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The God Who Answers

What is the name of the God you pray to?  We know it’s important to identify who we’re talking to; that’s why we have caller ID.  If I don’t know who it is, I don’t pick up.  Would you like to know God “picks up” when you call?  

A long time ago in Israel the people had a choice of which God to call on.  They were in a desperate situation.  No rain had fallen on the land in over 3 years.  They were running out of food to eat, and they had to turn their farm animals loose because they couldn’t water them.  

The prophet Elijah told the people Israel’s God, the Lord, Yahweh, was the true and living God and they needed to worship only him.  But the people were not so sure.  There were hundreds of prophets telling them to worship Baal.  Baal was known as the god of storms, rain, lightening and thunder.  The people were afraid that if they stopped praying to Baal it would never rain. They couldn’t make up their minds, so God told Elijah to help them.

Elijah set up a contest on top of a mountain and called all the people to come watch.  The prophets of Baal came, all 450 of them.  Elijah brought two bulls.  He gave one to the Baal prophets to kill and burn as an offering to their god.  BUT they could not light the fire; no matches or lighters.  They had to call on Baal to come down and consume the bull.  Elijah would call on Yahweh to light the fire under his bull. Whichever god sent fire would show he was the true god.

This should have been easy for Baal, because he was supposed to be the god of lighting.  One bolt would do it.  So Elijah sat down and watched them call on Baal to light their fire.

Elijah sat and watched all morning, and so did the huge crowd, but nothing happened.  Around noon Elijah started to ask them where Baal was.

“You better yell louder,” Elijah said.  “Maybe he’s asleep and you need to wake him up.”

The prophets yelled as loud as they could, dancing around the altar.  But nothing. No one answered.

“Do you think he’s away? “ Elijah taunted.  “Maybe he’s on vacation.  Or maybe he had to go to the bathroom.”

Finally the prophets got knives and cut themselves until their faces, arms and legs were covered in blood.  They thought that would bring Baal, who liked the smell of blood.  But nothing happened.

When it was time for the traditional evening sacrifice to Yahweh, Elijah told everyone to come watch him.

Elijah had gallons and gallons of water poured all over his bull, sticks and stone altar until the water ran everywhere.  There was no way anyone could light that fire.  What was he  thinking?  

Then Elijah prayed, “O Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Yahweh, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Yahweh, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

When he finished praying fire from Yahweh fell.  It burned up the bull.  It burned all the sticks and the stones of the altar.  It even licked up the water.  Nothing remained, not one drop of water. The people fell down and worshiped Yahweh.  And the bogus prophets ran away in fear.  A few hours later it started to rain hard.

Once in a village just outside Jerusalem Jesus stood in a contest.  The people could not decide who he was, even though he had told them.  So he stood outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus who had been dead for four days.  There was a large crowd, and when Jesus asked for the door to the tomb to be rolled away, everyone expected a horrible stench to come out.  

But Jesus prayed, ““Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Then Jesus yelled, “Lazarus, come out!”  

The surprised crowd fell silent.  But the silence was pierced by the joyful shrieks from Lazarus’ sisters as they ran to embrace him.

Some persons standing there believed in Jesus, that he was the Messiah, the Son of God.  But the sad thing is, others didn’t.  And some even plotted to kill Jesus, which they did.

We all have to choose to whom we pray.  And it matters.

God says to us, “Call on me in a day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor me.” (Psalms 50:15 ,CSB)

I hope you will read the details of these events.  Click here for the story of Elijah (1 Kings 18) and here for the story of Jesus and Lazarus ( John 11.)

You may wonder if God is still doing amazing things today.  I recommend these books: The Case for Miracles by Lee Strobel and Miracles by Eric Metaxas.

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Why Pray?

How many persons can you name whose prayers are recorded in the Bible?  Stop now and make a list.  Then note where and why they prayed.

STOP NOW and make your list.

Did anything about your list surprise you?  Maybe you are surprised by how few prayers you can remember.

I can help you. In the Bible the first person who prayed was Adam: then the man (Adam) said, “This at last is bone of my bones!”  Prayer is talking to God, and Adam is expressing his delight with Eve to God.  I am sure Adam is talking to God, because there is no one else there.  Our prayers, too, can be spontaneous exclamations of joy or sorrow.  

Here’s another famous prayer story: Daniel in the lions den.  Did you know Daniel was thrown in the den of hungry lions because he was praying and giving thanks to God?  Then it was the King, who threw Daniel in, who prayed the lions wouldn’t eat Daniel!  You can read it in Daniel chapter 6.

See if you can guess who prayed this: “In my distress, O LORD, I called to you, and you answered me. From deep in the world of the dead I cried for help, and you heard me.”

Give up?  Here’s another hint:  “The water came over me and choked me; the sea covered me completely, and seaweed wrapped around my head.”  That’s right; it’s Jonah.  Who else would be praying with seaweed around his head?

As you can see, we can pray any time and our prayers can express, joy, thankfulness, desperation and terror.  

And we can pray anywhere. Jesus prayed publicly and he prayed alone.  (see my blog on praying in secret.)  Even in our noisy world we can get with God and talk.  Susanna Wesley, mother of Charles, John and a bunch of other kids, was known for praying with her apron thrown over her head so she could be alone with God and pray.

Pray because you are thankful. Pray because you are loved. 

Pray because you are lonely; God always listens. 

Pray because God invites you to: “Call to me when trouble comes; I will save you, and you will praise me.”

Pray because God cares for you. ”Praise him, you servants of the LORD!……He does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering; he does not turn away from them, but answers when they call for help.”

Scripture references: Genesis 2:23, Jonah 2:2, Psalms 50:15, Psalm 22:23

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Home!

Dark, cold, seemingly endless interstate roads were a large part of my life for over a decade while I moved around the country for school and military service.  Indiana to Bergen County: 750 miles.  Denver to Bergen: 1777 miles.  Missouri to Bergen: 1147 miles. Mile after miles, and I remember very little of them except for one spot, the lights of Paterson, NJ.  

The lights of Paterson are hardly notable but for one thing – when they appeared I knew I was almost home.  They’d appear out of the dark in the wee hours of the morning giving me a surge of joy and relief knowing I had made it. When I see them now I still feel it – home!

Home, where I can exchange vending machines and lukewarm coffee for a fridge full of my favorite foods.

Home, where instead of cold, dirty commodes I get my mom’s sparkling bathroom and hot shower.

Home, where weary hours of clutching the wheel turns into a soft mattress and my favorite pillow.

Home, where I feel welcome and safe because my parents love me.

Home!

If we expect all this good from parents, why would we ever expect less from our Father in Heaven?

Jesus told the story of the farmer and his two sons so we know exactly what to expect when we go to our Father.

Remember, the wandering son, as a last resort, was going home to beg his dad for a job as a hired hand. He would have been happy for a bowl of soup and some hay to sleep on.  Instead his dad charged down the driveway to meet him, showering him with the best he had: clothes, shoes, ring and a giant party.  Your Father in Heaven does the same.

Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

How do you think the farmer would have felt if his son had said, “I don’t want all the stuff you are giving me.  I want to live away from you in the barn.  Send me some bread and water, and I’ll start work in the morning.”

His dad would have been so heartbroken.  

We often turn our heavenly Father into a stingy god who doesn’t want to care for us.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  

Jesus said, “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Head for home.  Pull in the driveway.  Get out of your car and let the Father embrace you.  He’s waiting for you.

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Scriptures quoted: Matthew 7:9-11, Matthew 11:28

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The Father and His Sons Part 3

It took a long time for the son to walk back to the family farm.  Remember, he had gone to a far country. (read Parts 1 and 2.) The rough road on his bare feet slowed him down. And he was hungry to the point of fainting .  But getting home was his only hope of surviving, so he kept going.

He had lots of time to think about what he would say to his father when he got there.  He knew his father had no obligation to help him – not after the way he had acted.  By rights his father should turn him away, but he knew him to be a kind man, so he prepared this little speech:

“Father, I have sinned against Heaven and you.  I am not worthy to be called your son.  Will you allow me to work here as your hired servant?” 

The son rehearsed his speech over and over on his slow walk home.  And while he walked his father was still watching.  Every morning his father looked down the road, hoping to see his son. At noon, and again before dark, he looked and prayed his boy would come home.

Then one afternoon the father looked and thought he saw far off a familiar figure on the road.  His heart started to beat quickly, but then he thought, “That’s not my son.  He is way too thin and he walks with his head down.”

But he kept watching.

“Wait,” he thought, “it looks like my son’s gait.  But, no, this fellow is wearing nothing but rags.  It’s not him.”

But he kept watching.

And as the figure drew nearer the father’s heart leapt with the joy of recognition.

“It’s my son!”  Then he did what no dignified gentleman would do. Pulling up his robe he sprinted down the path to the gate shouting, “You’re home!  You’re home!”

The son had barely made it through the gate when the impact of his father’s embrace almost knocked him over.  He tried to start his speech, saying, “Father,I have sinned against Heaven and…..”

But his father wasn’t listening.  He was kissing him and shouting instructions to the servants.

“Look, my son is home.  Run to my closet and bring me my best robe.  And bring some shoes with it.”

“And, you, go tell the cook to kill the fatted calf and make a big feast.  We are going to celebrate!”

“And, you, go tell the neighbors my son is home and we are feasting.  And then go hire that band we like.”

Finally the father took off his ring and put it on the finger of his son, which meant he was restored to the position of his father’s beloved child.

Together they walked back to the house, and the party began.

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Jesus told this story so we can know how God the Father feels about us. Whether you are on the road leaving, on the road heading back or safely home the Father loves you more than you guess, and your welcome party is waiting.

Scripture reference: Luke 15:11-24

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The Farmer and His Sons. Part 2

Please read Part 1 if you were not here last week.

And the father kept watching. 

Every morning, before he did anything else, he would look down the road for his son.  At noon, while out in the fields, he would wipe the sweat from his brow and look down the road.  And the last thing he did at night before he closed the front door was look out again and ask God to bring his son home.

But his son was far from home.  He had walked until he was in a far country where no one knew him, where no one could carry reports of what he was doing back to his family.  There he enjoyed spending his new wealth.  He made many new friends and bought them dinner and drinks.  He bought nice things for the pretty young women he met.  He had plenty of money, so this lasted for quite some time. But finally his money ran out.  And when his money was gone, much to his surprise, his friends were, too.  

About the same time a famine hit the land.  Food became expensive.  He sold his fine clothes, gold chains and jeweled rings just to pay for something to eat.  In the end he sold his shoes for a small loaf of bread.

He tried begging.  When that didn’t work, he took a job feeding pigs.  Hungry and alone he sat out in the field watching the pigs gobble down carob pods. He wished he had pods to eat. But no one gave him anything.

What he did have was plenty of time to think.  

“What am I doing here?” he thought.  “This is dumb! Back home the servants are eating all they want and I am sitting here starving to death.”

It did not take him long to decide he would return home, admit he had been wrong and ask his father to let him work as a hired servant. 

So he left the far country and headed back to the farm.

(To be continued)

The son doesn’t know his father has been longing for him to come home, but he does knows his father’s character. What do you think there is about his father that motivates the son to go back?

What do you know about the character of God?

If you knew God the Father loves you like this farmer loves his son, would you go to him?

The prophet Jeremiah wrote this:

“For I know what I have planned for you,” says the LORD. “I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.”

Hope to see you back here next week for the homecoming.

Scripture quoted:Jeremiah 29:11 (NET Bible)

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The Farmer and His Sons. Part 1

A long time ago there was a Middle Eastern farmer who had two sons.  It was a large farm with hired help. The farmer lived comfortably and had plenty to eat, but he and his sons worked hard. I’m not sure exactly why, but the younger son grew tired of it all.  Maybe it was the long days and getting up before dawn.  Maybe it was sweating under the hot Mediterranean sun that burned him.  Maybe it was taking orders from his older brother.  (If you have an older brother you know how bothersome that can be.) 

Maybe it was all of the above that led this younger son to go to his father and say, “Give me my share of your property. I’m leaving.”

This broke his father’s heart, but he did it.  He shouldn’t have done it, tho.  His son was being mean and arrogant.  The father should have become angry and kicked the son out for good.  Asking for his inheritance was saying to his father, “I wish you were dead!”  

However, even though his heart was broken, the father divided up all he had and gave this ungrateful son his share.  In a disgraceful move the son sold off part of the family farm, packed his bags and left.

You would think his father would slam the door behind him and say, “Good riddance!  Never come back.”

But he didn’t.  He watched his beloved son walk away- walk down the path – walk to the main road -turn left and walk away.  The father watched until his son was just a speck on the  horizon.  Then he was gone.  And the father kept watching, hoping his son would change his mind and come back.  

And every day after that the father kept watching.

(To be continued)

Would you like to have a Father like that?  Well, we do!  God our Father loves us no matter what and watches for us to come home, no matter what.

John the disciple writes this: See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children — and we are!

Where are you today?  Home with your Father or out on the road?  Wherever you are your Father loves you.

See you next week for the rest of the story.

Scripture quoted: 1 John 3:1

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Pray Like This….Our Father

The house was ablaze and John, having escaped,  searched for his young daughter in the dark street. When he could not find her he raced back into the building.  

He never came out. She had been outside, but he had not seen her.  I was told this story by John’s neighbors. His heartbroken daughter mourned for her courageous dad. But she knew without a doubt one thing many daughters and sons never know –  her dad loved her so much he would die for her.

Years ago I worked in an inner city neighborhood and would help out at the local children’s ministry.   When I started volunteering I was asked not to tell the children God was their father.  Their environment was filled with absent or abusive fathers.  Why would any child want to know a God like that?

What is your picture of a father?  

It doesn’t matter if you grew up with a great dad, bad dad or absent dad, your heart still wants the care and protection of a loving father.  

It doesn’t matter how old you are, either, does it?  You still want to know the dad you want wants you. You want to know your father would run into a flaming deathtrap to rescue you.

Amazingly God did just that.  God came to us as Jesus, who told his puzzled disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  Twelve hours later he was dying on a Roman cross to save your life.

If you want to know what God the Father is like, look at Jesus.

If you want to know what the Father does, watch Jesus.

If you want to know if you are loved enough to die for, ask Jesus.

Paul tells it this way:

He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, ….. 

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 

and through him to reconcile to himself all things,

 whether on earth or in heaven,

 making peace by the blood of his cross.

It may be difficult to understand God loves us so passionately.  But look at Jesus. You will see the God who wants a loving relationship with you. You will see the God who dies for you.

If you haven’t read my last blog, it may help you, so check it out now and do the little exercise.  Please follow me so we can meet again next week.

Scripture reference: Colossians 1:15,19-20

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Pray Like This…..”Your”

I tell my granddaughter brilliant profound things.  She smiles, laughs, and walks away.  Of course she does;  she is 20 months old.  She doesn’t understand what I am trying to say.

Do you believe God understands what you are trying to say?

The first important thing when we speak is to know who we’re talking to.  When we pray your (your kingdom come; your will be done) what do we think this you is like?

Let’s stop now to consider who we believe God is.  Get two pieces of paper and a pen.  At the top of one sheet write “Godand at the top of the other sheet write “Jesus.”  Begin with God and write a list of all the words you can think of that describe God.  Take a couple minutes to do this.  Then turn over that sheet, take your second sheet and write a list of words that describe Jesus.

STOP! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER UNTIL YOU HAVE YOUR TWO LISTS.

Now take your two lists and put them side by side.  How are the words you chose for God different than the ones you chose for Jesus?  How are they the same? Whom are you more comfortable praying to? If your picture of God is very different from your picture of Jesus, why might that be?  

In the Gospel of John you have read this:

In the beginning was the Word….and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

The Creator of the universe put on skin just like your skin and lived with folks just like us.  He grew up in a town with neighbors who were nasty or nice.  He had favorite foods and danced with friends to music they played. He had parents who loved him and younger brothers who thought he was crazy.  He walked on rough roads that tired his feet. The bright sun made him squint and burned his cheeks.  He grieved the deaths of his family and friends.  He was disappointed when those he trusted let him down.  He knows what it is like to be in skin like yours.

When you pray, God understands what you are trying to say.

I hope you will keep thinking about who God is. And I hope you will sign up to follow my blog, because I will be back next week ……..

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Pray Like This…..”Our”

Saying our means you are with someone.  You belong to a group. That group may be as large as the earth (our planet) or as small as just two (our marriage.)  Size doesn’t matter; our means you are not alone.

Loneliness plagues our planet, and, as we are hearing now, may be more devastating than our current viral plague.  Even before COVID-19 Great Britain saw a need to have a Minister of Loneliness to fight the pandemic of feeling isolated and lonely. 

God, himself, told us from the start, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)

Take a look now at the prayer Jesus taught his disciples.  Read it and then count the first person plural pronouns us and we.

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored,

may your kingdom come,

may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us today our daily bread, 

and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. 

And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

God does not desire us to live alone and lonely.  Jesus in many ways and in this prayer invites you to be with him and all his followers.

There are Christians all over the world right this minute praying this prayer.  Some are parents teaching it to their little ones.  Some are followers in empty churches or prison cells.  Some are in full churches.  Some are soldiers and sailors far from home. Some are at weddings.  Some are at funerals.  Some are nurses holding the hand of a dying grandfather.  All are praying it together.  All are praying it with you.  You are not alone.

True story:  During World War II my father was on a Navy vessel half a world away from my mother in New Jersey,  They had always prayed this prayer together before they went to sleep.  Then thousands of miles of land and ocean separated them. One night my mother awoke from a vivid dream.  She had dreamt she was kneeling by her bed with my father praying the Lord’s Prayer.  The dream was so real she wrote to him about it.  He wrote back that the very hour she dreamed, he was leading a service on deck and praying the prayer.

I hope you will go back now and pray this slowly, thinking about every our and we, and who is praying with you.  You are family.  You are not alone.

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Pray Like This….secretly

She was sick.  Really sick.  She had been bleeding for 12 years.

Luke, the physician who recorded her story, doesn’t tell us the source of her problem, but we can guess it was from “the way of women.”  She had no modern way to deal with this, just rags.  Rags she had to wash and boil and wash again.  

And she was tired.  Any unchecked loss of blood leads to anemia.  Sick, anemic and tired.

And she was poor.  She used to have money, but she had spent it all going from doctor to doctor looking for help.  But no one helped her.  Sometimes the treatments made her worse.  Sick, tired, poor.

And she was lonely.  In her day there were laws – good laws to help stop the spread of disease- about not touching certain things. These rules labeled her “unclean,” and anyone who touched her became unclean.  No one wanted to touch her.  She lived without hugs, kisses, hand-holding and arms around her shoulder, and, of course, no intimacy with a husband.  Her inability to have children brought her shame.  If she did stay with family they would be sure not to touch her or anything she touched.  Alone, sick, tired, poor.

Without hope.

Without hope until one day someone came to her village with stories about a rabbi who was a healer.  Stories were carried by mouth from village to village.  Slowly they began to arrive in her village.  There was a rabbi named Jesus who was teaching in a new way, and he was doing astonishing things.   Stories about useless legs walking, blind eyes seeing, leprosy leaving.  Stories that amazed and puzzled everyone.  Stories that started to raise the dead hope in her heart.

“Maybe,” she thought, “Maybe Jesus will heal me.  If he comes here I will go ask him.  Surely if he can cure blindness and leprosy he can cure me.”

But how would she go?  Everyone in the village knew she was unclean  They would see her coming.  They would back away.  They would yell at her and tell her to go home.

“Go home,” they would say. “Jesus is a holy man.  If you touch him you will make him unclean!  Go away.  He is not here for you.”

Not here for her?  She sighed to think about what might happen is she tried to get close to Jesus.  But in the courage born of desperation, she decided she would do it.

“The messenger whom you long for is certainly coming.”  She had heard that prophesy many times.  “For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”

Healing!  She longed for healing.  She would go and touch the wings of his shawl and be healed.  She knew it.  She planned for it.  And then the day came.

One afternoon she heard children shouting in the street, “Jesus is coming!  Jesus is coming!” Her neighbors hurried out of their homes to see Jesus.  But she couldn’t join them.  No, she could not go with the crowd because they would tell her to go home.

Instead she grabbed her shawl, pulled it over her head, covering her face so no one would know her.  Then, looking down, she walked quickly in the direction of the noisy crowd. No one noticed or stopped her; they were too busy trying to get a look at Jesus.

When she saw him coming she ducked her head and, trembling with excitement, pushed through the tightly packed crowd until she was almost near Jesus.  Then bending down even more she watched his feet come closer and closer.  Her heart raced.  

“Now!” she thought and reached out her hand to touch the wing of his shawl.  Immediately she felt something.  She felt well!  But as she turned to run home and share her good news, Jesus suddenly stopped and yelled, “Who touched me?”

Panic poured over her.  She started to tremble and shake as she realized he knew what she had done. Was he mad at her?  She had broken the law by touching Jesus.  Now that Jesus knew, would he take her healing away?  She froze and waited.  Her eyes welling with tears.

“Oh, come on, Jesus,”  his friends said,  “Look at this crowd.  Everyone is touching you.  Why do you want to know who touched you?”

Everyone stopped as Jesus continued to look from face to face. “Someone touched me,” he said. “I know that power has gone out from me.”   Finally his eyes met hers.

Now her trembling increased to the point she could barely walk,  but somehow, as the crowd parted she made her way to him and fell to the ground.

“I had to touch you,” she told Jesus. “I’ve been so sick for so long. I just had to touch you.  I knew if I touched you I would be healed, and I am healed!”

Not daring to look up she stared at the hem of his robe and waited.

“Daughter,” he said to her in the kindest voice she had ever heard. 

“Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace.”

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In Matthew 6 Jesus tells us to pray “in secret.” Of necessity the woman in our story had to approach Jesus secretly. In the commotion of a moving crowd she made a hidden place. Many persons in that crowd touched Jesus, but his power only went out to her.

You may have read books and articles on how to have a great Quiet Time with God. Their advice can be very helpful. But let’s not focus on how-tos and miss our goal: meeting in secret with God. The most important thing is wanting to be alone with God and making our way through whatever obstacles we have to be with him.

Remember Jesus said, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

I hope you will read this woman’s story as Luke wrote it in chapter 8 of his Gospel, starting at verse 43.

 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”

Malachi 4:2,3

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Pray Like This…..in Secret

A man and a woman are falling in love. Where do they want to go?  

Dinner at a loud mall food court? Hanging-out at an interstate truck stop? Of course not.  They head for a long walk on a deserted beach, or to the most remote table they can find in a quiet restaurant.  

Passionate love seeks seclusion.   Do you know that is how God asks to meet with you?

If you read through Matthew 6 a few times you will notice Jesus telling us to go to God “in secret.” 

When you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Whenever you pray, go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Four times we read, “in secret.”  The original Greek word is kryptos which means hidden.   God wants to meet with you privately.

Imagine this:  God, the creator of the whole universe shows up at your house and asks if he can speak with you alone.  You take him into a back room, and after you both sit down he looks at you intently and says, “Tell me how you are doing.  What is on your mind and heart?  What’s bothering you.  I have so much love for you, and I want to know.”

You may be thinking, “That’ll never happen.  Why would the person running the whole universe want to talk to me?”

But, in truth, he does! Jesus said it. “Go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”  When you pray in secret he is right there with you listening . Let that sink in!

I hope you read my first post on prayer.  I suggested you read Matthew 6 a few times and look for repeating words.  How many did you find?  Please leave your finds in “comments.”

Here are some repeats I found:  Father, reward, pray, forgive, worry, truth/truly, and life.  

I will be back next week to talk about how we can, in a noisy world, pray in secret.

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Pray Like This

Can you remember the first time you talked to God?  Stop now and try to recall how old you were and what you said.  (Pause to remember.)

Maybe you were very young and a family member helped you fold you hands and thank God for your food.  Maybe you were a bit older and memorized the “Our Father” in Sunday School or for your First Communion. Maybe you were older still and faced a scary situation that made you ask God for help.

In your memory of talking to God, try to remember what you thought about God as you prayed.  Little kids can have some very strange ideas about who God is and what he looks like.  Grown-ups can have some very strange ideas, too.

I think one of the reasons we don’t pray more is we have concocted ideas about God that are not very accurate.  In the coming weeks I invite you to investigate with me what Jesus said about talking to God.  I am convinced Jesus was sent by God and is God. Believing that, I absolutely want to know what he said about prayer. 

We’ll start with a well known and oft-quoted passage from the writings of Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples, The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6.  Pause now to find this in your Bible or print it from Bible Gateway

Read through the passage once, and then reread a few times circling all the words or phrases that are repeated at least 3 times.  Make a list of what you find.

I will meet you back here next week and we can compare what we find. I hope to hear from you very soon.

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Just Hope

There is a voice deep in your heart that cries out for justice.  It’s been there a long time, since the day you thought, “that’s not fair.”

And this voice made me board a bus in the morning dark on January 24 and ride for hours to the heart of our nation’s capital.  There I joined 400,000 others to say, “That’s not fair when a baby in her mother’s womb is torn apart.”

You are probably not aware that so many pro-lifers did this.  The main media chose to ignore this March for Life, and, while that is not fair,IMG_6616.jpeg it is nothing compared to ignoring the tiny persons whose lives are taken unjustly.

As I walked the miles from the Mall to the Supreme Court I passed the Capitol building.  

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was inside that building, presiding in the Senate Chamber. But he was not there to judge; the Senators were judging.  In this not often seen arrangement the innocence or guilt of the President was being decided by the opinions of 100 Senators.  And no matter what they decide we will hear for years, “That’s not fair.”

So, who gets to make the final decision of what is fair and just?

If we work at it we can convince ourselves that fairness is for us, not them.  History has a long list of “not thems.”  Maybe you’ve been on that list.  Right now children waiting to be born are on that list and can be killed up to the moment of birth at the choice of their mothers.  Fair enough? 

Deep down we long for a justice that is not decided by 100 senators or the mood of a mother.  We want justice that cannot be moved.  Can we find reason to hope for that?

When Jesus walked with humanity he was accused of many wrongs and executed for those accusations.  Yet he claimed to have authority from God to judge rightly saying, “I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”

The only rock-solid justice we can hope for has to come from the Creator of all who placed the voice of justice, the moral law, in each human heart.  And when God raised Jesus from the dead he affirmed his power and intent to bring final justice to all.  

Everyone who wants true justice will receive it, and with such justice comes mercy.  Scripture says, “He forgave us all our sins,  having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”  

But you have to want the just Judge.  

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”

We don’t just hope; we hope in the One who is Just, a just hope.

scriptures quoted: John 8:25; Colossians 2:13-14; Isaiah 30:18

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Who Grinched Greta?

Greta Thunberg’s image on the cover of Time Magazine is soft and lovely.  She is Time’s 2019 Person of the Year.  But that image is not the one we tend to recall when we hear her name.  The lasting image of adolescent IMG_9979Greta is her angry-to-the-point-of-tears face twisted with anguish and frustration.

“How dare you!” she roared at the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit in September, blaming every adult who ever turned over the ignition in their car.  “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

What comes to mind is Dr. Suess’s green Grinch going through Whoville greedily taking everything that was there to make children like Greta happy and healthy.  Is that what we did?  

Let’s put aside the debate on fossil fuels and ask, “Are we the grinches that took the carefree bliss of childhood from Greta?”  I don’t think so.

The true story of Greta’s rise to fame on the world scene is not the one we have been told. But what I need to point out here is that Time Magazine’s article about Greta tells us she was a severely depressed 11-year old who almost totally stopped speaking and eating because she was so sad about the world being threatened by climate change. It’s heartbreaking that any 11-year old would feel so hopeless.

Which brings me to a very interesting recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Erica Komisar, a child and family therapist.  The title of the article was “Don’t Believe in God? Lie to Your Children.”    Komisar makes the case that the rise of depression and anxiety among children and adolescents is caused by a declining interest in religion: “Nihilism is fertilizer for anxiety and depression…… The belief in God — in a protective and guiding figure to rely on when times are tough — is one of the best kinds of support for kids in an increasingly pessimistic world.”

The Grinch that stole Greta’s childhood was atheist, materialist, nihilistic thinking.  You’re a mean one Mr. Nietzsche.

According to Time, Greta was eight when she first heard of catastrophic global climate change  but assumed adults, “the politicians,” would take care of it.  However, by age eleven she realized no one was taking charge and she became deeply depressed.  Her elders could not offer her any hope.  “The buck stopped,” and no one was there.

But Someone is there!  All we know about the earth and the universe points to a designer. Science reveals an amazingly fine-tuned universe that perfectly supports life on earth.   Exploration into our cells reveals stunning machines and systems that give us life. Just look  around at the earth and up at heavens and see  beauty and purpose from a creator who cares about us.

We need to wisely care for our world,  but we don’t need to panic. The Creator cares so deeply about us that he stepped into a human body and lived with us. Jesus promises never to stop caring for us.

I would like to spend a day with Greta, or with any child frightened by climate doom.  I would show her all the ways God designed her and her world for life and for love.  I would invite her to trust and love her creator back.

And I would end the day sitting around a campfire singing  “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands.”

For indeed He does.

 

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Light in the Darkness

silhouette photography of mountain
Photo by Tomáš Malčo Malík on Pexels.com

Yesterday afternoon, Saturday, my festive small town shopping district was jarred into darkness by gun fire.  A local merchant died publicly from self-inflicted wounds.  The street that a week ago welcomed Santa on the fire engine now was filled with police vehicles and the crime scene truck.  This tragedy followed closely behind two others nearby: a church that burned to the ground from arson, and the Jersey City shootout that took the lives of a police detective and three others.

We know now that owners of a Kosher deli and the attached Jewish school were targets in the plot which led to the urban shootout.  As the peaceful little town of Bethlehem was driven into agony by King Herod, so these terrorists were anxious to kill Jewish boys.  

Matthew is the only Gospel writer who notes Herod’s atrocity.  Perhaps Matthew’s little brother was among the toddlers slain so cruelly.  We don’t know, but the memory of that day was Matthew’s to share.  

We want so badly to expunge these dark stories from our Christmas.  Yet, that is exactly where they belong.

The prophet Isaiah : The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.  

The prophet Micah : Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;…when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.

Jesus’ friend John:  In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.

THE DARKNESS CANNOT OVERCOME THAT LIGHT.

That is the Christmas story.  Not even the darkness of killing God’s beloved son on a Roman cross can overpower his Light.

When Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” he was talking to you.  He was telling you that all the darkness around you, and all the darkness within you, cannot overpower the life he brings to you.

I hate being in the dark, which is why I carry flashlights everywhere.  I want to be the one with the light when the electricity goes off.  I want to have light when the sun sets and we are still in the woods.  I want to have light in my heart when the world goes dark.

Do you want to carry such light everywhere?  You need to ask Jesus to enter your heart.   He made you a promise:
“I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”

Scriptures:  Isaiah 9:2 (ESV)  Micah 7:8 (ESV) John 1:4-5 (CSB)  John 8:12

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The Power of Brandt Jean

Suddenly last week news shows and social media were filled with the gentle, articulate voice of Brandt Jean.  His forgiveness for his brother’s murderer was unexpected, but not unprecedented (Rev. Anthony B. Thompson forgave his wife’s killer in another poignant courtroom confrontation four years ago in Charleston.)

Some online discussion that followed distracted us from the import of this act. Let’s go back to Brandt and the power of what he did.

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The news that someone you love has been murdered pounds you.  Many years ago my friend Frank was shot in the face and died instantly.  When I heard, I felt someone had beaten me.  To the weight of grief was added the assault of evil.

We can hardly start to fathom the depth of Brandt’s pain over the loss of his brother Botham, but we can profoundly value it.  And that is what makes Brandt’s gift of forgiveness to Amber Guyger so stunningly powerful.

You may be thinking Amber does not deserve forgiveness, but think for a moment how you know that.  How do you know there is a moral law that says murder is wrong? How do you know that anything is wrong? How do you know that you, yourself, have done wrong?  I know you know that, as I know I have done serious wrong.

God put a moral law in our hearts;  when we break it, we break ourselves.  We can try hard to escape the despair of that brokenness, to push the pain away anyway we can, but we can’t keep it away.

But God, in Christ, took that pain on himself and died to remove our brokenness.  Christ has told us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

“I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things you’ve done in the past.” Brandt told Amber. “If you truly are sorry, I know, I can speak for myself – I forgive you, and I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.”

Brandt lives in the forgiveness that has given life to him, and so he has the power to invite Amber to live also.  

There are only two choices:  to spend our days bickering and blaming, while the guilt in our souls destroys us, or to accept God’s forgiveness and offer mercy to everyone, even those who harm us.

“I want the best for you, because that’s exactly what Botham would want you to do. And the best would be to give your life to Christ,” Brandt said. “I’m not going to say anything else. I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do. Again, I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”

I hope the power of this reaches you.  

Pray Like This……Expecting

We spend our days expecting things to happen.  Most of the time we are not particularly conscious of our expectations, until they don’t happen.

One summer afternoon I had my car all packed up to go on a road trip.  I had gas, snacks, music and everything I needed for a five hour trip.  I sat down in the driver’s seat, turned the key and………………….nothing.  

Think of how many things you expected to happen today, and they did.  Your alarm went off on time.  Your microwave heated up your soup.  Your mail came.  Your shower was hot.  Hundreds of expectations!

What do you expect when you pray?  

If we are honest we might say, “nothing,” or “not much.”

I hope you have decided to stay with me as we investigate what Jesus taught about prayer.  In my blog on October 3, I suggested you read through Matthew 6 a few times and note any words or phrases that occur more than twice.  Did you notice the word reward is there 5 times?

“And your father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Last week we followed a desperately ill woman who secretly approached Jesus looking for a reward.  She believed if she just touched his clothes she would be healed.  She didn’t think the clothing had power, she knew Jesus did.  And when she touched his shawl, Jesus’s power healed her.

Since you are reading this I know you plugged some device into an electrical socket and expected the reward of your battery being charged. If we have faith our power company will reward us, we can have faith that the powerful Creator of the universe will also reward us when we approach him.  Jesus said he will.

When my car wouldn’t start I had faith in the AAA membership card in my wallet and I called the number on the card.  I was soon rewarded with a running motor.

Call your Father in Heaven: he promises to respond.

If you don’t have a prayer journal, try starting one now.  Keep a running list of your prayers.  My list has been running for decades.  Soon you will be able to look back and count your rewards.

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 Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

  (Hebrews 11:6)