Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 43 - The Presidential Prayer Team

Day 43 – Wednesday
The Presidential Prayer Team

One of the things I want to do when these emails are over, is to leave you with a tool-kit for prayer. Hopefully, we’ve talked a lot about different kinds of prayer, various ways to pray, and some issues relating to prayer. I hope you’ll consider renewing your commitment to praying for an hour every day, not simply during Lent.

One of the things I believe we desperately need to pray for is our government. 1 Timothy 2:1-3 (NIV) says, “1I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” No matter what your political stance, it’s clear that our national leaders need our prayers.

While exploring the internet for good prayer websites, I came across a wonderful resource for praying for our President. The Presidential Prayer Team ( is a great website that promotes praying for our Commander in Chief. It offers prayer tools such as guides for how to pray for our leaders; the President’s daily schedule; discussions of some of the issues facing our President; places where visitors can join in prayer for common concerns, and areas where visitors can post their opinions. I highly recommend this site, if you want to keep our President in your prayers.

Praying for the President has nothing to do with your agreement or disagreement with his issues. It has to do with respecting God’s authority over our nation, and over our President. It has to do with believing that God can speak directly to our President’s heart and lead him in all truth. This is our prayer for President Obama—that he will hear God’s voice, and follow with all his heart.

And who wouldn’t want that for their President? I hope you’ll pray for President Obama today.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 42 - Meditation: Prayer with an Attitude

Day 42 – Tuesday
Meditation: Prayer With An Attitude
I have a bad attitude today. My schedule didn’t work out like I wanted it to—and when my schedule gets messed up, it really gets me off-kilter. On top of that, it seems like everybody in our family was arguing with everybody else—me included. Today, my prayer time was broken into parts—half in the morning, and half at night. The morning prayer time went well enough, but at night, after all the discord, my nerves were a wreck. I didn’t want to pray. And I also didn’t want to sit down and write this email. To tell you the truth, I just wanted to say, “forget it—we’ll chalk today up as a loss,” and go to bed. I didn’t feel right about taking my bad attitude into God’s presence. I would rather just avoid Him.

Have you ever felt that way? Or when you have a sin on your conscience and you know that if you pray, you’ll have to deal with it before God—so instead of praying, you just avoid God altogether? It seems easier, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s not. God is big enough to handle my bad attitude. He’s not going to be offended by my honest acknowledgement of anger and exhaustion. He’s going to meet me right where I am, without expecting me to approach Him with high and lofty spirituality.

I really didn’t feel like praying. And since I didn’t feel like praying, I didn’t feel like writing about praying. Yet, I am aware that my need for prayer has nothing to do with whether I feel like it. It has to do with the fact that, as Daniel Henderson says, “God is worthy to be sought.” So if God is worthy despite my mood, and prayer is indispensable to me whether I feel like it or not, then I determined to settle into prayer.

So, what kind of prayer is appropriate when you just don’t feel like praying?

I turn to the simple practice of Christian meditation. In meditation, you choose a word or phrase from the Bible that embodies your intention as you pray, or embodies your understanding of God. It might be “grace” or “Hosanna (a good Holy Week one, which means “Lord, save!”) I chose “Maranatha,” which is a time-tested meditation word, passed down to us from the desert fathers of the early church. “Maranatha” is an Aramaic word which means, “Come, Lord!” It is the final word Paul uses at the conclusion of the book of 1 Corinthians. The book of Revelation ends with a similar phrase from John, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” So it’s great for meditation. It’s one word that simply invites Christ’s presence into the meditation time.

As you meditate, simply repeat your word or phrase. Breathe deeply, and let each syllable of that word or phrase last the full length of your deep exhaling breath. With your next inhalation, pronounce the next syllable (without using your vocal cords, because that’d just sound silly). So Ma-ra-na-tha would be exhale (Ma) – inhale (Ra) – exhale (Na) – inhale (Tha). Take your time with it; you’re not in a hurry. Or, if you have chosen a full verse from the Bible, make sure it’s one that you can repeat in the course of one long breath. When I do something like this, I use “My grace is sufficient for you,” or The Jesus Prayer (click here for more information on this prayer, which is drawn from scripture).[i]

Meditating on God’s word isn’t the “vain repetition” which Jesus denounced in Matthew 6:7. It’s repetition, but it certainly is neither pointless nor ego-centric. It’s a way to let God’s word get inside you, like hitting a long nail with a hammer over and over again. Only with repetition will it finally sink in.

So when you’re too worked-up to pray, either from anger, or despair, or whatever emotion grips you and threatens to take away your time with God, remember that your prayer words don’t have to be your own. Choose the words of scripture for your prayer—you can’t go wrong by praying God’s word. God already knows if you’re in a bad mood, so you might as well not try to hide it. If you have a bad attitude, then try prayer with an attitude—try meditation. You’ll be glad you did.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 41 - Targeted


-->Day 41 – Monday

9Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him (John 12:9-11 NIV).

Has God done a miracle in your life? Has He brought you up from the grave of powerless prayer, into the light of a new day? Have you, like Lazarus, shaken off your grave clothes that once held you bound in sin and darkness? You are a living testimony to the glory of God—what He can do in the life of one who hears His voice as He calls you forth from the tomb.

The miracle of Lazarus’ resuscitation (resurrection for believers will come later, at the return of Christ) brought attention to the greatness of God, and His miraculous power in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Every breath he took bore testimony to Jesus’ messianic authority. The world and the devil want to do everything they can do to suppress such a powerful testimony. So it says that Jesus’ enemies sought to take Lazarus’ life as well.

This is the last time we hear about Lazarus in the New Testament. We aren’t told what ever became of him. Easton’s Bible Dictionary says:

The desire of the early Christians, as many scholars think to screen the family from danger may have kept the story from becoming current in the oral tradition where the Synoptics drew their materials, though Matthew was probably an eyewitness…John, knowing that the others had omitted this, tells us what he had himself witnessed,since all danger to the family had long ago passed away.

Today I lift a special prayer for you, Dear Lazarus—Dear Reader whose Christian life bears witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ. I pray for you who are the target of the world’s schemes to suppress the truth of God’s redemptive work. Once you have aligned yourself with the Messiah, His enemies become your enemies. You are targeted. They are out to destroy your witness, your faith, your hope. They are out to distract you, to rob you of your prayer time, to whisper reminders of the grave into your ears. May God protect you. May He preserve your testimony. May His Holy Spirit intercede for you during your prayer time, so that at all times your life will give glory to His holy name.

"Betrayed and Denied" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 174
“Betrayed and Denied”

By Rev. Greg Smith

It was meant to be. There was no getting around it. Jesus was destined for the cross. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Let this cup pass from me,” yet he realized that it wasn’t His will that mattered. So he also told His Father, “Not My will, but Yours be done.”

Facing an inevitable crucifixion, what Jesus needed most were good friends to lend their comfort and care. Yet that was not what he found in his disciples. “Watch and pray,” he told them as he went off to pray alone in the garden. Yet when he returned to them he found them asleep at their post. What a disappointment his friends could be! And that was only the beginning.

Waking up with a start, his disciples realized too late that a squadron of temple guards was upon them, armed with swords and clubs and torches, ready to arrest their Lord. Those who had been sent to make the arrest could not identify which one was Jesus. That situation was soon remedied when the betrayer Judas, one of Jesus’ twelve closest friends, identified his Lord by greeting him with a kiss. Betrayed with a kiss! How could it get any worse? The scripture says that in his remorse, Judas went out and hanged himself.

Peter took Jesus’ betray from bad to worse, in two ways. First, he drew his sword and violently attacked one of the men who were sent to arrest Jesus. With that aggressive act, he completely violated all the teaching he had received from the Prince of Peace. The disciples all scattered into the night when their Master was taken into custody, but Peter followed at a safe distance. While he was warming his hands by the fire, Peter was accused three times of being a follower of Jesus, and three times he denied even knowing his Lord. Scripture says that when he realized what he’d done, he went out and wept bitterly.

I’m glad I’m not the one who denied Jesus. Aren’t you glad you’re not the one who betrayed the Lord?

Before we get too self-satisfied, though, we need to hold the magnifying glass to ourselves. I betray the Lord every time I commit a sin, every time I sell my allegiance to Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, or whatever I hold to be more precious than Him at the moment. I deny the Lord every time I choose to be anonymous, rather than standing up and being counted as a follower of Christ. Yet while I weep bitterly over my sin as Peter did, I do not allow my guilt to lead to self-destructive tendencies like Judas. You see, unlike Judas, I have heard the words that Jesus said from the cross:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” No words could be more beautiful than “Father, forgive them.” In these words we have hope. These words can take a betrayer like me and a denier like you, and give us eternal life.

"Painful Parenting" - My Article in The Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 173
“I Have Issues – Painful Parenting”

By Rev. Greg Smith

Soren Kierkegaard said, “The loving mother teaches her child to walk alone. She is far enough from him so that she cannot actually support him. She holds out her arms. Her face beckons like a reward, an encouragement. The child constantly strives toward a refuge in her embrace, little suspecting that in the very same moment he is emphasizing his need for her, he is proving that he can do without her.”

Sad but true. They grow up before we’re ready, asserting their need for us while at the same time insisting on their independence. Sometimes they make good decisions, and sometimes they follow a path that we never would have planned out for them. David’s life gives us an example of painful parenting. He shows us that childrearing, while often a joy, can also be a heartbreak. Perhaps you have something in common with him.

David experienced something a parent should never have to face—the death of his newborn baby. He and his wife Bathsheba grieved terribly. The family drama continued when David’s son Amnon raped David’s daughter Tamar, Amnon’s own half-sister. David’s son Absalom took two years before exacting his revenge on Amnon, killing him in cold blood. Absalom fled for a time, but eventually David forgave him and invited him back to the palace. Absalom became very popular among the people, and since he thought he was more fit to rule than his father, he led a rebellion which resulted in his death. David’s lament echoes in our ears, "My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!"[i] Even on his deathbed, David’s family knew no peace, as tensions arose between his sons Adonijah and Solomon, concerning who would succeed their father on the throne. David’s was a family gone horribly wrong.

Maybe your family hasn’t known all the travails that David’s family experienced. But perhaps you can identify with his sense of loss, betrayal, disappointment, grief, and self-blame that David felt. No father or mother is exempt from the pains of parenthood. Even God Himself saw His two children Adam and Eve rebel against Him. Then His Son Jesus had to pay the price for their sins, through an agonizing death on a cross. You can rest assured that God understands your pain. He’s felt it, too.

You can also take comfort in the knowledge that God’s hand of correction, discipline, love, and grace can reach farther than yours ever could. Even when your children are out of your reach, they are never out of His. Though Jesus could cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,”[ii] God answers back, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”[iii] God promises, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”[iv] You can know that He also loves and cares for your children.

[i] 2 Samuel 18:33 HCSB
[ii] Matthew 27:46
[iii] Joshua 1:5 NIV
[iv] Psalm 91:4 NIV

"Making Peace with the Past" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 172
“I Have Issues – Making Peace with the Past”

By Rev. Greg Smith

"Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him (2 Samuel 9:3)?”

When someone has hurt you, you’re usually not very likely to want to make peace with them. Honestly, you’d rather keep them at arm’s length. A wise friend once told me, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” That way, you can keep an eye on them. You might think that this was David’s motivation in inviting Mephibosheth to his table, but there’s no indication that David’s heart was filled with anything but grace.

King Saul, who had pursued David for years in an attempt to take his life, was now dead, along with his son and David’s best friend, Jonathan. David finally had assumed the throne, and now he desired to make peace with his past. He remembered the covenant he had made with Jonathan, and because of that covenant he realized he had to forgive Saul’s family for their offense against him.

One day when he was at court, David said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul?” and I can imagine his servants’ expectations. The practice in those days, when a new dynasty came to power, was that all descendants of the former king were put to death. That way, none of them could rise up and claim to be the rightful heir to the throne. But instead of saying, “Bring Mephibosheth to me that I might kill him,” David said that he wanted to “show the kindness of God to him.”

In an article entitled “Mephibosheth and Me,”[i] David R. Reid says that for the modern Christian reader, David represents Jesus and Mephibosheth represents humanity. Just as Mephibosheth had been alienated because of his grandfather’s sin and brought back into the household of the king because of David’s covenant with Jonathan, so we who were once estranged from God are restored by the blood covenant of Jesus. Reid says, “Notice that David took the initiative in searching out Mephibosheth. How characteristic of our sovereign Lord. He took the initiative and found us, not vice versa.” The then points out that all the properties that had once belonged to King Saul were restored to Mephibosheth, just as God restores that which sin has destroyed in our lives.

God calls us to radical forgiveness of our enemies. From the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing (Lk 23:34).” He taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Mt 6:12).” He reminds us to make peace with our enemies before giving a gift to God (Mt 5:23-24). Otherwise, if we are not at peace with them, our gift is no good. To be at peace within yourself means to make peace with your past. I pray that God will give you that peace today.

[i] March 15, 2010.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 40 - Arise, Take Up Your Mat, and Walk!

Day 40 – Sunday

Arise, Take Up Your Mat, and Walk!

1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?"

7"Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me."

8Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked (John 5:1-9a).

Tonight, I want to share with you some of what we talked about in Bible study tonight at church. Notice that the New International Version skips over verse 5 entirely. This has to do with comparing the oldest, most reliable manuscripts—something we won’t get into here. A footnote includes verse 4 which reads, “and they waited for the moving of the waters. 4 From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.”

In our study, we figured that the “angel” that stirred the waters couldn’t have been a holy angel, because the people who waited by the pool were seldom healed. The “angel” stirred the waters just often enough to give the people hope, and to keep them waiting for their healing, but not often enough to spread the blessing around to everybody who needed it. As a result, many waited by the pool for years, while whatever spirit moved the waters enjoyed its “congregation” that seemed to worship its healing waters.

Jesus saw the man who had been bound by some crippling disease for the past 38 years. “Do you want to get well?” he asked—because many people really don’t want to get well. The man made excuses why everybody else always got in the water ahead of him, but Jesus would allow no excuses. “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk,” Jesus said, and the man was healed.

Why did Jesus tell the man to take his mat with him? We enjoyed some discussion about this, and came to the conclusion that Jesus didn’t want the man to leave his mat, because if he did, that would enable somebody else to comfortably sit and wait for the “angel” to stir the waters. Also, if the man left his mat, it’d be like he was reserving his spot there by the pool. If he was healed, he was healed, and didn’t need to reserve his space for an eventual return.

Often, when we’re healed of a sin in our lives, we like to leave our mat behind. We receive Jesus’ forgiveness, but reserve a space for us to return again later, should the mood strike us.

Jesus says, “Arise, take up your mat and walk!” Don’t leave room for return. Don’t allow for a relapse. Claim your healing. Receive your forgiveness. Be healed—and expect your healing to last forever!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day 39 - "Don't Look Back!"

Day 39 – Saturday
Don’t Look Back!

On June 28 of 2009 (my 37th birthday), I wrote the following:

Photo: Heraclitus of Ephesus
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (540-480 BC) said, "You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on to you.” No doubt a different version of the same quote, he is also purported as saying, "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."

I found this to be true on my 37th birthday, last Sunday, when a group of friends from high school got together to share a picnic meal in the park. Most of us hadn't seen each other for almost 20 years. How could I expect that everything would be just the same as it was before?

Most of us had gained weight (congratulations to those who didn't). We have lost hair, or gained it in places we should never have it. That hair doesn't look quite the same as it once did, either, with tinges of gray found on most of us. Some who were meatitarians are now vegetarians. All of us were single, and last Sunday there were spouses and gaggles of children running around.

Heraclitus also said, "There is nothing permanent except change." That couldn't be more true! I guess, since the mini-reunion coincidentally coincided with my birthday, I let it affect me more than most. While I enjoyed the company of my friends, I have to admit that seeing them made me feel old. As everybody changes around us--we watch our kids grow, we watch our spouse change--somehow we picture ourselves as remaining the same. The impact of that is greater when you see someone you haven't seen in almost two decades.

"Boy, you guys sure got old," you want to say. "It must be you. It couldn't possibly be me."

But the river continues to flow. It changes and shifts, making us acknowledge that the philosopher was right. You can never step into the same river twice. So if it's true that you can't go back again, the only question remaining is How can I make today's river more beautiful? And that's a better thing to focus on, than the fact that I'm getting older every day.

Yesterday, three things happened that underscored Heraclitus’ point in my life. First, I delivered a mattress to a church member who’s attending the same seminary I attended in 1996. Fourteen years ago, the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond was two brownstone houses just across the road from the large campus of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. Today, is greatly expanded, having bought and renovated the Presbyterian campus. The student body is much larger, and the faculty has changed dramatically.

Then, I delivered some wonderful Girl Scout cookies to one of the same high school friends I visited with on my birthday. My friend is a wonderful person, but again our visit emphasized the changing river of life.

Finally, I received a letter from my deceased grandmother. She’s been gone for over a year now, and my aunt had been going through her belongings when she came across a letter that Grandma had written, to be copied and delivered to all her grandchildren at the time of her death. In the letter she gave some advice, expressed her love, and wished us all well. Yet no matter how nice it was to hear from Grandma from beyond the grave, it was like trying to step into the same river twice. It just wasn’t the same.

Now—let me apply this to our commitment to pray for an hour a day.

When relationships change, they are changed forever. The old relationship can never be regained. Neither should you try to step back into the old way a relationship used to be. This is also true for your relationship with God. Since you’ve been praying for a hour a day for almost 40 days now, your relationship with God has changed. You’ve become more intimate, more trusting, more patient as you listen for God’s voice. You’ve learned to carve out a part of your day for prayer, and have found that you really couldn’t do without it now. At one time, you might have thought you couldn’t afford to spend an hour in prayer, but now you realize you can’t afford not to. Soon, our Lenten covenant time will be over, and you will be faced with a choice. Will you continue in prayer, or will you go try to step back into the old relationship you used to have with God?

You’ve gone too far to turn back now. You can’t step into the same river twice. If you try to go back, you’ll be dissatisfied. In Luke 9:62, Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." My question is—why would you want to look back, when there’s so much glory ahead?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 38 - Listening

Day 38 – Friday
Many persons, ordained or not, live in a fairly constant state of noise, with their unresolved past and the uncertain present breaking in on them. They lack a still center and it is only for such a quiet point that we can listen attentively. When I was in my first parish, which was located in the middle of the city, a constant stream of indigents came through. One came into my office and wanted to tell me his story. I sat is if to listen but was deeply troubled inside over some issue now long forgotten. I remember I was fiddling with a pencil. The young man stopped his story, looked at me and said, “Young Father, the least you can do is listen.” He was right. There was no still center in me.
--From Spirituality for Ministry by Urban T. Holmes III

“Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).”

“God is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him (Habakkuk 2:20).”

If you love someone, you want to listen to them. You want to hear what they have to say. You want to know them in a deep and personal way, and the only way to do that is to listen to them.
All of us know people who talk, talk, talk, and aren’t really interested in listening to the other person in the conversation. They’re very tiresome people, aren’t they? Through their constant talking, what they really communicate is that they are the most important person in the relationship. What they’re really saying is, “I want you to know me, but I am not very interested in knowing you.” When you do get a word edgewise, they are pretty likely to interrupt you with their response, even before you’re finished with what you’re saying. They lack a still center where they’re content to be still and hear what the other person has to say.

How often do we do that to God? Every time we pray and don’t take time to listen, we become that hyper-talkative person. How would it be if we were actually still before God and paid attention to what He had to say?

At our prayer breakfast last Saturday, we talked about the difference between reflexive and reflective listening. A reflexive listener listens with her reflexes. She’s always thinking about what she’s going to say next, in response to the speaker. She’s not really focused on what’s being said. A reflective listener, on the other hand, takes time to reflect on what’s being said. She may even reflect, or repeat, what she thinks she’s heard back to the speaker for clarification. The reflective speaker actually wants to understand.

When you pray, do you take time to listen to God, or do you just say your prayers, say “amen,” and then you’re done? Why are you praying to begin with—to have God know you more? He couldn’t possibly know you more than He already does! You’re praying so that you can know God more. And for that, you’ve got to listen.

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening (1Samuel 13:10).”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day 37 - Intimacy with God

Day 37 – Thursday

Intimacy with God

Today, I’d just like to share with you a reading from the devotion book I was using this morning:

In marital love it is not enough to study the beloved, write poems, or receive cards from far away. Couples must marry, say “yes” to one another, go behind the veil of intimacy, delight in one another—exultantly, become close, cultivate friendship, stay together as much as possible, coalesce their wills, make two things one, as scripture says.

But pretending to know the other just by studying him in books or photographs means remaining outside real knowledge, real mystery.

Today, many persons who seek or study God do just that. They study him in books, make him an object of speculation, approach him from intellectual curiosity.

With what result? The more we study, the more our ideas become confused; the more we get caught up in discussions, the farther we go from him.

I think this is the nature of the crisis in the Church today; it is a crisis of prayer, it is a crisis of contemplation.

Study is no longer the light of spirituality, and curiosity has taken the place of humility.

Self-assurance and derision of the past are the false light which guides man’s pride in the labyrinth of God’s “unknowing,” pretending to seize the truth with the strength of intelligence only.

But God’s truth is the same, truth is the secret of things “up there,” and no one can know it without revelation from God.

Has Christ not already said so?

In the upper room, replying to the worried question put to him by Judas (not Judas Iscariot) about why he was not manifesting himself to the world, but only to his intimate friends, he replied with extreme clarity: “’Anyone who loves me will be true to my word, and my Father will love him; we will come to him and make our dwelling place with him’” (John 14:23).

Only love brings God’s coming to us, his living presence within us, and his consequent revelation.

He who obeys the commandments he has from me
is the man who loves me;
and he who loves me will be loved by my Father.
I too will love him
and reveal myself to him.
(John 14:21)

--From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto

May you grow in intimacy with God your Beloved, every day.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 36 - Keep it Going...and Going...and Going...

Day 36
Keep it Going…and Going…and Going…

In his book, Fresh Encounters: Experiencing Transformation Through United Worship-Based Prayer, Daniel Henderson gives some suggestions for prayer ministries that you could have at your church. Yesterday we shared some of these ideas together. We talked about Powerhouse Prayer Meetings, Early Watch, Affinity Group Gatherings, Concerts of Prayer, and All Night Prayer Meetings. Here are a few more notions that just might get you excited about praying together.

Prayer Chains
We already have a phone tree for prayer requests at Antioch, but a prayer chain is a bit different. Our phone tree calls everybody more or less at the same time. With the prayer chain, one person calls another, and they pray together. Then the next person calls another, and they pray together, and so on. The strength of a prayer chain is that you get real people actually praying together, in real time. The weakness of a prayer chain is that when one link breaks down goes the whole chain. Henderson suggests that this is not a good tool to use as a foundation of a prayer ministry at your church. It is, he says, a good supplement to a broader prayer movement.

All-Church Weekly Prayer MeetingsThis is what we’re moving toward, with the new Renewal Services. These are great fere-flowing expressions of worship-centered prayer, interlaced with music, testimonies, scripture-sharing, and mutual teaching. Henderson says, “No two times are alike. This involves great sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leading and praying as he directs (Henderson, 120).”

Home Prayer CellsPrayer does not have to happen in the church building. It cvan also occur in homes. These should be worship-based prayer meetings led by trained and experienced facilitators.

One model is called “Lighthouses of Prayer.” People gather in their homes to pray for their neighbors. Then they ask their neighbors if they have any requests that a group prays for their neighborhood. It is surprising how open nonChristians are to prayer (pg. 121).”

Twenty-four-hour Prayer Center/Call-in LineDon’t get scared. Nobody’s talking about staffing a phone line 24/7. For this ministry, Henderson suggests a dedicated phone line with an answering machine (there’s your 24/7!) that has a message specifically designed to take prayer requests. People can call the church and leave a prayer request at any time. Then, the room with the specially equipped phone is available whenever the church is open. If someone’s there, they can answer and pray with the person right then and there. If not, then the next person to come in writes down the requests in a notebook that people can use to pray for the phoned-in requests. The notebook is updated every two weeks.

Prayer Partners
(See day 13 of this devotion.)

Prayer Visitation Teams

It is what it sounds like—teams of people who visit with folks, specifically for the purpose of praying with them. This supplements the visitation work of the pastor and deacons. It’s also a great way to let the pastor and deacons know about needs that are discovered by the prayer team.

Prayer Retreats
This familiar format involves days away reserved for prayer with applied teaching in a retreat format. This combination of instruction, inspiration, and implementation is a good place to whet the appetite for prayer (pg. 123).Prayer Summits
Summits consist of a group of people getting away to a retreat center for multiple days to pray. There is no agenda and no teacher except the open Scripture and the holy Spirit (pg. 123).Personally, as I read Henderson’s book, I’m not sure what the difference is between a prayer summit and a prayer retreat. Either way, though—look for an opportunity for a prayer retreat/summit at Nags Head, sometime around Memorial Day of this year. We’re working on putting together a sweet package deal that will definitely get you excited about both the beach and about prayer.

Prayerwalking is also just what it sounds. You walk around a neighborhood, praying for those who live in each home you pass. If you know your neighbors, this is a great way to pray for them by name. If you don’t know them, this is a great opportunity to get to know them—especially as the weather warms up and people are out in their yards more. You could prayerwalk around a neighborhood, or around a government building while praying for your leaders. You could prayerwalk at your local school (with permission), or at the nearest shopping mall or shopping district, praying for the businesses and workers, shop owners and shoppers.

Prayer Driving
This is the same as prayerwalking, only it covers more ground. Why not load a group into the church van and go for a prayer drive together, praying out loud together for the people whose homes you pass?

Leadership Prayer Support
These are groups that are specifically dedicated to praying for church leadership—pastors, teachers, deacons, committee chairs, etc.

Prayer Chat Rooms
For the technologically adventurous, prayer chat rooms are part of a church’s regular website, for the use of church members and visitors to the site. This must be well-facilitated.

I’ll bet you could think of plenty more prayer ministries. These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of ways Christians can pray together. Maybe you’ve read one or two of these ideas and you’re saying to yourself, “This is exactly what we need at our church!” Or, maybe one of these suggestions has triggered a brand new idea for a prayer ministry. If God is prompting you (as I said yesterday), don’t say to your pastor, “Here’s an idea for a prayer ministry that you should start.” Instead, say, “Here’s an idea for a prayer ministry that’s on my heart to lead…could you help me by providing some prayer cover and resources as I get it started?”

I believe that, whether you follow these ideas or others, God has a great prayer ministry in store for you, and your church. If you’ve committed to praying for an hour a day, you’re already a prayer leader in your church.. Since you’re a prayer leader, God may be choosing you to usher others into a glorious new relationship with Him through prayer. I pray that you would be open to following as God leads.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 35 - Keep It Going!

Day 35 – Tuesday
Keep it Going!

Now that we’re on the back end of Lent, and at the tail end of our covenant time together, I want to talk about how to keep prayer going in your church. Of course, we recognize that above all, it is GOD’S church, and we want Him to have His way with His people. But I say YOUR church for two reasons.

First, I say YOUR church in acknowledgement that while this call to pray together for at least an hour a day originated with my challenge to the members of the church where I serve, this thing has blossomed beyond the membership of Antioch Baptist Church in Scottsville. Over the past thirty-five days, I’ve learned that many who did not sign a covenant card are either going to my blog and reading this, or reading it on Facebook. In addition, others have told me that they are passing copies of these devotions around to their friends. So I’m aware that these ideas that I’m about to share could possibly affect more than one church.

Second, I say YOUR church because whether you’re in a place of formal leadership or not, the fact that you’ve committed to an hour of prayer a day means that you are already a prayer leader in your church. God has given you a place of ownership and responsibility in the prayer ministry of the church that you attend. Your pastor (whoever he or she may be) needs your encouragement, support, and help in the prayer ministries that may spring from the prayer revival that God has begun in us. I hope that you will consider what part you might play in leading effective prayer ministries in YOUR church.

At Antioch we are preparing for a new kind of Wednesday night meeting. The focus is shifting from a Bible study where we also pray, to a united worship-based prayer experience that’s filled with music. It will be pastor-facilitated, but teaching will be done in a mutual format. If you can’t quite grasp what that’s going to look like, then I encourage you to come and find out. These meetings will start shortly after Easter (date to be announced later). We will be calling these meetings Renewal Services, because that’s exactly what they are—an oasis of renewal in the middle of the week.

On Sundays at Antioch, our adult Bible study will enjoy the 5-week video curriculum, Fresh Encounters: Experiencing Transformation Through United Worship-Based Prayer [i], by Daniel Henderson. This will begin on the same week as our Renewal Services, and will give us a common understanding of prayer in general, and this type of prayer service, specifically. I hope you will be a part of these two prayer ventures at Antioch, or that you would seek God’s will for something similar at your church.

In his book by the same title, Daniel Henderson gives a handful of ideas regarding unique prayer ministries that you could start at YOUR church. Please don’t leave it to your pastor. If one of these ideas gets you excited and you feel that God wants this at YOUR church, don’t tell your pastor that he ought to start it. Instead, tell him that God is calling YOU to be a prayer pioneer, and ask him for whatever support you need. So today and tomorrow, we’ll be looking at ideas from Daniel Henderson:

Powerhouse Prayer MeetingsI remember reading the story of two young men who arrived early to a service at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London to hear Charles Spurgeon speak. As they waited to enter the auditorium, a man approached and asked if they would like to see the power-generation room of the church. Not wanting to be rude, they complied. The gentleman took them to a downstairs door and opened it to reveal a packed house of people gathered for prayer prior to the service. “That, my friends,” is the power source of our church.” With that he extended his hand and introduced himself. His name was Charles Spurgeon.

What is a “powerhouse” prayer meeting? It is a specific prayer time that occurs prior to or during a worship service (or other event where the preaching of God’s Word is taking place).

This can be a good place to start a prayer ministry because it occurs at the same time people attend church. Prayer for the pastor and the Sunday services should be the strategic focus for this prayer time. For it to be effective, you need to continually keep guard so the focus doesn’t change. Because of their experience with group prayer, most people, through a lack of understanding, will take prayer meetings right to people’s needs. You‘re praying fervently for the empowering of the Holy Spirit for your pastor. It is getting intense and passionate. Then all of a sudden, brother Bill begins to pray for his sick sister. The Spirit-empowered passion is broken! You will need to continually educate the people who come to pray as to the focus for which they are to pray. Make sure, though, that there are opportunities to pray for people’s needs elsewhere. Those with brother Bill’s heart, too, need a place to pray for that (Henderson, Pp117-118).

Personally, this is one that I’m really excited about myself. This is, however, a prayer ministry that no pastor can take the leadership role with. He’s busy preaching during such a meeting! At Antioch, a group like this could meet during Sunday school (which is between the two worship services—but where would they meet?), or anywhere during the worship services. Whoever led this at 8:30 would need to be an 11:00 worship-attendee, and whoever led it at 11:00 would need to worship at 8:30, but otherwise it’s do-able. At Antioch, we have a policy not to have committee meetings during worship services, but this is quite different. It’s part of worship—just in a different room. This is how it might take shape at Antioch. What do you think Powerhouse prayer meetings might look like at YOUR church?

Early Watch
This is an early-morning prayer meeting for those who want to pray before going to work, or those retirees on their way to breakfast at Hardee’s (you know who you are). Henderson suggests that each early watch meeting have a prayer-focus, rather than being open-ended. He suggests that a group could pray for church leadership, or missionaries around the world, or government leaders, or have a specific scriptural focus. “Why?” Henderson asks—and then he answers his own question. “If you look at the times of corporate prayer in Scripture, all are narrowly focused (see Ezra 8:21-23; 2 Chronicles 6-7; and Acts 12:5 as examples). We can better pray in agreement…when we are not jumping all over the place with everyone’s agenda (pg. 118).”

Affinity Group Gatherings
These are prayer gatherings that have a common interest or stage of life. Examples may be:
· Young mothers
· Senior citizens
· Businessmen
· Teenagers (wouldn’t it be great if they developed a heart for prayer?)
· Recovery and support groups (gathering for prayer, not regular meetings)
· Can you think of any others?

Concerts of Prayer
Concerts of prayer are periodic events involving the whole church in a unique setting and style of praying. They are usually facilitated from the platform and involve a variety of expressions through small group prayer, large group prayer, and personal intercession. I have led them on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and mid-week. We often conduct concerts of prayer for our church and for a gathering of churches from around the community (Henderson, pg. 119).
All-Night Prayer Meetings
Hey—if the youth can have a lock-in, then why not adults?

An all-night prayer meeting can extend from 6, 9, or 10p.m. to 6 a.m. In a sense it is an extended concert of prayer. But it functions best when a wide array of expressions including lively worship, prayerwalking, interactive small group prayer, scheduled breaks and (very) energizing refreshments are planned. If you are starting out with these nights of prayer, while you should encourage people to try to attend the entire thing, make sure they know that they are welcome even if they can only attend a portion of it. The worker who gets off from second shift at 11 can come then; the person who goes in to work at 7 Saturday morning, and needs to sleep to do her job, can leave at 10 p.m., and so on (pg. 119).
So what do you think? Do any of these ideas get you charged up for corporate prayer? Maybe God is calling YOU to be a prayer leader at YOUR church! Pray about it. Tell your pastor you’d be interested in starting one of these types of ministries. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about some more ideas for prayer ministries at YOUR church. We need to pray together, because only by praying together can we truly become HIS church!


Monday, March 22, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 34 - Rejoice--Really???

Day 34 – Monday

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (Philippians 4:4-5 NIV)
REALLY??? Rejoice—always? Personally, I prefer “Rejoice in the Lord sometimes.” Doesn’t that seem more realistic? I mean really!

Yes, God’s word tells us to rejoice in the Lord always. In all things. Not because of all things. See the difference? If you rejoiced because of all things, then we’d be talking about terrific tribulation, stupendous struggle, and sweet suffering. The truth is that many situations in life can be painful. We don’t rejoice because of a loved one’s death, or because of economic woes. But we can rejoice in the midst of those things. God wants us to rejoice in Him, in all circumstances. Even though you struggle, find your joy in God.

“Let your gentleness be known to all” is tied to rejoicing in God at all times. I find that when I don’t rejoice in God, I’m more irritable, less patient, and generally less gentle than I am when my heart and mind are focused on Christ. Gentleness is a product of a life of joy.

“The Lord is near.” This reminds us that our source of joy is not far off. Deuteronomy 30:11-14 says, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” We have a constant source of strength at our disposal, one that never gives up on us or runs out of resources. The Lord is near. With the Lord near, we have no reason not to rejoice.

Michael Cassara, pastor of Nesconset Christian Church, writes:

In her book, THE HIDING PLACE, Corrie Ten Boom relates an incident that taught her to be thankful for things we normally would not be thankful for. She and her sister, Betsy, prisoners of the Nazis, had just been transferred to the worst prison camp they had seen yet, Ravensbruck. Upon entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and infested with fleas. Their Scripture reading from their smuggled Bible that morning in 1 Thessalonians had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. Betsy told Corrie to stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie at first flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas, but Betsy persisted. Corrie finally agreed to somehow thank God for even the fleas.

During the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings in their barrack without guard interference. Several months later they learned that the guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas[i].

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 33 - Wading Deeper

Day 33 – Sunday
Wading Deeper

Ezekiel 47 (New Living Translation)1 In my vision, the man brought me back to the entrance of the Temple. There I saw a stream flowing east from beneath the door of the Temple and passing to the right of the altar on its south side. 2 The man brought me outside the wall through the north gateway and led me around to the eastern entrance. There I could see the water flowing out through the south side of the east gateway.
3 Measuring as he went, he took me along the stream for 1,750 feet and then led me across. The water was up to my ankles. 4 He measured off another 1,750 feet and led me across again. This time the water was up to my knees. After another 1,750 feet, it was up to my waist. 5 Then he measured another 1,750 feet, and the river was too deep to walk across. It was deep enough to swim in, but too deep to walk through.

6 He asked me, “Have you been watching, son of man?” Then he led me back along the riverbank. 7 When I returned, I was surprised by the sight of many trees growing on both sides of the river. 8 Then he said to me, “This river flows east through the desert into the valley of the Dead Sea. The waters of this stream will make the salty waters of the Dead Sea fresh and pure. 9 There will be swarms of living things wherever the water of this river flows. Fish will abound in the Dead Sea, for its waters will become fresh. Life will flourish wherever this water flows.

Today I had the opportunity to baptize five young people into the family of God. What a glorious thing, to see new believers enter the waters of baptism, proclaiming their faith and being welcomed into the family of God! I hope you’ll join me in praying for Brian, Riley, Blake, Caroline, and John Travis.

One of the funny things that happened today was probably unknown to most people who came to the baptism. The service was held at a sister church, because we don’t have a baptismal pool, and the river is too cold. In retrospect, I’m not sure that the river would have been any colder in March than the water we went into today. The standard procedure is to fill up the baptistery twenty-four hours in advance, and then use an electric heater to bring the water up to a comfortable temperature. Today, however, the water was frigid, because (1) they forgot to fill it until the last minute, and (2) even if they had remembered and filled it up a day ago, the heater at the church is broken. So the water was ground-water cold. On second thought, maybe that wasn’t very funny—just ask the kids who got baptized!

Also, since the pool was filled at the last minute, there actually wasn’t time to finish filling it all the way. So the water only went up to my thighs. Plenty deep for a baptism—as long as you’re a kid, which they all were.

It reminded me of the Ezekiel 47 passage, where the prophet is told to wade out into the water that at first comes up to his ankles, then to his knees, then to his waist, and finally was deep enough to swim in. This is an illustration of the spiritual life. When we begin, it’s like wading up to our ankles. God lets us splash around a bit, but we really don’t go very deep. Then, once we’ve “gotten our feet wet,” He leads us into the deeper things of God. We move progressively into God’s truth, until finally “deep calls to deep (Psalm 42:7).

Where are you in your spiritual journey? Ankle deep? Knee deep? Waist deep? Are you a swimmer? I pray for you the same thing that I pray for those who entered the water today—that God will lead you progressively into His grace and truth. I pray that you’ll be brave enough to wade out a little bit deeper every day, until there’s nothing to hold you but the Spirit of God Himself. Then you’ll enjoy swimming in the fresh-water sea of His love.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 32 - Dead Lamb Walking

Day 32 – Saturday
Dead Lamb Walking

Matthew 9:5-6 (New International Version)5Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? 6But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home."
Romans 8:31-32 (New International Version)31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
How is it even conceivable that some praying people believe that God ha not heard or answered their prayers? Even if Jesus never said, “Get up and walk,” He had already said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Even if God never gave us anything we ever asked for, He has already given us salvation through His Son—a gift we neither asked for, nor are worthy of. If God never answered another prayer of mine for the rest of my life, I would be happy that Jesus has said, “Your sins are forgiven!” That would be enough. But thanks be to God, who gives more than we could ever ask or imagine!

Romans 8:35-39 (New International Version)
35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is with this kind of confidence that I can enter into prayer – knowing that (a) I am already dead, a lamb to be slaughtered (and dead sheep have no needs), and (b) that nothing can seprate me from God’s love. That’s because, since I am dead, I’m in Heaven already. My soul belongs to the Lord, and my spirit went to God the moment Jesus’ spirit replaced it in me, at my salvation. I am God’s—nothing can keep me from His love. So when I pray, I do so in the assurance that He is more than able to answer my prayers (“Rise up and walk,”) but regardless of whether I get my way or not, He’s already had His way by giving me His grace. That makes for the sweetest prayer time imaginable!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 31- All I See is You

Day 31 – Friday
All I See is You

Today I took my 8-year-old son Daniel to his first baseball game. Sure, he’s played tee-ball for the past two years, but this was his first adult-sized baseball game on a big field. We watched the Virginia Cavaliers beat the stuffings out of Boston College, with a 7-1 victory. Daniel asked lots of questions about the rules of the game that he hadn’t picked up in tee-ball, enjoyed the music and foot-stomping, the mascots, and the mid-game diversions.. We both brought our baseball gloves, in hopes of catching a foul ball that sailed into the bleachers. I only have one word to say about that—Nets! Phooey on those nets! After the game, Daniel got his glove autographed by four of the players. You would have thought his glove had been blessed by four angels and imbued with divine qualities. We went to Wendy’s for dinner after the game, and he said, “I’m not taking my glove off during dinner. During our desert at Wendy’s, Daniel told me, “You know, the top of the Frosty looks like a pitcher’s mound.” When I finally got him home, I carried his sleeping frame from the van and put him into bed. He was still wearing his freshly signed glove.

Daniel made me think of a Christian who has freshly experienced the depth of God’s presence—the glory of a first-hand contact with the love and holiness of the Father. That’s different from religion, you know. Religion is like someone who has read about baseball, knows the rules inside and out, can tell you all the players’ stats, but has never been to a game. Religion is like someone who’s watched it on TV, but never felt the rush of adrenaline at the crack of the bat or the slap of ball into glove. The Christian who’s experienced God first-hand will never be the same.

Just as Daniel left the game with nothing but baseball on his mind, even imagining a pitcher’s mound in his soft-serve milkshake, so a Christian who has had a life-altering direct experience of God will never be the same. That Christian will go through life seeing God in everything. It’s been said that if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. For Daniel, I’d say if you’re a baseball bat, everything looks like a ball. If you’re one of those radically transformed, sold-out, crazy Christians, then you can say to God, “All I see is You!” You’ll see God in all things. He’ll teach you His lessons while you’re walking down the road, or playing with your kids, or hard at work—everywhere you Go, He’ll show you His heart.

How do you get that way? Yeah—you knew I’d say it. Prayer. You have to spend time with God in order for God to radically transform you. You’ve got to immerse yourself in His awesome presence. You’ve got to study His stats, learn His rules, and spend time in His park. You’ve got to eat His popcorn and cracker jacks, and root, root, root for His home team. You’ve got to let Him autograph your heart with His great name. Then, and only then, will you be able to say you truly know His game.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 30 - Staying Pure

Day 30 – Thursday
Staying Pure

Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior (Psalm 24:3-5).

Praise God—our church, which has had reddish-brown water for as long as I can remember, finally got a new water filtration system this week! Now, we can look forward to crystal clear, pure drinking water. I’m so excited about it, for several reasons.

First, even though the water tested clean, and free of bacteria, etc, the muddy-looking water just comes across wrong to visitors. They might not know that the water is good to drink, and they assume that we’re the kind of people who go around drinking dirty water. Who wants to go to church with dirty-water-drinkers?

Second, we can look forward to bathroom and kitchen fixtures that are unstained by the crimson water. If I trace my genealogy, I’m from the Scottish Napier clan. Our motto is “Sans Tache,” meaning “Without Stain.” So I look forward to our unstained fixtures.

Finally, our plans for the new building include showers, for use whenever the church might be needed for an emergency shelter, or to house missionaries, or whatever other showerly purpose we can think of. (Maybe I’ll threaten to do baptisms in there if we don’t get a baptistery put in.) I’m sure nobody would want to take a shower in muddy-looking water. So I’m really glad we’ve got this new filtration system in place. Now the water we drink and wash in will be pure.

More important than pure water is a pure heart. For similar reasons. First, even if our heart is pure but our actions don’t match the Spirit of God within us, then outsiders will look at us and wonder about the truth of our testimony. Second, if our hearts lack purity, we find ourselves stained with sin. Thirdly, no matter how much we bathe, we can’t get clean if our hearts aren’t pure. In How to Live a Holy Life, C.E. Orr writes:

The important question, then, is, “How can I have a pure heart?” Hearts are made pure by the blood of Jesus. Then comes the command, “Keep thyself pure.” That the heart may be kept pure, it must be kept filled with what is pure. To keep darkness out of a room, we need only to keep it filled with light. Carefully closing up every crevice will not suffice if the light goes out. Darkness will be present. But simply keep the room filled with light, and no effort is required to keep darkness out. In like manner no effort need be made to keep impurity out of the heart and keep the heart filled with that which is pure.

But what is pure? “The word of God is pure, as silver tried in a furnace of fire, purified seven times.” “Thy word is very pure; therefore thy servant loveth it.” “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” and your heart will be kept pure. The Psalm-writer said, “thy word have I hid in my heart, that I may not sin against thee.” Here is the only way to a sinless life. Keep the heart filled with the Word of God. It is the way to live as the Bible reads. To have a nicely bound volume of the Scriptures lying on the center table will not keep the life sinless. One must have the Word in our heart.
While it is up for debate whether Christians can ever get to the point where we can live sinless lives, there’s no doubt that purity is our goal. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” When we get to Glory, certainly we will attain to this. But what I have found is that as I grow in faith, as I fill my heart with the things of God, so my behavior improves as well. James 4:8 says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” What a great goal—having all I need for purity, because all I want is God! I pray that as you pray, as you grow closer to God, you have all you need to resist temptation and live a pure, holy life.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 29 - Kill Your Darlings

Day 29 – Wednesday
Kill Your Darlings

God said, “Take your son Isaac, your only one whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you (Genesis 22:2).” What a drama was in the poor heart of that man! God had asked the supreme sacrifice. If Abraham had had to turn the knife on himself it would have been easier! An act of pure faith is the death of what we love most so it may be offered to the loved one because only love is stronger than death. —From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto

Just as you God asked Abraham for the life of Isaac, so He asks me to give Him that which is most precious to me. The writers’ phrase “to kill your darlings” means to be willing to cut out of your story those characters, scenes, descriptions, or dialogue which you love the most, but which are either unnecessary or actually detract from the story. A writer must be willing to “kill his darlings” in order to create a greater work. God asks believers to “kill their darlings” when he asks them to sacrifice those things most precious to themselves, so that God can make something better of them.

Sometimes the thing we value most is a complete mystery to us. In his best selling book The Five Love Languages, Gary Smalley says that every way a person can possibly express love to someone can be summed up in one of five “love languages.” These languages are time, touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, and gifts. Most people tend to major on one or two, and minor on the rest. The ones at the bottom of your list are likely only barely important to you. My two primary love languages are touch and acts of service. Spending time with someone comes dead last in the list of what’s a good way for me to show affection. That’s pretty bad for someone who’s married to a person whose number one is “time spent!” It’s also pretty bad for a pastor, who needs to spend time with people every day. I’ve had to learn to operate outside of my gifting in that area, so I can fulfill my calling as a husband, father, and pastor.

It seems to me that the love language that you’re least likely to want to give is actually the one you guard the most. A person who’s a bad gift-giver likely is afraid they’ll go broke if they spend too much on gifts. A person who doesn’t give words of encouragement is afraid of saying the wrong thing. A person who doesn’t like to touch may feel a physical vulnerability due to an experience of wrong touch in earlier years. For me, time is something I don’t have much of. I feel like I never do nothing. (Yes, that was proper grammar. I mean I’m always doing something.!) Never having the luxury of doing nothing makes time something that I guard pretty closely. It also means that if I give you time, it’s a pretty significant gift.

The other day, Beth was upset because she wanted to talk to me, and while she was talking, I was clipping my fingernails. Just a small thing, but something that needed doing, I thought. To me, it was a simple, mindless task that I could take care of while we were talking. To her, it was a distraction that kept me from giving her all of my attention. She wanted all of my attention, just for a moment. I didn’t understand then. Maybe I do now.

God wants me to “kill my darlings.” He wants me to give Him that which is most difficult—that which doesn’t come naturally. He wants me to give Him my time—to sit and do nothing with Him. Thank God that we’re not called to sacrifice our children to Him (He actually didn’t require that Isaac be sacrificed, in the end). But we are called to “kill our darlings” for Him. What is the hardest thing for you to give to God? That’s probably what He wants the most!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 27 - Becoming REAL!

Day 27 – Tuesday
Becoming REAL!

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the [Velveteen] Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

"Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, or bit by bit?”

"It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

From The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

1 Corinthians 15 (NIV)
35But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" 36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body…. 42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

50I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
55"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?" 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

“We will all be changed.” What a wonderful promise! Finally, we will be made REAL! Because of the One who loves us, we will shed our old skin and step into a great new reality! What a blessing for those whose hair is rubbed off and whose joints are getting creaky! What a promise for those whose eyes have fallen out and who have become very shabby!

The truth is, we are all a bit shabby—even the prettiest of us! On the inside, we desperately need to be changed. The Resurrection is the glorious hope of the believer, but even now, we need to be transformed. The good news is that you don’t have to wait for the Resurrection in order to be transformed. You can let God begin His restorative work in you today. Through prayer, through seeking His face, through absorbing His Word and putting it to work in your life, through repentance and renewal, you can be made REAL!

I pray that the closer you get to God, the more REAL you become. Have a great prayer time today!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - a Lenten Devotion - Day 26 - The Battlefield of our Souls

Day 26 – Monday
A Devotion by Robert Brock – The Battlefield for our Souls

No, I’m not being lazy. I’m promoting someone else’s writing. A while back, I mentioned a Native American ancestor of mine in a sermon—Chief Red Bird (aka Aaron Brock). Robert Brock is a fellow descendant of Chief Red Bird. He’s my mother’s cousin. I have become a subscriber to the daily devotion that he writes. I liked it so much that I thought I’d pass it on to you, in case you need a daily devotion in your email, after Lent is over and my emails have stopped. I pray that God is blessing you in your prayer time, and that you’ll continue in His love.

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Matthew 3:8

Did you know that there is a daily war being raged each day with you
as the prize. Several years ago I heard a sermon from Billy Graham who
said that when it comes to our spiritual walk, we are doing one of two
things. We are either moving forward or falling back. There is no in
between. As I think about this I can agree with him completely, as I
have had periods of time that I have been enthused about reading my
Bible each day and studying and seeking more wisdom from God about my

These were the times that I was moving forward in my walk with
God. Then there were times that I would put my Bible down for a day
or two, as I became too busy with other things. These were the times
I was falling back. When I only read and study for just a few minutes
I am still moving forward, but it is when I stop completely I fall
back. Just a little time with God each day lets us continue to move
forward. The more time we spend with him, the farther along we will
be, as just a little time each day lets us continue to grow and
become a better person. There is a constant battle in each of our
lives as Satan is competing for us as well. He will attempt and
devise ways where we use our time and our talents for his purposes of
evil instead of good. When we are moving forward this tells us that
God is winning the battle, but when we move backward Satan is
winning. Our life is the ultimate battlefield on which the most
important war of all times is being fought, with the trophy being our
souls. We need to keep our minds and our life focused on Jesus and use
all the armor that God provides to defeat Satan as our life is in the

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