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It Was Just Yesterday…

IMG_0661It was just yesterday, wasn’t it? It all seems so clear, but how long ago? I remember that Mother’s day, it was the day that my wife and I found out we were starting a family. The excitement, preparations, and planning began and before we knew it, she was here. It didn’t help that she came into this world almost 4 months early. But in retrospect, it was just her style, always ready for what ever comes next, and usually pushing the envelope with everything she did.

It was just yesterday, when she was younger and the years seemed to be so easy. She knew what she wanted and would work tirelessly until she got it, of course because she was a daddy’s girl, it didn’t take much with me. Maybe just a little pout face, a bat of the eye here and there, and I would cave and give her whatever she wanted. (I know, not very parental, but I didn’t care. Still don’t.) She was always one who looked out for others, wanting her friends to be happy. She loved being with friends and family.

It was just yesterday, when we drove across three states to meet up with another young girl that she met online. Yes, I know this sounds a bit strange, but the circumstances were pretty extraordinary. It was her compassion, care, and friendship that helped form this bond between two wonderful young women.

It was just yesterday, that the phone call came in that you never want to hear. “There was an accident” and our daughter was involved. A normal 25 minute trip across town turned into 10, as I rushed to see if she was alright. Those moments are not ones that I would wish on anyone. She was more worried about her friend, who was the passenger, and the other person in the accident than she was about herself. She felt horrible, and I think if you ask her about it today, she would still share feelings of regret and sorrow. This is who she is.

It was just yesterday, she was walking across the first of three stages in her educational career. She finished her work at high school, with honors. She was the dream of all her teachers (We heard about this all through parent teacher conferences…). Instead of being distracting when she finished her in class work, she would take out a book and continue reading. There were so many times I asked my wife what the reason was for even going to the conferences anyway. It was always the same response. “I wish all of my students were like her.”

It was just yesterday, that she was walking across another stage, receiving her degree from ISU. Four years down, two to go. I remember her telling us that she didn’t want a party after this graduation, because she wasn’t done. She knew what she wanted to do and how she was going to get there. It was also during this time in school that another milestone hit. She got engaged to her childhood sweetheart. They first met before they were even in school as toddlers. How far they’ve come since the days of racing garage doors.

It was just yesterday, that she was walking across her final (for now) stage to claim her degree in social work. I remember driving so early in the morning to get there in time, listening to something special and remembering all the yesterdays. Yes, there were many yesterdays, and with each one of them comes a wonderful memory of who she is. Sure, my wife and I have made mistake while raising her. Sure, we didn’t do everything right. But whatever we missed, she picked up along the way.

I cannot tell you how proud I am of her because there truly are no words. Pictures cannot describe the feeling I have for the woman she has become. Everyone wants to be with her, to be near her, to feel loved by her. She is just that kind of person. Compassion, oh yes, she is so filled with compassion for all of God’s creation. That’s why I truly believe that God has placed this call on her life to care for some of the most precious people in this world, those who once cared for us. There is no shame in telling you that yes, I am crying as I write this because I know that both my wife and I couldn’t do this alone. God has been by our sides since the very beginning; the incredibly small, scary, stressful beginning. We knew there was a reason why God had protected her all of these years. Now, we get to have a front row seat in watching her do all of these wonderful things.

Stephanie, your daddy loves you more than he will ever be able to say. My heart is full as I think of all the compassion, faith, love, hope, and grace that you are filled with. This world is a much better place with you in it!

I Love You!

Daddy

 

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Get-Up-SermonLew Wallace once said; “I had always been an agnostic and denied Christianity. Robert  Ingersoll, a famous agnostic, was one of my most intimate friends. He once said, ‘See here, Wallace, you are a learned man and a thinker. Why don’t you gather material and write a book to prove the falsity concerning Jesus Christ, that no such man has ever lived, much less the author of the teachings found in the New Testament? Such a book would make you famous. It would be a masterpiece, and a way of putting an end to the foolishness about the so-called Christ.’”

Wallace went home and told his wife about the project. She was a member of the Methodist Church and did not like the idea. But Wallace began to collect material from libraries all over the world that covered the period in which Jesus Christ should have lived. He did that for several years and then began writing. He was four chapters into the book, he says, when it became clear to him that Jesus Christ was just a real a personality as Socrates, Plato, or Ceaesar. He said, “The conviction became a certainty. I knew that Jesus Christ had lived because of the facts connected with the period in which he lived.”

So, he asked himself candidly, “If he was a real person, was he not then also the Son of God and the Savior of the world?” Gradually Wallace realized that since Jesus Christ was a real person, he probably was the one he claimed to be.

Wallace said, “I fell on my knees to pray for the first time in my life, and I asked God to reveal himself to me, forgive my sins, and help me to become a follower of Christ. Toward morning the light broke into my soul. I went into my bedroom, woke my wife, and told her that I had received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

“’O Lew,’ she said, ‘I have prayed for this ever since you told me of your purpose to write this book, that you would find him while you wrote it!’”

Wallace went on to write a famous book. And we get a glimpse of his findings everytime we are able to watch the classic film based upon that book, Ben Hur.

Lee Strobel, a well-known atheist also set out to disprove Christianity, only to come to the realization of the truth about Jesus Christ. He has also written many books about his research, the first one being, “A Case for Christ.”

Both Wallace and Strobel could be loosely considered modern day Saul’s. They were non-believers, set on disproving Christianity. But through an encounter with Jesus Christ, they were transformed. They received new life in Christ and now proclaim the gospel message, the good news.

They both got up and did something with the news they had received. They got up and shared the message of Christ through books and movies with many around them.

In a scripture passage from the book of Acts, chapter 9 we find that Saul is making his way through the countryside, searching, finding, and persecuting followers of The Way, people who were following the teachings of Jesus Christ. Saul would find them and bring them in to the authorities, throw them in prison, or even promote their execution. He was there at the stoning of the apostle Stephen, and he approved of it.

People all over knew about Saul. They knew to stay away from him because of the history that preceded him. Saul didn’t believe, certainly was running away from God, and he was talking bad about the church, even persecuting those who believed. Do you know anyone like Saul? Do you sometimes act like Saul? Maybe you are running away from God’s call on your life, I know I did for quite a while. Maybe you’re talking bad about the church, or the member of the church?

Notice though, that God saw how to fit Saul into this great salvation plan of God’s. Saul has influence, he has some power in the communities. Saul has gifts of speaking to different groups of people. Saul can take the message of Jesus Christ to a whole new world. And now Saul will have something even better. He has a testimony. His witness of mercy and God’s transforming grace is one that will speak to so many more people and so God is going to use him in magnificent ways.

Saul also reminds us all of something else. And I’ve said it before. Saul reminds us that no one, and I mean no one, is beyond the grace, mercy, and transformation power of God. No one. Not Saul, not Wallace, not Strobel, not me, and even you are beyond the amazing grace of God.

easter-sunday-social-media-promoOver the past 6 weeks, we have been talking about spiritual disciplines; what they are and how we can infuse them in our lives. We talked about prayer, study, simplicity, solitude, meditation, confession, and now, celebration.

Let me keep this one really simple. Celebration is a gift to us so that we may laugh, sing, shout, and have a great time. There is nothing wrong with Christians having a good time, in fact, because of this day, and our relationship with Jesus Christ, we should be the group of people with the most to celebrate. So, when we join together on Easter morning and sing these familiar hymns, my spirit is lifted, and I hope yours is too. But some of us today may be wondering, how can this be true? This is such an unbelievable story. How can it all be true? Did this really happen?

Thomas Jefferson, a great man, nevertheless could not accept the miraculous elements to scripture. He actually edited his own special version of the Bible in which all references to the supernatural were deleted. He actually cut them out of his book! When he was done editing the Gospels, he confined himself solely to the moral teachings of Jesus. The closing words of Jefferson’s Bible are these; “There they laid Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulcher and departed.” That’s it! Thank God that is not the way the story truly ends!

I wonder if there are some of you, who like Thomas Jefferson, find it hard to believe in the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection, or maybe even the existence of this man from so long ago. I guess I could understand this if we only had the Bible to reference. I mean, if all we had was this book, how could we be so sure of the validity of what is found inside?

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian from the first century, who was also known to defend the Romans, wrote “Antiquities,” a multi-volume collection which mentions Jesus Christ’s existence.

Tacitus, a senator and historian from the Roman Empire also wrote that Jesus existed and that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He also wrote something else about the followers of Jesus. He said that this group of believers would rather die than recant their claims. There were the early Christian martyrs. Why, if they had not seen with their own eyes, would they want to lay down their life, endure the torture, humiliation, and ultimately death, if this wasn’t true?

Other first century writers, called the Apostolic Fathers, attested to Jesus’ presence. In fact, as far as I’m aware, there is no archaeological evidence that disputes the gospel accounts. Not just in speaking of Jesus’ existence, but more so by the stories that are told, science can depend on locations, artifacts, and happenings that are named in the gospels.

Lee Strobel, during his research for evidence of Jesus Christ, interviewed Edwin Yamauchi from Miami University, one of the country’s leading experts in ancient history. This is what he told Strobel about the evidence that we have, even without scripture.

“We would know that first, Jesus was a Jewish teacher; second, many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; third, some people believed he was the Messiah; fourth, he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; fifth, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; sixth, despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by A.D. 64; and seventh, all kinds of people from the cities and countryside – men and women, slave – and free, worshiped him as God.”

All of this without the Bible! The evidence is overwhelming!

So, what does this mean for you? I know what it means to me…it’s true! It’s all true! He is risen, He’s alive!

I said at the beginning, that this could be an unbelievable story. It’s a story that some would only say could come out of Hollywood or a bestselling author. But it is the story told by the Author of life, the creator of the cosmos. Paul writes that the cross is foolishness to those who don’t believe. It doesn’t make sense to them, but it does to us. To us it is the power of God, the salvation of God, and the promise of the everlasting.

Be Still: Confession

Be-Still-ConfessionWe have been traveling this journey through Lent while studying some spiritual disciplines so that we can “Be still and know God.” Today we come to confession and then the result, which is forgiveness. Let me first say that at the very heart of God is a strong desire to give, as well as forgive. How can we not see this through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ?

Let me tell you today; God wants to forgive you. Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve said, wherever you’ve been, God wants to tell you this morning that it doesn’t matter. Confess all of that stuff to God and let him take care of it. Let the forgiveness of God wash over you and give you the new life that is promised to you.

Now, there are three things needed when we begin talking about confession.

We need to have an examination of conscience. We need to reflect on our lives and our actions, allowing not only ourselves to examine them, but also God. We need to allow God into all areas of our lives, all those dark places, all those hidden spots that we don’t want anyone else to see. Know that God sees all, but we still must confess in order to be forgiven.

There needs to be sorrow. We need to have a contrite heart, a heart that has a desire to do and say the right things. We need to feel sorrow for the times when we don’t. This is how we know that we are really repentant. This is how we know that we truly desire forgiveness. Peter, after denying Jesus three times, weeps and runs away. Sorrow grabbed a hold of him and he knew that he had done something terribly wrong.

And finally, there needs to be a determination to avoid sin. John Wesley once said; “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God…such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.”

We need to have in our hearts, a disgust for sin. We need to fear it so much that when we are in the very presence of it, we do all we can to avoid it. We need to speak out against it. Whether it is in our own lives or of those around us. Identify it, fear it, run from it, confess and eliminate it from your life.

Confession is naming all of those places in our lives when we have fallen short of the glory of God; all those times when we have sinned against God. We hear the prodigal son proclaim that to his father as he tells him; “Father, I have sinned against God and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

The son confesses, face to face, with his father. He tells him all that he has done, and that he no longer feels worthy. He no longer feels worthy to be called a son, a relative, or a friend. The son now wants to be treated like a servant. But the father does something amazing. He tells the other to put a ring on his son’s finger, get a nice robe for him, and killed the fatted calf because they were going to celebrate that night. For this son who was lost is now found, he has returned, and the father sacrifices everything for him. He sacrifices his reputation, more of his estate, and risks relationships with other members of the family.

As the son returns home, the father sees him far off and runs to him, grabbing him and wrapping his arms around him. This is the sign of Agape love, an unconditional, extravagant, and maybe even reckless love. And this is a story about how God loves us! He loves us so much, that he sacrifices everything in order to regain the relationship he once had with humanity. To reconcile each one of us back to him. God puts everything on the line to make it possible for us to confess and be forgiven. God spared no expense, no reputation, set no limits on welcoming us back to that relationship. God sent his only son, to die. God sacrificed Jesus Christ, for our sake. Jesus died on the cross so that you and I could be forgiven. It’s already been done. Why would we want to push that aside, thinking that we can handle this life on our own, when we don’t have to.

Jesus willingly gave up his life so that we can approach, confess, and be forgiven of all that we’ve done wrong. This isn’t a guilt trip, because we’re all in the same boat. Paul tells us that we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God, we’ve all sinned. But we don’t have to live in our sin. We have a loving God that desires to forgive us, that desires to reconcile us to him, that desires to welcome us home, put a family ring on our hand, a robe on our back, and throw a huge party in our honor. All this because of the forgiveness that is offered on the cross by the spotless lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

Be-Still-SolitudeWe are a week closer to Easter, but still in the midst of our Lenten journey. As we focus on spiritual disciplines during this time, we want to look at the discipline of solitude. What do you think about when you hear about a discipline called ‘solitude?’ Does it sound good, enjoyable, or maybe for you it’s painful? Maybe for those who have young kids, solitude might sound like a really good idea at times. I know that as our girls were growing up, having birthday sleepovers, fighting with each other, or just talking non-stop, I would welcome moments that I could spend in complete silence. While those who have an ‘empty nest’ where the kids have moved out, or maybe those of you who have lost a spouse and are now living alone, it may seem like you spend most of your days in solitude and silence, and it’s not very appealing. You want more noise in your world. The silence can be deafening. In our interconnected, noisy, and distracting world, solitude might seem a bit scary. The first time I heard about this, the only thing I could think of was solitary confinement, and that doesn’t sound very attractive. But maybe it’s getting more appealing in our society. Have you heard about one of the latest trends, sensory deprivation tanks?

There are storefronts popping up in many places with the purpose of selling you some time in one of these tanks that will deprive you of all your senses. It is an enclosed tank, filled with about a foot of salt water in which you climb in and float, in complete silence and darkness. I admit, this sounds pretty interesting. It was first though of by a scientist in the 1950’s but only recently has taken off for the general public. They say there are benefits like increasing cardio-vascular health, lowering anxiety levels, improving your creativity, and overall making you happier. The sessions are about an hour long and allows you to completely center yourself by eliminating all of your other senses. Some of you may be thinking that this sounds like torture, not very relaxing at all. While others are probably looking on their phones right now to find the closest place. FYI, it’s in Madison, Wisconsin.

Although sensory deprivation tanks may be a bit too extreme, I think it points to a necessary need that we all have. We desire to spend a little time in solitude. It has benefits. Jesus knew this. It is described so many times in scripture when Jesus took some time away from the business of ministry. In the gospel of Mark, chapter 6 verse 30-34, we find Jesus feeding the five thousand. But just before this passage, we hear about John the Baptist being killed and the disciples returning from their mission to preach the gospel and heal all over the area.

Knowing that they had just returned, and that John the Baptist was just killed, Jesus tells them to get in the boat and go away with him to a place of solitude. Get away from the crowds that were gathering around them. There were so many, they couldn’t even eat in peace. It is said that this desolate place was where they were headed, but the time they spent on the boat, was a time of rest. When they got to the place, the crowd had followed and gathered there. But notice that when they got off the boat, Jesus had compassion on them. Would he have been able to have as much compassion before they into the boat? Well, maybe Jesus would have, but how about the disciples, how about you? Would you have been as compassionate with the people?

Time away, spent in solitude, helps us to achieve this state of mind. It helps us in our relationship with God. Solitude is good for our souls. Solitude will help to give us clarity is decision making. When we spend this time away, we center ourselves on hearing the voice of God. It is incredibly important when you are in the process of making big decisions.

There was a time when I was at my parent’s camping trailer in Whitewater while I was discerning a call into ministry. It was after a day of silence, reading, meditating, and listening that I felt this presence come over me. It was a chill the washed over me as I was looking out over the lake, even though it was pretty warm that day. I will never forget that feeling. That chill.

Solitude helps us find our inner peace, lower our anxiety levels, and put us in a right frame of mind. Jesus loved being in boats and so do I. When I am able to be alone in a boat, fishing, I feel the stresses of this world melt away. The repetitive nature of casting the line in the water and retrieving it again, soothes my soul. Many times, while coming in from the water, people will ask how the fishing went, did you catch anything? My response really is; “it doesn’t matter, it is always good. Fish or no fish.” I come back relaxed, refocused on life.

My advice for today is to get away, it will do you good. And know this, the person that will emerge from this time alone will be different than the one going in.

Be Still: Meditation

Be-Still-MeditationCarl Jung once said; “Hurry is not of the Devil, it IS the Devil.” Slowing down in this hurry up life is not only useful, it is essential. So, how do we slow down? How do we slow the pace of life? Do we want to slow down?

For the many ways our society has “advanced,” I see a deeper need to find the quiet places, those spaces where we can truly reflect on God wonderful design for us and this world. We have so many technological devices to make our lives easier, faster, more efficient, more productive, but we still seem to be lacking something foundational. We are missing a deep understanding of our creator. Our relationship with God is stagnant, or worse yet, possibly fading away. With all the information around us and the ease of access, we may begin to feel that we have no need for God. Nothing can be further from the truth. But how do we get it back?

I think we can do this by an intentional focus on spiritual disciplines. This is one of the reasons for this Lenten worship series about being still. I hope that through this series, you are able to find one or more that resonate with you, and that you can implement them into your faith journey.

Today I want to look at Christian meditation. Like some of the other spiritual disciplines, meditation includes some of the others. We can see this in the examples Jesus gives us. In his short years of ministry, Jesus was a busy man. He was sought out by many for healing and teaching. He was desired for appearances everywhere. Jesus couldn’t get away from the people as they followed him everywhere.

But that didn’t stop Jesus from taking time to be with God the Father. We hear about the times when Jesus would take time to go up the mountain to pray. He would spend a little quiet time in a garden having a conversation with God. And of course, my favorite, he got out into a boat to be alone. Certainly, this involved the spiritual discipline of prayer, but it could also have included meditation.

Christian meditation is all about hearing God’s voice! It’s about taking the time to listen for the voice of God in your life. Jesus tells us that in order to do this, we need to abide in God. Jesus tells us; “Abide in me, and I in you.” When we abide in Jesus, he in turn abides in us. When we abide in God, God abides in us. So, when we abide in God, we are more apt to hear God’s voice. Jesus tells us that if we abide in him and in his words, we can ask for anything, and it will be done for us. But we must abide in him.

Christian meditation os one way of abiding in God. Now, let me be clear, Christian meditation is not the practice of emptying of the mind as we hear from some of the eastern religions with the focus of this meditation on clearing of a person’s mind, attempting to find absolute peace, bliss, or nirvana. Christian meditation is the practice of filling the mind with God, an intentional focus on the glory of God.

Some say that it is too difficult. I guess I can understand this as there are many times that I have tried this and the pace of life around me interferes with my focus. I begin to think about what is on my to do list, all those things that I forgot to do last week, or what might be coming up next week. Truly, this discipline is not difficult, it just takes practice.

Some will even say that this kind of discipline is out of touch with today’s world. In a space where time is a commodity and one that we should not waste, we feel that if we pause for just a moment, we are a failure. Society tells us that we should be constantly moving, even if we are on vacation. But I would say this is just the reason to practice this discipline. It is counter-cultural, but that just what Jesus taught. We are to be in the world, not of the world.

Finally, Christian meditation is not psychological manipulation. It’s not something you do with the intent to have physical or psychological benefits. That’s not the goal. The goal is to find the space where you can encounter the living God and hear the still small voice.

Christian meditation is not about exploring our subconscious but entering into a divine-human encounter. It is about coming face to face with the living God. It is a desire to hear God’s voice. Frederick Faber once wrote: “Only to sit and think of God, Oh, what a joy it is! To think the thought, to breathe the Name, earth has no higher bliss.”

Be still and know that I am God.

Be Still – Simplicity

Be-Still-SimplicityThere was this story of a farmer who had lived on the same farm all his life. Sound familiar? Well, it was a good farm, but with the passing years, the farmer began to get tired of it. He longed for a change, for something “better.” Every day he found a new reason for criticizing some feature of the old place. Finally, he decided to sell it, and listed the farm with a real estate broker who promptly prepared a sales advertisement. As one might expect, it emphasized all the farm’s advantages: ideal location, modern equipment, healthy stock, acres of fertile ground, etc.

Before placing the ad in the newspaper, the realtor called the farmer and read the ad copy to him to make sure it met with his approval. When he had finished, the farmer cried out; “Hold everything! I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to sell. I’ve been looking for a place like that all my life.”

The farmer thought the grass was greener on another side, another farm. He didn’t realize what he had, until it was pointed out to him. He realized that he should have been content with what he already had, because it was good, it was worthy, and it was his.

Philippians chapter 4, verse 11 says; “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” How content are you? I know this is not a normal conversation to have in this world. We are constantly bombarded by images and words that tell us that we need to have more, that we deserve more, that our life is not complete without the next big thing. So, talking about being content with what we have is counter-cultural. It’s not normal.

Philip Yancey wrote; “I’ve become more convinced than ever that God finds ways to communicate with those who truly seek him, especially when we lower the volume of the surrounding static.” He talked about someone who was truly seeking a deeper spiritual life and so, trying to interrupt this busy life, he decided to spend a few days in a monastery. He was introduced to one of the resident monks who told him as he showed him his room; “I hope your stay is a blessed one. If you need anything, let me know and I’ll teach you how to live without it.”

We live in a world of excess. We see it all around us. We might even walk through it every day in our homes. If I asked you how much clutter you have, can you honestly say that you have none? Maybe some of you do, and that’s great! But there are many of us who can’t answer that question well. The spiritual discipline of simplicity can help us with our lives of clutter, overscheduled-ness, and feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted. Now, I’m not asking you to live like monks without anything, but to simplify your life by eliminating some of the things that you don’t need.

During the 40 days of Lent, some people have taken on this discipline by filling 40 bags in 40 days. They will go through their house, room by room, closet by closet, and remove as much stuff as they can during Lent, donating the items after Easter.

Some of you know who Marie Kondo is. For those of you who don’t, she is a lovely Japanese woman who helps people with clutter, simplify their lives. She has a program on Netflix called “Tidying Up” where in about a half hour show, she is able to introduce a plan for people to reduce the things they own. Her plan is pretty simple, but difficult. It is all about finding joy.

Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 2:22-23; “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain, even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.” All our working, day and night, if it doesn’t bring joy, its meaningless. I would even say that its more than that. I think it had the potential to harm us. Yes, I know there are jobs that are not the most glamorous, not viewed by society as important, but there are people who find joy in them. And when you find joy in what you, it ceases to become work. It becomes part of your life, and it is not meaningless.

I am reminded of a very special person who always brings a smile to my face, and she is just doing her job. But she does it with such enthusiasm, such joy, that it becomes infectious. I don’t know her name, but some of you may, but every time I hear her voice welcome me to Walmart in Freeport, I can’t help but smile and greet her back. Some may think it’s a meaningless job, but I see her as fulfilling a part of God’s plan by demonstrating joy in the everyday! How do you feel about your job? Are you able to find the joy in what you do?

When we find that joy, we begin to live into God’s plan for our lives. We find joy in the everyday. We find joy in our jobs, in our things, and in our activities. This is God’s desire for us, to find all that sparks joy in our lives.

Be Still: Study

Be-Still-StudyWe at Lanark United Methodist Church, are in the middle of our Lenten Series of “Be Still: A Lenten Journey of Spiritual Disciplines.” We’ve already talked about how prayer can be a discipline of spiritual growth, and now we look at another foundational discipline, study.

As Christians, we are called to a continual growth in our faith and knowledge of God. It’s not like we make a decision to follow Jesus and then “poof” everything is good, all falls into place, and we have no other worries, or frankly, no other questions about who we are following or what it means for us. Think of it this way, you are fresh out of high school, and you have finally decided what you want to do with the rest of your life. Maybe you want to be a teacher, a doctor, work in manufacturing, maybe sales, administrative assistants, or countless other fields you can work in. Do you make the decision and then begin working, like you’ve been doing it all your life? Probably not. There’s usually some training involved. You need to get to know the company you are working for, the people who lead and manage, your bosses. And that’s after you spend so much time in school learning about the field you’re going into.

When we decide to follow Jesus, and we give our lives over to his grace and guidance, we quickly realize that we don’t know everything. In fact, it’s at that moment that we realize just how much we don’t know, other than the great love He has for us. We want to learn more.

This comes through learning all about God. This comes through studying. This comes through reading the bible, devotionals, and Christian classics by wonderful theologians over the years. But how do we do this? Is there a process, a plan, a schedule? Is there an organizational chart that shows what days you should read, how much time you should spend, and what material you need to read? Yes, and no.

In order to find out more about God, who God is, what God desires, how God acts, judges, and loves, we need to dig into the word. We need to intentionally take the time to read the bible, to digest it, to listen to what is being said and how it affects our lives. We want to know what all these stories mean for us. If you’re wondering where to begin, my answer would be that there are many ways to read the bible. So, you need to find a path that works for you. You may want to start in Genesis, the first book, and read through the bible from cover to cover. Others might like to start with the gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There really is no wrong way of reading the bible.

Here’s what I fully believe. The Bible is the living Word of God. It speaks to us, right where we are. There are times when I read a certain passage that I will hear one thing on Monday and something completely different on Friday. It depends on where I am and what God wants to say to me at that particular time. Now, don’t get me wrong, scripture passages don’t change, and overall meanings of the texts stay the same, but different verses will stand out to me at different times.

There was a story of a time when the preacher’s car broke down on a country road. He walked to a nearby roadhouse to use the phone. After calling for a tow truck, he spotted his old friend, Frank, drunk and shabbily dressed at the bar. “What happened to you, Frank?” asked the good reverend. “You used to be rich.” Frank told a sad tale of bad investments that had led to his downfall. “Go home,” the preacher said. “Open your Bible at random, stick your finger on the page and there will be God’s answer.”

Sometime later, the preacher bumped into Frank, who was wearing a Gucci suit, sporting a Rolex watch and had just stepped out of a Mercedes. “Frank.” said the preacher, “I am glad to see things really turned around for you.” “Yes, preacher, and I owe it all to you,” said Frank. “I opened my Bible, put my finger down on the page and there was the answer — Chapter 11.”

As funny as that is, I need to let say that there have been times when I was struggling and needed to hear a word from God. After some prayer, I just asked God to speak through scripture. I took my bible and opened it up, right to a passage that spoke to my need at that time. This doesn’t happen all the time, and I don’t want it to seem like it’s a granted wish thing, but it was still there. We need to be open to hearing God speak through scripture, but in order to do that, we need to spending time reading it.

Our bibles can’t be just sitting on a shelf, collecting dust. We have to open it, we have to read it, we have to study it. This is one way that we are able to hear God speak to us, it is one place we are able to get guidance for our lives.

Be Still – Prayer

Be-Still-PrayerHow is your prayer life? Is it just before big family meals on holidays, only on Sundays during worship, or maybe only when someone else is offering a prayer in your presence.

Let me ask you a question; how confident are you in your prayers? Really, when you pray for something, does it usually go like this… “God I’m really hurting right now. I’m in pain, I feel lost, I am struggling financially, emotionally, spiritually. So God, if you have a moment, can you help me out here? Please? I know you have a lot of other people to help right now, so I understand if you are too busy and can’t help right now and frankly, I’m not sure if I deserve your help anyway. But if you can find it in your heart to help, I would appreciate it.”

That doesn’t sound very confident, does it. It reminds me of a story.

Three farmers gathered daily during a horrible drought. The men were down on their knees, praying that the sky would open up and pour rain down on them. The heavens were silent, however, and the farmers became discouraged. But they continued to pray every morning.

One morning a stranger asked the men what they were doing. They said; “We’re praying for rain.”

The stranger looked at each of them and shakes his head. “I don’t think so.”

The first farmer said, “We are down on our knees, pleading for rain. Look around; see the drought. We haven’t had rain in more than a year.

The stranger said they’re efforts won’t work.

The second farmer said, “We need the rain; we aren’t asking only for ourselves, but for our families and livestock.”

The stranger still wasn’t impressed. “You’re wasting your time,” he said.

The third farmer in anger says, “What would you do if you were in our shoes!”

“You really want to know?” the stranger asked.

“Yes, we really want to know!” the farmers said.

The stranger said; “I would have brought an umbrella!”

How confident are your prayers? Do you have the confidence of praying for rain, so that you need to bring your umbrella? Our prayers need to be filled with expectation. Many times, in my prayers, I bring up the past. Now, this is not good to do in arguments with your spouse, but in moments of prayer, it is certainly alright. Proclaim God’s power in answered prayers of the past. This can be from scripture, or even from your personal life.

One way of knowing about your answered prayers, is by keeping a prayer journal. Write your prayers out on a journal and keep them. You can go back a couple of months or even a couple of years and read prayer requests that have either been answered, or, to your benefit, unanswered. This will also help with your confidence in prayer. You start to see where God is working in your prayer life, and then you want more. You want to keep your prayers going, you want to pray without ceasing. You begin to pray all day long, while you’re driving, while you’re working, when you get up, just before bed, anytime of the day.

Let me wrap this up with just a couple more thoughts.

Prayer is not complicated. Prayer is a simple conversation. Jesus tells us to not be like the those who like to stand up in public, lifting lengthy and wordy prayers so they can be seen by others. Be like the tax collector who humbly bowed his head and cried out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” God wants to talk to you, have a conversation with you. Will you talk to him today?

The late Mr. Rogers once visited a teenager with cerebral palsy. At first the boy was so nervous about the visit that he began hitting himself. His mother had to take him to another room. Mister Rogers waited patiently, and when the boy came back, the star of children’s television asked the boy, “Would you do something for me,” Mister Rogers said. “Will you pray for me?”

The boy was shocked because nobody had ever asked him for something like that. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers. At first he didn’t know if he could do it, but then he said he would try.

From then on, the boy kept Mister Rogers in his prayers. He didn’t talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figured Mister Rogers was close to God, and if Mister Rogers liked him, that must mean that God liked him too.

When Mister Rogers was asked how he knew what to say to make the boy feel better, he said, “I didn’t ask prayers for him; I asked them for me. I asked because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked because I wanted his intercession.”

Who do you want praying for you?

Prayer BackgroundBut God. Those two words that are so powerful in our lives. I especially think about these words when it comes to prayer.

Abram was worried that he would not have any children that could carry on the family bloodline. He wanted heirs, sons. I hear in Genesis chapter 15 a conversation with God. Here is a beautiful view into a prayer from Abram. I can hear the pain in his voice as Abram cries out to God; “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house in Eliezer of Damascus?”

Abram is asking God for a miracle. You see, Abram is quite old at this time and his wife Sarai is past her childbearing years. But the voice of God comes; “This man shall not be your heir, your very own son shall be your heir.” Great news, but how is this going to happen given the fact of the age of Abram and Sarai? It seems impossible.

But God.

Where have you been in your prayer life lately? Have you been asking God for something that seems impossible, something so outside the box, that you might not believe God will answer? Is it something that because of everything you know about your circumstance, you just know that it can’t possible come? If you think about it, all that Abram knew about his situation told him that having a child was impossible. He was pretty old, Sarai was too old to have kids anymore, and he wasn’t going to find another wife. It was impossible. But God.

I had this vision and dream of a marriage retreat, one that I believe God placed on my heart. But every time I thought about it, I thought that it would be impossible. I could never pull this off, so I kept putting on the ‘back burner’ waiting but thinking that it would never happen. But God.

God had other plans. Through the help of the leadership team at Lanark UMC and long hours and always encouraging words of my wife, Sherry, we were able to bring this prayer to life. Because God had the original plan. As I prayed for couples and marriage relationships all over, God spoke about giving them some help. This prayer was the catalyst for the Thrive Marriage Enrichment retreat.

Abram prayed, actually had a conversation with God, about having children. And even in both his and wife’s old age, God blessed them with Isaac. When every thing seemed impossible, God entered. Where in your prayer life to you need to see that with God, all things are possible?