Proactive Prayers

February 26, 2013 — Leave a comment
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It’s not uncommon to hear about some scandal in the Church. Whether it’s a small issue that only local congregants know about, or a large one that receives national media attention, it is not uncommon to be reminded that the Church is made up of sinners and as such there are going to be times where we, and God, are disappointed by its members’ actions.

When I hear about such incidents, one of my first responses is to pray for the people involved. I ask that God would be glorified even in the midst of the hurt and the embarrassment. If it is something that is played out on the national stage, I also often ask that those who speak representing the Church would do so in a way that demonstrates God’s holiness and not in a way that is fodder for soundbites and pundits. I believe that this is an appropriate response. After all, while people may let us down, God never will. Our dependent should be on God alone and these circumstances often serve as a reminder of that fact.

However, I’ve recently been convicted that praying after the events occur is not enough. While asking God to redeem a situation is appropriate, it would be better if I were praying against them before they ever occurred. It would be good for me to be regularly lifting up those in positions of influence and authority – in the church I attend and in the Church around the globe. It would be wise if I did not merely react to these situations, but sought to proactively pray against the devil’s influence and strongholds in people’s lives. I need to not only respond after the fact, but I need to be mindful of where vulnerabilities may lie and to pray that God would work in those individuals’ lives before those vulnerabilities are exploited and the Kingdom of God is marred as a result.

Having this proactive approach requires diligence. It is much easier to simply watch as scandals unfold, shake my head, and pray that God would restore and redeem in those circumstances. However, being proactive about my prayers not only petitions for God’s hand in circumstances before scandal occurs, it makes me more mindful of what I am doing to represent God and His Kingdom well. It reminds me that although my life may not play out in the news media, there are people who’s impression of Christ is being formed by the way I behave. And I need to be proactive about praying that I would represent Him well too.

On Loan

February 6, 2013 — Leave a comment
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When I was younger I loved going to the library.  I was a voracious reader and the fact that you could obtain a book, read it, and then return it for another one was delightful to me.  When I realized I could check out multiple books, it was even better. I didn’t have to spend my hard earned allowance to get a new treasure to read; I could simply borrow it from the library and return it when I was done.

As I grew older, I went to the library less and less. While I’m sure that there were many reasons for the decline in my library visits, I believe that one of them is that I became more concerned with acquiring books I wanted. It wasn’t enough just to have read the book; I wanted to keep it – to make it my own. The library isn’t fond of its patrons highlighting and underlining in their texts, but if I owned the book I could do that to my heart’s content. Additionally, owning the book allowed me to refer back to it as often as I wanted. It was mine and I could do with it what I want.

I’ve been thinking about this tendency towards possession a lot since I became a parent. We tend to think of our children as “ours” and consider it our job to mold them and shape them into the person that we think that they should be. We’re protective of them, sometimes beyond the natural concern of someone who is responsible for the care of another and more like an individual who believes their identity is tied up in the life of someone else. We’re quick to defend our parenting practices reminding others that they can do as they want with their own children, but with our kids we’re the final arbitrator and judge. Our kids, our rules we say, and we feel confident that this is the way things should be.

Despite this proclivity, the Bible teaches us something else about our kids. Scripture says that our children are to be arrows that are shot out to do the work of the Lord (Ps. 127:4-5). If our kids are supposed to go out from us, they obviously aren’t ours to possess. Instead, God has given us charge of them for a time – to teach, train and correct them in the way of the Lord – and then He expects that we, like Hannah, will give them back to Him (I Sam. 1:27-28). We aren’t to see them as ours to do mold and shape as we will. We are to see them as a ministry that God has called us to for a time and as with any ministry, our aim should be God’s glory and not our own.

When your child is young it is difficult to imagine a time where they won’t need you for every little thing. Unfortunately, some parents act as if that time doesn’t ever end. They see it as their responsibility to direct their child’s life long after God has called them away from that particular part of the parental ministry. Perhaps this is because they think of the child as “theirs” rather than “His.” Perhaps it’s because they don’t recognize that the child is on loan. And just like the library wanted their books back within a certain time frame, God expects us to “give” our child back to Him as well, fully recognizing that they were never “ours” really anyway.

Casting A Big Net

February 4, 2013 — Leave a comment
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When asked, many Christians would likely acknowledge that they find evangelism to be challenging. I like to think that they want to evangelize, but they are inhibited by many concerns that flood their mind. “How will I know the right thing to say?” “Is this person ready to hear the Gospel?” “What happens if they ask I question that I don’t know the answer to?” These and other thoughts often stop a person from doing what their heart compels them to do  - reach out to someone who doesn’t know Christ and tell them the Good News of His death and resurrection and the salvation that comes from repenting and trusting in Him.

The apostle Paul was not stopped by such concerns. As my husband recently observed, Paul cast a big net. He knew that not every evangelistic effort would be successful, but that didn’t prevent him from diligently presenting the Gospel to those he encountered. He wasn’t picky about who he presented the Gospel to or a particular method or strategy for doing so. As he writes  in I Corinthians 9:22, he became “all things to all people, that by all means [he] might save some.” (emphasis mine). His concern wasn’t limited by geography, receptivity, tradition or his persuasive ability – his concern was that more people would hear the good news of Christ. He realized that it was his job to present the Gospel by whatever means possible and to whomever would listen to it; it was God’s job to save (see I Cor. 3:6-7).

It modern-day evangelism we often take the opposite approach. We look at those around us and, instead of casting a big net, we narrow down our evangelistic field. We look for those that we think are most likely to respond. We pick a favorite method or strategy and use it as our turnkey way for presenting the Gospel. We seek out the familiar – groups or types of people that we have effectively reached before – and focus our efforts on them. Instead of fishing with a net – we often use a single pole.

There are probably many strategic reasons for the evangelism tactics that we employ. However, I fear that often in our effort to engender the most effective evangelism scenario, we neglect to actually evangelize those that God places in our life. Paul knew that not all he presented the Gospel to would be saved, but he diligently presented it because he was confident that some would be. May a similar confidence prompt us to evangelize as he did – casting a big net that some may come to know Christ.

Here

January 31, 2013 — Leave a comment
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The game of hide-and-seek is beloved by children of all ages. The cat-and-mouse interchange makes for great fun and the better hiders can make the game last for hours on end. Of course, if you play the game with young children the game is often quite different. First of all, they aren’t the most adept hiders so it is often easy to spot them with a quick glance around the area of play. Secondly, if you take too long to announce that you have found them, they will often reveal their hiding place with a loud “Here I am!” –  excitedly jumping from their supposedly obscure position.

In Scripture we see a similar situation play out in the lives of men and women that God has called. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve try to hide from God due to the shame of their sin (Gen. 3:8) However, just like playing hide-and-see with a toddler, trying to conceal oneself from God is an exercise in futility. You may think that the place you have selected cloaks you from detection, but He knows where you are even without looking.

Conversely, we also see individuals in the Bible who when called by God, quickly state “Here I am.” Abraham did so in Genesis 22:1; Moses did so as well in Exodus 3:4. Isaiah and Samuel uttered the same words when they were beckoned, and other examples of those with the same attitude abound. They were quick to state where they were because they were eager to hear from their Heavenly Father. Out of love for Him, they answered when He called.

The big difference between Adam and Eve and the lives of the individuals who were quick to respond to God is that Adam and Eve were ashamed to be seen by their Maker. They had blatantly disobeyed Him and a result both their physical and spiritual nakedness was revealed. The other individuals, while certainly not perfect, were living their lives in such a way that when they were called by God they were eager to be found. They were not mired in a life of unrepentant sin; instead their relationship with God was such that when He called their response wasn’t to hide, but to listen.

We should desire that our response would be similar. Our goal should be to walk so closely with Christ that when He calls, we are eager to hear what He desires for us and are quick to obey His words. If our inclination is to hide, if we desire to be cloaked in obscurity rather than used for His purposes, them we need to examine our lives and see if their is unrepentant sin that we need to confess and seek His forgiveness. We should be eager to hear from our Lord and when we do, we should be equally as eager to do what He says. Our response shouldn’t be to hide; our response should be to say “Here!”

 

Sweet Reunion

January 30, 2013 — Leave a comment
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Often times on this Earth, reunions are looked forward to with dread. High school and college reunions, even family reunions hold the foreboding sense of seeing people we once knew and not measuring up to their expectations. As a result reunions often motivate people to make changes in their lives – to kick bad habits, eat more healthily, change their appearance or pursue the dream that they have been ignoring. Knowing that they will “give an account” to people from whom they have been separated from a time, inspires many to alter the course of their lives so that others will not think that the time apart has been wasted.

Christians live their lives in anticipation of a reunion of a different sort – a day where we will be reunited with those in Christ who have departed this Earth in order to join Him in glory. Scripture tells us that this reunion should motivate us too – because as we look to the lives that they lived and the sinless state they know enjoy, we should eagerly work to “throw off” the sin the entangles us now (Heb. 12:1). We should be inspired to live more fully for Christ, not because we fear what they will think of us when we meet them again, but because we anticipate sharing in the glory they now enjoy and we recognize that they, as will we, consider every sacrifice for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom well worth it. Our reunion with them is not one that is upon with dread, but instead it will be filled with sweetness as we celebrate the work of Christ in each of our lives and enjoy the beauty and awe of being with Him.

It is understandable why so many reunions on this Earth cause consternation and despair. It is often difficult to measure up to what others think of us or the impression we want others to have of our lives. However, we would be better served to focus more on our future reunion – the one we will have with those in Christ we have gone before.  Not only will it help keep things here on Earth in perspective, but it will remind us of just one part of the sweetness of Heaven that we will one day enjoy.

Saying the Same Thing

January 28, 2013 — Leave a comment
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There’s an old schoolyard game called “jinx.” To play the game, you and another person must say the exact same thing at the exact same time. The first one to say “jinx” after this occurs gets some sort of control over the other person. Depending on the version of the game you play either the “loser” has to buy the winner a Coke or they can’t speak until the winner says their name, or some other “punishment” is inflicted on them as a result of not saying “jinx” first. Presumably this game developed because kids realized the unlikelihood of two people uttering the same words simultaneously. It was a rare enough occurrence that when it did happen someone decided that it was worthy of further elaboration and amusement.

As adults, we recognize that whether we are saying the same thing as someone else or not, our tongue has a habit of getting us in trouble. In fact, James warns us of this very thing. The tongue can cause great destruction both to ourselves and to others. Controlling it is difficult, but necessary in order to live a life that pleases Christ.

One of the ways that we can make sure that we accomplish this is to make sure that our words are the same as Christ’s. In John 15:20 Jesus is preparing His disciples for His imminent departure. He is telling them that they will be persecuted and that they will suffer for His sake. He also says “If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” Christ is telling His disciples that if they are careful to preach the same things that He did, then they can be sure that their words will penetrate the hearts of those who are His. Conversely, those who are not His will respond with hatred and contempt.

This should give us great encouragement and direction. If my words align with Christ’s then I need not worry about how others respond. Those who love Christ will respond with that same love to my words that mirror His message. When the world disagrees with what I say, when they revile me because of stance with the truth of His Word, I need not fear. I can take comfort in the fact that I’m saying the same things as my Savior.

Knowing the right thing to say is not easy. It is made even that much more difficult by the fact that we can never be sure how our words will be interpreted or received. However, if like the old game of jinx we can examine our words and know that our words are the same as those of Christ’s we can have confidence that our words will bring Him glory – regardless of how others respond or what they say.

More Than Partners

January 24, 2013 — Leave a comment
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When preparing to give birth or when reading blogs or books about being a new parent, writers often talk about the role of the mother’s “partner.” Throughout the literature it is clear that mommyhood isn’t something that is intended to be done alone. If the mother takes on the full weight of responsibility for the little one’s life, not only will she quickly be overwhelmed, but the father is missing out on an important part of the parenting experience. Researchers want dads and moms to know that parenting is not a solo gig.

While I agree with the sentiments expressed by these authors, I found myself often tripping up over the word “partner.” As a businessperson one learns early on that a partnership is one way of establishing an organizational structure. A partnership is where two parties share both responsibilities and decision-making authority. Liabilities and assets, profits and losses are all to be shared between the partners. There is a mutual investment and all partners have an interest in seeing the enterprise succeed.

The trouble is that while the above description may seem to clearly reflect how many people approach marriage and parenting, a partnership is not an apt characterization of the biblical model of these things. Partnerships, after all, are transactional – it is about an exchange of ideas, money or other assets that allow all parties to benefit. Marriages are relational – it is not about each person protecting their own interest and obtaining their own success – it is about sacrifice and care for the good of your spouse. Partnerships are easy to dissolve and often are when they no longer are able to obtain their desired outcome; marriages are intended to last beyond any temporal condition and are about bringing God glory not about personal self interest. While marriage may envelope some of the principles of a partnership, a Christian marriage should move beyond these elementary ideas and should be seen both as a ministry – intended to reflect Christ to both your spouse and to the watching world – and a commitment that no contract or court can can abrogate. Neither of these things are transactional – they mean something more than simply an exchange so that two parties benefit.

It is easy to slip into the language of our culture and to talk about our spouse as our partner. And hopefully it is true that both our spouse and ourselves are invested in our marriage and our committed to its success. However, let us also recognize that merely having a partnership is not what God intended when two people are brought together as one. Let us approach our marriage as more than a partnership – to see it not as a transaction but as a relationship that can bring God honor and praise.

First Month’s Lessons

January 23, 2013 — 2 Comments

If you talk to experienced parents the one thing that they all seem to agree upon is that the days move quickly. “Enjoy this time, it will be gone before you know it” is a common refrain. Although our little one is not very old, I can already see the truth of these words. Children develop and change at such a rapid pace – and although some days are long, the culmination of weeks seem to pass before you know it. As quickly as one month begins, it can seem like it is also coming to an end.

Because of the tendency for time to seemingly slip by before you can capture it, I wanted to take a few moments and articulate the lessons that I have learned in this first month since our little one’s arrival. The lessons here aren’t about the mechanics of parenting – insights on sleeping patterns or the best way to swaddle a baby. Instead, even at this young age, I’ve recognized that the habits I form now can have a impact on our daughter for years to come. It’s these lessons that I want to share.

1) It is never too early to pray for your child’s salvation, for their spouse, or for their salvation of their spouse. Because I’m up at random hours of the night, I have the opportunity to do a lot of thinking and a lot of praying. We have been praying that our little one would be great in God’s kingdom even before she arrived, but after her arrival it was impressed upon my heart that  she would likely one day marry and that this person would have a profound impact on her life. Even though I can easily count the number of days she has been on this Earth, I’m already petitioning God on her behalf and asking that He would protect and penetrate the heart of the man she will some day wed.

2) Use your time wisely. While this isn’t a new lesson, I’m applying it in new ways. My opportunities to do a bunch of things is limited by my responsibility to care for my little one, but that doesn’t mean my opportunities to use my time wisely are also limited. Because I’m at home a lot more it can be tempting to be undisciplined and focus only on her immediate needs. However, caring for her doesn’t mean that I can’t do other things as well. Already, my daughter has “heard” sermons as I listen to them while she nurses. Middle of the night wake-up calls are also calls to pray.  I definitely have room to grow in this area, but simply recognizing that I need to be intentional about how I use the moments of the day has been an important lesson.

3) Cherish the moments. In the  midst of all the transitions that the first month holds, it can be hard to really take stock of the blessings that have been showered upon your life due to the addition to your family. Just keeping things moving in a positive direction can seem to consume your energy. However, taking the time to notice your child’s smile or how their personality shines through even at this stage is important. Doing so reminds you of the gift that you have been given. Sometimes parents only recognize this in retrospect. Cherishing the moments as they happen not only prompts thankfulness but it helps you navigate the busyness with a greater grace.

4) Live in anticipation of their emancipation. This is a phrase that I learned from the pastor at my church. The goal is that children are only with you for a time.  Eventually, the hope is that they will become adults, live independently and establish their own families. Your commitment to your spouse, however, is for a lifetime. Don’t become so wrapped up in your child’s life that you neglect the more important relationship – the one that will last even when your child is no longer at home.

5) Helping hands are hands of blessing. It can be hard to accept help from others – especially if you are used to being the one to take care of details and are thought of as “having it all together.” However, the people who say to you “tell me what I can do to help” and really mean it, those who are willing to run errands, clean kitchens or prepare a meal, are such a blessing. Taking their help is humbling; giving such help is a blessing.

These five lessons are just some of the things that I have learned in this first month. I imagine that I will learn many more in the months ahead. I hope that as I do so God will graciously allow me to reflect Him as I become the type of mom that He desires me to be.

 

Carefully Building

January 23, 2013 — Leave a comment
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Anytime you are involved in ministry, it is worth revisiting what Paul writes about in I Corinthians. In the opening chapters he reminds us, and the Corinthians, that doing ministry is not about personal acclaim (See I Cor. 1:10-17). After all, we can be diligent in ministry and yet never experience the fruit of our labors. To use his parlance, we may faithfully plant seeds, and another may water, and it is only on the other side of glory that they see the impact that our labor had (See I Cor. 3:6). As I often remind myself, it is not my job to ensure the results of the work I do for the Lord; He has that task completely under control. Instead, I must faithfully serve, and leave the outcome up to Him.

Not only does Paul clearly articulate this concern in I Corinthians, he gives us another motivation for being faithful in how we minister to those God puts in our path. He reminds us in I Corinthians 3:10 that the work that God is doing in someone’s life may not end or begin with our ministry to them. In other words, God may call a fellow believer to build upon what He accomplished through our service. If our service was half-hearted or lack intentionality, then the next person’s work will be more of a challenge. Our ministry impacts the ability of another believer to faithfully minister to the same person. We don’t serve God in a vacuum. The extent to which we represent Him well either enhances or inhibits other believers who may also be “building into” that person’s life.

This can be especially important to remember as we interact with the more challenging people God places in our lives. It can be easy to write them off because we don’t see the impact that our labor is having, but we should be cautious in doing so. After all, it may not be God’s plan for us to experience the change that He is bringing about in that individual.  In loving concern for those who may minister after us, however, we should carefully and faithfully work to build a foundation that will make their ministry easier. We are all aware of how difficult it can be to present the Gospel to someone who has had a bad experience with people claiming to be Christians. We don’t want to be the reason that another believer has a difficult time ministering to someone who previously crossed our path.

If we recognize the importance of this lesson, how will it practically impact our lives? One such way is that it will result in more intentionality in our interactions. Whenever we encounter someone who is not a believer, we should be mindful that our interaction with them may be part of a foundation that God is building. Additionally, as a result we should be more purposeful in our prayers or those that God brings across our path. We should be praying not only that God would do a work in their lives, but that those who will minister in their lives after us will be faithful to the call God puts on their lives. We should be praying not only for how God call us to serve that person; we pray for those who will minister to them long after our lives cease to intersect.

We can be quick to remind ourselves that we are not aware of how God is using each circumstance in our own life to bring about His plan. We should be equally quick to remind ourselves that we are often unaware of how He is using us in other people’s lives to fulfill His purposes. Let us be careful builders, therefore, as we don’t know what other bricks may need to be laid after us and whether our ministry just may be one step in bringing someone to Christ.

Or Give Me Grace

January 22, 2013 — 2 Comments
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There is a popular saying that “there are no atheists in the foxhole.” The saying originated from the recognition that when we are in a difficult situation even the nonreligious are often quick to seek out assistance from a Heavenly Source. Of course, it’s not just foxholes were these prayers of petition are made. In circumstances that are much less dangerous many of us are quick to ask God to change things so that we may benefit.

Unfortunately, many people are discouraged when their prayers for new circumstances seemingly fall on deaf ears. Whether it’s a wayward child, a lack of employment or the illness of a loved one, we plead for God to change things, and yet the situation remains the same. This is true even in the seemingly mundane trials of life – those admittedly minor inconveniences that can cause a disproportionate amount of stress in our days. We want God to jump in and fix our problem, and while we recognize that He is perfectly capable of doing so, often He does not.

What I’ve recently learned is that perhaps my prayer for a quick fix is insufficient. This isn’t to say that God doesn’t answer it because it does meet some type of prescribed standard, but instead that I’m only looking at the situation from a partial perspective. From my vantage point the way that the situation becomes better is for God to change it. From His viewpoint, it may be better still to instead provide me with what I need in order to walk through the difficulty and glorify Him regardless. In other words – it is proper that I ask God to intervene on my behalf – and as a loving Father He often graciously grants my request (Luke 11:5-13). But instead of only asking for the circumstance to change, it may be wise for me to ask that if it does not, that He gives me the grace to walk through it in a manner that pleases Him.

Adding this addendum to my petition may seem insignificant, but it accomplishes at least two things. First, it reminds me of the fact that I need to trust God with the decision of whether or not the difficulty that I’m facing should be obliterated. He may, in His infinite wisdom, decide that my good and His glory are better served not by removing me from the challenging situation, but  by me remaining in it. Secondly, adding this addition to my request serves as recognition that if things don’t change, this doesn’t give me free reign to complain or otherwise gripe about the difficulty I’m facing. Instead, God is willing to graciously grant me something else – the grace I need to glorify Him through it. God doesn’t leave us in challenging circumstances because of indifference; through them, He desires to accomplish something good.

It’s easy to ask God to remove the bad things from our lives. We are less inclined to ask Him to grant us grace to walk through the trials in a manner that is worthy of being called His child. Yet as we do so, not only may we view our circumstances a little more from a Heavenly perspective, but we will likely bring Him more glory and acclaim – whether the trials are removed or whether they are not.