Prayer Target Challenge: Week 3

Thanks again to everyone who is participating in our 6 week Prayer Target Challenge. The goal of this challenge is to pray as often as possible for the salvation of ISIS militants. I’ve promised to comb through the news and post anything of note. So far, we’ve gotten one report of a former ISIS militant who has given his life to Christ – thank you Jesus!

For those of you following the “Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target” model of intetcession, it is time to review your trigger. If you find that your irritant has died down/gone away – great! It is time to find another one. But please don’t limit your intercession to just those times. It is pretty bad over in Iraq and Syria – our brothers and sisters can use as much comfort and support as we can give them.

One other reminder. This is a spiritual battle, not a physical one. As Paul says in Ephesians, “we don’t fight against flesh and blood.” The men and women of ISIS are not our true enemy, therefore we aren’t praying primarily for a physical military victory and we won’t rejoice in airstrikes or raids. We are waging war against the demonic powers, principalities and ideologies that have set themselves up against King Jesus and deluded these men into thinking that their violence is actually service to God. So our prayer must be that God will reveal Himself to them in dreams, visions, angelic encounters or through His people and that the people of ISIS will come to know the One True God. Pray also for our brothers and sisters experiencing persecution. I am so encouraged by their stories of faithfulness, even to the point of death. May they receive reward for their suffering and obedience. Amen.

Christ Centered Preaching

Christ centered preaching, or Christocentric preaching for you fancy types, goes beyond Morals to the Man, Jesus of Nazareth. Christ centered preaching looks for how a passage of Scripture exaults Jesus, either through comparison or contrast, and seeks to soften the heart of the hearer by revealing the heart of the Gospel – what Jesus has done, is doing and will do on our behalf. Christ centered preaching allows us to find rest in the finished work of the Cross.

A key element of Christ centered preaching is the understanding that we are not only justified by grace through faith in Christ, we are also sanctified by grace through faith in Christ. Very often we evangelize correctly and disciple incorrectly. We tell sinners that they can only be made right with God by surrendering their lives to Jesus and accepting by faith that Jesus took the punishment that was rightfully theirs and bore it in their place. We exhort them to believe that Jesus died their death so that they can live his life. But then, once someone becomes a Believer, we tell them that now they must work really really hard to become like Jesus or else they aren’t going to make the cut. (Once saved, always saved is a bogus doctrine in my book.) It isn’t that discipleship doesn’t require strenuous effort, it does! But that effort must be motivated by love, not fear or a legalistic sense of obligation.

Christ centered preaching maintains that following Jesus and becoming more and more like him happens by faith from start to finish. Moralistic preaching may serve to restrain sinful impulses for a short time, but Christ centered preaching transforms the heart through the expulsive power of Love. When we see Jesus for who he truly is, when we behold his glory and his beauty, our hearts are softened and set afire with love for him. That Love transforms us from the inside out as all our former loves fade away. As out hearts are captured by the only thing that can every truly satisfy, our sinful behavior begins to wither and die. There is a reason why “I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me” is the first of the Ten Commandments – all the others spring from it. You simply cannot break the Seventh, Eighth or Ninth Commandment, or any of the rest, without first breaking the First.

If we try to approach discipleship/sanctification from a works based “try harder” model we will fail to produce long term life transformation and an abundant harvest of good fruit. We may get a congregation that looks nice on the outside, but it will be ruled by fear, legalism and a soul-crushing sense of obligation. The people will always worry if they are doing enough or trying hard enough to please God, or the Senior Pastor. They will never be able to rest in His Pleasure.

I realize this is all rather conceptual and that some examples or case studies would help immensely. My next post will cover the stories of Adam, Cain and Abel and discuss them from a Christ centered paradigm. As always, thanks for reading.

Moralism

Moralism is a nasty beast. It is the tendency to look at a passage or story in the Bible and reduce it to a basic behavioral principle. At it’s core, moralism says, “If you do this, your good; and if you do that, you’re bad.”

I am not saying that morals or ethics are bad – I’d much rather live in a moral society than an immoral one. What I am saying is that moralism is an insufficient means of preaching the Gospel of Grace. Moralist sermons quickly devolve into behavior management programs and carry the banner ‘Just Try Harder.’

I confess to having preached Moralist messages and throwing out the ‘Just Try Harder’ messages. I’m not particularly proud of that, but I understand now why I did, and why these kinds of sermons are so attractive to pastors – especially young pastors like me. Pastors want to change things. We signed up as servants of the Most High God and our passion is to see His Kingdom come to Earth. Our mistaken belief is that, if people would ‘Just Try Harder’ and ‘be passionate’ or ‘sold out’ then we could make this thing called “the Kingdom” work. This is probably why high-powered CEO types of pastors have become so popular. They are skilled at motivating people and whipping them up into a frenzy of effort to chase after a “vision.” And these pastors succeed, for awhile. But time and time again we see these pastors burn out, blow out or retire… and then what? The vision fails, and the church goes hunting for a new leader. Why? Because the vision wasn’t the people’s vision and rather than looking to Christ for sustenance and transformation, they were looking to their Senior Pastor for a snappy sermon and short lived encouragement.

All of this is a foolish notion. Church history is littered with the remains of churches and pastors who have tried to make it happen in their own strength. It only leads to death. The Church is not the Kingdom, no matter how hard we try to make it be. It is a foreshadow, a dim representation of what will be a glorious Reality. The Church is God’s chosen means of advancing the Kingdom, but we must always remember that the Kingdom is far larger, far more glorious and far more complex than even the best Mission Statement.

The remedy to the mistaken belief above is found in Jesus’s words in John 12:32, “When I am lifted up… I will draw everyone to myself.”
Jesus, of course, was referring to his cruxifixction, but I’m using his words to talk about preaching. When Jesus is lifted up, when he is put on display and we see ourselves in his story, something changes within us. We call this the “behold to become” principle, taken from Jacob’s story in Genesis 30:37-43. In other words, you reproduce what you look at. Only as we look at Jesus will we find life, transformation and victory.

Moralism’s message is insufficient for salvation and sanctification. Trying harder doesn’t make us more acceptable to God, nor does it make us righteous. It just makes us tired. And it is to those worn out by moralism and sin management programs that Jesus says, “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

My next post will further develop the idea of “lifting Jesus up” through Christocentric preaching. Until then, thanks for reading!

Prayer Target Challenge: A Ray of Hope

Hello again friends, I have some good news for you this time. God continues to prove His faithfulness and the riches of His Grace. I got the following email from a reader in Israel. I thought I’d share with you. Thanks again to everyone who is praying and tracking this with us. It is so encouraging to get reports like this.

“I just read your Prayer Target Challenge blog post. I wanted to send you a little encouragement :) Recently several staff went to Cyprus for a gathering… This was a gathering for Christians from the Middle East that are building houses of prayer. There were people from Egypt, Iraq, Israel, …. I can’t give names or specifics but a friend of mine met someone there who was a former ISIS member who had come to know Jesus as his Savior! He was a totally transformed man and so full of the love of Christ. It was a pretty radical testimony!

Also, if you feel led add Nazareth to your prayer list. It has been said by many I know living there that Nazareth is the center for the Arab world. Many look to them for how to respond to things in the world and to form their political opinions. Recently some ISIS flags were found being flown in Nazareth, and there are recent reports a few young arab men from Nazareth that went to Syria to fight with ISIS.

I’m keeping my ears open for the testimonies! I recently had some friends from Israel that went to Turkey & Iraq to help at the Refugee camps! I’ll share some of their testimonies after I get together with them!”

Prayer Target Challenge: Week One

Hi friends, a quick update for those of you following along with our Prayer Target Challenge – a six week challenge to pray for the members of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to discover Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

This week has seen a lot of bad news. ISIS continues to push outwards, expanding towards Baghdad and the Turkish border. A growing number Muslim teenage girls are making the trip to Iraq and Syria to marry the fighters and fight in jihad. The Iraqi army continues to crumble and many of the high-end weapons the U.S. gave to equip Iraq are ending up in the hands of ISIS. Additionally, ISIS and other al-Qaida offshoots (al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) have begun targeted kidnapping campaigns, abducting people whose government’s are known to pay ransom for citizens in an attempt to raise money for their war efforts.

So, with that all in mind, it is time to pray.

I encourage everyone to continue praying for the salvation of ISIS militants. I’ve felt particularly called to pray for Jesus to encounter them in dreams, visions or through angelic manifestations. These men hunger for a new world, a better world – and the only way they are going to find it in the Kingdom of God.

Don’t give up friends. Weeks like this remind me that we really are in a battle and the weapons we have are especially powerful to demolish demonic strongholds and everything that sets itself up against Jesus. Keep praying and I’ll check in with you again next week.

Living God’s Way

The Bible is an amazing creation. It is 2,100 years of recorded history where God reveals Himself to humanity. The Bible records God’s thoughts, words, actions and emotions as He works out His Story of Redepmtion. In the Bible, the Wisdom of God is entrusted to humanity, filtered through some 4,000 years of human experience and then handed off to us – time tested, Father approved.

When you think of it, is there anything God doesn’t have an opinion on? He is THE Creator. He has strong opinions on how we should care for and steward His creation. He knows everything there is to know about the workings of the human heart. He knows how to best set up a society/government and how to build the most rich, fulfilling and meaningful relationships of all time. From eating to sex, from economics to politics, God knows how things work best and it is all recorded for us in the Bible.

When we live God’s way it only blesses us. One of the strangest and most amazing commands God gives His people is in Deuteronomy 14:21, ‘Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.” This command has a multitude of meanings for the Jews, but the take-away principle for us is this: something that is meant to bless and strengthen you should never cause you harm.

God’s word never causes us harm when it is applied correctly. In fact, God’s word is a safeguard around our lives, it protects us in unimaginable ways from suffering and pain. However, because God’s word specializes in prevention, we never see what we were saved from, so we tend not to value it. This is a tragic mistake repeated generation after generation. But for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the Bible is the key that unlocks abundant life and the Kingdom of God.

God’s word never causes us harm… when it is applied correctly. By no means do I have the authoritative word on how to apply the Bible perfectly in every circumstance. What I do have are a few lessons that the Bible and Church history have taught us.

Principles for Applying the Bible to Your Life

(1) We are not Jews
For some strange reason, when I talk about living God’s way and applying His Wisdom to our lives, people start thinking we need to submit ourselves to the Law once again. They start thinking the Sabbath needs to be observed on a certain day or that they need to start eating Kosher. No! Put everything I say (and what every other preacher/teacher says) in the greater context of Scripture. We know that the Law doesn’t save (Romans 3:20) and that no one, save Jesus, was able to live under it without sin (Romans 3:23, Act 15:10,11); so why would we think we need to go back to following the letter of the Law?

There are a great number of pseudo-Christian cults that try to convince Christians to submit themselves to the Law. They sound convincing, even compelling, because their arguments are “biblical.” But unless they take into account the whole counsel of God, especially the freedom we have in Christ, then they aren’t worth listening to. For if we revert to trying to be saved through the works of the Law, then Christ profits us nothing and we reject everything he offers us, including our salvation.

We are not saved by the works of the Law or following the letter of the Law. Does that mean that the Old Testament is worthless? Of course not.

(2) Look for the Underlying Principles
This is exactly what I did when I quoted Deuteronomy 14:21 above. Don’t take everything at face value, dig deeper to find the Principle each law or story is trying to reveal. Very often there will be multiple ways to interpret each passage, so again, put each passage into the whole story of God’s Salvation and Redemption. If one way of interpreting the passage leads to legalism, religion or being saved through your own effort, disregard it. If an interpretation doesn’t contradict the main Truths of Scripture, try it on for size – start living it out and see how it goes.

(3) Look for the Underlying Person
The whole Bible reveals Jesus. It doesn’t matter if it is the Old Testament or New, the Psalms, Prophets or Law – every part of the Bible points to Jesus. Look for how the passage points you to a greater understanding of Jesus. Fall in love with him in a new or deeper way. This is the most important and most powerful way of applying Scripture to your life. If you can find that passage lived out in the life of Jesus then you can bet it will benefit you too.

(4) Just Do It, Even If You Don’t Understand It.
Most people don’t understand why God wants His people to rest one full day out of every seven until they do it. Most don’t understand for the first 6 months. But eventually, through our faith-filled obedience, God begins to reveal His character and His ways. You will begin to understand why He wants you to devote an entire day to rest, relaxation and enjoyment. Your heart will come alive in a new way. Many Truths in the Bible cannot be communicated, they can only be experienced. You will live an impoverished existence if you choose to delay obedience until you “fully understand” something. I don’t fully understand how a combustion engine works, but that doesn’t stop me from driving a car. It is the same way with the Bible. We don’t have to fully understand why God commanded something in order to benefit from it. However, it is glorious to search out the heart of each command and to try and understand why God gave it.

Undoubtedly, there are many more points and sub-points to applying the Bible to your life. However, I think these points summarize the vast majority of what needs to be said about living life God’s way. Take time to meditate on God’s word, not just read it. Dig deep and find those wellsprings of life. Happy hunting friends!

What I Meant to Say: Strengthen Yourself in the LORD

Yesterday I spoke out of 1 Sam. 30 about David and his ability to find strength in God and the promises God had spoken over his life. “Strengthening yourself in the LORD” is an essential skill in Christian discipleship. It is the ability to persevere and act in faith when everything else is against you – when circumstances are bad, your friends abandon you, your own emotions betray you and it would just be easier to quit. We talked about two main ways to strengthen yourself in the Lord.

Individual Prophetic Words
Like David in 1 Samuel 30, we recall the words God has spoken over our lives. I do this through voice recordings, saving emails, and writing things down in my journal. I have a growing list of prophetic promises over my life that all share specific themes, even though they were given by different people in different times and places. As I review my prophetic history, my life’s calling comes into greater clarity and focus.

I believe we all need people with prophetic gifts in our lives. Prophets in the Church are primarily called to encourage, equip and edify the body. I liken each and every person to a gold mine – we all have some gold nuggets surrounded by loads and loads of dirt. It doesn’t take a prophet to see the dirt, but it does take someone with supernatural vision to see the “gold,” the amazing things God has put inside of us to bless one another.

However, not everyone lives in a Christian community where the gift of prophecy is actively practiced. And some people live in communities where there is so much prophetic activity that it is hard to see straight. So individual prophetic words, as wonderful and necessary as they are, can’t be the sole guiding force in your life. For that, we turn to God’s Word.

Corporate Prophetic Words
The Bible is an amazing creation. It is roughly 2,100 years of God’s interaction with humankind, recorded and synthesized for our benefit. God’s Wisdom has been filtered through nearly 4,000 years of human experience and been shown to be without equal in showing people how to live. More than that, it is a record of what God wants to do in and through His People. It is overflowing with God’s promises towards us.

The wonderful thing about the Bible is that it doesn’t take advanced degrees to understand. Really, a 12 year old probably reads it with more insight than someone with a Ph.D. The Bible says we are supposed to feed the hungry – so we do it. The Bible says we are supposed to heal the sick and raise the dead – so we do it. Because God’s Word is the supreme authority in our lives, whenever our circumstances don’t align with God’s Word we have the right to doubt our circumstances

This is where we step into the area of faith. Will we believe God’s Word, hold fast to His promises and take the next step of faith? Or will we decide our emotions are our supreme reality and discredit God’s Word? I’ve tried it both ways. The first is tremendously difficult, especially when it comes to trying to raise the dead; but the second is disasterous. The moment we begin to discredit, compromise or explain away God’s Word our whole life falls apart. Strengthening yourself in the Lord is about trusting His Word and finding yourself in His Story.

The Greater David
I began this post by referencing the story of David in 1 Samuel 30. At this time, David is in exile and biding his time until he is crowned king. While he and his army were away, some enemies came and pillaged the camp – they took everyone into slavery. When David and his men return to find the camp burned and their families enslaved, the men turn mutinous. David withdraws to strengthen himself in the Lord. When he returns, he rallies his men to go after their enemies. The men agree and overtake their foes. They put every enemy to death and are reunited with their loved ones. They return to rebuild their camp.

The Truth of the Bible is that there is a Greater David. There is another man spoken about in the Bible who was in exile and waiting to be crowned King. He, too, found that his bride had been captured and enslaved. His friends all abandoned him and he knelt alone in a garden to strengthen himself in the Lord. He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” And after finding strength in the Lord his God, this King readied himself for battle. For three days he fought his enemies until they were put completely beneath his feet and this King, this Jesus of Nazareth, strode confidently out of the tomb having overcome sin, death and the devil.

The Truth of the Bible is that, even now, this Jesus reigns Supreme. Sin and death are defeated foes who should no longer intimidate the people of God. And this is our ultimate source of strength – for whenever our hearts condemn us and our circumstances lead us to despair, this one truth remains – Jesus is alive. And if He lives, then we also shall live, provided we remain in his love. That fact alone puts everything into perspective. That fact alone empowers us to live lives of faith and victory.

So for anyone who struggles with depression or despair, find yourself in this Story. Jesus loves you, he fought for you and he won you from the grip of sin and death. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you and has proven himself by placing his spirit in you – the same spirit that raised him from the dead. You are a fighter. You are victorious. If you don’t quit you will win a crown of everlasting life.

Blessings to you my friends!

Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target Update and Challenge

Last week, I wrote about a concept/spiritual warfare strategy known as Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target. You can read the original post here. I wanted to update you on how things have been going and to offer you a chance to experiment with me. First, the update:

Update
I’m impressed with how effective this strategy is at removing the Prayer Trigger. As I stated in my previous post, I wanted to have better control over my thought life so I chose lustful thoughts as my trigger. I just completed my third workout for the week and only prayed about 5 times – and that is because I was taking any opportunity as an excuse to pray. I can’t believe how quickly my thought life has snapped into shape. What used to feel humiliating and overwhelming now seems insignificant and easily manageable.

Since it is the two week mark, it is time to reevaluate my trigger. Obviously, with such great progress I need to find a new one. Since it has gotten colder here in Iowa, I think I’ll mark “talking about the weather” my new trigger. So anytime anyone (including myself) mentions the weather, it will trigger me to pray. Which brings me to the Challenge/Experiment portion of this post.

My Challenge to You
I’d like to challenge you to join me for a 6 week Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target Experiment. You can choose whatever trigger you’d like, but I’m asking you to join me in praying for salvation for the leaders of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the news and let you know of anything that looks like a tangible response to our prayers. Things I’ll be looking for: the leaders of ISIS submitting their lives to Christ, mass desertions of troops from ISIS, infighting/confusion amongst ISIS forces or any other major story I come across.

I’ll keep doing a weekly update on Saturdays to let you know how things are going for me and to share any stories that I find. I’d love to hear from you too. Let me know if you agree to the challenge by “liking” this post or commenting below. And let me know the progress you’re making with your Prayer Triggers.

Have a great weekend friends!

Credited Righteousness

“Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

When a bank offers someone a line of credit it is an act of trust and obligation. Essentially, the bank says – “I’ll give this to you now so that you can use it and repay me later.” The bank trusts that they will receive their credit back, plus interest.

A bank expects that the person using the credit will use it in such a way that causes the person’s wealth to grow – such as starting a new business. The credit is a “seed” that a person plants and when the harvest comes in, the “seed” money is repaid, plus an agreed upon rental fee. The “farmer” keeps the rest of the harvest as profit. It is possible that, given an abundant harvest, the “farmer” becomes self sufficient and no longer needs to borrow from the bank. This is the ideal situation.

I wonder if it is the same with God? God credits us with Christ’s Righteousness. In effect He says, “I’m going to give you, right now, something you haven’t yet earned – the same [perks of] righteousness that Jesus has. I trust that you are going to use it to prosper and that you will be able to give back to me even more than I gave to you.”

Through our belief we gain access to Christ’s righteousness – that allows us to live, think, feel and act the way Christ did. It allows us to be free from sin. It allows us to bear fruit – 30, 60 or 100 times what was sown.

The question for me then is this: Am I using Christ’s righteousness in a way that is causing me to prosper, or am I just sitting on it? Am I praying for people? Am I evangelizing? Am I feeding the hungry? Am I doing the whole multitude of good works God has created me for? And when I see Him face to face and settle my account, will my life have a harvest of righteousness so that I can “repay” Him, or more accurately, show that I was a good steward of His gift?

Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target

Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target is a 10 minute teaching by a man named Arthur Burk. You can watch it here I really like Arthur’s stuff. Some folks might think it is “strange,” “weird” or “out there,” but I have found it to be practical, Biblically grounded and, above all, effective.

Prayer Trigger, Prayer Target (for those of you who chose not to watch the video) works like this:

(1) Choose a prayer trigger. Something that annoys the crap out of you is ideal.

(2) Choose someone to pray for (your prayer target). Go for the highest of the high or the lowest of the low. Choose someone you admire, respect and want to be like or choose someone so wicked you know it would be a miracle for them to find Jesus. If you chose the Godly person, pray for intimacy and/or power. If you chose the unGodly person, pray for salvation.

(3) Whenever you are triggered, launch out a 3 second prayer at your target. It can be spoken or unspoken. The key is to keep it short so that you can do it quickly and often.

(4) Give it two weeks and review. If you aren’t triggering often anymore, choose a new trigger, keep the same target. Expect things to get worse before they get better.

Here is an example from my life.

Prayer Trigger: lustful thoughts (I work out at a college gym three times per week and have the opportunity to be triggered about every 30 seconds.)

Prayer Target: power for Bill Johnson, pastor of Redding, CA

Whenever I’m triggered (i.e. am aware of a lustful thought) I launch out this prayer: “Power for Bill. Make cancer flee at his touch.” I sometimes pray more or for others things, but that is my “go to” prayer. I got really aggressive with this and started launching out prayers between every set, regardless of trigger. Pretty soon, I was lifting with all dudes – seriously.

What I need to remember, though, is that beautiful women aren’t my enemy. Lustful thoughts are. I’ve been at this for about a week and have noticed a marked decrease in triggers, both in the gym and outside it. I’ll let you know how the next week goes.

Until then, have at it and let me know your experiences.