The Necessity of Prayer

Do we believe in the absolute importance of prayer, and do we truly desire revival in the lives of Christians and for great awakening in the lives of unbelievers? No we don’t, for these will not come apart from fervent prayer. Yet, by and large, most churches no longer have regular prayer meetings. Many churches no longer have altar calls. And hardly will you hear the stressing of prayer or the need for revival from pulpits. There was a time when, in many Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal churches, altar calls were filled with persons crying out to God for lost family members and friends. But that is now a bygone era. Advertise that Chris Tomlin will be playing at a certain time of the week and you’d have people coming from miles around. Have a prayer meeting any time of the week and the average church would be lucky to have even a tenth of its members attend.

Do we believe in the vitality of prayer? No, we put more stock in formal theological education, good preaching, conferences, and good ol’ know-how, despite the fact Jesus tells us plainly, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). 

So important is prayer to the very One we call our Sovereign Savior and Lord, He says, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?” (Luke 19:46)

Greg Frizzell rightly notes, “If a restaurant is called a ‘House of Fish,’ that implies … that the prominent practice of that establishment is the cooking and eating of fish. When you call a place a ‘house of something,’ you certainly expect that ‘something’ to be the predominant practice of the establishment. In the exact same way, if the church is to be the ‘house of prayer,’ God expects prayer to be its predominant ongoing practice. When a church chooses to become a house of prayer, the practice of prayer literally saturates all it does.”

Are churches today known as “houses of prayer”? No, they’re called either houses of God or houses of worship. An average church service will have about 20 minutes of worship time, 30-45 minutes of preaching, and maybe five minutes of prayer. We like to think God is honored by all of this because we do it all in His name, but is He honored when we deliberately disregard what He has told us what He desires for the emphasis of His house to be? And is it any wonder why churches and denominations are in such poor shape? Understand, sound biblical teaching and genuine worship are, indeed, important as well. But it is through prayer and the moving of God which fuels these with power. A pastor is not a savior. If churches are not being the church, and a house of prayer filled with the Holy Spirit, a pastor will not be able to fix what’s broken, regardless how talented he might be. He might preach well, and organize well, but he is completely helpless in doing what only God can do in response to the prayers of His people. 

Furthermore, (and I believe this wholeheartedly) a church will only value and emphasize prayer as much as the leadership will. If leadership puts stock in various credentials, those are what the church will put stock in. If the leadership will not stress prayer, neither will the church. The emphases on prayer and its necessity must be a priority of those in leadership, for only then will the church begin to recognize its importance. Only as God’s people humbly and sincerely cry out to Him in faith, will we witness mighty moves of God. I’m not talking about ridiculous sensationalism, as one might see on TBN, but genuine moves of God when people are convicted of sin, the chains of vices and addictions are broken, and people becoming genuinely inflamed with passion for Christ. 

We are told in Matthew 9:36-38, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

Why does Jesus command us to pray earnestly on this matter? If God is sovereign and has no need of us, then why must we pray? Yet, although God is sovereign, the Scriptures teach us that many things either happen or not—depending on whether God’s people pray. But let me ask, does Jesus contradict His own sovereignty? He certainly does not, yet He commands us to pray earnestly for laborers in God’s harvest. And by laborers, does he simply mean those who are formally trained in a theological institution? This is highly doubtful, since in Acts 4, we are told of two of Jesus’s disciples who stood before the Jewish Council, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (v. 13). Then later, when a controversy arose between the Jewish and Greek believers, the apostles commanded, “Brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Notice the lack of worldly credentials in both accounts. Instead, the emphases are company with Jesus, good reputation, fullness of the Spirit and of wisdom, and prayer. 

Now, consider what some of the great saints have said about prayer:

Oswald Chambers observes, “Prayer seems like such a small thing to do—next to nothing at all in fact. But that’s not what Jesus said. To Him, prayer is everything…. We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but Jesus wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but Jesus wants us to pray before we do anything at all…. He wants us to talk to Him, not aboutHim. He wants us to talk to Him about unbelievers before we talk to unbelievers about Him. Prayer is not just an exercise routine God has us on; it’s our business, our only business. Prayer is our holy occupation. Plain and simple.”

John Calvin rocognizes our desperate need for prayer, as he notes, “we are plagued with such poverty and destitution that even the best of us must sigh and groan continually, and call on the Lord with all humility.”

Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, declared, “I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.”

Thomas Watson, the great Puritan, notes, “The angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that fetched the angel.” Watson also notes, “That prayer is most likely to pierce heaven which first pierces one’s own heart.”  

The Puritan, William Gurnall, says of the importance of corporate prayer, “There is a wonderful prevalency in the joint prayers of [God’s] people. When Peter was in prison, the church met and prayed him out of his enemies’ hands. A prince will grant a petition subscribed by the hands of the whole city, which, may be, he would not at the request of a private subject, and yet love him well too. There is an especial promise to public prayer: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” 

Jonathan Edwards says, “Prayer is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is to life.” He also notes, “When God is about to do a mighty new thing He always sets His people praying.”

And lastly, Henry Blackaby observes, “Studying revivals throughout history will reveal that they are not identical. Revivals in Wales, New England, Kentucky, Korea, India, Ruanda, and South Africa had characteristics unique to the people and the social environment in which they occurred. However, in every revival the consistent common denominator is fervent, faithful, persistent, righteous prayer.”

So, I ask again, do we believe in the utmost vitality of prayer? Is it not strange that in churches one is more prone to hear quotes on Calvin’s teachings on God’s sovereignty, Billy Graham’s thoughts on evangelism, or even some hogwash from persons of questionable theology and character, rather than on the very words of the incarnate Son of God when He stresses the importance of prayer? And why are many of us negligent in prayer? Does it not boil down to a mixture of pride (thinking we can accomplish great things—which is very contrary to the Scriptures, as well as to reformed theology), lack of fervor for Christ and His glory, laziness, unbelief, and really, straight-up apathy for the lost? Men, we give so many lousy excuses for our lack of praying, but these five reasons are truly why we do not give more attention to prayer. Yet, if one reads some of the Puritan prayers in books like, The Valley of Vision or Piercing Heaven, he will read passionate prayers exemplifying genuine humility and the awareness of personal sinfulness, a burning passion for the glory of Christ and the furtherance of His kingdom, confidence in the mercies, providence, and wisdom of God, and pleadings for God to pour out His mercies on others as He has done so to them.

Charles Spurgeon, who was a staunch Calvinist, understood the dual, non-contradictory truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility better than any preacher I know of. In one of his sermons on these very things, in the first part of his message he stresses the biblical teaching of God’s sovereignty in salvation. Later, he argues against the hyper-Calvinists of his day, saying, “When God sent the prophets to Israel and stretched forth His hands, what was it for? What did He wish them to come to Him for? Why, to be saved. 

            ‘No,’ says one, ‘it was for temporal mercies.’ Not so, my friend; the verse before is concerning spiritual mercies, and so is this one, for they refer to the same thing. Now, was God sincere in His offer? God forgive the man that dares to say He was not.”

It is true, God is sovereign over our salvation. Not a single one of us, comes to God apart from Him making the first move toward us. Yet, let not our lofty views of Calvinism blind our minds and hearts to the equal truth of God’s love and desire for the lost to come to know Him and so be saved. Just as definite God will one day thoroughly judge the wicked in His wrath, so just as definite are His tender mercies for them, as He told the angry prophet, Jonah, concerning the ruthless, idolatrous Ninevites, “Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Just as surely as God’s sovereignty over our salvation are His words spoken through Ezekiel, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (33:11). Just as certain as the apostle who stressed in Romans that God “has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (9:18), is also the same apostle who emphasized to his protégé, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:1-6).

But how will people come to this saving knowledge of Christ? Simply by God’s sovereignty? We are not granted any more authority than the liberal to pick and choose what Scriptures we like or prefer. As Spurgeon notes, ‘The system of truth is not one straight line but two. No man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once.” What he is talking about is the truth of God’s sovereignty as being one line, and God’s sincere invitation to all people to repent. But how will men come to saving faith in Christ? Simply by solid biblical preaching? Someone might say, “Yes, for so Paul says in Romans 10.” But does one think, really, that the power comes from a preacher apart from prayer?

But what does Jesus say? He tells us to pray. He tells us to pray that God will send laborers into His harvest. He tells us to ask, seek, and knock. And what does Paul say? Does he say to simply preach and let the chips fall wherever they are sovereignly destined? No, he tells us to pray.

How can the fire of revival sweep through our churches or a great awakening resound throughout the nations? Indeed, these must come by God’s sovereign power, there’s no doubt about that. But does not God invite us to ask and plead for these? James tells us we have not because we ask not. Is it not true that we do not earnestly pray for these? When was the last time you pleaded for revival in private prayer? Or when has the church gathered to plead for revival? Churches will only do so when they truly recognize they need revival. How many of us genuinely believe we ourselves need to be revived? Those of us who are fathers, do we just give everything to our children, or do we not often give things only when they sincerely ask?

Did the Holy Spirit fall on His disciples during Pentecost sovereignly, while they were sleeping, or when they were together in the upper room praying, utterly dependent on God’s direction and moving? Was Peter released from prison simply by the sovereign hand of God or was it in connection with a gathering of believers pleading fervently on his behalf? When Moses was on top of a hill with Aaron and Hur, watching Joshua and his army fighting the Amalekites, did God simply help Joshua prevail or was it only as Moses raised His hands to God? Prayer was vital in each of these events.

We often view Paul as some spiritual powerhouse, but when we read his letters, we see he was a man devoted to prayer, as well as dependent on the fervent prayers of God’s people. In the thirteen letters of Paul, he mentions prayer in some form nearly fifty times. To the Ephesians, he asks that they pray for him, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (6:19). To the Colossian believers, he writes, “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (4:3). He says in his letter to Philemon, “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective” (1:6).

And as I was preparing for this study, I was reminded of a dear brother’s message recently, from the prophet Ezekiel, when God said, “And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none” (22:30). As this brother pointed out, is God not looking for men to stand in the breach today, when our country and world are standing on the brink of destruction? Are we to be content with God’s judgment on the wicked? Such an attitude reveals the wickedness of our own hearts and is no reflection of the tender heart of God. God wants us to pray.

As Southern Baptists, we might pride ourselves for our dedication to the Great Commission, but what are we that we can accomplish anything? Can we truly fulfill it by our own strength and ingenuity? The common underlying attitude is that we can. No, of course we don’t say this outrightly, but our lack of prayer declares this as much. But how’s this going for us so far? The Great Commission was never intended to be fulfilled apart from true commitment to Christ’s teachings, an absolute dependence on Him through prayer, and the filling of His Holy Spirit.

Men, should we not feel ashamed when the ladies of many of our churches have taken it upon themselves to make time to get together for times of prayer, when God has called us to be the spiritual leaders? This is not a criticism of the women, but of us, for it is we who should have taken the lead.

Leaders, whether you are pastors, deacons, or on committees, don’t expect great things for our churches if prayer is not of utmost priority. Jesus states plainly that apart from Him, we can do nothing. This fact remains true whether we accept it or not. 

If we genuinely desire to see revival take place in our churches, and to see people experience true life in Christ as they are delivered from the bondage of sin and the devil, then we must become a people and houses of prayer. Otherwise we will simply remain a people who do churchystuff. If we truly desire revival, then we must actively plead for it. We might blame the lack of revival or awakening on men’s wickedness or God’s just sovereignty, but we are just as much to blame when we are unwilling to acknowledge our own sins and stand in the gap on behalf of the people.

I think I have made it clear that we do not truly see prayer as being absolutely vital, despite what we might say with our mouths. However, what are we going to do with the charge presented here? Like the church in Ephesus, we might have impeccably sound theology, but this does not guarantee fervency of spirit and passionate love for Christ. May churches truly become a houses of prayer to the nations and devoted to our first love. To not do so means to both remain powerless and to dwell in sin because of choosing to not become a house of prayer. Brethren, we must repent. Let us not think that God shares in our apathy for a lost and dying world around us, nor think that somehow our concern and burden for them is greater than His. Our hills of love in which He creates within us will never compare to the mountains of love which are an eternal part of Him.

In closing, may we truly begin to understand the necessity of prayer. Jesus says this place is to be a house of prayer. And as Chambers says, prayer is to be our holy occupation. 

Let us pray.

*The Wonder of His Glorious Majesty

Today, Jesus is the object of ridicule, mockery, and scorn in Hollywood, Washington, the media, our universities, and public squares. Even from many pulpits Jesus’ person and works are trivialized. The time is coming, however, when the snide and blasphemous comments will be silenced, the arrogant and condescending smirks will be wiped off faces, and the confident defiance will turn to dread. Jesus came the first time as a gentle Lamb, setting aside His crown and glory, to be slain for the sins of humanity. He will return as a majestic and conquering Lion.

John writes,

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. ~ Rev. 1:7

And Paul declares confidently,

Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~ Phil. 2:6-11

While on earth, kings, rulers, and their councils stand together “against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’” (Ps. 2:2-3). The Bible is clear that even the kings and leaders of the earth, militant atheists, Communists, and even Satan and the demons will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is both King of kings and Lord of Lords, to the glory of the Father (see Rev. 17:14: 19:16).

The glorious reign of Christ will not be stained by sin or contaminated by corruption. His rule is one of righteousness. His kingdom is one of holiness, purity, and joy. His leadership is perfectly just. He cannot be bribed or bartered, and He shows no partiality.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. ~ Rev. 21:22-27 (emphasis added)

There will not be human trafficking or any form of exploitation of others in Christ’s kingdom. There will not be lying, cheating politicians or violent, drug smuggling gangs. There will not be pornography or any other form of perversion. By the complete transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the citizens of the kingdom will be honorable, pure, and honest. The citizens will have genuine love for one another and heartfelt devotion to the Eternal King.

The world mocks such a kingdom, accusing it as sounding “boring.” The kingdom, however, will reflect in a grander way what humanity and life were intended to be. There will be no diseases or death. There will be no crime or ill intentions. This there will be no cause for sorrow or tears. There will no longer be such feelings of shame, guilt, loneliness, or rejection.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~ Rev. 21:3-4

The citizens will live in the peace and presence of their God and King. No longer will there be sin to drive a wedge between people and God, people will have no reason to try to hide, and God will have no reason to hide His face. The redeemed ones will have the privilege of walking with God in true fellowship.

There was a time when the church reflected with longing the glory to come and to dwell in the very presence of God. Today, we seem quite content with football, concerts, and the like. We have lost the wonder of the splendor and majesty of the great King. So much of what we call “worship” seems to be less to do with whether God likes it and is truly glorified, and more about our preferences, whether we like what we are singing, and the way these make is feel. But how often do we come with a hushed reverence, recognizing we are in the presence of Cosmic Royalty? How often do we ever see the great King by faith, and are completely aware that our opinions, preferences, and feelings are inconsequential? Do we ever come to the point of understanding that the only thing that matters is if the King is pleased, honored, and magnified? Are we willing to be uncomfortable, to let our feelings be hurt by conviction, and to yield ourselves completely to the service of His Majesty?

As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” ~ 2 Chron. 7:1-3

It is important to understand that Jesus’ kingship is not a democracy or a republic. Rather, His is a monarchy. Furthermore, He is King today. He is not waiting to reign. The question is, do we recognize Him to be the rightful King over our lives today? Are we yielded to His kingship?

Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). Likewise, when the King returns, will He find those who profess to be His serving Him faithfully? How could He if His people are no longer filled with wonder concerning His glorious majesty? O that the Holy Spirit would help us to recapture the wonder of the majesty and grandeur of Jesus Christ. O that our hearts would cry out, “Long live the King!” And O that we would yearn for that day when every knee will bow and confess that Jesus, indeed, is Lord! Amen.

* From, Recapturing the Wonder of God, by Geno Pyse, (c) 2021.

Jesus’ Colossal Declaration

If I were to say, “I took my boy fishing,” you would probably assume I am a father, although I did not specifically say that I am. Or if I said that I am going to a marriage conference this weekend, you would likely think I am married. If I was brought up in a conversation, someone might say, “Yes, Geno is married and is the dad of at least one child.” Why would they come to these conclusions? I did not explicitly say that I am a father or that I am married. I did not say the boy is my son, for he could be a boy that I mentor. I did not say I am married but that I am going to a conference. Yet, one used logical reasoning to come to the conclusion I have a son and that I am married (both of which are true).

Somehow, however, many chuck such logical reasoning when it comes to the Scriptures. Some deny the deity of Jesus Christ, saying, “No where does Jesus say that he is God.” Really? In John’s Gospel, we read,

“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” ~ John 10:29-33

Although Jesus did not come out and say, “I am God,” the Jews knew exactly what He was implying. Yet, how do educated individuals today not understand?

However, the following passage is more explicit, and to miss it seems to be a deliberate denial. 

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. ~ John 8:56-59

Abraham lived around eighteen centuries before Jesus, yet He says that Abraham rejoiced that he would see His day. “What?” the Jews said, “You are just a young buck, younger than many of us!” Jesus answer? “Before Abraham, I AM! When Abraham was talking to God, that was Me! And that was Me who revealed Myself to Moses in the  burning bush!” (See Ex. 3:14)

For Jesus to declare, “Before Abraham, I am!” He was not simply saying He is God, He is stating that He is the Jehovah God! This statement is, in fact, far more emphatic than simply saying, “I am God.” The Jews understood exactly what Jesus was stating. So again, how do so many educated people fail to understand today? It is one thing to deny He is God, but it is quite another to say He did not claim to be God. He most certainly did.

BEWARE of Wolves!

Jesus warns of false prophets who will “come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Externally they will have the appearance of being persons of God, but internally they are enemies of God. Jesus goes on to say, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” That is, we can recognize them by their actions and teachings.

Jesus later warns that in the latter days “many will fall away” [from the faith], and “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:10-11). Similarly, the apostle Paul warns, “evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Paul, Peter, Jude, and John each warn of false teachers.

Again, the people of God are not left defenseless. Jesus tells his disciples, just prior to His crucifixion, that they would receive the “Spirit of truth” and He “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:17, 26). And He “will guide you into all the truth….He will glorify me” (16:13-14). Note, Jesus declares Himself as the truth, and God’s word is truth (see John 14:6; 17:17).

What’s the big deal? Jesus says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” ~ Matthew 7:21-23 

It is vital that we understand mere outward appearances and professions of being a “Christian” can be dangerously misleading. Jesus says false prophets/teachers are ravenous wolves disguised as sheep of His pasture. Do not miss the serious implications of Jesus’ warning. He is emphasizing the real nature of false prophets—vicious, strategic, and deadly!

We are living in dangerous times in which many assume a person must be a Christian if they say they are or if something is labeled as “Christian.” Many feel they are “judging” if they question if someone is a Christian; however, there is a vast difference between judging and discerning. In fact, John (one of Jesus’ closest disciples) writes,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. ~ 1 John 4:1

How are we to “test” others? What “fruits” do we watch or listen for to detect false teachers? Well this list is not exhaustive, most false teachings stem from one or more of the following:

  • Empty religion (works and activities void of God’s grace and inner workings)
  • Rejecting the authority and trustworthiness of the Scriptures
  • The condoning of behaviors God condemns (antinomianism)
  • Adding works to grace (legalism)
  • “Prostituting” the Gospel
  • Denying the Person and/or atoning work of Jesus Christ
  • Messages void of the necessity of the Cross
  • Salvation by any means other than Christ alone [1]

In our Western church culture people tend to focus on Jesus’ message of love and grace, but may we not dismiss His and the apostles’ warnings of the ever immenent danger of false prophets and their literally damnable teachings.

__________

[1]  Geno Pyse, BEWARE of False Prophets: Taking Seriously the Warnings of Jesus, the Prophets, & the Apostles (Rochester: GP&P, 2020), 71.

Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles each warn of false prophets and false teachers. In fact, Jesus and the apostles warn that these will go “from bad to worse” prior to Jesus’ return. Furthermore, the apostle Paul says there will be a great falling away (apostasy) from the faith. This book discusses some of the common teachings and/or practices of false teachers, and seeks to help persons to become better equipped to discern between truth and error. Study questions for group or personal study included. (184 pages)

Polarization and the Stripping Away of Our Humanity

On their album, Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd has a song entitled, “Us and Them”. The lyrics begin with, “Us and them / And after all, we’re only ordinary men.” This reminds me of a part in Homer’s, The Iliad, when Hector, the noble hero of the Trojans, was home with his family before his upcoming dual with Achilles, the champion of the Greeks.

While the book celebrates the Greek warriors, this scene takes us into Hector’s home, loving on his family, although knowing he might not return to them after the fight. What struck me about this, when I read it in college, was the reality of persons in war. On each side are dads, moms, sons, and daughters. The vast majority do not want to be there, but are there because of duty—for “love of God, King, and country.”

While their cultures might be different, their humanity is very much the same: intellect, emotions, passions, dreams, ambitions, love, affections, fear, etc.

One of the dangerous consequences being recognized, due to modern technology and social media, is polarization. While technology is not fully to blame, it has, indeed, confounded matters. No longer is it simply disagreeing or being divided. It has become demeaning, demonizing, and dehumanizing enmity. We have the Left/Right, liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican, black/white, etc. Mind you, I am not at all promoting pluralism or ecumenicalism, nor am I endorsing complete individualism and autonomy. However, we are becoming a society that strips away the humanity of persons who are not like us and/or who do not think like us.

Some foundational doctrines in Christian theology concerning people are: 1) Created in God’s image, 2) original sin, and 3) Redemption.

First, all people are made in God’s image, and He has placed us in the time and place as He sees fit.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26-27

Second, the suffering we see in our world is rooted in original sin; that is, because the first couple sinned, sin is now passed on from generation to generation. We often view racism, violence, perversion, etc. as the problems; however, these are merely symptoms of the “spiritual disease” each of us is infected with.

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” … For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ~ Romans 3:10-12, 22-23

Third, God has a genuine love for fallen humanity and has made redemption possible for all people who are willing to repent of sin and believe on His Son.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. ~ Romans 5:8-10

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:9

Although sin has distorted our desires and perception, it has not eradicated our humanity and worth to God. Yet, how easily—especially with social media—we can slander and demonize others. Regardless of ethnicity, color, or beliefs, we are all but ordinary people. We work, play, love our families, and want to survive. Mind you, none of this is meant to ignore crime or injustice; however, we can be so malicious, injurious, and even murderous with our tongues and posts. The distance from verbal harm to physical harm is not far at all. In fact, Jesus explains:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. ~ Matthew 5:21-22

We are also told,

No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? ~ James 3:8-11

Yet, consider the way people slander, accuse, and dehumanize others on social media. How brutally nasty people can be towards others whose views are different. Too often a distinction is not made between the person and the view. So, going straight for the jugular, so to speak, honest dialogue is not permitted and the person’s humanity is trampled on. As a result, there is no consideration that the other is a person with a past full of various experiences. Furthermore, this is someone’s son, daughter, parent, etc. Dangerously worse still, God’s image, love, and redemption are denied a person. In the end, such polarization makes us like beasts, monsters, and devils ourselves.

We can fight to the death for our opinions, perceptions, and convictions; yet, the Bible tells us:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

Strangely, whenever we seek to dehumanize others, we dehumanize ourselves, too. Sadly, the more our climate becomes polarized, the more our humanity is stripped away.

The Detriment of Distraction

Ours is a society that not simply loves—but is addicted—to noise. From getting up in the morning to going to bed at night we are bombard with noise: Radios, podcasts, television, news, sounds from traffic, from the workplace, from school, and from people all around us.

Sadly, we are not encouraged to truly think for ourselves. News media, celebrities, politicians, and “educators” often try to tell us what to think and how to feel—regardless   how illogical. With the passion of a bushfire, but sometimes intelligence equivalent to that of a bowl of mashed potatoes. Yet, many will mindlessly agree.

Daily we are blasted with such messages: anyone who disagrees is  a bad person, hate-monger, racist; corruption and lies are okay in politics, these simply come with the territory; hypocrisy is only wrong in religion; truth is relative; those who hold to values are dangerous; because there is evil there is no God; humility is for the weak; do what thou wilt, let the chips fall wherever they may—THINK LIKE THE SYSTEM—DO NOT QUESTION IT. LEARN WHAT IT TEACHES; FEEL WHAT IT INITIATES (TO HELL WITH CONSCIENCE); BECOME ONE WITH THE SYSTEM. YOU’RE AN INDIVIDUAL—BUT REALLY YOU’RE NOT!

We have become so accustomed to noise and distractions that many people literally cannot handle periods of getting alone to think and ponder the deeper things in life. What should bring a measure of clarity is thought to be too boring and unnerving, instead. Many people do not know how to handle the combination of silence, stillness, and the triggering of their own thoughts. Furthermore, we have become so adapted to the system (i.e., the world) we do not even realize how much it seeks to manipulate us.

Let’s question the system for a moment and consider:

  • You disagree with persons, sometimes with your closest friends. Are you, therefore, a bad person? A hate monger? A bigot? Are your friends with whom you disagree?
  • Is lying and corruption to be permissible in politics? Do we not resent liars, thieves, and backstabbers when we find them in our midst? So why are these applauded in politics?
  • Why is hypocrisy only shunned when it is found in churches? Why is it not shunned in politics, business, schools, and Hollywood? Many claim to not go to church because of “all the hypocrites,” but the aforementioned have the church beat by far when it comes to hypocrisy.
  • Is truth relative? If so, then how can anything truly be right or wrong? If truth is relative, then all is mere opinion; and things like bigotry, slavery, and oppression are merely neutral. If truth, indeed, is relative, who is anyone to condemn anything?
  • Are those who hold to values (virtue) dangerous? Borrowing from the illustration of another, if you were walking a street at night, who would you rather see? A group of thugs who mock values or a group of people who try to live by values?
  • Because there is evil there is no God? If there is no God, then there is no Standard by which we can discern good or evil. “Good” and “evil” become mere empty words we assign false meaning to. If there is no God, then evolution might be true. If so, then we merely witness “survival of the fittest” when it comes to oppression—simply nature running its course (IF evolution was true).
  • Is humility a sign of weakness? Without humility we cannot truly show genuine respect to one another. Humility is required to recognize and respond to the value of others.
  • Do what thou wilt? This is precisely why our world is in the mess it is in—people living as they will, doing “what is right in their own eyes.” Every action has a reaction. Every choice comes along with consequences.
  • One other thing I will mention concerns slavery. Constantly media and education reminds us of the slavery in our nations past, and the evil thereof; however, for all the supposed hatred of slavery, how come there is not a unified outcry against modern slavery—human trafficking? For all the outcries against the oppression of women and minorities (which are the majority of the victims in human trafficking)  c there is relatively little outcry. Interestingly, some in Washington, Hollywood, and the sports world are known to have profited from slavery. Strangely, for all the outcry against the slavery of the past, too often a blind eye is turned away from today’s slavery!

If, indeed, there is truth to be known, is it good or wise to scornfully sacrifice the quest of it in order to indulge in our pleasures, greed, and pride?

The writer of Ecclesiastes, in his quest for happiness and purpose, indulged himself in pleasures, entertainment, work, education, prosperity, etc. He admits that in proper moderation many of the things he enjoyed are good—but not when they distract us from our deeper purpose. He ends the book with these words:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. ~ 12:13-14

The writer of Proverbs writes:

Let the wise hear and increase in learning…. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction…. Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? … Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them. ~ Proverbs 1:5, 7, 20-22, 29-32

Remembering the Cross When We Hurt

In our hurts, pain, broken-heartedness, loneliness, etc., we can feel rather isolated—even abandoned by God. However, feelings do not necessarily reflect reality. When we are going through grief or depression, I dare to say our feelings rarely reflect reality. During these times our feelings will often scream that we are forsaken, God has left us to writhe and die in our pain and misery—alone. But this is not the case at all, although our feelings will defiantly say otherwise.

One of the things that has always amazed me about the Gospel message is God has always “played by the rules.” Although He is God and sinless, He came into our fallen world as a Man, and experienced fully the effects of a world ravaged by sin. Being God, could He not have changed the rules for Himself?   Could He not have bypassed human experience in a fallen and broken world? But He did not, because He is a God of truth and faithfulness. Therefore, He experienced poverty, loneliness, rejection, racism, betrayal, grief, sorrow, pain, stress, disappointment, injustice, etc.

The writer of Hebrews states:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~ 4:14-16

Some time ago I wrote the following song:

He Is Still Worthy of Praise

Even when storms rob us of sunshine,

    And our laughter turns to cries;

Even when our nights are the darkest,

    And there are no stars in our skies…

Bridge:

We look to Christ,

    The Holy One who cares;

In brokenness,

    We worship Him through tears…

Chorus 1:

(For) He is still worthy of praise;

He is still worthy of honor;

He is still worthy of worship;

He is still worthy of all!

(Repeat)

Even when our minds are afflicted,

    And questions scream with rage;

And our hearts are so deeply wounded,

    Feeling forsaken in some cage…

Bridge:

We look to Christ,

    And bend our knees in dust.

In spite of pain,

    We sing to Him with trust…

(repeat Chorus 1)

Through loneliness and friendlessness,

Through deep darkness and through sickness;

Through failure and tears, through raging fears;

Through broken dreams, and angry screams …

Through temptations, and frustrations;

Through broken-hearts, and worlds torn apart;

Through death of loved ones, when grief overcomes –

Through all the loss, we remember His Cross!

Even when we face disappointments,

    When dreams are smashed on rocks,

And we watch them sink under waters,

    As our hearts are crushed on the docks.

Bridge:

We bow our souls,

    And cannot even speak.

We want to run,

    We want to die,

    Yet to our God we cry … and we seek …

(repeat Chorus 1)

Chorus 2:

God You are worthy of praise;

You are still worthy of honor;

You are still worthy of worship;

Jesus, You’re worthy of all!

You are still worthy of praise;

You are still worthy of honor;

You are still worthy of worship;

Jesus, You’re worthy of all!

… Through all the loss, we remember Your Cross …

Jesus, You’re worthy of praise.

(Words & music by Geno Pyse)

Indeed, when we are going through hurts and loss, may we remember the cross. You are loved, and you are not forgotten. Your pain serves a greater purpose, if you will but continue to trust even though nothing seems to make sense.

Our High Priest and Unnecessary, Distracting, and (the) Wrong Questions

I enjoy studying and discussing theology, provided the discussion is edifying. Theology can raise a lot of questions—some very difficult ones. Note, many of our questions must remain unanswered. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9, ESV). God is perfect in holiness, love, justice, and all His ways. Will we choose to trust Him?

Sometimes our questions of curiosity are simply irrelevant (i.e., the classic “Can God make a rock so big He can’t move?”). However, some of our questions are distracting to more important ones. For example, Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Sometimes the question—even debate—arises, “Could Jesus have sinned?” The differing answers go back and forth. The question is not insignificant, but neither is it the most important. Furthermore, it distracts from the wonderful truths being revealed. Two more important questions are: Did Jesus sin? And can He truly sympathize with us when we struggle with our sinfulness? Could He have sinned? Some say yes, others say no. However, what we do know is He was genuinely tempted—therefore, He can sympathize—but He did not sin. Good thing! Otherwise we would not have a Savior.

Could Jesus have sinned? Does He know what it is like to be tempted with the same sins as I am? Maybe, maybe not. What I know with utmost certainty is I can—and do—sin, and I have High Priest and Savior who can sympathize with me—and you. 

You and I will continue to have questions, but may we learn to ask the right questions, instead of being distracted by the unnecessary and wrong ones.

God (Part 2): The Importance of Correct Perception of Him

In his book, Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer writes how modern man tends to think of idolatry in terms of people bowing to figures carved of stone, metal, or wood. However, idolatry begins in the mind, even if no overt worship takes place. Tozer goes on to explain that idolatry is any entertaining of thoughts about God not worthy of Him, not only worshipping something other than Him.

This has great relevance in our society that views God in so many different ways other than what He reveals in the Scriptures, and that tries to use Him for political and financial gain. This also has great relevance within modern Christendom where many of its adherents often seem to stress more as to whether or not they like the worship services, rather than truly considering if He likes them.

Nearly across the board people believe in God’s love. Certainly love is part of God’s character. The Scriptures declare, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8 [ESV]). However, it is imperative we understand His overarching attribute—holiness! This attribute is the umbrella to every other one. Holy means “set apart; other; extraordinary; transcendent.” It is the only attribute of His mentioned to the third degree—and in both the Old and New Testaments:

“And [the seraphim] called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (Isaiah 6:3)

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:8)

God’s love is a pure, holy love. His love will never be separated or go against His holiness. Jesus says the Father desires worshipers who worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:23-24). So, to profess God’s love while disregarding His holiness is to make a mockery of true worship and to plummet heart first into idolatry, which leads to holy judgment.

One of the tragic cycles we read of in the Old Testament is the Israelites’ regression into idolatry. Integrating the customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the people around them into the worship of God, only to drift away from Him without even realizing it. Perplexed and angered by the prophets’ rebukes and confrontations, all the while indulging in the immorality of the cult religions of Baal and Astarte, and the child sacrifice of Moloch (something God declares that never even entered His mind [see Jeremiah 7:31]).

One of my great concerns for many churches today is the adapting of customs, behaviors, and beliefs of the secular and pagan society around us, trying to integrate these into the Christian faith, dismissing the very attributes and ways of God He reveals to us in the Scriptures. 

Jesus said of some of the religious people of the day, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me’” (Mark 7:6-7).

And one of the most haunting things He says is, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

God is holy, but He is also loving. Although He is loving, may we remember He is also holy, holy, holy, and His love is a holy love. If we try to tweak these to accommodate our desires or to condone or justify our beloved sins, we are guilty of idolatry. To not desire God as He is is merely to desire a god of our own making.