Answer the Why

We have spoken about fight time. That magical moment when it is go time. We have also looked at what we can do when the going gets hard. Those times when we feel like quitting or we if not quitting when we just don’t understand why it has to be so hard. This week I want to look at why. Why do it at all?

In the Bible (Luke 7:36-50) there is this story about a woman who washes Jesus feet with perfume and tears. When I read this story, I cannot help but stand in awe. I stand in awe of Jesus who loved her, I stand in awe of the woman who wept her tears on His feet, and I stand in awe at the religious who would have cast her aside. This woman serves as an inspiration and an example to me.

She is an inspiration because she did not care who else was around. She was going to give the Master the respect that was due to Him. She did not care what was going on or who might see her. She knew who she was, and she knew what she was doing. She was a sinner. She knew this. Simon the Pharisee knew it. More importantly, Jesus knew this. It does not say what her sin was that got her labeled a sinner, but it does say that her sins were many. I think that the simple label of sinner is for our benefit. She was a sinner that is all we know. Is it not the same with us?

We are all sinners. Don’t take that as an attack or an accusation from me. It is just a simple statement of fact. It would be the same as me saying we are all human. We sin. Sin is anything that goes against the nature of a holy and perfect God. It is not an attack but a statement. It doesn’t really matter what your sin is. Some are big and some are small. Some carry more consequence than others, but we are all relatively in the same boat. We all sin against God. The point I want to make is this woman knew that but more importantly, she knew what to do about it.

What good does it do to know you have a problem if you are not willing to do anything about it? If I find out I have some illness that does not really help me. I need to know what the illness is and how to fix it. I broke my wrist once. It was swollen and I was in a good amount of pain. Because I had never broken anything before, I thought it was just a bad sprain. After some encouragement from my wife, I went to the hospital and low and behold I had a broken wrist. That was good information. Bad situation but good info. My first question was “ok now what?” I needed to know what to do with the information I had.

This woman had the information. She was a sinner. That did not help her. Knowing you are a sinner, knowing that you are separated from God, knowing that the entire community looks down on you, knowing that you cry yourself to sleep does not help. Knowing what to do about that problem does. So, she went to Jesus because she had heard all about Him. She had heard about how He went around healing people. She heard stories about how He healed the lepers, restored sight to the blind, and healed withered hands but she also heard that He forgave sins. This woman came to Jesus and washed His feet with her tears and perfume before He ever said I forgive you. She was confident that He would because of what she heard about Him.

When I think about the question, why missions the only answer I can come up with is because both Christ and you are worth it. I cannot stand that some people don’t have that confidence in Jesus. There are all sorts of theological reasons and I could give you some, but the simple truth is that there are so many people who have never heard His name or know that He loves them. That even while we were sinners Christ died for the ungodly. Why missions? Because they have to know, and I have to tell them. There are millions and billions of people who don’t know the story of Jesus. There are millions and billions of people who don’t know that God loves them. How can I be expected to sit in my home and do nothing about this? I was once a person who did not know this. I know what it is like to feel alone and outcast. But not anymore. So why missions? Because Jesus and you are worth it. Because I must!

What about you? Can you answer your why question? Why are you involved in the ministry you are involved in? Or why are you not involved? You have to be able to answer the question of why? God does not create sideline Christians. We are all called to serve in some area. Some are called to multiple areas, but we are all called.

Just a thought,

Mike

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Praying in the Tension

A little while ago we spoke about Fight Time. It is the idea that there comes a time when the bell rings and its go time. We spoke about how we fight from a place of victory in Christ and being sealed with the Holy Spirit. We also mentioned how the fight is a fight and it can be hard. Today I think we should pick back up on that idea of tension. Specifically, I think we should look at praying in the tension.

When the bell rings there is this initial excitement where we are ready to go and have the faith to move mountains. We are ready for whatever the world, the enemy, or our flesh throws at us. Like He-man we proclaim, “I have the power!” but the problem is that same excitement and proclamation of power does not last. Maybe after a week, two weeks, three weeks, or four weeks we start to get tired. We wonder why the victory is not yet won. We start to question what God said. We start to wonder if we missed something. Surely if God was speaking, He would have wrapped this up by now. Surely if God was in this it would be easier right?

Well no, not necessarily. The tension we feel between what God said and what we see could be part of the plan. It could be that God is using this tension for a purpose. Honestly, I don’t want to list possible reasons why because I don’t want you to limit God, but He can use the tension for His glory and purposes.

The Apostle Paul has some words of encouragement for us. Writing to the church in Philippi from prison he says, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil 1:12). Paul was in jail for doing exactly what God told him to do. He was following the path placed before him and it got him locked up. I am guessing that Paul had his moments of wrestling with the tension of following God’s call and being in jail. A few verses later after talking about how people are trying to make it worse for him, he says, “yes, and I will rejoice” (1:18b). There is tension there, but Paul was praying through and telling us to pray through the tension.

It is not easy, and I am going through it right now, but we have to keep coming back to the place of praying through the tension between what God has said and what we see. One the first Bible verses I ever learned was Numbers 23:19 which says “God is not a man that He should lie nor a son of man that He should repent. Has He not said, and will He not do, or has He not spoken, and will He not make it good?” the verse has always come back to me as a reminder that God is God and I am not. I cannot understand His ways, but I can trust Him.

I believe that one of the reasons God allows the tension is so that we will keep coming back to Him. The tension is hard, but it is necessary. For me, I can see part of the reason is for humility. It is humbling to ask for help. It is humbling to ask for support. It is humbling to not be able to accomplish the task on my own. So, I accept the tension. I don’t really want it but I accept it because I trust that God is good. If we are going to fight then we have to accept that God is good because He is the one leading the battle, and He is the source of strength. So, the tension is real but so is God. Pray in the tension. Pray to the God of peace. Use the tension to draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

Just a thought,

Mike

Expert Status…

I have heard that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert. That is a lot of hours. To put it into perspective if you wanted to become an expert at guitar or piano and played for 4 hours every day it would take 2,500 days to be an expert. That is almost 7 years to reach expert status. That is no breaks, no sick days, and no vacations. 4 hours every day for almost 7 years. That also does not take into account everything you need to learn to practice the new stuff. Things like reading up on new chords, scales, or whatever. Obviously, I am not an expert (I cannot even play). But I think we get the picture. Expert status takes a drive, dedication, determination, and time. It does not happen overnight. But why am I talking about becoming an expert at playing an instrument? I am not, I just wanted to put the idea in perspective.

I do want to talk about becoming expert Christians. More specifically what it means for you to be an expert in your walk with Christ. I say your walk because each one of us should be striving for expert status in our walk with Christ. We should be the foremost leading expert (besides God Himself) on all things pertaining to our walk with Christ. If we use the 10,000-hour rule as a guide we can add in the things we are actually doing to practice our walk and see when we can expect to reach expert status.

My initial thought was “I always have the Holy Spirit in me so subtract sleep and divide.” WOW, that was simple – 588 days or 1.6 years. But then I found a problem. I don’t remember being an expert in my walk with Christ all those years ago. In fact, I am still learning things.

The Bible is not silent on this 2 Corinthians 8:7, for example, says that we should “excel in everything—faith, speech, knowledge.” So it seems clear that we cannot become an expert just by existing as Christians. That would be nice but it does not seem to actually work. Well, maybe it makes a good hypocrite but that’s another story…

Instead, I want to offer three categories that I think we need to practice to help reach expert status. Also, I am going to keep the bad/good news for the end.

First up is obedience because I think a lot of the things we are supposed to practice fall into the obedience category. Giving, for example, is about obedience. Serving is another item that deals with obedience. Come to think of it the Bible is so insistent on obedience that it says that obedience is better than sacrifice. It also Jesus was obedient to the point of death. Obedience is like John says “walking as He (Jesus) walked.” That means obedience is pretty high up on the list of things to practice. So how much obedience do we need to do to reach our 10,000 hours? My guess is roughly 10,000 hours. Yeah, I don’t think we can split this one up. Sorry, it is a one for one ratio on obedience. So let’s make the math simple and say that overall each obedient act counts as one hour because some are longer and some much shorter. We only need 10,000 acts of obedience. That’s really not too bad. If we do one obedient act a day we can become experts in 27 years. But there is a problem.

The problem is it is not just about obedience. There are two other major categories and the next one is discipleship. I thought about maybe putting this one with obedience but Jesus was pretty insistent on this one thing before He ascended back to heaven so I think it should get its own practice hours. Mind you this is not evangelism. You cannot just say well I told 10,000 people so I met my hours. Sorry, wrong answer. Discipleship is taking time to invest in the spiritual formation and maturity of other believers. Discipleship is about being involved in other peoples lives and allowing them to be involved in yours. It is a process and as such, it takes time to complete these hours. So the question – what’s the ratio. Come on Mike how many hours of discipleship do I need to complete to reach expert status? Well, let’s keep this train rolling and say it’s one-to-one. So 10,000 hours or one hour a day or 27 years of discipling others and you have your hours. Again that is no breaks, vacations, or time off. But still, it’s a number.

Lastly, we come to prayer. Prayer is time between you and God. Paul says we should be praying always so there is a good reason to pray. The Bible is full of commands to pray, examples about prayer, stories of God hearing prayers. Jesus even taught the 12 to pray. I would suggest that not only is prayer a big deal it is a progressive act. The more we pray the more we need to pray. The more focused and disciplined our prayers become the more focus and discipline they need to be for us. One of my favorite passages on prayer is when Jesus says that we should keep asking, keep knocking, and keep seeking. I find that very confusing and very exciting. We have to continue to pray. In the beginning, only praying I want prayers is OK. Nothing wrong with that. It is like learning to walk and holding onto the couch or learning to ride a bike with training wheels. It is perfectly OK. But at some point, our prayers need to shift into something deeper. Something more intimate. Our prayer life reflects our spiritual maturity. So can you guess what the ratio is? Go ahead guess… That’s right it’s one-to-one. You might be thinking that this is an easy one right but the problem is the more you pray the more God delights in you and the more He refines you. The more you pray and grow in prayer the deeper your intimacy with Him becomes. The number might as well be 6 billon because the more you pray the more you become dependent on God. Besides, do you feel you have given 10,000 hours of prayer?

In the end, at best we can become experts at what it means for us to be a Christian in 27 years if we practice every single day. No breaks, no vacations, no sick days. This is nearly impossible. Nearly. The joyful thing is that the journey is part of the process. Learning what it means to be obedient, helping others in their walk with Christ, praying and leaning into the Father is the Christian life. That is what it is about. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians that was written towards the end of his life that he had not reached the goal of being fully mature or an expert but that he is pushing forward towards the goal. We keep moving forward and driving towards the end goal of maturity in Christ.

Just a thought,

Mike

Old Prayer are not obsolete

One way to help remember the truth of God is to recite old prayers. Some of these prayers have been around for hundreds of years and some for much longer. Some of these prayers are calls to remember, some are confessions of faith, and some are theological statements designed to conform our mental wills to God.

By reciting and praying them we are doing a few things. First, we are joining with millions of other Christians throughout the years who have called on God. We are intentionally giving ourselves over to something bigger than us and connecting ourselves to that thing. We are saying we stand with believers we will never know but confessing that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. Have you ever quoted a movie you love and watched someone get the reference? Instantly there is a connection because the two of you share an affinity with something beyond your individual selves.

Second, we are conforming our minds to truths that have been passed down for years. We are making prayer statements and sometimes taking the guesswork out what to say when we pray. Sometimes it is hard to be bold in prayer so by joining in and making these statements you are boldly approaching the throne of grace. We give ourselves over to statements and make them our own. We give God room to inhabit the prayer of His people.

All of this is designed to help us remember that God is in us and that He has revealed Himself to us. In praying old prayers and standing with other Christians and we can conform ourselves to that truth. We can be reminded that God is in us working to achieve in us something amazing.

 

Lords Prayer:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen

Prayer of St Columba:
Be a bright flame before me, O God
a guiding star above me.
Be a smooth path below me,
a kindly shepherd behind me
today, tonight, and forever.
Alone with none but you, my God
I journey on my way;
what need I fear when you are near,
O Lord of night and day?
More secure am I within your hand
than if a multitude did round me stand.
Amen.

Doxology:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host:
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

Posture and Prayer

So, what do posture and prayer have in common and why am I talking about them? First, I am not talking about the posture during prayer even though that might be a fun conversation. Instead, I was thinking about how posture and prayer are similar. I should probably explain…

I have horrible posture. It probably comes from sitting at a desk for years. I find that no matter where I am sitting I try to find ways to prop myself up. I put my elbows on my knees or I lean against something. I honestly have to constantly remind myself to stop slouching, sit up straight, get my elbows off the table, and so on. I am actively working on this, but it is a process. Even as I sit here and type this I am noticing more and more that my posture is horrid.

Now I am not a doctor, but I think good posture helps with all sorts of things from digestion and maybe even better abs. I honestly have no idea, but I do know that it does not feel right to slouch all the time and I am sure that because it is so hard to stop slouching I should probably stop. Besides people say things like “stop slouching, stand up straight.” Maybe if I stop slouching and using other things to support myself my back might start feeling better too.

This morning as I was hunched over the bed drinking a cup of coffee I was thinking about prayer. I was thinking about how my prayer life is weak right now. Don’t get me wrong I pray but it is usually for stuff or for help. My real prayer time though, the time I spend with God just wanting to connect with Him is lacking. My time to just sit at His feet and hear from Him or feel His love. My time to reconnect with my Lord and Savior where I can find refreshment for my soul is lacking in a big way. Because of this, I find other ways to support myself. Usually, it is trying in my own strength to hold myself up. I try to control my schedule or use my own might and power to accomplish everything. I would not say that I am being led by the Spirit right now. Wow, that hurts to say.

In Deuteronomy chapter 6 we read the Shema. If you are not familiar with it the Shema is usually summed up “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” It is called the Shema because the first word is Shema and it is usually translated “hear” but Hebrew words usually carry a lot of meaning. The meaning in shema is hear but it is also listen and obey. It is a call to attentive and active hearing that leads to obedience. In prayer we hear, listen, and obey God. A weak posture is like a weak shema in that it leads to using other things to prop you up.

Prayer is our connection to God. It is among other things an exchange of our will for His. If we are not praying, we cannot hear. If we cannot hear we cannot listen. If we cannot listen, we cannot obey. If we cannot obey we become the lord of our own lives. That will not do. We must like proper posture find ways to stand strong in the right things even though it is hard. Even if we must sacrifice other things to stand properly. It is something that is a must.

I am convinced that my lack of quality prayer time leads to my time anxiety among other things. Because it is so hard to find time to pray and spend time hearing, listening, and obeying God I am sure that means I must. What about you. Do you shema?

Just a thought,

Mike

Will We Listen

If you read through the Bible you find that when God speaks things happen. Starting in Genesis we read that God spoke and the world was created. We read that God would flood the earth and He did. We read that God would confuse the language and He did. We read that God said Abraham and Sarah would have a child and they did. We read that the children of Israel would live in Egypt in slavery for 400 years and they did. We read that the older (Jacob and Esau) would serve the younger and he did. All of this and not only is this just the first book but this does not even cover it all.

It happens time and time again in the Bible that God speaks and things happen. Now we can get all excited and jump up and down about when God speaks for what we want to happen and we can call on God to speak in our favor but that is not the only type of speaking God does. We know how to handle that kind of speaking because we want that kind of speaking but can we be as excited and obedient when God speaks in other ways?

Sometimes God speaks and says no. Sometimes God speaks and tells us what we do not want to hear. David wanted to build a temple and God said no. That was still God speaking and it still happened the way God wanted. God spoke to Moses and told him he would not enter the promised land and that is how it happened. Both men obeyed and thankfully the outcome was good. But there are examples of God speaking and saying no to something but people not listening. Honestly, about half the Old Testament is the prophets telling Israel no or recounting the stories of their failures. God was still speaking in those situations.

Other times God speaks and says not now. He delays promise fulfillments and says there will be a delay because He is God. These are still examples of God speaking and the outcome is still as God says.

The truth is that God speaks and things happen but He is not always saying yes. In Isaiah 55:11 God says through Isaiah that His word does not return void but accomplishes what He sent it to do. We have to be as willing to receive the no and not yet as we are the yes.

It is the same as when God speaks about what will happen or answers prayer, He gives direction and calls us to something. In the Gospels, we read that Jesus called the disciples and they followed. We read that Jesus called Saul who was a persecutor of the church and he followed. We read that Paul (formerly Saul) had a thorn in the flesh and when he prayed for it to be removed God said no. That was still God speaking and Paul chose to listen.

My question to you and to me is do we listen we God says no or not yet. Are we willing to listen even when the answer is not what we want? One of my favorite biblical examples of this is Jerimiah 42 and 43. In chapter 42 the people come to Jerimiah and say ask God what we should do and we will do it. In chapter 43 they reject what Jerimiah says. They said they wanted to hear from God but what they wanted was to hear what they wanted. It is a dangerous game asking for God to speak because He might not tell us what we want to hear. The question is this: Are we willing to listen and obey?

Mike in a Box

I have an aversion to religious rituals in my life. This aversion is so strong I even call it ritualism. Anytime I think something might become a ritual I avoid it at all cost. I struggle with a consistent morning devotional because I am afraid I might just start going through the motions. I am afraid of losing the spiritual connection to the action so often times I avoid beginning it in the first place. I think to myself instead: Michael you have the Holy Spirit, you can pray and fellowship with God anytime. This is true I can pray and fellowship with God anytime I like, but do I?

Before I continue I want to let you know that I plan on using a few analogies and to remind you that analogies eventually break down. Some analogies are better than others and some hold up longer than others but that is their nature. An analogy can only go so far because they only have partial similarities and so it is with the ones I will use.

My aversion to rituals is, by and large, only affected by spiritual things. I brush my teeth every morning, I go to the gym most mornings, I wash my beard two times a week, and so on. Now you might be thinking that these things are not rituals but routines and you would be right they are routines. A routine as defined by Google – a sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program. Every morning I have the same routine: I wake up, get my robe, drink my coffee, read my emails, check the verse of the day, check Facebook, re-read the verse of the day because I forgot already, and so on. Same thing every morning. There are slight variations depending on the day but you get the picture. If I was the star of a TV show my morning routine could be the opening credits because it does not change.

Another routine I have is I go to the gym four days a week. I do different exercises each day but there is still a routine in there. I have thoughts about not going to the gym because I don’t feel like it, especially on Fridays, but I know it is good for me so I go. I am usually glad I did. So why if I can see the value of routines in my daily physical life am I so hesitant to put spiritual routines in place? Why do I call routines rituals in my my spiritual life? The answer is…I have no idea.

That is the point I hit about three weeks ago. I was dumbfounded at why one was seen as good and the other as bad. Yes setting aside specific prayer times could become dull and robotic but the same could happen at the gym. True my reading could turn into a “must” instead of a “want” but that can happen in any area. The reason it doesn’t is because of self-control and desire. I desire to get stronger or to learn an instrument. The desire trumps the problem of dullness. Then at times when the desire is not as strong self-control takes over and keeps me on track. Things do not become ritualistic because you choose to not allow that to happen. So I made a choice.

Three weeks ago I set three timers on my phone that simply say prayer time. When these timers go off I stop what I am doing (if I can) and take a couple of minutes to read something and pray. I am happy to say that most days I hit all three times. There are days when due to my schedule I simply cannot do it and that is OK. I still do my bigger readings and bigger prayer times but these three times are about stopping to refocus my attention on Christ. It is not about doing a Bible study or getting a breakthrough in an area of my life. It is simply about stopping to spend a few minutes with Jesus.

I was so afraid of putting God in a box that I did not realize something very important. While God does not belong in a box but I might. We are always told to think outside of the box, to be free with our worship, to live in the moment, and to listen to the Spirit. That is great and I try to be like that but what about self-control. What if you find yourself wanting to be like that but not having the time every day to do that. Am I always spontaneous with my wife? What about with my kids? No, because there are times when you need to make time for them. Times when you are busy. You want to spend time with your loved ones but your schedule does not allow for you to do something in the moment. In those times you have to be intentional about it. Our walk with Jesus is similar, we need to be intentional about it. Sometimes we need to put ourselves in a box so that we can do the thing we want to do.

So I have put myself in a box and I have to say it is more comfortable in here than I thought.

Just a thought,

Mike