“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”

Psalm 51:7-8 (ESV)

Hebrews 10:26-39 (Psalm 51)

Of Bleach and Broken Bones

The smell of bleach tells you something has been recently cleansed. You and I might wrinkle our nose at the smell, but we know what it means. If you had never smelled bleach, then you would have no idea that it is used to cleanse things. I am not familiar with hyssop, but I imagine the smell of it had a similar association for David when he was writing Psalm 51.

If you have never broken a bone, then you don’t know the deep throbbing ache that just doesn’t stop. It gets worse whenever you try to use the bone that is broken or whenever someone or something presses upon it. You can tell that something isn’t right, even if outward appearances don’t show you what is wrong. I think David must have known about broken bones. As a warrior and a king, I doubt he was a stranger to that type of injury.

 I think this is evidenced by the fact that he used broken bones to illustrate the sense of divine judgment the believer experiences when in rebellion against God. I have broken bones at least three times and perhaps a fourth. I have known the acute sense of being in rebellion toward God far too many times to count.

It is important to remember that David wrote this as someone who believed in God, was called by God, anointed by the prophet of God, kept by the promises of God, and still he committed grievous sins against God. As I began preparing for a sermon on the second section of Hebrews chapter 10, this Psalm came to my mind. It was a sermon from this Psalm that God used to call me back from a long period of rebellion. It remains one of my favorite chapters of Scripture.

  • Hebrews 10:26-31 serves as a dire warning, specifically to believers, against continuing in willful or deliberate sin against God’s clear commandments.
  • Hebrews 10:32-39 reveals to us the strategy for escaping such temptation is to remember what God has already done in delivering us. He must be the source of our confidence to continue in love and obedience.
  • Psalm 51 and the life of David show us a picture of how God does not excuse the sin of his people. He is faithful to keep us in accordance to his promises, but real faith means we respond to his discipline by learning obedience from it and teaching others to do likewise.

 

 

Matthew 6:5-15

… “Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (Let) your kingdom come, (let) your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptations, but deliver us from evil.

Revitalizing our Prayer Time

Teach us to pray…

We have recently begun live-streaming our worship services. This technology makes our prayer time together much more accessible but also more public. We want our prayers for the needs of people we care about to be specific, but we also want to honor the confidentiality of medical diagnoses and treatments and be otherwise sensitive to the concerns of family members.

Instead of the detailed requests being announced within the congregation, we want to encourage those conversations to be held first in smaller groups and then given in advance of the worship service unless they are personal and immediate. We have a digital prayer request form and prayer cards will be available in the worship service. We have a private prayer group on Facebook and we have weekly church prayer meetings with video conferencing available.

Our leaders will work to make sure that the person or family in need can be contacted before we share it from the pulpit. But we are still going to pray for every request as a church that we can bring to our minds during worship. The plan for how to do that is already given to us by Jesus. This is also how we can make sure that our prayers are focused mainly on God and our need for him during our worship. We can use the model of prayer given to us by Jesus to guide our prayer time in our worship service. Our prayers together can and should be interactive as we try to lead and bear one another’s burdens. We want you to have a chance to participate and write out or plan in advance how you will pray. 

  • Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. As a congregation, we want to recall just how holy God’s name is. We want to use scripture to shape how we honor his name, even as we are praying.
  • Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We want to think of how God is using our church to make the gospel of the kingdom known in our community and to all the earth. This includes praying for our lost friends, families and neighbors by name. Pray for disciples to be made here and in all nations. Be specific as to name and need as we pray together for lost people and unreached and under reached groups of people.
  • Give us this day our daily bread… This is where we need to mention the specific needs within our congregation. If we know of urgent needs in our larger community, pray for them now within the gathering. Pray out loud, pray quietly, or silently as the Holy Spirit leads each of us. 
  • …and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Now is when we examine ourselves. We have sins that we bring into worship unintentionally, and we may be harboring unforgiveness toward other people. This is where we repent publicly and safely. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in repentance. 
  • And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Even here in worship and praying in groups together, we are not exempt from temptation and we should remind ourselves and each other of the real dangers in temptations. We need to be able to recognize temptation as spiritual warfare. We don’t need to see other people as our enemy in prayer, we can all be deceived by the enemy of our souls. Remind each other out loud as the Spirit leads of the possible temptation we might face here and in the week ahead.
  • For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, AMEN. Return to meditations from scripture on God’s holiness, his authority, his sovereignty and his goodness in giving us what we need. 

 

Prayer Request Form

Facebook Prayer Group

 

…God will not withhold any good gift we ask of him and he will not give us anything harmful to his good purposes, even if we ask him.


 

Luke 11:1-13

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.”  And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name, You’re kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, 
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. 
And lead us not into temptation.”

And He said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me, the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is is friend, yet because of his impudence (persistence) he will rise and give him whatever he needs. Ad I tell you, ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

Ask who, not what, we need.


How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit

If you aren’t familiar with the life and writing of A.W. Tozer, then let me just begin by encouraging you to find one of his books and read it. Many of them are available free on the internet or at little cost to download. I will include a link to his work at the end of this letter. Most of his work is very quick and easy to read. The one that inspired me to write this reflection is called How to Be Filled With the Holy Spirit. It’s just four short chapters and I highly recommend it.

I am also reflecting on news this week (Kentucky Today) that Lifeway plans to sell Ridgecrest Conference Center. This place was a big part of the life of our church for my entire adolescence. If I were to choose a period of time when I remember our church thriving, then my mind would go back to these years. As a church, it is important to remember the successes we have had in ministry and to learn from them. It is also important to recognize flaws in our strategies and correct them. 

Tozer, in the third chapter of his book that bears the same time title, uses Jesus’ teaching on prayer from the book of Luke to emphasize one of the keys to experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit in our churches and the lives of our church members. We are probably more familiar with Matthew’s account of our Lord’s prayer, but it is here that we see Jesus connect his familiar outline for faithful, God-centered prayer to the gift of his Holy Spirit. 

And so, for our prayer as a church right now, I think we do well to study this teaching very closely. The Holy Spirit, working through Luke, has preserved Jesus’ words condensing many of his teachings on prayer into a single passage. We shouldn’t waste this gift, no matter how difficult it is for us to accept or understand. I think the correct interpretation of this teaching is that God will not withhold any good gift we ask of him and he will not give us anything harmful to his good purposes, even if we ask him. If we keep asking for gifts that will harm our church, he won’t give us something bad, but he will give us something better. The difficulty lies in the truth that if we are asking for something and God isn’t giving it, then it must be somehow harmful for us.

This is especially true for and of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible reveals him as a unique person of the trinity, in that he is himself a gift that comes from the Father and from the Son. We should be careful to not confuse the gift of his person with the gifts that he gives us as a person. This is a hard difference for me to understand much less explain, but I realize that there needs to be distinction because it comes from Scripture. 

We might be tempted to ask God to return to us the gifts from the Holy Spirit and confuse them with the gift of the Holy Spirit himself. Whatever God is doing now in our church, it must be and will be different than what he has done in the past. He doesn’t need to bring back the good old days because his kingdom is still to come. 

We had some good weeks at Ridgecrest. I don’t question that they were a gift from God. God was able to work and move by his Holy Spirit. And yet, when I think of the dozens of children and teenagers our church took to those retreats, I see a need for something more. We saw many decisions made and many students were baptized as a result. But did our church make disciples? How many are now making disciples because of what they learned? 

Many of those students have moved away from our local church. More than a few are part of other local churches, and that is not to be discounted. Let’s not ask what could we have done better then. Then is gone and it doesn’t come back, but let’s be honest about how we need something better now. 

Are we ready to ask for him like it’s an emergency in the middle of the night? If we aren’t desiring him that much, then we are probably asking for selfish gifts instead of his holy presence with us. Let’s not ask the Holy Spirit to give us gifts we think will help our church. Let’s start by asking God to fill us with the gift of his Holy Spirit and trust that whatever gifts come from him will be perfect for our church and God’s good purposes in us.

 

A.W. TOZER kentucky today

  • Genesis 50:20
  • Romans 8:26-30
  • Ephesians 2:8-10
  • Philippians 4:11-13, 19

COVID-19 Should Have Killed Our Church

It sounds harsh, but it’s true. Saying it should give us reason to hope and not despair.

At the end of 2019, due to family and health reasons, our pastor of over 13 years resigned. It was messy and difficult and our church has been struggling since then. We had been shrinking steadily for the past 5 years. Our attempts at revitalization had stalled and the plateau had turned into decline. I started “filling in” to take pressure off our pastor and then just to provide stability between other guest preachers. I didn’t plan on preaching every Sunday. I planned to be teaching school 5 days a week and coaching middle school soccer. I planned to be coordinating pulpit supply and leading the search for another pastor. That isn’t what is happening now. 

COVID-19 became a worldwide, life-changing, life- and livelihood-threatening pandemic. We are without a pastor. We can’t safely schedule any in-person meetings. We could have just stopped everything. I don’t think anyone would have blamed us.


We live-streamed our worship service for the first time on March 15 with a guest preacher and a smaller-than-our-usual congregation. We met with only about 30 people in a room that could hold 150. We streamed the service with a personal cell phone and about fifty dollars invested in a tripod and external microphone. As the threat grew, we made the hard decision to cancel all in-person services for the next week and until further notice. I prepared a sermon from Hebrews before we decided to cancel the service. Feeling a pressing need to do something, I nervously live-streamed the message alone in our church’s worship hall. 

Hundreds of people have viewed each of our streamed services that would have otherwise only been heard by dozens, or never heard at all. People have started contacting our church and our church members personally to find out more about who we are and what we believe. One of my friends, for whom I have prayed for three years has said she now believes in Jesus and wants to be baptized as soon as possible.

I bought an FM transmitter because I could not stand the idea of an Easter without some kind of church gathering. We began hosting live-streaming and drive-up worship simultaneously. The small team working to lead these worship services spans multiple generations in age. I am not trying to boast in our results, but I do want us to rejoice because of them. I have long made use of whatever leadership and theology training resources I could access, but I still don’t feel ready for any of this. 

“Many people are hearing and seeing the gospel preached and celebrated by our church that have never or rarely been to our building.”

Most of our congregation is older than me. I am now almost 40-years-old. We have less than half of our congregation coming to the drive-up worship but many more are watching online. Many of our people are still nervous even sitting in cars with windows rolled up. I understand. Many people are hearing and seeing the gospel preached and celebrated by our church that have never or rarely been to our building. God is good.

We are cautiously optimistic, but eternally hopeful. Our church might still not survive this season.  It is possible we will lose some people we love to this virus. And God is still good. We pray for God’s mercy and trust in his grace. I know that God is good because he is God. I know that our church needs to look different coming out of this season than we looked going into it. We already look different. I trust God to make sure we have what we need when we emerge on the other side, wherever and whenever that is. 

We didn’t ask for this, but this is what God has given us. Even though it seems evil, we must be confident that he will use it for something good. We know that he is accomplishing his good works in and for those who love him and are called according to his good purposes. He has told us this is how it works.