To Cast a Lot or Not

Acts 1 presents us with the disciples seeking determine Judas’ replacement in their number. Peter proposes a solution: They will pray and cast lots, leaving the decision in the hands of God. If you only read the Bible occasionally you will most likely question why the Church no longer practices this form of decision making. You may ask, “When was the last time we cast lost in this Church?” “Where are the lots kept for when they do get cast?” Or even, “What the heck is a LOT?”

This is the importance of reading the Bible properly. Any fool can find one passage of scripture and claim the Bible is not taken seriously because we pick and chose what it says. After all, we no longer stone disobedient children or adulterers (Deuteronomy 21-22). We no longer slaughter goats and sheep (Leviticus). We no longer condemn the braiding of hair and gold jewelry (1 Peter 3). So what gives?

When you read the Bible you have to ask, “What was the original author trying to convey?” When Luke writes the book of Acts, his purpose for writing (Luke and Acts) is found in the first few verses of Luke. He’s writing an orderly account for a friend (Theophilus) about the history of Jesus and His Church. The point of Luke’s writing is so that Theophilus (and we) “may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4).

When you read past the disciples casting of lots in Acts 1 you will notice the practice disappears from the pages of Scripture after the Holy Spirit fills the Church in Acts 2. Paul, Peter, John, James and Jude never mention it again in their writings. What they repeatedly mention (especially Luke) is the practice of prayer in step with the leading of the Holy Spirit.

  • Peter and John go to pray in the Temple. On the way Peter heals a lame man in the power of the Holy Spirit through the Name of Jesus in Acts 3.
  • In Acts 8 The Early Church prays and the Holy Spirit empowers Samaritans with the same gift of tongues the Jewish believers received in Acts 2.
  • Peter is in prayer when the Holy Spirit speaks to him about going to the house of a Gentile Roman Centurion to bring the Gospel to an unreached people group.
  • The Church prays in Acts 13 and the Holy Spirit speaks to them about sending Paul and Barnabus on their first missionary journey all over Asia.

What Luke has done with the book of Acts is subtly illustrate a point: When you have the Holy Spirit, live in community with believers and pray – God speaks! Which teaches us a few things about decision making:

1. You should pray. Decisions shape your life. Not talking important decisions the One who made you is a horrible mistake. And if you cannot pray about it, you probably should not consider it.

2. You should belong to a Church that prays regularly. Every time prayer happens and the Holy Spirit speaks in Acts, its in community, not in isolation. Some decisions need to be made in a community of faith because they are that big. At Waters we pray for an hour before first Wednesday and we pray before our first Saturday Service, after our second Sunday Service and we offer prayer in the front at the end of every Weekend Service.

3. You should listen. The Holy Spirit is a Person. He’s not a gut feeling or a vague impression. He is not a force. He is personal and so He speaks. You develop ears to hear from Him in prayer in COMMUNITY. Because Holy Spirit is part of a Community (the Trinity) He will usually to speak to and through community (the Church).

Every once in a while a big decision comes along that you should not make in a hurry. Get together with believers, pray, and listen to the Holy Spirit. It could change everything.

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My Love/Hate Relationship with the “Sinner’s Prayer”

I love the sinner’s prayer.

Usually at the end of our services at Waters Church we end with the opportunity for people to come to faith in Christ. At that time we ask them to raise their hands, or come down to the front and pray with member of our Small Group Leadership/Elder team. We lead them in what is commonly referred to in Church circles as the “Sinner’s Prayer.” Please note you will not find this prayer in its totality in Scripture. But that does not make it unfit for use in the Church. Most of the elements come straight out of Scripture: A general cry for salvation is found in Jesus’ parable of the Tax Collector and Pharisee in Luke 18. The prayer leads the person to confess with their mouth that they are a sinner who needs forgiveness and that only by faith Christ Jesus as Lord through His death, burial and resurrection can they be saved (according to Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; & Romans 10:9-13; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Conveniently, all these scriptural truths are composited in a simple short prayer to God.

We have had several baptism testimonies in our church mention that moment of our services as THE moment they truly came to Christ. Some of them confess their heart was warmed, they felt a strange and welcoming sensation, and they knew in their heart something dramatic had changed. I love to hear these stories. And for these reasons, I love the sinners prayer.

I also hate the sinners prayer.

Don’t stop reading! I will continue to use it because I see the effectiveness of leading people to a life-changing moment of salvation. However, I also see it leading others to a “one-stop” shop for eternity the Bible never promises. I’m talking about those who put the hand up, say the prayer, receive our literature, and then never darken the doors of our church again. While some may indeed have truly been converted, it is often hard to tell for sure. The sinner’s prayer inadvertently sends the message that people are “all set”, case closed, job finished, “see ya in the afterlife.” I feel profound disappointment with this sentiment.

Jesus never commands anyone to pray the Sinner’s Prayer. Rather, He calls them to come, follow and believe – in that order. Come to church, to small group; be around Christian people and Gospel preaching, learn, grow and hear (Romans 10:17). Secondly, follow Jesus. Start doing the things He says. Forgive, love your enemies, seek peace, do justice, hunger for righteousness, freely give. These commands are so essential to the Gospels we tend to ignore them under the shadow of one singular prayer. Finally, believe Christ. Do not simply believe what He says, believe WHO he is (John 6:68-69).  Our lives are not always going to “get better in every way” when we follow Christ. That’s when we trust WHO He is! He is the peace of God (Eph. 2:14). He is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2). He formed us and owns us and ransomed us back to God (Romans 11:36)! Believing is always present tense, never a singular moment.

This is why I hate the sinner’s prayer. You must never sum up your faith with an emotional nod to God one Sunday in your life. If He is who He said He is, everything changes, sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically, but there’s no denying the difference. You don’t END with Christ, you BEGIN with Christ. All things are new!

I will continue to use the “Sinner’s Prayer.” I believe it leads people to Christ. But I will continue to pray Jesus’ words from John 17 over those who come to Waters: John 17:3 (ESV) And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  

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Why We are Here

God is on a mission. I know that sounds simplistic but it’s all over the Bible. From the call of Abraham way back in Genesis 12 we find a particular theme at work – God is moving forward in redeeming creation from the tragedy of sin and its effects. God does this because God is good and creates good and promotes good.

Psalm 145:9 (ESV) The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.

Jesus preached a famous sermon we refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” It has a lot of hard things for people to grasp, such as a blessing for the broken and those who mourn. It also challenges our notions of sin by equating lust with physical adultery and anger with physical murder. The root of the problem is our heart, the actions only share what is already within us. But at the heart of that passage is this comment: Matthew 5:16 (ESV) let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Paul will echo this statement in Ephesians 2.
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Now think back to God’s original commission for Abraham:
Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV) “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God’s mission is to spread God’s goodness throughout nations and all creation. Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of that promise but only the beginning of it’s reality for all nations. In acts 2 the Church Jesus started is filled with the Spirit of God and people from all nations are there to hear and respond. From there and throughout the book of Acts the Gospel crosses cultural barriers and reaches the center of the world – Rome itself. Eventually, the Bible narrative ends with a grand picture of this promise fulfilled before the throne of God:

Revelation 7:9–10 (ESV) After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

God is up to something big and something good and we are a part of it. What an honor.

September is coming and it’s time to get back in the routine of our calendars. I want to take this opportunity to challenge you to see your life as a blessing to those around you. God’s mission of spreading His goodness is also the reason why our Church is here.  Last night we had several people feeding the poor in Providence. We have a small group that buys groceries for strangers, we have another that visits prisoners. Wonderful acts of goodness are spreading from Waters Church to our community. But there’s much more in our future!

God’s mission includes you. We want you to be a part of the goodness of God in our community. You can do good by serving in our Children’s program and making disciples of the next generation. You can do good by helping people feel greeted and at home. You can do good by connecting with others in a small group and serving in practical ways to people around you. You can do good by sitting in the front and parking way in the back so newcomers can slip in and out very comfortably for the first time visit.

You are made to do good. It’s in your DNA as a child of God. You’ve come to church – wonderful. Now be the Church - even better!

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Pastor – Waters Church – N. Attleboro