Friday, July 23, 2010

"Forgive and Release" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 188
“Teach Us to Pray: Forgive and Release”

By Rev. Greg Smith

When I was a kid, my brother and I used to trespass all over the neighborhood. It was a rural area, and there was always somebody’s woods to explore, or a neighbor’s pond to skip rocks into, or an old abandoned house to investigate. We thought of it more as archaeology when we discovered what was inside those collapsing homes. Trespassing would have been a harsh word in our minds, but that’s exactly what it was. If our mother had only known!

In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Since my childhood, I now realize just how many trespasses I need to have forgiven! And if God has forgiven me, then I’m under obligation to forgive those who have trespassed against me.

Jesus’ disciples knew that if their prayers were to be effective, they had to be forgiven for their sins. Psalm 24:3-4a says, “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” Confession and repentance are integral to effectual prayers. We need God’s forgiveness before we can truly relate to Him in His holiness.

Sometimes it’s hard to forgive someone for repeated trespasses against you. Peter, who thought he only had to forgive an erring brother seven times, was astounded when Jesus told him that he had to forgive an offender 490 times, and even beyond (Matthew 18:21-22). How many times have you forgiven those who have sinned against you? Jesus wants you to keep on forgiving. When you do so, you not only release them from the demands of your unforgiveness, but you also release yourself from the captivity that your bitterness has wrought in your own life.

Kirk Russel writes:

In his book Why Prayers are Unanswered, John Lavender retells a story about Norman Vincent Peale.

When Peale was a boy, he found a big, black cigar, slipped into an alley, and lit up. It didn't taste good, but it made him feel very grown up. . . until he saw his father coming. Quickly he put the cigar behind his back and tried to be casual. Desperate to divert his father's attention, Norman pointed to a billboard advertising the circus.

"Can I go, Dad? Please, let's go when it comes to town."

His father's reply taught Norman a lesson he never forgot. "Son, he answered quietly but firmly, "never make a petition while at the same time trying to hide a smoldering disobedience."
Forgiveness from God empowers your prayers. Yet far too often we try to ask God for His blessings while our own disobedience smolders in front of Him. We must confess our sins.

Unforgiveness that you hold against your neighbor threatens your own spiritual wholeness. Jesus said, “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” This little word can mean “at the same time,” or it can mean “in the same way,” or “with the same measure.” This is closely related to Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV), where Jesus says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Practice non-judgment. Practice forgiveness. This is the way to know the heart of God.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Teach Us to Pray - Our Daily Bread - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 187

“Teach Us to Pray: Our Daily Bread”

By Rev. Greg Smith

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” He gave them The Lord’s Prayer[i], both a prayer that can be recited verbatim and an outline for a longer period of prayer. He taught them to begin with a time of praise (Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name), followed by a real desire to seek God’s kingdom and will in our lives (Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven). Only after seeking God and His kingdom first should we approach the Father to ask Him for the things we need. In the Lord’s Prayer, He taught us to ask, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus also said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”[ii]

God wants us to ask for those things we need, but He wants us to want Him more. When you want a relationship with God more than you want all these things, you’ll get what you want most, with all the other things thrown in. When you want all the other things most, you won’t get either them or God. Let’s seek God first in prayer, and then “let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”[iii]

God wants to meet your needs. It’s not selfish to ask Him to care for you, but you might want to pray for the needs of others first. I suggest using the word “JOY” as a guide: Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last. This keeps your prayers in proper perspective.

I came across a story that I wanted to share with you. I hope it reminds you that God cares for your every need.

Things looked bleak for the children of George Muller's orphanage at Ashley Downs in England. It was time for breakfast, and there was no food. A small girl whose father was a close friend of Muller was visiting in the home. Muller took her hand and said, "Come and see what our Father will do." In the dining room, long tables were set with empty plates and empty mugs. Not only was there no food in the kitchen, but there was no money in the home's account. Muller prayed, "Dear Father, we thank Thee for what Thou art going to give us to eat." Immediately, they heard a knock at the door. When they opened it, there stood the local baker. "Mr. Muller," he said, "I couldn't sleep last night. Somehow I felt you had no bread for breakfast, so I got up at 2 o'clock and baked fresh bread. Here it is." Muller thanked him and gave praise to God. Soon, a second knock was heard. It was the milkman. His cart had broken down in front of the orphanage. He said he would like to give the children the milk so he could empty the cart and repair it.[iv]

[i] Matthew 6:9-13 KJV

[ii] Matthew 6:33 NIV

[iii] Hebrews 4:16 NIV

[iv] Source Unknown

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Angels Without Wings

Not all angels have wings.

Let me tell you about two that I met yesterday.

I was on the way to visit someone who is in the hospital, but who is also a prisoner. A police officer sits by his door to make sure he doesn't escape, and to make sure he has no unauthorized visitors. I had the patient's room number written down on a little piece of paper, but when I got inside the hospital, I realized I had left it in my car. So I turned back around with my twelve-year-old daughter who was with me and we made made our way to the parking deck.

When we reached the parking deck elevator, we met two homeless men who were collecting discarded cigarette butts so they could smoke them. They saw a Bible in my hand and asked if I would read to them, because they didn't have a Bible of their own. They introduced themselves to me as Mark and Darren, insisting to me that they weren't gay (even though the thought hadn't entered my mind that they might be). They told me that they were both alcoholics, but were pleased that they had reduced their consumption by half.

I asked if there was a particular scripture that they wanted to hear, and they said Luke 4:18. I'm going to share a larger passage with you, the verses surrounding that scripture:

14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

I gaped at this scripture, because these two homeless men had no idea who I was about to visit--a poor prisoner who needed healing. I told them that they had given me the very words that my friend in the hospital needed to hear.

"We shared our favorite scripture with you," Darren said. "Now you share one with us."

As I read Psalm 139 to them, tears formed in Mark's eyes. He said that these were the very words that he needed to hear--that God made him special and had plans for him, that there was no place he could go where he was apart from God's presence.

We shared many other words together, which quite frankly are none of your business. It's between me and them.

I gave them some money, and what they do with it is none of my business. It's between them and God. God used them to minister to my friend in the hospital, even though they never got to see him. Actually, I never got to see him either--the police officer wouldn't let me in. But he did say that he'd pass a paper along to him for me. I gave him a photocopy from my Bible, of the scripture these two homeless men had given me, along with a note telling the story of Darren and Mark.

What a blessing, that God's Word can go places that we ourselves cannot go. God's Word has the power to bring light to a prisoner's eyes, to give the captive a spiritual freedom that his body does not enjoy, and to bring healing in a hospital--the kind of healing that medicine can't perform!

What a remarkable thing--that God uses the most unlikely of people to share His Word, to be ministers to the brokenhearted, to be wingless angels--messengers of God.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Thy Kingdom, Thy Will" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 186 “Teach Us to Pray: Thy Kingdom, Thy Will” By Rev. Greg Smith

A.C. Dixon wrote: “When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do, and so on. Nor am I disposed to undervalue any of these things in their proper place, but when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.”

As they followed their mission, Jesus’ disciples needed what God could do. That’s why they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Giving them The Lord’s Prayer as a guide, He taught them to begin their prayer time with praise—“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Always begin and end your prayer time with prayer. It invites God’s presence and helps you abide in Him even after your prayer time is over. Next, Jesus teaches His disciples them to seek His kingdom and His will for their lives. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

In other words, we pray for God’s kingdom to come in our hearts, and for His will to be done in our lives as perfectly as the angels perform His will in Heaven. After you’ve begun your prayer time with praise, spend a while seeking God’s direction and will for your life. You could do this in a time of quiet listening, or by talking with the Lord about your understanding of His plans. You can focus on God’s kingdom and will by prayerfully reading Scripture, receiving God’s word that’s intended directly for you.

Our Daily Bread says, “In Ivan endures all the horrors of a Soviet prison camp. One day he is praying with his eyes closed when a fellow prisoner notices him and says with ridicule, ‘Prayers won't help you get out of here any faster.’ Opening his eyes, Ivan answers, ‘I do not pray to get out of prison but to do the will of God.’”

In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed about His impending crucifixion: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." When we get to the point where we’re praying God’s will, then we know we’re praying the right way. It’s easy to pray for the things that we want. It’s quite another thing to pray God’s will.

E. Stanley Jones says, “Prayer is surrender—surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boathook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.”

When you pray, rather than asserting control over your own life, and asking for your will to be done, try seeking God’s kingdom and God’s will. Whey you pray God’s way you’ll find your prayers answered more, because you’ll be asking for what God wants in your life.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Hallowed Be Thy Name" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 185

“Teach Us to Pray: Hallowed Be Thy Name”

By Rev. Greg Smith

Pastor and author E.M. Bounds (1835-1913) said, “What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use--men of prayer, men mighty in prayer.” This is perhaps more true today than when he first penned these words. We live in an era where churches are obsessed with goals and strategies, mission statements and programs. These are all the machineries of church growth, we believe. But what we really need is men and women committed to prayer.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:4),” the Master gave them The Lord’s Prayer. When each phrase is used as a prayer guide to your more personalized communication with God, The Lord’s Prayer can be a deeply moving and useful tool for keeping yourself on track in your prayer time.

The first phrase, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name (Matthew 6:9),” is an expression of praise and worship to God. The Lord’s Prayer begins and ends with praise. “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever (Matthew 6:13).” Whether public or private, our prayer time should begin and end with praising God.

Why should we begin and end in praise? Because God is holy. John shows angels and elders and living creatures all bowed before God in worship. “Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come (Revelation 4:8)." Beginning and ending your prayer time with praise recognizes the holiness of God.

We should praise God because God is worthy. “the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created (Revelation 4:11).’” God deserves more praise than we could ever utter, so why not begin and end our prayer times that way?

Larry Crabb, author of The PAPA Prayer, says that when what we want and what we seek more than anything else in prayer is a relationship with God, then we get what we want when we pray, every time we pray. Prayer teacher Daniel Henderson puts it this way, “Seek God’s face, not just his hand.” He says that if you approach a friend who’s got money in his hand and talk with that friend, all the while looking at his hand instead of his face, you’ve got your priorities wrong. Yet how often do we seek a hand of blessing without seeking relationship with our loving God?

In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to begin and end our prayer time with praise. Only after you begin with praise should you ask for what’s in God’s hand. When we begin with praise and worship, His kingdom will come on earth as it is in Heaven, because “God inhabits the praises” of His people (Psalm 22:3).