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10
Jun

How do you pray?

   Posted by: Jeff Noble    in Church

[This post was originally published on Jeff’s blog.]

In 2014, a in-depth study was done on the praying life of Americans. 21% say they pray weekly or monthly and 23% say they seldom or never pray. Even among those who are religiously unaffiliated, 20% say they pray daily. 45% of Americans — and a majority of Christians (55%) — say they rely a lot on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions.

 

I’m a pray-er. And I need prayer. I truly believe that God is both good and powerful – that His every interaction with us is cloaked with love. When we can’t grasp what He’s doing, and we don’t feel like following, when we are certain of His love, we can trust and “carry on.”

It is prayer that allows us to carry on.

Prayer.

Not the rote, repetitive kind. I’m talking about honest, vulnerable conversation with God. Prayer is the literal engine of our faith.

Henry Blackaby says in Experiencing God that “If you have an obedience problem, you have a love problem.” This truth has the potential to transform your relationship with God from one of grudging “have-to” to one of joyful “want-to.” Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14.12) When we understand how much God loves us, we will want to submit our lives to Him.

I think Blackaby could better emphasize prayer as a significant dimension of our relationship with God in his book, however. (It’s not that he de-emphasizes it.) Loving God should lead to our obeying God. It’s just that in the process between loving God and obeying God, there should be a lot of honest, vulnerable and perhaps even painful conversation. To put it another way, it’s our conversation with God (or lack of it) that reveals what we really believe about Him.

If we simply obey without conversation, without affirmation, without affection, we are missing the point. We must tell Him why we’re obeying. In some cases, we may obey from sheer duty and faith (we don’t want to, but we trust His Word is right and true). At other times, we joyfully obey Him because we sense His pleasure and see His purpose.

All along the way, we must pray.

In Victorious Living, E. Stanley Jones explains how prayer changes us more than it changes God:

Prayer is not bending God to our wills–it is the bringing of our wills to God’s. When we throw out a boat hook and catch hold of the shore, do we pull the shore to ourselves? Rather we pull ourselves to the shore. Prayer does not pull God to us, it pulls us to God. It aligns our wills with His will, so that He can do things through us that He would not otherwise have been able to do. An almighty Will works through our weak wills, and we can do things all out of proportion to our ability. Prayer is, therefore, not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of His highest willingness. Those who pray link up with that willingness.

Kent Hughes summarizes Jones like this in his book Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome:

Prayer is surrender–surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.

I love that we are invited and expected to pray by God. That should be a huge clue as to how much He loves us. It should also reveal that as we pray, we will grow and see Him work. Prayer is our intimate connection to a God that loves us and is transforming us daily. When we pray, we know His heart and mind. When we obey, we experience His will.

Prayer Journaling

Last year, I began a different approach to my prayers. I use the back 4-5 pages in my journal for prayers. Here’s how it looks:

  1. One page is reserved for “prayer requests” – things that others have asked me to pray for.
  2. One page is reserved for “prayers” – things I’m aware of about my own life or others (that they’ve not asked me to pray for)
  3. One page is reserved for missionaries. I pray for a different missionary/team/org each day of the week.
  4. One page is reserved for “answers.” I always date a prayer request on the pages above, and if I see an answer, I’ll notate it again with the date I see an answer. On this page, I also list answers to prayer. Sometimes, I’ll be praying about something and have forgotten to write it down, and when I see an answer that delights me, I want to record it.

This part of my journal has become well-used. It’s a humble privilege to pray for others, and a refreshment to my own heart to see that God responds so faithfully.

According to the survey I cited earlier, there’s a whole lotta prayin‘ going on in America. It’s sobering that people of all religions pray in some way. How do you pray? May I encourage you to do so constantly, confidently and expectantly? He loves you.

More on Prayer here on the Blog:
17
Apr

Why…?

   Posted by: Jeff Noble    in Church

Here’s a post from The Boars Head Tavern by Michael Spencer. Buckle down. It’s pretty much a soap box piece, but one well-suited for the likes of IP.

Why are Christians so convinced that stadium events are going to change the world? Why are massive gatherings like Promise Keepers, Battle Cry and, now, “The Call ‘07″ so attractive to Christians? Is this just a measurement of how far evangelicalism has gone down its own rabbit hole? Has our concept of discipleship gotten this bad, that a bunch of church folks driving to a stadium and singing songs is really going to change the world? Why is it so difficult to see what read discipleship means?

Why do we continue to believe the bizarre mythology that this country is a Christian nation in covenant with God, instead of acknowledging that we are no different from any other nation? Why do so many Christians fall for any Old Testament passage applied to America as “my people?” Why are so many Christians more interested in American politics than the Kingdom of God?

Why can people claiming to be “prophets” twist the scripture into whatever they want it to say, even using dreams and visions as justification, and get straight-faced acceptance from people carrying Bibles? Why can a person saying “God spoke to me” supercede scripture a a matter of routine in many churches?

Why are Christians in America so convinced that God wants to “turn things around” and revive the church in America? Why can’t they see what is happening around the world? Is it simply our ethno-centrism, church variety? Why can’t we see that the WORST thing that could happen to world Christianity is to become like the church in America, stadiums, t-shirts, praise bands and all?

Why do we believe that singing and raising our hands is worship? Hasn’t every pastor in America preached at least one series of messages on “True Worship” that cleared that one up?

Why does Christian media, TV, radio, and web sites translate all this nonsense onto my radar so I wind up ranting about it?

22
Jan

Ock-en-gay who?

   Posted by: Jeff Noble    in History

I was kicked back in this incredibly comforter rocker that I think belonged to Carolyn’s great grandmother. Or maybe she just says that to make sure I treat it well, I don’t know. Sam and I are watching Colts come-from-behind win over the Patriots, rooting on the Patriots. My beloved wife is yelling and pacing the floor, pulling for the Colts. She knows nothing about the Colts except that “Payton Manning deserves to go to the Superbowl.” Sam and I both love the Patriots… I digress.

While I’m watching the game, I’m catching up on some back issues of magazines, one of them being Christian History & Biography. Since it’s redesign pulled it out of the 70s, it’s even more of an enjoyable read to this graphic designer. I am totally enthralled in the Fall ’06 issue, that features the history of the evangelical movement, contrasting it with the resurgent fundamentalist movement. Names like Billy Graham and Bill Bright I recognized, but there were dozens of others, particularly Harold Ockenga (pronounced Ock-en-gay) who had a huge impact on the evangelical movement in this country and abroad, that I’m ashamed to admit, I knew nothing about.

I began to reflect on my ignorance. It took a while because there’s so much of it. (No hearty “Amen’s,” please)

I was in Southern Baptist churches from the time of the womb to 2003. Let’s just mark down 35 years for argument’s sake. I wasn’t just a pew sitter. I was involved. We’re talking a Sunday-School-every-Sunday-snack-supper-before-youth-choir-then-discipleship-training -yes-I-memorized-my-verses-Sunday-night-service-going-occasional-after-church-fellowship -state-Bible-drill-winner-youth-committee-Wednesday-night-supper-youth-group-regular-and-leader -Baptist-college-attending-and-loving-finally-seminary-trained kind of involved here.

And I never heard of Harold Ockenga. Nor had I heard of many of the of the other leaders, except through references in literature the last few years. I began to come to an uncomfortable conclusion there in my easy chair. I have been sheltered. And not in a good way.

The denomination of my upbringing practiced withdrawal and isolation from the world, attempting to create an alternative society based on strict interpretation of the Bible. I believe many in the SBC still practice (and preach) this exclusionary philosophy. Perhaps they appeal to 2 Corinthians 6:17, (which quotes Isaiah 52:11): “”Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you.”

I like how succinctly Scofield put it in his notes on this verse, “Separation is not from contact with evil in the world or the church, but from complicity with and conformity” with it.

My conclusion was that my spiritual heritage – the tribe to which I belonged – gave me great biblical understanding and helped expose me to great scriptural teaching, but it did little to nothing to encourage or equip me to engage the culture in which I live. This approach is fantastic is the metaphor for life continues to be that of a classroom. However, it’s not good if the metaphor for life is something different.

I don’t think Jesus ever compared the kingdom of heaven to something akin to a classroom. Rather, he described it in organic terms, like a mustard seed, a treasure hidden in a field, yeast, a fishing net, a merchant looking for fine pearls, etc. The kingdom of heaven in Jesus’ analogies always seem to involve action, engagement, and value to everyone involved in searching for it.

Now, before you ignoramuses (or is it ignorami) start gleefully clapping your hands, thinking that this gets you out of personal Bible study or meditation, just calm down, slap yourself, and think again.

The whole point of what I’m saying is this: I’ve missed out on a lot; but I’ve been given a lot. I sincerely believe that God is raising up a new movement in our nation and this world that will re-engage with the people of our culture. Rather than being consumed by our church activities and programs, this new movement will be consumed by bringing God the most glory. The leaders in this movement will seek the engage their communities in which they live with all they’ve got. You may never see their faces in a national publication or hear their names in the same sentence as a Max Lucado or Louie Giglio, but they will have as much or greater impact on the kingdom of God and our culture.

A generation behind us worked desperately to get the church to come out of its classroom and minister to the world rather than its pews. Their movement may have run aground (or even run astray) as they promoted climatic crusade-type events as the main tool to reach the world’s people. Discipleship was alarmingly absent in those days. It’s created a famine of discipleship in our day. However, at least they tried.

Now it’s our turn. Let’s not be ignorant any longer. Let’s move forward. Let’s press on and engage, with love our neighbors and our world.

11
Nov

Are you ready for some Advent?

   Posted by: Jeff Noble    in History

As the football season winds down for high school, it’s just getting exciting for colleges and fantasy football fanatics. By the way, have you seen fantasy church and even fantasy congress? However, it’s not football that IP wants you ignorant Protestants to get ready for; it’s Advent.

“What’s Advent?” I’m ashamed to admit that until a few years ago, I would have asked the same question. Unfortunately, if you currently attend a church that has two worship services on a Sunday, you are probably still asking that question. In fact, if your morning service is characterized by Welcome/Announcements… Music… (perhaps an occasional solo) a Testimony, video, or isolated scripture reading… Preaching… (concluded by a fervent evangelistic appeal and an “invitation” replete with 3-4 stanzas of insert your favorite hymn), Advent may sound like a a great name for a new Pontiac SUV to you.

Here at IP, we hope to change that and encourage church members and leaders to reconnect with the ancient church by implementing some of the traditions and celebrations that they commemorated to encourage their corporate faith journey.

Advent is the beginning of the church year for denominations and churches that follow the western church calendar. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and concludes on Christmas Eve, December 24. For the eastern church, the church year begins on September 1. The liturgical year is different for Eastern and Western churches and dates back to the “Great Schism” in 1054, although the church had been divided for many years before that in doctrine and issues of authority.

(If you’re totally ignorant of the distinction and history of the Roman Catholic Church and its split from what is not called the Eastern Orthodox Church, you’re definitely an ignorant protestant. Read up. Ask around. Google. Wikipedia. Whatever floats your boat. But don’t remain uninformed. What you’ll discover will enrich, encourage, and shape your faith expression for the rest of your life.)

Dennis Bratcher has an excellent article over at CRI/The Voice explaining the seasons of the church year.

Advent this year will begin on December 3. It’s a deeply meaningful and hopeful way for your church, family and friends to prepare your hearts for the celebration of the Incarnation. What do you plan to do?

16
Aug

Church membership

   Posted by: Jeff Noble    in Denominationalism

Mark Dever at Together for the Gospel blog has written an insightful and incisive essay about what I’ll call the Church Membership Scandal. Many of our Protestant denominations today judge their health by their numbers – whether in attendance or on their rolls. Dever claims this is not only unbiblical but patently sinful. I encourage you to stop by and read over it and post your thoughts there or here.

Church membership is an albatross around the neck of the Protestant church. Rather than judging the health and success of the body of Christ by biblical and spiritual means, we elevate those churches and leaders with the largest followings, the most resources, and the most hype. How can the tide be turned? What can we as leaders and lay people do to encourage our church to focus upon Christ, His glory, and living out the Gospel?

6
Jul

Welcome to Neal!

   Posted by: Jeff Noble    in Site Info

IP is excited to welcome Neal Nelson on board as an author. Neal is the Baptist Collegiate Minister at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Neal has been a collegiate minister for ten years now and brings a dynamic perspective on the ancient church as its synergy with current church life and faith.

16
May

Welcome and buckle in!

   Posted by: Jeff Noble    in Church

I’m excited about the development of this blog! Let me tell you why I started it…

I grew up in Southern Baptist circles. I deeply appreciate and continue to respect that American tribe of believers for their nurturing of my faith. In 2003, I resigned from being an SB campus minister on a small campus in southeast Arkansas. My family and I felt called to start a new church in our community, one that would be vastly different from the very traditional churches and denominational structures of our area and state. You can read more about that on our church site.

Over the past 3 years, I’ve experienced and seen so much of life outside of denominational circles, that I’ve been deeply impacted and convicted about just how confining those structures actually were and are. I have been deeply burdened by how similar American churches look to American businesses, school, and other organizations. Many are run by the same principles and processes. I’ve seen very few that are earnestly attempting to be “led by the Spirit.” It seems that the GOCC (God Of Common Sense) reigns supreme in Protestantism. So much of American church life lacks spiritual vitality and vibrancy.

I began to look further. There’s not time in this post to trace my mental meanderings through a study of American revivalism, the Keswick movement, Puritanism, and finally to the Protestant Reformation. The PR is where so many of our prominent churches and leaders identify their heroes from. I began to ask myself… “Self, why do so many of us stop there… with Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and others?”

It was then that I began to be deeply impressed that the PR, with all its needed correction of the 16th century RCC (Roman Catholic Church), was also a reaction, a deeply powerful and polarizing reaction.The pendulum was on one side, and as the Reformers identified the issues of their day and began to take their stands (some to the death) on them, the pendulum began to swing back. That’s what my little pea-brain sees.

Today, however, the pendulum of the Reformation has swung far to the other side and we stand in need of great correction and re-identification as the church of Christ. There was much that was lost in the PR in the 15th-16th centuries as a result of the polarizing effects of the conflict. Today, most Protestants are ignorant of valuable, historic, deeply significant, and even mysterious elements of the ancient church. Some may not be recoverable. But many can be.

It is the purpose of this site to link us to our past, to willingly admit our ignorance and seek the wisdom of Christ through His Word and His people. Ours is an Ancient-Present-Future faith. May God increase our love for Him, for each other, and consequently for His Bride, as we shine like a city set on a hill. Let us no longer be ignorant!

Practically, here’s the plan…

  1. Enlist regular contributors from a variety of Protestant backgrounds.
  2. Create a healthy, positive, and insightful ongoing dialogue related to Protestantism.
  3. Assist churches, leaders, and denominations in reclaiming the ancient-future faith established by Christ and the apostles.
  4. Identify theological, cultural, and philosophical drifts which impact the Protestant church.

And away we go…