stoner’s Novelty Market in Ft. Wayne on Coldwater Road was robbed and the female clerk was tied up.  That's not the shocking part.  Robberies happened.  What is tragic is what happened next.

Frank Gray from the Journal reports:  "To add insult to injury, shortly after the robber had fled, a woman walked into the shop and the clerk, sobbing, told her she had just been robbed and three times begged her to cut her free so she could call the police. Instead of helping, the woman announced she didn’t want to get involved and left, leaving the clerk tied up and giving the crook more time to get away."
Tragic.  No Good Samaritan that day.  The clerk eventually dialed the phone with her tongue and got the help she needed.  From the “professionals.” 

We have, as a society, professionalized everything.  And you can think what you will on whether that is a good or a bad thing for society, but I want to emphasize that it is a terrible thing for the kingdom of God.  My skills and calling have me serving in the capacity I serve, as a pastor at a church and various organizations in the community.  Your skills and calling have you serving where you serve.  Some of us have positions in life that we feel are inferior to others, but we need to realize that the position we are in right now, will be used by God to bring about His will.  He might not have caused us to be in our position, but he will use us as his priests to bring about His will in your situation. 

When it comes to entering into the presence of the Lord, we can be assured that Jesus’ blood covers our sins.  And because of that, we can have direct access to the lord. 

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. Matt 27:50-51 (ESV)

When Jesus died for our sins, the barrier between God and man was torn in two.  Each one of us, whether you are a pastor like me or a young kid like Aria, has direct access to the Heavenly Father because of the blood of Jesus.  When we surrender our life to Jesus and His will, we become His.  When we are His, that line of communication is open. 

So when we feel that we might just be a banana salesman on the beach rather than the sexy lifeguard, we need to realize that God can use the banana salesman to save lives just like he can use the lifeguard.   All it takes is a banana salesman who is willing to get wet, to go out there into the water and save people. 

Priesthood of Believers - Part Four - The Bible on the Priesthood

The priesthood of believers is not just a passing comment; it’s core to who we are as Christians.

Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers;  but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. Isaiah 61:5-6 (ESV)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:4-5,9-10 (ESV)

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Rev 1:4-6 (ESV)

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. Rev 5:9-10 (ESV)

We, the body of Jesus, are the replacement of the Levitical priesthood.  No longer do we need someone to be the human intermediary between us and God, we have Jesus.  No longer do people need a priest to talk to God, they have you or can go to Him directly.  And people should be able to see God through us, His priesthood.

Priesthood of Believers - Part Three - Prayer and the Priesthood

At Riverside, where I pastor, we have a list of core convictions.  Two of them are in regard to prayer.         
  • We believe in praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven and desire to follow that prayer by doing our best to change our surroundings to his will.
  • We believe that we have a direct line with God with no need for anyone to stand between us and God, although we will gladly pray and help others.
Let’s tackle the first one.  We believe in praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven and desire to follow that prayer by doing our best to change our surroundings to his will.

When Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us to say, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  I have previously written about discovering God’s will.  In doing that it bringing it about, we must keep focused on just following one step at a time.  When we pray for something, we need to examine whether there is an action we can do to help bring it about.  If we pray for someone to be saved, follow it up by ministering to them.  If we pray for a safe journey, then look for ways to do God’s will on the way.  If we pray for safety in a time of trial, follow it up with courageous and bold acts that require safety.  When we pray, we need to look for ways to bring about God’s will.  God often answers the prayers we ask by using us to bring about what we are praying for. 

Our focus for fruitful prayer needs to be God’s will.  We need to pray and ask like Jesus taught us-for His will to be done.  If we are trying to bring about God’s will and concerned about the things of God, our prayer life will be revolutionized.

Our next conviction states:  “We believe that we have a direct line with God with no need for anyone to stand between us and God, although we will gladly pray and help others.”

We frequently give lip service to the theological concept of the priesthood of believers.  This comes out in the story I shared earlier about the lifeguard and banana salesmen.

Priesthood of Believers - Part Two - Drawbacks and Roles of Pastors

My friend leaving the ministry might even be able to do more for God’s kingdom because pastors have some inherent disadvantages due to our position.  One of our main jobs is to write lessons and prepare sermons.  I do that away from people with the hope that the words that I share here in these twenty minutes and eventually post online will empower people like you to bring about God’s will in your world.  A pastor’s normal work week does not put us into contact with people who have not surrendered their life to Jesus like the people we are equipping to do God’s will.  You are on the frontlines, serving God in your places of work, in your homes, and your schools while I sit in a church preparing a sermon and a lesson in the hope that it will help you bring about God’s will in your world.  If you are not bringing about God’s will in the world around you – if you are just going through the motions of church attendance or some other religious rituals, then this is all meaningless, and I am failing at doing this ministry. 

Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.  Eph 4:11-16 (ESV)

The work of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (that’s elders), and teachers is to equip those they are ministering - that’s you guys - to do the works of Jesus.  You have a great advantage over us apostles, prophets, and evangelists.  Those of us who are in full-time ministry have inherent disadvantages to transforming those around us because of our position.  People think we are paid to do the things we do.  They act fake around us because we are men of the cloth.  They keep their distance from us in the fear we might see who they really are.  Although I do my best to be involved in the community, the most detrimental thing to the life of a minister transforming the community they minister in is that we don’t work alongside people on the frontlines.  We don’t have work to develop relationships through.  In preparation for ministry, we have been trained how to properly study the word of God and effective forms of communication because one of the main roles of our calling is to teach.  We teach right doctrine so that people will have right living.  You sit through a sermon like this or a lesson like we had earlier, not so you can win some Bible trivia contest or fulfill some religious ritual, you do it so that you can be who God wants you to be in the workplace, in school, and in the neighborhood you live in. 

Paul concluded the section we just read by saying that the leaders equip – you are here to be equipped – so that this church will grow and be built up by us loving one another and those outside the church. 

So we must realize that everyone might not be called to be a lifeguard.  Some are called to be banana salesmen, sunbathers, surfers, sandcastle builders, and more.  We just need to make sure that we are focused on doing God’s will no matter what our second job is because our first job, if we have surrendered our life to Jesus, is to do His will.  A Christian is never unemployed; sometimes the earthly pay just isn’t good, but the spiritual peace of mind is always worth it.  I love being a pastor, but that does mean that my calling is a higher calling than yours.  Each one of us has an important calling.   You are called to be an influence for God wherever you are.

Priesthood of Believers - Part One - Doing our Callling Well

The other week, a friend of mine who has been the senior pastor at a church for the past twelve years let everyone know that he was going back to college to pursue a degree in communications rather than ministry.  He had been looking for another church to minister at, but this was the culmination of that failed search and an exit from the ministry for the time being. 

Another one of my friend’s in the ministry was talking to him and tried to encourage him to stay in the ministry.  The minister told my friend that was resigning that God had just lost one of His warriors.  He then proceded to tell a story about a lifeguard.  This lifeguard was inspired to be a lifeguard as a child, and he was good at it.  But then a swimmer drowned, so he decided to better himself and go get more training.  While training, the lifeguard forgot the urgency and importance of his position.  He saw that there was money to be made selling bananas on the beach.  So the lifeguard quit his job as a lifeguard and started to sell bananas.  My friend attempted, through the telling of this story, to show to the minister leaving the ministry that he shouldn’t stop being a lifeguard to become a banana saleman. 

My initial response to that story was that God will gladly use a banana seller who is also trained as a lifeguard.  Just because someone is not in the paid ministry, that does not mean they cannot be used by God to save people.  A banana salesman might be in the right place at the right time to save someone rather than stationed as the lifeguards are. 

My friend in the ministry struggles with clergification, that’s the idea that clergy can better bring about God’s will than anyone else.  This leads to ministers trying to be superChristians and burning out, probably like my resigning friend did.  Cause what happens in these scenarios is that the clergy is the only one that can call on people, the only that can teach.  His presence is necessary, in this tainted to view, for the church to be represented.  But a healthy church is much different.  In a healthy church, everyone takes on the responsibility of representing Jesus at functions.  And the minister does not need to do everything or most things. 

I’m not belittling my training that I received to be a minister of the good news.  I think it is important to have ministers, and it’s essential to have them trained for the calling they are entering.  But it is not just important for pastors to be trained; it’s important for every Christian to be trained well.  Some times that will mean formal training; other times it will mean hanging out with mature Christians, just checking out how other churches do things, or reading a book, but we all must better train ourselves to do what God has called us to do.  This does not mean that my friend will not be doing God’s work because he is stepping out of the paid ministry.  Each one of us has a ministry, even those of you who do not have an official ministry at this church like being in charge of the children’s ministry, worship, teens, or teaching.  Each one of us has an important and essential ministry that God is using to bring about His will into this world.  We must examine whether we recognize the ministry we are called to, are bettering ourselves for that ministry, and are focused on living our life to further that ministry.

Information on Church Visitors

A great list of insights on church visitors and welcoming new people is at the National Back to Church Sunday website.  This is just a small portion.

  • 82% of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited – Dr. Thom Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door
  • "Only 2 percent of church members invite a unchurched person to church. 98% of church-goers never extend an invitation in a given year." - Dr Thom Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door
  • “A study including more than 15,000 adults revealed that about two-thirds are willing to receive information about a local church from a family member, and 56 percent from a friend or neighbor. The message is clear that the unchurched are open to conversations about church.” – Philip Nation, LifeWay Research and National Spokesperson for Back to Church Sunday
  • “Four percent of formerly churched adults are actively looking for a church to attend regularly (other than their previous church). Six percent would prefer to resume attending regularly in the same church they had attended. The largest group, 62 percent, is not actively looking, but is open to the idea of attending church regularly again.”–Scott McConnell, Lifeway Research
  • “Clearly we can encourage Christians to pray that the unchurched would sense God calling them back, but God works through His people," said McConnell. "The survey showed that many would respond to an invitation from a friend or acquaintance (41 percent), their children (25 percent) or an adult family member (25 percent).” – McConnell, LifeWay Research
  • “The issue of affinity also surfaced in the responses. Thirty–five percent indicated that they would be inspired to attend church if I knew there were people like me there.” –McConnell, LifeWay Research
  • “Much to the surprise of the ‘Chicken Little” crowd, people are still going to church. And, more people would attend if given one simple thing—an invitation.” – Philip Nation, LifeWay Research and National Spokesperson for Back to Church Sunday

Tribal Evangelism - A New Approach to Reaching Out for Jesus

Bill Westfall wrote a blog post, Your ability to change culture? "Doubtful" according to... #dmingml, in response to an essay by James Davidson Hunter.  Hunter proposed that cultural transformation is more than just reaching individuals; it needs to be about reaching the elites.  I would say that he is right in that evangelism is more than just reaching individuals, but he is wrong in that it is about the elites.

People come to church in tribes.  When a new person comes, their family and friends are not far behind.  By reaching one person, the church has an entry point into a person's tribe.  Once becoming a follower of Jesus, the person can behave in certain ways.  They can exist in multiple tribes and have multiple identities, they can try to bring their current tribe into the new tribe, or they can abandon the old tribe for the new tribe.  But if we are to engage the culture around us and transform it, we need to encourage new followers of Jesus to remain in their tribe, genuinely love the people in that tribe, and allow God to transform that tribe to be in line with His will. 

Reaching one person gives a ministry the opportunity to start reaching a new tribe, as long as we don't encourage new people to abandon the old tribe.  They can abandon their old lifestyle, but the old tribe's restoration depends on the newly redeemed from abandoning their friends. 

If we converted all of the elites in Washington, that would not create a nation of Christ-followers.  It might cause us to have laws that are Christian, but we would have a new set of trappings that would ensnare us, a set of trapping that we do not have to look too far back into European history to see.  When evangelism is about the elites, we will have a society of churchgoers but with few Christ followers.

So effective evangelism is a church being a tribe or a group of tribes, depending on the church's size.  This tribe needs to share a vision, a passion, and have loving relationships with one another.  This tribe needs to be open to having people who don't belong to any tribe come and join them.  But big growth will only come when other tribes are brought into the fold.  For a campus ministry, that would be a club, a sports team, or a dorm hall joining in the tribe.  A successful ministry needs to be open to another tribe coming alongside them and working together. 

Evangelism needs to be more than individualistic; it has to be about incorporating people into community and equipping them to be part of God's plan for the world.  It needs to be tribal.  We are the kingdom of God, a tribe with an everlasting purpose.

Justification for a 36-Hour Prayer Vigil - Answering the Questions of Whether We Pray to Be Seen by Men and Whether Group Prayer is Better

Our church is in the midst of 36 hours of straight prayer.  We have created a prayer room for people to pray in.  We have rotations so the room is not empty and people have signed up for the slots they would like to fill.

One individual that I asked if they would sign up answered that they would not because they do not want to pray to be seen by men.  I knew this would be a view that some would have, but this person has been the only honest one to express it with me.

Before I get into my answer to that thought, let me express that the prayer event is going extraordinarily well.  People seem to be encountering God and are excited about it.  That was what it was designed for along with helping to transform our church and local community for the Lord.  God is in the prayer answering business; we are in the asking business.  God is always there; we just need to open our eyes to see Him.

So here is what I replied to the individual who expressed his concerns about praying to be seen by men.  He told me that he did not need to come to the room to pray.  I could just tell him what to pray for and he would pray for those things.
There are lists and prayer requests written all around the room, so it's not that easy.  I have no idea what other people have put up as prayer requests.  I made nearly 50 prayer requests and posted them.  Also, there is a prayer walk to pray around the church and many other things in the prayer room that are not replicable as only prayer requests. 

Also, biblically the church prayed together a lot.  There is nothing wrong with what we are doing as you imply.  I don't know anyone that signed up to be seen by men.  We're trying to bathe our church community and town community in prayer for 36 hours straight.  There is power in collective, unified prayer.  Power that this church hasn't seen because they have not done it.

As a local church, we haven't been a praying church, and prayer is one of the key elements of the early church as expressed in Acts 2:42.  This is an attempt to get that prayer fire started.  I'm glad you pray a lot on your own.  We need that.  We are attempting to develop an environment of corporate prayer because we need that too.  What we need to do as a church to reach this community for Jesus cannot be done by our own strength; it must have God and that starts with prayer. 

There is a place for group prayer and prayer events in a church.  When the Bible was talking about being "seen by men" in prayer it was talking about people who would make public displays of prayer with the intention of the prayer being seen by men, not prayer influencing God.  In this case, people are praying alone in a room.  No public display there.

How would we balance the examples of group prayer with avoiding being seen by men?  We could go so far to avoid being seen by men that we would never have any corporate or group prayers.

You don't need to feel forced to do it.  I just wanted to give you the opportunity in case you missed it.  If you change your mind, you can still sign up.  You can sign up anonymously so nobody will know it's you if you are uncomfortable with people knowing you signed up.
He then replied that what we are doing is not group prayer.  It's just people praying one at a time at the building.  I replied: 
You will need to ask those who experienced the room and ask them if it was a worthwhile experience.

Would it be better for two or more to gather together and pray? It would be good, but you would have to ask the people who participated if it would be better. I think both have their place and serve different purposes. Unfortunately, our last group prayer meeting that we attempted ended with just me and one other person's wife showing up on the fourth week of it. It ended there because I am not going to spend an hour in prayer with another person's wife without their husband there. About four months before that, the group prayer meeting ended with only one other person besides Lindsay and me showing up. It's my duty as a minister to try to create something that will remedy this problem because giving lessons about it, reading books about it, and preaching about it has not been working.

There really hasn't been a desire in our church for group prayer, and the group prayer is usually boring. That was part of the motive behind the prayer room. It is nearly group prayer. When people read through the praises and requests people have written on the walls, whether it is group prayer or not, it is a real unifying and uplifiting experience. I hope people catch an excitement for prayer because our church's success depends on an excitement and passion for prayer being among us. Most people don't spend an hour in prayer and this encouraged them to encounter God in a way they have not before or do not regularly. I hope the experience helps their prayer life flourish and become more passionate.

It's my responsibility to create programs and ministries to help people in this church grow. As I sit here in the church during the last hour that someone is in that room and evaluate the comments people have made to me as a result of their experience in that room, I would have to say it was successful. There are things I will tweak to make it better next time, but it served the purpose of helping people encounter God and fostered a passion in prayer.

So we can disagree on whether it was done to be seen by men or whether it is as useful as group prayer. To me, those are irrelevant discussions because I saw people who had encountered God, felt His love, and have a growing passion for Him. To me, that is what I do all this for.

The second part of our mission statement is that we would share the passions of Jesus. I think this program helped people to grow in that. That's why it was done. It could have completely failed. I was concerned about that, but on this side of it, I am thankful.
It is my hope that God would spur in everyone's hearts a passion for Him during this time.  I want them to feel His calling on their life, the peace He has for them, and the joy of His presence.  I want to be a praying church.  It does appear to be working.  May God continue to bless this endeavor.

God's Name and the Nature of Jesus Christ

What is the name of God and who is Jesus Christ?

God's name in the Old Testament varies. The most prominent ones are Yahweh and Elohim. In the New Testament, He is called Kairos or Theos. The point is that His name is not a sticking point. It is knowing Him, being in relationship with Him, and bringing about His will that matters.

The New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ emptied himself of the power of God when he became human (Philippians 2:7). However, Jesus' being, or nature if you prefer, was God Himself (Hebrews 1:3).

So in the flesh, Jesus, like us, had to rely upon His relationship with God to know God's will and have God's power. He was God in nature but not in knowledge or power. God had limited Himself when He took on the human flesh. This is why we see Him practicing the spiritual discipline of prayer and why He said "not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). His flesh wanted to live. He did not want to die, but He also knew that it was through His death that life would come into the world.


I took some time to answer questions on Hubpages, where I post on occasion.  These questions are from there.

The Uniqueness of Christianity

How does Christianity differ from other religions?

Although there are similarities with other religions here and there, Christianity does have a few points that distinguishes it from other religions.

Christianity teaches that Jesus is the only way to get into heaven (John 14:6).

Being right with God is a gift of grace, not something that we can accomplish through our own works (Ephesians 2:8-10). By the book, Christianity is not a religion of works.

Christianity teaches that we are to love everyone, including our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44) and the poor (1 John 3:17). Followers of the faith have not always lived this out, but it is a clear teaching of Jesus.

Christians are supposed to continue living on the life of Jesus in the here and now (Ephesians 2:18). They are to love the way Jesus loved, do the things Jesus would do, and continue on His mission to liberate mankind from the sins that shackle them.


I took some time to answer questions on Hubpages, where I post on occasion.  These questions are from there.

Death Bed Conversions - Do They Take?

Is repentance at the last minute to death a ticket into heaven?

The joy of the Christian life is much more than just getting to heaven but about living in the presence of God every moment of every day.

Eternal life begins when we know God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3). This can happen on someone's death bed.

Jesus shared a parable about people who come late in the day to work; they received the same wage as the people who worked all day (Matthew 20:1-16). When the workers who worked all day were upset the master told them, "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?." Jesus added, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." They had forgotten that it was a privilege and blessing to work for the master all day long rather than worry about whether they would get to work.

So we can receive salvation at the end of our day, but we miss out on living the life God intended for us to live. So why wait?


I took some time to answer questions on Hubpages, where I post on occasion.  These questions are from there.

The Central Theme of Christianity

What is the central theme of Christianity?

When Jesus was asked what is the greatest teaching of the law, he replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

So you are on the right track when you think that Christianity is more than just getting saved. Its about living that life of love we were designed to live. In that, we will find beauty, hope, and surety for today.

God does not want to just save us; He wants to transform us to bring about His will in this world. In being part of that, we will find the greatest blessings imaginable. Salvation is just the doorway to a better life lived in the here and now. It is not the central theme. Jesus said the central theme was love.


I took some time to answer questions on Hubpages, where I post on occasion.  These questions are from there.

Is God's Will Rational? - Subjectivity and the Will of God

On Facebook, a friend asked a question regarding my post on Practical Tips for finding God's Will.

Eric wrote, "Given this premise, how do people who "have a heart like Jesus", and therefore consider it rational to do the things you describe determine God's prompting? Do they then do the rational? What is the role of subjectivity?"

I replied:

Good questions. I'll try to answer.

What one would say is rational would always be in the eye of the beholder. As we mature in Jesus, some of the things we once thought impossible and irrational become commonplace and completely rational in the different mental framework we have developed. If someone's heart was soundly in tune with Jesus, then they would always follow Jesus and do what seems rational in their mind, but those rational actions would appear irrational to many around them. Having said that, I don't know if we're ever in tune with Jesus enough to not have to step out in faith and do something that we think is crazy. Churches don't grow because the people in them aren't crazy enough when it comes to ways of loving those around them.

As for subjectivity, that is a broad question. What are you getting at on that one? I'll take a stab, but it might be at the wrong thing.

When it comes to what God's specific will is for my life or your life, it will be different. Those wills might line up at times (like when we ministered at the same church) but they will then diverge into different paths and different callings. I think God's specific will is very subjective with objective principles underlying it. Those principles would be loving God, loving our neighbor, speaking the truth in love, and the like. But the way that would look for most people would be different. Unfortunately, we tend to want it spoon fed to us rather than to struggle what his will is. And we also get in a lot of trouble when we confuse the subjective calling on our life with objective principles and expect everyone to be like us.

It's like Derek Webb in his song "A New Law". I quoted another line the other day. But the one relevant here is, "Don’t teach me how to live like a free man; just give me a new law." We need to pray and seek God's specific will for our life rather than see His will in someone else's life and imitate it.

Discerning God's Will - Part Four - Go After His Will No Matter What!

So let’s say that you know what God wants you to do; you have discovered His will.  That’s just the beginning.  From that point, you need to go after it.   Most of the time, what God calls us to does not seem possible.  That’s typical of what happens when God interacts and leads us in an irrational direction. 

Jesus taught, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matt 19:26 (ESV) .

In the immediate context, Jesus was talking about eternal life, but the biblical principle holds up in all situations.  What appears impossible to man can be possible with God.  We so often see the task ahead of us and don’t realize it is attainable one step at a time.  I was listening to someone talk about how to run a marathon.  You have to view it as one mile at a time rather than the whole 26.2 miles.  If you’re five miles in and think of how much you have left, you’ll never accomplish it.  But if you just view it as one mile at a time it is attainable.

I’m more of a writer than I am a runner, but the principle is the same.  If I told you to write over 1000 blog posts, it would seem insurmountable.  But if you do it just one post at a time like I have been doing over the last six years, it can be done. 

So when God calls and the task seems too big to get done, you are just responsible for taking the next step, followed by the next step, and the next thousands steps after that.  After being faithful in a thousand little steps, one step at a time, you will be living the impossible right where God destined for you to be. 

Jesus told the story:
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.  For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  Matt 25:14-30 (ESV)
If you are faithful in a little, you will be given more.

Don’t let anything stop you once you know that you have been called.  Keep heading in the direction God has called you to even if you feel like it is insurmountable.  God might have called you to something that needs a miracle.  One step at a time.  Eventually, we will have achieved far more than we ever thought possible.  Things will fall into place that we did not even foresee.  Because the same God that called us in a specific direction works our path out for us.

Paul didn’t let shipwrecks, beatings, getting lost, robbers, persecution, hunger, thirst, or exposure to the elements stop Him (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).  We also should not let anything stop us. 

Mark Evanier shares the following story:
There's a famous story they used to tell around the Marvel offices about the great New York blackout of 1965 when power was off everywhere for about twelve hours one evening. Most everyone showed up at the Marvel office the next morning without their homework, figuring they couldn't be expected to write or draw by candlelight. Stan Lee, however, came in with all his pages done, having labored by candlelight. And the point of the story was that Stan was amazed that everyone else hadn't done that. It had simply not occurred to him not to write even though he had a perfect excuse. Which is one of the reasons he's Stan Lee and you and I are not.
We need to not let any obstacles stop us from doing what we know God wants us to do, one step at a time, and we need to never forget to enjoy God on the journey.  Sometimes we get so hung up on where we are going and what we are doing that we forget to enjoy the presence of God in the now.  Being a Christian is not about the destination; it’s about experiencing God day in and day out on the journey.  Part of the greatest experience is being used by Him to bring about His will in the here and now.

Paul wrote:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Col 3:12-17 (ESV)
One thing we can be certain of is that His general will is the same for each of us:  He wants each one of us to surrender our lives to Him through accepting Jesus as our Lord and to allow Him to use us to bring about His will in the world.  But when it comes to specifics for your life, He’s not telling me.  I can’t give you a formula or a practical answer.  That is something that has to be discovered through your relationship with God.  It is my prayer that some of you reading this will be prompted concerning what His will is for you.  Go after it no matter what the cost or how insurmountable it appears.  May we be people whose eyes are open to see the direction God wants us to go.  May we be courageous to go after it no matter what the cost or how great the challenge.  And may we learn to enjoy God  more along the way.

Discerning God's Will - Part Three - Practical Tips

Tips for finding out God’s will for your life: 

1.  God’s calling will be illogical.

If God's will was rational and logical, you would not need God to guide you to it because your own reasoning could do the job.  If God is interacting with you in an attempt to get you to do something, then it is going to be something that you would not rationally do.  For starters, it’s not rational to give money to the church when you could use it on yourself.  It’s not rational to spend your time helping other people.  It’s not rational to spend time in prayer, sing songs to an invisible God, move to an area without a job, or do any of the things that are routine things that God calls His people to do.  When we follow the specific will for our lives, it will be less than rational. 

2.  God’s calling will change things.

You cannot expect to follow God and have things be the same for you as they are right now.  We often value steadiness and stability over encountering God and bringing about His will.  God does not call His people with the intention of things remaining the same; He calls them and knows that things will be different if they are listening and faithful. 

3.  Your passion is not always a good measure for God’s calling because God might be calling you to something that will develop a passion in you and change you.

One of the most important things God is going to use you to work on is yourself.  I want people to be heading up ministries in the church that they are passionate about.  If we don’t have someone passionate, then we should not do that ministry because it will not be done well.  If you feel you are in a ministry you are not passionate about, then you need to reevaluate things.  Either God wants you to foster a new passion, or he wants you to move to another field of ministry.  If it needs to be done, then God needs to stir up a passion in someone to bring that ministry to fruition.  The worst thing for a church is ministries on autopilot without someone passionate guiding them, and it’s also true about your life.  The worst lived life is one on autopilot that does not allow God to lead it.  It just sucks the life out of a church, and it sucks the life out of your life.  But remember that God might want to develop in you a passion to do something rather than you just striving after your current passions.  God’s in the passion shaping business.

Discerning God's Will - Part Two - Fleeces, Obstacles, and Such

How do we find God's will?  A timeless question.

Even the Apostle Paul struggled with this question.  When he attempted to go into Bithynia, the Spirit of Jesus did not allow him to continue on.  Paul was trying to go somewhere God did not want him to go.  He initially misunderstood God’s will.  If Paul can screw discerning God’s will up, so can we.
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.  Acts 16:6-7 (ESV)
It would be nice if Luke in writing the book of Acts told us how the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them into Asia, but it doesn’t.  And I think this omission is intentional.  If the Bible told us some specific way to know God’s will, then that would be the way we would always use.  We would be become reliant upon a divining ritual rather than a relationship with the Divine. 

What seems to be a closed door might not be a closed door but an obstacle to overcome.  The key to knowing God’s will and doing what He wants us to do in life is to have our heart surrendered to God and learn to listen to his often quiet, guiding voice inside us – the place where the Spirit dwells.  Sometimes circumstances that would appear like a closed door might just be a setback that we have to have the will to persevere through.  Other times, what might seem like a minor hurdle might be a stop sign from God.  We have to learn to be able to listen to the voice of God in our hearts.  There is no easy formula, but learning to listen in our hearts is the only way we can discern whether a setback is an obstacle to overcome or a closed door prompting us to put the brakes on. 

Gideon, a biblical character full of doubt, was told by the Lord that He would be used to free Israel.  Gideon did use a method that we could turn into a formula, although I would not advise it.  What it does show though is that God is willing to make His will clear to you when you genuinely seek it even if you are full of doubt and fear.  
Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.   Judges 6:36-40 (ESV)

God was willing to reaffirm his calling to a doubting Gideon, and He will do the same for us.  Although it will prove useful to remember that there really is no set formula, just a relationship with God that He can lead through.