It is very important for us to consider that prior to his conversion, the early church was probably praying to God regarding Saul of Tarsus. But they were probably praying for God’s wrath and Saul’s destruction, as he was making havoc of the church through persecution. But God’s intent was not Saul’s destruction, but his salvation.
Years after his conversion, when he would come to be known as Paul the Apostle, he would write:
In times like these, especially during an election season, it is easy for us to become irritated, upset, frustrated, and angry about politics. But might I encourage (and exhort) you to—first of all—pray for the salvation of our leaders. God desires their salvation. And if they were transformed (as was Saul of Tarsus) by the grace and power of God, their worldview and politics would change too.
knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds,
and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
– Matthew 7:7-8
Ask, seek, and knock. Each of these words are in the imperative mood in the original Greek. That means they are commands from our Lord. He commands you and I to pray. He commands us to bring our petitions to Him; to seek Him for an answer and to do so persistently. And then He promises “everyone who asks receives.” Those that seek, they shall find, and the one who persistently knocks, it will be opened.
The apostle James wrote of the prophet Elijah, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly.”
This next month we are calling you to pray earnestly. We are asking you to ask, seek, and knock, brining your petitions and requests to the Lord for 31 days. And during that time, consider also social distancing from social media. To help you commit to prayer for 31 days in July, make sure you subscribe to our daily PrayerMinder, and follow along with us at PrayerMinder.org.
Also, during this time, as we continue provide physically distanced services as a Church, we are seeking to provide a way for the families within our church to promote the spiritual growth and discipleship of their children. If you’re interested in learning about our new program, and registering your kids (for free), please check it out at NewCity.lifeinconnection.com.
Commentators, scholars, and Bible teachers have been divided on this story for a very long time. The question of whether or not this division of the nation of Israel was according to God’s will, or not, will be answered (largely) according to how one views the sovereignty of God. Be that as it may, from an outcomes point of view, the division was ultimately not the best.
Almost as soon as Israel had rest in the promised land, and the men of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh were released to return to their possession, the natural division between the two-and-a-half and the nine-and-a-half tribes descended into conflict. My third and final point in the message two Sundays ago was “Division in the nation inevitably leads to conflict.”
It is almost shocking how quickly division can lead to conflict. Every married couple knows this. If you and your spouse are divided on a decision, idea, or opinion, the division can lead to conflict in seconds. In more than twenty years of pastoral ministry, I’ve been a mediator—in counseling situations—between divided parties on many occasions. Countless times I’ve observed that division not only leads to conflict, but conflict fuels more division resulting in greater conflict, until things spiral out of control.
This is where we are as a nation. We are divided. Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand” (Matt. 12:25) I am deeply troubled by the things that I am seeing in our nation. I think you probably are as well. While I am generally an optimistic person, and have (ultimately) an optimistic vision of the future (when Jesus returns and rules), the current conditions of our nation are troubling.
King David wrote:
Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
It is believed that these words were penned around the time that the King’s son, Absalom, mounted a coup against his father, leading (nearly) to a full civil war. Division leads to conflict. And during this time, one of the greatest things we can (and should) do is pray.
I want to encourage you to pray. Pray for our nation. Pray for our leaders. Pray for those that are desiring justice. Pray for those that are oppressed. Pray for those that protest. Pray for those in law enforcement. Pray that God would move the hearts of men to be humble, and to turn to God in faith.
At the end of last year I sensed that 2020 was going to be a year of chaos. At that same time I attended a meeting led by Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church. During the meeting, Pastor Rick said, “Wherever there is conflict and chaos God is getting ready to move.” Pray that God would move to bring true peace and order our chaos.
Beginning July 1st we are going to be seeking the Lord in prayer for thirty-one days. During that time, Pastor Mark will be providing daily direction on ways in which you can pray. I want to encourage you to do two things. First, consider social distancing from social media (and maybe even the news media) for 31 days in July. Second, follow along with us as we seek the Lord in prayer during that same period of time. If you’d like to receive our daily prayer-minders, subscribe at prayerminder.lifeinconnection.com.
For they shall be called sons of God.
– Matthew 5:9
I have a confession to make. I like UFC. There are probably a number of people reading this that don’t even know what that is. For those that don’t, it’s a mixed martial arts sporting league called Ultimate Fighting Championship. Some of you are aghast that your pastor would like UFC. Nobody’s perfect 😉.
Trust me, I have a point in making the confession … If you’ve ever watched a fight in UFC or boxing, you know that every match has a referee. The referee is there to make sure the fighters obey the rules (yes, there are rules in fighting sports). From time to time, when you’re watching a match, one of the fighters will be getting pummeled and the ref will have to jump in between the fighters to stop the match. Oftentimes, when that happens, the ref takes a punch or two, himself. No doubt, the ref doesn’t go into the ring expecting to get hit, but he knows that it goes with the territory of the job.
Again, I do have a point. I promise.
I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are a lot of fights going on right now. And I have observed that a lot of my brothers and sisters in Jesus have an impulse to jump into the fight, like a referee in a UFC or boxing match. I understand this impulse. Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and Christians often have a deep desire to bring peace between waring parties. But if you jump in while the fists are flying, don’t be surprised if you get hit, and end up bloody.
A peacemaker is an individual who endeavors to reconcile those engaged in a disagreement. The desire to bring reconciliation and harmony is—I believe—a divinely inspired desire. But it is only possible if we recognize and understand where such reconciliation and peace are found. These are only found in and through the Gospel.
having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
The divisions of this world are always and ultimately the result of sin. And only Jesus—the Prince of Peace—can bring salvation from sin. So, don’t be a ref. Be a peacemaker. Preach peace in Jesus. Every other message will eventually fall flat, and is likely to get you hit.
cries out to Me from the ground.
– Genesis 4:10
I am ashamed that this week we, as a nation, are known for the words “I can’t breathe.” My heart breaks that George Floyd died crying out for mercy, as he did this week. I don’t know all the details of what happened leading up to the moments that George Floyd died. We may never fully know. And the details will never justify his death. But the fact that this happened as it did, I find myself thinking, “We can do better.”
In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. quoted the Prophet Amos, “But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). We can do better. We can pray for better. I think we would all agree that George Floyd’s blood cries out “let justice run down like water.”
I do not believe that this terrible happening defines who we are as a nation in 2020. But it does remind us of how much we need the unifying mercy and grace that are only ultimately found in Jesus, through the gospel. And only when He rules and reigns will the cry of of the prophet Amos be fulfilled.
Lord Come Quickly!
P.S. I know that some will be tempted to read way too much into the words above. I ask that you stop, wait, and pray before you respond. I’ve thought and prayed a lot about what to say, if anything, as it regards this situation. Additionally, I would encourage all of you who name the name of Christ to not engage in arguments on social media at this moment. We would do well to remember the words of the apostle James, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
“Lord, what do You want me to do?”
– Acts 9:6
I’ve often thought that Paul’s question (above) from Acts 9 is one of the most important questions you and I could ask.
Saul of Tarsus had spent (perhaps) years waging war against the early Christians. Finally, as he approached another city, seeking out followers of “the Way” (Acts 9:2), he was met by the risen Jesus. And as Saul lay on the ground, enveloped by the light of the glory of God, he asked, “Lord, what do You want me to do?“
Those words are an acknowledgement of submission. They revealed that Saul was not only recognizing the truth that Jesus is Lord, but that he was also setting himself to follow and obey Him as such. Now, it is one thing to say the words, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” It is quite another thing to actually obey Him when He tells you “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Have you acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus in your life? Have you begun to seek His will? Have you set yourself to obey His word? Maybe you might say, “Well, I don’t know what He wants me to do! If only He would tell me, I’d do it.” There’s one really good way to know what Jesus wants you to do. He’s given us the revealed truth of His word, and He desires that we would hear and heed it.
Right now, in the midst of our Covid shutdown, a lot of people are taking this as an opportunity to ‘reboot’ and establish some new norms in their life. I hope you’ll take this opportunity to make God’s word a part of your regular daily routine, if you haven’t already. One of the simple ways you can begin to do that is by listening through the Scriptures with The Listening Plan, or The Daily OT.
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
These words may be familiar to you. Especially if you grew up in a more traditional church. They were written by a hymn writer (Edward Mote) in the 19th century, and they’ve been song in churches worldwide, nearly ever since. I find that they fill my mind frequently when I am conftoned with challenging circumstances, which, in this life are both normal, and always temporary.
Those two things are super important to remember and meditate upon. Trying times and challenging circumstances are normal, and always temporary. Even when they seem to go on for a prolonged period.
As we find in the Psalms, that’s a good point for a SELAH (a short pause, to breath and think).
We live in a world that is broken. I can’t reiterate that enough. We are reminded of the brokenness of this world a lot right now. And sometimes the brokenness of a broken world can be somewhat overwhelming. Our souls can be troubled. Has your’s been troubled recently? If so, it’s normal. And ultimately it is temporary.
Mote’s hymn goes on to say …
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand.
I want to encourage you to take a moment to pause and breath, today (SELAH) … and to maybe mediate on Mote’s hymn. You can download the full lyrics, here.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). He also wrote…
I’ve shared these passages many times in the past, and quite a bit more recently. But they truly are worth thinking on.
This last Monday we launched “The Daily OT” listening plan, which takes you on a 929 day journey, listening through the Old Testament. Today’s reading is in Genesis 5, which contains the fascinating verse above.
You may have never heard of Enoch. He’s name only appears in a few genealogies in the Bible, once in Hebrews, and again in Jude. But his story has evoked a lot of interest and commentary. He was the seventh generation from Adam, the father of the oldest man recorded to have lived (Methuselah), and—the most interesting part of all—he never died.
“Enoch walked with God,” and then “he was not.” What does that even mean? And more strange still, “he was not, for God took him.” Truly a strange passage of scripture, if ever there was one. The “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 records, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death” (v. 5).
There are many things that we could speculate about Enoch, and his story. But the full details we’ll have to find out when we connect with him in eternity. But aside from all of those fascinating details we may one day learn, one thing we know for certain is worth thinking about as we head into another weekend, under the shadow of the Coronavirus.
Hebrews 11:5 gives us this important point; the reason for which Enoch’s name is listed in Hebrews 11: “before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” How did this man of God, who walked with God and was not, please the Lord with whom he walked? The author of the Book of Hebrews answers the question for us in verse 6 …
for he who comes to God must believe that He is,
and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
– Hebrews 11:6
The last 7 weeks have likely been a challenge and test for your faith. But if you simply believe that God is, and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, then you too will be pleasing to God. And you can have this sure and steadfast hope, that as you walk, pursuing God by faith in this life, you will walk with Him in His presence forever.
The verses above are a part of today’s passage from The Listening Plan. And they’ve been churning about in my mind the last day or so. As I’ve been thinking about them, I’ve been thinking that they are a worthy meditation for you today.
I want to challenge you to try to memorize John 10:27-28, and then I’d ask you to mediate (think on) these words a bit this weekend. I’m asking you to do this, because, in the midst of all we are going through, these words are really important. They’re important because, if you are a believer in Jesus—one of His sheep—then you will follow Him. And if you are a follower of Jesus—one of His sheep—then He knows you, and He has promised to give you eternal life. Which means, you will never perish.
Yes, Coronavirus could kill you. So could a car accident, cancer, a bolt of lightning, a heart attack, a stoke, and too many Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (but what a wonderful death!). There’s no escaping this world without dying (you don’t need to correct me, by reminding me about the rapture. I know.). But if you are one of His sheep, you will never perish.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). In another place he wrote, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). To be “well pleased … to be absent from the body” means that Paul was looking forward to death. How strange! Unless he fully believed that he would never perish.
I wish I could be with you all for church this weekend. Remember, church is the gathering of the people of God. So, I wish we could be gathered together, in person. But though we are “absent in the flesh,” we will be with one another in spirt. Don’t miss our online broadcasts at 9:00am, 10:45am, and 12:30pm on live.lifeinconnection.com.
P.S. We have a new offering for those of you who are looking for a pretty simple way to journey through the Old Testament of the Bible. Paul wrote in Romans 10 that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (v. 17). Which means you can greatly grow your faith by listening through he Scriptures. We’ve offered The Listening Plan for you to do that through the New Testament for nearly 5 years. But now we’re adding The Daily OT. Check it out and subscribe at TheDailyOT.com.