Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:23-24
Following the horrific school shooting in Florida I saw Facebook posts with the words “Thoughts and Prayers” marked out, and “Change” and “Policy” written below. The insinuation was that “thoughts and prayers” were unacceptable; only changes in the gun laws would suffice.
The problem is that the vast majority of us have no role in such policy or in the enactment of gun laws. If someone wanted to voice their concern through prayer, to reject that as unacceptable or worthless is insulting to the person who offers real prayer. This also implies that prayer does not matter, and any Christian should take issue with that. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. I assume that any person who says they are praying about an issue ARE actually praying! “I will be praying for you” is an empty promise if they don’t!
2. Prayer for prayer’s sake is unhelpful. The act of prayer is not powerful, but the One we pray to, our God, IS! If we mumble prayers to ourselves, we are not talking to God. The gift of prayer is that we can speak to the Lord and know that He hears us! It’s not our practice, but His faithfulness, that is important.
3. Jesus encouraged us to pray to the Father in His name (John 16:23-24). In his Model Prayer (the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:9-13) Jesus told us to pray to our Father (Abba). Then in the Upper Room He told the disciples (and us) to go to the Father in His own name. As He interceded for us on the Cross to redeem us, He intercedes on our behalf before the Father!
The idea that prayer is powerless can be true (if we don’t pray, if we pray to someone other than God, etc.), but the prayers of Christians are very important! James wrote, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Jesus told us to pray, and so did Paul, who wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Just remember: It is God who gives our prayers their power! -Pastor Tim
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah…saying, 2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me." 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51
When the time came for Jesus to begin his journey to Jerusalem for his last Passover and the Cross, he “set his face to go.” He knew the Father’s will and was determined to do it! Note the contrast with that of Jonah, who heard God’s will – and immediately headed in the other direction!
Jonah was the opposite of Jesus in many ways. He was a reluctant prophet, self-centered and unloving. His attempt to flee to Tarshish ended up with his ship in a great storm, and the storm only stopped when he was thrown into the sea. That meant 3 days and nights in the belly of a great fish, and finally 40 days of preaching through gritted teeth. He did not want the Ninevites to repent and was unhappy when they did. He was also angry that his “shade tree” died while he watched to see if the people of Nineveh would be destroyed!
On the other hand, Jesus “emptied himself” of his glory to become one of us, and then further humbled himself by dying on the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). He calmed the sea to save his disciples, and his 3-days-and-3-nights ended in his resurrection (MT 12:40). Why? So that he might save the whole world, dying for all of our sins: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son!” Jesus was the opposite of selfish Jonah! -Pastor Tim
“Easter” or “Resurrection Sunday”?
When a Christian in East Tennessee says they are celebrating “Easter,” they mean that they are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That celebration usually involves a “sunrise service,” a special breakfast, and a larger than usual congregation at church. For many it also means a large family gathering for lunch (“Sunday Dinner”) and an egg hunt, with baskets of eggs delivered by an “Easter bunny” and lots of candy.
Some Christians, even in East Tennessee, will point out that “Easter” has connections to pagan festivals, and that the word derives from “Ishtar,” a goddess of fertility. Some languages derive their name for the resurrection through “Passover,” such as the Latin Pascha. The English title, Easter, is derived from festivals already present before the arrival of Christianity. The pagan Easter celebration was swallowed up (and baptized!) by the Christian worship of the resurrection, but we can still recognize a few items that were carried over: the name “Easter,” and eggs and rabbits, which are symbols of fertility (and not of Christianity). So what’s a Christian in East Tennessee to do?
I tend to use the terms Resurrection Sunday and Easter interchangeably. Despite the background, for most people Easter still means the resurrection, and hiding eggs does not mean we worship fertility goddesses: It’s a simple game the children enjoy. Yet we should know our history, and why we do what we do. Easter bunnies and eggs are peripheral; the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the heart of our Easter celebration! -Pastor Tim
13 "For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. 14 They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace. 15 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown," says the Lord. 16 Thus says the Lord: "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.'” Jeremiah 6:13-16
Jeremiah was called by God to proclaim judgment on the people of Jerusalem and Judah. His was a very difficult mission, with most of the Jewish people and their leaders hating him and his words (which is why Jeremiah was known as the “weeping prophet”). His mission broke his heart, as he proclaimed God’s coming judgment on their sins. In this passage he notes that everyone, including the religious leaders, were so mired in sin that they no longer knew “how to blush.” In other words, they were beyond the conviction of the Lord, brazenly doing as they pleased.
A Christian leader wrote recently that we in America also no longer “know how to blush.” As a culture we have lost our sense of decency, with biblical standards long forgotten, and have become accustomed to the continual media images and reports of immorality and sinful behavior. Constantly bombarded by these images and assumptions, we can discover that we are being desensitized to its content. Rather than being aware of the sinfulness of our public discourse, and convicted by it, we consider it “par for the course.”
In Jeremiah 6, the Lord told the people to look for the “good way” and “walk in it” so they could “find rest for” their “souls.” What were the “ancient paths” that led to the good way? God’s commandments that had been given to Moses, which were His guidelines for a blessed life. This they steadfastly refused to do: “We will not walk in it.” Their lack of conscience, so seared by their sin, would lead to their judgment by the nation of Babylon.
In Isaiah 5:20-21, the Lord said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” Like Jeremiah’s words above, this warning by the Lord seems very pertinent to our time: While God’s word and His will are mocked, sinfulness is celebrated! What’s a Christian to do?
Hopefully we have not forgotten how to blush, to be spiritually broken by the brokenness that is all around us! Hopefully we allow the Spirit to guide us in what is right and wrong – and refuse to allow that wrong to enter our hearts and minds! In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul wrote that we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” In a culture where we are being inundated with images and attitudes that are intended to harden our hearts, Paul’s words are a true comfort and blessing! -Pastor Tim
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14
This verse is a word of encouragement from the author of the letter to the members of the church. In fact, he calls the whole letter of Hebrews a “word of exhortation” (13:22; or encouragement): He wrote to help them in their walk with Jesus Christ!
These few words encapsulate Jesus’ “Great Commandment” in Matthew 22:37-40 to “love God with all your heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Our author begins with the neighbor, encouraging “peace with everyone.” While this is not always easy, it is part of being a follower of Christ: Since He has forgiven us, we are to be forgiving! Living in peace and harmony with others is God’s will for us as Christians.
The second half of the verse encourages “holiness,” which is part of loving the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind. Having been declared holy by our faith in Jesus Christ, we are to seek that holiness. In Romans 4:22-24, Paul said that Abraham’s “faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.” Through our faith in Christ we are declared righteous in God’s sight, then through the working of the Holy Spirit the Lord calls us to seek that righteousness. For the rest of our lives we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Note the subtle warning the author gives: “without which no one will see the Lord.” Why does he say this? Because some of those he was writing to were showing no sign of a “new life” in Christ. They considered themselves to be Christians, but their lives did not evidence the working of the Holy Spirit: “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” He was writing to exhort them to be the people Christ was calling them to be – and intended them to be! The Holy Spirit was given to them, and to us, so that we can be remade in the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! -Pastor Tim