Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Be Careful of What you ask for

We have heard of Moab's pride,
his great pride,
his outrageous pride and arrogance
his empty boasting

Isaiah 16:6

Like a lot of other people, I've had my moments of being overly self-assured. Case in point: there was a time when a friend involved in publishing asked if I would undertake writing a book on Christian witnessing for young people. I felt it would be an easy task since we had five children at home and we were involved with youth at our church. I said, "Sure, when do you want it?" "Yesterday," was his response. I told him I would work on it when I got home.

That's exactly what I did - I started writing and everytime I started, the things I was thinking of ended up on the floor in a wadded-up ball of paper which accumulated as the hours and days went by.

By the end of the week nothing had worked out. It seemed as though the self assurance I had started with was gone and I was frustrated. Finally I decided to pray for guidance. I said to God, "I can't do this task and I need your help." Immediately it was as though a spotlight had lit; all kinds of ideas flashed through my head. In a matter of days the manuscript had gone together. And when I next talked to my friend he asked when I would have an outline and my response was, "I don't have an outline - I have the entire book." When it was published there was only one editorial change - one word in the entire book.

Some time later I started work on another book completing an outline and several chapters and submitted it to the publisher. He said that it was a nice book but not one they would be interested in publishing. I asked why and he replied, "Your other book shared a personal witness; this new one preaches. If you find a way to let the experience of God speak through your writing, you'll have a winner." Needless to say, I had forgotten to pray for guidance.

I've always been grateful for that lesson. We, by ourselves, don't offer much, but through God, and prayer, all things are possible.

Dear Lord God:
Help us to know that you hear our prayers
and though your answers me not be
what we expect, your answers
are there

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Letter to God

Lord, listen closely to me
and answer me
because I am poor and in need

Psalm 86:1                                             

Dear Father,

I'm sorry I haven't written sooner but I've been really busy. I mean to keep in touch but time seems to fly by. (Maybe you've heard the statement, "Time flies when you're having fun"?)

Work has been keeping me very busy; I haven't had much time for family, much less church. When you think  about it, the job has to come first doesn't it? Gotta put bread on the table, you know.

My wife has been a real grouch lately; all she wants to do is talk about family stuff, or she's after me to take her out somewhere. I don't see why she should be bored, after all, she has housework and the kids to keep her occupied. Jimmy's been having problems at school. I guess I'll have to take time off from work and go talk with his teachers. I don't know why these teachers can't take care of these "kid-problems" anymore; it seems as though the teachers want parents to do everything, even teach discipline. I thought that was what schools were for.

I can't understand something in your last letter, God. You said something about having trouble with some of your family and you wish we could talk once in a while. I don't know about your problems, Father, but I know that I'm a bit overloaded with my own and I haven't got time to take on somebody elses. I know you need help, but isn't there someone else who can give you a hand with your churches? After all, you have a pretty big family.


                  A member of the family of God

                                   Lord, forgive my complacency
                                                    and preoccupation  with self


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Doing Life

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

John Wesley                                                     

It's been a sad time. Two friends have passed away recently and it has caused me to reflect on life, and how we spend our lives.

There are those who wonder if life has been worth the effort. They focus on the "what-ifs" in their lives. What if I had done things differently? What if I had gone further in school? What if I had taken a particular job when I had the chance? What if I had dared to do something or go somewhere when it seemed to offer an opportunity? What if? What if?

The two friends I mentioned may have asked the question one or two times in their lives. Maybe more. But they did not FOCUS on the question. They seemed to reflect the words of Wesley and lived lives as best they could. Each of them, one way or another, influenced the lives they came in contact with.

They did not "cut notches in the stock of their Winchesters", keeping score of what they had done and how many people they brought into a relationship with Christ. Instead, they went through life living their faith and sharing their faith quietly in who they were and what they did. And if you were to ask them about something they had done or said, they might have shrugged their shoulders and asked, "Well, it isn't a question of why, it's a statement of why not?

One of the people who passed away had been an executive in a major Florida utility company. He could have sat back in his comfortable life and left life challenges to others. But he saw needs and people who were hurting and spent his life doing the best he could for every person he met. Not for his own sake but for the sake of Christ, asking himself, "What would Jesus do?" And trying his best to respond.

The other person was a pastor's wife. She was never in the forefront of the ministry of the church. But she was always there when there was a need and she conveyed a quiet and consistent faith that was contageous.

I hope you'll reflect upon John Wesley's words, perhaps asking yourself, "How do I measure up to Wesley's challenge?"

Oh, God in heaven:
Help me forget self and focus on
the needs around me
and equip me to do - to do - unto others.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

God of Zion,
to you even silence is praise.
Promises made to you are kept -
you listen to prayer -
and all living things come to you.
When wrongdoings become
too much for me,
you forgive our sins

Psalm 65:1-3

Many years ago, before I was in the pastorate, Joyce and I taught a sixth grade Sunday School class in a large church. It was a good class with lively and intelligent 'tweenagers' and it was a joy being involved with them.

However, as I have reflected on that teaching experience I'm reminded that all of us tend to put ourselves in molds - things we like to do to the exlusion of things we're less comfortable with.

In the case of this class, I was the teacher, Joyce was the pray-er. I'd go all the way through the lesson and at the end I would turn to Joyce and ask, "Will you give the closing prayer?" It became a weekly habit, but she never resisted my request.

Years later, thinking about this, I was puzzled why this pattern had evolved. Then it hit me right between the eyes: I was afraid to pray out loud in front of the children; I didn't want them to hear an adult fumble for the right words. Especially when my words were directed to God.

I've come to the conclusion that we need to accept our own imperfection. God accepts us the way we are - faltering, fearful prayers and all. God accepts our stuttering, stammering prayers as well as those filled with flowing and flowery prose - and maybe, were the truth known, the hesitant, humble prayer is the one God likes best.

Since the time of that sixth grade Sunday School class, I've found a new joy in prayer, public or private. I still may fumble at times, but I sense an assurance that God hears and responds to my prayers, fumbles and all.

All powerful and loving God:
Put the prayers of my heart on the lips of my mouth.
Remind me of your willingness to respond
to every prayer and that you are
always within hearing range.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Living Faith

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity,
overlooking the sin of the few
remaining for his inheritance?
He doesn't hold on to his anger forever;
he delights in faithful love.

                                                                                                  Micah 7:18                   
I'm sorry!

I've said it a hundred times or more - to my wife - to our children - to friends and people I've worked with.

                                                                                          I'm sorry!

But did I really mean it? Or was it just so much lip service? Were the words empty or real? Did saying I was sorry make any difference in the life of the one to whom I apologized?

Perhaps the other person said, "I've heard that before." The expression of penitence had been made so many times before in so many ways it had become like the 'chicken little' story where eventually no one was willing to believe or even care whether you said anything or not. The words had become empty.

And what about God? How many times have we apologized to God for not being the sort of person he would prefer us to be? Have our words to God been shallow and insincere? Have we allowed ourselves to leave God out of our life equation? 

Perhaps this is the day in life for each of us to go into the depths
of our hearts and find a way to say to God, "I could have been better"; "I need to be better"; "I want to be better"; "I will be better in my professions of faith - through Christ."

Eternal Father in Heaven:
Help me be more honest in my confession
of weakness and sin. 
Forgive the emptiness of my words
and put spiritual substance in my soul.
Through Christ I pray: