Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Where do you pray?

Currently reading Bill Hybels' "Too Busy Not To Pray"... here's an interesting excerpt regarding the choice of where we pray.
If establishing a regular prayer time is important, so is designating a regular prayer place.  Some people pray in public places, at social gatherings and at mealtimes just so they can be seen and heard and assumed to be religious.;  But prayer, Jesus says, is not a spectator sport.  It is not something we are to engage in to give off signals of spirituality.  'Forget that idea' says Jesus. 
Instead, when you pray, go into your room and shut the door.  Find a small room, an empty office, the workshop out in the garage, some secret place where you can be away from people and alone with God. That's where you can pray most effectively... The place you choose may be more important than you think.  When you establish a time and a place, it becomes integrated into the rhythm of your life.  I'm a morning person, so I typically arrive at work before anyone else is there. Every day. I sit down in my office chair, swivel around, prop my feet up and reach for my spiral notebook, a Bible and a weak cup of black coffee. 
This routine has taken such root in my life that it tends to take precedence even over more logical considerations, such as whether I need to be in the office on a particular day.  If I'm not preaching that weekend, or if it's my day off, most of the time I still show up, just to spend those precious moments with God... Once you identify such a place and begin to use it regularly, a kind of aura surrounds it.  Your prayer room, even if it is a laundry room in the basement, becomes to you what the Garden of Gethsemane became to Jesus - a holy place, the place where God meets with you.
Bill Hybels, "Too Busy Not To Pray" - p54-56

Now I don't see Hybels negating the role of public prayer here... he's not saying prayer should only be done in a private, secret place.  But I think he makes a compelling argument that if you don't take prayer seriously enough to invest in private time like Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:5-13, then you don't have the right to pray in public.  If you do one without the other then you are only praying to be seen, but if you have the private time, then your public prayers are simply inviting others to join with you in what you usually share with God alone.

So then where do you pray?  I am not sure I have one 'secret' place, but living on my own means that my whole house is my own private place, so sitting having my cereal each morning at my dining table is a common place for me to pray, other times it is the couch, or even my bed.  I do wonder though about the wisdom of creating a 'prayer place', maybe purchasing a comfy chair to put in my spare room with a coffee table, or something that can symbolically become the place I meet God each day.

Interested in other people's ideas, I am really searching to enhance my prayer life at the moment.

Friday, 17 October 2014

What's the consequence?

I think about sin a lot.  Well, I don't mean think sinfully (though don't we all do that at times too), but about sin, more exactly my sin.

I know I sin.  I know I sin horribly, and that many of my sins are known to no one but God Himself.  I am very sorry for those sins, because I know what they do to my relationship with God.  God have any part of sin in Him, or near Him, so my sin effectively cuts me off from God.

That is... before the grace of Jesus comes into play.

But even as a Christian, knowing I have peace with God in regard to my sins because of the righteousness of Jesus that is imputed to me (Romans 5:1), I still feel guilty over my sins at times.  It is not because I am feeling guilty of being caught for my sin; for looking bad in others' eyes.  Like I said before, most of my sins are probably only known to God Himself, others haven't seen them anyway so they have no impact on their perception of me.  I am not sorry for being caught, but I feel a great sorrow for standing in front of God knowing I have done things against His will.

I have been dwelling on that feeling lately, and a few sermons at churches I visited while on my leave really helped me process it a bit more.  I recognise there has to be a consequence for sin.  Like a court of law, a crime is committed so a punishment must be dealt.  I see my sin, but continue to feel a bit of guilt because personally I don't see a consequence - I ask God for forgiveness and receive grace and mercy, my dutiful brain doesn't rest because I haven't had to pay a price.

Thinking about that is when I realise I don't not see the consequence of my sin, what I am doing is taking it for granted!

My sin has a huge consequence! It's just that as a Christian I do not have to face it.  My sin meant that God sent Jesus to earth; that Jesus chose to leave heaven, to put aside all the power and knowledge and presence of what it means to be God and become a human; to experience a sinful world all while never sinning; then suffer the most horrific death imaginable because of the people's sin; and then on the cross face all of the consequences for all sin for all time.

The consequence of my sin is that God is angry at me - but because of my faith in Jesus to save me that anger was heaped on Jesus instead.  How can I take that for granted?  That must turn my feelings of guilt into unashamed reactions of worship and thanks.  It must also serve as a motivator to not sin, because sinning again after I know Jesus is the pinnacle of taking what Jesus did for me for granted.

But when I do sin, instead of feeling cut of from God and not communicating with Him, or ignoring Him more because I feel guilty, what I need to do is worship Jesus for what He's done, apologise again for causing wrath to fall on Him instead of me, but feel the love and the grace He offers, not to turn away, but turn towards.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Tweet of the Week

  1. Prayer can be simple, but it's not easy. Nothing great is.

This is great - and so pertinent to my sermon prep at the moment.  Will definitely be on a power point slide come Sunday.

New Evening Sermon Series @ dBay Baptist.

sing a song - banner

Psalms is virtually the Jewish hymnbook. We don’t know the tunes, but we assume that in the temple, synagogues and probably even the early church these Jewish songs were sung to praise God.   Yet as you read through the Psalms you find such an amazingly vast selection of topics, emotions, focuses, and questions.  This really shows us the far reaching impact faith should have on our lives, on how our worship is intertwined into every aspect of our daily lives.

guitarStarting on November 2nd and continuing for the rest of term 4 we are going to be looking at a selection of different Psalms in our evening services.  When people think of worship in the contemporary church many people automatically equate that to music.  From the Psalms we see that music was an important way of praising God for the Jews, and should be for us.  But their music reflected the wide range of issues that they could worship God through.  This series isn’t specifically about worship, but about how our faith must interact with every single aspect of our lives and how that intertwines with how we can worship Jesus for the amazing sacrifice He made for us.

Jesus died on the cross to bring us into a state of peace with God.  A relationship that was broken at the very beginning of creation was repaired because the debt we could never pay was paid by Jesus.  He substituted Himself for us, and stepped in to bear the wrath and punishment God had meant to push on us for breaking that relationship.  Jesus, being God Himself, was able to pay the price for everyone’s sin (that is the actions that break relationship with God) and, again because He is God, conquer death, rise again and be alive today for us to interact with and look forward to a similar resurrection into eternal life. cross111

That’s why we worship Jesus, because He is so worthy, and He did so much for us.  It is silly for us to think that just singing some songs on Sunday does justice to the worship Jesus is worthy of.  Join us in our evening services this term to take on a deeper reaching idea of worship.

Monday, 13 October 2014

I watched Bathurst... and didn't go to church.

I seriously enjoyed the Bathurst 1000 on Sunday. I got up early and watched it from start to finish, I yelled at the screen when Mark Winterbottom was spun just laps from the end, I jumped from my seat on the last lap when Chaz Mostert passed Jamie Whincup at Forest Elbow and I cheered (and possibly even cried) as he crossed the line winning for Ford… and you know what… even though it was Sunday… I didn’t go to a church service.

I was disappointed to hear a few little grumblings on that front – or some insinuations regarding ‘choosing sport over God’, because I certainly don’t feel I did that at all. Let me explain.

I openly admit I do love motorsport, all kinds. V8 Supercars is certainly my favourite variety of motorsport, having been involved in the series as an official and a chaplain for almost 10 years. The Bathurst 1000 is the biggest and best race in this series, it’s the biggest and best race in Australia hands down (if not the world) and has such a long rich history. Not only that, but my family has such a long history with this race. From the earliest time I remember watching it every year with my Dad (who remembers watching it with his Dad), I learnt only the other day that he and Mum sent money to Dick Johnson as part of that outcry of support after he hit the rock in 1981, my grandfather and his brothers all worked for Ford when they immigrated to Australia from Malta and I grew up hearing stories about building all the famous Falcons, the XY GTHO, XC Cobra and many others. For most of my life the name Sandham has been synonymously linked with Ford, building them, driving them, supporting them and hot rodding them.

And though I do admit all that, I also confidently say that motorsport, Fords, or cars in general are not an idol in my life. When I was 17, with my new license and first Ford (a 1986 Laser) it probably did become an idol for a while, but as I grew in faith I have very much addressed that and continued to as the years have gone on. I have even turned down opportunities at times for purchasing some truly beautiful cars because of where God had me in my life or in checking my motives I wasn’t convinced I was following His plan properly.

But I do drive a Falcon, and I do watch Bathurst every year (religiously you could say), yet I feel I can do this an honour God while doing so. God created me an individual, He created me with passion, with love, with a sense of duty and the ability to enjoy love, passion, commitment and fun. He even placed me in a specific family, in a specific country at a specific time. He did all this on top of the fact that He sent His Son to come and step in place for the punishment of my sin. First and foremost I am eternally thankful and resolutely faithful to Jesus and what He did for me, but I feel a great thanks also for the way God created me, the passions and family He has given me.

Sometimes I wonder if as we strive for dutiful religious following of Jesus we shun the idea of praising God by enjoying the passions He has created us with. We have an idea regarding the dutiful attendance at church each week (possibly twice each week) and it becomes legalistic in the sense that we regard anyone who doesn’t do this as inferior or uncommitted or even a heathen. For that reason alone I don’t mind missing a church service here or there, just to show that even though I am committed to Jesus, and the life He’s called me to (which certainly includes being involved in my local church) I am not legalistically holding to anything that promotes a work based or evaluation based belief.

But there’s more to it as well. I truly believe I can honour God in my passion for motorsport by including Him in my passion for motorsport. Directly I have known following God’s plan to be involved with chaplaincy has allowed me to do this by serving the motor racing community in Jesus’ name, but even in watching I think in a prayerful awareness and pure enjoyment I can glorify God for who He is as Creator, by enjoying who He created me to be. Watching on Sunday I joined in heart as V8 Chaplain Garry Coleman prayed on live TV before the race, I prayed for drivers and marshals as I saw accidents and conflicts arise. I conversed with Dad as we sat and watched together and encouraged and loved my nephews when they came for lunch to; ‘watch “Frosty” and “Number 5” with Uncle Dean.’

For me Bathurst was a celebration of family, passion and ministry – I do not feel any sin in putting that before going to church on one day each year. I know as a Pastor there is are extra obligations due to my employment, but I was on my annual leave break this year so those considerations don’t really fit here.

Hopefully you can see by the length and depth of this post, that this mode of thinking has only come about because of lots of in-depth consideration on my part and years of self-reflection to engage Jesus in a proper and passionate way. It’s not simply an excuse to not go out on Sunday and sit in front of the TV instead. For some it is, for some motorsport or sport in general is an idol. For some it keeps them from serving or worshiping God. I think sport, music, tv, movies, arts, and personal enjoyments need to be carefully considered but each person is created with certain passions, and if we find ways to enjoy honouring God through those passions, we will be much happier, and feel a better sense of freedom and a closer interaction with Jesus day by day and not just when we dutifully apply it in only certain areas of our life.

So I will continue to passionately say “GO FORD”!!!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dealing with the prayer circle

We've all been there; maybe in a home group, or before church, or after music practice, on a camp or even in a deacons or elder's meeting; but I am sure we've all experienced sitting as a group of Christians to pray together and finding yourself enduring minutes of awkward silence.

I don't get it... when we say we are going to pray let's pray!  To be honest I do remember as a teen feeling unfit or unprepared to pray when an older person pulled us together to pray, that was immaturity on my part and I can understand younger people could feel a bit uncomfortable, so I try and find other ways to pray with teens say at youth group or in small groups on a high schooler's camp.

But for Christians who have been in the faith long enough to experience the maturity of the Gospel impacting truth to change who you are (which is different for all people, and I know many young people who do this so not saying teens can't), then praying, even in a group, should come naturally.

So why the awkward silence?  I have a few ideas I feel need to be addressed.

1. You don't pray on your own
Why would you feel comfortable talking to Jesus with other people around if you aren't comfortable doing it on your own? But as I sit in a silent circle and consider what's going on I have to say this is the saddest reason straight up.  I mean prayer is a life-source for Christians, communicating with the one who saved you, who loves you has to be the most uplifting thing a Christian can do. If people don't do this their faith will go stale... so how scary is that thought if you're in a prayer circle with youth leaders, or deacons and this is the reason behind the silence.  First and foremost we must be communicating with God ourselves, so that our relationship and faith is growing, fresh, healthy and foundational.

2. People aren't taught how to pray
Some people have a gift of prayer.  From the moment they meet Jesus they are in constant communication with Him.  It is the first thing they think of when they wake up, the last thing they do as they fall asleep and they relish every moment in between to talk to God.  I  am not one of those people, and I know many are not like that.  For me it took years to understand God, understand prayer, to learn from others, to learn from Jesus and Scripture.  I mean before Jesus shares 'The Lord's Prayer' with the disciples he says this; "this is how you should pray...".  Jesus knew the disciples needed some guidance, so we should not think that we don't either.  So do we teach people how to pray?  As a pastor I reflect and wonder if we do it well, or if we just get everyone in a circle, hold hands, close our eyes and expect each person to know what they are doing.  I think as pastors we need to intentionally do some teaching on prayer, and its importance.

3. People aren't living in Gospel community
Today's western society is a very individualistic society.  When people live lives individually then it inherently lets selfishness creep in.  It may be controversial but I think the selfishness of independence ruins churches, not just corporate prayer.  However since it is the prayer circle we are talking about here let's leave the wider issue and just look at how it impacts this.  'My faith is my thing'; 'Prayer is personal'; 'I don't want others to know what's going on'... these are all reasons people don't pray and they are all inherently selfish. Right at the beginning, we hear that the church in Jerusalem was totally unified in all they did and committed themselves to teaching and prayer.  I am sure in their unity they didn't see prayer as a personal individual thing.  It was their opportunity to talk to Jesus together, and knowing that Jesus was God, saviour, conqueror, king, and brother they knew their needs could be met, their inhibitions blown away, their sins forgiven and their identities only found in Him.  Because of that they recognised they (all together) were the same, and individualism had no place because they now all had the same standing that they were simply 'in Christ'.  That's a Gospel community, that's what I want to see our home groups, youth groups, worship teams, leadership teams and entire churches living in, but it comes at the cost of selfish individualism.

4. The prayer circle isn't right for the current context
Group dynamics are different from group to group.  There are different ways to pray in groups, sometimes there are better ways than just talking about a list of prayer points and then closing our eyes and expecting people to repeat them now as we pray.  But somehow the traditional prayer circle has become something we cling to, even when it constantly is met with minutes of awkward silence before finally the leader puts everyone out of their misery by praying and saying "Amen".   If it is a constant issue for your group, and you have addressed the previous three points, then maybe look at a different way to pray together.  Maybe getting people to write on paper a few worries and a few praises and then read them out to the group after which someone can commit them all to God in prayer.  Maybe incorporate music to centre people's hearts, or go for what I call the 'African prayer' where everyone talks allowed at the same time, praying individually to God but as a unified group (that's how we did it in The Gambia all the time).  Maybe you could use Jesus' teaching and step through the Lord's Prayer and stop at each element and have people share what's going on in their lives regarding say 'seeing God's kingdom come' or 'giving us our daily bread'.  There's no prescribed way to do corporate prayer, so don't cling to something that isn't working.

It breaks my heart to sit in silence when a group has turned to God in prayer.  I long for a community of people who themselves long to communicate with Jesus and so at any opportunity express their thanks, their love and their need of Him.  Those are rich corporate prayer times. So I am not content to let awkward silence prevail, either lives need changing, people need more understanding, selfish individuality needs to be crushed or we need to find a new way to talk to Jesus together.  Let's at least commit to trying to enhance and better the way we pray together!

**I am aware I have not quoted Scripture in this post, and merely paraphrased without giving reference at times.  I anticipated a conversational styled post here, but am happy to give further references if people want, just contact me.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Tweet of the Week

We want to please the heart, resemble the life, and promote the glory of the one who has saved us.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Want to read the Bible in it's original language?

I came across this fantastic new website this morning.  Rob Plumber (N.T professor at Southern Seminary in Louisville) makes a 2 minute video each day, reading through a verse in Greek, he then explains it very simply but proficiently.

If you've studied Biblical Greek this is a great way to just keep it rolling around in your head each day.

If you haven't, Rob has a whole section of videos to help you learn a bit about Greek too.

What a fantastic idea, and website! - http://www.dailydoseofgreek.com/
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