SOUL TREKKING
WITH 

PASTOR STEVE


 

Pastor Steve’s Beliefs

 

 

 

As you read my essays on the other pages you might find yourself wondering, “Where is this guy coming from?”  Well, this page answers that question by presenting my basic beliefs (and the beliefs of those in The Christian Church who hold on to Reformed theology).  Want to find out what this “Jesus stuff” is all about?  Read on!

 

 

 

 

An Interview With Steve


He talks about growing up, 
joining the church, 
and how his beliefs 
have matured over the years.

Welcome To Disneyworld
preached at 2004 Baccalaureate, 
the Sunday before my son's high school graduation.

Question to Pastor Steve:
What would you say are two main things wrong with many congregations as they exist in America today?

 

 

Page last updated on 10-29-2008.  
See What's New for details.

 

 

Questions and Answers about the Normal Christian Life

NOTE:  Questions are listed first in case you are interested in
a particular subject.  Scroll down for all Q's and A's.

 

 

Part One: INTRODUCTION

What can give me the desire and strength to keep going no matter what happens to me in life?
 

 

How can the fact that I belong to Christ become more real to me and affect my attitudes, moods, actions, and decisions?  How can I hear the Spirit’s voice more clearly? 



Part Two:

WHO IS GOD?  

What is God?

 

Who Then Is God?

 

Why are some aspects of God so hard for me to understand?

 

Are there ways in which God is like us?

 

How does God communicate with us?

 

How can we communicate with God?

 

How does God enter into a relationship with us?

 

What problems does God have with us?

 

How then does God take care of this?

 

Are God's problems with me automatically taken care of then? Don’t I have to do anything in order to be forgiven?

 

What is God's plan for His people?



Part Three:

WHO AM I?

Why did God create human beings?

 

It sounds like human beings are great and noble creatures.  Why is it then that we break God’s laws?   

 

Will I ever get to the point where I will never break God's law again?

 

You said, "Forever." Does that mean we won't die?

 

What does God want me to do with my life here and now?

 

How do I discover what my gifts, etc. are and how to use them?



Part Four:

THE SPIRITUAL

EXERCISES

Why are the exercises important?

 

What are The Spiritual Exercises?

 

What is Baptism?

 

What is The Lord's Supper?

 

What is Worship?

 

What is Prayer?

 

What is Bible Study?

 

What is Meditation?

 

What is Fellowship?

 

What is Service?

 

What is Rest?



Part Five

THE NORMAL

CHRISTIAN

LIFE

What is the normal Christian life like?


 
 
 

Part One: INTRODUCTION
 

What can give me the desire and strength to keep going no matter what happens to me in life?

 

The fact that I belong to my Savior, Jesus Christ. He paid the fine I owed God because of my sins with His own blood and gives me the power I need to escape the devil's stranglehold on my life. 

Christ watches over me and orders my life, so that anything and everything that happens to me will be used to draw me closer to Him and help me grow to be a mature Christian, becoming more and more like Jesus Himself.

Because I belong to Him, Christ (by His Holy Spirit) assures my heart and mind that not even death will be the end of me, but that I'll live with God forever.
 

How can the fact that I belong to Christ become more real to me and affect my attitudes, moods, actions, and decisions? How can I hear the Spirit's voice more clearly?

 

By learning about and understanding both God and myself, and by practicing the spiritual exercises.  If I do this, Christ will become more real to me and I will be able to hear the Spirit's voice more clearly.


 
 
 

Part Two: WHO IS GOD?
 

What is God? 

 

God is not an impersonal, spiritual force that we somehow tap into. 

God is not some kind of energy that binds the universe together. 

God is not the collected psychic power of the human race.

God is an invisible spiritual being with a distinct personality and the ability to feel emotions. 

God doesn't depend on us or the universe for his existence; instead, He created everything that exists. 

God is not really then a "what," but a "who."
 

Who Then Is God?
 

God is a being who has always been alive (even before the world began) and will always be alive. 

The passing of time doesn't change Him or make Him weaker. 

He has no need to learn from experiences because He is completely wise already. 

He is also completely good; completely fair, honest, and above-board; supremely powerful; the ultimate Authority and Ruler in the Universe. 

God is not like us because He never chooses to do anything that is morally wrong. 

He is also different from us in that He is not bound to the material world, or space, or time (i.e. He is not "stuck" with gravity, time passing, the need to breathe, eat, sleep, etc.). 

He is also very alien to us because He is in control of everything that happens - nothing catches Him by surprise and He is never a helpless victim of circumstance. 

God is very different than we are because He has a passion for justice that can never be diminished by weariness or set aside for the sake of expediency. 

God is not like us because although there is only one single God, there are three distinct persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - who are that one God.
 

Why are some aspects of God so hard for me to understand?
 

It is natural that some things about God would be hard for us to understand because God is so different than we are.

He is a spiritual being. We are physical beings. With our limited minds, we will not be able to fully comprehend an unlimited God. 

It is arrogant to assume that we can figure out the one who shaped the universe.
 

Are there ways in which God is like us?
 

Yes. God loves, hates, plans, creates, thinks, builds, achieves, expresses Himself, takes pleasure in beauty and diversity, is disgusted by cruelty and evil. 

God communicates. 

God enters into relationships.
 
 

How does God communicate with us?
 

He exhibits to us His existence, power, and His genius, in the material world he made.

He sometimes speaks through dreams, circumstances, feelings, and voices deep within our hearts and minds.

The Holy Spirit speaks through other believers to us.

God showed us exactly what He is like when the Son came to earth as a human being and lived among us. 

Through Jesus Christ's words, actions, and sacrifice we can see the invisible God.

God has given us a book filled with His thoughts and the story of what He is doing in human history. This book is the Bible. 

God prompted men and women in the past to write words that are true and that accurately reveal God and His plans and desires to us. 

These collected writings, the Bible, are our final authority on God. 

If we ever wonder whether messages we are receiving are from God or not, we must check the Bible.
 

How can we communicate with God?
 

Actions speak louder than words. 

When we contribute our time, talents, and treasures to advance God's plan for the world, we are telling God that we believe in Him and cherish Him. 

When we act in love towards those in need, we are showing God that we love Him. 

When we determine to live our lives the way God tells us to in the Bible, we are telling Him that we know that He is smarter than we are and that He has the right to rule over us.

But we can also communicate with God in the same way that we communicate with other humans that we love (God is a being with identity, intelligence, and personality, remember). 

We can talk to God - sharing with Him our feelings, fears, frustrations, needs, promises, appreciation, and devotion. 

Talking to God is called "prayer." 

We can also use the words of others when we communicate with God. 

Just as you might share the words of a song which describe your feelings to a friend, so you can sing hymns and Christian songs to God. 

Just as you choose a greeting card that "really says it all" to send to a loved one, so you can choose Bible passages or portions of other Christian literature to read to God. 

Of course, you can also use your own creativity to communicate with God - write your own song or poem, paint Him a picture, compose a letter, etc.
 

How does God enter into a relationship with us?
 

If two countries are trying to establish diplomatic relations, they first have to clear the air about past hostilities. 

If someone told you he or she wanted to be your friend, yet had never paid you for the time he or she ran over your mailbox or never took back the nasty things once said about your spouse, would you embrace him or her as a friend? 

No.  If relationships are going to be lasting and sincere, any problems between the parties have to be worked out. 

Because God wants to have a lasting and sincere relationship with us, He first needs to take care of the problems He has with us.
 
 

What problems does God have with us?
 

Although God gave us life and keeps us alive, we often don't even acknowledge His existence. 

And He, as the Ruler of the Universe, and the one who set up the way the universe works, gave us His laws:
 

- laws that if obeyed would end wars, crime, substance abuse, broken friendships, family feuds, divorce, hurt feelings, violence, gossip, and many of the physical ills that plague humankind,

- laws that if obeyed would make our lives fuller, happier, and healthier. 


These laws were summarized by Jesus Christ as, 
 

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."

and,

"You shall love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself." 


None of us obeys these laws perfectly and because we don't, God's sense of justice demands that we face the penalty of being separated from God and His good gifts forever.
 

How then does God take care of this?

 
God is not only a being with a passion for justice.  He's also a loving, forgiving being. 

He determined that not all humans would have to pay the penalty for their own law-breaking (called "sin"). 

Instead, the Father sent Jesus Christ to be punished in the place of those He wants to be His people. 

God's justice is then satisfied because the "fine," as it were, has been paid and His people are now forgiven and free to enter a relationship with Him.
 
 

Are God's problems with me automatically taken care of then? Don't I have to do anything in order to be forgiven?

 
You are not automatically forgiven. 

You must believe in Christ and repent of your sins. 

But God even helps you do these things. 

God will work to draw you to Himself using the Bible, circumstances in your life, other people, etc. 

He will bring you to the point where you truly believe that Jesus Christ did pay your penalty when He died on the cross. 

He will cause you to want to stop sinning and to start living God's way. 

The Holy Spirit will come to live within you, giving you wisdom, strength, love, power, and courage to obey God's laws and to participate in God's plan for His people.
 
 

What is God's plan for His people?

 
God wants those who have a relationship with Him to reach out to those who don't and be used to draw others to Him. 

As God's people grow in numbers and are enabled, by the Holy Spirit, to obey God more and more and to become more and more like Jesus Christ Himself, our world will change and some of the effects of mankind's disobedience (wars, crime, broken relationships, etc.) will diminish. 

Ultimately, all effects will vanish when Jesus Christ returns to earth and brings to completion the work that God has started through His people.


Part Three: WHO AM I?

Why did God create human beings?

 
We were made to be the means by which God's power is unleashed in this world. 

God wants us to rule the world as His agents, unlocking the secrets of the universe and using them to create and build. 

We are to be God's caretakers in this world, cherishing and preserving His creation. 

Humans have unlimited potential when they work together using the gifts and abilities God has given.
 
 

It sounds like human beings are great and noble creatures. Why is it then that we break God's laws?

 
The first humans that God created rebelled against Him.

Ever since that time, we have an inborn tendency to selfishly and egocentrically view ourselves as the center of the universe and to resent God telling us how we are to live. 

This is why you need Jesus to save you from your sins. This is why you need the Holy Spirit, so that you will have the power to overcome the weakness in your nature. 

On your own, you can't do it. 

In fact, all the "good" that you try to do is tainted with a little bit of evil. 

For example, when you give to a charity, maybe 95 per cent of you gives because you care about the suffering children in far-off lands, but isn't there a part of you that does it so that you can feel good about yourself, or so that you can tell someone else what you've done? 

This is why God had to send Jesus to die for us and why we on our own can't just make amends with God. None of our "good works" are pure enough.
 
 

Will I ever get to the point where I will never break God's law again?
 

As you mature in the faith by doing the spiritual exercises, you will sin less and less. 

When Jesus comes again, His power will wipe out every vestige of weakness in our natures and we will remain perfect forever.
 
 

You said, "Forever." Does that mean we won't die?

 
When one of God's people dies, a spiritual part of that person goes to be with God right away. 

When Jesus returns, those who believed in Him who have died will be raised from the dead with immortal bodies. 

Those who believe in Him and have never died will find their bodies transformed into immortal ones. 

We shall then live in the full presence of God in perfect peace and love forever. 

We know that this is not a fairy tale or wishful thinking because after Jesus died for our sins, He came to life again, leaving the tomb and proving that death doesn't have the last laugh.
 

What does God want me to do with my life here and now?
 

As one of His people, you are once again a conduit of God's power and His agent in the world. 

He gives you special spiritual gifts, abilities, interests, inclinations, and a unique personality which you are expected to use to impact your home, family, neighborhood, friends, school, workplace, and world for God.
 

How do I discover what my gifts, etc. are and how to use them?
 

God will make these things clear to you as you do the spiritual exercises.


 

Part Four:  THE SPIRITUAL EXERCISES

Why are the exercises important?
 

Just as your physical body gets weak if you don't exercise it, so your life with God gets weak if you don't exercise it.

You want to grow strong enough to overcome the inherent weakness in your nature. 

Also, you've got to get strong enough to resist the peer pressure from those who aren't living God's way. 

And you've got to be strong to conquer your enemy, Satan. 

Satan is the leader of spiritual beings that were created by God but rebelled against him. 

They now exist to deface, defame, degrade, and destroy God's creation - including you!!! 

You can frustrate his plans for you by relying on the Holy Spirit's power and by doing your spiritual exercises.
 
 

What are The Spiritual Exercises?
 

Baptism, The Lord's Supper, Worship, Prayer, Bible Study, Meditation, Fellowship, Service and Rest.

 

What is Baptism?
 

When you buy a new book do you put your name on it, or glue in a sticker that says "From the Library Of...?" 

If you lend the book out, you want to make sure that the borrower knows who it belongs to, so you put your mark of ownership on it. 

Baptism is God's mark of ownership on you. 

The fact that you've been baptized reminds you that, while you spend much of your life out among unbelievers, being buffeted about by Satan's temptations, you, in reality, belong to God. 

God wants his seal of ownership to be placed on all who believe in Jesus and on their children to clearly show that they are all His.

You receive His seal when the church applies water (symbolizing the Holy Spirit's power to clean up your act with God) to you (by sprinkling it on your head, pouring it on your head, or submerging you in it) and proclaiming that you are baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

As you witness and participate in the baptism of others, you'll be reminded of the fact that you are God's treasured possession. 

You'll gain love and respect for others that belong to Him, too. 

You'll be challenged to raise your baptized children by God's rules because you will be aware that they, too, are God's.
 
 

What is The Lord's Supper?
 

Sometimes complicated spiritual truths can be illustrated by using common household objects. 

This is what the pastor often does when he or she gives the Children's Sermon. 

God gives us an object lesson to teach us how much we have to depend on Jesus Christ for forgiveness, power, and eternal life. 

Just as we can't go for long without food and still stay alive, so we can't go without Jesus. God makes this point by using bread and drink to represent Christ.

Just as Jesus' body was broken when He died to pay your fine on the cross, so bread is broken and the pieces are handed out. 

Just as Jesus' blood poured out on the ground when He died for us, so a drink (usually something that comes from grapes) is poured out and distributed.

When we eat the bread and drink the drink with other believers we are reminded that we all have equal status in God's eyes and that we all need Jesus. 

No believer is so perfect or so above it all that they are not served the Lord's Supper. 

And the food and drink isn't only served to those who have been believers for a long time or only to those who have just been converted or only to those who work hardest in the church. 

No, every believer gets some because every believer needs Christ.

The Lord's supper isn't only an object lesson. 

God uses it in a special way that we can't fully explain to draw us near to Jesus and strengthen us for living the life God wants us to live.
 
 

What is Worship?
 

When you tell someone how wonderful he or she is, you are worshiping that person.

We worship God when we tell Him how wonderful we think He is. 

We can do this alone as individuals and together with other believers. Both types of worship are important.

We worship by singing and praying to God and by quieting down and paying attention as God speaks to us through the preaching, teaching, and studying of the Bible. 

We worship when we give God money by contributing to the church and other Christian groups.  By doing this, we tell God that He and His causes are worth something to us.

We also worship by continually choosing to live our day-to-day lives according to God's rules, showing Him that we believe He knows best.
 
 

What is Prayer?
 

Prayer is talking to God.

If you have difficulty knowing what to say to Him or how to begin a conversation with Him, keep in mind the word, "ACTS."   The letters stand for:
 

Appreciation
 

Tell God the things you appreciate about Him, the things that make Him special to you.


Confession
 

Admit to God the ways in which you've blown it, asking for His forgiveness and help to do better.


Thanksgiving
 

What's going on in your life or the lives of others that you want to thank God for?


Supplication
 

The word means, "to ask for something." 

What's going on in your life or the lives of others that you need to ask God's help for?


Prayer can be done alone, or with a group.
 
 

What is Bible Study?
 

Bible Study is reading the Bible, staying alert for what God has to say to you. 

One way to do this is by asking yourself these questions as you read parts of the Bible:
 

"What is this teaching me about God Himself?"

"What is this teaching me about what all humans are like?"

"What is this teaching me about what those who belong to God are like?"


There is value in studying the Bible with other believers as God speaks through insights He gives to believers as they concentrate on His book.
 
 

What is Meditation?
 

When you hear the word, "Meditation," you might picture a bunch of gurus sitting in a circle, chanting phrases over and over again, trying to empty their minds. 

Actually, when those who belong to God meditate, they are not trying to empty their minds, but rather to fill them.

Meditating is focusing your minds on one story, verse, phrase, or word in the Bible and using your imagination to wring every last drop of meaning out of it.

For example, if you're reading a story about Jesus healing a blind man, try to imagine how the man felt as he suddenly could see for the first time! 
 

How did Jesus feel toward the man? 

How do you think those observing this healing reacted?


If you read that "The Lord God is a sun and shield," ask yourself how God is like the sun. 
 

What does it mean to have God as your shield? 

How do you feel standing behind such a shield?
 
 

What is Fellowship?
 

If you attend a high school reunion, you get together with people you might not ordinarily see because you have something in common - you all graduated from the same school the same year.

Fellowship is getting together with other believers, even some you might not ordinarily associate with, simply because you have in common the fact that you all belong to God. 

You can get together to share a meal, have a party, see a movie, discuss problems, study the Bible, pray, worship, etc. 

The important thing is that you are choosing to be with these people because of the relationship you all have with God.
 
 

What is Service?
 

"Community service" organizations are those which dedicate their time and talents to doing good deeds that better the lives of those living in their communities. 

The Spiritual Exercise of Service is using your time and talents to do good deeds that improve the lives of other believers and/or advance God's plan in the world.

As you are willing to try out various activities (teaching a Sunday School class, painting a sign, visiting people in hospitals, serving on a church committee, setting up for a dinner, etc.), it will become obvious to you and to others what you are good at and what you enjoy doing. 

Then you can work at becoming stronger and more experienced in these areas.
 

What is Rest?

 
Rest is not just trying to get eight hours of sleep a night.

God wants us to set aside periods of time when we don't think or worry about our problems, and when we don't work at our jobs or get engrossed in our daily routines. 

God's ideal is that we would take one day a week off, away from our normal cares, concerns, and activities, trusting that the world won't fall apart without us because He is in charge. 

It's also helpful to take time during the week to push your worries out of your mind awhile, as this will help you rely on God to be your strength, instead of relying solely on your own ability to work things out.
 

Part Five: THE NORMAL CHRISTIAN LIFE

 

What is the normal Christian life like?

I read an excellent article which I believe summarizes what the normal Christian life is all about in the July 12, 1999 issue of "Christianity Today" by Mark Buchanan entitled "Stuck On The Road To Emmaus."   Here's what I took away from it:

 

We're always looking for fulfillment in our spiritual lives and to find the novel, thrilling insight into The Spiritual Exercises, a new filling of The Holy Spirit, the new daily devotional program, etc. that will take us to a higher plane. 

The truth may be that the disciples' experience on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) is closer to what real, biblical Christianity is than all our lofty, "sanctified" wishes are. 

The disciples are caught up in their worries and grief so that it's hard for them to recognize Jesus as He walks with them. 

When He does try to talk with them, their initial response is essentially, "What's wrong with you? Don't you understand what I'm going through?" 

How often does this happen in our lives as well?  The disciples only realized Jesus was with them after the fact. 

Often as we go through trials, we can't "see" God. 

It's only later that we can discern that He really was there, walking with us and walking us through them.

 Yet, as Jesus talks to them, their hearts burn within them. 

Even in the midst of life's sorrows and struggles, we can still admit deep down inside that there's something about the Bible and it's message that rings true, that tells us that it's from God. 

Later, the disciples remember their reaction to Jesus' words. "Didn't our hearts burn?" 

Often what enables us to keep on keeping on are memories of times when God seemed so real and when something supernatural was definitely going on - be it a miraculous answer to prayer, a small voice inside, His presence at a worship service, a period in our lives when God seemed close, or whatever.

Because, as he did with the disciples, Jesus seems always to quickly vanish from our sight. 

About the time we joyfully realize, "God is really here," He's gone again. 

He gives us just enough of those "God moments" in our lives to keep us going, usually when we're not looking for them and least expect them. 

But full communion and revelation of Him awaits heaven, and even with the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we still walk by faith and not by sight. 

For now, we live in a world where the "high" that we got in prayer vanishes when we have to yell at the kids later that afternoon, or when the burrito we had for lunch comes back to visit again and again, or when we file our income taxes.

Yet, still we have a hope that won't ever leave us. 


I found the article refreshing and comforting because my experience has been much more "road to Emmaus" than it has been "a miracle a day keeps the devil away." 

I am a person who, in the words of the article, has a heart both "slow and burning."

I often can't recognize Jesus when He's standing in front of me, yet still there is something deep within me that lets me know I'm a child of God.

Rather than seeking a "fulfillment" that will never come this side of eternity, let's just live this day to serve Jesus, whether we can see Him parting our seas today or not.


 

10 Little Christians
author unknown

(Forwarded to me over the Internet. I liked it very much.)

10 little Christians standing in line
1 disliked the preacher, and then there were 9.

9 little Christians stayed up very late
1 overslept on Sunday, and then there were 8.

8 little Christians on their way to Heaven
1 took the low road, and then there were 7.

7 little Christians chirping like little chicks
1 disliked their music, and then there were 6.

6 little Christians seemed very much alive
1 lost his interest, and then there were 5.

5 little Christians pulling for Heaven's Shore
1 stopped to rest, and then there were 4.

4 little Christians each busy as a bee
1 got his feelings hurt, and then there were 3.

3 little Christians knew not what to do
1 joined the sporty crowd, and then there were 2.

2 little Christians, our rhyme is nearly done
differed with each other, and then there was 1.

1 little Christian can't do much 'tis true,
brought his friend to Bible study,                        and then there were  2.

2 earnest Christians, each won one more,
that doubled the number, and then there were 4.

4 sincere Christians worked early and late
Each won another, and then there were 8.

8 splendid Christians - if they doubled as before
In just so many Sundays, we'd have 1,024.

In this little jingle, there is a lesson true,
You belong either to the building                          or to the wrecking crew!


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

AN INTERVIEW WITH STEVE

Here is an interview I gave to our congregation's monthly newsletter (December 2002) which may help you get to know me better:

Q: Think back to the time you made profession of faith.  What prompted you to make that decision at that time?

A: I grew up in a church that taught me the Bible from when I was little.  I greatly benefited from both my pastor's teaching and the modeling of the Christian life done for me by many of the "Senior Saints" of that congregation.  Later, our church offered several electives each quarter for both  high school students and adults to attend together.  There were no classes just for high school students, although there were quite a few of us.  We were treated as full members of each class we attended and we were encouraged to spread ourselves out to increase the interaction between ourselves and the adults in the congregation.  It was great!  I got to know and interact with many people in the church, heard their comments, and participated fully in the discussions.

At the same time, our youth group experienced some "Acts 2" types of phenomena - speaking in tongues; the presence of the Holy Spirit so strong that kids were shaking, weeping, and enraptured; visions; prophecies.  We all became really excited about the Lord and considered ourselves to be "on fire" for him.  After our initial youthful cockiness faded and we realized we weren't the only ones in the congregation or the world who knew Jesus, I and a couple of my friends decided to make profession to officially join the congregation that had already, in so many ways, accepted us.

In order to make profession during that era, in that particular congregation, one had to give one's testimony before the elders and receive, at the very least, a "medium-rare" grilling from them regarding one's understanding of the Christian Faith.  The elders would sit stone-faced until the exam was completed, then they would warmly welcome you and joke with you.  All candidates also had to give their personal testimonies in front of the entire congregation!   So, Young People, if you think contemplating going to the elders and standing before the congregation to say "Yes" to the questions of faith to make profession today is daunting, you don't know how good you have it!!!  (I also had to do my homework on the back of a shovel with a piece of coal and walk 25 miles in blizzards one way to get to school every day, but that's another story.)  I never regretted "joining the church" or knowing those wonderful people.

Q: Can you give some examples of how your faith has helped you in your day-to-day life?

A: My faith, quite literally I believe, enables me to survive.  I don't think that I could see what's going on in the world, or even consider all the tragedies that have befallen our small world of Hull
(or any of the other small church worlds I have been a member of) and maintain a sense of sanity or hope without God.  And how could I deal with my sense of sin and guilt if it wasn't for Christ?  During those times when the wisdom and pleasures of the world are not enough, how could I go on if I thought that they were the only things that existed?  How could I be physically separated, as I have been for years in the ministry, from parents, family members, and friends if I didn't know that there is a God I can pray to who can touch them even when I can't?  For me, it's not that the Church, God, and the Bible are important to me because I am a pastor.  They are important and they are vital to me because I am a human being.

Q: How have you changed over the years as a person in Christ?

A: I have seen that, at least for me and most of the people I have met over the years, extraordinary outpourings and manifestations of the Holy Spirit can only take a person so far.  It's the Spirit speaking through The Word and The Body Of Christ and his enabling of a person to hang on during hard times when no emotional jolts or highs are forthcoming that spurs deeper spiritual growth.  And one can mature spiritually even if he or she never speaks in tongues or ever feels caught up into Heaven.

My view of God has changed over the years.  As a young kid, to me, God was a good, magical friend.  Then, growing through my elementary school years and into adolescence, he was like a Cosmic Hall Monitor who was keeping track of every time I sinned, had a wrong thought, or was messing up.  During my high school years and into my college years, God was just so awesome and cool that he was back to being my friend.  Mid-college through now, I have been discovering the God that I believe is closer to the God of the Bible than any of my previous conceptions were.  He is a personal God who loves me (for some unfathomable reason), is involved in my life, answers prayer, guides, teaches and disciplines me, and is committed to me forever.  He is also the Mysterious Savior and Loyal Friend, but also The Sovereign King who has the full right to do absolutely anything he wants with me and my world without asking my opinion first or seeing how I feel about things.  He is a God who, in the Bible and in my life, continually does the unexpected.  He is the God who is everywhere present and who dwells in my heart, yet, paradoxically often seems to be a million miles away.  God manifests himself in many ways every day, but He can also choose to hide himself, even from his friends, as well.  He is a God infinitely more godly, fascinating, worthy of worship, and even more dangerous than I imagined in my earlier years.

My view of The Church has also changed.  Although I always was pretty ecumenical, I think I have become even more so since college.  I correspond with Methodists, Lutherans, Charismatics, Baptists, and Catholics without once thinking that I should try to "convert" them to the Reformed way of thinking, and I easily and readily call them "Brothers and Sisters."

Over the years, my opinions and views on many subjects have changed with time and study.  They have been "reformed" by The Word Of God.  These subjects include, but are not limited to, women in leadership, the end times, prayer, trust, and the gifts of the Spirit.  I continue to study and wait for God to teach me through his Word.  My favorite thing to do is study and discuss and teach the Word Of God, so I look forward to many more opportunities to grow.
 


 
 

Welcome To Disneyworld (preached at Baccalaureate 2004 - my son's graduation)

 

There was a series of commercials most of you will probably remember that aired a while ago after championship sports events.  And they went like this: 

"Star Quarterback, you've just won the Super Bowl.  What are you going to do now?" 

"I'm going to Disneyworld!" 
 

"Star point guard, you've just won the NBA finals.  What are you going to do now?" 

"I'm going to Disneyworld!" 

Now, I don't know if any of the individuals in those commercials ever did, in fact, go to Disneyworld, but the point of the ads was:

"When you've reached the top, the pinnacle in your career, and you're looking for something new and exciting, then you've got to get yourself to Disneyworld because it's always new and fresh and exciting." 

Another point was:

"When you've worked so hard for so long to achieve something and you then need to be refreshed and re-energized, then you need to get yourself to Disneyworld."

Well, Class of 2004, by this time next week you will have reached the pinnacle of your Boyden-Hull experience.  You will be graduates.  And you've worked hard and put in a lot of years to reach that goal.  So you may say:

 "I'm going to Disneyworld." 

"I need something new and fresh and exciting.  I need to be refreshed and re-energized." 

And I hope you do get some down time this summer and either through college, or a job, or some other challenge next year find something new and fresh and exciting whether you ever get to go to the literal Disneyworld or not.

But sometimes people, and especially young adults like yourselves, are tempted to go off looking for spiritual Disneyworlds, too.  After all, you've been through the Christian Education program in your church.  Been there, done that. 

And, although there are classes offered for adults, let's face reality, most adults don't attend them.  And you can summarize the Christian message pretty easily:

"God loves us and sent Jesus to die for our sins so we could go to heaven when we die and we try to live to please him in the meantime."  (Yawn!!) 

"Yeah, I know all about that.  I've heard it over and over again, yada, yada, yada, ever since I was a toddler...Been there, done that.  Now it's time for something new!" 

"I'm going to Disneyworld!" 

 

Now, one type of Disneyworld might be other religions or philosophies.  College students are often tempted to dabble in Eastern religions, or humanistic philosophies, or philosophies which teach that there isn't any such thing as real truth. 

Another type of Disneyworld is a type that beckons both college students and those who are in the working world alike - and that's the church-free Disneyworld. 

"I've had it up to here with Church and with all the rules for living, so from now on I'll work hard during the week, party hearty in the evenings and on the weekends, spend my money, and sleep in on Sunday mornings.  Oh, I might go to church once in a while to keep Mom and Grandma off my case, but I'll practice 'Church lite' and even 'Christianity lite.'  I won't let my beliefs get in the way of my fun.  Because what's out there in the world is much more exciting and intriguing than what's in here, in the church."

 

And if you find yourself thinking this way, it's not entirely your fault.  Christian author, speaker, and professor, Sinclair Ferguson, says that Christians often can't understand why their young people are always trying to jump over the fence that is orthodox Christianity and go play in some other religion's yard or go play in the world's yard. 

But Ferguson says that the reason this happens is that The Church - (capital T, capital C - I'm not thinking here of any individual congregation) has failed to open the young people's eyes up to the fact that they are already living in Disneyworld.  If you know and appreciate the fact that you are already in Disneyworld, then you won't be tempted to go into the neighbor's yard because:

"Hey, he has swings and a sandbox!" 

When you've got access to Space Mountain, you don't need swings and a sandbox!

 

So, Class of 2004, I as a Christian adult and on behalf of Christian adults everywhere, want to apologize if we haven't yet clued you into the fact that you are already in Disneyworld.

But are you really already in Disneyworld?  The Apostle Paul seems to think so. 

In our scripture reading tonight he says that he prays that all the saints may have power "to grasp how wide and long and high and deep" the love of Christ is and to know this love that surpasses knowledge itself! 

In other words, you'll keep learning about the love of Christ all your life, but never know it all because it is beyond you!  And Paul says that the goal is "that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."  That you would be filled to the brim with God!  But God is infinite, so how can I be filled up with him? 

You can be filled up and yet there will always be more of him that you can have.  It's a paradox, I know, but what a joyous and hope-filled one!  And Paul says that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask. 

It would be enough if Paul stopped right there.  God can do immeasurably more than all you can ask.  Wow!! 

But Paul goes on.  God can do immeasurably more than all you can imagine!  Believe me, I can imagine some pretty wild things.  But God can even do more than that! 

Does it sound like Paul believes Christians are in a place of excitement and a place that's continually able to renew itself and become fresh again?  Does it sound like you can always become refreshed and re-energized by staying a Christian? Yes, if you are a Christian, you are living in spiritual Disneyworld. 

I don't mean that every moment of every day as a Christian is fun and games and uplifting and thrilling.  When you are at Disneyworld in Florida, there are times when you'll have to wait in line for 2 hours to get into Space Mountain and that won't be much fun.  It can even be tiring. 

But once you get on Space Mountain - Wow!  It's worth the wait!  There will be tiring times as a Christian, even boring times.  But hang in there because Space Mountains come.  And Wow!

I know that I can't, in the short time we have together tonight, give you a full map of spiritual Disneyworld and totally convince you that you are there.  But maybe I can give you a glimpse of what's there, so that you'll want to stay and explore further.

In spiritual Disneyworld, you get to explore our complex God. 

- The God who ordered pagan nations to be wiped out, yet who spared the Arameans that were going to capture or kill the prophet Elisha, fed them a great feast, and sent them on their way home. 

- A God who has promised that everything will work out for the good, but who may ordain that you have to experience pain and evil in order to get to that good. 

- But a God who says, "If you have to go through Hell, I'll go with you because I've already been there." 

- A God who wiped out grumblers in Israel, but who sent Jesus Christ to die for grumblers like you and me. 

- A God who promised his people a Messiah, but then fulfilled that promise in such a way that most Jews missed it completely. 

-  A God whose thoughts are not your thoughts and whose ways are not your ways. 

- A God who is holy, holy, holy!  In other words, a God who is different than you, different than you, different than you! 

- A God who loves you like a perfect Father, but who will sometimes make you wrestle with him before you obtain a blessing. 

- An infinitely complex and infinitely fascinating God!
 

In spiritual Disneyworld, you are given a mission that will demand your best and will pay infinite rewards for you and for others.  That mission is two-fold: 

First, you are called to be Jesus Christ to those around you.  And if you don't think that mission is ever-challenging and ever-expanding, then you have a small view of who Jesus was, an over-inflated view of who you are, and a naive view of the world. 


The second part of the mission is to fight the sin that is in you and in the world.  And if that sounds like ho-hum, been there, done that, then you must think fighting sin means, "Okay, okay, I'll stop taking the Lord's name in vain and stop swearing!"  But when you start to realize that lust, pride, ego, selfishness, and greed are so deeply a part of all of our lives that everything we do is tainted with sin, then the mission becomes a lifelong one.  Everything tainted by sin.  Even giving a sermon like this one, because as I'm giving it there's part of me wondering, "Does the congregation like me?"  And after the sermon I'll want to hear people saying, "Pastor Steve did a good job at Baccalaureate."  And partly that will be because I want to honor God and I want to know that the message has gotten through to people and I need good, healthy, Christian encouragement.  But partly that will be because I want people to think highly of Pastor Steve.  As C.S. Lewis admitted, "I've never had a selfless thought since the day I was born."  When you realize this about yourself, you'll understand that the mission to fight sin will engage you all of your life.

 

In spiritual Disneyworld, you'll be exposed to, and examine, the full range of human emotion and experience.  It's all in the Bible. 

 

- From the depression of Jeremiah wishing he had never been born to the exuberant joy of David dancing naked before the Lord. 

- From the Psalmists and Job crying out "Where are you, Lord?  How come you never say anything and never answer our prayers?" to the angels declaring God's peace to shepherds and the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples on the day of Pentecost.  From admonitions about staying celibate and chaste and putting aside sex at times to a celebration of how intoxicating committed married sex can be and an exhortation to "Go for it!!"  The Bible's got it all!!
 

So Class of 2004, you are already in Disneyworld.  May you have a bless-you-out-of-your-socks life exploring it and may the swingsets and sandboxes in other yards pale in comparison.


 

Question to Pastor Steve: 


What would you say are two main things wrong with many congregations as they exist in America today?

Answer:  Many congregations see themselves only as a "mission field" and not also as a "mission force." In other words, they concentrate their efforts almost solely on meeting the needs of their members to the exclusion of the needs of the unbelievers around them and the needs of the world. 

If the sick in the congregation are visited, everybody is getting "spiritually fed," new programs are started for the singles and the youth, and we try never to make changes that will upset any of our existing members, then we are contented and we are sure that God is contented with us, too. 

However, while the Bible does tell us to care for one another in The Church, it also calls on us to evangelize and do good deeds demonstrating God's love to the world. 

And sometimes reaching out and bringing new people in will make some long-term members, who either have forgotten The Church's purpose, or who never had a clue about it to begin with, very uncomfortable.  Many churches never want to make anyone uncomfortable, so it is hard for them to make much of an impact for Christ in their communities.
 

Secondly, so many Christians today are biblically illiterate. They may have vague memories of some of the Bible's stories and be able to spout off a few cherished proof-texts. 

However, many things still escape them.  For example, they do not see the sweep of Bible history, the plans of God, and the marvelous exploration in the Bible of the wide range of human emotions, questions, and experiences. 

Also, they miss the Bible's portrayal of the God who actually exists (as opposed to the gods we make up in our minds). 

They do not see Him as a complex Being who is with us, yet above us, our friend, yet also our Supreme Boss and Commander-In-Chief whose word must be our law. 

It is hard for them to understand a God who appears to be an impossibly demanding King yet who also gives us His own impossible power to meet those demands.  It is hard for them to see God as: 

 -- knowable, yet mysterious
  -- unpredictable and unfathomable
  -- loving, yet full of holy wrath 
against evil
  -- self-revealing, yet inscrutable
  -- the only one worthy of glory, yet willing to share that glory with us
  -- the one who answers prayers, but not a genie, a pushover, a sucker, or an employee
  -- a Sovereign.


Therefore, not only are they ill-equipped for doing anything for God's Kingdom, but they also are inadequately prepared to meet life itself. 

And they can take their Christian commitments lightly, for they worship a wimp god, a boring god, a god easily written off.

 
 

11-12-06 SERMON:

WRESTLING IN PRAYER
Scripture: Colossians 4:12-16

 

 

   As Paul is closing out the letter to the Colossians, he sends greetings to the Colossians from people they would know.  In the same way, if you were writing a letter to someone who used to live here in Northwest Iowa and moved to California or moved to Arizona or Texas, you might let others in the church know that you were corresponding with that person and might say, "Well, say 'Hi' for me!"  So when you are writing the letter, you might say, "Arlan says to say 'Hi,' or "Glenda says to say, 'Hi,' or "Ida said to say, 'Hi.'  That's what Paul is doing here.  He's telling the people of Colossae, "Hi," from people who know them and who are associated with his ministry.

    Well, one of the people sending greetings to the Colossians is Epaphras.  Paul tells the Colossians about Epaphras in verse 13 of today's scripture lesson.  Here's what he says, "I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hieropolis."  Working hard for you.  That comes across in English as meaning that Epaphras is out there trying his best and expending effort, but in the Greek, the meaning is even more serious and more arduous.  What Paul says here is, "Epaphras is toiling for you to the point where he is causing himself pain and to the point where he is getting himself exhausted!  That's what the Greek word means.  Not that he's just putting in a full day's work, or that he is a hard worker, but, you know, he's going beyond that!  He's working so hard that he's wringing himself out!  He's exhausting himself!  He's causing himself pain!  And he's doing it for you!  Yet, Paul says that Epaphras is sending his greetings.  In other words, Epaphras is not in the city of Colossae.  How is it that Epaphras is working hard every day and going all out for the Christians at Colossae, and he is not even with them!  I mean, it would be different if Epaphras was their pastor, or Epaphras was one of their elders, or Epaphras was a lay worker in their church, teaching Sunday School, participating in the Wednesday night programs, helping to set up the chairs, coming to work at the Turkey Supper - then he could say, "Yeah, Epaphras is working hard for you!"  But Epaphras isn't even there!  Epaphras is miles and miles and miles away.  Yet, Paul says, “He’s working so hard for you, he’s exhausted!  He’s all in!”  

    Well, how could he be working hard for them when he’s not even with them?  Well, verse 12 gives us the answer.  “Epaphras, who is a servant and who is one of you, sends greetings.  He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”  Epaphras toiled painfully to the point of exhaustion, to the point where most people would have given up, but he just kept on going!  He did this because he was always wrestling in prayer for the Colossians.  

    Now, do we ever think of prayer like this?  If someone comes into your house, Monday afternoon, and they are covered with sweat and they are kind of panting, huh, huh, huh, and they, whew, flop down in a chair (sigh), and you say to them, “Had a rough day?”  What would you expect them to respond with?  Probably, “Yep, rough day on the farm.  We had equipment that broke down.  We had a sick cow.  Rough day.  Rough day. (sigh)”  Or if someone came in looking a little harried and a little bit like they are at their wit’s end, you might ask them, “Have a rough day?”   And they might say, “Oh, yeah.  The kids are driving me nuts today!  If it’s not one thing, it’s another!  First, they’re fighting, and then they need a band-aid, and then it’s time to fix their meal, and then, they don’t want this toy - they want another toy, and, ‘Can’t I watch a video?’  I’ve worked so hard today and I’m tired (big sigh).”  

    But do we ever picture someone coming in, looking a little harried and like they are at their wit’s end and covered with sweat, and they sit down (sigh) and you ask, “Have a hard day today?” and they say, “Yeah, boy, (sigh) it was a rough day of prayer!  I’ve been praying all day long, and I’m just tired.”  I don’t think we would expect anyone to say such a thing, would we?  We don’t think of prayer that way.  But Epaphras was someone who did!  He threw himself into prayer, wrestling in prayer, to the point where “Huh, huh, (panting and sighing) O man,  I’ve got to take a break!  That praying is hard work!”

    Well, I don’t think that each and every one of us needs to pray like that.  So, if you think I’m going to say, “So, I want all of you, next Sunday, to get yourself to the point where you have to drag yourself into the sanctuary and you can barely stay awake as you are sitting there because you have been praying so hard all week!”  I’m not going to say that.  I think God calls some people to be “prayer warriors.”  Epaphras is one of them.  Not everyone is called to that kind of ministry, but we are told, all of us, in the Scripture, to pray!  And to always be praying!  Not every single minute of every day, but make prayer a regular habit of our lives!  

    But I think that we can learn something from Epaphras, and from that phrase, “he toiled hard,” and from the phrase, “wrestling in prayer.”  We can learn something about our own prayer life, because, let’s face it, even though we may not pray hours on end like Epaphras did, prayer is hard for us.  Whether we sit down and pray for 5 minutes a day, whether we’re just shooting prayers to God as we go throughout the day, or whether we say, “we’re going to spend an hour in prayer,” it’s just hard.  Prayer is hard for all of us.  So let’s see if we can get some help in considering this passage from Colossians.  Let’s consider what Paul might mean by the phrase, “wrestling in prayer.”  What does that mean, that Epaphras was “wrestling in prayer?”

    Well, first of all, I think that it means that Epaphras was probably wrestling with himself.  You know, when we pray, we do wrestle with ourselves, don’t we?  First of all, we wrestle to keep our mind focused on God, and on the things we are praying for!  For we can be so easily distracted!  We start to pray, and then we kind of glance down at our desk, and we see, “Oh, yeah, there’s a bill that I’m going to have to pay later....  Oh, I’m sorry! ... God, please be with....  Or, we kneel by our bed and we start to pray, and we hear the kids running out in the hallway... “What are they doing up already?”  Oh..., distracted again!  We wrestle with ourselves to keep on track when we are praying, and to keep our attention focused on God, and it is hard, because God is in the spiritual realm and we exist in the material realm, and we’re so easily distracted by what we find here.  We wrestle with ourselves in order to pay attention to God.  We also wrestle with doubts and questions when we pray.  Have you ever found yourself wondering as you are praying whether or not you are doing any good?  You’re praying about a certain situation and you’re thinking, “Is this really accomplishing anything?  Or are my prayers just kind of bouncing off the ceiling and going nowhere?  Maybe I should be out working hard for this situation instead of just sitting here talking to God about it!”  We wrestle with our doubts and with our questions when we come before the Lord in prayer.  We have to wrestle with ourselves when we pray.  That’s what Epaphras was doing, I’m sure, as well.

    Well, along with wrestling with himself in prayer, Epaphras was probably wrestling with Satan, the accuser.   The word “Satan” means “adversary” or “opponent.”  You know how you talk about opponents in sporting events, or in wrestling or in boxing?  You know, “In this corner, so and so, and his opponent...!”  Well, the word “Satan” means “opponent.”   So, it’s as if God were saying, “My beloved children, brothers and sisters of Christ, you are here in the world!....and your opponent, Satan, is here to fight you!”  So we engage in wrestling with Satan when we pray.  One way that Satan opposes us is to accuse us, to accuse us of all that we have done wrong, to accuse us of all of our sins.  And he especially loves to do that when we are praying.  When you come before the Lord and you start praying, chances are, that, at least at some point in your life, you are going to hear that little voice whispering in your ear, “Who are you to come before God?  You think God wants to listen to you?  Oh yeah, you tell him that you love him, and you love him, and you love him, but look at how many times you fail him, over and over again!  Look at what you did this morning!  Look at how you lost your temper!  (tauntingly) Look at the time today when you could have spoken up for Jesus and you didn’t!  You think God wants to talk to you?”  Satan loves to be there pointing out all of our mistakes and all of our failings, and when we pray, we need to get past that somehow!  We need to say, “Yes.  I know that I have failed, but the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses me from my sins!  Yes.  I know that I have failed and that I am a sinner but God still wants me in his kingdom because he sent Christ to die for me!  And he gave me his Holy Spirit, and he’ll give me the power to do better!  I want to be cleansed!”  We need to fight against that accuser, our adversary, when we pray.

    Now, sometimes when you pray, you may hear a voice speaking to your heart, pointing out your sins, but it might be the Holy Spirit instead of Satan.  How do we tell the difference?  They are both pointing our sins out to us.  Well, a Christian author, John White, once gave some good advice, and in general, I think it is very true.  He said, “when the Holy Spirit points out your sin, it‘s because he’s then going to point you to the cross of Christ.  He‘s going to say, ‘God wants you to confess this, get rid of it, and get back in right fellowship with the Father.  When Satan points out our sins, he wants to point us away from God and from the cross!  He comes not to say, ‘be reconciled to your Father, and take care of that relationship, and tell him you’re sorry,”  but he comes to say, ‘God doesn’t want anything to do with you anymore!...you jerk!...you sinner!...you dirty filthy person!  How dare you think about God!  God doesn’t want anything to do with you anymore!’”  See, Satan’s accusations drive us away from God.  The Holy Spirit’s accusations drive us to God.  And, in general, I think that’s a very helpful thing to keep in mind.  We wrestle with Satan, the accuser, when we come to pray.

 

    Epaphras was probably wrestling with himself, and with Satan, and also, he was probably wrestling with God in prayer.  This sounds kind of strange, doesn’t it, that we wrestle with God in prayer?  And by wrestling with God, I mean grappling with some things God tells us that we find hard to take in.  But I also mean, grabbing a hold of God and not letting go of him!  Even when he doesn’t seem to be paying attention!  Even when he doesn’t seem to be doing anything!  We keep coming back to him in prayer and grabbing a hold of him like Jacob did in the book of Genesis and saying, “God, I’m not going to let you go until you bless me!”  That’s what I mean by ‘wrestling with God in prayer.’  Now, why is it that we should have to do that?  But we do have to do that.  The prayer request this morning said, “sometimes God doesn’t seem to be there in the midst of crisis.”  Why should we have to keep coming back and taking hold of him and saying, “Don’t go away without blessing me!”  Why should we have to do that?  After all, he is a loving heavenly Father, so shouldn’t he answer the requests of his children right away?  Why do we need to keep coming back again and again to him?  Doesn’t he see that we are in need?

    Well, let me give you a couple of reasons why I think God ordains it that we have to wrestle with him in prayer from time to time.  One thing is that I think God is trying to determine how bad we really want the thing we are asking for.  Do we really, really want it down in the depths of our being?  Or are we just fooling ourselves?  If we are, then we need to come to grips with that.  I think of a time early in my ministry about a young man who called me up from work one morning, and he said, “Pastor Steve, I am so upset!”  Now, he was a very young Christian, struggling with all kinds of doubts.  Well, he had read in the book of Genesis the passage about the sons of God coming down and mating with the daughters of men.  And he was all upset by that.

     “Pastor Steve, that sounds like something out of mythology!  That sounds like a fairy tale!  That doesn’t sound like the Word of God!  What in the world does that mean?!?  And does it mean somehow that there are demons out there somewhere finding women attractive?!?  What is it talking about here?!!?”  

    Well, I told him that Christian scholars disagree about what it means, and I gave him some various interpretations, and he said, “Yeah!  But!  What do you really think it means?!?”  

    “I don’t know.  I really haven’t looked into it much.”

     “I need to have you look into this!  I feel like this is really disturbing my faith!”

     “Ok.  I’ll do that.”  So I hung up.  And I got the books down off the shelf and I did the research and I got together a presentation that I thought would make sense to him.  Several hours later, I was ready!  And I called him back and I said, “I’ve got the answer to your question!”

    And he said, “What?  Pastor Steve, why are you calling me at work?  What‘s going on?”

    “Remember that question this morning that you called about and you said was destroying your faith and you really needed an answer?!?        

    “Oh, yeah, yeah, ok.  (sounding bored and uninterested)  Well, ok, what did you find out?”

    I thought, “I just spent hours on this and he doesn’t care anymore!”  He didn’t really want an answer that badly, did he?  

    I think sometimes God says, “How badly do you want what you are praying for?”  That’s why he makes us hold on to him in prayer.  He wants us to keep coming back to him in prayer, “We really, really want this, God.  We really, really mean it.”  And it helps us determine the state of our own hearts.  What are the things we keep coming back to God about?  What is really important to us in our hearts?

    Another reason God may have us wrestle with him is to see if we really trust that he is the solution.  To see if we think he is the ultimate solution.  That he is the one we really need.  That we need his blessings on all of our endeavors.  Or we might pray about something once or twice and then give up, thinking, “After all, we’re strong people.  We’re surrounded by our friends.  We’re hard workers.  We really don’t need God.  Yeah, we pray, as a habit, or as a nice thing to do, or as a ‘spiritual’ thing to do, but we really don’t need him!  So, if he doesn’t answer right away, we can just give up and go out there and do it on our own.”  I think he has us wrestle with him and keep coming back to him again and again, saying, “I‘m not going to give up, God.  Because then it shows that we know that he is the only one who can help us and it’s his strength that we ultimately need.  
    
    And I also have to admit that this whole idea of wrestling with God does contain a bit of mystery, as well.  I don’t think the Bible gives us all the reasons why we have to wrestle with God.  We just have to take it as a mysterious thing, that our loving, heavenly Father, who proved his love on the cross of Jesus Christ, and proved it definitely and ultimately, still wants us to wrestle with him.  Because God is not like us.  God is different.  God is holy and God is mysterious and our little brains can’t possibly comprehend his huge intellect, the intellect that brought the universe into being.  And so, we have to admit, it is partly a mystery why we have to wrestle with God, but wrestle with him we do.

    Epaphras probably wrestled with God, with Satan, and with himself in prayer.  And so will we.

    But what was Epaphras praying for?  Well, Paul tells the Colossians that “He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”  Epaphras is praying for the spiritual state of God’s people.  Do we do that?  Oftentimes, our prayers are taken up with asking God to bless someone with good health.  Or, we know someone is going through a hard time and we say, “Get them through that hard time.”  Or we pray for big events that are coming up.  “Lord, bless the wedding this coming weekend.  And we do ask God to bless the wedding that is coming up this weekend!”  Or we even say, “Lord, we’re going to the basketball tournament and we want your blessing that we have traveling mercies and that we are able to serve Christ even out there on the court.”  We pray for the big events.  We pray for health.  We pray for traveling mercies.  But do we pray for the spiritual health of God’s people?  Do we pray that each other will grow in Christ?  Do we say, “not only get my friend through the hard time, Lord, but help them in the good times too, to acknowledge you.  And help them to continue to grow in you and teach them something through this hard time.  And draw them to yourself during this hard time.”  Do we pray for the “spiritual state of God’s people?”

    Now, we should pray for health.  We should pray for traveling mercies.  We should pray for strength during big events and hard times.  The Bible tells us to bring our burdens before the Lord, to cast our burdens on him because he cares for us.  But, we should also often pray for the “spiritual state of God’s people.”  For this is something I don’t think we do enough of.  So, I would challenge you, in your daily prayers, when you are thinking of someone who is hurting in some way to also think about that person’s soul.  And to pray not just that our church would grow in numbers, but that we would grow strong in the Lord!  That we would do what Paul says here that Epaphras is praying for, that we might “stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”  Let‘s pray for the spiritual state of God’s people.  Let’s go forward into this coming week, wrestling with God in prayer for the spiritual state of his people.  Let us pray.

    Lord, prayer is hard work, and we need your Spirit’s help to be able to do it.  Because we have to wrestle with ourselves and with Satan whenever we come before you in prayer. 

 

 And many times, Lord, we wrestle with you as Jacob did!  And, Lord, we just ask that you would sustain us during the hard work of prayer and that you would direct our prayers to go even deeper than they do.  It is good to be concerned about physical things and about material blessings and about helping people emotionally but it is even better, Lord, to be concerned about their souls. 

 

 Help us to pray for one another, that we might be mature in you, fully doing your will, and might be assured, in confidence of our relationship with Jesus Christ. 

 

 And, Lord, as we think about Jonathan Mark, who was baptized today, we pray for his soul.  We pray not just, Lord, that he would have a good life here in Hull, and be surrounded by loving friends and that you would help him grow up to be strong, but, Lord, we pray that you would be with his soul, that you would save his soul, that you would be revealing Jesus Christ to him throughout his entire life. 

 

 And we ask all these things so Jesus will be glorified in his life and in all of our lives.  And in his name we pray, and in his name we dedicate our gifts. 

 

 Amen.


 

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