God on Prayer

God through Luke tells us:

  • Luke’s gospel begins with prayer at the temple (Luke 1:10) and Acts (1:14) begins similarly.
  • Mary prays/sings: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:53) – prayer that touches God’s heart is coming to Him hungry. Prayer that goes through the motions is coming rich. You can see the results of each.
  • Jesus teaches us to pray for God’s kingdom to come (Luke 11:2 = God’s will to be done, Matthew 6:10). Shows that our prayers pave a path for God’s will to come.
  • Jesus gives the example of prayer being like a friend who doesn’t possess something, yet begs of someone who had what he needed (Luke 11:5-8). Again, do we come to God in prayer “hungry” and “in need” or filled? You can tell the difference based on how God responds.
  • Luke 11:9-13 – we are told to “Ask…seek…knock.” You ask when someone is there with you. You seek when there is effort to find someone/something. You knock when there is a barrier between you and what you need. Consider this as a progression. When you’re younger with the Lord, it might be a simple ask. But later He might be exercising those muscles by having you seek and knock a bit before it comes. Don’t stop. He sees you and hears you.
  • Luke 18:1-8 – again, Jesus pictures prayer as a person in need going to the one who can match that need. In this case it’s a widow (who has no earthly helper) who needs deliverance against her adversary. She pleads relentlessly with a corrupt judge. Why? Because she knew he was her only hope for a change. God is saying that we are that widow, and He is a good judge. Will we pray like we know He really is the ONLY answer to what we need?
  • Acts 1:14 and 2:42 shows the earliest group of Jesus followers were devoted to prayer.
  • Acts 6:4 shows that prayer was one of 2 chief things that leaders had to ensure they had time to for.
  • Acts 9:11 shows that Ananias could recognize the transformed Paul because, “he is praying.”
  • Acts 10:9 and 10:30 show that the Gentiles were brought into the kingdom of grace through prayer– Peter’s prayer matched with Cornelius’s.
  • Acts 12 – Peter was miraculously delivered from prison when “many were gathered together and were praying,” (12:12).
  • Acts 13:3 – the church spread through prayer
  • Acts 14:23 – the church was established through prayer

I hope this is sufficient to see that God via Luke has said much on prayer. This alone should be sufficient to start a revival of prayer among Jesus’ people everywhere. I know it has been used much to kindle prayer in my own heart. But God knows how cold and stubborn we can be. So He anointed other Bible writers to hit the same theme from different angles.

Lately, God has been speaking to me through Paul, specifically, to revive my heart more toward a prayer revival. Here is a sampling of that.

God through Paul tells us:

  • “Be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12) – if we can’t do it out of zeal, let’s consider doing it out of duty
  • “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:8) – IN EVERYTHING
  • “Epaphras… [is] always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God…he has worked hard for you…” (Col. 4:12-13). Consider that. The prayers of one man are directly related to an entire church standing mature and fully assured in God’s will. How much have churches suffered because not even one man has labored in this way on their behalf?
  • “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17)
  • 1 Tim. 1:12 – God gave Paul strength through Christ for the service he called him to. Have you been called to a service? Consider where God wants you to get strength from…
  • 1 Tim. 2 shows prayer as the thing Paul calls them to “first of all” (1 Tim. 2:1). And he calls out men (presumably as leaders, see context) to this duty especially: 1 Tim. 2:8
  • Philemon 1:22 – here Paul is so confident he’ll be staying with Philemon soon that he tells him to prepare a guest room for him. Why? “I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.” That’s how confident God is in our prayers.

I could add to this list all of the autobiographical notes Paul makes about prayer (especially at the beginning of many of his letters, but also throughout). Things like:

  • without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers” (Rom. 1:9-10)
  • “I give thanks to my God always for you” (1 Cor. 1:4)
  • “I thank God…as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.” (2 Tim. 1:3)

And this is truly just a sampling. I don’t think there is a single letter of Paul’s that doesn’t contain these kinds of notes.

Further, these are just 2 human authors God spoke through in the Bible on this. We really are just scratching the surface here…

But at least in what you’ve read here, can you hear God’s voice on this?

Any church that thinks prayer is a “nice to have” has completely departed from biblical Christianity.

God help our prayerlessness. Forgive our self-sufficiency. Give us repentance to come back to biblical Christianity on the matter of prayer.


Is Mark 16:9-20 in the Bible?

In many (all?) modern English translations of the Bible, if you flip to Mark 16, you’ll see some kind of note saying that Mark 16:9-20 may not be in the original version of Mark.

This note is driven by the study of Biblical manuscripts.

There are a lot of biblical manuscripts (handwritten copies of the Bible) out there, and they don’t always agree. This is actually a good thing, because it provides a wealth of material with checks and balances that help us more accurately determine what was in the original Bible text.

Most of the differences in copies are fairly easy to discern or completely inconsequential to the meaning of the text (e.g. “Christ Jesus” versus “Jesus Christ”). And I believe all of the differences (or at least the more major ones) are catalogued at the NET Bible, if anyone wants to see it for themselves.

Further, which brings us full circle, most modern translations of the Bible will include footnotes where there is a possible difference in some manuscripts. That’s what we see in Mark 16:9-20, as mentioned above.

Now, a nice assurance we have in studying Mark 16:9-20, is that the gist of everything there can be found elsewhere in the Bible. So no doctrine is hanging on whether Mark 16:9-20 was in the original or not.

For my part, I see fair evidence to support it being in the original, or at the very least inserted very early by the church (as a sort of true addendum, if you will, not as fabricating material or falsely attributing things to Mark). And along those lines, I recently read a 2011 article by John Tors that argues this very forcefully: Mark 16:9-20: A Response to CMI.

However, to be even-handed, I’d also recommend the reader checks out The NET Bible footnote on Mark 16:9-20. There he argues that it wasn’t in the original.

So, what do you think? Was Mark 16:9-10 in the original? Does it matter?


Christian Giving

You Aren’t Made Righteous by Giving

  • Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:1-9: the core of the gospel is NOT giving to the poor
  • Galatians 2:10: “All they asked [after ensuring we all believed the same gospel] was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” This shows that giving to the poor is NOT part of the gospel message, yet was a high priority for God’s early church.

You Give Because You Are Righteous In Christ

  • Matthew 25:31-46: A mark of God’s people is ministering physical needs, especially to those within the church (25:40). We do this by instinct–a sign God’s new life is in us–and we don’t even realize it at times (25:37-40).
  • 2 Corinthians 8-9: The gospel is the foundation of our giving (8:9). Giving now becomes something we do by His grace, joy, and love in us through His Spirit (and demonstrated through the gospel).

Who Should Receive?

  • 1 Timothy 5:4, 8, 16: Provide for your family’s needs first.
  • Deut. 15:3-4; Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 2:44; John 13:34-35; Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:9-10; James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17: Tending the needs of God’s church precedes tending the needs of the world.
    • Matthew 5:16; Luke 10:25-37; Galatians 6:10: The church should still generously help the world, too, as God enables us.
    • 1 Timothy 5:11-16; 2 Thes. 3:10-12: Providing for the needy aims at character and community development in Christ, which sometimes will deny giving handouts.
  • Deuteronomy 15:11; 26:12-15; Luke 8:1-3; 14:12-24; 2 Cor. 8:13-14; James 1:27; 1 Tim. 5:3, 17; 1 John 3:17-18; 3 John 1:5-8: Help those who have needs and can’t provide for themselves
    • Some specific groups listed in the Bible include orphans, widows, sojourners, faithful ministers, the sick, prisoners
    • 1 Tim. 6:8: needs = food and covering (clothing and shelter)
  • Luke 10:33; James 2:14-17; 1 John 3:17: you will largely give according to what you encounter, especially within your church community (as well as local community)

Who Should Give?

  • Luke 10:25-37: Individuals 
  • Genesis 18:1-8 (cf. Hebrews 13:2): Families collectively
  • Acts 4:37; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2: Church collectively

Give What?

  • Mark 8:36: Sharing the gospel is by far the most important thing to share
  • Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12: Train Christians to labor well to produce their own income (and surplus)
    • Provide the needy with jobs
  • Leviticus 25:35; Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 10:25-37; Acts 2:44; 6:1; James 2:14-17; 1 John 3:17: Provide things–food, clothing, housing, medical help
  • Matt. 25:31-46; Heb. 13:3: share time
  • Matthew 7:7-11; Mark 6:13; Acts 3:6; James 5:13-14: pray for/with them
  • Luke 12:33; Acts 2:45; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2: share money

How Do You Give

  • Exodus 25:1-2; 35:5; 2 Cor. 8:6-15; 9:5-15: with joyful willingness prompted by grace and the gospel (not an obligation)
  • Leviticus 19:9-10; Proverbs 3:9-10; 1 Corinthians 16:2: from what God has given you
  • 1 Kings 17:13; Luke 21:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:3, 14: According to your means (and even beyond, as the Lord leads)
  • Genesis 47:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2: Save by putting aside excess for future needs
  • John 13:29; Acts 4:34-35; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2: Pool money to reach further
  • Acts 4:34-35; 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 3-5: Overseen by elders and deacons
  • Genesis 14:20; Malachi 3:8-10; Matthew 23:23: The concept of tithing (giving 1/10) can be a helpful starting point to gauge how much to give. But this should not be treated as a ceiling or a mandate the same way it was in the Old Covenant. See Tithing, Yes or No?

Statement of Faith

This is a statement of faith we adopted in the Holland House Church Network. See it also at Church in Holland – Doctrine.

We affirm:

To expand and clarify these, we affirm that:

The Bible is: 

  • The 66 books of the Protestant Canon – no more and no less,
    • God’s Word, 
    • truth without error,
    • sufficient revelation for the essentials of life and godliness,
    • the ultimate authority on everything it proclaims.

Scriptures: Matthew 5:17-18; 19:4-5; Mark 7:9-13; Luke 11:51; 24:44; John 10:34-35; 12:47-48; 17:17; Acts 17:11; Romans 3:4; 9:17, 25; Hebrews 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17; Titus 1:2; 2 Pet. 1:3-4; Rev. 19:15

There was, is, and always will be only 1 God who:

Simultaneously was, is, and always will exist as 3 Persons:

  1. God the Father
  2. God the Son, Jesus Christ
  3. God the Holy Spirit

Scriptures: Exodus 3:14; Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Isaiah 9:6-7; 45:22-23; Psalm 18:31; 45:6-7; 110:1; Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 1:21-23; 3:16-17; 28:19; Mark 12:28-34; 14:61-64; John 1:1,14-18; 8:24, 56-59; 10:30-39; 14:15-24; 17:1-5; Acts 5:1-5; 13:2; Romans 1:7; 3:30; 8:9-11; 9:5; 1 Corinthians 8:4-8; 2 Cor. 13:14; Galatians 3:20; Philippians 2:3-11; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 1:8, 10; James 1:1; 2:19; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 2:23; 2 John 1:3; Jude 1:1, 5-6

Jesus Christ was and is:

  • fully God, and
  • fully man

Scriptures: Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 9:6-7; 45:22-23; Psalm 45:6-7; 110:1; Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 1:21-23; 4:2; 8:10; 26:38-39; Mark 14:61-64; Luke 2:7, 52; 24:39; John 1:1, 14; 4:6; 14-18; 6:38; 8:24, 40, 56-59; 10:30-39; 11:35; 19:28; Acts 2:22; Romans 8:3, 9; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Galatians 4:4; Philippians 2:3-11; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 1:8, 10; 2:14-18; 4:15; 1 John 1:1-3; 4:1-3; 2 John 7; Jude 1:5-6

The only way for humanity to be saved from God’s judgement and wrath is by receiving that:

  • Jesus lived perfectly righteous, the only human to do so
  • Jesus’ death by crucifixion fully satisfied God’s wrath owed for our sins
  • Jesus bodily resurrected 3 days later
  • You receive the merits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection only by repenting (i.e. turning toward Jesus/God as your new Boss/King/Lord) and trusting these things.
    • Upon doing this, God the Holy Spirit indwells you, which leads to a transformed life and character that more resembles God/Christ over time

Scriptures: Isaiah 53:4-5, 9; Matt. 12:40; Mark 1:15; 8:31; 9:31; 16:15; Luke 3:22; 13:5; 15:11-32; 24:7, 21, 46-47; John 3:16; Acts 2:37-38; 13:39; 16:30-31; 20:30-31; Romans 3:21-26; 4:5; 5:8-10; 8:9, 16-17, 23; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19; 15:1-6; 2 Corinthians 1:21; 5:5, 17-21; Galatians 2:16; 3:13; 5:22-24; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; Col. 1:22; Hebrew 4:15; 6:1; 7:26; 1 Peter 1:19; 2:22, 24; 3:18; 1 John 1:7-9; 2:29; 3:3-10, 14-15; 4:10

The Bible is Not Your Fortune Cookie

The Question

All Christians should affirm the Bible as God’s living, truthful, and authoritative word. But can God also use it to speak directly to present day situations, even in ways different from its original context?

For instance, a persecuted Christian believed God spoke Matthew 2:13 (“take the child and his mother and escape”) to tell him to flee with his wife and child to avoid impending persecution. He didn’t heed this word, and then, shortly after, the police caught up with him, and sent him to prison (for his faith). Undoubtedly, he understood Matthew 2:13 is about Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, but believed God also simultaneously spoke it concerning a personal situation in his life.

So…is such a concept a valid use of Scripture?

Warnings and Clarifications

First, I 100% understand why people guard against looking for Bible passages to speak to present-day/personal situations. I think they are nervous of people subjectively reading the Bible and/or seeing things that God never said. To illustrate this point, consider the oft-repeated story of a man asking God what he should do, then flipping open his Bible to Matthew 27:5 (“Judas…hanged himself,”). In dismay he thinks, That can’t be right, so he asks again, “What should I do?” this time he flips open Luke 10:37 (“Go and do likewise,”). And we can immediately see the problems:

  1. God never told him to kill himself,
  2. Those Scriptures were ripped out of the context they were intended to be used for,
  3. We are likely to read the Bible according to our subjective whims when we do this, instead of looking for God’s objective interpretation and meaning.

This is a true warning that we should always heed and teach others to do the same.

Thus, when I see people taking Scriptures as personal words to personal situations, I’d stress that doing this is, to me, akin to receiving a present day prophetic word.

In other words, yes, I believe God does speak in such ways today, but we are told to “test” such things (1 Thes. 5:19-21), look for confirmation (1 Cor. 14:29), and vehemently reject any such “words” that contradict the clear interpretations and principles of Scripture.

Further, sometimes it might be helpful to speak of such situations (where a Bible verse seems to relate to a present-day event) as times where the Lord highlights principles in Scripture at a specific time/place for us to apply them. When viewed this way, it’s not so much that we are reading the Bible as meant specifically for our situation, but as recording eternal principles that God highlighted at just the right time for us to apply in our own life. But maybe that’s more a matter of semantics on the issue.

Does the Bible Say Anything about This?

In terms of Scriptures I’d use to justify that God can and does speak such personal words through established Scripture, I’d point to the following:

  • First, in 1 Samuel 21, I see a sort of picture of the essence of what is explained above. Not that this proves it is good to use Scripture this way (see below for that), but it does give an image that sort of helps us picture what I’m talking about. In the story, David is on the run from Saul and seeking provisions. He asks for a weapon (v. 8) and the priest offers “the sword of Goliath” (v. 9). This particular sword had been memorialized in a sense. It was laid up there as a sign of what God had done at the event of David slewing Goliath. Thus, the sword had a very fixed use and was remembered chiefly for that use. However, David says it could be of use to him in a different way now. This does not take away the memory it served in Goliath. In fact, that sword would always chiefly be remembered for being part of the victory of Goliath. In that sense it had a very fixed and honorable use. But, on a specific occasion in 1 Samuel 21, David saw use for it in a different (less “special”, less “fixed”) way. In a similar manner, I see how God can “re-issue” his Scripture (compared to a sword – Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17; etc.) to speak to specific events we may face today. So long as we do not remove the “fixed” and “memorialized” meaning of the text, and we continue esteeming that meaning as higher and more authoritative than any new thing God may be speaking in the text, I think we can legitimately use Scripture in this way (again, as subservient to the ultimate interpretation and meaning of the original intent of the Scripture).
  • In Matthew 2:15, we see Hosea 11:1 being applied to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ brief journey to Egypt. If you flip to Hosea 11, you’ll see that the reference is clearly to the nation of Israel being delivered from Egypt in the book of Exodus. Now I think part of what is happening is that Jesus came as a fulfillment of, and “new version” of, Israel. But the journey to Egypt clearly has a double meaning. In Hosea it referred to a 1,500 BC journey from Egypt by a nation. But in Matt. 2:15 it refers to a 0 AD journey to/from Egypt by a family. In other words Hosea 11:1 is recast to have an added meaning in light of Jesus (Messianic prophecies often work this way).
  • Hebrews 12:5-6 quotes from Proverbs 3:11-12. But notice Hebrews 12:5 – “have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son”. Of course, Proverbs was written 1,000 years prior, to a completely different audience. But the writer seizes on the word “son” and sees it applying to the people of that day as a personal word of exhortation to them. Of course, this doesn’t invalidate the original context of Proverbs being written for a different audience at a different time. It just helps to show the Scriptures are living and continue speaking to us today.
  • In Isaiah 6:9-10, God tells Isaiah to: “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding…'” The people here referred to were the Jews who lived ~700 BC. But 700 years later, Jesus says, “In them [the people of Galilee in 30AD he is talking to] is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing, but never understanding…'” (Matt. 13:14). Then, 30 years later, while Paul was in Rome, he says, “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people and say, You will be ever hearing but never understanding…'” (Acts 28:25-26). So Paul recognizes the original context was ~700BC, but sees it continually fulfilled even to the place of Rome 700 years after Isaiah wrote. Thus, this same passage is applied to 3 different situations.
  • Further, throughout the book of Revelation you see an intense amount of “fixed” Old Testament Scriptures and images being “recast” to speak of future events.
  • In the gospels, there are multiple examples of Jesus teaching the same (or similar) things at different occasions to different audiences, sometimes with slightly different meaning or emphasis (e.g. compare Matt. 9:13 with 12:7 — in Mt 9:13, Jesus is using Hosea 6:6 to emphasize his forgiving sinners, whereas in Mt 12:7, He uses the same passage to justify Him not obeying their sabbath regulations). If God did it there, I don’t see why He can’t similarly take a fixed Bible passage and “recast” it to our own situations with different emphases. I think He does do this, though it must remain under the authority and discipline of Scripture’s fixed meaning and interpretation (if that distinction makes sense).