AUDACIOUS PRAYERS

And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. [Hebrews 11:6 (RSV)]

Steamboat Ski - COIt was a dreary winter day when the entire congregation exited the church into a weed-filled field. Like the Israelites, we were armed with horns, only ours were those silly blowout noisemakers seen at children’s birthday parties. Silently, we marched until we’d circled the muddy patch of ground seven times. Anyone observing us from the highway surely thought us foolish as we raised those noisemakers to our lips, blew hard and then cheered. Unlike the Israelites who marched around Jericho so God would knock down walls, we marched around that field to show our faith that God would erect walls for us!

That was a little more than five years ago in the Colorado mountain town where we spent our winters. Armed only with big prayers and bold faith, that church built a 15,000 square-foot Family Life Center. At its dedication last September, the congregation was again given noisemakers; when the service ended, the horns sounded as they celebrated God’s love, grace, and amazing provision.

Erecting that building wasn’t an easy task—blueprints were drawn and redrawn, delay after delay occurred, the red tape seemed never ending, and everything was more complicated and often more expensive than expected. The church never lost faith in the project nor did they cut back on serving God’s people. They faithfully continued their discipleship, benevolence, education, community outreach and missions work while raising additional funds for their expansion. This ski and ranch town is not a wealthy one and many are employed only seasonally. Nevertheless, they generously stepped out in faith, shared their resources, made sacrifices, and trusted God to provide. The pastor is fond of reminding his flock that God honors audacious prayers because audacious prayers honor God. The Family Life Center is a testament to that statement—when the people dared to dream and pray big, instead of walls falling, they were raised!

Picture the audacity of the bleeding woman who was so sure Jesus could heal her that she pushed her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of His robe. Imagine the audacity of Joshua asking God to stop the sun and moon from moving until the Israelites had defeated their enemies. When Elijah prayed for both drought and rain, he made some audacious predictions to Ahab. Like the bleeding woman and Joshua, he would have looked a fool if God had not answered those prayers. God came through for them all because their big bold prayers honored an even bigger God.

We insult our amazing Father with trivial prayers; they’re like asking famed chef Gordon Ramsey to make only a peanut butter sandwich. Inconsequential prayers imply we’re not sure He really can do anything that great. Courageous faith means bold audacious prayers and stepping out for God’s kingdom. Because they prayed, believed, and acted on their belief, that mountain church saw our awesome God provide in miraculous ways. He can do far more than we can imagine or ask and we must never doubt His power. Perhaps God will say, “No!” but, if we never ask, He can’t say, “Yes!” God honors audacious prayers because audacious prayers honor Him!

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it [a demon] out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” [Matthew 17:19-20 (RSV)]

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GOD-INCIDENCES – Thanksgiving 2017

The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. [Psalm 103:19 (NLT)]

mountain bluebirdMost of us live rather ordinary and somewhat predictable lives that are occasionally interrupted by major life events (some welcome and some not). It is life’s little surprises—its happenstance and serendipity—that keep our lives from becoming humdrum. On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s give thought to those little blessings we call coincidences.

We probably have no problem crediting God with the big blessings of life—things like the birth of a healthy child, the benign biopsy, the successful surgery, the spouse he gave us, the better paying job or His gifts of salvation and forgiveness. On the other hand, we tend to think of the little unexpected blessings—the butterfly or bluebird, the chance meeting, the phone call from a loved one, the sermon that spoke to our need, or the humorous email that arrived when we were in the dumps—as mere coincidence or luck. After all, our God is almighty and far too busy running the universe to deal with the minutiae of our everyday lives. Make no mistake; nothing is unimportant to a God who sees every sparrow fall and knows the number of hairs on our heads. Our universe is not run by random chance and God can multitask better than a one armed paper-hanger or a mom with triple toddlers! Nothing escapes His notice!

We speak to God in prayer but often chalk up His answer to luck or coincidence. Although He speaks audibly, I think he also speaks through a seemingly random Bible verse, a fortuitous encounter, words in a book we happen to pick up, a picture we see, or even sunsets, sunrises, flowers and animals. When we credit the little blessings of life to coincidence, we’re happy. When we credit them to their orchestrator, we become thankful. While we’re surprised by these seemingly random or chance events, our God never is! Both the big important incidents and the unimportant trivial ones come from His hand.

On this Thanksgiving Day, we will give thanks for our food, family, health, homes and all the major blessings of life. Let us also give thanks for the little blessings, the godsends, that make our ordinary lives so extraordinary: the ones that encourage us when we want to give up, put smiles on our faces, fill our hearts with joy, answer our questions, or remind us how much we’re loved. Along with all the big things, let’s be sure to give him credit for the little ones—the God-incidences—that he scatters throughout our days. His fingerprints are everywhere we look!

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1 (NLT)]

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HALLOWED BE THY NAME

So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the Lord. And you shall not profane my holy name, but I will be hallowed among the people of Israel; I am the Lord who sanctify you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord. [Leviticus 22:31-33 (RSV)]

water lilyFor several years, a well-known and highly regarded actor/comedian’s name was synonymous with fatherhood and family values. After becoming the subject of sexual abuse allegations, spanning more than fifty years, by more than fifty women, his name went from respected to scorned. Several universities rescinded the honorary degrees awarded him, removed him from their boards and fund-raising campaigns, and eradicated his name from buildings and scholarships. His statue was removed from a Disney theme park, reruns of his shows were cancelled, there was a petition to revoke his Presidential Medal of Freedom, and he was dumped by his agent. No one wanted their good names tarnished by any association with such disgraceful behavior.

Names and reputations are important and none of us want our names to be besmirched by someone else’s words or actions. Apparently, God felt the same way when He gave us that often ignored commandment about not taking His name in vain. Some Bibles translate “in vain” as misusing, using thoughtlessly or irreverently, or making empty promises in God’s name. Whatever Bible we use, the meaning is clear; we must honor God’s name and never use it in a disrespectful, false or blasphemous way.

When Jesus taught us to pray, after addressing our Father in heaven, He said the words, “Hallowed be thy name.” Although some Bibles translate that sentence as, “May your name be kept holy,” the King James’ words are the ones most of us use in the Lord’s Prayer. I used to think those words were a call to worship and pretty much dismissed them as part of the preface to the actual prayer. I hadn’t realized that they are the first petition (or request) the prayer makes. In those four prayerful words, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are appealing to God to help us keep His commandment about not dishonoring His name! That sentence, however, means far more than just not cursing or committing perjury after promising to tell the truth.

If we call ourselves Christians—followers of Jesus Christ—whenever we act or speak shamefully we are not keeping God’s name holy. If we distort God’s word with our witness or actions, His name is not hallowed. It’s not just blasphemy, irreverence or profanity; hypocrisy, deception, treachery, insincerity, falseness, and immorality of any kind profane His name! We don’t have to be celebrities and have our transgressions blasted across the tabloids; we disgrace His name whenever we speak or act in any way that dishonors Him.

If we never get beyond those four little words, “Hallowed be thy name,” we’ve said enough. In that one sentence, we ask God to make our words and actions reflect His holiness. We express our desire to live godly lives and ask Him to enable us to live in a way that makes His name holy. Heavenly Father, hallowed be thy name!

We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. [2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 (RSV)]

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! [Psalm 103:1 (RSV)]

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OUR FATHER

Mute swan - cygnetsPray like this: Our Father in heaven…” [Matthew 6:9a (NLT)]

Throughout Scripture, God is called by several ancient names that reflect His character: El Shaddai (God Almighty), El Olam (The Everlasting God), El Elyon (The Most High God), and El Roi, (The God Who Sees). He is Yahweh-Jireh (The Lord Will Provide), Yahweh-Rapha (The Lord Who Heals), and Yahweh-Roh (Our Shepherd). We also find references to God as both a Rock and a King. Yet, with all these ways to address God, when Jesus taught us how to pray, He chose to address God with the words “Our Father.”

As I pondered calling on our Father in prayer, I recalled an episode that occurred more than twenty-five years ago when two of our children attended college together. They went camping with a group of friends and enjoyed beers around the campfire. In the wee hours of the morning, the group was awakened by a police officer who breathalyzed them all. Unfortunately, the results indicated they’d been drinking and, since all were all under 21, each received a ticket for “illegal possession of alcohol by consumption” (a Class C misdemeanor). My children’s friends were amazed when they immediately called their dad, admitted their mistake, and asked his advice. My daughter’s response to her friends’ shock at their quick call was simple: “If I can’t call my father, who can I call?”

Our children called their father not because he paid their tuition and provided for them or even because he has a law degree. Even knowing he would expect them to face the consequences of their foolishness, they called on their father because he loves them! He’s their daddy and they are his children and they knew that, in spite of his disappointment in them, he would lovingly forgive and wisely counsel them.

“Our Father,” said Jesus. We can address God as Creator, Most High, Shepherd, Rock, Healer or any of a dozen other impersonal ways but it’s like calling on someone great and powerful; we know of Him but we don’t know Him. Prayer isn’t like scheduling an appointment to present a petition before a foreign king; it is an intimate conversation with someone we love who also loves us. It’s like my children coming to their daddy, confessing their error, and asking for his guidance. We appeal to God in love, not in fear of His anger or even awe of His power. God adopted us when we accepted Christ—we are His children, His heirs, and we can come boldly before Him with our prayers. That our unchanging, sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, infinite God desires a relationship with us and wants us to address Him as “Our Father” is a privilege and an honor—let us never take it lightly.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. [Romans 8:14-16 (NLT)]

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. [Romans 1:7b (NLT)]

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IN HONOR OF OUR VETERANS

Veterans of WW IIOur fight is not against people on earth. We are fighting against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness. We are fighting against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly places. [Ephesians 6:12 (ERV)]

This morning, I quietly read my Bible, some Billy Graham, and prayed. Over coffee, I looked through the newspaper and watched the news. I laughed at a political cartoon, read editorials that both praised and criticized our president, and heard politicians from opposite sides of the aisle disagree about taxes and health care. Once at my computer, I checked my calendar (Bible study tonight) and read about Tuesday’s election. In my email, along with news from friends and Christian devotions, I got an action alert from a local conservation group asking me to contact my representative about a proposed bill. I also received several Veteran’s Day advertisements.

Veteran’s Day wasn’t meant to be another reason to go shopping. Originating in 1919 as Armistice Day, it celebrated the end of World War I — said to be the “war to end all wars” until WW II proved that wrong. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veteran’s Day — and a day to honor all military veterans for their service, patriotism, and willingness to sacrifice for the good of our nation.

Within the first two hours of my day, I’d experienced an incredible amount of freedom, in large part because of those veterans we’ll honor this weekend. We are comfortable and secure in our homes, able to speak openly, vote, run for political office, read without restrictions, gather together freely, and worship openly. We can even safely complain both about and to the government. We can do all that and much more because of the men and women who took a stand against evil—not just with their votes, voices, prayers, or money—but with their service. In many cases, they returned home with scars both visible and hidden. In some cases, they returned in body bags.

I came of age in an era of anti-war/anti-military sentiment and I continue to abhor the thought of weapons and warfare. Nevertheless, time has taught me that sometimes fighting evil means real soldiers and an actual battlefield. As the character Ransom learned in C.S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra, when reasoning fails to defeat Satan, one may have to resort to actual combat. The struggle against the enemy is not always a spiritual one; sometimes it is physical and the hands God uses belong to real men and women. Until the day when our weapons can be turned into agricultural tools, we will continue to need people who will put their lives on the line to fight evil. While we continue to pray for peace, may we also pray for the members of our armed forces (both past and present) and thank God for their service. Let’s remember to express our deep and lasting gratitude to them, as well.

The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. [Isaiah 2:4 (NLT)]

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HUNCHES

Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind? Who is wise enough to count all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven when the parched ground is dry and the soil has hardened into clods? [Job 38:36-38 (NLT)]

alligatorThe Bible gives us plenty of instances of God directly speaking to His people—Noah, Moses, and Joshua were all given specific directions before building the ark, liberating the Israelites, or crossing into the Promised Land. On the other hand, there are many people who furthered God’s plan without His specific instructions. As far as we know, God didn’t tell Moses’ mother to place her son in a basket and lay him among the reeds of the crocodile infested Nile, yet she did just that. What caused a mother to literally send her beloved baby down the river? Yet, that very action furthered God’s plan; as the son of an Egyptian princess, Moses received a royal upbringing and an excellent education, all of which he needed in his later confrontations with Pharaoh.

There’s no mention of God telling Joshua’s spies how to get their information about Jericho. Granted, Rahab was a prostitute which might explain why they stopped there. Still, she probably wasn’t the only harlot in town and hers wasn’t the only house near the city wall. What made the men choose the one house where they’d find a woman who believed enough in the Israelites’ God to lie to the king’s men and save their lives?

Did the spies and Moses just catch lucky breaks? My husband often says, “Luck is better than skill!” but I don’t think luck had anything to do with it. We can’t truly comprehend God and, since we’re created in His image, it would seem that there is a part of us that also is beyond our understanding. An EEG can’t detect it and neither CT scan nor MRI can show it; nevertheless, it is what provides us with inner guidance and enables us to discern right from wrong, recognize danger, and become suspicious when things don’t seem quite right. It goes way beyond experience, aptitude, and skills. God has blessed us all with an innate intuition through which He steers our minds, changes our perspective, reveals opportunities, and helps us rethink situations so that we can choose His plan, even when we’re not sure what it is. It’s that strong inner feeling that something is the right thing to do, not just for our benefit but also for the benefit of those around us. It was what brought the spies to Rahab and caused Moses’ mother to place him in the river.

Unfortunately, not all of our inner feelings come from God; the enemy also is whispering into our ears. Being mortal, we are prone to errors in judgment and not every hunch, feeling, or instinct should be heeded. The Book of Judges tells us that, when there was no king in Israel, “All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” [17:6] In fact, after listing all of the nation’s appalling moral failures, Judges reiterates that thought in its last words. When God provided us with intuition, he did not abdicate his authority over us. The Israelites needed a king to govern them and we certainly need our King to rule us. Whatever we think intuition is telling us should be in line with what God has already told us.

Intuition isn’t our problem; it’s not adding God and prayer to it that is. We all will have intuitive moments but must discern their source by going to God’s word in the Bible and to His throne in prayer. The closer we are to God, the more likely we are to know whether or not that feeling in our gut comes from Him or from the spicy burritos we ate for lunch.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. … Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. [Galatians 5:16-17, 25 (NLT)]

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