We Are Transformed People

I presented this devotion at the quarterly business meeting at King’s Grant Baptist Church in August 2022.

I’d like to look at Ephesians 4:17-20.

So I say this, and affirm in the Lord, that you are to no longer walk just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their minds, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves up to indecent behavior for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way,

We recognize that we are transformed people, having been changed from what we used to be. Paul gives us some admonishment by saying… you did not learn Christ in this way.

Words of kindness, words of hope, words of encouragement, words of support, words of challenge, words that are going to build up the body of Christ; those are the things that the body of Christ is supposed to embrace.

So, Paul is basically saying, let us behave as those who have Jesus Christ living inside of us.

Imagine the church being fully devoted to what Jesus Christ wants to do through us, his church. How did we learn of Christ? We learned of Christ by faith, and when we came to him in faith, we learn to become obedient. We learned how to be an example of Jesus Christ. Being an example does not point to us at all, but it points to Jesus who is abiding in us, taken up residence inside of us.

Let Jesus shine.

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Whenever You Fast – Isaiah 58:1-8

Matthew 6:16-18 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face

18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

We have come to the section in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus decides to talk about fasting. At the beginning of Matthew 6, Jesus says, “But WHEN you give alms…” (Matthew 6:3). Sounds like he is expecting his people to be givers. He didn’t use the word, IF you give. Then he moves to prayer and says, “And WHEN you pray…” (Matthew 6:5, 7). We can all agree that Jesus expects his people to pray, since he also did not use the word IF. Then Jesus moves to the topic of fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. In good Jesus form, he again uses the word “WHEN you fast…” (Matthew 6:17 – WHENEVER is used in Matthew 6:16).

The first place we need to stop is to ask the question, “What in the world is fasting and why is Jesus talking about it?”

Usually, fasting is the abstaining from food for a certain period of time. There are different types of fasting in the Bible, however, and not all of them involve food. Many people in the Bible fasted, including Moses, David, and Daniel in the Old Testament and Anna, Paul, and Jesus in the New Testament. Many important figures in Christian history affirmed the value of fasting, as do many Christians today.

Biblical fasting is often closely linked to repentance, as in the examples of David, the nation of Israel, and the city of Nineveh. Fasting is also related to passionate prayer, as in the examples of King Jehoshaphat and Queen Esther. Biblical fasting comes from a humble heart seeking God (Isaiah 58:3–7).

In Matthew’s context of the Sermon on the Mount, apparently Jesus noticed something in the way the religious leaders exercised their spiritual disciplines. They seemed to fast with impure motives, seeking the attention of the people around them more than the God for whom they were fasting. But, before we get too hard on the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, let’s go back about 700 years before Jesus to see what the people were doing in their fasting.

Isaiah 58:1-8 – (NLT) – “Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins!

2 Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me.

3 ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers.

4 What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me.

5 You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?

6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.

7 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Did you get all that? Perhaps you already checked out because this chapter is all about fasting and you are not a fast-er, so this is all about OTHER people. But I want you to exchange the word FASTING with WORSHIP and see if any light bulbs come on for you.

These people in Isaiah’s day were playing church, they were not really committed to their God. They showed up because of tradition and habit, not because they were seeking the face of God. To put it bluntly, as we learned in the Communication Experience on April 1, these people were seeking the HAND of God rather than the FACE of God. They were chasing after what God would GIVE them rather than chasing after the God who redeemed them, and therefore, giving to God what he desires the most, a people who were sincerely and holy devoted to God for WHO he is rather than for WHAT he can do for them.

Wow, that seems harsh to say all that about God’s chosen people some 2700 years ago. But maybe, just maybe, we feel it is harsh because we see OURSELVES in this indictment, and these words are making you very uncomfortable right now. When we finally “get it,” WE feel guilty because we are not as sold out to Jesus as we first believed or have come to realize.

While I am not an expert on the topic of fasting, I am quite diligent at research, so I created a booklet on Prayer and Fasting, and updated it for this occasion.

I am also going to share with you a few things that I discovered while reading a book on fasting by Elmer Towns (pastor, writer, educator, and co-founder and past vice president of Liberty University in 1971).

THE FASTS GOD CHOOSES:

From the beginning people have sought after God. They wrongly built the Tower of Babel to reach Him (Genesis 11:1-9). They rebelliously carved images to please God. They arrogantly conceived and lived by legalistic laws to impress God. They constructed monasteries and isolated themselves to please God. They even fasted wrongly in an attempt to divert His attention from other things they should have been doing but were neglecting.

Religious practices such as fasting have always been less important than actually doing God’s will. Micah 6:8 tells us what the Lord truly requires of us: “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Fasting is not an end in itself; it is means by which we can worship the Lord and submit ourselves in humility to Him. We don’t make God love us any more than He already does if we fast, or if we fast longer. Even if we wanted to, we could not manipulate God. We fast and pray for results, but the results are in God’s hands.

GOD’S PURPOSE FOR FASTING:

I already read a well-known and often quoted passage on fasting (in Isaiah 58), which gives a veritable laundry list of warnings as well as positive results that can occur when we submit ourselves to the discipline of fasting.

It is very important to learn from this passage the kinds of fasts that do NOT please God as well as those fasts He wants. God’s people in Isaiah’s day had been fasting, but without results. The reason, God says, is that they ignored the way fasting should change their lives, treating it as an empty ritual:

3 ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers.

4 What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. (Isaiah 58:3-4, NLT).

Like so many Christians today, God’s people considered worship to be merely a private and inward act. All of the focus on fasting was on the personal dimension. Listen to God’s rebuke:

5 You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? (Isaiah 58:5, NLT).

The purpose of all worship, including fasting, is to change the WORSHIPER in ways that have social and interpersonal impact. We worship not just to please ourselves, but also to become empowered by God to change ourselves and the world! God goes on to specify the kind of fast He DOES want:

6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.

7 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. (Isaiah 58:6-8).

God wanted the people to continue fasting, but to extend the result of their fasting through their actions in everyday life.

I discovered in Isaiah 58, a model for the FRUIT that God expects to see from genuine faith and devotion and fasting. Rightly used, fasting can help us present God with those fruits.

Therefore, as I learned from Elmer Towns, Isaiah 58 presents NINE kinds of fasting Christians should rediscover today–not just for their own benefit, but for the benefit of other people.

NINE FASTS GOD CAN USE:

To better illustrate and reveal the significance of these nine reasons for fasting, Towns shares (and I want to pass on to you) nine biblical characters whose lives personified the literal or figurative theme of each of the nine aspects highlighted in Isaiah 58:6-8. Each fast has a different name, accomplishes a different purpose, and follows a different prescription.

1. The Disciple’s Fast

Purpose: “To loose the bonds of wickedness” (Isaiah 58:6, NASB) – freeing ourselves and others from addictions to sin.

Key Verse: “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21, NASB).

Background: Coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus cast out a demon out of a boy whom the disciples had failed to help. Apparently, they had not taken seriously enough the way Satan had his claws set in this young man. The implication is that Jesus’ disciples COULD have performed this exorcism had they been willing to undergo the discipline of fasting. Modern disciples also often make light of “entangling or ensnaring sins” (Hebrews 12:1) that could be cast out if we were serious enough to take part in such a self-denying practice as fasting, so, the term used here is “The Disciple’s Fast.”

2. The Ezra Fast

Purpose: To “Undo the bands of the yoke” (Isaiah 58:6, NASB) – to solve problems, inviting the Holy Spirit’s help in lifting burdens and overcoming barriers that keep ourselves and our loved ones from walking faithfully with the Lord.

Key Verse: “So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:23).

Background: Ezra the priest was charged with restoring the Law of Moses among the Jews as they rebuilt the city of Jerusalem by the permission of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, where God’s people had been held captive. Despite this permission, Israel’s enemies opposed them. Burdened with embarrassment about having to ask the Persian king for an army to protect them, Ezra fasted and prayed for an answer.

I have discovered three causes of problems that might need an Ezra Fast:

(1) Change causes problems – the early church had to change their strategy and sent out missionaries, so after they fasted and prayed, they appointed Paul and Barnabas to the work (Acts (13:2-3)

(2) Differences cause problems – people are different ethnically, doctrinally, politically, socially… Ezra gathered the people at the river to show them the threatening wilderness; then they could have a united front to work on the problem.

(3) Circumstances cause problems – whether these situations are personal, family, marriage, small group, community, or church problems that arise out of circumstances.

3. The Samuel Fast

Purpose: “To let the oppressed (physically and spiritually) go free'” (Isaiah 58:6, NASB) – this is about revival and reaching a lost world, to identify with people everywhere who are enslaved literally or enslaved by sin, and to pray to be used of God to bring people out of the kingdom of darkness and into God’s marvelous light.

Key Verse: “They gathered to Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” (1 Samuel 7:6).

Background: Samuel led God’s people in a fast to celebrate the return of the Ark of the Covenant from its captivity by the Philistines, and to pray that Israel might be delivered from the sin that allowed the Ark to be captured in the first place.

This is a formal fast that has necessary steps to carry it out:

(1) Call the body together – Samuel had to gather the people from 12 tribes, who were are divided on many topics (spiritual, internal, political, military, social)

(2) Demonstrate true repentance – Samuel used the word IF in 1 Samuel 7:3, “IF you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods … from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”

(3) Separate from secret sin – this is more than being convicted of sin while you’re here at church but being convicted that the sin you’re doing is really wrong, that it goes against God’s Word, and that you repent of it.

(4) Have a corporate confession of sin – the people in Samuel’s day cried out, “WE have sinned against the Lord.” They didn’t cast blame onto someone else.

(5) Acknowledge the power of God’s Word – earlier 1 Samuel 3:1, we are told that the Word of the Lord was rare (or precious) in those days. Last weekend at the presentation of the play about Jonah, we were reminded of that 1-line message from God (40 days and Nineveh will be overthrown). The power of God’s Word would bring the entire wicked city to repentance.  

4. The Elijah Fast

Purpose: “To break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6, NASB) – conquering the mental and emotional problems that would control our lives, and retuning the control to the Lord.

Key Verse: “He himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He arose and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights” (1 Kings 19:4,8).

Background: Although Scripture does not call this a formal “fast,” Elijah deliberately went without food when he fled from Queen Jezebel’s threat to kill him. After this self-imposed deprivation, God sent an angel to minister to Elijah in the wilderness.

In Elijah’s case, his mental health was in crisis, so maybe this fast is for those needing to break negative attitudes and bad emotional habits. We know that Don is skilled at dealing with the emotional and mental health of people, but we all can read about Elijah and notice his fear and depression.

Although Elijah had a tremendous victory over the prophets of Ba’al, he was exhausted ran for his life when Jezebel said he was going to be a dead man. Perhaps he had some insecurities and chose to run away.

Noah preached against the drunkenness of a whole generation yet his own children were judged and cursed because of his drunkenness. Abraham trusted God by faith, yet lied about his own wife. Moses was the most humble man on earth yet was not allowed to enter the promised land. Peter experiences the Last Supper and within 24-hours, he denies he even knows the Lord.

I guess the moral to this story is, be careful after a spiritual victory, because the enemy will come at you without remorse. As Paul tells us, “If you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

5. The Widow’s Fast

Purpose: “To divide your bread with the hungry” and to care for the poor (Isaiah 58:7, NASB) – to meet the humanitarian needs of others.

Key Verse: “The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke through Elijah.” (1 Kings 17:16, NLT).

Background: God sent the prophet Elijah to a poor, starving widow–ironically, so the widow could provide food for Elijah. Just as Elijah’s presence resulted in food for the widow of Zarephath, so presenting ourselves before God in prayer and fasting can relieve hunger today.

This poor widow was willing to go without food to feed the prophet of God, basically, she met a humanitarian need in the life of another person. While fasting is not specifically mentioned here, the spirit of giving is consistent with that of those who deprive themselves of something for the benefit of others.

Paul experienced this with the churches in Macedonia: “that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3 For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4 begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, (2 Corinthians 8:1b-4)

Since I brought Paul into the conversation, let’s go there next…

6. The Saint Paul Fast

Purpose: To allow God’s “Light [to] break out like the dawn” (Isaiah 58:8, NASB), designed to bring clearer perspective and insight as we make important decisions.

Key Verse: “And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:9).

Background: Saul of Tarsus, who became known as the apostle Paul after his conversion to Christ, was blinded by the Lord while in the of persecuting Christians. He not only was without literal sight, but he also had no clue about what direction his life was about to take. After going without food and praying for three days, Paul was visited by the Christian Ananias, and both his eyesight and his vision of the future were restored.

God provides guidance through reading his Word and hearing it preached, and studying it in a group context. Here are a few Scriptures on God’s guidance:

(1) He directs through the counsel of friends (Proverbs 11:14)

(2) He sovereignly guides his people (Romans 8:28)

(3) He directs us inwardly (Acts 16:6, Romans 8:14)

(4) He directs us by opportunities (1 Corinthians 16:9)

(5) He directs when we have a yielded spirit (Romans 12:1-2)

(6) He directs through our spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 7:7)

(7) He directs through our common sense (Proverbs 16:9)

(8) He guides us through prayer and fasting (Acts 13:2-3)

The point is, when you have to make a big decision, perhaps we need to add fasting into our prayer life.

7. The Daniel Fast

Purpose: So “your recovery will speedily spring forth” (Isaiah 58:8, NASB) – to gain a healthier life or for healing.

Key Verse: “But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank;” (Daniel 1:8).

Background: Daniel and his three fellow Hebrew captives demonstrated in Babylonian captivity that keeping themselves from pagan foods God had guided them not to eat made them more healthful than others in the king’s court.

When we pray and fast for healing, we must always remember that it is the Lord who heals (Exodus 15:26). The Daniel Fast might be done for two reason: (1) as therapy when we are sick and need healing, and (2) as prevention to keep us from getting sick.

Preventative fasting might be abstaining from certain “bad” foods, like sugar, fatty foods, desserts, alcohol, salt, or most anything found in the center area of the grocery store.

Curative fasting can affect the fast-er or someone else, like in James 5:15, “and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.”

8. The John the Baptist Fast

Purpose: That “your righteousness will go before you'” (Isaiah 58:8, NASB) – that our testimonies and influence for Jesus will be enhanced in front of others.

Key Verse: “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15, NASB).

Background: Because John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus, he took the “Nazirite” vow that required him to “fast” from (or avoid) wine and strong drink. This was part of John’s purposefully adopted lifestyle that designated him as one set apart for a special mission.

The believer’s righteousness (which comes from the righteousness of Christ) or the believer’s testimony will extend far beyond physical limitations. A John the Baptist Fast enables us to ask God to reach those who do not know him. Perhaps seeing us (or the Jesus in us) they might be drawn to God. If we want this sort of influence on other people, the Holy Spirit needs to be prominent in our lives.

How can we be filled with the Holy Spirit?

(1) Empty sin from your life.

(2) Yield yourself to God.

(3) Ask the Spirit to be evident in your life.

(4) Have faith that God will come through.

(5) Obey God’s revealed Word.

(6) Walk consistently in the Spirit.

(7) Allow the Spirit to empower you.

It only makes sense that God wants us to influence the world toward salvation in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Pray that we can surrender, submit, and sacrifice ourselves to allow Jesus to shine through our lives.

And finally…

9. The Esther Fast

Purpose: That “the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. (Protecting us from the evil one) (Isaiah 58:8, NASB).

Key Verses: “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16) AND “When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight;” (Esther 5:2).

Background: Queen Esther, a Jewish woman in a pagan court, risked her life to save her people from threatened destruction by Xerxes, king of Persia. Prior to appearing before the king to petition him to save the Jews, Esther, her attendants, and her cousin Mordecai all fasted to appeal to God for His protection.

We go through many dangers in this life, many are just because we are followers of Jesus. There are places all around the world where it is illegal to preach the gospel or even have a Bible. When Satan attacks, perhaps the Esther Fast is in order.

This fast is not designed to exorcise demons or break a bondage of sin, although it could be used as a protection against demonic forces.

This fast is not for daily protection from the temptations of life. The protection here is similar to the protection God provided as the children of Israel fled Egypt (the armies of Egypt chasing after them) and wandered through the desert for 40 years. Peter reminds us that the devil is out to get us (1 Peter 5:8 – the roaring lion).

Something to remember in this Esther story:

(1) Fasting did not change the decree (so your fasting may not produce any magical wonders).

(2) Fasting did not make the king call the queen into his presence.

(3) Fasting did not guarantee her life would be spared.

(4) Fasting did not solve the crisis.

But we know the end of this story, the Jews were saved from extermination.

SO, PRAYER AND FASTING, AND A GUIDE TO HELP YOU:

I mentioned this guide earlier. In this guide you will find various articles about fasting and other teaching on the topic. It is to be a resource for you in case you want to experiment in the spiritual discipline of fasting. By the time you get to page nine, perhaps you will be ready to commit to this spiritual exercise for any of the nine reasons and types of fasts that I mentioned today.

  • What are you being asked to do?
  • What is the conditional nature of prayer?
  • What promises can you embrace?
  • What are the conditions to answered prayer?
  • What is prevailing prayer?
  • What is a plan to begin or grow your prayer time?
  • What can we pray over? Included is a list of specific things for which we can pray.
  • What are some good prayer Scriptures?
  • What are the seven steps to fasting?

As we conclude here, what is God impressing upon you? What changes need to be made in your life? Or will you just check worship attendance of your list and not even remember what was talked about today?

Let’s pray…

Lord God, we are your children, those who have chosen to walk on the path of discipleship and spiritual maturity. Forgive us of our complacency and apathy in our spiritual lives, May we NOT be those people of whom Isaiah writes in chapter 58. Don’t allow us to play games in your church. May we continue working toward living the Great Commandment and fulfilling the Great Commission. Convict us of sin. Mend our broken relationships. Listen as we cry out to you. May we fulfill the vows we have made to you and recommit ourselves into your service. As we stand and sing these words, Lord Jesus, have thine own way Lord. Amen.

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Psalm 100

Psalm 100:1-5 is a Processional Hymn – The people may have chanted this psalm as they entered the temple or began their worship.

1 Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before him with joyful singing. 3 Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. 5 For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.

Thanking the Lord is something we must do with our lives as well as with our lips. How are we supposed to thank God with our lives?

By serving (Psalm 100:2). In some sanctuaries, there is a sign that reads, “Enter to worship—depart to serve.” The trouble with many congregations is that too many people serve themselves rather than serving the Lord. Another issue is that too often we don’t serve the Lord “with gladness.” Do you know any grumpy Christians? The Lord loves a cheerful servant, so let’s not be that church. This whole Essential series is about using our giftedness to serve the Lord and others.

By submitting (Psalm 100:3). As creatures, we submit to the Creator who fashioned the universe and made us as well. As sheep, we submit to the Shepherd who died for us and now leads us down His paths. He not only made us, but He is making us as we yield our lives and submit to Him (remember, we are his workmanship – Ephesians 2:10). For every believer, submission means fulfillment. As you have received a spiritual gift, submit to God’s leadership and use it to serve Him and others.

By sacrificing (Psalm 100:4–5). As a “holy priesthood, we are privileged to offer spiritual sacrifices to the Lord (1 Peter 2:5). Those sacrifices include our songs of praise (Hebrews 13:15), our good works (Hebrews 13:16), and our material gifts (Philippians 4:15–18). Following God in obedience (exercising your giftedness) will involve the sacrifice of your will and submitting to Him, but believe me, it is worth it because of who He is (Psalm 100:5) and what He does for us. Our God is certainly worthy of our joyful thanks.

Related Images:

The Origin of Work

Here is a devotional from the Lead Like Jesus group, for April 20, 2018.

From the world’s perspective, work is often viewed as a curse, something to get done so that we can get on to relaxing and having fun. In contrast, from God’s perspective, work is a gift that reflects His creativity and energy and life-giving nature. By inviting us to join Him in His work of caring for creation in all its facets, God gave human beings purpose and significance and an opportunity to experience the satisfaction He experienced in creation. What work has God given you to do?

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. — Genesis 2:15

Prayer: Creator God, giver of every good gift and the one who orders the days of our lives, thank You for inviting me into the work of caring for the world You created. Whatever You have given me to do, may I do it to honor You and join You in what You are doing. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Staff Renewal and Vision

On May 7 the staff got together to discuss the impact of our days of renewal, in hopes of embracing a compelling vision, or at least that we will begin the formation of a vision of “the next” for King’s Grant. Here are a few of my notes and thoughts…

If we are to be an equipping culture, we must decide if we are equipping people for a task/event or equipping them for a ministry (unleashing them for kingdom service).

Let’s remind ourselves of the working diagram for our renewal time:

When we speak of the kingdom, we are meaning the rule and reign of Christ in the lives of our people. This is why we exist, to equip believers for the work of service (Ephesians 4:12). It is as if God has given church leaders “only one job, you have 1 job, so don’t blow it by getting distracted with so many other good and worthwhile things.”

Working Vision Statement:

We exist to extend
    the love of Christ, and
    His kingdom
We exist to expand – His love and kingdom
    in Virginia Beach, and
    to the world
We exist to equip – God’s people; for their mission of…
    mending and restoring relationships
    laying and establishing a foundation
    preparing, training, and sending;the saints for the work of service

After this would come each individual ministry of the church, to do these things, by… (listing several ways that ministry will bring this vision into fruition). In the discipleship ministry we could say we do this by…

  • Providing small group experiences
  • Providing resources for spiritual growth
  • Providing opportunities to serve others
  • Providing equip and train opportunities to become more effective in ministry, in order to work toward the vision

We are called to make disciples, but just how does one measure that? How does one know that the goal has been reached? Perhaps by measuring church attendance, Bible and theological knowledge, prayer life, tithing, memorizing Scripture, zeal for God? Yet these look eerily similar, not to Jesus’s closest men, but to his chief opponents (the Pharisees).

On the other hand, what if we measured the progress of a disciple in less objective terms, like this:

Depending on the Holy Spirit (regeneration and dependence)
Interacting in Christian community (biblical knowledge and interdependence)
Submitting to the lordship of Christ (humility and obedience)
Communing with the Father (spiritual disciplines of prayer, devotion, worship)
Investing HIS resources (stewardship, investing in eternal matters)
Participating in acts of service (ministry to/with others and giving back)
Leading people to Christ (Christian witness in word and deed)
Expanding his kingdom (evangelism and missions)

All this to say, how can we get our people to think on a kingdom level? How do we help our people to find their calling?


On June 6, we got together and added more detail..

Mend and Restore – Gather
    Into the FAITH
    Into the FAMILY

Establish and Lay a Foundation – Grow
    In CONNECTION
    In COMMUNITY

Equip and Send – Go
    By SENDING
    By SERVING


This manifests itself in two ways: Personal and Communal  – in a linear process of movement on this journey through life together…

  1. Personally (Member) — Communally (Connection, with other members)
  2. Personally  (Ministry) — Communally (Community with whom we are connected)
  3. Personally (Mission) — Communally (Changing the world)

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The Unity of the Faith

Our passage today was from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church (Ephesians 4:11-13), regarding the Minister’s Goal.

There are Five Functions Listed (Ephesians 4:11)

  1. Apostles – Ephesians 4:11 – divinely appointed representatives
  2. Prophets – Ephesians 4:11 – proclaimers of God’s Word
  3. Evangelists – Ephesians 4:11 – bearers of the good news
  4. Pastor and Teachers – Ephesians 4:11 – caretakers for God’s people (these are listed as one office with two functions – notice the natural bonding of these two in the text)

The Nature of these Five Functions (Ephesians 4:11)

  1. Some are gifted to deal with situations
    1. Apostles – to guide the church in ways it ought to go
    2. Prophets – to guide the church in what it ought to know
  2. Some are gifted to deal with sinners – evangelists
  3. Some are gifted to deal with the saints
    1. Pastors – tending the flock of God
    2. Teachers – teaching the flock of God

The Need for these Five Functions  (Ephesians 4:12-13)

  1. Purpose  – Ephesians 4:12 – perfecting, completing, equipping
  2. Period  – Ephesians 4:13 – until such as time in the future
    1. Attaining unity of the faith
    2. Attaining the knowledge of the Son of God
    3. Attaining maturity
    4. Attaining the measure of the statue of Christ

Outline of Ephesians 4:1-16

  1. Spiritual Unity – Ephesians 4:1-6
    1. Calling – Ephesians 4:1
    2. Conduct – Ephesians 4:2-3
    3. Confession – Ephesians 4:4-6
  2. Spiritual Diversity – Ephesians 4:7-12
    1. Variety of gifts – Ephesians 4:7-10
    2. Variety of responsibilities – Ephesians 4:11-12
  3. Spiritual Maturity – Ephesians 4:13-16
    1. Christlikeness toward maturity – Ephesians 4:13
    2. Conviction toward doctrinal stability – Ephesians 4:13-14
    3. Conversation toward truth spoken in love – Ephesians 4:15
    4. Contribution of the saints working together – Ephesians 4:16

Personal Impressions:

  1. The challenge to build up the saints – Ephesians 4:12 – developing other is a pivotal priority. What will I do to build up the next generation who will replace me?
  2. The commitment to spiritual growth – Ephesians 4:13 – defining what a fully devoted disciple of Jesus looks like. This puts the end goal in front of us at the beginning.
  3. The conviction of sound doctrine – Ephesians 4:14 – stability, confidence, and correction.
  4. The command for genuine relationships – Ephesians 4:15 – speaking truth, growing up, recognizing the head of the body is Jesus.
  5. The community of faith working together – Ephesians 4:16 – all these gifted people properly working together, causing growth in the body.

Ken Pruitt’s Observation and Challenge:

  1. Leadership Redefined – Ephesians 4:11
    1. Which office/ministry defines my heart?
    2. How is shepherding and teaching related?
    3. How am I equipping others for the work of ministry?
    4. How can I focus less on doing, and more on developing?
  2. Unity Redefined – Ephesians 4:12
    1. How can I participate in building up others?
    2. How am I equipping and preparing others for ministries in the future, not just for the immediate task at hand?
    3. Unity will occur when all of God’s people are fulfilling their personal and corporate callings.
  3. Goals Redefined – Ephesians 4:13
    1. How can we move forward in Christ?
    2. What does maturity look like?
  4. Processes Redefined – Ephesians 4:15-16 – speaking truth, growing up, fitting together, working together. This is what we will call a directional vision, putting an intentional emphasis on equipping the saints. Where do our volunteers fit in this triangle illustration? How will we invest in leaders more than investing in individual?
    1. Modify our vocabulary – be mindful of the way we describe things or label things.
      1. Make no distinction between laity and professional clergy, we are all ministers of the gospel.
      2. Train for managers more than for employees.
      3. Move toward multiplication over addition of leaders.
    2. Question our procedures – are we functioning in the best way possible? Are there things that can change? How will we best prepare and train others to carry on?
    3. Restate our purpose – these are the appointed expressions of church ministries given by Jesus himself. If culture become the rule (even for the church), how will we change culture?
    4. Embrace feedback – negotiate with others about what I can do in order to get better. Do not simply find and enlist people to fill slots, but share the vision and opportunity that is before them in this task or ministry.

The Pipeline Conference Observation: this is an interview with Todd Adkins on the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast – (find episode 133).

  1. Delegation: we have long talked about delegating leadership, not only the responsibility of the task but the authority that goes with it. Moses and Jethro are a foundational example.
  2. Dumping: what often happens is that we end up dumping the tasks that we just don’t have time to do or even want to do. It gets the task off your plate but no one is passionate about it.
  3. Development: the new standard is to develop leaders who will take your place; so who is a part of my next generation who will lead the ministry when I am gone?

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We Do Not Lose Heart

Today we read through 2 Corinthians 4:1-18 in order to glean insight from Paul on our commitment for ministry.

First, I noticed the WE statements:

  1. We have renounced – 2 Corinthians 4:2 – disgraceful, underhanded ways
  2. We refuse – 2 Corinthians 4:2 – to practice cunning or tamper with God’s Word
  3. We would commend – 2 Corinthians 4:2 – ourselves to everyone’s conscience
  4. We proclaim – 2 Corinthians 4:5 – not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord
  5. We possess – 2 Corinthians 4:7 – this treasure in earthen vessels
  6. We are – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 – afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down
  7. We have – 2 Corinthians 4:13 – the same spirit of faith
  8. We believe – 2 Corinthians 4:13
  9. We speak – 2 Corinthians 4:13
  10. We do not lose heart – 2 Corinthians 4:1, 16
  11. We anticipate – 2 Corinthians 4:18 – look not at the see, but the unseen

Second, see the contrasts:

  1. Sight of God | Veiled – 2 Corinthians 4:2b-3
  2. Blinded | Seeing – 2 Corinthians 4:4
  3. proclaim self | Proclaim Jesus – 2 Corinthians 4:5
  4. Darkness | Light – 2 Corinthians 4:6
  5. Treasure | Jars of clay – 2 Corinthians 4:7
  6. Death | Life – 2 Corinthians 4:10-12 (three times)
  7. Momentary light affliction | Eternal weight of glory – 2 Corinthians 4:17
  8. Seen | Unseen – 2 Corinthians 4:18
  9. Institutionalism (business model) | Organism (body model)
    1. Since we like to bring order out of chaos, we tend to develop systems to solve problems, therefore institutionalism creeps into the church, too.
    2. How can we move from the sacred and acceptable institution toward the organic?

Observations:

  1. Chose relationships over protocol, policies, and procedures.
  2. The purpose of our ministry – 2 Corinthians 4:15 – for your sake, that as grace extends to more people, it may increase thanksgiving and glory to God.
  3. It may be hard serving where we are, but we are able to overcome.
  4. There is a difference between ministry as our calling and ministry are our career – we can retire from a career, but we cannot retire from a calling.
  5. Life may be hard, and persecution may come, but as a sinner, hell really is better than I deserve.
  6. The god of this word has blinded people, so their salvation is beyond my control.
  7. We must proclaim Jesus as Lord, and leave the results to God.
  8. Paul challenges us to believe and then speak – 2 Corinthians 4:13
  9. Always remember that Christ comes before the church – raise your kids in Christ, do not raise them in church.
  10. Our service involves sacrifice: we are in this together – same faith, same ministry, same purpose, same hardship – our people will also need encouragement in ministry.
  11. Who is the WE? (Plural, Paul, other leaders, KGBC). Who is the YOU? (Corinthians and all believers, KGBC). Paul challenges all of us to be involved in ministry, even when it gets hard.

Application (from pastor Ken):

  1. Foundation of God’s Word: the truth and light of his word, that knowledge was in the glory of God in the face of Christ, drives out commitment.
  2. Incarnational Ministry: that Christ is in me and he is seen in my life, mercy, ministry, death works in us, while we have human deficits, Christ is being made known through our frailty.
  3. Integrity of Genuine Faith: don’t lose heart, be encouraged – persevere since we don’t want to disappoint our Father.

Outline:

  1. How to Handle the Scripture – 2 Corinthians 4:1-7
    1. Practiced by Paul the Apostle – 2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 5-7
      1. Not using secret or shameful methods – 2 Corinthians 4:1-2
      2. Not distorting the message – 2 Corinthians 4:2
      3. Not preaching himself, but Christ – 2 Corinthians 4:5
      4. Not as a vase but a jar of clay – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7
      5. Not from us, but from God alone – 2 Corinthians 4:7
    2. Practiced by Satan the Accuser – 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 – blinding people, preventing them from seeing the light of the gospel
  2. How to Handle Suffering – 2 Corinthians 4:8-18
    1. The Reality of Suffering – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
      1. Pressured but not distressed – 2 Corinthians 4:8a
      2. Perplexed but not desperate – 2 Corinthians 4:8b
      3. Persecuted but not disowned – 2 Corinthians 4:9a
      4. Prostrated but not defeated – 2 Corinthians 4:9b
    2. The Reaction to Suffering – 2 Corinthians 4:10-13
      1. Experiencing the death and life of Christ – 2 Corinthians 4:10-12
      2. Expressing the same faith – 2 Corinthians 4:13
    3. The Rewards of Suffering – 2 Corinthians 4:14-18
      1. The Future: a resurrected body – 2 Corinthians 4:14
        1. Raised with him – 2 Corinthians 4:14a
        2. Presented with him – 2 Corinthians 4:14b
      2. The Present: a renewed body – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
        1. Outer decay | inner men renewed – 2 Corinthians 4:16
        2. Momentary affliction | Eternal weight of Glory – 2 Corinthians 4:17 (focus on Preparing us)
        3. The seen | the Unseen – 2 Corinthians 4:18

From Warren Wiersbe:

The Glory of Salvation (2 Corinthians 4:1–6). Unlike the legalists who had invaded the church, Paul had nothing to hide. The Jewish religious system veiled the gospel, but Paul sought to reveal the gospel. The image is taken from Genesis 1:1-3 and transferred from the old creation to the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The Glory of Service (2 Corinthians 4:7–12). Paul paid a price for his ministry, but the legalists went about collecting honors (2 Corinthians 4:3:1). We are vessels; the treasure of the gospel life within is important. As vessels, we must be clean and available for His use (2 Timothy 2:20-21).

The Glory of Suffering (2 Corinthians 4:13-18). Jesus suffered and turned that suffering into glory; by faith, we can do the same thing. It is not wrong to care for the outward person, so long as you recognize that it is perishing. Concentrate on the inner person. It is the invisible that is imperishable. The best is yet to come

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Lord, Teach Us to Pray

This Easter we are planning a prayer strategy at church to intentionally pray for Easter: our services, guests, preacher, choir, Sunday School teachers, attendance, God’s presence, with an expectation that God can and wants to do great things in and through our church.

I found this e-mail devotion from Bible Gateway (March 2, 2017); may we seek to pray better, more effectively, more earnestly, more faithfully, with an expectancy not found in ordinary people.


My hunch is that of all spiritual disciplines, prayer is the one that people feel most guilty about. Somehow it seems that if we really love God prayer should flow out of us without effort or discipline. In fact, this was not the case even with Jesus’ first followers.

They had a front row seat to watch the greatest pray-er who ever prayed. And they noticed that things happened when he prayed. And they asked: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

This is a startling request because as Jews the disciples would have known all about prayers. They would have grown up with prayers offered through the day, before meals, at the beginning of Sabbath, and when they went to synagogue. They weren’t just asking what words to say. The disciples noticed Jesus looked forward to prayer and actually hungered for it. They saw that somehow prayer fed Jesus’ soul the way food fed their stomachs. They observed a richly interactive life between Jesus and his Father. They noticed that at crisis points—when Jesus was grieving over the death of John the Baptist, when he experienced need, when he was tired from ministry—his consistent response was to pray. They wanted to be nourished by prayer the way that Jesus was. So they asked him to teach them.

Here’s the lesson: Prayer is learned behavior. Nobody is born an expert at it. No one ever masters prayer.

Simple prayer is the most common type of prayer in Scripture. Jesus himself teaches it when he tells us to pray for our daily bread. Sometimes it looks amazingly non-spiritual, as when Gideon asks God to give a few more reasons why he should trust Him.

I have had to learn to be fully present when praying. I have had to learn to become aware of and speak with God about what is actually happening within me during prayer. Talking to God directly about what is happening has made prayer become a much more lively experience in my life.

Jesus often taught about intercessory prayer, and if his teachings could be summarized by a single word it would probably be “persistence.” He told parables about people who would not stop requesting—if persistence pays off even on the human level where we have to overcome resistance and apathy on the part of those we approach, how much more should we continue to persist when we approach a heavenly Father whose love and wisdom exceed our wildest imaginings?

Prayer, perhaps more than any other activity, is the concrete expression of the fact that we are invited into a relationship with God. In addition to all the other work that gets done through prayer, perhaps the greatest work of all is the knitting of the human heart together with the heart of God.

Sometimes people fail to learn more about prayer because they don’t reflect on what actually happens when they pray. Take time to reflect. Think of this as what we might do after a visit with a good friend. We spend a few moments alone and think about our time together.

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How to Study the Bible

How to Study the Bible
A congregational tool, by Todd Wendorff

The goal of good Bible study is to learn what the Bible is saying and how it applies to your life.

  • “It is through applying the Word that God changes our lives.”
  • But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” – James 1:22 (NLT)

Use the guidelines in this article to study God’s word for yourself. Once you know the passage you want to study simply observe, interpret, and apply. These three steps will get the Word into your life.

  1. Observe the passage by asking the question: What do I see?”
  2. Interpret the passage by asking the question: “What does it mean?”
  3. Apply the passage by asking the question: “What do I do?”

Just answer the questions as you study your passage.

SELECT A PASSAGE
Select 3-10 verses dealing with the same topic. Think about why you want to study this passage.

OBSERVE THE PASSAGE BY ASKING QUESTIONS
All observations are valuable. Write them down. Use the following list of questions as a guide.

  • Who is writing or speaking and to whom?
  • What is the passage about?
  • What are the commands?
  • What are the promises or cause/effect relationships?
  • What are the repeated words and ideas?
  • What problems were the recipients facing?
  • Where does this take place?
  • When does this take place?
  • Why does the speaker or author say/write what he does?
  • What do I learn about God?
  • What do I learn about Jesus?
  • What do I learn about the Holy Spirit?
  • What do I learn about me (or mankind)?

Write out any additional observations or insights from the passage. This may include contrasts, lists, comparisons, etc.

INTERPRET THE PASSAGE
WHAT IS THE “BIG IDEA” OF THE PASSAGE—YOUR THEME?
This can most readily be identified from the commands and the repeated words and ideas in the passage. Often there will be one command in the passage with several motivations.

In one phrase sum up the main thought of the passage. Make sure your theme is large enough in scope to include all the author is saying in the passage. It’s often the biggest point that is being made. It often requires you to step back and look at the passage as a whole.

ANSWER THE QUESTIONS YOU RAISED IN THE OBSERVATION STEP
Put your answers in the form of an outline. Take your main theme and break down the passage into sub points under the theme. These sub points form principles of life and ministry. A principle is defined as a timeless lesson in the way God works or is doing things in the world.

To develop each principle (each point in your outline) you will want to EXPLAIN IT (interpretation), ILLUSTRATE IT (from the Bible or personal examples of how this principle worked out both positively and negatively) and APPLY IT (not every point will have specific application). You may want to do this on a separate sheet of paper.

For example, you may be studying Luke 10:38-42, the passage about Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary.

The passage is about choosing what is best for your spiritual life. The author is saying that sitting at the feet of Jesus is best. Now, how does each verse fit into the theme? This is where interpretation comes in.

  • Martha is distracted by busyness. Busyness robs from our spiritual life.
  • Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to Him. Sitting and listening to Jesus is always a priority in our spiritual lives. Jesus says make time to sit and listen.

STEPS TO INTERPRETING THE PASSAGE
To help you interpret the passage, answer like the ones listed below. Use as many or as few as you need to.

  • What are the meanings of the words?
  • What does the immediate context suggest? (preceding and succeeding verses)
  • What does the broader context suggest? (chapter and book)
  • What do other cross references suggest?
  • What is the cultural meaning? (What did it mean to those to whom it was originally addressed?)
  • What do commentaries suggest?

APPLY IT TO YOUR LIFE
This is where you purpose to do what God has taught you through bible study. (James 1:21-25, Matthew 7:24-27). It is through applying the Word that God changes our lives.

Application does not happen by osmosis, but by intent. God enlightens us from the Word, we enact the application with our wills, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to carry out these choices. It is usually best to concentrate on applying one principle at a time. The goal of all application is to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:16—”All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for:

  1. TEACHING: What did I learn?
  2. REPROOF: Where do I fall short? Why do I fall short?
  3. CORRECTION: What will I do about it?
  4. TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS: How can I make this principle a consistent part of my life?

Copyright 2003 by Todd Wendorff [ from Christianity Today online ]

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Reckless Generosity

In our world, we like to measure ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. We don’t like unchanging standards. We can always find somebody who is worse, greedier, further away from God’s standards. We can do this in many areas of life:

  • Generosity: We can say, “My heart’s generous. I want to be generous. I just don’t have very much money right now. Things are kind of tight. Someday, I’ll have more money and then I’ll help take care of people who are in need.” But for now, we go on spending every dime we have on ourselves.
  • Serving: We can say, “I’m really busy right now. I’d love to serve people who are in need, but I can’t fit it into my schedule. Maybe when I have more time and get on top of things, then I will serve.” But our schedule never seems to open up and serving never fits into our day planner. 
  • Reaching Out: We can say, “I’d love to form a relationship with somebody of a different ethnicity or culture. I really want to be part of God’s solution to breaking down the walls that divide us, but it involves taking risks, and I am not up for that. I will wait for someone else to reach out to me; then maybe I can respond instead of initiate.”

But time passes and the walls grow higher and higher. We can measure our lives by comparing ourselves with others, but God does not. He sets a standard that is radically different from the constantly changing world in which we live. We need to look to his Word and discover his standard and then ask him for the strength to grow in our devotion to live with the justice, righteousness, and compassion that marks the heart of God.

God says, “I will measure my people by the one standard that counts. It’s very simple. Are people hungry? Feed them. Are people sick? Help them. Are people oppressed? Stick up for them. Are the widows lonely? Visit them. Are there uneducated children? Teach them. Are people rejected because of the color of their skin? Befriend them.”

The widow of Zarephath fed Elijah even though she had but a handful of flour and a little oil in a jug. (1 Kings 17:7–24) In this story she is recklessly generous. She gives the last of what she has to Elijah.

We should all pause occasionally to ask if we are living with that kind of generous spirit. Maybe we have an abundance of oil and flour in our jars. Maybe we only have a little. Maybe we have a huge flour jar, or perhaps a very small one. No matter what we have, we can still learn to live with a generous spirit.

Here are some questions we might want to ask occasionally:

  • Am I being faithful with my tithe to God?
  • Am I being responsive to the needs of the poor?
  • Am I learning to take risks in giving that stretch my faith?
  • Am I giving in a way that is becoming a natural part of how I live?
  • Am I noticing God’s generous provision in my life and responding with a thankful heart?

Dallas Willard says the law of the kingdom is the law of inversion, where the last are first and the servants are the greatest. This is modeled in a striking way in the life of this widow. The weakest, most vulnerable person — an impoverished, pagan, Gentile widow — becomes the one whose generosity keeps the prophet Elijah alive.

If you were the widow in this story, how do you think you would have responded to Elijah’s request? What an amazing example for all of us!

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[ This is directly from Bible Gateway e-mail Devotion, 2017-01-12 ]

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