Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jesus is Fun to Be With

Jesus is fun to be with. Children thought so. They loved being with Jesus, and he loved being with them.

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me" (Matthew 19:14). Jesus invited the children to "come" to him just as he invited Peter to come to him by walking on the water (Matthew 14:28-29).

Jesus invited the children to "come" to him just the way he invites us, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). In simple childlike faith, humility, dependence, we come to God and follow Christ.

As complicated as life can become and as complicated as the Christian life can become, Jesus draws us to consider the simplicity of a child. We respond to his invitation to "come" to him.

I find the invitation of Jesus warm and welcoming and inviting. He invites me to spend time with him, talk with him, be with him, walk alongside him. With him I receive focused attention all the time. No rush. No hurry. Never too busy. Always available. Easy to be with, unless I have sin piling up in my life. But even there, he unties me from things that bind me. And he unwinds the knots of strain and stress. He releases me into freedom and joy. Jesus is fun to be with.

Jesus says, "Come to me. Come to me as a little child. Come with innocent faith, simply trusting. Come with humility. Be real. Learn of me. Lean on me. Depend on me. Just come to me."

Has it been too long that you have come to God as a little child? When was the last time you crawled into Jesus’ lap as a child? Can you recall the last time you let God love you?

Remind yourself what you were like as a child. Spend time with children to learn again the heart of a child. Return again to that simplicity. Jesus is fun to be with.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Transformation for Every Decade

I remember my father telling me that every issue in his Christian life needed to be revisited when he was in his fifties and taken to a deeper level. I concur.

Theological issues that I resolved as a younger believer, I have had to wrestle with in more thorough ways. Personal issues that I overcame as a younger Christian, I have had to re-overcome. Spiritual disciplines that I locked in as a younger disciple, I have had to revisit and relearn.

My conclusions: We are always growing -- theologically, personally, spiritually. And our God is able to meet our needs at every decade of our lives. And the result is a deeper transformation.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Written Prayers

I don't know what you think about written prayers, but I find that using written prayers in my own devotional life with God broadens my Christian horizon, articulates unexpressed thoughts and desires, and connects me with Christians from very different historical and cultural situations yet who have experienced the same God I know and love.

Two written prayers have captured me recently.

The first is from Basil the Great (c.330-379), Bishop of Caesarea, theologian, and one of the three great Cappadocian Fathers of the church. I love the way he captures the imagery of traveling by sea, contemporary for his world and relevant to mine.

"Steer the ship of my life, Lord, to Your quiet harbor, where I can be safe from the storms of sin and conflict. Show me the course I should take. Renew in me the gift of discernment, so that I can see the right direction in which I should go. And give me the strength and the courage to choose the right course, even when the sea is rough and the waves are high, knowing that through enduring hardship and danger in Your Name, we shall find comfort and peace. Amen. "

The second if from Henry Martyn (1781-1812), scholar and pioneer missionary to India and Persia.

"Lord, I am blind and helpless, stupid and ignorant, cause me to hear; cause me to know; teach me to do; lead me."

To that I can identify! I feel that way too!

What do you think about written prayers? Do you have any written prayers that have been meaningful to you? Can you identify with, echo, pray one of these prayers to God from your heart?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Does Your Church Pray?

How does your church pray? If I were to list the ways our church prays, I would include:

• Various kinds of prayers at worship gatherings
• Prayer chain
• Prayer at multiple ministries & meetings, often at beginning & end
• Elders Saturday morning prayer
• Wednesday night prayer gathering
• Monthly Potluck & Prayer
• Sunday Morning Communities prayer
• Small group prayer
• Elders prayer for healing

You might say, "Well, it appears we are a praying church!"

Yet within me is a holy dissatisfaction that we are missing Holy Spirit energized, fervent, faith-filled, passionate, transformative, fruit-bearing prayer!

There is a difference between a church that prays and a praying church. Prayer needs to be central.

Prayer is the place of power that brings about tangible results. Prayer is the source of releasing God’s love and blessing. Prayer is the environment in which God shows up.

To that end we keep praying about praying!

• To invite God to come down and visit us with his manifest presence.
• To ask the Lord to forgive us for our praylessness.
• To implore the Spirit of God to breathe new life into our church.
• To get desperate for the oil of the Spirit to flow within every ministry and gathering.
• To seek the Lord for a fresh visitation from heaven!

Doing ministry apart from the fervent prayers of God’s people is like running in waist high water. You expend a lot of energy to move forward a little distance. I want to expend less energy to gain more much for God.

That’s what prayer does, because prayer is the work, and then God works!

And when God wants to do something great, he gets his people to praying.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Prayer Life of a Church

How is the prayer life of your church? Part of that answer includes the prayer life of individual Christians. But if you were to evaluate specifically how central is prayer to the life and health and growth of your church, how would you asssess your church?

One of the core values of our denomination, The Christian & Missionary Alliance, is prayer: "Prayer is the primary work of the people of God."

One of the core values of our church is prayer: "Doing everything in prayerful dependence upon the Lord and expecting God’s manifest presence."

Yet are we satisfied with our answers to prayer? Are we satisfied with the results of prayer? Are we seeing the genuine spiritual fruit of prayer in changed lives?

The life of a church not being surrounded, bathed, and covered by a blanket of prayer is like running in waist high water. You expend a lot of energy to gain little.

I want to expend a lot of energy for God and gain much. I want to pour out myself for others and gain much.

That may mean rethinking how we do prayer as a congregation. That may mean reinventing church prayer structures.

Whatever it takes, we need God. We want God. We are desperate for God's manifest presence.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

30 Days to Pray About Praying!

Some wonder why church community prayer is important. They wonder if corporate prayer is really emphasized in the Bible at all.

Yet Jesus wants his church to be a "house of prayer" (Matthew 21:31). In fulfilling the five purposes of the church -- worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship and ministry -- prayer surrounds and envelopes and bathes them all.

Our Lord taught us to pray: "Our Father . . . give us today our daily bread . . . forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." All plurals.

We also see in the Acts 1 how the church was gathered together with united hearts and minds in one place praying together in community -- "all joined together constantly in prayer" (Acts 1:14).

Then in that atmosphere of prayer, the Holy Spirit came upon them in Acts 2, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And the church exploded with power and expanded with people.

Let me invite you for the next 30 days to pray about praying! To pray something like this:

"Lord, teach me to pray. Lord, teach us to pray. Breathe new life into my stale prayer life. Lead our church community to form fresh avenues and structures for prayer. Grant me, and our church family, a fresh spirit of prayer!"

30 days to pray about praying. A 30-day prayer experiment. A 30-day spiritual adventure. I wonder what God will do!

Tell me what you sense the Lord saying to you about prayer. . . .

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Bible Changes Lives

We say the Word of God is inspired by God, and the inspired Word of God changes lives. But I'm curious. Specifically, can you think of a personal example where the Word of God changed your life? The more I thought about it, the more verses came to mind.

I think of 1 Corinthians 2:14 that describes how "spiritual things are spiritually discerned". Having grown up in a Christian home, my father as a pastor, I knew a lot of Bible stuff. But I really didn't understand the Christian life, nor did I know God.

Yet when I heard this verse at age 18, a light dawned on me. I could not understand spiritual things until I was spiritually reborn. I was a spiritual skeleton without muscle or tissue or life.

I also recall Isaiah 41:10, which was such a strength to me while serving on a 10-month missions trip to the Philippines -- "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

I often leaned upon God and felt God's hand upholding me during that season of my life.

A third verse that has been especially life transformative is Psalm 27:8, "My heart says of you, 'Seek his face!' Your face, Lord, I will seek."

I hear that verse often echoing deep down into me. And I respond with full face upward to God.

Yes, the Bible has saved me, guided me, changed me. And I'm curious about you. What specific verse from the Scriptures has changed you? Tell me about it. I'm interested.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Divorce Proof Your Marriage

Years ago I learned that one of the best gifts I can give my wife and children is to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. If they had a husband and father who loved God first, then God would enable me to love them and listen to them and lead them.

The statistics about marriage are not good. You've heard them before. The divorce rate in America is 41% for a first marriage, 60% for a second marriage, and 73% for a third marriage.

To strengthen and divorce proof my own marriage with Donna, I've made four spiritual promises.

1. I promise to align myself with the truth of God's Word. As I align my own responses, expectations, moods, speech, actions and attitudes with God's Word, the resulting person God is changing me to become is a husband Donna can live with and love.

I find this especially true in how I view myself. For example, viewing myself as a worthless nobody or wallowing in self-pity really sucks the joy out of a marriage. Who wants to be around that?

Yet God views me as a child of God, with significance, with purpose, with delight. When I align myself with these truths, I am a person Donna can live with and love.

2. I promise to be filled with God's Spirit. When I tap into God's source of power, I find God enables me to be the kind of husband he wants me to be. The fruit of the Spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control -- are first needed in my own home.

And when God pours out his Spirit upon me, I can be a channel of God's blessing, passing along what I have received.

3. I promise to open myself up to God changing me. When I was first married, I tried to change all of Donna's flaws -- or all the things I thought were flaws! Well, you guessed it. It didn't work. I learned quickly -- okay, about a year.

Eventually I quit trying to change Donna, and let God do that. I worked more on accepting her the way she is. And I worked more on letting God change the flaws and blind spots in me.

4. I promise to listen and communicate with love. Marriage expert John Gottman says a minimum of twenty minutes a day in true communication with your spouse decreases a couple's chances of divorce and greatly increases marital satisfaction.

Just twenty minutes a day listening and talking with Donna, understanding her heart, valuing her words makes a happy home.

Four promises to strengthen and divorce proof my marriage. This is an incomplete list. What promise would you add?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Faith That Takes

Faith is an action verb. Faith in God receives something from God. Faith in God takes something from God.

When we ask in faith believing, we expect to receive. When we seek for an answer, we expect to find. When we knock on heaven's door, we expect to see the door open.

Faith is not passive but active.

Faith does not simply accept what God is giving; faith expects something wonderful. Faith is not simply asking for something good; faith is taking something great.

Faith is not a spiritual experiment that you hope will take effect sometime soon. Faith takes from the hand of God for your specific need as a present reality.

Faith claims that Jesus your Savior is touching you now. Faith believes that your loving Lord is beginning the work this very moment. Faith sees with your mind’s eye the fulfillment of the answer.

Faith is not a sleepy compliance that waits passively for something to happen. Faith is active receptivity that takes forcefully what God wants to give.

You move beyond the belief that God can. You claim the specific blessing from the Lord. You count upon it to happen, confess it to be true, consider it done, and act as though it is a reality.

While by faith you are receiving your answer to prayer in the present, the now, you are also giving God time to work out its actual fulfillment in the way he sees best.

True faith takes.