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Showing posts with label United Methodist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label United Methodist. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Madness of Pride


Mark 1:14-15
14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. 15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”  And I'm so grateful Jesus gave his life to win our pardon and break the power of sin in our lives.

Introduction
From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus spent his time reaching out to sinners.  He preached to them, taught them, ate with them, forgave them, and healed them.  Most importantly, he urged them to repent of their sins.  Sin is madness.  It is a form of insanity.  It destroys our lives, hurts people we love, and a damages the world around us.  Worst of all, sin separates us from God—the source and purpose of our life.  Despite all this, we continue to struggle with sin.  It’s madness!  I’m so glad Jesus came preached, “Repent of your sins and believe the Good News.

Most people realize we are sinners and we don’t have a problem asking God to forgive our sin.  However, we might use the word sin in a general way without thinking about the specific ways we sin.  Unfortunately, you can’t address a problem unless you know what it is. So let’s consider some of the basic ways people sin so we can repent and ask God’s forgiveness.  Last week we considered gluttony—over-indulgence and over-consumption.  Today, we will study pride.

In the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, the character Violet Beauregarde represents the sin of pride.  Violet is vain, self-centered, snobby, and disrespectful.  Violet chews gum obsessively and boasts that she has been chewing the same piece "for three months solid", a world record which Violet proudly proclaims was previously held by her best friend. Violet is aggressively competitive and proud of her gum chewing trophies.  Unfortunately, Violet’s pride gets her is BIG trouble.  She steals some of Willy Wonka's defective gum and turns into a blueberry. She has to be squeezed to get rid of all her juice before she explodes. 

The Madness of Pride
Pride is a terrible sin.  All sins are bad, but people tend to think of some sins as worse than others.  Who would disagree that murder is a heinous crime?  Treason against one’s country?  Deplorable.  How about a sexual sin like rape or molestation?  But pride?  Is pride really that bad?

Consider this: the Bible teaches that Satan was once an angel in Heaven.  However, he grew proud (Isaiah 14:13, Ezekiel 28:16) and thought he could take God’s place.  Therefore, God cast Satan from heaven and he will ultimately be destroyed in hell.  Pride caused Satan to fall.

The Bible firmly condemns pride.  Examples:
·       Proverbs 8:13 – I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech
·       Proverbs 16:18 - Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.
·       Isaiah 13:11 - I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty.
·       1 Peter 5:5 - “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
·       Philippians 2:3 - Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

It can be somewhat confusing because we also often use pride in a positive way.  When I was little and I played peewee football, the coach often told us he was proud of us when we did our best.  He also told us to “Have some pride in our team—whether we win or lose.”  And of course, come July 4th, we may proudly salute the American flag and sing “And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free!”  Our hearts sometimes swell with pride in a healthy way.

There’s nothing wrong with having confidence, dignity, and self-respect.  Furthermore, it’s OK to be proud of your kids, which is just a feeling of deep pleasure and admiration you have from being associated with their accomplishments.  And when it comes to our country, we can be proud of our shared identity as a nation who has been truly blessed by God—though I would very strongly caution that we must never be so arrogant as to think our blessings were won by our own efforts.  That is the very sin the Bible condemns nations like Israel for in the Old Testament. 
(Amos 6:8 - …the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, says: “I despise the arrogance of Israel, and I hate their fortresses. I will give this city and everything in it to their enemies.”)  Sinful pride leads us to believe we don't need God. We trust instead in our own power and might and means.

The Pride the Bible condemns is arrogance, vanity, and conceit.  It is thinking more of yourself than you should.  And it leads you to think you are better than others.  And as with Satan, it can make you forget your place and act as though you are higher than God.  Pride will puff you up as big as Violet Beauregarde when she turned into a blueberry.  And the only cure will be for God to squeeze you until there’s no more prideful juice left in your body.  But you don’t have to go through that; not if you just humble yourself and stay away from pride.

It’s Hard to be Humble
“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when your perfect in every way.  I can’t wait to look in the mirror, ‘cause I get better looking each day…”

We need to let go of pride and be humble.  To be humble is to understand who you really are according to God.  Humility is knowing the world doesn’t revolve around me; it is having my place in the universe in proper perspective.  God made humanity from dirt of the ground, but we were made by the very hands of God in His image.  We are the only creatures authorized to represent God.  So humility also recognizes of how unique and special we are without leaving us with a big head to think we don’t need God.

Christians are called to be humble.  But how do we become humble?  Is there anything we can do to become more humble?  Yes there is!  We can pray and cooperate with the Hands of God that want to sculpt humility into our soul.

Here are some exercises that can help God establish more humility in you.

The Little Way
The first exercise is called “The Little Way”.  To follow the little way means that throughout your day you actively seek out the most menial jobs, welcome unjust criticisms, befriend people who annoy you, and help those who are ungrateful.
Example…
Following the little way can help develop more humility within you.

Solitude
Another practice that can help develop humility is solitude.  Solitude means to take some time to be alone.  It is a great practice to get away from people for a little while so you stop worrying so much about what people think and remember to care more about what God thinks.

In the age of social media, we are constantly sharing with others what we are doing, where we are, what we’re eating, etc.  Through Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, we are in constant contact with our “friends” and the whole world has a chance to give us feedback of what they think.  Think how much more spiritually grounded we would be if we were as constantly connected with God and seeking His approval as we are with our social media networks.

Through solitude, we step away from the world—both our face-to-face interactions with people and our virtual interactions through social media—to focus on interacting only with the God who forms us.  Jesus, the Son of God, knew the great benefit of going away to be by himself.  At the onset of his ministry, he spent 40 days alone in the wilderness fasting and communing with God.  It prepared him for his three years of public ministry, culminating in his death and resurrection to save the world from sin.  And throughout his ministry, we read that Jesus rose early in the morning and went away to a lonely place to be by himself and pray.

If a man as busy as Jesus—with twelve disciples to teach and lead and crowds of people constantly following him around begging for food and teaching and healing—could find time to be alone with God, surely we can find more time to be alone with God.  Maybe, it could help us break free from the madness of sinful pride.

Conclusion
The solution to pride is not to run around belittling yourself all the time.  That's just low self esteem or false-humility.  The solution is to glorify God and give Him the credit.  It’s not so much that we are so low; it’s just that God is so high.  Rather than focusing on yourself, keep your eyes lifted up to God.  When we focus our sights on our Heavenly Father, all the rest of life seems to fall in place.

Monday, January 21, 2019

What is Courage?


2 Timothy 1:7
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Introduction
God has been leading me to preach a message about courage for quite some time now.  He first spoke to me about it last spring when I went to San Antonio, TX to see the Alamo.  In 1836, about a hundred Texas and Tejano soldiers were stationed at an an old Spanish mission church that'd been repurposed as a makeshift army garrison.  The held the fort for 13 days against an overwhelming Mexican force.  In the end, the soldiers bravely gave their life defending Texas independence.  Almost all the soldiers in the Alamo were killed or executed.  Their fight took great courage.

Then, last week, I was in New York City to visit the 9/11 memorial.  Again, the Holy Spirit touched my heart about courage as I viewed the exhibits of that tragedy and remembered the firefighters running toward the burning buildings to sae people while everyone else ran away.  But the most courageous demonstration to me was a voice message a flight attendant left for her family.  She called from the last plane, the one that crashed in a Pennsylvania field because the passengers decided to bravely fight back against the hijackers.  The flight attendant called her family, refusing to cry or promise that she would be ok.  All she could say was she was ok for the moment and that she loved her them and that she was sorry and that she hoped she would see them again.

This message has been planned since last spring. Today is the day you are reading it.  I believe God brought it to your attention for a reason.  I pray you will hear His Word to you today.


What is courage?
Google defines courage as the ability to do something that frightens one.  Some people think courage is the opposite of fear.  Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, you cannot have courage without fear.  The opposite of courage is not fear.  The opposite of courage is timidity.  Timidity is shying away from what you must do.  2 Timothy 1:7 says God doesn't give us a Spirit of fear and timidity.  So if you have a spirit of timidity, it didn't come from God.  We are to be bold and courageous.

The Source of Courage
Courage is not something limited only to Christians.  Many people of all different nations and religions have demonstrated incredible courage through throughout the ages.  Some people draw courage from a sense of duty.  Maybe, a soldier has taken a vow to protect his country and his people; and even though they are frightened of death, they may do their duty even if it cost their life.  Their sense of duty gives them courage.  Others may draw courage from a stoic resignation.  They determine that their fate is sealed.  It is what it is and there's nothing they can do to change it.  So they resolve to face their destiny courageously. 

Christians sometimes gather courage from these sources as well.  However a Christian can draw courage from greatest source of all--our faith in Jesus Christ.  Throughout the Bible, we find courage from God's promises to HIs faithful people.

“If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
We can face any fear we have knowing that God is with us and can help us overcome any obstacle.

"Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)
God has promised to overcome our enemies.  We don't have to fear.  We can be bold and courageous knowing God fights alongside us.

"Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that.” (Luke 12:4)
Christians have eternal hope in Jesus Christ.  The worst thing that can happen to us is we die.  Some would say, "Yeah, well that's pretty bad."  But death is not the worst thing that can happen to us and it is not the end.  Death will come for us all, eventually, but Christians have a hope that goes beyond death.

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
Hebrews reminds us that this life, this world and all the things in it are not our goal.  All that we see in this physical world will pass away one day.  But those who trust in Christ have the promise of eternity; and nothing can take that away from those who believe in Jesus Christ.  We can courageously face even death, because our hope transcends the grave.

True Christianity is Radical
There is a halfhearted, lukewarm Christianity in this world that won't offer much hope or courage.  It's a kind of Christianity with the chief aim to make this life better.  It seeks mostly to enhance a person's enjoyment of this life and this world and the things in it.  It promises to help us get ahead at our job, have a happy home, be healthy, and remain safe.  It's a kind of halfway Christianity that doesn't really put Christ first, but instead adds him on as a extra.  The individual is always first and Jesus is only their as an enhancement.  

But this kind of religion won’t do you much good.  It offers little courage.  Half hearted Christianity cannot save anyone.  Christ has to be absolutely first.  Jesus must be Lord if he is also to be your Savior.  You must surrender it all to him and you must give yourself as a living sacrifice.  Giving yourself to completely Christ can be very scary, but you've got to have courage to do it.  It is the only way to truly have eternal life and eternal hope.

Four Steps Towards Courageous Living
I want to give you some practical steps to lead you toward more courageous living.
  1. Embrace your fears. Avoiding fears actually makes them stronger and scarier.  You would think running away would save you from your fear, but it doesn't.  You can only run from your fears for so long.  Eventually, it will catch up to you.  It's better to face your fears now, than fret over them as you vainly try to avoud them.  God ahead and step outside our comfort zone and begin to truly live.
  2. Just do it. When it comes to doing things you fear, the longer you wait in hesitation, the more time your mind has to make the monster bigger.  I once did a team building exercise at a Christian camp.  I had to put on a safety harness attached to a rope that was held by an experienced guide.  Then I had to climb up a very tall telephone pole atop which was a small platform.  Once standing on the platform, I had to jump a short distance and grab a trapeze bar.  Now, remember, I was safely secured by my harness and rope.  If I fell or missed my mark, my guide would safely lower me to the ground.  And yet, it was still very frightening.  I was able to overcome my fear and make the leap, successfully grab the trapeze bar, and then be lowered to the ground.  However, I watched many people who went before me hesitate.  They thought, was they weren't ready.  They would go in a minute.  But the longer they waited, the harder the jump seemed.  They gave their mind time to think about their fear and the fear grew and grew.  The best way to handle the challenge was just do it.  The distance and the danger and challenge never grow smaller the longer you wait.  However the fear usually does grow bigger the more you hesitate.  So just do it.
  3. Pray.  I don’t just mean pray when you must face to face your fears.  You shoudl do that too.  We gain courage as we pray in the face of our fear.  But what I really mean is practice a life of prayer. Prayer is communion with God. Prayer helps us know God is right here with us in every moment. It is much easier to be courageous when we know God is standing beside us. You have to pray daily so your awareness of God’s awesome presence becomes stronger than your fear of the monsters may have to face.  Pray daily.  Pray deeply.  Pray diligently.
  4. Finally, practice makes perfect. You can practice courage. Start with relatively small things. Challenge yourself to be brave in a safe, controlled environment.  Do somethings that you are afraid of.  Are you afraid to talk to someone you don't know.  Take a friend and go out to eat and try to engage your waitress in a short conversation; or go further and talk to someone at a nearby table.  There are all kinds of ways you can practice facing your fears in small doses so you will be better prepared to do it fully if the need ever arises.  Such exercises can be a kind of spiritual discipline to help you rely more and more on God’s strength to overcome timidity.

Our Eternal Hope is in Christ
Titus 3:4-7 – When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.[a] He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

There is eternal hope in Jesus Christ, but you won’t find eternal hope in half hearted, lukewarm Christianity.  Christ has to be absolutely first in your life.  So many are trying to find hope and fulfillment and satisfaction in a career, romantic relationships, family, friends, politics, a car, a house, clothes, money, or possessions.  You can find a type of fulfillment in these, but it is not lasting and it will eventually fail to fulfill the deepest eternal longings in your soul.  Only a relationship with God through Jesus Christ can truly satisfy your deepest longings.  And that only comes when you lay it all down at the altar of God, and offer yourself up as a living sacrifice:
“Lord Jesus!  I give You my life--wholeheartedly.  Take me.  Use me for whatever purpose you wish.  Fill me up or pour me out.  Let me suffer or let me be happy.  Put me to work or lay me aside.  Give me whatever you want or take it all away.  I freely and wholeheartedly surrender it all to Your pleasure and disposal.  I trust You.  I am Yours and You are my Savior, Redeemer, and King.  Amen.”

Maybe you tried to live this way before and failed. Maybe you’re scared you might fail again. But you have to have courage and keep trying and not give up.

Maybe giving yourself to Christ wholeheartedly is scary.  But you've got to do it. You’ve got to have courage.  Take a leap of faith.  Trust in the Lord.

I'm praying for you.  God bless.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Covenant Prayer


Preface
Christmas has come.  We’ve celebrated the birth of Christ, but we are still waiting for him to come again as he promised.  The birth of Christ is only part of the story.  The story continues and is marked at every turn by commitment and sacrifice.  Every good thing worth having comes through commitment and sacrifice.  Listen to the extended story of Christ’s birth and childhood.

Slides – Luke 2:21-42
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.

Introduction
Many people want their spiritual life to be spectacular—to be filled with passion and miracles and signs and wonders.  They want worship to always be special; maybe that’s why so many only attend church on Christmas or Easter.  People want spirituality, not religion; they want to feel God’s love, but they don’t want to practice religious disciplines.  But that’s not the way things usually work in real life.  We don’t usually have a spectacular spiritual life if we don’t practice the daily commitment of religious discipline.  Furthermore, the signs and wonders of God’s intimate and powerful presence in our lives usually happen when we are in the midst of our daily spiritual habits. 

Mary and Joseph were just ordinary people like you and me, but the Bible also describes them as godly people.  They prayed.  They worshiped.  They study God’s Word.  They were committed to their religious duties.  It was in the midst of this religious life that the Angel appeared to Mary and the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus.  It was in the midst of a godly religious life that the Angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to remain committed to Mary, for she was pregnant with the Son of God.  And after the child was born, we see Mary and Joseph continued their religious duties.  They circumcised Jesus when he was 8-years-old, they followed the purification rites according to the Law of Moses, they continued their regular religious duties and even traveled to the Temple in Jerusalem every year. They also trained Jesus to be a faithful Jew.  By the time he was twelve and they took him to the Temple in Jerusalem, he had been studying the Bible (The Torah actually, which was the jewish Bible) and practicing his religion faithfully and knew the Word of God as well as the religious scholars.  Practice makes perfect; that's true in you spiritual life as well as anything else.  And it was true for Jesus too.

In our text this morning, we also see the religious commitment of an old man named Simeon.  He was righteous and devout.  And there was a widowed prophet named Anna, who was 84-years-old.  It says, “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”  A very “religious” woman, but her determined, daily commitment to religious practice (and also Simeon’s) led to a spectacular, once in a lifetime spiritual experience.  They both get to see and hold and pray with and bless the baby Jesus.

Things Worth Having
Things worth having are worth waiting for, working for, fighting for, and never giving up on.  The biggest, most important blessings in life come through commitment.  We celebrate the special moments of life—when a youth graduates from high school, a young couple get married, the birth of a child, etc.  We flood Facebook and Instagram with pictures capturing these special milestones.  But these moments in and of themselves are nothing if not bathed in deep, daily commitment.  It is not the marriage ceremony or the pictures that matter; it is the love that the bride and groom have for each other that compels them to remain by each other’s side in good times and bad time, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health their whole life long.  We anticipate the glorious birth of a child with a young couple, but the true glory is in the old women and men like Anna and Simeon who have lived a life of deep commitment and sacrifice, raising children and grandchildren, serving their friends, their church, their community. 

Covenant Prayer
Over the last month, I’ve shared about many different kinds of prayer.  We can experience some very special and intimate spiritual time with God through many different types of prayer.  I want to share one more.  It is called covenant prayer.  A covenant is an agreement.  It is a promise between God and His people.  Throughout the Bible, God has promised to care for His people.  And God calls His people to be committed in our relationships too--with people and with God.

A relationship can only go as far as our commitment to one another.  That’s why a man and a woman decide to get married and promise to love each other until death.  It assures the couple they can trust each other at the deepest, most vulnerable levels of life because they can trust their partner will not abandon them no matter what. 

The same principle applies in our spiritual lives.  If you want a deep spiritual life, if you want to experience the spectacular power and loving presence of God in your life, you’ve got to be deeply committed to God.  If you want real answers to the deep questions of life that go beyond those trite clich├ęs, you’ve got to be deeply committed.  If you want true healing from terrible scars, freedom from heavy chains, or true hope in the midst of hopelessness, you’ve got to be truly committed to the Healer, Liberator, and Source of all Hope.  Why would God cast His pearls before swine who would only trample them in the mud and then break out of the pen to run away to some other field?

Our deep commitment to God is an essential act of prayer that opens up true and deep communion with the One who makes life worth living, who brings answers to our most important questions, who shows us questions we never even thought to ask, and grants us true peace as we walk through life in the midst of His perfect will.

How Will you Be Committed in the Coming Year?
Our Covenant Prayer with God encompasses many areas.  There is the covenant of holy obedience.  God is the rightful ruler of all.  He deserve our obedience, not because of anything He has done for us, but because He is Lord of all.  Will you make a covenant to put obedience to God above yoru family, you nation, your career, everything?  Will you obey even if it makes you look strange or cost you?

There is the covenant of time.  We you make your time with God your first priority?  Prayer, worship, study, and service are important but not necessarily urgent.  There are always other commitments that try to steal your time, claiming to be more urgent that your devotional time.  And the truth is, the sky is not going to fall if you skip church or your prayer time or reading your Bible.  However, over time, we grow weak as we neglect the important religious exercise of prayer, study, worship, and service.  You will always reap what you sow.  And for years, decades, centuries, Americans have been neglecting these critical elements of religious life.  That's why we and our families and our communities have grown so spiritually weak.  Will you make a covenant with God to be faithful with your time?

There is the covenant of place.  We all need to worship, study, and pray in private.  But we cannot only do these in private.  We must also be part of a community of faith.  You cannot be a Christian only in private.  Christianity is a communal experience.  Will you make a covenant to be part of the Body of Christ--to worship and serve the Lord in the Church?  Where will that be?

There is the covenant of preparation. Will you covenant to come to worship prepared to be in the presence of the Lord?  So many people complain, "I don't get anything out of worship when I come to church."  Often times, those are the same people who stayed up extra late on Saturday night and who barely made it to worship on Sunday, who came in late, who sat in the pew the whole time thinking about what they would do for the rest of the day.  They weren't prepared to worship the Living God and they weren't fully present while they were here.  No wonder they didn't feel fed.  Do you realize, in worship, you are in the presence of the Lord of the universe.  He is so deep we cannot fathom Him, so infinite our finite minds cannot comprehend Him--even if we spent years preparing to visit with Him.  And yet, we do so little to prepare to meet Him!  We should at least begin preparing our heart on Saturday evening, get to bed on time, rise early on Sunday with plenty of time to spare, and be prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit's assistance the whole time to prepare us to meet our Lord in worship.  Will you make a covenant with God to be prepared to meet Him regularly?

There is the covenant of resources.  Jesus said, where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.  What you spend your time, energy, money, and resources on show what are your priorities.  Will you make a covenant to put God first with your financial giving, your time, and your other commitments?  For what you are truly committed to makes all the difference in what you receive spiritually.  We receive our greatest blessings through commitment and sacrifice. 

Your Covenant Commitments for 2019
I invite you to consider your covenant commitments for 2019.  I pray you will be fully committed, willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God, and thus receive the full blessing God wishes to grant you.  

Monday, December 17, 2018

Formation Prayer


Preface - I highly recommend Richard Foster's book, Prayer, as a resource as you study prayer.  Foster's book has been a valuable resource to me as I've developed this series on prayer and in my own efforts to deepen my prayer life.

People of earth, take me to your leader.
We are the people of earth. This is our home. It is not just that we are from the earth.  The Bible says we were made from her.  For God, in the beginning, made us from the dust of the ground.  He formed us with his hands. He shaped us in His image and gave us dominion over all the earth.

We were created with a purpose—to be in constant communion with God. Prayer is how we enjoy that fellowship. Far more than just folding our hands, bowing our heads, and closing our eyes to say a few words that mimic what we hear the preacher say on Sunday in church, prayer is placing ourselves back into the hands of the One who formed us in our mother's womb to continue the work of shaping us into the people He wants us to be.  And so, today, I want to talk a little on formation prayer.

Formation prayer is the intentional act of letting go of self and letting God’s form in us His attitudes, behaviors, and goals.

Isaiah 29:16
How foolish can you be?  He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!  Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”?  Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”?

Formation Prayer
In the church, we like to say “Prayer changes things.”  The most important thing it changes is us.  We are bound to change as we rub up against God Eternal through prayer.  When we start out praying, our prayers are mostly asking God to change our situations.  Often times, we are in those situations because of our own actions.  When I was a kid, my older brother had a BB gun and I wanted one so bad.  My mom was wise enough to know I shouldn't have one; I was mature enough yet.  Finally, I grew old enough she thought it would be OK and my brother handed down his Daisy Red Rider BB Gun.  I invite my friend Paul over and we played with it all day!  That was, until my pesky little sister started bugging us.  She was two-years-younger than me and she always wanted to bother me when my friends came over.  Finally, I'd had enough and I told her if she didn't leave us alone, I was gonna shoot her.  I pointed the BB gun at the ground near her feet and fired it to scare her.  The BB hit her in the foot and her world fell apart!  She ran off to tell my mom and I started to pray!  "Lord, please don't let my mama kill me!  And don't let her take the BB gun away!"  Well, God answered my prayers, sort of.  My mom didn't kill me, but she did take that BB gun away!  I obviously wasn't mature enough to have it yet.  You never point a gun at someone like that, even if you think it's unloaded and even if it's only a cheap, low-powered BB gun.  To many people have been maimed or killed that way.  I needed to learn to respect guns and thankfully I have.  My mom's lesson of taking that BB gun away from me when I was a kid helped teach me that lesson.

Perhaps you have heard of Abraham.  He is known as Father Abraham in three of the world's major religions--Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  Abraham gave the world a revolutionary idea.  He believed in God, but that wasn't that revolutionary.  Everyone in his day believed in God.  But Abraham believed in a God no one could see.  Everyone else worshiped animals or heavenly bodies or idol statues--things they could see, hear, and maybe even touch.  And along comes Abraham who believed an invisible God by faith alone.  People probably thought he was crazy, but Abraham knew it is important not to have any created thing represent the supreme God who created it all.  No idol could represent God and God later commanded Abraham descendants, "Do not make idols of any kind" (Exodus 20).  

It might be easier to worship an idol.  It doesn't take as much faith.  You can see it and touch it.  And you can make that idol god look like anything you want.  You can make it just the way it pleases you.  Plus, you can keep that idol put away in a drawer or the corner of some temple and only bring it out when you need something.  Then, you can put it away until the next time you need something.  Furthermore, if that idol ever tells you something you don't like, you can throw it away and make yourself a new god who will never say or do anything you don't like.  

Sure, that would be easy, but we know that's not the way it works, right?  We don't make God.  God makes us.  However, there is a way of praying--that many people practice--that treats God like some idol statue you can take out and pray to when you want something and then put him away back in some dark and forgotten drawer once we get what we want.  But that’s not real.  That’s not who God is.  We can’t control Him and we don’t tell Him what to do.  We've got things turned upside down up if we think that’s the way prayer works.

It was God who made us.  We are the idols—the images made to look like God.  We are the only idols authorized in the Bible.  God authorized us to look like Him.  The Eternal and Living God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, The One True God, the Great I am, who spoke the universe into existence, lovingly took the dirt of the earth into His divine hands and formed us and shaped us in His image.  And He is still working His art in Your life today.  Our job, then, is to yield to His vision.  Formation prayer is the method through which we yield.

Hummus and Humility
My wife and I discovered a new snack food called hummus about 15 years ago when I was in seminary.  I was the first one to try it.  They served some free food to the starving seminary students at Emory and I was glad for the free food.  They said, "Here try this.  It's called hummus."  I said, "What's hummus?"  They said, "It's popular in Mediterranean countries like Israel.  It's made from ground up chickpeas, olive oil, and lemon juice."  I tried is and it was pretty good.  Hummus used to be an exotic dish, but it's now become quite popular.  You can get it at the grocery store just about everywhere. now.

Hummus, comes from the same root word as humas, which means soil—specifically the layer of topsoil that is packed with organic matter that makes agriculture possible—like the amazing corn fields I see all around my community every summer.  Human also comes from the same root word; we are people of the earth and made from earth.

Humility is another word that grows out of the same family of words.  So there’s this connection between humanity, humility, and the earth:  humility is lowliness like the dirt of the earth (which is what we are made of); also, there is the idea of being grounded in the dirt.  Humility is freedom from pride or arrogance.  Some people think of humility as having low self-esteem, but that’s not it.  To be humble is to understand who you really are according to God.  Humility is knowing the world doesn’t revolve around me; it is having my place in the universe as a human in proper perspective.  We were made from dirt, humus, but we were made by the very hands of God in His image.  So humility also recognizes how unique and special we are without leaving us with a big head that thinks we don’t need God.

Christians are called to be humble humans.  But how do we become humble people of Earth?  We certainly aren't born that way.  Most children start out thinging the world revolves around them.  We have to grow beyond that self-centered mentality with God's help.  Through prayer, we can cooperate with the Hands of God that want to sculpt humility into our humanity.

Let me share some prayer exercises that can help God establish more humility with you.

The Little Way
The first prayer exercise is called “The Little Way”.  To follow the little way means that throughout the day you actively seek out the most menial jobs, welcome unjust criticisms, befriend people who annoy you, and help those who are ungrateful.  There are lowly jobs like washing dishes, taking out the trash, cleaning the toilet, and other task that may seem beneath our rank in society or where we work.  Rather than avoiding these, make a point to get your hands dirty with these jobs.  Actively seek them out.  It will help you develop humility by remembering you are not too important.  We also all know people who get on our nerves and really annoy us.  But rather than avoiding them, seek to be their friend and rpay that God would help you to love them the way He loves you.  Realise that you are annoying to someone too, but God still loves you.  So, intentionally seek out and befriend people that bug you and it will help make you humble.  Follow the little way toward humility.

Solitude
Another prayer practice that can help us with humility is solitude.  Solitude means to take some time to be lonely.  It is a great practice to get away from people for a little while so you stop worrying so much about what people think and remember to care more about what God thinks.

In the age of social media, we are constantly sharing with others what we are doing, where we are, what we’re eating, etc.  Through Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, we are in constant contact with our “friends” and the whole world has a chance to give us feedback about what they think.  Think how much more spiritually grounded we would be if we were as constantly connected with God as seeking His approval as we are with our social media networks.  What if we sent a snapchat to God in prayer as often as we snapchatted with our friends.  What if we posted or tweeted a prayer as often as we do on Facebook or Twitter.  Through solitude, we step away from the world—both our face-to-face interactions with people and our virtual interactions through social media—to focus on interacting only with the God who forms us.  

Jesus, the Son of God, knew the great benefit of going away to be by himself.  At the outset of his ministry, he spent forty days alone in the wilderness fasting and communing with God in prayer.  It prepared him for his three years of public ministry, culminating in his death and resurrection to save the world from sin.

But who has the time (or spiritual fortitude) in our crazy, hectic, and fast-paced world to go away and spend “forty days alone in the wilderness”?  Well, some people do.  There are some who are retired or have the kind of career that would allow an extended spiritual pilgrimage like Jesus took.  It might require a great sacrifice of time and money, but it is possible.  For most, that long a pigrimage is just not practical.  But if not 40 days, how about one weekend.  Most people could manage that.  There are even spiritual retreats like the Walk to Emmaus that are tailored to guiding people into deeper spirituality through study, contemplation, and solitude.  Certainly, everyone could manage one day or or one afternoon of solitude.

We often say we “don’t have time” for alone time with God; usually, the truth is we don’t make time.  We “make time” for the things that are a priority in our life.  Who do you know who was busier than Jesus Christ during the three years of his ministry on earth.  Crowds of needy people followed him all over the countryside begging for food, for healing, for wisdom, for salvation.  There were also those who despised him, who opposed him, who argued with him, who were threatened by him and wanted him dead.  The Gospels often say he was surrounded and pressed by the crowds so that his only way to escape was to get in a boat and flee out across the Sea of Galilee where the crowds couldn’t follow.  And yet still, the Gospels say again and again that Jesus “got up early before everyone else to go spend time alone with God in prayer.”  If the Son of God needed solitude, how is it that we don’t think we need it?

Could you not find a few extra minutes in your day to spend some time alone with God, worrying more about what He thinks of you than your friends on Facebook and Instagram?  This is possible for most of us, but it means we have to be intentional to carve out some private time for us and God and start to change our mindset so we become more interested in what God wants for us than what the world thinks about us.

Romans 12:2 says, "Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Conclusion
Above all, we must pray that God would take us in His hands and form us like a Master Potter forms clay.  As we humble ourselves, our flaws are revealed and we lift them up to God to change them to conform more fully to His glory.  For the God who formed Adam from the dust of the earth is still forming people today.  He wants to hold you in His mighty hands and sculpt you into a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that reflects His divine image perfectly.  But He won’t force His artistry upon you.  You must open your life to Him and invite His hands to take hold of you.  Will you?

I invite you to take a few moments to go to the Lord privately right now.  I give you this time to be alone with God in solitude to speak to Him and invite Him to form you into His image.






Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Continual Prayer


Preface - I highly recommend Richard Foster's book, Prayer, as a resource as you study prayer.  Foster's book has been a valuable resource to me as I've developed this series on prayer and in my own efforts to deepen my prayer life.

Introduction and Definition
I love the lyrics in the song “Let Us Pray” by Steven Curtis Chapman when it says, “And just because we say the word, "Amen", it doesn't mean this conversation needs to end.  Let us pray, let us pray, everywhere in every way.  Every moment of the day, it is the right time.  Let us pray without end and when we finish start again.  Like breathing out and breathing in, let us pray.

There are so many ways to pray and today I want to talk about continual prayer (AKA Unceasing Prayer).  If prayer, at its heart, is really communion with God, shouldn’t prayer be something we do every minute of every day?  Why do we say “amen” and go on with our life—as if prayer were something we paused to do apart from everything else.  Don’t we want to walk with God all the time, to be in constant communion with Him?  Is that even possible?  It is possible and it’s called continual prayer and Scripture commends it to us.

Ephesians 6:18 – Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Romans 12:12 – Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 - Never stop praying.

Now continual prayer doesn’t mean walking around all day with our heads bowed, hands folded, and eyes closed in prayer.  There are other ways to work towards a constant state of prayer throughout the day.  I want to share some exercises that can help you be in more constant prayerful communion with the Lord.

Breathe Prayer
One spiritual exercise is known as breath prayer.  A breath prayer is a short prayer you can pray in one breath.  An example of a breath prayer from Scripture is the prayer of the tax collector from Luke 18:13, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.”  Perhaps you remember the story…

The idea behind a breath prayer is to choose one breath prayer to focus on for an entire day.  Then, you say your breath prayer throughout the day as you are driving, working, cooking dinner, cleaning up, or whatever you are doing.  You don’t say the words of your prayer continuously; rather you say it whenever you think about it and try to reflect on it all day.  You make the prayer the focus of your thinking throughout the day.  In doing so, you stay in a prayerful attitude and open your heart to whatever the Lord might speak on the subject.  You can make up your own breath prayer or try one from Scripture, such as:
“Speak Lord, for your servant hears…” (1 Samuel 3:9 & 10, NKJV).

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1, KJV).

“Know that Jesus is Lord… Cease striving” (Based on Psalm 46:10, NASB).

“In Christ alone my soul finds rest…” (Based on Psalm 62:1).

"My help comes from the Lord…" (Psalm 121:2)

"Here I am." (Isaiah 6:8)

"Show your power." (Based on Psalm 80:2)

"Not my will, but yours." (based on Matthew 26:39)

"Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20)

Practicing the Presence of God
Another way we can move toward the continual prayer of constant communion with God is an exercise called practicing the presence of God.  Psalm 13:8 says, “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.”  We may know in our mind that God is everywhere, all the time, but our heart does not always feel God’s presence in every place, all the time.  It takes practice to help our heart feel what our mind already knows.  Christians throughout the ages have developed techniques to open the awareness of our heart to God’s presence with us all the time.

Few people jump straight into full awareness of God’s presence with us everywhere and all of the time.  We have to take baby steps to progress toward that goal.  You can think of it like learning to writing.  When you are a child—maybe five or six-years-old—you don’t jump from being illiterate straight to writing a long essays.  No.  First, you have to learn the alphabet—A, B, C, D…  Then you have to learn the sounds they make and how letters form together to make words.  And then, you have to learn how to hold a pencil and how to form certain pen-strokes that form letters and learn how to keep the words you write neat and all on the same line.  It takes years of practice to learn to write well.  In the beginning, you struggle because you have to think about every letter and every word you form.  Then, you learn to make coherent sentences.  Then, after a time, it starts to become more natural and you begin to write without having to think about it all that much.  It’s just natural.

The same is true when we practice the presence of God.  We take small steps that move us from the very beginning stages to more advanced stages where our awareness of God’s presence with us all the time is something we don’t have to think about; we just know it to be true and we feel Him and know Him all of the time.  Here are some steps that can help you grow as you practice the presence of God.

The first step feels a little artificial.  It is an exercise that takes practice and work.  You have to rehearse it again and again before it starts to be natural and you can move on to more advanced stages.  In the first step, we look for ordinary everyday reminders to call us to prayer.    Teachers could learn to say a quick prayer every time they hear the school bell ring.  Or maybe it could be a reminder to pray every time you see your favorite color.  Doctors, nurses, and surgeons might say a prayer every time they scrub up or wash their hands.  You could even set an alarm on your phone or your wrist watch to go off every hour to remind you to pray.  Your prayers need not be long.  They could be a simple breath prayer.

The second step in practicing the presence of God starts when our prayers begin to happen subconsciously.  After a while, our short, regular prayers start to become so habitual we don’t need the reminders anymore.  We don’t even think about it; we just automatically pray because our prayer habits have become so engrained into our daily life.  At this stage, you may start to see some practical changes in your attitudes and behavior.  You may be less agitated in traffic; you may worry less; you may treat people with more kindness.  You are beginning to feel that God is with you even in those moments you used to exclude Him from before.  Knowing He is with you changes how you act and empowers you to be more like Christ in every moment.

The third stage occurs as prayer moves into the heart.  Our prayer has become more of an attitude of the heart than of just words we say.  We may not even articulate a prayer, but our thoughts, feelings, and behavior now express the sentiments we formerly spoke in prayer.  We are walking in close communion with the Lord.  He is in us and part of us and our lives become a continual pray of God’s love.  We also begin to see others the way God sees them.  Richard Foster writes in his book Prayer, “We walk into a room and quickly know who is sad or lonely or dealing with a deep, inexpressible sorrow.  In such cases, we are able to slip over beside them and sit in silence, bringing comfort and understanding and healing, knowing that “deep calls to deep” (Psalm 42:7).

Answers to Objections
Some may have concerns about continual prayer.  In Matthew 6:7, Jesus warned, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.  Some have argued the kinds of continual prayers I’ve mentioned are like the repetitive babbling of the Gentiles that Jesus condemned.  But I don’t think so.  What Jesus was dealing with was religious leaders who liked to make a public spectacle out of the prayers in order to impress people and pagans who thought prayer was some kind of magical incantation they could use to control God. 

The kind of continual prayers we want to practice are secret prayers.  We aren’t doing them as a way of showing off for others.  In fact, if you do them right, you could go through your entire day without anyone even knowing you were praying.  It is a practice between you and God alone.  Furthermore, you are not trying to manipulate God by repeating your prayers over and over as some magical incantation.  The point of your repetition is to affect your own behaviors and attitudes, not God’s.  There’s nothing wrong with repetition.  In Matthew 26: 36-44, Jesus repeated his prayers about his cup of suffering three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Lord, if it is possible, take this cup from me!”  Furthermore, he said we should, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).
  
Some people may be afraid of constant communion with God.  What if you are angry or having an argument with your wife or are angry at your kids?  While some might want Jesus to be very close to them in those moments, others might feel awkward thinking of God seeing them in those unflattering times.  It’s ok.  God is patient with us.  Richard Foster puts it this way in his book:

“Frankly, beyond the desperation prayers… (“O God, help!”), I have found that I cannot pray during these times.  So rather than try to fool myself by piously pretending constant communion, what I do in such situations is to ask God for a timeout.  He is gracious as always and understands our frailty.  In time we can come back and try again.  The question is not whether we fail again and again—that is a given; the question is whether over a period of time we are developing a practiced habit of divine fellowship.”

Conclusion
So, know that you’ve heard about continual prayer, how might you put it into practice in your life.  We need to pray faithfully.  We also need to pray deeply.  Prayer is the life blood of our relationship with God.  It is why we were put here on earth.  So how might you use the techniques of continual prayer to help you be in more constant fellowship with God through prayer?