EXTEMPORANEOUS PRAYERS

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

great egretIn our pastor’s absence, I led worship for two Sundays. For me, giving the sermons was far easier than leading the prayers. Our pastor has a way with words that inspire, enlighten and lift my spirits and his extemporaneous prayers appear to flow effortlessly from his heart through his mouth to my ears and up to God. He always seems to have the perfect Bible verse up his sleeve, the wisest thoughts in his mind, and the power of the Holy Spirit in his words. The Holy Spirit has truly given him a beautiful spiritual gift and our entire congregation is blessed by it.

While I’m often the one asked to give a table blessing, saying grace among friends or family is a far cry from leading the congregation in opening and closing prayers and Communion. Knowing I’d be leading prayers, I spent nearly as much time composing the days’ prayers as I did writing the sermons and I was fully prepared those Sundays with a well-written script.

More often than not, however, we don’t know when we’ll be called on to say a prayer. We frequently have opportunities to offer a spontaneous prayer with family, friends, and even strangers. Sadly, we may let those opportunities slip by simply because we don’t think we have the right words.

As a writer, I like to carefully select, arrange, rearrange, and edit my words before committing them to paper. Feeling at a loss for the perfect words when leading an impromptu prayer, I used to tell someone I’d pray for them rather than offer to pray with them right then and there. Intercessory prayer, however, isn’t about me and finding the perfect most expressive words; it about the other person and lifting their concerns to God. I’ve finally realized that God isn’t bothered by awkward prayers and hesitant delivery and I doubt that whoever we’re praying for minds either.

When giving a gift, we’re often told, “It’s the thought that counts.” That philosophy goes for prayers, as well. While we may not be gifted at spontaneously leading prayer, we all can pray. While we might not readily inspire others with our language, we can encourage them with our faith. We may not be able to remember the perfect Bible verse for every situation, but we can take the words of the Bible into our hearts and souls and let them guide our prayers. While we may not speak fluent Holy Spirit, we can let Him speak for us.

Prayer is talking with God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. [Josh McDowell]

Prayer is simply talking to God like a friend and should be the easiest thing we do each day. [Joyce Meyer]

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. [Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)]

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MAMA BIRDS – MOTHER’S DAY 2019

My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction. Keep their words always in your heart. Tie them around your neck. When you walk, their counsel will lead you. When you sleep, they will protect you. When you wake up, they will advise you. [Proverbs 6:20-22 (NLT)]

The mother eagle teachers her little ones to fly by making their nest so uncomfortable that they are forced to leave it and commit themselves to the unknown world of air outside. And just so does our God to us. [Hannah Whitall Smith]

wrensWhen writing yesterday’s devotion about what I called “concierge” parents, I couldn’t help but think about how birds parent their young. We once had a birdhouse hanging from the eaves and, every spring, a wren family would move in. Once their eggs hatched, I could hear the wren chicks chirping away, demanding food from the crack of dawn until dusk. Those who’ve had the patience to observe them estimate that wren parents make about 1,000 trips a day to provide room service for their hungry brood; my wrens were no exception. Mom or Dad would disappear inside and stay only long enough to drop off dinner before reappearing and flying off again. Back and forth, the pair flew as they delivered caterpillars, beetles, seeds, crickets, berries, snails and spiders to their youngsters.

As the nestlings grew, the demanding chicks got noisier. Nearly as big as their parents, they would stick their heads out and loudly call for dinner. Every few return trips, however, instead of entering the nest with their meal, Mama would come right up to the opening with a mouth full of goodies and then fly away. This must have been her way of telling the youngsters that room service soon was coming to an end. If they wanted to eat, they were going to have to come out and get it; she knew, if they got hungry enough, they would! Less than three weeks after hatching, the birds would leave the nest. At first, I’d see the little guys franticly flapping their wings as they flew close to the ground around the yard. Soon, however, they were flying high with no apparent effort and then off they went, ready to fend for (and feed) themselves.

I don’t know if Hannah Whitall Smith’s words about the mother eagle making the nest uncomfortable for her young are true, but I do know that the eaglet, like the baby wrens, will never fly until he leaves the comfort of the nest. Like them, we will never become the people God wants us to be until we leave our comfort zones and, sometimes, like the birds, we may need a little nudging.

This Mother’s Day, let us be thankful for the men and women in our lives who didn’t coddle us: the ones who gave us a spoon to feed ourselves even though it meant more food got on than in us; the ones who let us put on our own shoes, even though they ended up on the wrong feet, and allowed us to pick out our clothes, even though they frequently were mismatched; the ones who let us spill the milk when we first poured it, lose when we played Old Maid or Parcheesi, and fall when we learned to roller skate; the ones who made us do our own homework, pick up our messes, clear the dishes, write thank you notes, apologize when we were wrong, and earn the money for the expensive designer jeans we just had to have; the ones who disciplined us when we misbehaved, let us make mistakes and face their consequences, and loved us enough to nudge us out the nest! Let us thank our mothers (and all the other people in our lives) who taught us how to fly!

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. [Proverbs 22:6 (NLT)]

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HE’S NO CONCIERGE

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” [Hebrews 12:5 (NLT)]

Canadian geese and goslingsWe’ve heard of helicopter parents—those over-involved and over-protective parents who hover over their children, taking responsibility for their experiences and protecting them from failure. With the college admission scandal in the news, we now see helicopter parents on steroids. Called lawnmower, snowplow, or bulldozer parents, they don’t just hover over their youngsters. Not wanting to see their children struggle, they mow down challenges, plow through hurdles, and demolish any obstacles facing them.

Those parents are now reaping what they’ve sown. Having spent 18 years clearing the road for their children, they’ve failed to prepare them for the bumps in the road of adulthood! Instead of sitting in the backseat of their adult children’s lives, they remain in the driver’s seat. The New York Times and Morning Consult (a technology/media company) recently conducted a poll of a nationally representative group of parents of adult children (aged 18 to 28). It found that 76% of the parents remind their children of deadlines they need to meet, 74% make their appointments for everything from haircuts to doctors, 15% call or text them to make sure they don’t over-sleep, 11% will call their child’s employer if there is an issue at work, and 8% had contacted a teacher on behalf of their child! These aren’t first-graders needing guidance; they’re adults who should be able to accomplish these simple tasks on their own! 12% of those same parents even give their adult children more than $500 a month for rent or expenses. I have a neighbor who pays his grown son’s credit card bill. That might be understandable if he were a struggling student but this young man, out of law school for two years, is gainfully employed and totally debt-free! Apparently, with all that education, he hasn’t yet figured out how to budget! I know of another woman whose son had difficulty adjusting to dormitory life and waking up for class. Rather than letting him learn how to acclimate to new circumstances and reap the consequences of missing class, she moved to his college town so he could live with her and commute to class (after she’d awakened and fed him). Perhaps a better name for parents like these would be “concierge.” They provide the wake-up calls, get the reservations, arrange the transportation, solve the problems, make the phone calls, and figure out the logistics of their children’s lives.

All parents want their children to succeed but, when they repeatedly eliminate every obstacle and challenge, they’ve left their children unequipped for the challenges of adulthood. The prodigal would never have returned home if he’d had a concierge parent! Mom and Dad would have paid his bills, smoothed out any legal difficulties, provided groceries during the famine, and told the farmer their son was too good to slop pigs! Not having to experience the consequences of his profligate lifestyle, the son would never have seen the error of his ways.

When we read the exodus story, it becomes clear that our heavenly Father is no concierge parent. The God who parted the Red Sea certainly could have destroyed the Philistines with a snap of His fingers and taken his people on the direct route to the Promised Land. Instead, He took them the long way around and a three week journey took two years while He prepared the Israelites for the challenges of Canaan. Then, when they rebelled, rather than coddle and coax them, God let them suffer the consequences. For the next thirty-eight years, they learned the painful lesson of missed opportunities.

Believing in on-the-job training, God allows us to experience failure and frustration, not because He wants us to be failures but because He wants us to learn how to solve problems, make decisions, resolve differences, assess risks, and turn to Him. Like any parent, God wants us to be successful but He also wants us to understand the weight of our decisions and learn both humility and the importance of surrendering to his will. As Adam and Eve learned when leaving Eden, free will is not a gift to be taken lightly and there are consequences to our choices. Wanting us to grow in wisdom, discernment and strength, God lets us make mistakes, face opposition, lose battles, and experience His discipline. If He protected us from challenges, set-backs and trials, we’d think we were the ones responsible for our success. It is in our pain, disappointment, loss, and failure that we truly see how much we need Him.

When we come to Jesus, we come as baby Christians. While He lovingly accepts our imperfect immature selves, He doesn’t want us to stay that way! Let us thank God for the numerous opportunities (many of which we didn’t enjoy) that He’s given us to mature in our faith and grow more like Christ.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. [Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)]

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TO GOD BE THE GLORY

The Grand Tetons - Jackson LakeHe [Herod] put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to them. At its conclusion the people gave him a great ovation, shouting, “It is the voice of a god and not of a man!” Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness so that he was filled with maggots and died—because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. [Acts 12:21b-23 (TLB)]

Our voices, our service, and our abilities are to be employed, primarily, for the glory of God. [Billy Graham]

When it comes to compliments, it’s not only more blessed to give than receive, but often far easier. Praise is a beautiful gift of encouragement and, like any gift, it should be acknowledged with thanks. But what then? None of us want to end the way Herod Agrippa did when he failed to give the glory to God! God is the source of everything that is good in our lives and He has blessed each of us with an array of aptitudes and gifts that enable us to do His work and bring Him glory. While we may put forth a great deal of effort to develop them, our talents, skills, insight, and achievements are not ours alone; they come from the grace of God. It is only right to acknowledge his greatness and give Him the honor and praise. So, when we receive praise, how do we give God the glory that is His?

While I occasionally see, “To God be the glory!” at the end of an actor’s biography in a theater program, I’m not sure it works so well in conversation. Responding to a compliment with, “To God be the glory!” is a Christianese phrase that could be off-putting, especially to non-believers. It might even seem a little boastful—as if God gifted me but not you or my God-given gift is better than yours. Yet, not acknowledging God in our response to sincere praise means we’ve wasted a valuable opportunity to share the gospel. After thanking someone for their encouragement, how do we use their words as an opportunity to celebrate all that God has done in and through us? Of course, I’m going on the assumption that whatever we’ve done that earned the compliment we truly did to glorify God.

While saying “To God be the glory!” may seem a bit flippant or trite, other responses might work better. We could say something like: “I’m thankful to God that you liked my work,” or “I’m happy to be able to use God’s gifts this way,” or “Anything praiseworthy in me is really Him,” or even, “God’s blessed me with a beautiful gift and I hope to use it wisely.” Whatever we say, our response should be humble, sincere and heartfelt. Let’s always remember to give credit where credit is due! To God be the glory!

To God be the glory, great things He hath done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
[Fanny Crosby (1875)]

For everything comes from God alone. Everything lives by his power, and everything is for his glory. To him be glory evermore. [Romans 11:36 (TLB)]

O nations of the world, confess that God alone is glorious and strong. Give him the glory he deserves! [Psalm 96:8-9a (TLB)]

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WHAT LANGUAGE DO WE SPEAK?

The leaders saw that Peter and John were not afraid to speak, and they understood that these men had no special training or education. So they were amazed. Then they realized that Peter and John had been with Jesus. [Acts 4:13 (NCV)]

Sometimes, we Christians use religious jargon or “Christianese” when speaking. In fact, we might “testify” or “witness” instead of talk about our faith and “fellowship” instead of meet with friends! If, while speaking with non-believers, we use words we (and our fellow church-goers) can barely define we may as well be speaking a foreign language. Tossing about words like propitiation, sanctification, justification, glorification, conviction and reconciliation show that we can talk the talk, but what does it mean to anyone else? Let’s remember that Christianity isn’t a secret society like a lodge, college fraternity or sorority. There’s neither a secret handshake nor a password required for admittance.

When sharing our faith [witnessing], let’s not make the mistake of making Christianity harder than it is. Man rejected God [sinned] and we all stand guilty before God [condemnation]. Mankind’s sin alienated us from God but Jesus’s actions restored mankind’s relationship with God [reconciliation]. Jesus is God in flesh [incarnation].  Although the punishment for sin is death, Jesus paid that price [redemption]. Because Jesus took our punishment on the cross [propitiation/substitutionary atonement], we are no longer considered guilty [justification]. Jesus rose from the dead [resurrection]. When we believe in [accept] Jesus Christ and decide to follow Him [salvation], we turn from our old ways [repent] and are changed [born again/regeneration]. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we then grow more and more like Christ [sanctification]. Salvation is not something we earn [works], but something God freely gives to us [grace] when we believe in Jesus [faith].

Jesus didn’t use fancy words; he used parables and metaphors to make his point. Better yet, he explained his parables so everyone could understand the point he was making. The men he chose to spread the faith, men like Peter and John, were simple men. They didn’t require impressive words to preach or heal; they just needed faith! The bracketed words in the previous paragraph weren’t necessary and I’m not even sure I even used them all correctly! We don’t need $10 words or a special vocabulary to talk about Jesus; we just need to be sure we’re speaking the same language as the people with whom we’re talking.

Too many of us have a Christian vocabulary rather than a Christian experience. We think we are doing our duty when we’re only talking about it. [Charles F. Banning]

But we hear them telling in our own languages about the great things God has done! [Acts 2:11b (NCV)]

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SEEING THE ERROR

For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time! [Mark 13:22-23 (NLT)]

white ibisYesterday, I wrote about Cyrus Teed, the Koreshan Unity, their strange theology, and Cellular Cosmogony: the belief that the earth is a hollow shell and the entire universe exists inside that shell. Whether he was a charlatan or insane fanatic, Cyrus Teed claimed to be immortal. When he died in 1908, his followers kept his body in a bathtub for five days and waited for his resurrection. Rather than rising, Teed began to stink and authorities forced his corpse to be buried. Nevertheless, many of his followers faithfully waited another thirteen years for his return.

When it became obvious his second coming would never come, membership in the Koreshan Unity began to decline (the belief in celibacy not helping their numbers). By 1961, when it was clear the community would not survive, its last four members deeded the remaining 305 acres of Unity land to the state.

Hedwig Michel was the last of the Koreshans. In 1982, reporters asked if she still believed in Cellular Cosmogony and she replied, “Well, I did believe it until I saw the boys walking on the moon.” That moon walk took place in 1969, 61 years after Teed’s failed resurrection and several years after Sputnik and Explorer 1 launched, Alan Shepherd flew into space, and both Yuri Gagarin and John Glenn orbited the earth in spacecraft. Yet, Hedwig Michel held fast to her Koreshan beliefs until she saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.

For the most part, the Koreshans were an educated lot and, when walking through their settlement, I wondered why they clung to their strange theology and pseudo-science for so long. Then again, while it’s easy to recognize the folly of someone else’s ideas, it’s not so easy with our own. Jesus warned us about false prophets but not all of them are as obvious as Cyrus Teed. At some time or another, we all may have believed in the wrong person or ideology or held on to erroneous viewpoints or prejudices. Perhaps, we still do.

Why do people continue with false beliefs or follow false prophets? Perhaps, it is easier to believe a lie than admit our thinking could be wrong. The Koreshans gave up their homes and personal possessions to devote their lives to Koreshanity. Like them, could we stubbornly cling to certain beliefs or biases because admitting our error might mean we’ve wasted opportunities, time, energy or even money? For many years, the Koreshan Unity prospered, having 7,500 acres of land and more than a dozen businesses. Skepticism and doubt probably don’t thrive in well-being and, like Teed’s followers, we’re unlikely to question what appears to be successful, even when we suspect it could be wrong. With such a strong sense of community, some Koreshans may have been afraid to abandon their sect and step out on their own while others may have feared ridicule from outsiders if they admitted their error.

Like those die-hard Koreshans, do we have blind spots? Are we unwilling to examine some of our beliefs in the light of God’s truth? While it’s never easy to admit we’re in error, it’s easy to know God’s truth. If we’re not loving God, loving all of His people, and walking in the way of Jesus, we’re in error. When our attitude, values, principles or opinions don’t line up with God’s word, they’re wrong. For Hedwig Michel, it took seeing men walk on the moon’s surface before she accepted the falseness of Koreshanity. What will it take for us to see any falseness in our lives?

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. [2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NLT)]

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