Friday, February 27, 2015

The Will Of God: Pray


When the pro-tennis player Arthur Ashe got HIV-Aids from a blood transfusion during heart bypass surgery, a reporter, knowing Mr. Ashe was a Christian, asked him if he was going to pray for his healing. Arthur Ashe's response shocked the reporter, just as it will many of us when we read it, "God's will alone matters, not my personal wants and needs. When I played tennis, I never prayed for victory in a match. I will not pray to be cured."

How many of us would say that?

I know when my own mother was dying of cancer, I didn't think that way. My family was praying for her healing daily. Do I think it's wrong to pray for the healing of someone? No, certainly not. But what it ultimately comes down to is: Am I willing to pray for God's will to be done no matter what the outcome?  That can be hard - particularly in regards to our families. One of the hardest things for me to do was to give God my children. But why is this? He loves them far more than I do; after all, He did not even spare His own son because He loved my kids. His is a sacrificial love. Mine tends to lean more towards the selfish kind.  This selfishness can also show itself in my prayers, which tend to be very me-centric, even when I'm praying for my family.


Dru and Asher Collie were by American standards a success. Dru ran a chain of coffee shops and Asher had her own photography business. Both did this while raising their kids. While considering adopting a child from Africa, Asher was looking up videos on YouTube of African children and came across one that showed the devastating impact of jiggers on children there. Jiggers are small sand fleas that enter bare feet, burrow under the skin, and infect the feet. This can lead to infections, paralysis, and even amputation.  Asher admitted, "At first I tried to close off my heart and prayed that someone else would do something about this."  But the more she tried to escape, the more God placed a burden on her heart for those children. She began to research the problem and realized that the solution was a simple one: closed toe shoes. If the children wore them, their feet would be protected. This led she and her husband to start Sole Hope. They not only provide shoes, but help with education, job training for the parents, and medical relief. They left their successful businesses because they believed that actions based on love and hope can change a nation and that such actions can ultimately lead others to Christ. 

Once more, we see someone who sees a need and, ultimately, surrenders to God and says, "Yes, I'll do it."  

In a recent poll, Americans were asked, "What do you pray for?"
82% said they pray for family and friends
74% said they pray for themselves
38% said they prayed for people who suffered a natural disaster
35% said they prayed for prosperity
13% prayed for their favorite sports teams
12% prayed for their government leaders
5% admitted that they prayed for the failure of others
48% said that they prayed every day

First, I found it telling that more people prayed for sports teams than our government, which we are called to pray for. I often think Christians spend too much time complaining about their elected officials and not enough time praying for them.

Nearly half, said they prayed every day. Even nonbelievers pray. Doctors and scientists are continually coming out with studies on the benefits of praying. But is longevity a good enough reason to pray? Many in our culture would answer a resounding, "YES!"  Yet even among Christians, how many of them are praying as Christ taught us to pray? How many of us pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?"  How many of our prayers are more focused on "mine" than "thine?"  I will openly admit that I am guilty of this. I wonder how much of my prayers are focused on self and do I sound to God like my kids sound to me as they continually revise their Christmas lists and tell them to me?

Anne Lamott wrote that too often our prayers swing between "Help me, help me, help me" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Mother Teresa said, "Prayer is not asking. Prayer is about putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depths of our hearts."  She understood that prayer is, "Thy will be done," just as Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. How may of us pray "Thy will be done" and actually mean it?  Sometimes I know that when I am praying that outwardly, inwardly I'm still saying, "But Your will is going to match mine, right?"  When we pray for knowing God's will in our lives, do we really want to know it? Or do we only want to know it when it matches our hopes and expectations?

So often I think we get in the way of God's will because we are still too focused on ourselves. A. W. Tozer wrote, "The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven't come to the end of themselves. We're still trying to give orders, and interfering with God's work within us."  How many of us need to get out of the way, empty ourselves of ourselves, and pray only, "God, I trust you. No matter what the outcome. No matter the path it takes."

Philip Yancey wrote, "I know the Lord is speaking when I stop listening to sounds from the world that feed my sense of pride and ambition." It is about letting go of our agendas. Prayer is not a wish list from a catalog where we have circled everything we want God to give us (a great job, lots of money, a happy, healthy family) and then are disgruntled, angry, and questioning when He doesn't. Faith is not about God serving us, it is about us serving Him.

I think when we reach this point that we let go of our wants and desires and let God be God, we will know His will because He longs to show it to us. Knowing God's will is not an Easter egg hunt. He does not hide it from us. Knowing God's will is not about having a road map, it's about having a relationship. When we pray, we are strengthening that relationship.

How often does God show us His will and we, like the rich young ruler, turn away because we fear what it will cost us?

Are we, like Asher Collie, praying for someone else to do what we are called to do? She realized the truth and surrendered to God. Like Jim Elliot, the missionary who lost his life while trying to evangelize the Huaorani people of Equador,said, "The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for, but we must believe that whatever it involves, it is good, acceptable, and perfect." When we act on God's call, no matter what the outcome, we realize the joy that comes with conforming to the will of God. To know this will, we need an open Bible and an open heart.

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 direct your paths." He shows those who follow obediently. When we truly say, "Thy will be done," let go of our own, we will find that when we do, we will follow God in the embrace of extraordinary love into a life that is far greater than any we could ever have imagined because it will be in service to a heavenly Father who loves us with what Rich Mullins called, "the reckless, raging fury that is called the love of God." Imagine love like the strongest hurricane and that is only a fraction of God's love for us. We must remember that when we pray because when we realize how deep that love really is, we should jump at the chance to follow wherever He leads.


To learn more about Sole Hope, go to their website at:
http://www.solehope.org/





Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Will Of God: Search The Scriptures


Recently I had been asked to teach a class at our church about the will of God from the book Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. I was to teach the last class on the last two chapters of the book. My first reaction to doing this was a resounding, "NO!" I, like Moses, wanted to back out with, "But I'm not a good speaker." I am shy and introverted and public speaking has never been my thing. Yet, the class, which I was also taking, was about doing just this and, my only real reason for saying, "No," was fear. Since God has not given us a spirit of fear, I, reluctantly said yes.

 Now I had a few weeks from the time I was asked until the time I was to teach to prepare. My poor wife had to put up with me during this time of writing out my lesson, revising it, revising it again - and again - and again. She joked, "You could never be a pastor with as much trouble as you take over teaching one lesson."

Last night, despite the inclement weather, I got to finally teach my lesson. And, guess what?  I didn't use 90% of what I had written. I had prayed beforehand that God would speak through me and I hope that He did because I am super harsh and critical of myself and came home dejected because the lesson I taught wasn't the polished one I'd written.

So, I decide to post my lesson here. I am breaking it into the four steps that the chapter I was to cover used for discovering God's will for our lives. The first was Search the Scriptures, second was Get Wise Counsel, the third was Pray, and last was Make a Decision. Here is my lesson on Search the Scriptures. I will post the others separately at later times.


Gary Haugen once said, "If you're wrestling with some sort of decision, reflect for a moment and ask yourself, Am I being brave, or am I being safe. In the end it depends on whether we think God can be trusted." For those who aren't familiar with Gary Haugen, he was the former Human Rights Attorney for the United States Department of Justice. A Christian, he was reading the scriptures and was bothered by what he saw as Christians ignoring the Biblical injunction to "seek justice, protect the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow."  He kept asking God, "Why? Why aren't Christians stepping up to do this?" And each time he was convicted with, "Why aren't you?" So he did. He saw the need to stop human trafficking, such as sexual trafficking and human slavery, and founded International Justice Missions, which is one of the biggest organizations in the world to stop what is a grievous evil taking place all around the globe.

Haugen studied the scriptures. He saw the need, a real physical and spiritual need, and when God asked him to, he said, "Yes."

When I was 10 years old and a Boy Scout, our troop went camping at Crowder's Mountain. It was a crisp, beautiful fall day. The sky was blue. Leaves were in all the autumnal glorious reds, oranges, and golds. But I saw none of this because I was afraid. Why? Because after we hiked up the mountain, we were going to repel down the 150 sheer drop. Now I was terrified of heights and the thought of doing this was overwhelming to me. So much so that I worried endlessly the week before it and, especially, the day of this activity. Other boys were having a blast, but I sat there on a cold rock, sweating, my heart pounding, in terror. The leaders kept trying to persuade me about how much fun this activity was, but I would have none of it. Finally, they tricked me by telling me that all I had to do was try on the harness built. Being a stupid and naive kid, I did and, next thing I know, I'm hooked to that rope and standing on the ledge. That first step off solid ground was the hardest. I don't know how long I stood there before I finally took that step.

But how many of us are like that about the things of God? We stand there, peering over the edge, or skirting around the edge, without ever taking the risk of that first step. We don't fully abandon ourselves fully to God. We are oftentimes too afraid to take that first step because we fear, "What is it going to cost me?"

Why is this?

For many, myself often included, it comes down to an issue of trust. Either we trust God or we don't. He always puts us at a crossroads. First, we have to answer that question that Jesus asks, "Who do you say I am?" If we answer that he is Christ, our Lord and Savior, then every crossroads we come to after that comes down to, "Will you obey me or go your own way?"

I think our fear stems from not fully knowing and trusting the character of God. To fully know Him, we have to spend time in our Bibles because His nature is there from cover to cover. It continually speaks of the "goodness" of God. In Latin, there are more definitions for this word than in English. It can mean beautiful, beneficent, pleasant, loving, and full of mercy and grace.

James 1:17 tells us, "Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming from the father of lights with whom there is no shadow or variation." The last part tells us that He doesn't change. There are no gray areas with God. Like a loving father, He gives "every good and perfect gift."

But do we truly see God as loving? As tender? Luke 13:34 tells us, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest and stoneth them that are sent to her, how often would I have gathered the children together, as a hen doth gather her chicks under her wings, and ye would not." It is God who longs to love and protect His children. It is the children who have abandoned Him.

No matter how bad of a day I have had with my two sons, when they are asleep in their beds at night, I always go in there rooms and look on them with tenderness. I cannot help but love my sons. I kiss their foreheads and I say a quiet prayer over them. As their Papa, I would give my life for them - and I am an imperfect, often selfish, and fallible father. Our heavenly Father isn't. And He loves us as we are, not as we are supposed to be.

Oswald Chambers once wrote, "Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time."

How true this really is.

I often think that life is like a quilt. On the back of a quilt, it's all ugly with knots and seams and it doesn't look like much or make a lot of sense. It's only when we see the front of the quilt that we understand and see the true beauty of the craftsmanship. I think this is how it will be with God when we are finally with him. We will be able to see our lives and go, "Oh, now I get it."

To know his character, we have to daily read our Bibles. Scriptures are there to reveal God to us. The more time we spend in the Word, the more we can see the unchangeable, unshakable, immutable, ever constant, and infinitely holy and loving God. We will see that He is true. He is faithful.

Joshua 1:9 says, "Have I not commanded you? Be of strong and good courage; be not afraid, neither you be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

Now I am someone who struggles with depression. This is something I have dealt with since high school and there have been times in my life that reached the lowest depths one could reach. But what kept me from ending my life as so many others who suffer from clinical depression have?

The love of God.

Psalms 139:8 tells us, "If I ascend into heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there." And He was. That's why I love the Psalms. David and the Psalmists keep it real. They often start off with, "Where are you God? Have you abandoned me?" How many of us can relate to that during difficult times in our lives? But the Psalms always end with, "I may not understand, but I will trust You."  During those times of depression, I learned the truth of Romans 8:39 that says, "Neither 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." And nothing, not even the depths of utter depression did.

God is always with us. We don't need to fear that if we say, "Yes," to the will of God that He is going to declare, "Gotcha! Now I'm going to send you to be a missionary to the third world!" No, as Frederick Buechner wrote in his book Wishful Thinking, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."  How true this is. When He calls us, He calls us to a place where we are capable. So often we build up people like Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, and Katie Davis and put them on spiritual pedestals, but we shouldn't. They are ordinary people falling an extraordinary God. We are, all of us, if we listen to the call, called to be modern day Pauls. These people should not stand out as different from others in Christ, because we should all be striving towards the goal that is set before us.

And God will lead us. It may not necessarily be by a way that we would have chosen or expected, though. Look at how he led the Israelites out of Egypt. He led them to a place where the Red Sea was on one side of them and mountains and a desert were on the other. They had to be asking, "God, did you bring us here so that we would die? Do you want us to die?" No, God doesn't want them dead, he wants them obedient. He put them in a place where they could not save themselves, where only He could and only He would get that glory. He may put us in such a place.

Later God would lead them by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  When God moved, they moved. When He stopped, they stopped. They did not move until He did. Sometimes I think we aren't led because we want to move when He wants us to stand still. Psalm 46:10 tells us, "Be still, and know that I am God." That means, "Stop! I am God." In Latin, "Be still" translates to "Vacate." "Vacate and know that I am God." this is freeing because God is telling us that we are not in control of the situation, nor of the outcomes, and that we don't have to have all of the answers. We are not God. He is.  There is true freedom in trusting God and following His lead. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (2nd Corinthians 3:17)

He will lead us. That is why we are called His sheep. Sheep have to be led.

Why?

Because they are such stupid animals. That's why you don't see any wild sheep. Sheep wander off and must be found. They must be brought back to the fold. To survive they must be under the protective guidance and gaze of the shepherd. Jesus didn't call us any of the smart animals, like dogs or dolphins. Sheep are wholly dependent on their Shepherd. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . ." It's all there in the 23rd Psalm.

This goes openly against our culture. It bucks the Emersonian notion of self-reliance. In this culture, we don't want to be led, we want to be the leader. Even Christians can be this way. We too often are under the false impression that we are smart sheep. To follow God's will means we need to let go of our self-reliance, let go of self, and empty ourselves of ourselves and fill ourselves with the love of God.

Why?

Because, as one of my favorite writers, G.K. Chesterton wrote, "When we bind our hearts, we free our hands." What does that mean? It means, when we truly give our hearts to God, we are freed up to do His will. When we know and understand the character of God, we will want to do the will of God. It means that when we are reading our scripture and trusting a loving Father, we will hear His call and reply, "Yes."

For those interested in learning more about Gary Haugen and the work of International Justice Missions, here is a link to their site:
https://ijm.org/

Monday, February 16, 2015

Science Before The Snowstorm


Since all of our local weathermen are predicting snow and ice to hit our area late today, and because the boys were out of school for President's Day, we decided to take a trip to one of our favorite places - the Schiele Museum to see their new exhibit The Solar System.

No sooner had we entered the exhibit when Cava learned why we do not touch the sun . . .


Walking around to each of the planets, Cava loved all of the interactive monitors that had short videos. He loved reading about planets named after gods because it was "just like in Percy Jackson," which is one of his favorite book series.


This was one of his favorite facts:


Cleverly, he asked, "Shouldn't that have been on Pluto?"

I loved how Cava didn't rush through the exhibit, but stopped, interacted with the monitors, read facts and information about the different planets, about meteorites, and space travel.  


This is a far cry from when he used to make a mad dash from each area of the museum, barely registering any of the exhibits. He was fascinated about space. He loved the calming music they had playing and the twinkling stars overhead.



One of the facts that made the biggest impression on him was this one:


It showed how big the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet was by putting the city of Charlotte in front of it for perspective. "Whoa!," Cava declared, "That is incredible!"


Once we had finished going through this special exhibit, I asked Cava where he wanted to go next. 

His reply? 

Back through The Solar System! Do we have a future astronaut on our hands?