Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Talking with God, Not at God

One of the basic, fundamental components of our faith is prayer. Throughout the Bible, prayer is modeled and commanded. The entire book of Psalms is a collection of prayers. John 17 gives us an intimate look at a prayer of Jesus. Matthew 7:7-12 is an invitation to pray. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” It is obvious that prayer is one of the essential building blocks of our faith.

                Having established the importance of prayer, it is important to understand that there is a right way and a wrong way to pray. Jesus addressed this in a parable, found in Luke 18:9-14.
   To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
    "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
    "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

                If I could condense what Jesus was saying in this parable, it would be that one man talked at God and one man talked to God. The Pharisee arrogantly extolled his perceived virtues expecting God’s applause.  The tax collector humbly confessed his sins seeking God’s mercy.

                As I was going through my devotional routine, I was struck with the difference between talking at God in prayer and talking to God in prayer. Too often, my prayers fall into the first camp instead of the second. Too often I spend my time in prayer telling God what He ought to do, instead of listening to what God has to say to me. The real difference is not so much the content of my prayers, but my attitude in prayer. Jesus challenged those we were confident in their own righteousness. He commended those who really understood their need.    

                Prayer is an invitation for us to open our hearts to God and then allowing Him to speak back into our souls. It is not intended for us to inform God of things He is unaware, or for us to demand action from God. Prayer is developing a trusting relationship between our heavenly Father and us, His children. Prayer is based on trust; a firm belief that God knows what is best for us and will accomplish it. Prayer is about expressing our concerns, wishes and desires to God, but then allowing Him to sort those things out in an appropriate way. Prayer is intended to be an intimate conversation, not a demanding monologue. 

                In our consumeristic world, it is so easy for us to fall into the trap of talking at God in prayer. We go to Him with our laundry list of requests and expect Him to act like a heavenly Amazon Prime, with overnight delivery. Instead, like the tax collector, we need to approach God with humility. Because of what Christ has done for us on the cross, we can come boldly into God’s presence, but we never have the right to come arrogantly. We approach our Father without fear, but also with awe and respect. God wants us to come to Him and share all that is on our hearts. He also wants to share His heart with us.
                No one likes to be talked at; neither does our heavenly Father. God has invited us into an open and honest conversation, where we can share all that is on our hearts. He has promised to actively listen and then to speak back into our situations. It is our job to listen to what He has to say.

Philippians 4:6-7

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


                Unity is not something we are experiencing as a nation right now. We are more divided right now than we have ever been. Cooperation has been replaced by aggressive resistance at all levels. Recent actions by our new President have done nothing to quell the discord. I fear that we are in for a rough ride ahead.

                Discord and strife are like cancer. Left unchecked they spread, sometimes rapidly. Discord in one area can quickly metastasize into another area. Battle lines get drawn and people get hurt. As followers of Christ, we are not immune from the dangers of discord. The discord in our world can seep into our churches and tear us apart. That is exactly what Satan is trying to accomplish. His ultimate goal is the destruction of humanity and in particular the Church.

                It is essential, in these times of discord, that we work hard at maintaining godly unity. Unity does not happen automatically. It must be cultivated and nurtured. It takes intentional effort to stay focused on maintaining the integrity of the Church.

                Paul stressed this when he wrote to the church in Ephesus. It seems like, wherever Paul went, there were always those who would come after him and stir up trouble. They would divide these new believers in an effort to gain control over them. Paul was constantly rebuilding a commitment to unity in Christ. His instructions to the Ephesians still apply to us today.

                As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6

                Many of those who stirred up trouble were promoting some version of “Jesus plus something else.” It may have been the controversy over eating of meat sacrificed to idols or the need to keep all of the old Jewish laws. For some it was Jesus plus secret knowledge that only certain people had. Whatever the issue, it caused discord and disunity in the body of Christ.

                The same thing happens today when churches make a particular cause the most important thing. They begin to measure other people’s spiritual life by how they respond to the cause of the day. This is nothing more than a tactic by Satan to divide the Church. Paul gives us a strategy to guard our unity against these attacks by Satan.

                The most important thing is keeping the most important thing the most important thing. What is that? It is the truth that we are one in Jesus Christ. We are all part of the body of Christ. We all have different roles and functions, but we all belong. If we are going to maintain unity within the Church, we need to keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:2-3

                With our eyes fixed on Jesus, we need to treat each other with respect and compassion. We are not adversaries, but allies. There is room for seeing things differently and still maintaining our unity. Godly unity is never uniformity. That is what makes the Church so amazing. By the power of the Holy Spirit, diverse people, from diverse backgrounds, with diverse ideas are brought together as one. We need to leave room for honest disagreement. We also need to extend grace to one another at all times.

                In all things, we need to live lives worthy of our calling in Christ. Our lives should reflect His character. Our lives should advance His goals. Our lives should be given away in service to Christ and to others. Just as Christ was willing to set aside His glory in heaven and take his place with us on earth, so we need to set aside our “glory” to take our place alongside of one another. As Paul says in Philippians 2:1-4: If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

                During this time of discord in our nation, the world needs to see a different and better way modeled by those of us who follow Jesus. It is time to stand together and shine the light of Christ into our dark world.

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


                Over the past week, the level of anxiety and angst in our country has risen to the boiling point. On Jan. 20, we inaugurated a new President of the United States. Yet our nation was anything but united. Alongside of the traditional pomp and ceremony of an inauguration, we witnessed mass protests across the country. A common protest sign read, Not My President. Yet, if we look closely at the moral and spiritual climate of our country, our new President exactly reflects the values and lifestyle of many of the most outspoken protesters.

                The Apostle Paul nailed our times when he wrote Romans 1:18-32. Look carefully at just a few of the things Paul wrote and see if they do not reflect the world in which we live.  Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32) It should not surprise us that we have the leaders that we do given the moral and spiritual condition of our nation.

                As followers of Christ, how do we thrive in an environment that is hostile to God and His values? We could wring our hands in despair and bemoan the culture in which we live. We could militantly decry the evils of our culture and throw spiritual bombs at our opponents. Our we could put our trust in God and become a positive counter-cultural influence in our world.

                God sent Daniel into a cultural environment worse than anything we have experienced. In the Bible, Babylon became a byword for all that is evil and depraved. Babylon is exactly where Daniel found himself. He was not there by accident. Because of the failures of Israel, God had allowed the Babylonians to overrun the nation and to carry off the best of the best into exile. Daniel was among those who had to make the long trek to a foreign land. Daniel spent his entire life in exile, yet his faith did more than survive, it thrived.

                In his book, Thriving in Babylon, Larry Osborne contends that there were three major qualities that allowed Daniel to survive in Babylon: Hope, Humility, and Wisdom. Included within this big three are the essential qualities of obedience, perspective, endurance, confidence, and courage. I would like to focus on the quality of hope.

                Much of what the world sells us as hope is nothing more than wishful thinking. It is focusing on a desired outcome with little assurance that it will be achieved. If we place our hope in a cause, a political leader or party, or in an economic system, we will be disappointed. At best these things, and many others, can give us only a temporary  sense of security and hope for the future. Our hope is not in what is temporary, but what is eternal. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:18, So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

                Our hope is in the Living God who will never fail us. What he says He will accomplish. Even when we cannot see the outcome we desire, we can trust God to be in control. We know that ultimately we are secure in Him. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23

                Our hope is not wishful thinking, but confident faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. What we could never accomplish for ourselves, Jesus did for us. When we put our faith in Jesus, our future is secure no matter what may happen to us. We can face the trials of life with confidence and courage because we know the end of the story. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:3-7

                Our hope is secure because we know that in Christ we will prevail. Justice will reign. Righteousness will win out. No matter what the world throws at us, the Church of Jesus Christ will not only survive, but thrive. We are not a defeated army executing a rear guard maneuver. We are a victorious army on the move to ultimately vanquish our enemy. When Peter made his confession of faith in who Jesus is, Jesus declared that through that faith we would prevail.  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:18

                Daniel had to face many difficulties throughout his life. There were probably many times when he felt like giving up, but he did not. Instead, he stayed true to his faith and to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We can expect to face all kinds of trials and struggles ahead. But if we will hold firmly into our hope in Christ, like Daniel, we will prevail.

                    But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
                Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 16-17



Tuesday, January 17, 2017


2 Corinthians 3:4-6
Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

                We all have those days from time to time. The weight of responsibility lays heavy on our shoulders. We wonder if we are really up to the task. We begin to feel that we may not have what it takes to do the job. Our confidence is shaken by a nagging feeling of incompetence.

                When I was in Seminary, I worked as a Laboratory Technologist in a local hospital. The fact that they hired me in the first place was definitely an act of God. I had a BS in biology and an Associate degree in Med. Lab. Tech. The hospital took a chance on me, and hired me to be the weekend, night technician. I was grateful for the job and the opportunity, but also apprehensive about my ability to fulfill my role. During my very brief orientation, I was informed that I would be performing EKG’s as a part of my job. I was given a half hour intro to the procedure. The first time I had to perform an EKG I bungled the job. I can still hear the doctor walking away from me muttering “incompetent.” I never failed to get it right from that point forward, but that word hung over my head constantly.

                There have been times in my ministry where that word, “incompetent”, has raised its ugly head. I have never heard it said by another person, but I have clearly heard it spoken. This past Sunday was one of those days. In some ways, it was a perfect storm of things converging on Sunday morning. I have been fighting a lingering illness for over two weeks, so my energy level was low to begin with. Then, it was Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, which is always a challenge to get right. I was preaching on genuine community, which is challenging enough. On top of these things, we had a presentation from the InterVarsity staff that we support and we had a parent/child dedication. I went into Sunday morning feeling slightly defeated before the first service even began. Then , I got to the very end of the 11:00 service and was informed that I had forgotten the parent/child dedication. And in my ears rang the word “INCOMPETENT!”

                The Apostle Paul understood that feeling. For all of his background and training, there must have been times when he felt in over his head. But he came to realize that even when he felt incompetent, God was not. As he says in 1 Corinthians 3, our competence comes from the Lord. I can affirm that insight. For all of the times that I have felt overwhelmed and not up to the task, God has always come through. Although I messed up my very first EKG, I went on to work that job in the hospital for a year and a half. When I resigned they asked me to reconsider and stay. For all of the times I have felt incompetent in the pulpit, God has kept  there.

                As I begin a new week, there are more challenges ahead. But I know that God’s grace is sufficient to enable me to navigate those challenges, especially when I feel in over my head. It is God who puts it all together for our good and His glory.

Galatians 6:9

    Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


                The beginning of 2017 had an unexpected twist for me. I had received a set of wood-turning tools for Christmas and I was anxious to try them out. I had watched a video about wood-turning on a lathe where the presenter had used a small, cherry log to turn out a beautiful goblet. I had a pile of small, semi-round logs piled in my garage, so I thought I would give it a try. I followed the instructions and placed the log on my lathe. Almost as soon as I turn on the lathe, I knew something would wrong. It seemed to spin much faster than normal, and then it began to rock. I leaned to my right to turned it off and BAM!, I was clobbered by the log. Fortunately, it was a glancing blow that rang my ears, but did not knock me out or split my forehead. Now, a week later, I still can look in the mirror and be reminded of my carelessness.

                This incident has raised my awareness of something far more profound. I have been reminded of how God’s hand is on His children to protect them. Over this past week, I have thought of how many times I have had close calls and God has protected me. I know that God does not shield us from all harm. In fact, He sometimes allows us to experience traumatic events, so that we can learn to trust His grace more. But, in the main, on a day by day basis, God does protect His children.

                David expressed this protection in Psalm 121.
    I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from?
    My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
    He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber;
    indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
    The Lord watches over you-- the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
    the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
    The Lord will keep you from all harm-- he will watch over your life;
    the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

                Even as followers of Christ, we can become careless and complacent. We can start to depend too much on our own skills and talents. We can live our day to day lives as if we do not need God. But David reminds us of three important truths that we should always keep in mind.
                First, the source of our help is the Lord. There are so many things to which we look to give us a sense of security in our world. We may look to our finances, or our family, or our social status, or our country. All of these things can be positive influences in our life. But none of them can truly give us the security that we are looking for. Our security is found in our loving, heavenly Father, who watches over us.

                Second, our heavenly Father is always watching over us. He doesn’t take days off, go on vacation, or sleep through the night. Instead, He is constantly watching over his children. His watchful eye is on us whether we realize it or not. In fact, His hand of protection most often goes unseen and unrecognized by us. We have no idea how many times God has intervened on our behalf to protect us from harm. My close encounter with a flying log served to remind me that, even when I am careless, God is watchful.

                Third, our heavenly Father will never stop watching over us. He will not get tired of following our lives. He will not become impatient with our carelessness or our lack of perception. He has not put a time limit on His involvement in our lives. As David says, the Lord will continue to watch over us both now and forever more.

                Growing up, I was the one in our family known for getting hurt. I have often quipped that I am going to write a book entitled, My Life as a Crash Test Dummy. As I look back over my life, I have had many close calls that I am aware of, and many more that I am not. I am extremely thankful for my heavenly Father’s watchful eye keeping tabs on me. The blossoming bruise on my forehead is a vivid reminder that my life would be very different, if the hand of God was not upon me.