Sunday, June 30, 2013

Living On a Prayer

Each morning you listen to my prayer, as I bring my requests to you and wait for your reply.

-- Psalm 5:3    

We read in Luke's Gospel that one day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples made a simple--yet profound--request that Christ-followers remember to this day.

"Lord," the follower began. "Teach us to pray, just as John (the Baptist) taught his disciples."

Jesus' famous response is what we know today as the Lord's Prayer:

"When you pray, say: Father, help us to honor your name. Come and set up your kingdom. Give us each day the food we need. Forgive our sins, as we forgive everyone who has done wrong to us. And keep us from being tempted.'"

Jesus wasn't teaching His followers some Prayer2magic formula to compel God to grant their most heartfelt wishes. Instead, He was modeling His intimate, ongoing conversation with His Father. And the religious leaders of the time were highly offended by the notion. "After all," they said, "Who dares go before God but our High Priest?"

The answer, of course, was much closer than they bargained for.

Jesus also taught His 1st Century disciples that He could do only what he saw His Father doing. That's a reminder to 21st Century Christ-followers that to do God's will in our communities--and the entire world, for that matter--we need to be in constant conversation with Him. Through ongoing prayer, our hearts, wills and vision will become closer to the Father's. And His ways will become our ways.

Prayer evokes different images to different people. If you grew up attending a traditional church, you might think of kneeling on pews (with eyes closed and heads bowed) between the sermon and the choir's stirring rendition of How Great Thou Art. To others, prayer is something done aloud with hands outstretched and eyes looking skyward. But Jesus' lesson to us is that prayer boils down to the simple act of talking with God. And it's a remarkable concept. The literal Creator of the Universe--the One Who knew us before we were born and counts the hairs on our heads--wants a personal relationship with us. And that means thanking Him for all He does for us and asking Him to meet our everyday needs.

That's one part of the conversation. Of course, the other half involves listening to His response through our daily experiences, interactions with others and His Word through the Bible.

Shortly before Jesus began preaching the Good News of His Father's kingdom, He was baptized by His cousin, John the Baptist. As Christ arose from the waters and began to pray, the sky opened up. The Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven said, "You are my own dear Son, and I am pleased with you."

In these uncertain days marked by distant wars, social unrest, high unemployment and financial upheaval, it's reassuring to know that every Christ-follower has a direct line to the Father. And just as it was with His own beloved Son, He's also pleased to hear from us.         

"I was in terrible trouble when I called out to you," wrote the Psalmist centuries ago. "But from your temple you heard me and answered my prayer."

And so it can be for us all today.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Get the Message?

The Law of the Lord is a lamp, and its teachings shine brightly. Correction
and self-control will lead you through life.

- Proverbs 6:23

The recent EF5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, that killed more than 20 people and damaged or destroyed 1,200 homes is a stark reminder that life is unpredictable. Literally out of the blue, thousands of people became homeless. However, warning signs often precede disasters. And our ability and willingness to recognize and heed them can mean the difference between life and death.

Let’s rewind back to December 2004 when an earthquake generating a powerful tsunami in the Indian and Pacific Oceans released the energy of more than 20,000 atomic bombs. The disaster left more than 150,000 people dead or missing in 11 different nations--and millions of others homeless.

The tsunami’s approach was not totally unannounced. Many survivors remember marveling at how far the ocean had receded to expose the seafloor. Fish and boats were left exposed and stranded on the sand. But these were also same warning signs that attracted others to their dooms when their curiosities got the best of them and led them to the shoreline. 

However, there were some people who did recognize the warning from the rapidly receding ocean. Those who understood its significance later recalled how they ran for high ground, rounded up family and friends, and tried to warn those who had gathered at the water's edge. The Associated Press reported that one man in India saved 1,500 of his fellow villagers after seeing the ocean’s dramatic behavior. And for reasons still debated by scientists, many animals somehow sensed the impending disaster and fled in time to safety. Remarkably few animal carcasses were found in the wake of the destruction.

Maybe you don't live in an area where literal tsunamis are a threat. But is God trying to warn you about a catastrophe on your personal horizon?

Maybe it’s about your marriage, your kids, your job…or even that risky investment you're considering. Whatever it is, it’s likely that His warnings aren’t a complete surprise. Like those doomed tourists who gathered at the shoreline, we tend to lack wisdom and self control. We do what we know is bad for us (spiritually and/or physically) and put off what’s unpleasant until the very last minute. Or, sometimes we delay until it’s too late. And by then, the damage—often permanent—is done.

Our excuses are remarkably consistent. We’re either too busy or we don’t think the issue is a big deal. We also like to play God by pretending that we already have a handle on the situation (often involving drugs, gambling or alcohol). But your family, friends—and most importantly, God—know otherwise.

How should we respond to God’s warning signs?

The best answer is the simplest one: Face up to them NOW and run from the natural tendency to ignore our problems or procrastinate. Meanwhile, we should also be on the lookout for red flags by constantly evaluating anything that signals trouble. It's the self-awareness and discipline today can save us—and others—from a lifetime of hurt and regret tomorrow.   

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fatherly Advice father taught me and said,
    "Hold on to my words with all your heart.
    Keep my commands and you will live." 

-- Proverbs 4:4     

What's the best advice that your father ever gave you? 

That's the question Real Simple once posed to its readers. Here are a few of the responses that the magazine received:
  • If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.
  • Never try to solve problems at night. They always seem worse than they do in the morning.
  • You don't have to answer the phone just because it rings.
  • Life is better when you have a good time...and bring someone along for the ride.
A father's words can have a profound impact (good or bad) on his home and children. Everything that he says and does--and how he lives out his life--makes an eternal difference on those around him. This was also true for Jesus. He called God (His own Father) "Abba," which translates to Daddy. As Christ-followers, we, too, have the extraordinary privilege of knowing God as our loving Abba. So it should come as no surprise that He has some important advice for His children: you and me.

The Bible--especially the Book of Proverbs--is full of useful advice from wise, God-centered people who traveled the proverbial road of life centuries before our time. And their words to us today are not only insightful, relevant and trustworthy, they're inspired by our Creator.

It's when we finally take God's message to us to heart that we begin a vital transformation process into the men and women He wants us to be. And eventually, we mature enough in our faith that He shows us glimpses of His reality. Like an inquisitive child who's finally learned a lesson or two the hard way, it's then that we begin to see through new eyes.

Unfortunately, we tend to learn a bit too slowly. But our Father fully understood this limitation even before He created the Earth. So to help us grasp His message, He had to fully reveal Himself by literally putting a human face on the divine. He lived out the human experience in the form of Jesus Christ...even if we didn't recognize Him at the time.
"Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?" Jesus once asked His inquisitive disciple. "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?"
Jesus' comments were a simple answer to humanity's ultimate question. If we want to know the who-what-where- and-why of God, we first need to know Christ--the One He's already sent to us. Because the more we know and experience the Son, the more we'll need to know and experience the Father.

That's some advice to remember...and live out. After all, He's our Father. And He knows us best.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Royal Pains

Run from temptations that capture young people. Always do the right thing. Be faithful, loving, and easy to get along with. Worship with people whose hearts are pure.

-- 2 Timothy 2:22     

Ever since they were born, it has seemed like Prince William and Prince Harry--the privileged children of Prince Charles and Princess Diana--have been on every other cover of People, the National Enquirer and US Weekly. Their family vacations were fodder for the tabloids, and their most mundane social interactions were scrutinized for scandal. Even now that they've reached adulthood, the handsome brothers still make headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. We just can't get enough.

Of course, the media's obsession with CrownBritish royalty is nothing new. And the paparazzi cameras were around Buckingham Palace long before William and Harry's mother made the headlines with stories involving her hair styles, eating disorders and love affairs. Decades earlier--not long before England entered World War II--a young King Edward VIII shocked the world by announcing in a radio address that he would abdicate his title to "marry the woman that he loved."   

Edward's subjects across the British Empire were shocked. After all, renouncing the throne just wasn't done...and particularly not for the sake of a woman with a less-than-reputable past. What would happen to the monarchy? And what would happen to England?

After turning his back on the throne, Edward served as governor of the Bahamas and spent much of the next 25 years traveling the globe and living abroad. He and his wife became international celebrities--much like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are today. With no children of their own, they had minimal experience with raising kids. But during one of their jet-setting excursions to the United States, the Duke happened to make a spot-on observation:  
"The thing that impresses me most about America," he said, "is the way parents obey their children."
Edward's comment might sting a bit for some parents. After all, who hasn't given into his or her child once or twice during a particularly weak moment or stressful situation? Now combine that with the constant negative messages from the media, society and pop culture. And while you're at it, watch MTV for a few minutes or visit just about any popular website aimed at kids. The common theme is a go-it-alone, you-know-more-than-your-parents attitude. And at its core is the overreaching attitude of rebellion.

The Apostle Paul wrote about troubled young people centuries ago in his Letter to the Romans. Without pulling any punches, he observed that:
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
Your child probably isn't that rebellious, but there are some days when you might wonder. Thankfully, God offers parents some very useful guidance through the Bible. First, be sure to lead though the example of your own life. That means always respecting God though your word and deed, and living by His standards. Also, show your child plenty of love (sometimes tough love, when necessary). It's the right blend of relationship and rules that yields respect. And above all, always ask God for wisdom and strength through prayer.

There are no perfect parents. But there is a perfect God who's always there to help them prepare the next generation for eternity. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Santa Strikes Back

"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one--I in them and you in me--so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
-- John 17:22-23     

Is unity among Christ-followers really that important? Santa Claus once thought so. And he even went to jail over it. wasn't really Santa Claus--with the red suit, elves and reindeer. Instead, it was St. Nicholas who stood up for this biblical principle. (When you hear Santa called "Jolly Old Saint Nick," think of him.)

What does this have to do with Christian St Nickunity? The St. Nicholas Center website reports that back in AD 325, Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea (a gathering of more than 300 bishops) to address one of the church's most intense theological questions: the nature of the Trinity. Arias, a churchman from Alexandria in Egypt, declared that Jesus was just a prophet and therefore not equal to God the Father. Bishop Nicholas--enraged at this blasphemous attack on Christ--jumped to his feet, crossed the room and struck Arias in the face! 

Several of the bishops grabbed Nicholas, stripped him of his bishop's robes and had him thrown in the dungeon in chains. But later, the Council agreed with Nicholas' viewpoint and ruled against Arias. Emerging from the Council of Nicaea was the Nicene Creed, which to this day millions of Christians recite during worship to proclaim their belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Christ-followers have had their disagreements and differences since the very early days of the church. The Book of Acts even tells us that Paul called out his fellow apostle, Peter, for his acts of hypocrisy when dealing with fellow believers of certain backgrounds. (Some things really haven't changed much over the years!) Yet for all of our differences, we share at least one thing that both unifies and distinguishes us from everyone else on Earth. It's our fervent belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. And it's this same common faith that helps us share in the joys of life while overcoming the many struggles, disappointments and even tragedies that we all face along our unique faith-journeys.

As a diverse group of Christ-followers sharing in a single, incredible relationship, we're to be unified because we're all for One. But more important still is that we know there's One who is for us all.