Sunday, January 31, 2010
This is the second Sunday we have had to cancel church due to snow this winter. While I never like to cancel church, sometimes you just have to. Actually, it's nice to pause and reflect on a snowy day. It seems God gives us snow days in order to force us to slow down, take a break from the normal routine, enjoy family, and spend time with Him.
Since the pulpit will be vacant this morning, I thought I'd share a bit with you about what God has been doing in my life lately. Over the past several weeks, God has been renewing my soul. He had to bring me through some difficult times to do it, but I'm open to whatever it takes for God to have more of me. (You can never get more of God--He's given Himself completely to us, but you can give yourself more completely to Him.) I can see the Holy Spirit doing something new in my life--bringing me to a time of personal revival. I can also see God's Spirit going something new in our church--preparing us for something wonderful.
The first step in revival is prayer. No great move of God ever happened without the people of God first bathing themselves in prayer. In Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit swept through the gathered disciples and the church was first born, prayer ushered the Spirit in. Recently, God reminded me, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you (James 4:8)."
God has spoken into my heart, convincing me more than ever of my need to pray. Prayer is the foundation of a relationship with God. Nothing else is more central. It comes before church attendance (Of course it does, because the Holy Spirit needed the disciples to pray even before He created the church). It comes before reading the Bible (Of course it does--Abraham had no Bible to read, but his time in prayer drew him closer to God). Prayer is the heart of faith. Yet how often do Christians leave off the practice of prayer?
"Early African converts to Christianity were earnest and regular in private devotions. Each one reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where he would pour out his heart to God. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind the negligent one, 'Brother, the grass grows on your path' (Today in the Word, June 29, 1992)."
We need to pray. I need to pray. I've learned that I can't survive without it, any more than I can survive without food, water, clothing, and shelter. I wouldn't go a day without those, would I? Then why should I go a day without prayer? I know--you're going to say, "I pray throughout the day. Every time something comes up that I need to pray about, I stop and say a quick prayer." But that's not enough. How would it be if I said, "I don't need to eat meals--all I need to do is pop a few sunflower seeds into my mouth throughout the day"? I'd starve to death, wouldn't I?
Yes--I need a time of daily prayer. An inviolable time, apart from the distractions of the day, when God and I can be alone. According to Daniel Henderson, author of Fresh Encounters: Experiencing Transformation Through United Worship-Based Prayer, the average American Christian spends only six minutes a day in prayer. Six minutes! How can we possibly survive? How can the church possibly accomplish its mission? How can we experience true unity with God and one another like that? So I've committed myself to at least an hour of prayer each day.
For me, that works best first thing in the morning. I'm not naturally a morning person, so this is actually pretty difficult for me. I've tried other times, like during the day in my office at church, or during the day at home, but there are always distractions. Either the phone will ring, or my mind will wander to the other things that need to get done. I need to remind myself that prayer is the very first thing that needs to get done. It's more important than doing ministry, which is what my time during the day tends to be focused on. I've tried praying in the evenings, but of course my kids are home from school, and I'm focused on family. I've tried praying after everybody's in bed, but usually I'm too tired and I find myself falling asleep in prayer. So I've been setting my alarm for o-dark-thirty, getting up an hour before everybody else does, and spending that time in prayer.
It has become the sweetest part of my day. I hope Beth and the kids don't mind my saying that. They could get jealous, except that I think I'm a better husband and dad when I've started my day in prayer. I'm a better pastor when I've started my day in prayer. I find myself resisting temptation more effectively, thinking more clearly, experiencing more peace, and being more compassionate when I start my day in prayer. Our dinnertime family devotions are fantastic. But they can't replace my daily hour of prayer. Praying with people in hospital rooms, home visits, and counseling sessions can't replace my time of private prayer. Just as I don't allow my personal devotional Bible reading to get mixed up with sermon preparation time, so I don't allow my prayer time with others to replace my hour of prayer. I can't allow the quick sporadic prayers I express at a time of need to take the place of my hour of prayer. I need an hour each day, sitting in God's presence, expressing my heart to Him and listening to His voice. I've gotten to the point where I don't know how I ever survived without it.
And now, I invite you to join me.
I believe that God wants to do something great in your life. God wants to draw you close, meet your needs, show you His Spirit, and give you wisdom for godly decisions. he wants to begin a personal revival in your soul. God wants to bless your family, nourish your friends, revitalize your church, and even be present in your workplace--all through you! But He can only do this if you give Him more of you to do it with.
So I invite you to join me for an hour of prayer, each day.
Jesus said, "I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:19-20)." The good news is that if we covenant to pray together, we don't have to be physically present with one another in order to be spiritually present along with the Spirit of Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:4).
So over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to ask our church to covenant together--to pray for at least an hour a day, during Lent (February 17-April 4). Like me, you may choose to get up early in the morning, or you may prefer to pray late at night. You may even want to pray for half an hour, twice a day. Either way, I'll have covenant cards at church that we can all sign, or you can leave a comment on my blog, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. During Lent, you'll receive a daily email link to this blog, where I'll share an insight from my personal devotional time, or a teaching on prayer, or a word of encouragement. You'll only receive that email link if you sign up for it--I won't be sending it to every address on my church email list.
I hope you'll join me in prayer. As we covenant to pray together, I pray God will send His Holy Spirit sweeping through His church. I pray He'll renew your soul, give you power for each day, and draw us closer together as believers. May God bless you on this snowy day. May He draw us back together soon.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Spirit & Truth # 164
“Beauty Instead of Ashes”
By Rev. Greg Smith
“Beauty Instead of Ashes”
By Rev. Greg Smith
Haiti lies in rubble and ashes. Good people ask why. Why would God allow something like this to happen? The answers are hard to find. One noteworthy televangelist has said that Haiti deserved it, that they made a pact with the devil. Is this the cause? The last time I read the Bible, I found out that we all made a pact with the Devil, the moment we committed our first sin. And we’re still here. In fact, rather than sending an earthquake to devour us, God sent His Son to save us. God loves us. And God weeps.
When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept (John 11:35). He wept, not for the lost soul of the faithful friend, but for the lost physical life. He wept for the pain that Lazarus’ sisters felt. If Jesus could weep over the lost life of one whose soul was already in the presence of Almighty God, how much more does God weep over the lost souls who did not know Him! Yes, God weeps when tragedy like this takes place. And we should weep too. Rather than gloating and saying they deserve it, our hearts should be broken on behalf of the people of Haiti.
In Matthew 5:45, Jesus says that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” In Luke 13:4-5, Jesus said, “Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you no!” What Jesus is saying is that disasters happen. Of course, God can use disasters to judge people and nations, but when He does, He usually tells them about it, not some televangelist.
Isaiah 61:1-4 says, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of our God's vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the LORD, to glorify Him. They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore the former devastations; they will renew the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”
Jesus read this passage in the synagogue of Nazareth, saying, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4:21)." The scripture continues to be fulfilled when every believer carries on Christ’s work. I pray that the Spirit anoints churches around the world to do all that Isaiah prophesied, so that the people of Haiti can have beauty instead of ashes.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Spirit & Truth # 163
“Precious in His Sight”
By Rev. Greg Smith
When my old friend Jake (not his real name) contacted me through Facebook, I wasn’t all that surprised. Not long ago, we had lost a mutual friend who had finally succumbed to a debilitating disease. Faith has been a struggle for Jake for many years, and I thought this might present a problem. He told me he was “still lost on the church front” and still hurt over our friend’s death. Then he told me about a close aunt who’d had a brain tumor. “She was the biggest churhgoer I know. I was always told God will take care of his children and all of a sudden she’s back to being a 10 year old after the hopsital stay….So why did He do that to her if He is all loving…it’s just hard for me to trust Him.”
How would you answer someone like Jake? I invite you to read Isaiah 43:1-7. This is a song of assurance to God’s people who are about to go through great trial. God tells them, “But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; …You are precious and honored in my sight, and…I love you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you (verses 1, 3-5).’”
We grew up singing that kid’s song that says, “They are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” God reminds us that He created us in His own image. He formed us out of the dirt and breathed His breath of life into us. He loved us so much that He redeemed us by the blood of His dear Son. Out of all the billions of people on the planet, He knows you by name. He is the Savior, who bore all of our sorrows, pains, sins, and infirmities (Isaiah 52:4-5), so He knows how we feel when we suffer. We are precious and honored in His sight.
The fact is, life contains struggle. Psalm 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.” This doesn’t mean God removes you from the struggle, but that God gives us His grace to deal with it. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
“I created [you] for my glory,” God says (Isaiah 43:7). If your life is to glorify God, you have to grow through struggle, not avoid it. But he reminds you, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you (verse 5).” Even if you falter, God will never leave your side.
Monday, January 4, 2010
Spirit & Truth # 162
“Of Mice and Manatees”
By Rev. Greg Smith
This Christmas, my kids were surprised when my mother visited, but brought no great armloads of presents. Instead, she announced, “In two days, we’re going to Disney World!” They couldn’t have been happier.
After a 16-hour train ride from Richmond to Orlando, we inaugurated our trip with a swamp boat ride to see the gators. Then we spent a day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (I liked the Indiana Jones stunt show). After that, there was a day at Magic Kingdom (Pirates of the Caribbean was the best!), and then a day at Sea World (My favorite were the manatees). Following that was a day at Epcot (I loved the Fantasmic show), and another half-day at Sea World (on a BOGO deal from that park). We had loads of fun!
There was one snag in our vacation: The week after Christmas is the busiest week of the year for Disney. The crowds were ridiculous! Some of the rides had a 2-hour wait. When the parades came through, everything became mayhem. People jostled one another to see, or just to keep their children safe from the trampling masses.
More than once, I heard Disney referred to as “the most magical place on earth,” or “the happiest place on earth.” But you’d never know it from the expressions on many of the adult faces I saw this past week. I thought about Jesus, who said, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3 NIV).” You see, the children didn’t care about the crowds. Their faces were radiant! They were there to see Mickey, and nothing could darken their experience when they were in his magic kingdom.
This is the way we must come into Jesus’ kingdom—as little children, aglow in the presence of the One who saves us and loves us. When we’re with Him, nothing else should matter. Yet how often do we act at church like the adults I saw at Disney? Yes, from my vantage point in the pulpit, I’ve seen some of your sour faces. I’ve watched you jostle one another for the best seats. I’ve seen the fights that have almost broken out in business meetings. My question to you is this: Why should Disney be known as the happiest place on earth? Shouldn’t that be the church?
The apostle Paul tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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 (Philippians 4:4-7 NIV).” Disney World has a reputation to uphold, so I recommend that they do something about allowing so many people into the park that it sours the experience. The church has a reputation to uphold as well—let’s find His joy, so everybody will want to take a trip to Jesus’ miraculous Kingdom!