Friday, November 24, 2006

Why Are We Resistant to Prayer?

People put their time, money, and hope in winning the Lotto believing that they don't have a chance of winning unless they play. Why do we want to win the Lotto anyway? I'm told (by those who never have won big) that it will make all my troubles go away. I am counseled to think about all the good that I could do in this world when I become a big winner. I am asked, "What would you do if you win?" as a way of engaging my imagination in the possibility. I hear that some folks even pray over their Lotto purchase, telling God how much they pledge to share with Him if He allows them to win.
Has buying a Lottery ticket become more characteristic of us than praying? I think so. We live in a society that has removed prayer from public schools and now looks to the Lotto as the funding panacea for those very schools. Am I opposed to playing the Lotto? Not really. What I do repudiate is misplaced faith! Simply playing the lottery is not harmful but hoping in the lottery is, it damages the soul and it doesn't really fund public education. I find that I am willing to do small things when I believe there is a chance of reaping great rewards. For me, greater treasure has come by placing my hope in prayer then I ever could "win" from the Lotto.
Jesus, in the gospel of John chapter 16 verses 23 and 24, gives some instructions on prayer specifically prayer in His Name. Prayer is a simple thing that has the potential for reaping great rewards. Why don't we pursue prayer with the same enthusiasm as the Lotto? I think the answer is twofold.
  1. We place our faith in other things.
  2. We misunderstand prayer.
The objects of our hope and faith is determined by our affections. Jesus taught us in Matt 6:21 that what we set our heart upon, what we love, what we desire, is what we truly consider our treasure. So when I buy a Lotto ticket I am saying that I desire, have affection for, love, the opportunity of winning big. Therefore I hope for it. Our affections drive our faith! I believe in what I love.
Prayer will not make all my troubles go away. Prayer will not grant me three wishes. So why should I pray? What if you lived next door to someone who was an attorney, an accountant, a doctor, a personal coach, and counselor. What if this neighbor was the special adviser to the President of the United States. Would you ever, from time to time, be tempted to ask for advice or a favor as you were both out back trimming the hedges or washing the car? Of course we would, it is a small thing that we're able to do. Now what if this neighbor then told you that the very reason he was living next door to you was because he was most interested in your struggles and challenges and those of your fellow neighbors? Do you think you would want to get to know this neighbor better? Of course we would, our admiration for him would increase and our trust in him would increase. Now what if this neighbor gave you a special phone number that went directly to the White House and he told you that when the President answered just tell him what you need and that you are calling on his behalf? Would you make a call? Of course we would, it is a small thing that we are able to do.
Do you want to follow Jesus? If you do you have such a neighbor in the heavenly realm. Do you understand that His mission is to bring you and me to God? That to accomplish that mission He had to allow Himself to be killed on our behalf? He tells us in John 16:23 & 24 to ask of God the Father on His behalf. Just as our good neighbor gave us access to the President, Jesus gives us access to God. To put John 16:23 in modern vernacular we could say, Jesus said, "take your requests to God and tell Him I sent you". The perfect man, Jesus, is giving us His perfection to wear when we talk to God in prayer.
There is a lot of hype today on religious TV about faith and how important it is. It is important but it is not the first step to God. Jesus taught that humble repentance is more important than confident self-righteousness, Luke 18 verses 9-14. That those who are forgiven of much are those who love much, Luke 7:39-50. So from these passages we should see that faith includes repentance and love. If we repent of our sins and receive the forgiveness of God we will love Him. If we love Him we will trust Him. So it should follow that if we repent more we will appreciate Jesus' sacrifice more and love Him more. As our love for Him grows our faith in Him also grows. How can we repent more? It begins by seeing our sins not a acts that are offensive to God, although they are, but seeing them as a lack of affection and love for the one to whom all our love and affection is due. Mark 12:30 says, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

If the Lord doesn’t provide it, I don’t want it.

How should a Christian use credit? How much debt can we really afford? One of the subtle things about credit is that it gives us power. The power to use other peoples money for our own purposes. The power to get things we need to improve our situation. That gives us a false sense of control because ultimately tied to that power is bondage and thorns. Jesus told us in Matthew 13:22 that riches (or other peoples money) are deceitful and has the ability to choke the fruitfulness of His word out of our lives. That verse should be digitally MP3 encoded on the magnetic strip of our credit cards so we have to hear them each time we swipe our cards. We must treat credit very soberly and not allow the power of it to intoxicate us.

What would Jesus do? In Matthew 4:1-11 we have the account of his temptation. One of the things I have always wondered about his temptation is what was the big deal about turning stones into bread? I mean how is that wrong? Jesus is the Son of God. He was hungry. Those rocks don’t belong to anyone, say the word and eat. What’s the problem? Who would it have hurt? Asking these questions illustrates a point. What is my sense of righteousness grounded in? Is it about being right or wrong or is it about depending on my relationship with my heavenly Father? It would not have been "wrong" in the right or wrong sense for Jesus to use his heavenly powers to feed himself. There is no prohibition in the Bible about turning stones into bread. The Pharisees knew all about right and wrong and were always quick to point it out to others. Jesus told us that our righteousness had to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees (Matt 5:20). Jesus is calling his followers to a higher standard of righteousness. A standard based not on Law but on Grace, not on rules but on relationship. Jesus valued his dependence upon God more than saving his starving body.

The suggestion to use his heavenly powers to feed himself did not come from his Father but from the devil. As we work, live, and witness in this world we too need to be aware of the source of suggestions to use our credit that come to us. Since credit is so common in our society and almost needful on a daily basis we must only make use of it when it is provided by our heavenly Father. Credit is just a tool, used correctly it is a source of provision. Used incorrectly it is a source of bondage. How much do you value your dependence on God? How badly do you want Jesus’ dependence in you life? How badly do you want God’s fruitfulness? Jesus rebuked the devil with the word of God. That same word is ours for the taking, (Psalm 119:127) so much better than a good credit rating is your word O Lord!

2 Peter 1:3-8 says, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Thing About Birthdays

The thing about birthdays is we get to a place where we really don't want them anymore. Why is that? I suppose it's because we don't like to be reminded of our mortality. That's the standard answer. For me it's a little bit different.

I can remember loving birthdays when I was a little boy, especially my own. Like a small lap dog running in circles so excited I'd wet my pants telling everybody who would listen in my childish sing song, "Tomorrow's my birthday, tomorrow's my birthday. Parties and presents and games. My birthday is November 2nd, just two days after Halloween". I loved Halloween. That is when I officially started celebrating my birthday. I got as much mileage as I could out of that. I would have Halloween/Birthday Parties. All my little friends would come in their costumes and we would have such fun.

When I turned seven or eight I'm not sure now which it was. I was Johnnie Reb for Halloween. I was fascinated with the Civil War and I like to root for the underdogs. My mother I suppose considered it healthy self-expression. I had a cap with the stars and bars on top, gray trousers with a holster and six shooter, and gray shirt with gold fringe and buttons that said CSA. I wore the southern gray proudly after all I did live in Southern California. My Dad told me he was going to take my brother and me to Disneyland for my birthday. I was so excited. We didn't live with our Dad.

The Disneyland day arrived. Technically my birthday was over. I mean it was like November 3rd, 4th, or 5th. But I still was wearing my Johnnie Reb costume. After all we were still celebrating my birthday right? I ran downstairs ahead of my older brother and piled into my Dad's car. The shock and embarrassment of my stepmother ground me to a halt. "Go back upstairs and change your clothes or you're not going with us, we're not taking you anywhere dressed like that". "But it's my birthday", I protested. "You said you were taking me to Disneyland". "Change your clothes or stay here", she demanded, with some expletive words about my Mother and me. It hit me in the heart like a poison dart frog dart. I don't know which was worse her words or my Dad's silence. I felt like I was just pushed down onto the pavement where little pieces of gravel embedded themselves into my boyish knees. "But it's my birthday", I sobbed and ran upstairs and stayed home with the comfort of my Mother.

Birthdays were never the same after that. Something inside me died. If I try hard I can still imagine the feeling of despair when the promises of a father turn to silent smoke.

But another Father responded to my deep hurt. He whispered life and love to my soul again. I was born again and set upright. He tells me that I am going to live with Him forever so that thing about my mortality and birthdays doesn't work with me. I love birthdays! You see I believe I am going to live with Him forever. Since He can get so deep inside me and heal my pain and despair I know I can trust Him. Besides, everyday now is my birthday! Each new day is a gift from God; a present I receive with joy and unwrap with excitement. Everyday brings me a new adventure with Him, my Father, my God. I don't want Disneyland anymore. I just want God.

Psalm 68: 4 Sing to God, sing praises to His name;
Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts,
Whose name is the LORD, and exult before Him.
5 A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
6 God makes a home for the lonely;
He leads out the prisoners into prosperity,
Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

Psalm 23: 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Judging by Appearances

Have you ever made a purchase at a grocery store and received a handful of change? When you looked at the change in your hand you saw a coin that was unrecognizable. You didn’t really want it but because of the people in line you slipped it into your pocket anyway. It might be foreign or domestic a penny or a dime. You just couldn’t tell at the time.

This happened to me too. When I saw the coin I said to myself “I don’t want this it’s good for nothing”. I could barely make out the image of President Roosevelt, ok, so it’s a dime. All scuffed up and gouged like it had lain on the highway for years until perhaps a little child found it and spent it with joy on a piece of candy. The edges were nicked and bent. Couldn’t even be used in a vending machine. “Worthless”, I pronounced. Truth is it was still worth ten cents.

We are so quick to pronounce judgment on the things we don’t like that we completely overlook their intrinsic value. We do this to people. We do this to ourselves.

As I stood there looking at that boogered up coin, God spoke to me with that still small voice. Reminding me that I am made in His image and have value to Him, great value. Reminding me that those around me, each and every person, is made in the image of God and has great intrinsic value. Who am I to judge others or myself?

I don’t like the scuffmarks and scars this world has eroded upon me. I can definitely see this erosion in others as well and I pass judgment. I say to myself “Worthless, good for nothing, scum, jerk, @$$hole”.

Verses to meditate on:

  • Joh 7:24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.
  • Luk 18:17 I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn't receive the kingdom of God as a little child receives it will never enter it.
  • Heb 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus tells us to receive the kingdom like a little child, looking past the dings and dents to see the image of God in others. Jesus endured the cross with joy! Why could He suffer so and still have joy? Because He knew that His sacrifice would bring an innumerable fortune of boogered up coins into His treasury. Truth is we are of great value to Him.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Peggy’s Garden of Kindness

Peggy loves to sing. She especially loves to sing in church. When we were first married she asked me to be honest with her and tell her what I thought of her singing. I was brutally honest as new husbands usually are. I told her that she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. How it must have hurt her, but she didn’t let me see it, or I just missed it as usual. I suppose she privately promised herself that someday she was going to show me.

Peggy has taken voice lessons now for at least 15 to 20 years. During this time she has sung at every opportunity the church could afford her; every service, every special occasion, holidays, productions and plays. For years she would try out for solos knowing she wouldn’t get them. She would encourage everyone else trying out for the same part, praying with them and truly happy when they got the part and not her. And then she would go back and do it again. I felt as if I were married to the choir. All our family events had to fit inside the choir’s schedule. I had to let her because that is what makes her happy, and more importantly, it is the call of God on her heart. I imagine that in heaven she will be in the tryout line for Seraphim if they’ll let her.

Peggy loves to praise the Lord. She loves to be a part of that great company in heaven that praises Him continually. She’s not just in the choir; she’s in The Choir. When she closes her eyes and sings to her God she knows that His purposes are being manifest in her. She knows quietly deep within her that God is working in His church and her heart. Her fear and trembling are put way away and she finds strength to face the difficult people and things around her.

She offers them kindness. Peggy is the kindest person I know. Not all the time and everywhere like she wishes she was, but most of the time and especially when it really really matters. At work she likes to play a game. When difficult people confront her she opens up and pours out kind words and sweetness just to see how long it takes to turn their attitude around. She loves to bless God and bless others.

If we had the ability to choose what would go wrong in our lives we would never learn a thing. But it’s during the times when things go wrong that you learn what you are really made of. It’s a beautiful garden. Peggy doesn’t see it, because she is always looking up. Kindness grows there, cultivated by the very hand of God. She has tended it in her heart for so long with praise it just seems as natural as drawing breath.

Cancer is a scary thing. Once you become aware of its’ potential the fear of it haunts you all of your life. It is a distant terror, not unlike other major catastrophes, but in our collective minds it is coupled with death. Cancer came to live in Peggy’s throat. It threatened to take her voice, to blot out the praises. Laughing in the face of God Cancer made a mistake. It must have caught this Freeloader of Rottenness off guard to find itself in a place where kindness for others was more important than fear for oneself. Peggy was afraid but she didn’t care. She was going to keep on singing, loving, praising, and letting God love others through her. It was harvest time in Peggy’s garden.

Peggy has shown me all right. Not just that she can sing, but that singing God’s praises brings God’s presence into our lives. There are worse things than Cancer, much worse.


Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2nd Peter 1:2-8

Lessons From a Little White Dog

First I have to set the stage.

One oft misquote of scripture is "Money is the root of all evil". I have noticed people use this when talking about someone who was caught embezzling or when they find themselves in a bad divorce where money or its misuse is one of the themes. But the correct quote is from 1 Timothy 6:10

"For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (NASB)

This observation leads me to believe that as humans we like to reserve something outside ourselves for casting blame on. Money seems to be the perfect scapegoat in this instance. Scripture though won't let us get away with that. Paul correctly points the finger at the root of the problem, a heart that harbors "the love of money". Ouch! It's inside me. I have to accept responsibility, now I can't blame it on money.

Crown Financial Ministries ( identified 2,350 verses of scripture that says something about handling money. As I went to my Crown group meetings one of the things we discussed was the question, "Why do you suppose God talks to us so much about money?"

Now I can tell you about my little white dog.

Gypsy is a small to medium English pointer. My daughter brought her home to us on her last move home. Gypsy was rescued from the pound. I think her previous owner must have been a football player because she loves to tackle and body slam. Oh, did I mention she has the energy level of Taz the animated Tasmanian devil? She constantly tackles your feet and bites them as you walk by. The morning stumble down the hall is now a real treat. Playful dog biting and grabbing while I try to find the kitchen without falling down. When I finally make it to the coffeemaker Gypsy grabs her stainless steel food dish and attacks it like she did my feet crashing it and clanging it all about.

I have been working with Gypsy on obedience training and making some progress. One real area that needs work is the complete misunderstanding of the command "come". For some unexplained dog reason every time I holler, "come" she runs away. In fact it's as if she waits for the door to open just wide enough for her to bolt out. She is really so obstinate I hate chasing her down. I really just want to say, "So you want to run away - good riddance!" but she has a chip in her ear. If I let her go animal control will find her and return her. Sheesh.

One sunny summer morning I went out to check the mail. I thought I closed the door behind me. Gypsy bolted across the lawn and down the street to the corner. I was barefoot and only wearing my bathrobe. I wasn't about to chase her this time. Good riddance. I called to her only to see her tail disappear around the corner. "I'm not chasing her," I thought to myself. Then I remembered her stainless steel dog dish. I picked up her dish and dropped her chew bone inside. Clang it rang. I took it outside and started to rattle and clang it while calling Gypsy by name. Soon a little dog head peeked around the corner and saw the dish. Next thing I know I have an English pointer torpedo heading straight for me. In the house, lets get in the house. Ok so that was a good trick. But wouldn't it be better if she actually came when called?

The Lesson

So what's this got to do with money? Well the question was why do you suppose there are so many verses in the Bible about money? The answer, God speaks to us about money so much because it is something we respond to. Like Gypsy's stainless steel dish money is something we are fond of and it gets our attention. Now wouldn't it be better if we just came when called?

I don't think God is responsible for money. I believe it is an invention of man, a tool to use. Money in and of itself is neither good nor bad any more than any of the other tools in my storage shed. God loves us so much He makes use of it to get our attention. He doesn't have to. He could just let us run away and say good riddance.


Read Colossians chapter 3, Paul writes in Colossians 3:5 that greed amounts to idolatry. The solution is to consider greed dead, to be renewed in the knowledge of Christ, and to put on love and allow Christ to rule in our hearts. This is how the Holy Spirit wants us trained.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Why use a megaphone in an empty room?

A friend once tried to interest me in blogs. My response was something along the lines of, “Why would I use a megaphone in an empty room?” I suppose I was thinking of blogs in terms of the old BBS days of netmail and forums. I see now that the power of search engines has changed the landscape of electronic communication.

So here I am. Hopefully more than the sound of one hand clapping.