Wednesday, January 31, 2007

No Excuse Sunday (In The User Friendly Church)

To make it possible for everyone to attend church this Sunday, we are going to have a special "No Excuse Sunday":

Cots will be placed in the foyer for those who say, "Sunday is my only day to sleep in."

There will be a special section with lounge chairs for those who feel that our pews are too hard.

Eye drops will be available for those with tired eyes from watching TV late Saturday night.

We will have steel helmets for those who say, "The roof would cave in if I ever came to church."

Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church is too cold, and fans for those who say it is too hot.

Scorecards will be available for those who wish to list the hypocrites present.

Relatives and friends will be in attendance for those who can't go to church and cook dinner, too.

We will distribute "Stamp Out Stewardship" buttons for those that feel the church is always asking for money.

One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to seek God in nature.

Doctors and nurses will be in attendance for those who plan to be sick on Sunday.

The sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who never have seen the church without them.

We will provide hearing aids for those who can't hear the preacher and cotton wool for those who think he's too loud!



Fasting #6 Social Justice

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 58:6
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice?”

Does God ever hate church? Is God ever disgusted by a worship service? Does God ever dislike an offering? Does God ever plug his ears when people pray and sing? Does God ever shut his eyes when people fast and perform rituals? The answer is yes—a loud, angry yes!

Listen to some of the things God says in the Bible: “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies” (Amos 5:21). “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me… I cannot bear your evil assemblies… Your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen” (Isaiah 1:13-15). “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high” (Isaiah 58:4). “Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry… Instead, I will destroy them” (Jeremiah 14:12). “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors… I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands” (Malachi 2:10).

No doubt about it, sometimes God hates religion. Church can anger him so much that he wants to close it down. There are prayers he can’t stand hearing, ceremonies he can’t stand watching, seasons of fasting that make him sick. God hates religion without reality, ritual without relationship, ceremony without sincerity. God hates personal piety without social justice. He hates all religion that is centered on self, without love for God and without love for other people. He hates religion where people try to act like angels during special religious moments but act more like devils the rest of the time.

Failed Fasting

Today’s program is the sixth and last in a series on fasting. The Bible encourages fasting, and this series has highlighted various situations when it’s fitting to fast. Fasting can be valuable, but we must fast in a way that draws us closer to God and to other people, not in a way that disgusts God and drives us further away from people.

Few things are more disgusting to God or more damaging to people than disregard of justice. God says, “I, the Lord, love justice” (Isaiah 61:8). If we’re not hungry for justice, then we’re not really hungry for God. If we hunger for God, we also hunger for justice, for fairness, for the good of others, for treating them right and defending their rights.

In Zechariah 7 the Bible tells of some people who have been fasting and have a question for God. God answers their question with a question: “Was it really for me that you fasted?” (7:5) God says that their religious activity is too self-centered. They’re thinking more about themselves than about God’s will or the welfare of other people. God tells them, “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.” When these people plug their ears and harden their hearts to God’s call for justice, how does the Lord respond? “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,' says the LORD Almighty (Zechariah 7:9-13).

Isaiah 58 records a similar conversation of God with people who have been fasting but feel frustrated. They seem eager to know God and want him to be close to them. They have been fasting to get God’s attention and help, but it hasn’t worked. God seems as far away as ever, and they are having more problems than blessings. They complain to God, “Why have we fasted and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?” (Isaiah 58:3). They are fed up with fasting, but God is even more fed up than they are. God answers their complaint with a complaint of his own:

On the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? … Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and … set the oppressed free…? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

It’s possible to fast with a “look at me” attitude: “Look at me, God. See what I’m doing? Are you impressed? Then hurry up and do what I want!” This “look at me” attitude can also be directed at other people: “Look at me, everybody! I’m religious! I fast and I’m pious and serious. Aren’t you impressed?” The point of fasting is not to impress God or other people. The point is to be drawn closer to God and to other people by learning to love God and others more than we love getting our own way.

If fasting just makes us grumpier, if we bicker and fight more than ever, God is not impressed. If we choose to go hungry for a little while but don’t care about people who are hungry and malnourished through no choice of their own, then our fasting offends God. If we exploit employees by overworking and underpaying them, it’s no wonder God doesn’t send us blessings in response to our fasting. If we ignore the plight of jobless people and refugees, we should not be shocked when God ignores us. If we turn away even from our own flesh and blood, if we leave our family and relatives on their own, if we deprive our children of the time and love they need, if we abandon aged parents to institutions and uninterrupted loneliness, we can’t expect God to be our constant companion. If we’re a curse to others, we can’t expect blessings for ourselves.

Fruitful Fasting

Fasting should not aim to change God but to change us. The main goal of fasting is to bring us closer to God and more in tune with Jesus. What does it mean to be in tune with Jesus? One thing it means is to be in tune with his priorities. In Jesus’ first public speech, he declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

If we’re in tune with Jesus, we will want to be good news for poor people, good news for people with disabilities, good news for oppressed and imprisoned people. We will seek for God to set right what is wrong. If fasting helps us get on Jesus’ wavelength and brings us closer to God, it will create in us a hunger for justice that matches God’s love of justice.

Fasting should move us to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. This may mean standing up for people who don’t have much money or political influence. It may mean standing up for helpless babies who are targeted for abortion, standing up for tiny humans who are subjected to embryo research, working and praying that God will change attitudes and laws so that the smallest may be protected from death.

Fasting must not selfishly seek to change God and bring him in line with our wishes. Fasting must first aim to change us and bring us in line with God’s wishes, and then aim for God to change an unjust world to be more in line with his justice. Fasting must look beyond the personal relationship between us and God and consider our relationship to other people. Instead of just fasting and praying for God to bless us, let’s fast and pray for the poor and oppressed. Fast and pray that God will change their situation and that he will change us who have ignored or perhaps even helped cause their plight.

Ironically, the more my fasting centers on me, the less good it does me. But if I focus less on myself and more on God and on people in need, I will be blessed. When we seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness—his justice—he takes care of everything else (Matthew 6:33). When we hunger for justice and work for the good of those in need, God promises in Isaiah 58,

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of God will be your rear guard. Then you will call; and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say, Here am I…

If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs… You will be like a well-watered garden (58:8-11).

If you want God’s light all around you, if you want his blessings showering you from above you and bubbling up like a spring within you, then seek for things to be made right, not just for yourself but for others who need justice.

A Secret Weapon

It’s clear that fasting and justice are connected. It’s bad to pursue fasting without any concern for justice. But it’s also a mistake to pursue justice without fasting. To fast without any hunger for justice is to be a hypocritical. But to seek justice without fasting is to be ill-equipped. Fasting can be a secret weapon in the war against injustice.

If you really love justice and want to fight for it, don’t neglect one of your key weapons. Don’t neglect fasting. Church people can form social justice committees, and concerned citizens can form political action committees. We can raise money to help the poor and oppressed, we can march for the right to life of unborn babies, we can try to elect leaders who will uphold justice, and these things are good. But when is the last time you fasted for justice? God ignores phony fasting, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fast. It means we should fast rightly.

When you fast for justice, your own hunger reminds you of the desperate hunger of people in need. You feel just a tiny sample of what they feel, and you care more about them. As you identify with people in need, your physical hunger also expresses your spiritual hunger for God and for his justice to reign. Don’t neglect this secret weapon. As you work and pray for justice, make fasting part of your arsenal against evil.

Some champions of justice describe themselves as “speaking truth to power.” Sometimes that can be a pompous slogan of political activists who like to complain about any policy that doesn’t suit them, but let’s just suppose that it accurately describes what some people are doing. They really are speaking truth to power. That is still not enough. Things will never change simply by speaking truth to power. When power has gone bad, it takes more than truth to change it. It takes power to change power, and fasting is one way to call on the power of Almighty God against unjust powers and policies.

For example, every abortion kills an individual human. This truth is becoming harder and harder to deny. Even most abortion advocates have given up speaking of an unborn baby as “a mass of tissue” or “the contents of the uterus” or “the results of conception.” They have lost the argument about whether abortion destroys a human life. The more ultrasound images we see, the more scientific information we have about heartbeat, brain function, and a baby sucking its thumb in the womb, the harder it becomes to deny that abortion destroys a real baby. Most people now accept this as truth. But facts alone do not change behavior. Many who grant that abortion destroys a human baby still want abortion to be legal. They accept the truth of abortion as baby-killing but still won’t protect the babies. What can explain this except bondage to spiritual forces of evil? If we truly long for justice, we must do more than speak truth to power and prove the nature of the injustice. We must also seek God’s power to defeat the wicked prince of unjust power, Satan himself. We must seek for God to make people in power more just or else to remove them from power altogether.

Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). That is a prayer for justice, for everything to be set right. When we pray for that and work toward that, we also fast for that. Fasting adds urgency to our prayers for justice and adds effectiveness to our efforts on behalf of justice.

Hungry For His Coming

Ultimately, if we truly hunger for justice, we hunger for nothing less that the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only when Jesus comes again will all injustices be judged, all wrongs be righted, all God’s poor be made rich, all the oppressed be liberated, all disabilities be healed, all tears be wiped away, all Satan’s forces be banished to hell, and all the failings that linger even in God’s people be removed and our character be made perfect. That brings us back to where we started this series on fasting: true fasting in all its forms and on all occasions is at its deepest level a hunger for God.

We’ve seen in past programs that fasting is not a scheduled pattern to earn God’s approval but is first of all simply a way to pursue closer fellowship with God and to show our desire for him. Any regular pattern of fasting should have this as its main aim. In addition to fasting for fuller fellowship with the Lord, the Bible shows occasions when it’s fitting to fast for a particular goal: when we’ve sinned and are hungry for God’s mercy and forgiveness; when we’re hooked on old habits and are training for more God-given freedom and self-control; when we face huge challenges and are hungry for God’s help; when we’re unsure of what our next step should be and are hungry for God’s guidance; and (as we’ve emphasized on today’s program) when we see the pain and injustice around us and are hungry for God’s justice. All these hungers—for mercy, for freedom, for help, for guidance, and for justice, as well as the hunger for the Lord himself—will be satisfied when Jesus comes again and we see him face to face.

When Jesus walked this earth, his disciples did not fast. When the Lord was asked why his followers didn’t fast the way other religious people fasted, Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15).

In calling himself “the bridegroom,” Jesus was calling himself the Lord God. The prophet Isaiah had written, “Your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name… As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you” (Isaiah 54:5; 62:5). A bride doesn’t fast on her wedding day when she is with the bridegroom. But if her husband leaves and is away for a long time, she misses him.

When our Lord was on earth, it was time to feast with him, not to fast. But now that he has gone away to heaven, fasting is fitting. When Jesus left, he sent his Holy Spirit to be with us. The Spirit is a tremendous blessing and links us to the Savior, but what Christians experience of the Spirit now is just a down payment, “a deposit” (Ephesians 1:14) on what we will experience when Jesus comes again, and we see him face to face, and God is all in all. Through the Spirit, we taste of Jesus, but we also miss him and long for him. Jesus said that when the bridegroom was taken away, his followers would fast. Do you fast? Do you hunger and pray for him to come again?

New Wineskins

Our fasting for Jesus to come again is different from the way Old Testament believers fasted and hungered for God. Jesus compared fasting in the old era to old wine, and fasting in the new era to new wine which would require new wineskins (Matthew 9:16-17). Fasting for Jesus’ coming and perfect justice is different than it used to be. Things have changed. Back then people of faith longed for what they didn’t have; now we long for more of what we do have. We have Jesus, and we want more of him. Back then Jesus had not come; now Jesus has come. We know him as he is, and we want him to come again. Jesus has already revealed God’s grace, has already paid the price for sin and broken Satan’s grip on humanity, has already set in motion the powers of the age to come. Pastor John Piper explains,

What's new about the fasting is that it rests on all this finished work of the Bridegroom. The yearning that we feel for revival or awakening or deliverance from corruption is not merely longing and aching. The first fruits of what we long for have already come. The down payment of what we yearn for is already paid. The fullness that we are longing for and fasting for has appeared in history and we have beheld his glory. It is not merely future.

We have tasted the powers of the age to come, and our new fasting is not because we are hungry for something we have not tasted, but because the new wine of Christ's presence is so real and so satisfying. The newness of our fasting is this: its intensity comes not because we have never tasted the wine of Christ's presence, but because we have tasted it so wonderfully by his Spirit and cannot now be satisfied until the consummation of joy arrives. We must have all he promised. And as much now as possible.

We fast to have as much of Jesus and his justice as he will give us now, and we fast and pray for him to hasten his Second Coming so that we will experience him fully and enjoy a world where God’s will is done perfectly on earth as it is in heaven. “Fasting is a physical expression of heart hunger for the second coming of Jesus” (Piper).

Before Jesus’ first coming, people longed for the promised Savior to come and to set things right. An old widow named Anna, well over eighty years old, was a prophetess and had a special longing for the Messiah. The Bible says that she “worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” at God’s temple in Jerusalem. After Jesus was born, his mother, Mary, and Joseph brought the baby to the temple, and there Anna saw the one she had been fasting and praying for all those years. “She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:37-38).

If Anna was so eager for the coming of a Savior she hardly knew, shouldn’t we be even more eager for him to come again? We know more fully who Jesus is and what he can do. Anna met Jesus only as a baby, but we have seen his glory, the glory of his miracles and teaching, the glory of his death and resurrection, the glory of salvation and the inner working of the Holy Spirit. If we have truly tasted any of this, how can we not hunger for more? The bridegroom has gone away, so let us fast and pray for him to come back, so that the taste we have of him may be a feast, so that the partial knowledge we have of him may become full, and so that our experience of his love may be complete.

Do you fast and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)? Or are you content with business as usual? Maybe your life seems to be going fine at the moment. The injustices that hurt others don’t really bother you, and as long as it’s other people that are suffering and not you, you’re not concerned. If that’s your attitude, you are in deadly peril. If you are not longing for Jesus to return, you will not be ready for him when he does return. You will be so afraid of facing him that you will call on the mountains to fall on you and hide you from him. But if you know Jesus and long for his justice, you will pray without ceasing, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [for God to make them right and make all things right], for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Hunger for justice is hunger for Jesus, and that hunger will be fully satisfied only when Jesus returns. When we say the Lord’s Prayer and ask for God’s kingdom to come, we are really praying for the King to come. To those who long for Jesus and his justice, for the King and his kingdom, the Bible promises, “Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar.” Unjust officials, unfair tax gatherers, brutal police and soldiers, and cruel foreign invaders will be only distant memories. The new Jerusalem and all God’s earth will enjoy peace and prosperity, and all will be truly right in the world. “For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; it is he who will save us” (Isaiah 33:17-22).

Lord, make us agents of your justice. By your Spirit, cleanse us from sin and align us with your will. Move us to help the needy, to stand up for the oppressed, and to spread your freedom and joy. Create in us a holy hunger for more and more of your justice, and hasten the day when you come again, Lord Jesus, to make all things right. Amen.

Cost of a Sermon

One beautiful Sunday morning, a priest announced to his congregation:

"My good people, I have here in my hands three sermons...a $100 sermon that lasts five minutes,
a $50 sermon that lasts fifteen minutes, and a $10 sermon that lasts a full hour.

"Now, we'll take the collection and see which one I'll deliver."

Blessings of Adversity - Felix Obi

The world of today is full of pressures,perturbations and adversities. Many are discouraged by the way things have been going.But history is replete with facts that suggest that some good can come out of adversity.In essence,adversity may even be a cloak that shrouds or protects the blessings of God! So you can actually TURN YOUR ADVERSITY INTO ADVANTAGE,THE PRESSURE INTO POWER!"

Our world is a world of visible ambivalence, paradoxes and contradictions. Things don't always go smooth and rosy like we'd always expect them to...a pot pourri of joyful triumphs and travails of misfortune and setbacks!Yet, wise men of old knew that a world without opposites would be flavorless. Dark hues contrast white better. Light defines the borders of darkness clearly. Sadness gives higher worth to joy. Failure proves the existence of success. Two opposites compliment each other. So does darkness and light separate night and day, as dawn is to dusk! Pressure on the grapes at a wine press yields precious wine for merry hearts. The battering blows of the hammer and the heat of the furnace burnishes the gold,thus enhancing its value. Pressure on the intellect and the perspirations of a dogged scholar births genius. Pressure on the muscles cause them to hypertrophy into atlas-like brawns in men. The peddling of the wheels and axles propel the awkward tandem forward like a smoothly-gliding snake.

We loathe and cringe at pain. We love comfort and revel in joy and mirth but isn't pain an index of life? When the body can no longer perceive pain,destruction of body tissues and vital organs looms. So adversity could be the cloak that shields blessings from our view as it blurs our vision of morrow. Amidst adversity and deferred hope, we whin and sulk, loathing the very essence of life. When pain hits our brains, we disdain the virtue of patience and perseverance. We cringe from the discomfort and grope through the path of least resistance. We may exit the pain but the blessings that accompanied the pain may also exit. We need to take a cue from those who withstood pain in all its fierceness. We need to look back and recall the generals of old who endured pain of their battle wounds till they tasted the joy of victory.

Let us be comforted by the life of the expectant mother who bears the travails of the birth process for the joy of a 9-month occupant of her womb.Let us be inspired by the endurance of the local farmer who tills the hard soil, not with tractors but with hoes at the beginning of the farming season. For he knows that when harvest time comes, his barns and silos would burst at the seams with excess. Pain may come, but joy still would come. And at the end,when the blessing has manifested,the harrowing memories of the adversity become a mirage because when joy debuts, pain becomes banished to the land of oblivity! Pain might become and enduring legacy if seen for what it really portends!

The pain of apartheid did something in South Africans.... their rich music culture is a it's signpost.Slavery weaned,weaved and enriched the great music flavour of Africans in diaspora.Handel was a better composer as a blindman. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress was crafted in the dungeons.Paul' s classic essays and letters which form a greater part of the new testament were scripted in a Roman cell.The best of Jewish songs were composed under Babylonian captivity.Faced with near extinction of their race,the Jews turned the sand dunes of arid Palestine into arable farms and gardens worth millions.... thro the Kibbutz system!Another blessing from adversity. Don Quixote,the acclaimed classic of all times was written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra(1547- 1610) in the prison yards.The glory of the Cistine chapel is equal to the painstaking strokes of the weary hands of Michel Angelo.....!

The agony of Jesus Christ at Gethsemane;the crushing pain of Herold's crown of thorns and briers;the trudge to Golgotha under the reeling weight of Pontius Pilate's cross of beams;the gruesome thud and the cringing pain of crucifixion nails ;the spilling of precious blood; the death and separation from God and banishment to hell for three days....these adversities were part of the process that secured our salvation,.. . a hope,a future to all of mankind!
What blessing will your adversity bring to our world?????

Concluding thoughts:

difficult jobs unleash latent potentials in men
difficult people challenge our ability to love others
difficult situations hone and strengthen our will

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Fasting #5 Decision Making

Scripture Reading: Acts 13:2
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."

All of us face big decisions from time to time. Should I seek a university education? If so, where? What kind of career should I choose? Should I accept this position with this particular company? Should I be falling love with this person? Should we get married? Where should we live? Should we buy this particular house? Should I accept this job transfer?

Sometimes the big decisions aren't just personal but involve a group. People have to make choices as the board or management of a company, or as a government agency, or as a church council or congregation. What should be our goals and policies? What particular steps should we be taking next? Who should be responsible to do what?

When we face decisions, whether as individuals or in groups, there's a lot at stake. We want to make the right choice, one we won't regret later. We want to follow the best path, not one that's ineffective and useless.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could just type our questions into a computer that could tell us the right decision every time? Better yet, wouldn't it be great if God himself gave a clear sign of what to do? Who knows better than God what your best course of action would be? And who better than God to make it succeed? Well, it's not just wishful thinking to want God's guidance. The Lord is willing to guide you and help you make good decisions. But do you really want to hear from him? Are you really hungry for his guidance?

God doesn't always come to mind when we have decisions to make, and hunger isn't usually part of our decision-making. When people get together to make plans, there's usually no shortage of food. When companies do strategic planning, when government agencies do strategic planning, when churches and mission agencies do strategic planning, they usually meet in comfortable conference rooms and offer ample meals with plenty of snacks. Food seems to fuel the strategic decisions of many groups.

But some of history's best plans and wisest decisions have been made not in a setting of plentiful food but amid fasting. This is true for individual decisions, and it's true for group decisions. It's not that going without food suddenly makes a person smarter or gives a group a sudden genius for planning. But when people go without food as an expression of hunger for God's guidance, some great decisions have resulted.

Mission Launch

One of the most important strategic decisions ever made happened in a place called Antioch. Antioch was a city in the Middle East. It was the place where followers of Jesus were first called "Christians." It was only a few years after Jesus' resurrection. Most cities in the Roman Empire had no church and knew little or nothing of Christ, but the church in Antioch was growing rapidly under the leadership of Barnabas and Saul (also known as Paul). The people there loved to praise God, and they wanted to follow his leading. The Bible says, "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off" (Acts 13:2-3). That decision launched a mission that would reach Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Rome, and beyond. That decision was one of the key events in history, spreading the Christian faith worldwide.

Before God gave the Antioch church that guidance, there were all sorts of unanswered questions. What should be the church's next step? Whom did God want them to send? Where did he want them to go? The Antioch church could not answer such questions simply by knowing God's commandments for right and wrong. These were questions of strategy and personnel. It was only by God' specific leading that they discovered the next step. It was only by God's guidance that they knew Barnabas and Paul were the ones to send. It was only by God's guidance that these missionaries knew which places God wanted them to go. The Christians of Antioch did not receive this guidance during a conference of well-fed delegates. The guidance came while they were fasting and praying, and when they sent the missionaries off, there was more fasting and prayer.

As the missionaries went from place to place, they did not forsake fasting. Paul wrote that he engaged in "fastings often" (2 Corinthians 11:27 KJV). After the missionaries led people to Christ and started churches in various cities, leaders had to be chosen for those churches. But whom should they choose? And how could they count on those leaders being successful? They fasted and prayed for guidance. They "appointed elders … in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust" (Acts 14:23).

Nowadays when churches choose new leaders, or when mission agencies need personnel for important tasks, they may appoint search committees, they may seek applications and nominations, they may study resumes and conduct interviews, they may do all sorts of things to find and appoint the right person—but do they ever fast and hunger for God's guidance? When churches make decisions about budget or building plans or about what direction their ministry should take in the future, they may do strategic planning and bring in consultants, but do they fast? It might not be wrong to use some of these techniques in the process of making decisions, but if technique takes over and fasting disappears, we are basing decisions on human methods and not on divine guidance.

I wonder how many churches have missed out on having God's choice of leadership because they neglected fasting and prayer? I wonder how many mission planners have missed God's specific strategy and deprived themselves of his special blessing because they have not hungered for his guidance and have never spent time fasting and praying for God to show them the next step he wants them to take? I wonder how many of us miss out on God's guidance and special blessing in personal decisions because we simply make our choices and plunge ahead without taking time to seek God's face and get his guidance through worship and fasting? In the Bible, the apostle James says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God." James also says, "You do not have because you do not ask God" (James 1:5, 4:2).

Seeking Success

Fasting can help groups to discover God's guidance, and fasting can help individuals who need God to show them what to do. Nehemiah was a person with a problem. He held a high government position as personal assistant to the ruler of the Persian Empire. But Nehemiah was Jewish, and his heart ached for his own people and his homeland. Jerusalem had been destroyed decades earlier, and the people had been exiled. Lately a growing number of Jewish people had been straggling back to their homeland, but the walls of Jerusalem remained in ruins and the people remained disorganized. They needed skilled political leadership. Nehemiah thought he might have the ability to provide such leadership, but he already had a job, and it wouldn't be easy to get out of it.

He couldn't just walk up to his boss, the king of Persia, and say, "I quit." That might be a quick way to get himself killed. Persian kings ruled with absolute power, and one wrong move could be fatal. What should Nehemiah do? Should he just stay in his present job and hope somebody else would take charge of the situation in far-away Jerusalem? Or should he ask the king for permission to leave the Persian capital and go take charge in Jerusalem and direct a rebuilding project?

Nehemiah decided to fast and pray. He did this on his own. He didn't ask the king or other officials to fast with him or to join him for a prayer meeting. They were of a different religion and didn't share his faith in God. But he could still seek God's guidance on his own, and he could still ask God to direct the king in a way that would be favorable. Nehemiah writes,

For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said:

"O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. (5-7)

Nehemiah was hungry for guidance for himself and for influence on the king, but first had to honor God's majesty and express sorrow and repentance for sin. As he continued praying, Nehemiah reminded God of the Lord's promises to have mercy if his people turned back to him. Then he prayed specifically, "Give your servant success" in dealing with the king and deciding how to approach this matter.

He still wasn't sure when he should talk to the king. He still didn't know exactly what he should say if he got the chance. But he was alert for opportunities and counted on God's guidance. One day the king asked him if something was bothering him. God gave Nehemiah the right words and gave the king a receptive attitude. As Nehemiah later wrote, "Because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests." God opened the way for Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem. There he did an excellent job of governing the people and directing the rebuilding of the city.

Do you ever follow Nehemiah's approach? Do you ever fast for God's guidance and pray for God to give you success? Success often depends on deciding the right course of action, choosing the right words at just the right time, and having God prepare the circumstances and other people involved to accept your words and support your action. Going through life without God's help and guidance is like trying to fly an airplane without fuel and without a guidance system. Without power you can't get off the ground, and without direction you can't go where you need to go. But when God's gracious hand is on you, he grants you success.

Seeking the Lord's guidance is not just a matter of wanting God to tell you what to do and where to go, and then following orders. It's wanting to be with God and have God with you at all times. It's wanting not to go anywhere or do anything without God. It's making his priorities your priorities, making his strategy your strategy, making his will your will, making his power your power, making his success your success. It's being able to say, "For me to live is Christ" (Philippians 1:21). It's having Christ go ahead of you to prepare your way, Christ beside you to befriend and strengthen you, Christ above and around you to protect you, Christ behind you to take any good you've done and establish and multiply it even when you're no longer there.

What Sort of Signals?

I hope you're convinced that when you face important decisions, you should fast and pray for God's guidance. But you still might wonder, "How does God communicate which decision to make? Suppose I do fast and pray. How do I know what God is telling me? What sort of signals does he send?"

The Bible tells of times when God spoke in a clear voice or when he guided people through clear, supernatural signs. When God rescued the Israelites from slavery and led them toward the Promised Land, the Bible says God guided them on their journey by means of a special cloud. The people could always see the cloud, even at night, when it glowed like fire. Decision-making was easy; the people just did whatever the cloud did. Any time the cloud began to move, the people followed it. When it stopped, they stopped and set up camp. They stayed put for as long as the cloud stayed put, whether for a day or a month or even a year. And the instant the cloud moved again, whether during the day or in the middle of the night, they set out immediately and followed it. They knew exactly when God wanted them to move and where he wanted them to go (Numbers 9:15-23).

I love that true story, but I don't have a special cloud guiding me. Back when I had to decide where to go to college, there wasn't any cloud that lifted from above my parents' home and moved to the place I was supposed to go. I suspect you're in the same boat. When you're wondering whether to buy a new home or move to another city, you'll have to make that decision without a cloud to guide you.

Another Bible story tells how God guided the apostle Paul on one of his missionary journeys. Paul and his companions wanted to preach in a certain area, but the Holy Spirit prevented them. They tried to enter another area, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn't allow them to. Then God showed them exactly where to go. "Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us'" (Acts 16:9). Paul and his friends headed for Macedonia, concluding that God had called them to preach the gospel there.

Again, it's a fascinating story, but how many of us have supernatural visions to guide our decisions? Let's not rule it out entirely or say it was possible only in biblical times. Four hundred years after Paul's vision, a similar dream came to a British pastor named Patrick. He heard Irish voices calling him to come to Ireland, so Patrick went to Ireland and had a mighty impact there. It's possible that God would communicate through such visions at crucial moments in history, but at best such visions are rare. When you're wondering about a job or career, you're not likely to have supernatural visions of what God wants you to do. When you're trying to decide whom to marry, you probably won't have a vision of that person in wedding clothes saying, "I'm the one God wants you to marry."

God doesn't promise to provide a cloud or a vision to guide his people in every decision. But God has promised to guide those who trust him. The question isn't whether God provides guidance; he does. The question is how: How can I be guided by God? How can I follow his leading and experience his blessing?

He Will Direct Your Paths

The Bible says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV). Before you can expect God to guide you in specific decisions, you must first make the most important decision of all: the decision to trust him. Do you trust Jesus as your Savior from sin and hell? Do you acknowledge Jesus as your Lord, the one who's going to run your life? You must do that before you can expect guidance in other matters.

The next step in knowing God's will is to listen to God's guidebook, the Bible. Before you even try to decide between different options, first rule out any options that go against the Bible. Take marriage, for example. The Bible doesn't give you the name of the person you're supposed to marry, but it does narrow the field. If you're a Christian, and you're in love with someone who isn't a Christian, you don't need prayer and fasting to find out whether this is the person you're supposed to marry. It's not. The Bible says, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6:14). God gives Christians much freedom in deciding whom to marry but that person "must belong to the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:39).

Or take church decisions about mission outreach. A church doesn't have to pray or fast for guidance on whether it should be involved in missions and spreading the gospel. The church already knows the answer to that. In the Bible Jesus commands the church to make disciples of all nations. The only decision a church can even consider is which mission efforts to support, not whether to do any mission at all.

The Bible provides a framework for making decisions, it commands some things and eliminates other options, but no verse in the Bible tells you exactly whom to marry, or what career to pursue, or the address of the house you should buy. No verse in the Bible tells a church what building plan to pursue or what mission strategy to follow or what leaders to choose. How does God guide us in decisions like that, where the Bible gives general principles but doesn't spell out the details?

Specific Guidance

Some Christians might say that we shouldn't look for any specific guidance from God at all. They're wise enough to know we should study the Bible to make sure we avoid sinful decisions, but beyond that, they think all that's necessary is to think hard and choose the options that makes the most sense. "Don't expect any mysterious prompting from God," they say. "Just use your head."

I agree that God gave us a brain for a purpose, and he hasn't promised to do all our thinking for us. But we should still be open to the possibility of special leadings from the Holy Spirit, even if they don't always match what seems the most rational choice.

I'm the sort of person who analyzes things carefully. I usually try to make the most rational decision possible, but one of the biggest decisions of my life was contrary to what seemed rational. As a student, I did extremely well in mathematics and computer science. My worst grade was in speech. If I had to decide between being a mathematician or a preacher, wouldn't it be more rational to go where my talent seemed greatest? But as I kept praying and seeking God's guidance, I became more and more certain that God was calling me to preach the gospel. I couldn't explain why, but I just knew it. I had no sense of peace until I changed my course of study and began preparing for the ministry.

When you face an important decision, use your mind to weigh the various factors, but also open your spirit to the leading of God's Spirit and pray about it. It's wise to pray about all sorts of decisions. Prayer for guidance should be more common than fasting for guidance. But some decisions are especially important, and it such cases it's good to add fasting to your prayers. Get hungry for guidance. If your decision involves others believers, such as church or family, ask them to pray and fast with you. Then be alert for what God's Holy Spirit may impress on your spirit.

God may answer your prayer for guidance in a variety of ways. He may do it through circumstances. He may put obstacles on one path and pave the way for you on the other path. He may close some doors and open others, so that it becomes clear what you should do. He may speak to you through the suggestions of a friend or a pastor. He may give you a powerful prompting in your spirit to recognize what he wants. He may guide you in a way that utterly surprises you. Sometimes the guidance will be subtle; sometimes it may be quite specific and unmistakable.

When you think God is showing you his will, be sure to pay attention. Then test your impression to be sure it's genuine. Not every inner feeling comes from the Holy Spirit. Check again whether it's consistent with the teaching of the Bible. Ask Christian friends about it. The Holy Spirit doesn't just work in you as an individual. He uses fellow believers to confirm his leading for you.

But what if you pray and even fast, and you still don't get any clear guidance from God on what to do? In such cases, God may be leaving it up to you. For example, the Bible says a woman can "marry anyone she chooses" as long as the man belongs to the Lord. So if you love someone and God hasn't impressed on you that you shouldn't get married, you can get married in the confidence that he is guiding your choice. That's true of many decisions. God sometimes impresses you to choose what you otherwise wouldn't have chosen, but he often simply leaves the choice up to you. You won't know your choice is his choice unless you first ask for his guidance and seek his blessing.If no special leading comes even after you ask God, then just trust that the Holy Spirit is living in you, that he's at work in the choices you make according to your best, biblically informed judgment, and that he's leaving the choice to you, already knowing what you'll choose. Pray humbly, "Lord, unless you show me otherwise, this is what I'm going to choose. I trust it's in keeping with your will, and I pray that you'll bless my decision." Then move ahead with the confidence that God is guiding you. Psalm 48:14 says, "This God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end."

In God's Army

A friend was in front of me coming out of church one day, and the preacher
was standing at the door as he always was to shake hands.
He grabbed my friend by the hand and pulled him aside.

The Pastor said to him, "You need to join the Army of the Lord!"

My friend replied, "I'm already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor."

So the Pastor questioned, "Then how come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?"

He whispered back, "I'm in the Secret Service."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Proverbs 2:1

My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee...

Here are two conditions to understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God (2:5). These two traits separate wise men from foolish men; they separate godly men from profane men. Reader, it is important for you to examine yourself and determine if you have these two traits, if you meet these two conditions, for wisdom.

Our proverb's context has Solomon listing six prerequisites of wisdom for his son (2:1-5). God gives wisdom; and to acquire it, we must fulfill His conditions (2:6-9). If pagan institutions of higher learning can require prerequisites for their God-rejecting nonsense, then surely these conditions for wisdom should receive your highest attention and effort.

"If thou wilt receive my words" is the first condition. Wisdom requires listening to someone else. If you believe you are already wise, you will not humble yourself to learn from another. A teachable spirit is necessary for learning. Most men are arrogantly deluded about their own wisdom, so they resent correction or instruction from another.

Solomon implored his son to humble himself and be instructed by his father's superior wisdom and experience. Every son who will be wise must heed the same warning. It is the sinful folly of youth that causes each generation to reject the wisdom of their parents.

All learning requires instruction, yet men find it difficult to listen to others. They believe their opinions are better! They want to teach instead of listen. They prefer to question, argue, debate, or resist. Only a few are noble enough to listen and receive instruction.

The Holy Spirit praised the Bereans as noble for their ready minds to receive instruction from the apostle Paul (Acts 17:11). Cornelius was totally committed to hearing anything Peter had to teach him (Acts 10:33). And Lydia gave attention to the things spoken by Paul beside a river in Philippi (Acts 16:14). Lord God, prepare more such hearts to hear!

"If thou wilt hide my commandments with thee" is the second condition (2:1). Once you are taught something, you must retain it. Many men hear wonderful things, but it passes right through their empty minds. It does not find a lodging place there. You hide God's word in your heart by reviewing it enough to remember it (Ps 1:2; 119:11; Luke 2:19,51).

We cannot let the good things we hear slip away (Heb 2:1-3), or we lose the benefit of them (I Cor 15:2). Paul rebuked the Hebrews for needing to hear elementary facts of the gospel again (Heb 5:12-14). David said, "I will remember...." (Ps 77:11). So should you!


Scripture Reading: 2 Chronicles 30:1, 15-20

“May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God.” 2 Chronicles 30:18-19

Years ago, my job was to put insulation—that itchy stuff—into the walls of newly built homes. One day, I had worked especially hard to finish a place, and I completed the job in less time than expected. The next day, however, my boss told me I had insulated the wrong house! He was really nice about it, even though I had made a costly mistake. He knew, at least, that I had tried my best.

Sometimes I have the same problem in my Christian walk. As a husband, as a dad, and as a pastor, though I often try really hard to serve the Lord, I sometimes make costly mistakes.

If you have the same struggle, take heart from Hezekiah’s gracious prayer for the people who had come for the Passover. Many people had rejected Hezekiah’s call to worship at the Passover (30:10), but many others came in a heartfelt way to honor the Lord.

However, those sincere worshipers made mistakes; they did not follow the regulations for cleansing before coming to celebrate the Passover.

But, as Hezekiah said, God is good. Don’t be discouraged, and don’t give up! If you have set your heart on seeking God, he will be merciful and kind, knowing that even our best attempts will sometimes wind up with the wrong results.

Father, sometimes I head off in the wrong direction even though I really do want to serve you. Thank you for your mercy. Build up my faith and give me your wisdom, I pray. Amen.

Rev. Keith Mannes

Today is a ministry of The Back to God Hour


We thank God for the wonderful opportunity of being used by Him, and we thank all the many people who will be visiting House of Virtue. Many of the articles that will be featured here may not be originally ours but as we receive them so shall we share them freely so that many shall touch Jesus...And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all (Luk 6:19).

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God bless you,
Uche & Lola