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United! – Acts 2:42-47

United! – Acts 2:42-47
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 11, 2017

Unity, what does it mean to be unified? I know as a military unit you have to work together to achieve the same objective in order to win the battle. As a company you have to be on the same page as to what your objectives, projections, and costs are. And if you are a church the Scriptures teach us that we are to be united as well in order to achieve the kingdom of God here on earth until Jesus returns, but what does that mean and what does it look like?

In our day and age few churches teach about unity except as a spiritual concept or construct but few believers understand or know what it means for the body of Christ, his church, to be unified. In the book of Acts, which is the early history of the first century church we discover that they were united in purpose. Let’s find out what that means for us today…

READ: Acts 2:42-47

If a group wants to achieve anything worthwhile the members have to be on the same page and working together. When they don’t they are dysfunctional, however, in the Book of Acts we discover that…

I. The early church was dedicated to their spirituality! (Vv. 42-43)

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

1. Dedication comes in many forms; some make their dedication into a ritual. They do the same things every day in the same way in order to achieve a specific goal. Whether it is running a certain distance, losing weight, or reading through the Bible folks who are successful in achieving their goals have a certain amount of dedication and the early church was no different. However, notice what they were dedicated to: First, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching”. There was no New Testament written yet and so they devoted themselves or steadfastly continued in what they had learned about the gospel message and the teachings of Jesus. The gospel became their basic manual and teaching for how they were to conduct themselves and live their lives as Christians. Paul and other apostles began to write commentary in the form of personal letters in how to achieve this. They also continued in “the fellowship” of the church. This means they were members of a local church and made sure to keep themselves in fellowship. The word is the Greek koinonia which refers to a communal attitude and intimate working together. This is possible because believers share the Holy Spirit. Their devotion to learning, being discipled, and to their church was a conscious decision. It demanded personal sacrifice of time, talent, and treasure! Secondly they devoted themselves “to the breaking of bread and to prayer”. Now some suggest that this means eating together rather than observing the Lord’s Supper regularly, but I am more inclined that Luke meant it as further evidence of their devotion to fellowshipping with one another in a spiritual capacity. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper and common prayer does unite a church body and we discover that because of their willingness to focus on spiritual learning and furthering their spiritual connection to one another that “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.” Much of the modern church has lost its awe of the wonder of God in its midst because we think church should be about promoting us and not our common relationship with the Lord. Here in Acts we discover that the early church was dedicated to their spirituality!

EXAMPLE: She and her children wept when they found out they had to move out of the area. They wept because they were leaving a church family they loved. Being a part of something because it fulfills a check off list for your kids, your personal experience, or the jazzy music is not the same as becoming part of a local body that becomes your spiritual family. When you worship, serve, pray and are discipled together you form mutual spiritual bonds that are strong or even stronger than your physical family. Because we share the same Spirit we call one another brother or sister. The early church understood this and was dedicated to their spirituality!

Families come together as they build relationship through love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Churches are like families and they too are to build relationship through love, acceptance, and forgiveness; this is done according to the Book of Acts as well. We discover that…

II. The early church was willing to share with one another! (Vv. 44-45)

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

1. Notice that Luke tells us that within the Jerusalem Church “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” In the original Greek it literally states that “all that believed” were together. This is important because it tells us that the first requirement of being part of the church was to be a member. In order to be a member certain criteria had to be met: 1) Members had to be a believers meaning that you had to have placed your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, and you had to have followed through in baptism; complete immersion. The word used in the Bible for church is the Greek word ekklesia, meaning a group of called out (ek – a primary preposition from which the action proceeds, like example) or specifically elected people (klesia a derivative of kaleō – where we get call from) who are called out to do a specific task. In this case the spreading of the good news. Christ does his work through his called out folks in the local church. The church is Jesus’ called out body in the world. As Paul would state, “we are members of his body”. (Ephesians 5:30 NIV) It is through the local church that our time, our talent, and our treasure are best utilized for the furthering of God’s Kingdom! The church knows that “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matthew 25:29 NIV) We know that “the collection for God’s people” should be done “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income”. (1 Corinthians 16:1-2 NIV) And Paul again reminds us that our time, talent, and treasure are to be measured out generously: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7 NIV) We find that the early church had this spiritual concept down pat and had implemented it in the real world by “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” True believers have a generous spirit because Jesus gave to us generously and was willing to sacrifice for those he never met! The early church was willing to share with one another!

EXAMPLE: This is not communism, which some vainly try to equate it with. It is not the government taking everything from the populace and then doling it out as it sees fit. Rather this is a communal sharing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the lives of Jesus’ body the church by its active members. They were not compelled to do this but did it willingly out of the abundance of their own hearts. The early church was willing to share with one another!

We are often told that “Good things happen to those who do good things.” The Scriptures teach us continually that one reaps what they sow in this life so if a church stays united we learn that…

III. The early church experienced physical and spiritual growth! (Vv. 46-47)

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

1. The outcome of a church fellowship staying close and being united was evident. We discover that the result for the early church was that “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” This would be like our church meeting every day down in front of the county court house praying, worshipping, and singing hymns together! Every day the early church in Jerusalem went up to the temple, at the time of prayer! Wow, can you imagine what kind of witness this was for the early church to the rest of Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin. Later the early Christians would be forced out of their local synagogues and the temple because so many of the Hebrew people were being converted to Christianity. We also learn that in places like Ephesus “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus” instead. (Acts 19:8-9 NIV) In fact, because so many people were converting to Christianity in the area of Asia Minor it affected the sales of silver idols and so “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.” (Acts 19:23 NIV) The fact is that when believers are unified and doing what they are supposed to do they influence their communities, neighborhoods, and nations! We find that the church “broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” This is being the salt and light, the holy leaven in a sinful world. The outcome of such unified living is that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” If the church stays united there will be physical and spiritual growth!

EXAMPLE: Some churches depend on programs, music, a really good show to bring in the people, but this is in a way false advertising. When the music, program, or show changes the audience leaves. They are not invited to become part of the family of God, the body of Christ. Instead they were brought into a concert hall atmosphere whereby if the entertainment is not to their liking they will leave and go to the next “spiritual” venue down the road. Yes you can grow a crowd and call it a church, but a true body of believers is made up of those who have commonality in Spirit, relationship, and discipleship of the gospel. We discover that the early church experienced physical and spiritual growth!

Conclusion:

The early church was dedicated to their spirituality! The early church was willing to share with one another! The early church experienced physical and spiritual growth!
—-
This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Prayer! – Matthew 6:5-15

Prayer! – Matthew 6:5-15
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 4, 2017
I have learned a lot by being a people watcher and listener. When I was younger it was hard for me to keep my mouth shut; I know it seems hard to believe but it is true! So, over the years I have made it a goal to really focus on how people pray and what they pray and in doing so I have noticed several things. First, a lot of folks misunderstand what prayer is and secondly, interestingly, they copy others in how they pray. Now that I have made you conscious and uncomfortable of how you should pray in front of me, I believe we need to learn what prayer is all about.
Prayer for the Hebrew during Jesus’ day was much by rote. They were kind of “Catholic” in a sense in that they all got together and recited similar prayers all together at the same time. They were not as dreadful as some religions and their overly mind-numbing chanted prayers that begin to sound like so much background white noise than actual prayer. Jesus’ disciples noticed how Jesus intimately prayed and they wanted to learn more. In the midst of Jesus’ landmark sermon on the mount he introduces a lesson in how to pray; let’s discover what he has to say about prayer…
READ: Matthew 6:5-15
Luke tells us that “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’” (Luke 11:1 NIV) Here in Matthew is the fuller rendition of what Jesus taught them. We learn that…
I. Jesus taught that prayer is to be personal! (Vv. 5-8)
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
  1. For Jesus there was never any doubt that his followers would not pray regularly and so he tells them, “And when you pray”. Prayer should be just like our taking a breath, something we do not even thinking about it but we do it anyway. Not like some robot reciting the same catch phrases, wording, or mantra but rather it should be something we naturally do! Notice he warned that when we pray we are not to “be like the hypocrites” who loved fine sounding words. Jesus said that “they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.” They loved the sound of their own voices but more than that they loved the attention they got from others! Have you ever known someone who loved the sound of his or her own voice? Jesus bluntly told them, “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” However, when the believer speaks to God it is to be one-on-one and personal. It is your conversation with the Creator of the universe and so Jesus quietly tells them, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Now did he mean we should never pray publically? Nope. What Jesus is telling us is that our prayer is not for the ears of others but a conversation between two individuals: us and God! We are not to think about what others think; we are to focus on the one to whom we are conversing. The Pharisees had turned prayer into an act to be seen by men to demonstrate their supposed righteousness. Their prayers were directed not to God but to other men, and consisted of long, repetitive monologues. Jesus taught, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Like the wind rattling through the trees or the sound of rushing water their prayers were meaningless. So Jesus warns us, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Jesus taught that prayer is to be personal!
  EXAMPLE: In the animated Disney film Beauty and the Beast there is a crude, rude bully named Gaston. He likes himself and the sound of his own voice. Can you imagine telling the person you love just how much you love them in meaningless phrases at the top of your lungs in a crowded public place? While we may think it kind of romantic the first time it would soon get old, embarrassing, and meaningless if you did it all the time. Prayer is not all about you; it is your conversation with the Lord. It is individual and to be special. Jesus taught that prayer is to be personal!
As Baptists we often forget to whom we are praying and while it is a conversation with God we must never forget to whom we are speaking to. We learn that…
II. Jesus taught we are to remember we are praying to God! (Vv. 9-11)
This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.”
  1. Notice how Jesus taught that our prayer should focus on the one we are praying to. He begins by teaching, “This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven”. He understood that prayer is directed to “Our Father in heaven” and not to some manmade idol, statue, or effigy. God is our father not in that we are biologically related as some heresies teach but rather he is the one who made us, loves us, and sent himself to save us! Like children with loving parents, we depend on him for everything in life! Jesus continued by teaching our conversation with our Father in heaven should also remember his distinctiveness: “hallowed be your name”. God is to be revered and honored because he is God! He is holy, just, loving, all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere. God should be honored in our prayer to remind us to whom we are praying. Our prayer is not to be all about us and in fact we are to pray that God’s purpose and plan for creation should be fulfilled: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s kingdom will be established whether we think it will or not. Jesus fulfilled the coming of God’s purpose and no matter what the rest of the world believes, God’s purpose and plan “will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Our prayers should fit within the framework, purpose and plan of God which is to “seek and save what was lost”! (Luke 19:10 NIV) Far too often we think our purpose and plans are more important than God’s and that the only reason Jesus came was to give us a better life. I hate to burst your bubble but he did not. He came to give us life in him! We are to be dependent on God alone therefore we are to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” Food was a daily focus for folks of Jesus’ day; not like today where we have refrigeration, grocery stores every four blocks, and availability to all kinds of food within hands reach. We can even get it pre prepared and sent to our homes over our cell phones! Earning enough money and being able to go to the market or being able to grow your own food for the day was a concern. Jesus was teaching that we are to be more dependent on God than we realize. Jesus taught we are to remember we are praying to God!
  EXAMPLE: Don’t you just hate it when you have to go to some business or family function and you are greeted by folks who have a pasted on smile, nod and mouth they are glad to see you but are really looking for someone more important to greet than you? You know what I mean; before they are done with you they have already dismissed you and moved along. Now suppose you treated your significant other, your spouse, or the person you were dating this way? How long would your relationship last? And yet this is how we often pray. We go through the motions wanting to get through it in order to do the next chore we have to do. Prayer is not to be a check off list of regurgitated phrases. Jesus taught we are to remember we are praying to God!
Our conversation with God is to be more than about ourselves; it is a reflection of our attitude and our relationship with the Lord. We learn that…
III. Jesus taught that prayer reminds us of our condition! (Vv. 12-15)
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
  1. To truly have a conversation with someone there has to be give and take with both of you listening and sharing. And in this sharing you must be sincere and focused just like when you pray. Our prayer is a reflection of who we are. If we cannot honestly converse with our Creator, Savior, and friend how do we expect our prayers to be answered? Prayer, our conversation with our Father God, should be open and honest. It should begin with us reflecting on our relationship with others and with him! Jesus taught we are to ask him to “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.” These are not debts we can repay or owe to God but rather are so called, because on account of them we owe satisfaction to the justice of God. Jesus paid our debt of sin fully, but we must acknowledge the payment daily for the sins we commit. If we cannot forgive others their sin against us how in the world can we expect God to forgive us? Our prayer should acknowledge our inability to make satisfaction for the debt we owe due to our sin and that only God can forgive and fully pay the debt! We are to humbly ask for forgiveness as we have forgiven others who have sinned against us. If we are willing and wanting that the Creator should forgive us we should be as mere humans more than able and ready to forgive fellow sinners. God is to be our guide in life. He is the one we are to follow and so it is quite correct to ask him to “lead us not into temptation”. The idea is not that God would deliberately tempt us or take us where we might be tempted but rather it is asking him to always clearly show us the right path to follow and “deliver us from the evil one”. The idea is we are to ask that we not be led astray by the world or Satan but that we instead would be drawn to God’s wonderful presence! Jesus explains that “if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Jesus knew the Jews were a people very subject to revenge; an eye for an eye. Believers are not to be this way. Jesus is teaching about personal fellowship. One cannot walk with God and be unwilling to forgive others. Paul said it best, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV) Jesus taught that prayer reminds us of our condition!
  EXAMPLE: Jesus knew he was about to do something so marvelous that it would boggle the minds of those around him. Because of what he would do their relationship with God would change forever. He would pay the price for their sins and the sins of the entire human race past, present, and future! When Jesus did this prayer no longer was a means by which one would come begging before God but it would reflect the relationship the believer now enjoys with his Father in heaven. Paul wrote that we have “received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” And that “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15-16 NIV)  Again Paul wrote, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light… find out what pleases the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8, 10 NIV) Jesus taught that prayer reminds us of our condition!
Conclusion:
Jesus taught that prayer is to be personal! Jesus taught we are to remember we are praying to God! Jesus taught that prayer reminds us of our condition!
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This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Armor all! – Ephesians 6:10-20

Armor all! – Ephesians 6:10-20
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 30, 2017

Armor All is a line of car care products manufactured by American company Armored AutoGroup of Danbury, Connecticut, United States. Its sprays, gels, liquids and wipes are specifically designed to clean, shine, and protect most interior and exterior automobile surfaces. It is now owned by Spectrum Brands which is a diversified company that makes weed killer, batteries, and pet products. On the Armor All logo is a Viking dressed in his armor to portray the protective properties of the product.

The believer has been given spiritual protection by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ. Paul listed what he believed the protection of God consisted of and his list is not to be either comprehensive or all there is to the protection one has under God’s grace. Paul’s desire was not to give Christians a check off list to follow or adhere to but rather to show them that we are in the midst of a battle and that we have been given a gracious gift to go into combat. As believers we have the Armor All of God; let’s see what Paul meant…

READ: Ephesians 6:10-20

Paul is coming to a close in his letter to the Ephesian Church and his desire was that they remain true to the gospel and faithful to Jesus and so he writes them about…

I. The spiritual battle everyone is challenged by! (Vv. 10-12)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

1. It is important to notice what Paul wrote here. He writes them to “Finally be strong”. Paul knew that the main battle people face is a spiritual one. Not everyone understands this or notices it because most just get up each day and do the same things over and over. Now certainly there are those who face psychological or physical handicaps but the point here is that we can become so focused on us that we forget about our spirituality. Many have and therefore do not give it a thought. It makes their lives a greater struggle than they realize. However, Paul reminds us that one can be strong “in the Lord and his mighty power”! God has given us what we need for our spiritual challenge! He reminds believers to “Put on the full armor of God”. Not just part of the armor but all of it. Again, Paul is not making a list so you can check it twice each day but rather he is reminding his readers that they face a foe far greater than they realize. We put on this armor “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”, literally his wiles or methods. His scheme is to get people from focusing on the spiritual aspect of their lives and to focus on themselves instead. Paul understood that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The world does not understand the war being waged and that it is dying and decaying right before our eyes and many are blinded by the blight. We forget that everything in the universe and everyone in the world whose focus is not Jesus as Lord are spiritually blinded and doing battle against him! Remember Paul began his letter by writing that “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”(Ephesians 2:1-2 NIV) Paul is reminding us of the spiritual battle everyone is challenged by!

EXAMPLE: When soldiers are sent into battle they are reminded to remember their training and to stay focused on the task ahead. Each Roman soldier of Paul’s day was trained to fend off ten enemies. They knew they could depend on their training and their armor to give them the advantage against their enemies. Christians are not to stand against the sin and evil of the world in their own strength but rather in the full armor of God! The reason is simple: we face a foe that is far stronger then we are and who will use every method he has to trick us into focusing on ourselves instead of God. We are to armor up and face the spiritual battle everyone is challenged by!

Paul understood that in a sin-driven world it would be hard for believers to go out and live lives that were diametrically opposed to the ungodliness of the society they lived in. So he writes them to remember that…

II. Believers have everything they need to do battle! (Vv. 13-15)

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

1. Remember the old Superman motto that he was for “truth, justice, and the American way”? Of course if you were to repeat this in a college classroom today you might be lynched for being way too xenophobic, racist, and misogynist. Yet here in Paul’s encouragement we discover him declaring “truth, righteousness, and the gospel of peace”! Since our battle is a spiritual one Paul relates we are to “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Paul was not necessarily speaking of a particular day of evil but rather when evil on any given day challenges our lives in Christ. When this occurs we will be able to stand our ground in Jesus! Notice how many times he tells us to “stand”. He does not call us to attack but to stand firm because when all else fails in our lives we need to be able take our stand in Jesus alone! So how in the world does one stand in Jesus? Paul writes we are to “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” Look at the progression Paul does here in his writing about this armor: Again it is “truth, righteousness, and the gospel of peace.” He is referring to the truth of salvation in Jesus alone, the righteousness that comes because of it, and gospel of peace Jesus preached between man and God because of him. We are to gird ourselves therefore in the truth of Jesus, dress ourselves in the righteousness that comes from believing in him, and walk in the readiness daily that comes from the gospel of peace we know in Jesus! Paul is teaching his readers about the confidence they can have no matter what the ungodly sin-fallen world throws our way! We can stand confidently and calmly as we go into the world no matter what occurs in our life because we have the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and we are ready to stand with our feet fitted firmly in the gospel! Paul knew that believers have everything they need to do battle!

EXAMPLE: One of things I learned early in life was that if my parents told me to “stay right there and don’t move”, I was to stay right there and not move! I later learned that if I was lost in the wild I was to remain put so that anyone who was searching for me could easily find me. Most people die in the wilderness when they are not prepared, go alone, or do not remain where they said they would be. However, we sometimes can focus so much on the what the meaning of the equipment meant that Paul listed that we forget the core truth Paul was making here; namely that we are to remain firm in Jesus. We are to stay put because we know that believers have everything they need to do battle!
Paul continues in his list of grace gifts and concludes with those that are the basics of Christianity. And in doing so Paul reminds us that…

III. The battle all believers confront is a daily business! (Vv. 16-20)

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

1. Interestingly Paul ends his teaching with what occurs in the life of a Christian when they first believe. Here’s what I mean: Paul shares about faith, salvation, the word of God, and then prayer. So he writes that “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” A soldier’s shield was often made of wood overlaid with linen and leather. And it was often soaked in water before battle in order to smother any flaming arrows. The one thing that protects the Christian is their faith and Paul knew it was like a shield. When a person’s faith is strong in the Lord it can snuff out any smoldering ember the enemy tries to use in igniting sin in our lives. Paul then encourages his readers to place “the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” together. Paul wrote the Thessalonians, “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8 NIV) the Christian’s hope is certain and secure and we know that the Word of God is “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV) These things are not to be done necessarily in order or as a one-two-three kind of thing but rather Paul’s wording here suggests a constant and continual action. And the spiritual glue, so-to-speak, that we can hang our armor on is prayer. So Paul tells his readers: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” Again this is a constant and so “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Prayer is the believer’s conversation, petition, and praise to God himself! Paul was acutely aware of this and so asks, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Paul probably imprisoned for his faith and so he knew quite well what it meant to be strong in the Lord. We are to armor all because Paul knew that the battle all believers confront is a daily business!

EXAMPLE: There have been several movies called “Death Takes a Holiday.” While the Bible describes a messenger of death sent from God in several places, the Bible does not teach there is a specific being in charge of death. And while it is pure fantasy to think that death might take a vacation at some point, evil never does. The Bible does teach that all of creation is in a fallen state. It is all tainted by sin and therefore in a state of death, dying, and decay. My Mom would say that “Evil never sleeps.” I am not sure if she was referring to us boys or what but I do know she was correct. More than ever Christians need to armor all because the battle all believers confront is a daily business!

Conclusion:

The spiritual battle everyone is challenged by! Believers have everything they need to do battle! The battle all believers confront is a daily business!
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This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The kingdom strikes back! – Ephesians 1:15-23

The kingdom strikes back! – Ephesians 1:15-23
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 8, 2017

Kingdoms come and kingdoms go and the idea of colonialism is nothing new. We find it in the kingdoms of the Vikings, Celts, Saxons, Incas, Aztecs, Sioux, Shoshone, Egyptians, Zulus, Ethiopians, Romans, Greeks, Assyrians, Babylonians, Muslims, Russians, Mongols, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Great Britain, and the United States. Any group of people, tribe, city state, or nation has always wanted to exert their influence on others whether they like it or not. It is part and parcel of our fallen human nature and Israel was no different.

However, what all of these “kingdoms” forget is that the only kingdom that truly matters is the Kingdom of God. It has no boarders, boundaries, or political persuasion. It is founded in the very nature of God and those who are willing to enter into his kingdom become his children. And Paul’s message is one of where God’s kingdom has been established and citizenship brings about beautiful wondrous things. Paul teaches us that the kingdom strikes back; let’s discover what this means for mankind today.

READ: Ephesians 1:15-23

The Ephesians, like many believers, were suffering from not fully understanding what their citizenship in God’s kingdom meant for their lives and future. Paul related that…

I. Kingdom kids enjoy the power of prayer! (Vv. 15-17)

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

1. Because God predestined us for salvation since the creation of all things, lavished us with all wonderful things in him, and has sealed us with his presence Paul continues by writing the Ephesians that “For this reason” he continued to remember them in his prayers, his conversations with God! For Paul it was a natural thing to do and he relates that “ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” Paul kept talking to God about them in order that they would become all that God desired! Paul now prayed that his readers might know God personally and intimately. He writes that he kept “asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give (them) the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that (they) may know him (God in Jesus) better.” Wisdom? Revelation? Yes! So that we know God better! Jesus taught by his example the importance of prayer, of conversing with God regularly. Luke related that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16 NIV) We are to pray for our enemies, those who persecute us, curse us, mistreat us, and for one another because “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16 NIV) From the time that Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray to the encouragement of Paul and others for believers to pray we discover that kingdom kids enjoy the power of prayer!

EXAMPLE: Prayers had been reserved for those who could enter into the presence of God, priests, or those who were chosen to do so. Prayers were often by route; mindless repetitions and the recitations of formulas. But now because of what God had done through Jesus and by his permanent presence in his children, they now enjoy a moment by moment intimate conversation with him! Paul teaches us that Kingdom kids enjoy the power of prayer!

Far too many Christians walk around as spiritual weaklings constantly wondering if God truly loves them, cares for them, or if in fact if he is involved in their lives at all! Paul teaches us that…

II. Kingdom kids have a grand inheritance! (Vv. 18-21)

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

1. Paul continued by telling his readers that “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”. This is an interesting phrase by Paul because when he writes “the eyes of your heart” he means their entire being might know and be “enlightened” and it is a continuation of his preceding statement! Paul was continually asking God for them to have Spiritual wisdom, revelation, and that they would be completely enlightened! Why? Because Paul understood that new believers need to fully understand the presence and power of God in their lives. He continued by writing that they “may know the hope to which he has called you”! This is not some I wish I may I wish I might kind of hope against hope concept or feeling but rather a certainty and total assurance of the presence of Jesus! In fact it understands “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” And Paul knew exactly where this force came from and writes “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms”! What has not set into the minds of some believers is the fact that we have all the power of the resurrection and on that final day Jesus will turn to us as his own and declare, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34 NIV) The reason this is so powerful and so incredibly awesome of an inheritance is because Jesus is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Kingdom kids have a grand inheritance!

EXAMPLE: Why do people think they deserve some things? And why do people fight over things they did not earn or even care about until they think someone else may end up with it? Some of the stupidest things have caused some of the worst actions in people. There’s an old joke about two friends who meet at lunch and one is all sad. His friend asks why he is so sad. He relates that his uncle died and left him $40,000! Then the following week his aunt dies and leaves him $250,000! And then last week his grandmother dies and leaves him $500,000! Incredulous his friend wonders why he is so sad and he remarks, “This week… I got nothing!” Paul related that our hope is not in earthly things; instead, Kingdom kids have a grand inheritance!

Paul finishes this section with two powerful verses.

III. Kingdom kids have a powerful king! (Vv. 22-23)

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

1. God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe” is displayed for us in Jesus’ resurrection and when he ascended to heaven to sit in authority. This spiritually dynamic force is given to those who believe and sealed in us by the same power in the Holy Spirit! God is the creator of all things, predestined all things, and knows all things. And this is why Jesus is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given” by men! And so Paul declares that “God placed all things under his feet”. Jesus therefore has total authority because of who he is and what he did for us! He gave it to himself and “appointed (himself) to be head over everything for the church”! The word for church means those who are specifically called for a purpose united in him! Jesus is the church’s king. He earned the right to rule over it by his selfless act. His church “which is his body” is to be doing his work and will in the world he died for. It is built upon the truth that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) and it is upon this truth Jesus built his body the church! Paul would tell the Corinthians that this church his “body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:12) Believers are part of God’s kingdom, his church, his body and as Kingdom kids we have a powerful king!

EXAMPLE: The old playground threat of “My Dad is bigger than your Dad!” can carry with it nowadays the intent of violence and the child who says it can be expelled from school. While bullying should not be tolerated sometimes parents need to allow their children to work things out. Not every childish taunt is bullying it is just being childish. Sometimes we want to protect our children so much it can be detrimental to their maturity and how they handle life’s difficulties. However in a world where there is so much hatred, violence, and uncertainty it is good to know and understand that Kingdom kids have a powerful king!

Conclusion:

Kingdom kids enjoy the power of prayer! Kingdom kids have a grand inheritance! Kingdom kids have a powerful king!
—-
This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Do You Take Your Burdens to the Lord? – Isaiah 37:10-12, 14-20, 33-37

Do You Take Your Burdens to the Lord? – Isaiah 37:10-12, 14-20, 33-37
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 2, 2014 AM

What do you do when you are faced with difficult situations? Do you run and hide, do you get angry, or do you depend upon the Lord and His guidance? You can tell a lot about an individual’s faith not just during the mundane ordinary times, but how they conduct themselves during bleak situations. She was young and not prepared to be a single mom but her life choices had brought her to this point. With a baby on the way, no support from the baby’s father, she had some tough decisions to make. She first began to work on her relationship with God, worked herself through college, got a better job after graduating, and raised her child. At a church gathering, she met a godly man who loves her and her child. Whom do you take your burdens to when faced with tough decisions?

Sennacherib had left Lachish and was at Libnah, about five miles north of Lachish. Word had come that Tirhakah was coming to assist Judah in her fight against Assyria. Tirhakah was called the Cushite king of Egypt. He was from Cush, south of Egypt, and ruled Egypt at that time. In 701 Tirhakah was an army commander; he actually did not become king of Cush until 690; but since he was king when Isaiah wrote this account, Isaiah called him the king. Hezekiah had a tough decision to make. He could depend on Egypt or God. Whom he took his burdens to would show his true character, let’s discover what happens…

READ: Isaiah 37:10-12, 14-20, 33-37

Let me ask you, do you take your burdens to the Lord when…

I. Facing Bleak Circumstances (Isaiah 37:10-12)
1. Sennacherib became king after his father Sargon II died in battle in 704 B.C. Typically, when a strong king died, nations subservient to him rebelled hoping to gain their independence. Early in his reign, Sennacherib dealt with rebellions in the eastern part of his empire; finally defeating the Babylonians in 703 B.C., he then turned his attention to the west. Hezekiah, king of Judah, lead a rebellion of small nations. He hoped Sennacherib would prove weaker than Sargon and he trusted Egypt to provide military assistance. Sennacherib met the Egyptian force about 20 miles west of Jerusalem, and soundly defeated them. He then moved against Lachish, a crucial, fortified city of Judah. Hezekiah surrendered to Sennacherib and paid a heavy tribute. Sennacherib first sent a high-ranking Assyrian official, to convince Hezekiah to surrender. Egypt could not aid Judah and Hezekiah’s leadership could not be trusted. Hezekiah consulted Isaiah, who encouraged him to rely on God. Sennacherib sent another message to Hezekiah that emphasized God did not possess the power to save His people, “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, “Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.” Surely, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my forefathers deliver them–the gods of Gozan, Haran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar?’” He claimed the people were being deceived by God. Saying God did not deserve His people’s trust constituted horrible blasphemy. Sennacherib appealed to cold hard facts. Since becoming king, he had moved decisively to quell all rebellions. No nation had stood before him. He had conquered greater, stronger nations than Judah; so Judah had no basis to believe it would be an exception. Nations conquered by the Assyrians had served and depended on their gods. In every case, these “gods” could not defend their nations, which fell to the Assyrian power. Sennacherib listed nations Assyria had conquered; some are unknown to us. Sennacherib stated these nations’ gods could not protect them and Judah’s God would not either. The situation seemed bleak. Isaiah and Hezekiah knew God had acted in history before to deliver His people and believed He would act again. Through Isaiah, God would encourage Hezekiah and His people to trust Him even in bleak circumstances.
EXAMPLE: It seemed hopeless; he was recently married and now was facing cancer. How could someone so young be caught by such a dreaded disease? Looking back now, he realizes just how he came to totally depend on his faith. In fact, it has renewed his current situation in understanding that God is there always. How has God helped you in difficult circumstances you have faced? We all face bleak circumstances in life. Loved ones or we contract deadly diseases or suffer tragic accidents. We face seemingly hopeless financial reversals. Such experiences try our faith as we wonder how or if God can help. During such times, we need to remember our God can help us face and survive bleak circumstances.

Let me ask you, do you ease your burdens by…

II. Praying to Almighty God (Isaiah 37:14-20)
1. After reading the message, Hezekiah immediately took it to the temple and unrolled the scroll before God. Hezekiah knew God comprised Judah’s only hope. First, Hezekiah referred to God as “O Lord Almighty”. This phrase is associated with the Ark of the Covenant and with God as ruler of a great heavenly court. Assyria possessed a huge army, but Hezekiah knew God wielded far greater power. Second, Hezekiah called God “the God of Israel” linking God to His chosen people. Hezekiah was confident God knew and loved His people. Third, Hezekiah spoke of God as “enthroned between the cherubim”, a description also associated with the Ark of the Covenant and with God’s status as ruler over all nations. Fourth, Hezekiah emphasized God’s uniqueness by declaring, “You alone are God.” Fifth, Hezekiah described God as “over all the kingdoms of the earth.” Sennacherib might believe in his ability and that his mighty army rendered him invincible, but he ruled at God’s pleasure. Hezekiah knew God maintained complete authority over all governments. God had allowed Sennacherib to rise to power and could easily destroy him. Finally, Hezekiah praised God as the one who “made the heavens and the earth.” God works in His world to sustain it and to direct events to His ultimate purpose, not our desires. Sennacherib likened God to the false gods of other nations he had conquered. He criticized Hezekiah for trusting in God for deliverance, believing Hezekiah was making a great mistake. Hezekiah knew that not trusting in God would be the greater mistake. Hezekiah asked God “Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.”  Sennacherib had mocked the true God, and Hezekiah asked God to punish Sennacherib’s blasphemy. Hezekiah acknowledged the truth of much of Sennacherib’s message, “It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.” However Hezekiah wanted God to show the whole world His true power and might, “Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” Knowing God means we experience God as Lord and we live on the basis of His lordship. Hezekiah based his prayer on God’s character. Hezekiah knew neither he nor his people could claim to be righteous. They had sinned. His main concern focused on God receiving glory. All too often, we pray asking God to accomplish what we desire. Instead, we need to pray to God to act to bring glory to Him even if our desires are unmet.
EXAMPLE: Often times we speak at God instead of speaking to God when we pray. Intimacy with the Lord is not obtained in a onetime experiment when we need His guidance and strength for our momentary blip. Hezekiah got down right honest with God because he realized he had nothing to lose. The scourge of the known world was at the gates of his city! He had tried using his own resources and failed and he had tried gaining a worldly answer by relying on Egypt, which failed miserably as well. He knew only his honesty could save his kingdom and himself. All too often, we pray asking God to accomplish what we desire. Instead, we need to pray to God Almighty to act to bring glory to Him even if our desires are unmet.

Let me ask you, when you take your burdens to the Lord do you…

III. Experience Divine Reassurance (Isaiah 37:33-37)
1. God spoke to Hezekiah through Isaiah, stating He knew of Sennacherib’s blasphemy and would preserve Judah by sending the Assyrian home (Vv. 37:21-29). “Because you rage against me and because your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.” God also promised a remnant would survive and flourish in Judah. God then encouraged Hezekiah, stating, “He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it.” An enemy’s army would surround a city to ensure no food or supplies entered and no people escaped. Then they would construct an assault ramp, where they would employ battering rams. God declared Sennacherib and his army would not engage in any siege tactics. Not a shot would be fired. Jerusalem would survive unscathed! Jerusalem and Judah would survive because Sennacherib would return to Assyria “by the way that he came he will return”. He would return home in shame, beaten by the God he had blasphemed. God would save His city and people not due to their great righteousness and trust but because of His character, “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!” Sennacherib had blasphemed God, accusing Him of being just another powerless deity whom he easily would defeat. God would prove him wrong by destroying the Assyrian army so they would know the power of God. God also would save His people to maintain His promise to David. God’s sparing of Jerusalem and Judah emphasized His faithfulness and grace. God accomplished Judah’s salvation in a miraculous manner, “Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning–there were all the dead bodies!” God’s angel killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers! When morning dawned, the survivors broke camp and left! After returning to Assyria, Sennacherib never invaded Israel again. His sons assassinated him in 681 B.C. as he worshiped in a temple (Vv. 37:38). Sennacherib had defeated nations and destroyed gods, but in the end, the true God whom he had blasphemed defeated and destroyed him. God answered Hezekiah’s prayer in a powerful, miraculous way. We can experience God’s reassurance just as Hezekiah did by trusting in Him alone.
EXAMPLE: Sometimes God acts to spare His people, but at other times, people do not experience miraculous intervention and sometimes even die for their faith. Yet in every crisis situation God provides His strengthening and comforting presence and His guidance so we may face what comes with courage and trust. We never plan to go through some of the tragedies of life we encounter. However, we can experience God’s reassurance just as Hezekiah did by trusting in Him alone.

Conclusion:
Let me ask you, do you take your burdens to the Lord when facing bleak circumstances; do you ease your burdens by praying to Almighty God; and when you take your burdens to the Lord do you experience divine reassurance? You can just as Hezekiah did…

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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How to live confidently! – James 5:1, 4-11, 13-20

How to live confidently! – James 5:1, 4-11, 13-20
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 3, 2013 AM

In my early 30’s, I questioned what my future held. I was newly married, working at a good job, but I could not see the finish line. I wanted desperately to be “out there in the real world,” working in pastoral ministry. I observed people my age who were established in ministry. Soon, a ministry opportunity arose that was the beginning of a future I could not have imagined—one better than I could have drawn up. I wish I could say I never again lost confidence about the future, but I can’t. Yet in my journey, I have learned valuable lessons. God works on His timetable and I can trust Him.

Disappointments make adults less confident about their lives. Some lose confidence and concentrate on the worst that could happen. They always wonder when the next shoe will drop! Other adults worry about the future. Limited incomes, aging, health-care, terrorism threats, the economy, and other concerns erode their confidence about the future. Some adults have lost confidence in prayer. God desires us to live confidently and James teaches us how.

READ: James 5:1, 4-11, 13-20

James declares that wicked people will lose their wealth; in fact, it will ultimately testify against them! God already knows about people’s evil and will judge them. As a result, they will suffer for their acts of ungodliness. However, we can live confidently because we know…

I. The wicked will be punished! (5:1, 4-6)

1. James had referred to ways some rich people treat believers—oppressing them, dragging them into court, and speaking evil of their Lord’s name (2:6-7). James now addresses non-Christian rich people directly. Evidently, these rich folk were unbelievers who took advantage of the destitute believers. Weep and wail describes loud mourning—howling in terror—and bursting into tears. Misery means “calamity” or “distress.” James declared a time was coming when the unscrupulous rich would face the consequences of their actions. Their wealth would decay. Moths would eat holes in their hoarded clothes, and their silver and gold would rust (vv. 2-3)! Then, James outlined three charges against them! First, they had hired workers to reap their fields and had withheld their pay. The failure to pay was cruel and fraudulent. Poor Jewish day laborers expected to be paid at the end of each day as the law required. They depended on it for their families’ survival. James stated that the withheld pay cried out against them and now, “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” God takes note of rich people’s ruthless treatment of the poor. He can—and will—address the wrong. The heartless landowners had deprived the day laborers of their subsistence, but the wealthy “lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.” They had “fattened (themselves) in the day of slaughter. James compared the self-indulgent rich with animals that went on feeding securely, unaware of the looming day of slaughter. They had lived a soft (delicate) life and engaged in extravagant wastefulness; solely for their own pleasure. James then leveled a third charge against wealthy unbelievers, “You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” He may have referred to their having control of the courts so the poor had no recourse and thus were deprived of justice. Their exploiting the poor amounted to murder. In Jewish tradition, people could murder others by depriving them of their living. The poor had no power to gain a fair hearing in the courts. We can live confidently because we know the wicked will be punished!

EXAMPLE: We can be confident about our future because God will punish the wicked. We are not to rejoice at the prospect of their judgment; we should be concerned that they repent and turn to Christ. Yet we can take comfort in the truth that God is fair and just, and we can leave reward and punishment to Him. We can live confidently because we know the wicked will be punished!

James turned again to Christians. He called for believers to be patient as they await Jesus’ return and to endure on the basis of God’s nature. We can live confidently because we know…

II. Our future is secure! (5:7-11)

1. James encouraged his brothers to be patient “until the Lord’s coming.” Rather than to seek revenge for wrongs, we are to live in anticipation of Jesus’ return. An illustration from farming presses James’s point. The farmer plows his field and sows his seed. “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” Believers are to follow the farmer’s example of perseverance. In light of Christ’s imminent return, we are to strengthen our hearts. We are to persevere in faith and renew our courage and commitment. Believers are not to “grumble against each other… or you will be judged.” Christians must remember that, “The Judge is standing at the door!” James wanted believers to stop grumbling against one another so they would not be judged! With the Judge so near, how can believers continue to grumble against and find fault with one another? Christians will face the same judgment as the wicked. Instead, believers will be judged on the basis of their relationship with Christ, and the wicked will be judged on the basis of their lack of a relationship with Him. James pointed believers to the prophets as a group for an outstanding example of suffering and patience. “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.” The prophets were worthy examples of steadfastness. James reminds us, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” Job is a great example of perseverance. He was not patient in our usual meaning of the word; he “had it out” with God, but he remained steadfast in his faith. God restoring Job demonstrates His compassionate and merciful nature. James writes, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” We can live confidently because we know our future is secure!

EXAMPLE: We can patiently await and be confident about the future because God is in charge of it. We are to persevere in our faithfulness to Christ, no matter what difficulties we encounter. We have the opportunity to follow outstanding examples of endurance and in the process to become models for others. We can live confidently because we know our future is secure!

James echoed Jesus’ teaching about speaking truthfully without using oaths (Matthew 5:33-37). Instead of cursing God or others about our circumstances, we should pray. James points us to God’s past consistency in answering prayers. On that basis, we can be assured of our prayers’ clout! We can live confidently because we know…

III. Our prayers are powerful! (5:13-20)

1. James then asked three questions that expected a “yes” answer. First, are any believers in trouble? He is referring to experiencing hardships. That person should keep on praying for God’s help. Second, is anyone happy (in good spirits)? That person should sing praises—literally, “sing psalms.” Singing to God is a fitting way to thank Him for blessings. James’s third question concerns believers who are sick. An ill person may lack the strength to pray, so the individual was to call for the elders of the church. Elders may have been older, respected Christians, or they could have been leaders with pastoral functions. The elders’ role probably mirrors a similar role found in the Jewish community, and James’s advice reflects a familiar practice in that community. The elders first were to anoint the sick person with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The word anoint means more than using olive oil in a ceremonial gesture; it means “to rub” in the medicinal sense. Thus, their prayer is to be combined with the best medical treatment available. The phrase in the name of the Lord emphasizes dependence on God. On the surface, this verse seems to offer an absolute guarantee that this would always result in healing. However, we must consider an underlying condition. The phrase the prayer of faith refers to petitioning God in total confidence. James meant that it is God alone who “will cure” or “will restore to health” the one who was sick. “The Lord will raise him up.” James’ comment, “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven”, does not indicate all sickness is a result of sins. Rather, it points out that where sin is present, God’s forgiveness is available. James writes, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful. A righteous person has a close relationship with God and demonstrates faith through obedience. The idea is that God hears and makes effective the prayers of His faithful people. Thus, His people are to pray. As an example of a righteous man’s powerful, effective prayers, James pointed to the prophet Elijah. James’s point was that Elijah was human as we all are; yet because of his right relationship with God, his prayers were effective in God’s causing and then ending drought. James urged believers to develop and maintain a vibrant relationship with God out of which they could pray effectively. In fact, Christians are to be engaged in the ministry of restoration as they endured trials and an ongoing struggle against sin. “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” We can live confidently because we know our prayers are powerful!

EXAMPLE: Intercessory prayer is essential as an expression of Christian concern and of faith in God’s care and power. Intercessors’ presence with the sick person gives assurance of the church’s fellowship and provides a personal touch that can strengthen the individual’s faith. Yet seeking the best medical treatment is always valid and crucial. We can be confident about our prayers because God always answers them, often in exactly the way we ask. Even when He seems to be silent, we can be confident that He has not forgotten our petitions and is working on our behalf. We can live confidently because we know our prayers are powerful!

Conclusion:
1. We can live confidently because we know the wicked will be punished!
2. We can live confidently because we know our future is secure!
3. We can live confidently because we know our prayers are powerful!

This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Hebrews 13:18-25 – Vaya con dios! Pray!

Hebrews 13:18-25 – Vaya con dios! Pray!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
February 10, 2013 AM

Saying “good-bye” is always tough with those you love and care about in life. Roger Ebert, the film critic, who has had multiple surgeries for cancer and was once declared dead agrees. He wrote in an e-mail interview that death scenes in movies put unrealistic pressure on the rest of us to be profound. “After all,” he wrote, “those scenes are well-written, directed, and performed by professionals.” Last words have an almost mystical significance in both Eastern and Western cultures, in part because they hold out the possibility of revealing a deep insight or lifting a veil on the meaning of life. Japanese poets wrote haiku at the moment of their death; Jesus related his forgiveness for those who murdered Him. What would you say if you knew the words you uttered could be the last thing the folks you are saying “good-bye” to were your last.

We know the Bible tells us that, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16 NIV) And we are told repeatedly to pray for one another. But what if you could only pray for one thing, what would you pray? Now bear in mind this is not a wish, like the wishes from a magic lamp. This is conversing with God and having Him answer your prayer. I am so glad that we can pray anytime and anywhere. In fact, we should “not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present (our) requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV) The author of Hebrews understood this as well. Let’s discover what he asks for in prayer and the prayer he asks for!

READ: Hebrews 13:18-25

In these last few verses, we read some very heartfelt concerns by the author of Hebrews. In saying his final good-bye, the author of Hebrews gets very personal. We discover…

I. He asks for prayer! (v. 18)

1. It is interesting to note that many of the writers of the New Testament asked for prayer for themselves. Paul would request, “Brothers, pray for us.” (1 Thessalonians 5:25 NIV) In fact, Paul would get very specific in what he wanted his brothers and sisters in the Lord to pray for him about, he would tell them to, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” (Colossians 4:2-4 NIV) Requesting prayer from others was a part of Jesus’ life as well. Not only did His disciples ask Him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1), but later they were asked by Jesus to pray that they would not fall into temptation (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38; and Luke 22:46)! Jesus taught them, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:5-7 NIV) So, we know prayer is not aimless babbling or begging. We also know Jesus, “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16 NIV) and He related, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19 NIV) Prayer is conversing with God. The author of Hebrews knew, from Jesus’ own example and from those who had walked with Him that prayer was to be an intrinsic part of the believer’s life. He asks, “Pray for us.” Notice what he remarks, “We are sure that we have a clear conscience.” I believe he is tacitly asking them to examine him and yet to pray that he would indeed have pure motives and a “desire to live honorably.” For him as a pastor, providing the word of truth, without any regard to how people viewed him was extremely important! He desired to be a good steward of the mysteries of God “in every way!” What a wonderful prayer to ask for. In his final remarks, he asks for prayer!

EXAMPLE: I have discovered that a lot of Christians have a distorted view of what prayer truly is meant to be. While I am always humbled when folks ask me to pray for them, sometimes I get the feeling it is because they think my prayers will be heard when theirs have not been! This is a faulty notion, God always hears the prayers of His people and He always acts on them. What we may forget is that the example that Jesus gave of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) was not that we should “beg” or plead with God until He relents, but rather God is not like the earthly judge who needs to be bugged. Instead, God “will see that they get justice, and quickly!” (Luke 18:8) Nor do certain Christian individuals have God’s ear more than any other believer does. Instead, it is “The prayer of a righteous man” that is both “powerful and effective.” (James 5:16 NIV) We often forget we are to pray within the will of God, plus, we forget God answers prayers in several ways: Yes, no, wait, or not at all. Not at all, because we already know the answer and possibly hope that by our praying we might change God’s mind. However, we are to ask for prayer and this is exactly what the author of Hebrews does.

Prayer is to be our continual life’s conversation with the Living Lord, not some mantra or method whereby we gain God’s ear. It is our personal time with our God. Continuing in his theme of prayer, we discover that the author of Hebrews not only asks for prayer, we also find out about…

II. The prayer he asks for! (Vv. 19-21)

1. The author of Hebrews continues by asking his listeners to pray specifically for him as well. He states that, “I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.” He was doing the ministry God had called him to and was absent from them. He desired again to be a part of their lives and he is worried for them. He therefore cannot end his letter before he restates just who they are to depend on whether he is there or not and so he asks for “the God of peace” to assist them. Jesus brings us peace, not as the world gives so it is not a peaceful kind of thing but rather peace between God and us. Paul would write that it is “Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” (1 Thessalonians 1:10 NIV) As Paul would again state, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:9 NIV)  This is God’s “eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep!”  Hebrews tells them that he prays to our Lord Jesus to “equip” them “with everything good for doing his will.” The wording means to “make you perfect” or to literally, “put you completely in joint.” He did not want their lives to be disjointed with what God desired, which is holiness. Paul would tell those he wrote, “…our prayer is for your perfection.” (2 Corinthians 13:9 NIV) He wanted them to be fit or to readjust their dislocated limb to its proper place! The author’s meaning was perhaps they were dislocated and out of joint as church members, and they should be joined together in Christ. He wanted to be restored to them and he wanted them to be restored to one another as well! He also humbly prays, “…may he work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” He knew that without Christ, they could do nothing, but through Him giving them strength, they could do all things! Lest we forget, man cannot do any good work well by himself, unless he already has the good work of grace fashioned in him first! Grace is an internal work of God not an eternal good deed of man! He continues by telling them, “Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.” Perhaps we discover his sense of humor in this ending, or he really thought it was a short letter! Whatever the reason, his earnest desire was that his words were meant as encouragement to them to live godly lives in an ungodly world. This, then, is the prayer he asks for, “Grace be with you all!” He desires the grace of God through Jesus be evident in their lives, in all that they did. This is the prayer he asks for!

EXAMPLE: It is a unifying and beautiful thing for a church to pray for one another. The first thing we learn about the early church is the fact that, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42 NIV) and that we are to be “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12 NIV) Paul also later states, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2 NIV) and Peter would remind us, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:12 NIV) In fact, the wonderful truth is that “if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him.” (1 John 3:21-22 NIV) The author of Hebrews knew if he asked for prayer from his fellow believers, he would be strengthened and encouraged. He wanted them to be joined together in the cause of Christ and so he ends his sermon by praying for them, “Grace be with you all!” This was his “good-bye,” his final Vaya con dios! This is the prayer he asks for!

Conclusion:

In his final remarks, the author of Hebrews asks for prayer and ends with the prayer he asks for!

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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