August 27, 2013

"Remember the prisoners"

As I noted in last Sunday’s sermon, one recurring theme in the book of Acts is that of persecution. The early church – both leaders and lay people alike – suffered difficulty, imprisonment, and sometimes even death for the sake of Christ. And the book of Acts draws our attention to these things on several occasions, surely so that we might learn from them. So that we might learn, I think, that difficulty for the sake of Jesus is not to be thought of as rare and exceptional (see also 2 Timothy 3.12). And also that we might learn to pray for our brothers and sisters who find themselves in such difficulty today.

On this latter count, I have been convicted more than once in my studies and preaching in Acts – convicted that I do not pray for my suffering brothers and sisters as I ought. Perhaps you have been convicted as well (or should be, even as you read these lines!). That we should pray for the persecuted church is both exampled in the book of Acts, and commanded in the book of Hebrews! Consider the following two verses:
“So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.” Acts 12.5
“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” Hebrews 13.3
In that latter verse, I believe that “the prisoners … and those who are ill-treated” are those who are imprisoned and suffering for their faith in Christ. And the way we are to “remember” them, it seems to me, is by means of prayer; by doing for modern-day sufferers what the Jerusalem church did for Peter in Acts 12.5!

“Remember the prisoners … and those who are ill-treated.” And the best way that I know how to do that, as I have said before, is through the ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs, ‘a non-profit, inter-denominational Christian organization dedicated to assisting the persecuted church worldwide.’ One of the great ways they achieve this goal is by telling the stories of modern-day sufferers for Jesus – making folks like us alert to these precious people and their needs by means of their monthly newsletter. It is free of charge, and relatively easy to subscribe to. And, O, how I would urge you to do so! Subscribe. And read. And pray. And give to the various projects of mercy that VOM regularly undertakes. And then pray some more!

‘How do I subscribe?’ you ask. Call, write, or click the following:


Voice of the Martyrs
P.O. Box 443
Bartlesville, OK 74005-0443

This is not the only way to put Hebrews 13.3 and Acts 12.5 into practice. But it is, as I said, the best way that I have found. So subscribe. And read. And give. And, especially … pray!

August 20, 2013


Peace. It seems that I am constantly longing for it – a peaceful evening or Lord's Day afternoon – where all is well, and the chores are done, and my mind is at rest, and the house is quiet (yes, even with six kids at home!), and I have a good book in my hands, and maybe even a fresh batch of sweet tea is on the brew. Peaceful surroundings. That is often my definition of peace. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that desire, I suppose. I think heaven will be a lot like that – perfect rest and peace and contentment!

But I am reminded that there is more to peace than just peaceful surroundings. In fact, if I am in Christ, there are a number of ways in which I have peace (or can have peace) even in spite of my surroundings. Think about it. If I am in Christ, I have …

Peace with God. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5.1). Once I was a self-made enemy of God. Once I was alienated, and estranged, and at odds with him. Once I was a renegade whose life was a constant kicking against the goads. But now, because Christ died for me, I who was once an enemy of God have become His friend! So, while there may not always be perfect calm around me; in the midst of it all, there is peace … with God (which is most important).

Peace with one another. “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2.14). Paul wrote those words about how, in Christ, both Jews and Gentiles now belong to one family because of the work of Jesus. But the same principle is true of all sorts of folks who might have once kept one another at arm’s length – black and white, upper and lower social classes, various nationalities, and so on. There are people with whom, before we knew Christ, we may have thought we could never identify; but who are now our family in the Lord, “who made both groups into one;” and who “is our peace.” What a blessing it is to see that working itself out even in our own diverse little congregation!

Peace with myself and my surroundings. This may be the most difficult kind of peace for me, sometimes, to lay hold of. If I am in Christ; if am I right with God; if my past is forgiven; and if my present and future are secure with Jesus (and all of these things are true, by the way, if I am in Christ) … then why should I be so often worried, or nervous, or uneasy, or edgy, or irritable? My circumstances may tempt me to be this way. But I don’t have to give in to the disquiet … if I remember who holds me in His hand; who is in control of my life, causing “all things to work together for good” (Romans 8.28). My problem is that I am so often looking at my circumstances, instead of at my Father! But if I’ll reverse that trend … there will be peace. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee” (Isaiah 26.3, KJV).

That is the solution when the evening falls apart, or the phone won’t stop ringing, or the to-do list just doesn’t seem to end, or the house is a wreck, or … you name it. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee” – on the Lord, not on the circumstances! Easy to type onto the page. Not so easy to do. But definitely possible! Pray for me that I would find this often elusive peace … and find it yourself, by staying your mind of the God who alone can grant it.

August 15, 2013

"Only by prayer"*

Isn’t it interesting (and helpful) how God often repeats Himself? He speaks to you about a certain truth in the Sunday sermon … and then reaffirms it, the following week, in Our Daily Bread. Or you read a certain passage in your daily devotional time, and then hear the same scripture on Christian radio a few days later. And you say to yourself: ‘God must really want to get this into my head!’

It happened to me this past week:

I preached, this past Sunday, from Psalm 109.4: “But I am in prayer.” And – both as I prepared, and as I preached – I really sensed that I needed (even more than usual, perhaps) to be preaching these things to myself. I need to pray myself, instead of only always asking others to do it for me (“but I am in prayer”). I need to pray, even when my circumstances (and lack of faith) conspire to make me not want to do so (“but I am in prayer”). And I need to pray today … not just in the past; and not putting off better habits until the tomorrow (“but I am in prayer”). So I was challenged by the sermon as much as many of my hearers, I hope, were.

And then, on the Monday or Tuesday following … my Bible reading ‘just happened’ to be in Mark 9. In that passage, Jesus’ disciples find themselves unable to cast out the demon that is wrecking a young man’s life. And, after Jesus casts it out Himself, they ask Him (v.28): “Why could we not drive it out?” Jesus' answer in verse 29? “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”

What a rebuke! What a challenge – both to the disciples, and to me! “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” Thank you, Father, for another reminder of the necessity of being on my knees before you, seeking Your strength, instead of just acting in my own!

It’s true, I haven’t been called upon to cast out any demons lately. But Mark 9.29 is instructive nonetheless. For there are surely a whole host of other difficulties and challenges in my life that may not be solved until I become earnest about bringing them before the Lord in prayer. There are closed doors that may not open until I find myself on my knees, seriously, fervently, persistently praying God’s direction and blessing. And that is probably true in your life, as well. Some hurdles will not be cleared “by anything but prayer.”

What are those hurdles in your life? Is there some area of your experience in which a passage like Psalm 109.4 really strikes a chord? Any difficulty or need, in the midst of which you knew that you simply must be able to say: “but I am in prayer”?  You probably already knew you should be praying about it.  But are you? Am I? If not (and even if so), let us consider this little article another one of those times when God is helpfully repeating Himself! Sometimes His word to us may be, very simply, “this kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”

Let us, therefore, take Jesus’ words to heart, apply them to our own neediness before the Lord, and be always able to say: “but I am in prayer.”

*The phrase "only by prayer" is taken from Mark 9, v.29 of the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™  The remainder of the Bible quotations are taken from the NASB®.