Prayer is the ultimate expression of communication with God. If we want to have strong relationships and significant purpose, meaningful prayer has to be the key to our success. Just like any good relationship, clear communication is essential. The following comments from Oswald Chambers lead us to a deeper understanding to prayer.
“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there's nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don't want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of 'good time' is seldom in sync with ours.”
The idea of perseverance in doing what is right has a lot of application to many aspects of faith, but especially when it comes to communication with God.
I value thoughts by Oswald because they help establish that persistent prayer is a priority for the Christian who is growing. Prayer creates the path. This is different from expecting God to get on your path. Prayer helps you view your life challenges through God’s eyes. This is different from expecting God to see where you are coming from.
Many of our challenges stem from doing things our own way. Prayer puts us on the path of God’s way. When this is our first line of defense, we don’t waste time and emotion wondering what could be going wrong. I observe many believers who have this approach to life. They seem like they are ahead of the curve. They are able to see what is ahead. They walk with confidence because their actions are guided by wisdom. They seem to be able to make good decisions because their knowledge base is sound. They are not surprised by the twists and turns of the journey because they have been informed regarding the ways of the world.
Good communication with family, friends and co-workers can follow a pattern established by your communication with God. All of what faith teaches is duplicatable in all areas of life. This gives meaning to the statement, “Seek first His Kingdom and His Righteous and all these things will be added to you.”
As I mentioned, we received the new 30-Day Bible Reading Challenge material. Last week, we began on the first Old Testament Challenge. Currently we are reading Ezra through Song of Solomon. Esther and Nehemiah have been particularly engaging. The goal with the 30-Day Challenge is to get Lakeview deeply involved in God’s Living Word.
The teacher Paul uses a phrase that instructs us on our relationship to God’s Word. In Colossians 3:16, he says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” This phrase has always tested and enthused and comforted me. “Dwell in you richly.” Of course that’s what God wants! I’m not a computer hard drive whose purpose it is to collect more and more data. I’m not a student hoping against hope to get all the answers right on the final exam. I’m a member of God’s household, and I get to learn with my brothers and sisters what God’s word, through the prophets and the apostles is, and to ask God to make that word go down deeply and effectively, down to a place where it won’t get blown away by the winds of today’s concerns. I can ask God to make it take root there, so it will dwell there, and nobody can take it away. It will not lie dormant. It will, like well-planted seed, sprout and grow, and then put down roots, and finally be ready for harvesting and digesting. We take it in as seed, but it becomes a nourishing feast.
People who have had this faithful pattern of Scripture consumption have, over the years, transformed it into the spiritual muscle tissue of their lives. The word of God actually becomes part of who they are. This is our goal with the Bible reading challenge. Below is the schedule we will follow for the next several months. When we are done, we will have “consumed” the entire Bible.
May - Books of Wisdom (Ezra, Nehemiah, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Songs of Solomon)
June - Champions and Kings (Joshua – 2 Chronicles)
July - The Prophets of God (Isaiah – Malachi)
August - Books of Moses (Genesis – Deuteronomy)
September - Books of New Testaments (Matthew – Revelations)
We will have a Bible Reading Challenge Group meet next Sunday, following morning assembly. (May 15th from Noon to 1:00 pm.) If you want to bring a bag lunch or some snacks to hold you over, feel free. At this gathering we will discuss our progress and share what we have leaned from our study. The information below is the basic outline we will follow:
How to: tools and other aids
Gains: personal gains and experiences
What you learned: fun facts, key moments and events, actions of the people involved, responses, God’s intervention, key people, any applications.
A fellowship of believers is important if we seek to have churches that are healthy. One opportunity for fellowship in the big picture will take place in July. This opportunity is the Faith Builders Workshop. It is a spiritual growth workshop intended to encourage Christians from all over the Pacific Northwest. This year’s workshop will be hosted on the PLU Campus in the Eastvold Auditorium. It will take place on July 7 – 9, 2016 (Thursday to Saturday). The 3-day workshop is presented by the Elders of the Puyallup and Springbrook congregations, as an effort to create unity and equip the Churches of Christ in the Northwest. Several essential topics will be taught by preachers from all over the country. Topics will include building families, reaching today’s world, missions, women’s ministry and how to edify the local congregation. There will also be a childcare program for kids ages 2 to 12, as well as a youth program on the last day of the conference.
There are details on the Faith Builders website. The web address is FaithBuildersnw.com. Go to the Workshops tab and click on Workshop Information. This will bring up a PDF of the schedule.
If you plan to attend, click on the Contact and Register tab. It will open up a registration form that you can submit online. There is no charge for the Workshop but they will accept donations and they will take up a contribution on Friday night. Between the contribution and the funds given by the supporting congregations, the costs of the workshop are covered.
Housing and food are available. See website for rates.
Gentleness Self-Examination Quiz
1. Was I gentle in the situations I faced today? If not, why? Were my rationalizations prideful?
2. Do I exhibit the same gentleness to others that God exhibits to me every day? How?
3. Do people describe me as gentle? Or do they describe me as critical or brash? Why?
4. Do I gently encourage people to “sin no more”? Or do I self-righteously cast the first stone?
30 Day Bible Reading Challenge
Brother Dennis and I have been working together to bring the Lakeview congregation the 30 Day Bible Reading Challenge. Over the next several months, we will make available several of the different 30-Day Challenges that span the whole bible. We have set up a display board by the Training Room that contains the reading schedules. They are free for each member to pick up a copy for their participation. We also have a handout that summarizes the bible. The following is the plan, or path we want to follow in this reading challenge.
April - To end the month of April; The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses highlights key Bible passages that are pivotal in the Bible’s story line—enabling readers to see God’s incredible plan from beginning to end. We have added four verses to emphasize the role of God’s Word in our lives. The idea is to commit these 20 verses to memory.
May - Books of Wisdom
June - Champions and Kings
July - The Prophets of God
August - Books of Moses
September - Books of New Testaments
Goals and Objectives
The word of God is the only offensive weapon in our spiritual arsenal.
* We are in the midst of a tenacious battle and the enemy is advancing to our ranks daily, knowing how to use the only offensive weapon we have could save our lives.
* We cannot hold our defenses if we don’t know the word of God and hence have no offensive readiness.
* Enriching each individual enriches each household, the church, and hopefully our country.
* Enriching our knowledge means we discover our roles and translate that into actions.
* The church benefits because we become alert and engaged making evangelism and other duties in the Lord’s Body become shared responsibilities.
* Build a lifelong habit of daily scripture reading.
* Meet once a month to share our successes and growth.
Please join us in this challenge and let us enrich our familiarity with the Father and strengthen our fellowship with him and our brethren.
We have been talking at Lakeview about trying to open up opportunities for digital giving, and starting today, we can finally say that we are ready! If you’ve been eagerly anticipating this moment, you probably don’t need to read anymore, except to figure out where to go to set it up. So skip to the end.
But if you’ve got some concerns about this move, I want you to know first and foremost: this will not affect you unless you choose to sign up. We will still pass trays every Sunday, and that will likely never change. This is one more tool that we want in our toolbelt as a church, and as Christians.
Think about it. Most of us automatically pay our mortgage, our garbage, our water and sewer through an automated digital system. In fact, your bank prefers if you automate your payments because you are much less likely to default.
For my family; we began to really wrestle with how we give when we started taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class. It’s not that we didn’t already give; but Dave challenged us to give to God first, and let everything else come after. As we learned to be more disciplined with our money I became frustrated with our giving. Every bill we had was paid automatically except for our giving. Anytime we had a tight month, we could potentially just give less. That meant God was not getting the firstfruits of my money, He was getting the leftovers.
Even though Oregon City didn’t have digital giving setup, we chose to automate things. We authorized our bank to issue a check and mail it to church every week. From that moment on, we became more consistent givers than your grandma. Since that day, our financial crises have never resulted in giving less to the Lord.
It is the hope of our elders that this technology will help you in a similar way. It is our effort for the church to keep pace with current financial tools, and help you to be disciplined with what you have set aside for the Lord. Some of us may never order another checkbook again!
If you want to set your household to give digitally, you can find a link on our church website (lower right). A few things upfront: Yes, this is a secure website. No, Lakeview is not processing your information directly. We are using a service “SK Giving” that is a part of a larger church technology company (Servant Keeper). Their expertise ensures the security of your financial information.
When you create a login, you will be able to give a one-time gift, unless you choose the option for automatic recurring donations. The interface is very intuitive and very easy. Because your debit cards work through Mastercard/Visa, it is possible to link a credit card, instead of a debit card. Please don’t do this. Don’t give to God on credit.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
-2 Corinthians 9:6-8
He is able, more than able, to accomplish what concerns me today. Do you believe this? You must. This must be the very foundation of your existence. If there is any doubt, you will be hesitant and feeble. Dallas Willard challenges us to have a big view of who Jesus is.
“Our commitment to Jesus can stand on no other foundation than a recognition that he is the One who knows the truth about our lives and our universe. It is not possible to trust Jesus, or anyone else, in matters where we do not believe him to be competent. We cannot pray for his help and rely on his collaboration in dealing with real-life matters if we suspect he might be unable to help or understand what we need. And can we seriously imagine that Jesus could be Lord if he were not smart? If he were divine, would he be dumb? Or uninformed? Once you stop to think about it, how could he be what we take him to be in all other respects and not the best-informed and most intelligent person of all, the smartest person who ever lived?
That is exactly how his earliest apprentices in kingdom living thought of him. He was not regarded as a good teacher who could do tricks. Rather, he was regarded as the ultimate scientist, craftsman, and artist. The biblical and continuing vision of Jesus was of one who made all of created reality and kept it working, literally “holding it together” (Colossians 1:17.) Today we think people are smart who make light bulbs and computer chips and rockets out of “stuff” already provided! He made “the stuff!”
Jesus knew how to transform the molecular structure of water to make it wine. That knowledge allowed him to take a few pieces of bread and some little fish and feed thousands of people. He knew how to transform the tissues of the human body from sickness to health and from death to life. He knew how to suspend gravity, interrupt weather patterns, and eliminate unfruitful trees without a saw or an ax. He only needed a word. Surely he must be amused at what Nobel prizes are awarded for today.
In the ethical domain he brought an understanding of life that has influenced world thought more than any other. And one of the greatest testimonies to his intelligence is surely that he knew how to enter physical death, actually to die, and then live on beyond death. He seized death by the throat and defeated it. Forget cryonics! He didn’t just freeze life; He brought life immortal. It is for those reasons and more, that we stand in Awe!
In 1 Samuel 27, we learn that David decides that it is safer for him to live in the land of the Philistines; the mortal enemies of God’s people. He lives there with the goodwill of Achish, King of Gath. David agrees to serve the King. In addition, David carries out a series of raids on the Canaanites that live in the southern part of Judah. He shares some of the spoils with King Achish, who is led to believe, by David, that he is raiding the villages of Israel.
The passage does not pass judgement on David’s actions. It simply tells us what he did, leaving it up to us to decide whether or not David was justified in his actions. Some see this as an example of situational ethics. Because David was actually doing what God had commanded the Israelites, to eliminate all the Canaanites, his actions were acceptable.
Situational ethics takes into account the particular context of an act when evaluating it ethically, rather than judging it according to absolute moral standards. Today we might refer to this as moral relativism, which means that right and wrong are determined by the individual and their unique situation. In other words, the person is his or her own standard. What a person views as right and wrong is what that individual decides. The person is often influenced by something outside of self; usually the culture or an ideology, but the final decision of right and wrong is determined by the individual.
A lot of political reasoning today follows the principle of moral relativism.
This of course is in contrast to moral absolutes. This refers to truth that doesn’t change with the wishes, desires, or circumstances of the individual or of culture. Stealing is always wrong regardless of the situation. Even if someone is starving and they take from another who has more than enough, the taking is still wrong. The person may be forgiven of that wrong and be absolved of the consequences, but the action in itself is wrong.
To the person who holds to the moral absolutes of Scripture, David’s actions were wrong because they violated God’s law. He may have had good reasons, but those reasons didn’t make the actions right. He could have taken other action that would have allowed him to stay in the will of God. When we read the whole story, it becomes clear that he had made some questionable decisions, but praise be to God that his failures were not the end of the story.
Four Promises of Forgiveness
Conflict resolution is something that is essential for a healthy community. The church is a community and we have nearly as many conflict situations as any non-religious group of people. In scripture we learn the value and practice of conflict resolution. Many scriptural narratives highlight this important action.
Along with conflict resolution, there is the need for forgiveness. Of course, forgiveness will not happen without the resolution of the conflict, but once the conflict is over, there will be emotional residue in the form of bitterness and anger. This is where forgiveness steps in. It begins with the example of God.
Through forgiveness God tears down the walls that our sins have built, and He opens the way for a renewed relationship with Him. This is exactly what we must do if we are to forgive as the Lord forgives us. We must release the person who has wronged us from the penalty of being separated from us. We must not hold wrongs against others, not think about the wrongs, and not punish others for them. Therefore, forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:
"I will not dwell on this incident."
"I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you."
"I will not talk to others about this incident."
"I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship."
By making and keeping these promises, you can tear down the walls that stand between you and your offender. You promise not to dwell on or brood over the problem or to punish by holding the person at a distance. You clear the way for your relationship to develop unhindered by memories of past wrongs. This is exactly what God does for us, and it is what he calls us to do for others.
I will most gladly spend and be spent for you. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? — 2 Cor. 12:15
With this statement Paul illustrates the ethic of a servant of Christ. He has labored among them, loving them and literally putting his life on the line for them. This is a different paradigm than we generally experience. Natural human love expects something in return, but Paul is saying, “It doesn’t really matter to me whether you love me or not. I am willing to be completely destitute anyway; willing to be poverty-stricken, not just for your sakes, but also that I may be able to get you to God.” “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor…” -2 Corinthians 8:9. Paul’s idea of service was the same as our Lord’s. He did not care how high the cost was to himself— he would gladly pay it. It was a joyful thing to Paul.
As you seek to grow as a Christian and in service to other (…we should all desire this), you will go through stages. The first stage is serving because it is what is expected. Your mentor in the faith told you to do things for others and you take that at face value. You usually will not serve outside of your comfort zone and you may struggle with motivation, expecting something in return. As you focus on the example of Jesus, you see a different picture. Jesus serves people in a way that costs Him and leads to the ultimate price.
That should move you into a second stage. The real measure of a servant is not one’s willingness to preach the gospel, but one’s willingness to do something like washing the disciples’ feet— that is, being willing to do those things that seem unimportant in human estimation but count as everything to God. It was Paul’s delight to spend his life for God’s interests in other people, and he did not care what it cost. He did not question or negotiate with God. He had no reservations.
Paul focused his life on Jesus Christ’s idea of a New Testament service; that is, not one who merely proclaims the gospel, but one who becomes broken bread and poured out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for the sake of others.
This second stage is where God wants you to be. Look up and look around and see what needs to be done; then get it done, depending on the power of the Spirit and the support of brothers and sisters.
Many have taken up the challenge to read the entire New Testament over a period of thirty days. It is quite a challenge, but reading God’s Word always includes the promise of reward. “Turn my heart to Your decrees and not to material gain. Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless; give me life in Your ways. Confirm what You said to Your servant, for it produces reverence for You (Psalm 119:36-38).”
Some have already started and some are going to start at the beginning of the new month. The process of learning God’s Word will bring knowledge and insight. There are book marks on the Welcome Center. You can also go to www.thirtydaybiblechallenge.com and look for the 30-day Challenge for the New Testament. There are other challenges that we will take in the future. Our goal is to be very familiar with the Word of God and thus add knowledge to our virtue; to our faith.
As you read, it is important to understand who wrote the book or letter you are reading, and why the document is being written. For example, one can approach Bible study as a search for facts. Who wrote this passage? Where was the author writing from, and to whom, and for what purpose? When was this written? We need to do this because the only way to thoroughly understand the texts of the Bible is to pay careful attention to the content and circumstances of the texts.
This is a matter of respect. When I get a letter in the mail I first of all look at the return address to see who wrote to me. I can look at the date it was posted and, by the postmark, see where it was mailed from. Then I open the letter and read the contents. If it is a handwritten letter from my mother, I will read it carefully and respectfully. If it is a bill, I will read it carefully as well (but with less enthusiasm).
I do not go to the mailbox, open a letter and just start reading the words, wondering how the words will impress me, or if they will make me happy. We must not read Scripture that way either. We read it respecting the author and the context. We use the rules that apply to the use of ordinary language because God’s word comes to us in the form of poems and songs, oracles and proverbs, simile and metaphor, gospels and letters. We have to learn to read Scripture naturally.
I have already learned much from the 30-Day Challenge. Let me know how you are progressing.