This past Monday afternoon in a small community

This was a difficult post to write: fair warning.

This past Monday afternoon in a small community south of Fort Dodge, IA, two girls, ages 12 & 15 were abducted by a man who was a registered sex offender in Iowa.  The 12 year old escaped and was found.  The man was found after he committed suicide.  The search for the 15 year old is still ongoing.

Last night, there was a community prayer gathering for this young lady.  The reason that I bring this up is that it touches upon what I have been learning about prayer over the last 7 weeks or so.  They prayed for her safe return.  One person was quoted as saying, “I just felt the need to pray for her to be found safely.”  

It is also my desire that this young lady be found safe.  What I can’t get out of my mind right now is this: has anyone thought to stop and, before praying, ask God, “Father, what is that You want to do here?”  In situations like this, we rush in and pray because of the depth of our concern and compassion.  This concern and compassion is good, not bad, but when we rush in, what I have learned is that we are now praying in our own strength, not God’s.

It has been far too often that I do this very thing; I rush in and end up praying in my own strength.  If I then base my hope upon that, then that hope is very weak because it is based on my own weakness.  I’m not saying that it isn’t God’s desire that this girl be found safe; I’m hoping it is.  What I am saying is this – has anyone become still before Him and asked Him what He wants to do?

And I have to admit; that can be a scary question to ask God!  I have found that my desires, which tend towards comfort and safety and no problems and no concerns and no struggles, aren’t always what God wants to do.  And if I am praying out of my desires because I have not asked Him and listened to Him as He tells me what His desire is, how do I know what His will is?  And according to I John 5:14-15, I only have confidence that He hears what I am praying when I am praying according to His will.

I don’t always understand why God wants to do what He wants to do.  What I do understand is that, no matter what, I can trust His goodness, His desires, His path and His will.  

My wife and her family know a man who when asked to pray for safety for someone who is traveling, absolutely refuses to do so.  Why, you ask?  Isn’t that callous and uncaring on his part, you think?

He explains why he refuses to do so.  It was during an accident earlier in his life that God used to get a hold of him.  If the accident had not occurred, this man isn’t sure where he would be spiritually.  He refuses to do so because, maybe, just maybe, God wants to use an incident while that person is traveling to work in that person’s life?  And praying for safety because it is our desire for that person, when God wants to do something else, is quite selfish and myopic on our part.

I am coming to the realization more and more all the time that what is God’s will is something about which I’d rather not pray.  I am coming face-to-face all the more that much of how I have prayed over the years has truly been out of selfish desires.  

I have told God what I wanted Him to do.  In essence, I have place myself in the position of master over God; I have place myself in His place.  I’m thinking that it was this very attitude and action which caused Lucifer to be cast out of heaven and was the original sin in the garden.  I have continued it in my praying.

All of this realization is making me cling all the more to the goodness of God, His favor upon me and the provision He has attached to every problem and situation I face.  It has made me so much more dependent upon Him.

For this I rejoice.

Do I desire for this girl to be found?  More than words can express.  Having children, how could I desire differently?  But, what is a greater desire is that God carry out His will as He reveals it.  It is His will revealed to me, as I hear the Holy Spirit and Jesus praying it, which I will pray.  I will not pray in the strength of my own desires.

Advertisements

How Long Are We Willing to Pray?

Those who have read my posts and/or listen to my sermons (whether in person or online) know that, over the last 2 months or so, the topic of prayer has been in the forefront.  I have mentioned that my whole concept of prayer was destroyed by God and is being rebuilt by Him, a reconstruction project that continues to this day.

Throughout this whole time and process, I have mentioned different parts of a process of prayer.  This process is truly revolutionary for me.  Hence the destruction part of God’s working.  This process is as follows:

  • worship (real worship, not just a token stab at it, which is what many Christians do.)  This worship is lengthy and very important and necessary.  If this foundation is not truly laid, then the rest is truly just a house of cards, ready to collapse with but the barest of breezes.  We are commanded to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.  Christians should be the most thankful and grateful people on the face of the earth.  Oft-times, unfortunately, that is not the case.
  • Stillness which comes by entering the secret place God has created for me where I can truly and totally rest.  I truly believe that rest is a weapon in the spiritual war that is raging around us and in which we fight.  Even God rested after creation.  The enemy doesn’t want us to rest.  He wants us busy physically; he wants us churning in our soul and spirit; he doesn’t want our minds to stop moving on the proverbial wheel in our skulls.  It is when I am still that I can truly know God and hear and listen.  This stillness and rest is crucial for this to happen.
  • Now I am ready to listen.  Notice that I haven’t yet begun to pray.  I don’t know what God wants to do.  I know what I’d like Him to do, but I have often found that my desires do not line up with His.  So, I need ask Him, “Father, what do You want to do about this?” or “What are You up to here because I know You are always up to something.” and then I need to listen.  I need to listen to what the Holy Spirit and Jesus are praying about whatever situation is occurring because the Father will tell them what He wants to do and then, in essence, say to Them, “This is what I want to do here; ask me to do it.” 
  • I need to write down everything I hear, whether it is a word, a phrase, a complete sentence or even a picture.  I need to hear them and then craft that into a written prayer so that I am praying the same thing all the time.  Now is when I actually begin to pray.  I believe that what I am praying is what the Holy Spirit and Jesus are already praying.  Therefore, I can have confidence that what I am praying is what will come to pass.

But here is where the rub, and the title of this post, comes into play.  The prayer coming to pass doesn’t happen in my timing but in God’s.  And this is why I ask the question, “How long are we willing to pray?”  If we believe that we have joined our voice with that of the Holy Spirit and Jesus, we should have continual confidence that what is being prayed will eventually happen.

If we are only willing to pray for a certain length of time, what does that say about the true level of our confidence in that prayer?  Is this what the Spirit and Jesus were praying or not?  If yes, then we must pray in the P.U.S.H. way – Pray Until Something Happens.  

I just read a story about a ministry that was begun back in 1986, one that continues to this day and has expanded beyond what anyone could have imagined at that time.  The one who founded the ministry, who is still actively involved and still receives no salary even though the revenue received is in the millions of dollars annually, said that she and a group prayed about this for 7 years.  

How many of us would have been willing to pray that long for something?  I think many would have said that they heard wrong what the Spirit and Jesus were praying.  Not this group.  They knew what they had heard the Spirit and Jesus praying; they knew what God wanted to do. So, even though it took 7 years, they continually constantly and consistently adding their voice to the Spirit’s and Jesus’.  And in God’s timing, at the right time, it happened because that’s what He said would happen.

It is so important for us to listen well to what the Spirit and Jesus are praying, to what the Father is telling them to ask Him to do.  When we do that, no matter the period of time it takes for the prayer to come to fruition, we retain the confidence and boldness that it will.  There may be others who fall away, but our confidence and boldness will remain high because we have heard.

So, how long am I, are you, willing to pray?

The Value of Relationships with People Different than Me

I was reading an article this morning concerning racism; it was titled “The Day-To-Day Racism That Many of Us Don’t See.”  (Here’s the link: http://www.ethicsdaily.com/the-day-to-day-racism-that-many-of-us-dont-see-cms-20754)  

This article reminded me of something that researchers have discovered about our brains and patterns: we can become blind to something until an “event” causes us to take off that blindfold.  For example, one car that I owned as a youth was a 1982 Escort Pony.  It was canary yellow in color.  I didn’t realize how many yellow cars were on the road until I bought that car.  Before the purchase, I wasn’t conditioned to see that color of car.  After the purchase, I became amazed at how many cars of that particular color were on the road.

As I read the article mentioned above, I realized what happened to me with that yellow car is the same thing that can happen to me in the realm of racism; I can be blind to it until something happens that causes me to take off the blindfold.  

Because of the “circles” or “sub-culture” in which I move and operate, there are actions that, to me, should not be seen as derogatory towards others because that is not my intent.  Or, there are actions which I witness which to me seem harmless while someone else, someone of a different racial background, would find that same action(s) as prejudicial or racist.

It isn’t until I come into contact and into relationship and friendship with those different than me that I will truly begin to see these things in a different light.  Oh sure, these relationships and friendships aren’t necessary to see explicit acts of racism and prejudice, but I believe they are necessary to see those which are just under the surface which to me would appear innocent (the story in the article of the exchange of money would be just such an example).

The way to have eyes opened is to have relationships with people different than me, friends who will give me the opportunity to see things through their eyes, actions which to me seem innocent, but in reality are signs of racial prejudice.

The way to forge harmony between different racial groups is not to not see color, but to see it and embrace the differences and diversity present.  In my experience, what typically happens when “no color is seen” is this: the “dominant” or “first-there” culture becomes the norm to which everyone else is to conform.

When people of different racial and culture groups join together, what is necessary is for people of all groups to be educated about each group’s ethnic background and culture with the traditions attached to them.  An understanding, acknowledgment and, most importantly, an appreciation for these differences must be attained in order for true harmony and partnership to exist.

Through relationships with people different from me, I have opportunity to embrace and appreciate those differences.  And what I have found is this: those differences make me a much more whole person because I now am able to see a fuller picture of life and my world around me.

This isn’t just true in the realm of race.  It is also true in the realm of politics, culture, etc.  I once heard it said, “If I never hear a voice different from mine, how will I ever know whether I am right or wrong about something?”

And that, I believe, is a good thing and something of great value.

Leadership

The way I keep informed to any level of what is happening in my hometown of Marshall, MI is through my high school classmates and friends who still live there and are actively involved in the community.  

Recently, through some postings on Facebook, I became aware of a difficult decision that was made by the school board of the town located to the east of my hometown.  Due to severe financial difficulties, that school board voted to close down its high school and enter into an agreement with Marshall Public Schools, one which would see its high school students sent to Marshall High School.  The Marshall School Board and staff offered this possibility of this joint effort.

Understandably, there are those who are skeptical due to the vastly different natures of the makeup of each community.  Marshall, MI is, according to city-data.com, is 92.4% Caucasian in its population with a median income of $43,422.  Albion, MI is, again according to city-data.com, is 39.1% minority with a median income of $25,468.  Concerns have been raised about racial struggles and the impact this agreement will have on both communities.  There have been isolated incidents to which some point as evidence that this agreement is doomed to fail.

I respectfully disagree with those who believe this is destined to be a failure and for one reason: leadership.

Two members of the Marshall Board of Education are friends and high school classmates of mine: Annette Campau and Rich Lindsey.  Even though our interactions have been limited to Facebook due to geographical limitations, I sense their heart and desire to see this succeed.

Leadership is not easy; it is difficult.  Leadership is about envisioning the future and leading people who may not necessarily be able to see it into it.  It is about staying the course because you believe in it.  It is about helping others grow beyond themselves as they see a common goal become a reality.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”  It is believing in the future as you have seen it and shaping the consensus of others to see that future as well so that they join their efforts, skills, desires, strengths and abilities with others who are already doing so.

This new relationship is full of incredible potential, not only on an educational level, but on a regional community level.  This new relationship will have the ability to forge a strong regional unity that will make the communities of both Albion and Marshall stronger beyond the educational aspect.

As a pastor, I would encourage my clergy peers of the churches of Marshall to lend their support to this effort and be on the forefront of this incredible opportunity so as to see any healing that might be needed occur and see a unity on a regional level unlike any other.

May God’s grace, love and presence shower upon all who are leading in this new day.

Shalom

It’s Only a Building!

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-court-church-graduation-20130512,0,412775.story

The above news story is about a lawsuit that is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court concerning a public high school graduation held in the sanctuary of a church building.  The Appeals Court said that this was an unconstitutional endorsement of a religion which is why it is being appealed to the USSC.

Rife throughout this story is the prevailing attitude of many in this country that the building is synonymous with the church.  The very first sentence is this: “Can a public high school hold its graduation ceremony in a local church?” The true and correct answer is “No!,” but not “no” because it is unconstitutional.  It is “no” because the building is not a church; people are the church.  So, unless the ceremony can be held inside a person’s physical body, it is impossible to hold a ceremony like this inside the church because the church is people.

I know that there have been times where I have gone a bit militant on this whole issue, but this perspective is rife throughout our culture.  I believe this perspective has done severe damage to the identity of the church and its ability to adjust and change as her Lord and Master would have her do so.  This perspective has caused a strong inflexibility.  It has also caused what I call a “compartmentalization” of the Christian life.  “Going to church” is something that is done on Sunday.  It is an obligation to be fulfilled.  The rest of the week is to do whatever one feels like doing, even if it is in total contradiction to what occurs on Sunday morning.

In the article, someone mentions this: “Christians should ‘stop and think about how it would feel if their high school graduation ceremonies were held in a Jewish temple or Muslim mosque, where diplomas were handed out beneath a looming Star of David or Islamic crescent,’ said Ayesha Khan, legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the winning plaintiffs.”  

This would be my response to Ayesha Khan: if a mosque, synagogue or temple is the best physical space available for this type of ceremony and those who own said facility are willing to allow its use, then I have no problem with it being used, no matter the symbols visible.  It’s only a building, a facility.  

I believe that the true and proper identity of the church as the temple of the Holy Spirit must be regained in order for the church to move ahead into the mission God has for it.  Without that identity, the enemy will find it easy to get our focus onto things which are nice but not necessary for who we are and what we do.

Those who follow God together are the living stones of the church; we make up the temple; we make up the Body of Christ.  

This perspective must be recaptured.

Mother’s Day (and those other “holidays”)

This Sunday is what is known as Mother’s Day.  It just might be the busiest day of the year for the restaurant industry as children and husbands take mothers and wives out to eat.  It is said to be a day to honor mothers.

This has also caused a bit of debate with differing blogs offering an alternative view to this day, one in which these bloggers speak of how, in church buildings this coming Sunday, common practices designed to honor mothers  can actually serve to alienate people.  The result, they say, is that a division is caused among God’s people.

Ultimately, while spirited discussion can be beneficial, it must be done upon the foundation of the principle of which Paul spoke in Romans 14:3-6a:

The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. 

There will be differences in views about this.  Having the proper view of the discussion is very important in this.  People will have different views and a different view isn’t sin; it is a conviction for that person.  We must honor those differing convictions and not judge, for that person stands before his Master and will answer to Him.  It is not my right to put myself in that position that only God has.

On the issue of how to or whether or not to observe Mothers’ Day, ultimately, it is up to each individual church and her leadership, for they know their people.  

On a personal level, while I do observe Mothers’ Day for my own mother and my wife, I find that there is an interesting phenomenon present in this country.  Much like there are many Christians who on Sunday mornings are sitting inside a sanctuary acting one way and then totally opposite the rest of the week, somehow thinking that going to a worship gathering will somehow make their lack of living faith out the rest of the week okay, there are many who use the presence of a day like Mothers’ Day, a day set aside to honor mothers, as a reason to not honor their mother the rest of the year.

I am like this with all holidays, whether official or not.  

Everyday I celebrate Christmas, for I celebrate the fact that God sent His Son to this earth.

I celebrate Easter everyday, for I celebrate Christ’s resurrection which has given me new life, life eternal.

I want to honor my mother and my wife every day for their presence in and impact upon my life.  

The same with my father.  

Everyday, I celebrate the freedoms I enjoy in this country.

Everyday, I offer heartfelt thanks to my heavenly Father for His presence, provision and purpose in my life.

This list could go on and on.

Maybe, if people desire to have a day set aside to “officially” honor, instead of honoring just one aspect of womanhood such as only those who have given birth to a child, it would be better if churches celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) which occurred this year on March 8.  All aspects of womanhood are honored on that day, whether a mother, sister, daughter, aunt, etc.  The theme for IWD for 2013 was “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.”

Ultimately, in all of this discussion about whether or not to observe Mothers’ Day in the sanctuary this coming Sunday and just how to appropriately do this, Paul’s words in Philippians 2:3-4 MUST be our desire: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

May through these words our desire be to unite the body of Christ, not cause divisions or classes of people for as Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Shalom

Where’s the Focus?

Something got my mind thinking this morning.  (I know, that’s a dangerous thing!)  I was drawn to I Corinthians 10:13 which says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  

This verse is speaking only to the level of temptation God will allow me to see.  Temptation is that which has a possible outcome of a sinful decision or reaction.  Because God wants to see my heavenly identity, by which He already knows me, become my earthly reality, He will only allow me to experience temptation at the current level of that process so that I continue to develop and grow into my heavenly identity.

This verse, though, does not speak about difficult circumstances, situations and troubles that are found in life.  There are many times where God asks me to go through these things or asks me to do things which are way beyond my ability to handle.  It is in those times that I need to trust Him and Whom He is for me at that time.

Think about it; if God only asked me to encounter, experience or do things which I could do in my own human ability, why would I need to trust Him?  God, though, is about growth and the learning process.  Therefore, He allows and asks me to encounter, experience and do things which are beyond me so that I MUST trust in Him and Whom He is for me at that time.

This is why Paul says in Philippians 4:13 this: I am able to do all things in Him who empowers me.”  No matter the situation or circumstances in which I find myself, I am able to handle it, not because of my own abilities, but because of Christ and His strength.  

Paul, in I Corinthians 1, says that God chose the weak and foolish things of the world in order to shame the strong and wise of the world by empowering the weak and foolish to do things which go way beyond their physical, mental or spiritual abilities to accomplish.  

It is for this reason, then, that I, just as Paul did, will boast about my weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:30) and be “well pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions and distresses, on behalf of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am powerful.”

It’s not about me; it’s about God and what He can do through me.  It is for this reason that I rejoice!