Mary Ellen Slefinger popped her head into my office yesterday as she was passing and said, “Look out!  God’s up to something.”  She’s exactly right.  With our heads still swirling from John Casey’s transition from Blanchard as our senior pastor, and now with the announcement of James Grout’s incredible promotion to become the National Youth Director for the Christian & Missionary Alliance–God’s definitely up to something.

So, the Church of Jesus Christ at Blanchard Alliance, how will we respond?  Let’s pray expectantly.  

That’s what Skye encouraged us to do on Sunday during the Caseys’ farewell service.  Regarding our “tomorrows”, he challenged us to do two things: to pray and to trust your leaders.

In regard to prayer, I’m instructed by the three ways Paul prays for the church in Ephesus in Ephesians chapter 1:15-20 (read it for yourself..).

  1. that God would bless the Church with the Spirit of wisdom that we might know Jesus better.
  2. that the Spirit would open the eyes of our heart to know the riches of the hope which Jesus calls us to.
  3. that we would know Christ’s incomparably great power, demonstrated dramatically in his resurrection from the dead and his ascension to be established as supreme ruler and authority over all created things.

In times of apparent uncertainty like these, when surprises come which rock our confidence about tomorrow, let’s pray like Paul teaches us to and trust the leaders that God foreknew would be in this position long before the creation of the world.  As one of those leaders, I’m trusting my incomparably great Leader to shepherd the Church He loves into a time of expectant renewal unlike Blanchard has ever known in its existence.  Together, let’s prayerfully expect great things!

I conclude with another great word from Paul in Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will renew your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

People of Blanchard Alliance Church, Mary Ellen’s right.  God’s up to something!  Pray…full of God’s Spiritwith great hope and power.

A dynamic praying church must be built from the inside out, employing all four levels of prayer: the secret closet, the family altar, small group praying and finally, the congregational setting. (Developing your Secret Closet of Prayer, Richard Burr, p 19.)

The members of our Warrenville Leadership Team have been asking a great question lately:  What is a biblically effective church?  

How might you answer that question?  And how would you ground your answer from Scripture?

Today’s post is my attempt to unpack one key marker of effectiveness in a biblical church:  a belief in and commitment in the power of corporate prayer…

A few weeks ago at our Blanchard Warrenville campus, I preached a sermon on Jonah 3, which I believe God is directing us to apply not just in the near term but out of the ancient Christian conviction that  “devotion to prayer of all kinds” is a defining character trait of effective churches.

With prayer being our chosen spiritual practice during Lent this year at Blanchard, I’m hoping we’ll be able to grow particularly in the discipline of corporate prayer.  I believe corporate prayer has the potential for so many positive impacts on a young congregation like Warrenville which, although we’re over five years into our development, we’re still trying to articulate an inspiring corporate identity.

With Lent upon us and our annual Solemn Assembly gathering fresh in our minds from this past Sunday night, I’m thinking about my own commitments to prayer as a follower of Jesus and a pastor.  I’m also wanting to ask more boldly for things in prayer through the lens of the beautiful example of the Ninevites compelling and radical reaction to Jonah’s harsh prophecy from God in chapter 3.  Jonah’s “message from the Lord” reminded those “wicked” Ninevites (and all of us who, in reality, are far more like them than we choose to admit…), perhaps for the first time, of the awesome greatness of God–our need to fully believe his Word and obey it–humbling ourselves in desperation before Him and asking for his grace and mercy that God might stay His hand of destruction due to our wickedness. James instructs us to “confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (5:17)

Like prayer, humility is a great source of power in the Christian life.  Quoting Paul as he speaks of his great Savior, Jesus Christ, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”

So, like “weak”, powerful Paul, let’s devote ourselves to corporate prayer as God’s people at Blanchard Warrenville in this Lenten season, believing our great God hears us and will transform us by His power.

Here are some additional reasons I believe corporate prayer is so powerful for us as Christians:

  • It’s inconvenient (breaking our selfish cycles of doing what we want when we want to do it!)
  • It’s countercultural (instead of feeding the well-fed beast of self-indulgence and the “me first” mentality coveted all over the U.S., we put other’s needs before our own when we choose to be in prayer with Christian community over personal satisfaction and fulfillment)
  • It encourages “like-mindedness” (when we agree with each other in prayer—not even having to say it out loud; see Phil 2:1-4)
  • Historically, it is a way God has moved His people and started revivals all over the world.
  • It’s an opportunity for corporate confession, another humbling and empowering spiritual discipline (James 5:16)
  • It’s a source of great power in the Holy Spirit’s work of forming us fully into Christ’s likeness (Lk. 11:9-11; Eph. 4:11-13

I’m really looking forward to our joint prayer service at Living Water Alliance Church with Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville on March 14 at 7pm.  Pastor Mitch Kim from Living Water recently shared with me how his leaders regard their weekly Wednesday evening prayer service as a critical way for them to find rest, empowerment and restoration for their lives and work in ministry at Living Water Alliance.  What a lovely perspective on the power of prayer within everyday laypeople using their gifts to equip the church!

One last thought:  as I prepared to publish this post, my friend, Jon Graf, of Pray!  magazine, posted these challenging, rich comments from A.W. Tozer (through the Prayerconnect magazine) on what prevents revival from sweeping through the Church once again.

It’s an important concluding caution that prayer–without obedience–is just more Christian busy work.

Therefore, as James challenges us so beautifully in his letter, “You do not have because you do not ask God”.

Let’s put that good advice into practice and become more effective churches and Christians by praying and asking boldly.

On this Ash Wednesday, as a missionary kid growing up in the Christian & Missionary Alliance, following the liturgical Church calendar simply wasn’t a primary way I understood the practice of Christianity (other than celebrating Christmas and Easter…).

For the next forty days, Lent will be practiced by millions of Christians around the world:  a stripping away and simplifying of the “muchness and manyness” of our earthly existence–particularly for those of us in the Western world who have so much–in order to devote more time to consider our own neediness of Christ’s gracious forgiveness of our sin.   (There’s a challenging Lenten question:  What’s a Syrian Christian to give up these days?)

Whether it’s fasting from food (or entertainment, or meat or alcohol…), we purpose to be filled instead with Living Bread & Water–Christ and the Scriptures.  We desire to be more intentional, more confessional and repentant about our own attitude toward sin.  I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the biblical need for this difficult, costly behavior as we prepare to remember Christ’s death on Good Friday and his amazing resurrection that Easter morning.

But, to be honest, the forty days of Lent wear like that irritating, itchy, too-tight, unbearably hot wool sweater I wear only once a winter in Chicago when its -20 outside.  These “mourning clothes” just fit funny.

It’s almost as if I’m regressing in my progressive sanctification.  

I serve a risen Savior, whose Spirit fills me to give me life, set me free and is on mission to transform me more and more every day into “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”(Eph. 4:13).  I wish we would spend just as much time in church encouraging one another to celebrate the transforming power of Christ within us to make us holy, pure and powerful–shining “cities on a hill”.  [According to the rest of the 325 days on the liturgical calendar, you could argue that we do, because after Easter we’re on to Ascension Day through to Pentecost, then celebrating Christ’s incarnation at Christmas, then finally back to Ash Wednesday…]

I just don’t want to get so caught up in the past that I fail to thrive in the life-changing, joy-filled Real Presence of the Risen Christ with me today (Lent or not).   So at Blanchard Warrenville this year, we’re going to do our best to model this very present spirit of celebration during Lent.

Did you know Sundays don’t count in the forty days of Lent?

Praying, mourning, repenting, confessing and giving up Monday through Saturday; but come Sunday morning this year, let’s throw off those old, mournful graveclothes and colorfully dress ourselves with  the celebration of gathering (we’re even doing a baby dedication on March 4!), proclaiming Christ’s tranforming presence to forgive, cleanse and empower us to give us the hope to become like Christ.  I long for a God-drenched spirit of Joy to define our gatherings at Warrenville during these five Sundays of Lent.

I’ve probably just offended a whole bunch of you with this post today:  that’s really not my intent.  I can’t wait for the Solemn Assembly this coming Sunday evening at 5:30pm at our Wheaton Campus.  It’s one of the highlights of my spiritual journey every year.  I need to mourn this Lent–to truly confess and repent of my very real sin.  But I won’t get stuck there.

You’re welcome to wait till Easter to put on your “Sunday best”, I just can’t wait that long…

A friend whom I hadn’t seen or talked to in months sent me a beautiful e-mail the other day, mentioning that God had brought me to mind while he was on a run–he wrote that not only did he want to catch up over a cup of coffee sometime but he prayerfully added his hope that I would be a man of conviction fully empowered by the Holy Spirit to encourage someone who needed it that day.

He didn’t even  know last Saturday was the eve of the one year anniversary of my seizure on Father’s Day last year when my whole life changed in the span of one 5-7 minute seizure.

Two weeks ago, with my one-year check-up approaching, I was pretty anxious and uptight.  But today, the very day my results are to be read at the University of Chicago, I’m totally at peace, confident that God has been my Healer.  This change within my once-anxious, sleepless soul can only be explained by the power of prayer.  I’ve openly invited people at church and online through this blog to pray for me.  So thank you to so many of you who have been going to the Father on my behalf!  God’s answered beautifullyI’ve experienced some of the best rest over the last week that I’ve had in months.

I’m so encouraged that I serve a living and active God who speaks to me regularly by speaking through others in my church community He’s talking to.  And that He listens when I talk with Him in return.  Prayer is powerful and effective.

Wish I acted like I believed that more.  I long for both Christians and the Church to rediscover and renew (old-fashioned as it might be…) our commitment to prayer as a church community–not only in our own prayer lives, but as an eagerly expectant praying community.

I believe one of the most significant obstacles to Blanchard Alliance Church’s future will be our ability to rediscover the deep joy, inspiration and power found in prayerful Christian community.  While I think we’re beautifully committed to one another in our individual relationships and our various groups, I’m not as convinced that this love is translating to our “life together” as a whole church.  A lot of this is my own fault as our Campus Pastor in Warrenville.  I want to help us prioritize “life together”–starting with prayer.  But I haven’t done a consistent enough job lifting this value up at Blanchard.  Town hall meetings, social & fun seasonal gatherings, picnics at the park all help, but they don’t hold the power within themselves to bind us together as a community in Christ like prayer does.

  • When we start with prayer, lasting change happens by God’s power & authority
  • When we start with prayer, God moves the church toward a united, inspiring Kingd0m-driven vision
  • When we start with prayer, God heals His people.
  • When we start with prayer, God breaks our heart for people we know who don’t know Him like we do.
  • When we start with prayer, God opens our eyes to ordinary opportunities to transform the worn-out, overly-anxious, hyper-busy culture in many of our neighborhoods (and in our own lives…)

I’ve been incredibly inspired of late by the unbelievable instructions God gives to the people of Judah as to the kind of life they’re to lead as captives in Babylon…

“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughtersIncrease in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.'”  (Jer. 29:1-7 NIV emphasis mine)

This is the quiet, ordinary, community-focused, prayer-driven kind of existence that we Christians are capable of living in North America today.  If we live like this as individuals and families, I refuse to throw in the towel, like so many others are already doing about the future of the Church here.

We don’t have to be destined to be a “post-God” culture like Europe.  Let’s turn the tide together with God’s culture-and-neighborhood transforming power, starting with prayer…

I saw a beautiful thing last Sunday during Communion.

During our monthly Communion celebrations, we take the time to invite key Children’s Ministries volunteers to receive kids who aren’t quite ready to take Communion yet and pray a blessing over them, first addressing them by name and then, praying  a blessing on them (usually based on Scriptural promise…)

So there Rachel was…right in the midst of that holy, solemn Communion procession…as I kept my eyes on the cup trays (which always run out and need at least one refill…), freshly blessed by one of our gifted children’s ministries shepherds, walking behind me and the elements at the table, face simply aglow with pure joy.

It’s remarkable to observe the power of God’s Word prayed over a child.

As Karyn and I got ready for the day yesterday, she shared with me what my daughter Ellie had told her after another children’s leadership team member prayed a blessing on her.  Karyn asked, “What did Mrs. C. say to you during your blessing?”  Ellie whispered back to Karyn, simply, “I don’t know,  but it was good stuff.”

Good stuff.

It’s happening more and more around our Children’s Ministries at Warrenville…

Here’s another good story heard about a little boy who didn’t want to miss “Kids’ Exploration”, our Sunday morning class from 9:30-10:30 because he didn’t want to miss out on being a part of Mr. Rick’s worship time.  These stories of God at work in our kids makes me joyful  to know our kids are happy, learning to be a part of a caring, compassionate, “God’s Story-centered”, community.  That’s good stuff, too.

As we look forward to our Family Fall Festival & Chili Cook-off on Aug. 23 at Blanchard Warrenville as well as welcoming Laura Elliot, our new  Children’s and Family Ministries Director at Blanchard this coming Sunday during our worship time, what other “good stuff” does God have in store for us?

And are we ready to receive it, grow and learn from it?

So we finally got a puppy.  We left a lot of things in Cambodia, including our dearly-loved German Shepherd pup, T-Bone, and we’ve been hoping to fill that empty four-legged space in our family for a while now.   It’s hard to characterize deep, soul-flooding joy until you see it on your daughters’ faces… “Do we really get to keep her?  We don’t ever have to take her back to the shelter?  Never ever?”

And so the adventure begins and Penny’s already breaking hearts all over the neighborhood.  Our sweet little yellow lab pup with those beautiful copper eyes is an unstoppable force of community building.  I love that about her already–on top of all those sticky wet dog kisses on my chin, cheek, ear, nose and forehead.

Ever since we’ve moved into our house two years ago, I’ve spoken publicly at Blanchard about my intention to regularly walk my neighborhood and pray, inviting God’s Spirit to open my eyes to the Kingdom He’s building there, to the people’s He’s empowering me to live out Christ’s love with.

Haven’t done it yet.

So now’s the time and Penny’s proving her worth by opening wide a huge door of opportunity.

A little dog walking every day, a few good conversations with neighbors and a lot of good praying in between…

…along with an honest sense of desperation for God to reign and rule in me and my neighbors’ lives.  For His Kingdom and His will to be done, on earth in my neighborhood as it is in heaven.

Do any of you regularly walk and pray?  How has God been using that in your life and neighborhood?  What are you learning along the way?

Never tried prayer walking?  Check out this link to get started…