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This poem was inspired by a trip to Carlsbad Caverns. In my mind it plays out like a Pixar Short or a children’s book in the Dr. Seuss style, but since I lack both the technical and artistic skill for those types of projects :-), right now I need to rely on a more powerful resource… your imagination. While it may have some educational value for helping kids remember the difference between stalagmites and stalactites, my bigger hope is that it could serve as a tool to chip away at the contest that the powers of darkness love to keep us trapped in – the “us vs. them” endgame scenarios that lead mostly to despair and destruction. May this open our hearts and imaginations to Jesus’s Kingdom of God future.  Here goes…

Once upon a time, buried deep down in the earth
was a place sadly absent of joy, hope, and mirth.
It wasn’t the darkness, the dampness, or the mold,
not the stillness, the silence, nor even the cold.
There deep in the cave lived tension so thick,
anxiety and fear accumulating with each loud, echoing drip.

You see, long before anyone could remember, those two tribes had been at war.
One camped on the ceiling, while the other defended the floor.
Looking down from above, looking down their long noses – The Stalactites.
And way down below, crouched their mounting foes – The Stalagmites.

Who knows how it started? Their eternal conflict.
One thing was for certain, though, it would not… end… quick!

“They’re sending down bombs! Dropping water on our heads!”
“No, you’re stealing our water! Leaving us nothing but shreds!”

Stalactites, stalagmites, full of venom and spite,
in a quest to be right, further filled them with fright!
Charging toward one another, determined to win,
It seemed rocky violence was how this would end.

These two groups, bent on conquest, acting so “brave,”
Would likely bring an end to their shared home, the cave…

But, then… out of nowhere, a new song arose,
a love song – growing slowly, as the two sides almost froze.
A stalactite, looking down into the eyes of its mate,
saw beauty, and grace in the stalagmite, embracing its fate.

And as they joined hands, a column was formed,
uniting the cave, a new future was born.

So, consider carefully the cave we find ourselves in,
it’s not perfect, but it’s home to all creation’s kin.
The secret, you see, is not making sure that “we” win,
but approaching our opposites not as enemies, but friends.—

Alan Howell

The context for the Book of Psalms is the public worship of God’s people, that is the people who use these prayer hymns are not primarily the person/people who composed them. In this way they are analogous to our hymnals. Every text presupposes corporate worship in the temple.

As we enter the literary sanctuary of the Psalms we join a cloud of witnesses already worshiping through these texts. In this arena we learn that both Scripture and prayer function as a means of grace. Among the throng before the throne we become conscious of at least two graces that come through worship.

First, we “look to the Lord,” we “seek the Lord,” that is we desire communion with God. We want to be with our God. Worship is not about laws or even precision obedience but fellowship, basking in the glorious Presence of the King. The hunger to be in the Presence of God is what makes us worship.

Second, as we have communion with the King we look for healing, for an experience of God’s merciful Hesed – God’s never ending Steadfast Love. It is in the Presence of our God that we find infinite steadfast love that takes our brokenness and bathes it in Hesed.

These two thoughts permeate the Psalms. To illustrate we will examine the short section of Psalms 26-30. In these five texts the hunger for genuine fellowship/communion with God and the resulting healing is expressed. Psalm 27.14 stands out pulling other lines together.

Look to the LORD” (27.14)

That is the psalmist talking to the church/the assembly. Previously he/she confessed,

O LORD, I seek your face!”

Here is the ultimate gift of worship is not the act or the ritual, rather it is communion with the living God. The transcendent One is the also the Welcoming One. So, God’s people call out,

I love Your temple abode” (26.8)

“only one that I seek …
One thing I ask of the LORD,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (27.4)

There in the assembly, Yahweh comes to his Gathered People and shares God’s personal Presence with sinful beings in an act of astonishing grace. The Psalm describes this “showing up” of God in Psalm 29 as a massive thunderstorm. When God appears the earth itself responds with quaking and the trees are stripped bare. And the King of Glory is enthroned in the midst of the people (this is sort of what Isaiah witnessed in Isa 6).

And all in His temple cry, ‘Glory!‘ (29.9)

God is not just powerful. God is not some celestial cop. God is not many of our imaginary idols. God’s people crave the Presence of God because God is glorious Beauty itself. That is why we “look to the Lord.” Jesus had used these Psalms in Temple worship his whole life, no wonder he said “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall SEE GOD” (Mt 5.8)

God’s glorious beautiful Presence does something to creation that is wounded by Sin. God’s Beauty brings merciful healing to those who seek the Lord. This desire for healing grace runs through our prayer texts.

Note this marvelous juxtaposition of statements,

But as for me, I walk without blame;
redeem me,
have mercy on me!” (26.11)

How can this be? The psalmist is not claiming to have “arrived.” What is claimed is simply to be on God’s side … the side of the One who is merciful.

Listen to my plea for mercy” (28.2)

Do not count me among the wicked” (28.3)

For he listens to my plea for mercy” (28.6)

Hear, O LORD, and have mercy on me …
You turned my mourning into dancing” (30.11-12)

The psalmist, and God’s gathered people, are hardly sinless people. God’s people are not welcomed into the Lord’s Presence because they have anything like precision obedience. We are able to experience God’s Beauty because of love (hesed) alone.

We come to God because it is here, in God’s Presence, we find mercy for our shattered world and lives. There in God’s merciful Presence we

focus” our “eyes on Your steadfast love” (26.2)

Do not forsake me … O God my deliverer.
Though my father and mother abandon me,
the LORD will take me in” (27.10)

Yahweh becomes a Father to orphans, to people whose world is vandalized by our own sin. There with the other scared people we find the gift of life, the gift of grace, the gift of mercy and we are healed in the Presence of the Lord.

My own world has been ripped to shreds in the past. There is only one thing I seek, to gaze upon the Beauty of God and there find more than I can ask or dream of: communion with beauty itself and healing steadfast love. Two gifts of grace the Psalms offer to all who pray them.

There are no cookie cutters for this or easy steps…but there are principles that can help you deepen your prayer life.

The first is repentance. You can’t have a deep prayer life if you refuse repentance. How does a person come before the Holy God of the universe unrepentant? Unrepentance keeps God at a distance and it doesn’t allow the submission that is necessary for deep heart transformation.

The second is giving God total control. You will never have a deep prayer life if you are coming to God still holding onto the wheel. Once you give God total control of your life you will begin experiencing things and praying things that would have never come to mind otherwise.

Third, take risks. Faith is going to require some risks because faith is living with God there to truly catch you. I am not saying be stupid or don’t plan. I am saying that if what you do only requires you to pull it off it isn’t fully of faith. Taking risks will deepen your prayer life because it will change the way you pray – instead of asking God to help us manage what we can already control we are asking God to come through in bigger ways and waiting on him to do so.

Fourth, read widely from spiritually deep people. Dallas Willard. Henri Nouwen. Watchman Nee. Richard Foster. There are a host of other people. Read them over and over because as your prayer life deepens you will hear them differently each time as your heart is more and more prepared to hear what they are actually saying. As your prayer life becomes closer aligned in depth with theirs you will pick up on what they are really saying that you would never know had your prayer experience not stretched since your previous read. Who would make your list?

Fifth, read regularly from the Bible. Read the psalms relentlessly. They are both the hymn book and the prayer book of the Bible. I often borrow language from the psalms to express inner longings that I failed to have the correct verbiage for.

Sixth, spend time around mature Christians and pray with them. You can learn so much about a person and about the potentiality of depth in your prayer life than from listening to mature Christians pray. Find people who pray an hour or more a day and listen to them pray. Here is one example of Shodankeh Johnson who prays relentlessly…you will see what I mean. Go to the three minute mark to start.

Seventh, be on mission. When you reach out to the lost on mission you will find the urgency of your prayer life increase. As long as we associate only with those who “have it together” we rob ourselves of the vibrant prayer life that comes from being in touch and in tune with those who are truly desperate.

Eighth, ask God to deepen your prayer life and relationship with Him. God will answer this prayer.

Ninth, kneel. If you have never done this you won’t think this is right…but there is something about bowing before God that changes so much in the way we pray. Our physical position can affect our heart position. Try it and see. Kneeling reminds our heart and our mind that we are humble servants and that God is sovereign!

Tenth, pray specifically. Sometimes we hedge our prayers by praying too generally. The more specific we pray, it would seem, the more likely God isn’t going to do what we ask…but if we pray generally, we think, it will be easier to say somehow God answered the prayer…but that isn’t faith! I had a conversation today with a brother in Christ who began praying two weeks ago God would send him a new vehicle. We didn’t know he was fasting and praying for that blessing and we knew his vehicle was in trouble so a group of us in Backyard Church were talking about helping him get a new vehicle right as God provided a potentially donated vehicle for him…wow! Specific prayers build our faith as we watch God answer specifically…we know it could only come from Him!

The church is in trouble to the degree that our prayer lives are shallow.

I added a frame to my Facebook profile recently proudly stating Jesus for 2020. And then it got me thinking, am I serious about that? 

It sounds really good but what if it means:

doing away with the death penalty and dissolving our military and defense programs because I’ll be too busy loving my enemies and won’t have time to bomb them?

sharing all of my resources and finances so that no one around me is in need?

declaring the Kingdom of God first, not America, or any other foreign empire?

refusing to pledge allegiance to anyone or thing other than the Christ?

shaking up the status quo to seek justice for the oppressed and marginalized?

flipping the tables of the local church and the theology of tradition and fear she sometimes pedals?

joyfully serving the least of these and refusing to judge their life choices?

losing my reputation with the religious to work for peace with my fellow outcasts.

I have a bad feeling it wouldn’t take long for us to go from “Jesus is Lord!” to “Jesus is asking too much!”

Maybe it’s time to prayerfully consider what Jesus for President would actually mean for our lives, for our country, and for our future. And then ask ourselves if we would we even vote?

Just over a year ago two people who I love and respect told me that I needed to have a regular rhythm of fasting and prayer. The first time I was told that, I didn’t try it. When I heard it a second time a few weeks later, I thought maybe God was trying to get my attention.

I cannot tell you how glad I am that I took that advice!

My view on fasting and prayer had been that I went to this in times of big decisions. My motivation had been that God would see how serious I was taking things and would help me make the right decision.

I don’t see it that way at all now. God’s people in the scriptures had regular fasting rhythms and I believe (for those who are healthy enough to do so) we should as well. One example of this is the Day of Atonement, where God’s people would fast over repentance and reflect on their lives before the Lord.

There is a difference between fasting every year or so and a rhythm of fasting and prayer. There is also a big difference depending on your motivation. I have found the motivation of putting God first and fasting being my submission to the sovereignty of God to have far deeper effects on my life than when I tried to use fasting as a vehicle to prove something to God.

When you have a time of fasting each week (for me it is typically Tuesday no breakfast or lunch, so I don’t eat from dinner Monday to dinner Tuesday) God works through that to put us in a state of more dependence on Him. And when you enter into deeper dependence on God, you become a more relaxed person. There is no better word to describe the experience than shalom – not the absence of war, but a state of inner peace, tranquility and reliance on God.

This takes a while to occur. In my experience I worked on this for three months before the inner culture of my soul began to shift. It has a cumulative effect…and that one day of fasting colors the rest of my week. I have peace throughout most of the week, even when things are going poorly, because I am depending on God for all things…putting him first above everything, even things needed to live. God is over all things, even food.

You will be amazed how much you see God show up in big ways when you change the soil culture of your heart.

If you are healthy enough to fast, I encourage you to find a rhythm that works for you. I don’t know what God will do with you through that season but I know you won’t regret it!

A revolutionary book came out in the late 1930s by C.R. Nichol entitled, “God’s Woman”. In that book Nichol challenged many traditional views on women’s participation in the assembly (covering the pertinent New Testament scripture in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians) as well as women in the home. The book was accepted by many people you might find surprising, like N.B. Hardeman. It is also surprising that such a book would have been written by Nichol, who was quite conservative himself.

Gary Burke has written two follow-up books in the spirit of Nichols’ work, “God’s Woman Revisited” and “God’s Woman Revisited Pocket Edition”. This review will focus on the Pocket edition. The lengthier version will be helpful to those wanting a full-on treatment of the passages but I will say that Burke got a lot into the pocket edition, making it the perfect read for someone who wants the gist of the arguments without having to dive into the footnotes. Another helpful aspect of the pocket edition is that it is perfectly suited for Bible class instruction, with each chapter ending with a set of questions to discuss. If you are looking for a book to discuss the role of women in the assembly with your Bible class or small group, I highly recommend this book.

We are going to give away two copies of this book to Wineskins readers. Just comment on this article and two random winners will be drawn this Friday! If you haven’t registered to make a comment, now is the time! It has been a real pleasure to watch our number of registered users climb!

Here is what this book does so well that so few books accomplish – Burke tries to stick with the text. You would be surprised how many things we hear taught are just simply not in the text. They are inferences from the text that become assumed to be what the text directly says. For instance, many people believe the women praying and prophesying in 1 Cor 11 can’t be in the assembly. But the text never says it is or isn’t. The context can point us to a particular conclusion but we really don’t know based on that text alone. There are several instances where the author makes the point of the text and just stops there. Yes, we want more answers…yes we want Paul to address our questions. But often he doesn’t and to pretend that he does can abuse the text. So, kudos to Burke for sticking to the text as it stands.

Before Burke dives too far in he works on some process issues with the reader. He explains why bad interpretive methods have led to a variety of conflicting conclusions and lack of consensus. He then takes the time to walk the reader through what solid exegesis looks like. For many, this will be a great introduction to how to read and study the Bible. That alone is worth the price of admission of the book!

One of the things I really appreciate about this book is the appeal to consistent application of our reasoning. For instance, one argument for the supremacy (or authority) of man over woman is creation order. On page 53 Burke makes the point that if you apply that same argument consistently you would conclude that animals take precedence over humanity since the animals were made first. So simple. So profound.

Much of the women’s role conversation goes back to creation order. That is where Burke starts his discussion of the text coming at it from both directions: as the creation story is told in Genesis and then looking back on it from the connected texts in the New Testament (direct quotations, clear allusions, and possible allusions).

I agree with most of the conclusions on the relevant passages, which would lead us to be more inclusive of women’s participation in the assembly. If there were two small but significant connections I would add to the book it would be these (I realize one can only say so much!): The first is that 1 Tim 2 clearly connects with Genesis but not on childbearing…rather, it connects on deception. Paul isn’t saying women are more easily deceived (he never says that but people infer it), instead Paul is merely saying that women have been deceived in the past and seem to be being deceived in the present in Ephesus. This becomes clearer in 1 Tim 5. That brings about the second point I wish he had made from 1 Tim 2 in how it connects to 1 Tim 5. We learn in 1 Tim 5 that young, childless widows are being deceived and passing along the false teachings to others. In both 1 Tim 2 and 5 Paul uses the word “childbearing” and only uses the term here, nowhere else in his writing. Paul’s solution of being “saved through childbearing” is hard for us to understand but made perfect sense to them – marry and have kids and they won’t be susceptible to the false teachers anymore. This deception and passing along of false teachings also explains why Paul forbids the women in Ephesus to be teaching at that point in time. This isn’t a prohibition for all women for all time, which is how the passage in 1 Tim 2 has traditionally been understood. I credit Gordon Fee with making this connection and I think it makes better sense of the passage as it stands in the context of the whole letter and the situation in Ephesus.

This book directly challenges the traditionally restrictive position held by the majority of churches of Christ and challenges the position from a strictly biblical perspective. It challenges the position that restriction is the “safe” option when in reality if you restrict someone from serving God who God does not restrict that is hardly a safe route. In a sense, what seems biblically conservative can be biblically liberal – adding our presuppositions and inferences as binding conclusions as authoritative as the text itself.

Thanks to Gary Burke for writing these two books. May his tribe increase and may people in Churches of Christ (and any other fellowship who have severe limitations on women in the assembly) read this book and be blessed by it…may we read this book and come to grips with which parts of our view are speculation created from inference and which parts are actually, directly in the text itself…and the need for that is present on both sides of the aisle on this issue!

James A. Harding was a legendary evangelist, debater, and co-founder of Nashville Bible School (now Lipscomb University) and founder of Potter Bible College. During his prime, Harding was one of the most influential men in the Churches of Christ.

What is not often remembered about Harding is that he was a prayer warrior. Harding cultivated prayer believing it to be the most powerful tool available for Christian living in this present age. Indeed for Harding prayer was the “secret” weapon or power that is granted to disciples of Christ and through prayer Christians literally co-author the future of the world with God.

Christian prayer is not so much a matter of technique as the expression of relationship binding God and humanity in communion. Prayer is a means of grace, for Harding, rooted in the faith that the Creator of the Universe was the Abba of the Christian. As our Abba, God is just as active and involved in the world today as in the days of the Patriarchs or the Apostles.

I believe that God loves his faithful children with a very great love. I believe he is near to them, takes great pleasure in them, knows their needs perfectly, and that he can supply their wants at any time, any where, under any circumstances. Indeed, I believe he loves these faithful children so much he guards them with a perfect care.” (Harding-White Discussion, p. 3)

Prayer, for Harding, was not simply rooted in a belief that God exists. Real prayer is instead rooted in passionate faith in a certain kind of God, a God who is “the gentlest and most loving, the most just and most merciful of all fathers.”

Unfortunately, in Harding’s view, not all Christians believed in this gentle, gracious, and attentive Father. In fact many were trading the God of the Bible for more rational, scientific, and distant God of the present age. The God these folks believed in used to be active in the world: at one time long ago God created the world, at one time long ago God would alter the path of the world in response to the cry of a saint, at one time God would get his hands “dirty.” But that was long ago.

These modern Christians believed that God had replaced his hands on approach with a more distant, and reasonable, management style and governed only through the rule of law. Everything was done according to “laws” and even God was subject to these “laws.” These supposed laws were akin to mathematical and scientific laws. This perspective is known as the infection of deism. Harding described this prayer destroying phenomena.

Now a few people seem to be under the impression that all divine interventions have ceased since the death of the Apostles, and that since then there have been no super mundane or super-human influences known on earth. They think God gave the word and stopped – a very low and very erroneous conception of the reign of Christ . . . God has not changed in the least from all eternity. He is the same yesterday, to-day and forever. He has always loved and blessed those who love him and serve him in trusting faith” (Prayer for the Sick, The Way, May 9, 1901, p.41).

Harding lamented the invasion of this modernism invading the church that banished God to a book (even if that book is the Bible!) or safely to the distant past.

“I feel sorry for those who are afflicted by these blighting, semi-infidel materialistic notions, that leave God, Christ, the Holy Spirit . . . wholly out of the Christian’s life — for those who think all spiritual beings left us when the Bible was finished, and who think we now have to fight the battle alone. Some of these people pray, but what they pray for is more than I can tell, unless it is for the ‘reflex influence.‘” (Atlanta-God’s Providence-The Holy Spirit, Christian Leader and the Way, June 19, 1906, p. 9).

What a radical statement by one of the “pillars” of the Churches of Christ. Harding would suggest that it is Satan who has actually convinced religionists that God had subjected the world to “law” and then withdrew.

For Harding the greatest threats facing the church was not the myriad of issues (though he had opinions on those) but the cold, hard, law bound idol that had replaced the intimately intertwined with the world Father of Jesus. Harding would wage a long battle against deistic views of God. Harding was constantly calling for faith, simple trusting faith, in the Father who is revealed in the biblical narrative. Prayer was a “means of grace” to bring us into communion with our loving Father and to share in the mission of God. The loving, caring, gentle, giving, Abba is the God we worship and pray to. He remains the God of 2 Kings 20.1-11 (a story also related two other times in the Hebrew Bible, 2 Chronicles 32.24-26 and Isaiah 38.1-8).

(You can read more on Harding and his amazing views on prayer in the book by John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding. )

As we go through life there are upheavals in our prayer life. As a child we learn to pray what our parents pray. As we mature we take on our own relationship with God which also means we take on our own conversation with God. As we continue to mature and our faith gets tested, ideally, our prayers get deeper because our prayers are a natural reflection of our relationship just as conversations with other people deepen with enough shared experiences.

One of the things we learn along the way is that prayer matters. God’s omniscience somehow doesn’t interfere with his desire to still hear from us, from our hearts.

As we study prayer in October, let us also experience God through prayer in order to deepen our relationship with God and engage in new experiences with Him that will result in new levels of conversation we have never experienced before!

As we wrap up the month of September we have a video lesson series walking through the book of James, one chapter at a time. The final video will post next week and will be added to this article at that time. We hope and pray this material blesses your life and enriches your faith!

James 5 coming next week! Sorry I didn’t get it done before the month was over! Thanks for watching!

By Scott Sager & Drew Bloodworth

Lipscomb University will celebrate the launch of its new Lanier Center for Archaeology at a special virtual reception on Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. CDT. Attendance is free, but registration is required to obtain a link to join the reception. Register here.

This summer the university announced that internationally renowned archaeology scholars Steven Ortiz and Tom Davis founded the Lanier Center for Archaeology at Lipscomb University. The center will offer academic programs and field research projects as well as bring extensive resources and artifacts to Lipscomb University.

Housed in Lipscomb’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the Lanier Center for Archaeology is made possible through the generosity of Becky and Mark Lanier, J.D. Mark Lanier is a member of the Lipscomb Board of Trustees and a 1981 Lipscomb graduate. The Laniers are known for their passion for theology and archaeology, and are ardent supporters of this work. They also founded the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas.

The virtual reception, hosted by Scott Sager, vice president for church services, will include interviews with Ortiz, Davis and Lanier along with conversation about the center’s academic programs and its current active projects.

The Lanier Center for Archaeology plans to offer a Doctor of Philosophy in Archaeology of the Ancient Near East and a Master of Arts in Archaeology and Biblical Studies beginning in January 2021, pending accreditation approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASCOC). In addition, the center will feature archaeological research libraries, an extensive artifact study collection and a ceramic restoration lab.

The mission of the Lanier Center for Archaeology is to conduct archaeological research. The focus of this research is primarily archaeology of the biblical world. Naturally, this expands to focus on the archaeology of the Ancient Near East and the eastern Mediterranean world of the first millennium AD. To carry out its mission, the center will engage in field research projects, including four active projects: Tel Gezer excavation and publication project in Israel, Kourion Urban Space project in Cyprus, Karnak epigraphic survey in Egypt and the Tel Burna excavation project in Israel.

Ortiz is a professor of archaeology and director of the Lanier Center. He was formerly director of the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he was professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds. He received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Archaeology from the University of Arizona. He is the principal investigator and co-director of the Tel Gezer Excavation Project and is now a senior staff member at Tel Burna. He has been a senior staff member at Tel Zeitah, Ekron, Jerusalem-Ketef Hinnom, Tell el-Hamma and Lachish. Ortiz’s research and publications focus on the archaeology of David and Solomon, Iron Age I and II transition, and the border relations between Judah and Philistia.

Davis is associate director of the center. He has 40 years of experience as an archaeologist, working extensively in Cyprus, the Near East, Egypt, Central Asia and the United States. He has held positions across the spectrum of archaeology. He has been a professor of archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; an assistant vice president of a professional archaeology company in the U.S., and most significantly, the director of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) in Nicosia, Cyprus, one of the premier archaeological research centers in the Eastern Mediterranean. Davis currently directs the Kourion Urban Space Project (KUSP) at the early Christian site of Kourion, Cyprus. He also serves as project co-director and field director of the Ilyn Balik Expedition, Kazakhstan; and as project coordinator for the Recordation Project of the West Wall of the Cour de la Cachette in the Temple of Karnak, Luxor, Egypt.