Monday, December 24, 2012

Generosity or Manipulation??

Multiple choice:  Do I give to the homeless family at the shelter because:

A.  It's a tax deduction
B.  The head trustee for the shelter is in my line of business and will think well of me
C. I get warm fuzzies
D. They need it
E.  God will see and reward me
F.  God has already given me so much and it's my privilege to use it for His purposes

Here's a few hints:

8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. II Corinthians 9:8

The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that. Proverbs 29:25

Acts 4:36-5:11

As you might have guessed, the answers get better as you go down the list, and the best answer is the last one.  Jesus gives partial credit for E--He never seems to criticize the disciples when they ask Him, "What's in it for me?" 

Even need alone is not sufficient motivation for our generosity (answer D).  When Mary anointed Jesus' feet with costly perfume and Judas complained, Jesus responded that the poor will always have needs.  It's easy to fall into a trap of over-helping and further handicapping those who already have issues. 

The difference between codependency and Godly generosity is in the motivation.  Staying connected to the vine--dwelling in His presence--will provide enough gratitude to give sacrifically.  Anything less is going to result in a selfish motivation, manipulation and disappointment. 

If you can only get to answer D, then you probably should still go ahead and give, serve or help, knowing that you still need to get further down the list.  He can do better through you...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Where do you set your mind?

Tonight, the pastor mentioned Romans 8 and during the sermon, I copied a good chunk of it in my journal.  I need to do that more often.  I see different things that way...

My reading of late has focused on keeping the presence of God and His will in my mind in a state of continual worship.  A couple of verses caught my attention:

"5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace."

My son, PJ, often has an issue with perseverating.  Perseverating is when your mind, thoughts and talk all get stuck on one subject, over and over again.  For PJ, it could be a video game, could be legos, or how much he hates school, but everything always comes back to that one topic.  If this passage is to be believed, it's not what your mind naturally moves toward that matters--it's where you choose, over and over again, to set your mind.  And where you choose to set your mind makes a big difference in outcome. 

As we finished the service, we had communion.  When it came to the cup, PJ and I talked about what it is and why it's important.  See, God said that the Israelites were never to drink blood because the life of the animal is in the blood.  Yet, Jesus gave his disciples the 3rd cup of passover to represent His blood that we take within ourselves as a symbol of how His life comes into us and becomes a part of us.  Romans 8 goes on to say:

10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The Holy Spirit is there to give life to your mortal body by bringing your thoughts back to Him--to life.  The mind set of the flesh leads to a life of death and hostility, while the Spirit sets our minds on the pathway to life and peace.  

PJ pointed out that it's grape juice (not blood) that we have in our little cups.  As I flipped through the scripture, the passage where Jesus tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches flashed in front of me.  The life of the vine is in the sap, which becomes the juice within us, just like the blood is our life, within the vine, the juice is it's life and produce.  The point of that passage is that we can do nothing--we have no life within us--unless we are connected to the vine.  Setting our minds on the things of the Spirit is the way we stay connected continually to the vine.  

So what are you thinking? 

Monday, December 10, 2012

A disturbance in the force...

Ok, I have to admit, the new-age gobbledygook that came with Star Wars is fun to play with sometimes...

"I love you..."  "I know."

"May the force be with you."

"He will bring unity to the force."

Only the truly geeky among us will recognize all of these. 

As Christians we can laugh, even mockingly at this silliness.  The Holy Spirit that lives and moves within us is no impersonal force--he is personality incarnate.  One of the most powerful arguments for God is the argument from personality and relationship.  Randomness is by definition impersonal.  How can a vibrantly personal human being emerge from an impersonal system?  It's like trying to watercolor with only black and white.  One could hint at color, but it would never become the vibrancy we see within the full spectrum.  The classic framing of this argument is that you could posit the existence of water from the design of a fish, even if you had never seen water before.  The fish himself would cry out for water even he had never experienced it and had been kept alive in some other way because he was made for it.  In the same way, we were made for relationship with something transcendent and even if we never directly experienced that relationship, we would cry out for it instinctively. 

Back to the disturbance...This weekend, I was forced to admit the difficulty of the personal situations in my life right now.  It was unsettling to do so but I need his help with the repercussions of what's going on.  The pain of the admission made it difficult to worship Saturday night.  It was difficult to re-enter into the joy of the Father's presence and trust Him for His merciful provision in the middle of my pain.  I have often told others that God will not speak over the screaming in our own hearts and I still believe this is true.  It took time to calm myself but like David said, "I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." (Ps 27:13).  Settling into that confidence can be challenging at times.  This morning, the Father reminded me of how hard I had worked to refocus on Him that night and encouraged me for the effort.  Practicing the Presence of God is difficult, particularly when circumstances are hard. 

I want to remind you (and myself) that He is there with us in the struggle, even before we feel Him.  Just because you are disturbed doesn't mean He is.  Of course, the opposite is true as well--just because we excuse ourselves doesn't mean He is pleased.  We have to continually go back to Him to get His evaluation of us.  Even in His disappointment, there is joy for Him and for us in running back to Him. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


It seems like at the beginning and end of the day I feel so close to my Father.  Things get quiet and it's easiest to hear His heartbeat.  That quiet time with Him throughout the day is so critical to me.  It's not generally planned, but it usually includes a lot of talking together with an open Bible. 

I'm working so hard to feel His closeness throughout the day as well.  It's hard to get that kind of focus on Him, but when I spend the time with Him in the morning and evening, it's easier to understand His perspective throughout the day.  For me, I don't spend a lot of time interceding for others during my quiet time.  Most of the time I spend praying for others is throughout the day.  He brings people to mind at times and I immediately rest them before Him.  We talk about it together and He shows me what to ask about. 

I have other tools that help me pray consistently over a long period of time, but even for those, I want for Him to guide what I request.  Keeping Him close all day keeps my heart in line with His heart.  I have found that I really can't pray very well for things He doesn't want. He just doesn't give me the power to pray that way.  The Holy Spirit really does pray through me when I don't know what to say, just like scripture tells us He will. 

A lot of people that want to intercede for others.  In the end, the power to see God's work come to pass horizontally comes from the quality of that vertical relationship.  This includes the desire to obey and walk in His character as dearly loved children do.  It begins with a consistent pattern of seeking Him morning and evening. I can't say I'm perfect at it.  I do miss Him more often than I would prefer, but the effort pays big dividends. 

What can you do to make that a reality? 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What does "praying without ceasing" look like?

I'm still working on the Prayer Lab workbook.  I'm doing background research on several historical figures that have really tried to pray continually.  This is so cool and inspiring.  Over the last few days I've been reading the journals of Frank Laubach, a lingust from the early 1900's.  Take a look at a few quotes:

"But this year I have started out trying to live all my waking moments in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, “What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?”

I am feeling God in each movement, by an act of will—willing that He shall direct these fingers that now strike this typewriter—willing that He shall pour through my steps as I walk—willing that He shall direct my words as I speak, and my very jaws as I eat!

I feel simply carried along each hour, doing my part in a plan which is far beyond myself. This sense of cooperation with God in little things is what so astonishes me, for I never have felt it this way before. I need something, and turn round to find it waiting for me. I must work, to be sure, but there is God working along with me. To know this gives a sense of security and assurance for the future which is also new to my life. I seem to have to make sure of only one thing now, and every other thing “takes care of itself,” or I prefer to say what is more true, God takes care of all the rest. My part is to live this hour in continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to His will, to make this hour gloriously rich. This seems to be all I need think about.

But why do I constantly harp upon this inner experience? Because I feel convinced that for me and for you who read there lie ahead undiscovered continents of spiritual living compared with which we are infants in arms. And I must witness that people outside are treating me differently. Obstacles which I once would have regarded as insurmountable are melting away like a mirage. People are becoming friendly who suspected or neglected me.

I feel, I feel like one who has had his violin out of tune with the orchestra and at last is in harmony with the music of the universe. As for me, I never lived, I was half dead, I was a rotting tree, until I reached the place where I wholly, with utter honesty, resolved and then re-resolved that I would find God’s will, and I would do that will though every fiber in me said no, and I would win the battle in my thoughts."

Laubach, Frank (2007-12-31). Letters by a Modern Mystic (p. 10). Purposeful Design Publications. Kindle Edition.

If this doesn't encourage your heart to try it,  I can't think of much more that would.  Check him out.  It gets even better.  Laubach is well known in literacy circles because of his "Each one, teach one" literacy method.  It has literally taught millions around the world to read.  His work was amazing in its own right and flowed right out of his relationship with God. 

There are a few others that I'm including as well, like Brother Laurence and Madame Guyon.  All three Christians are amazing examples.  Jesus lived this way and so few have really even tried it.  It's about time to take that command seriously--It's hard, maybe impossible, but I'll die trying. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Conducting our Prayer Time...

One of the books I've been reading as background research for the Prayer Lab is Transformation Prayer by Daniel Henderson (oops, I almost wrote Transportation Prayer...).  One of the cooler little nuggets from the book is a pattern for prayer using the conducting pattern for 4/4 time.  It follows the pattern of the Lord's model prayer and provides a visual memory device to help you order your prayer time in a way that honors God.  Here's the picture:
1.  Prayer starts with the heart facing upward in worship toward a God who is due our reverence and awe.  If it's tough to get up there, it may take an active movement from our circumstances to that position and grattitude cannot fail to get us to that position of worship.  He reveals Himself to us, high and lifted up and full of the Glory He so rightly deserves. We see His attributes, His greatness. 

2.  From there our prayer moves downward to our world in our response, because God's revelation always demands a response from us.  We see our sin and failures in the light of His character and we repent, recognizing our need for a saviour, redeemer and restorer.  Because we have seen Him clearly, we can rightly see our own world from His perspective.  That moves us to...

3. A desperate understanding of our need for His intervention.  Since we started from an understanding of who God is and we now understand His perspective, our needs look vastly different than they did when we approached God first.  We need the power to obey.  We need changed hearts and minds.  Aunt Edna's kidney stones becomes an opportunity for me to love her in deeds, not just words and an opportunity for Aunt Edna to seek the Father in her illness. 

4.  We also need to power to correct the injustice and wrongs in this world.  As we have asked for God's intervention in our own needs, He points out the things that we must address to meet those needs.  Sometimes that just means waiting on His provision.  More often, that means moving out into spiritual warfare and acts of sacrifical service.  Our hearts are now ready to move with Him into battle, protected by His grace and a will that has been submitted fully to the Father. 

Our time with the Father has now left us with a deep sense of His power and presence in our everyday lives.  We are again in awe of the God who is here with us but at the same time in complete control of the universe. 

Take a closer look at the Lord's prayer (Luke 11) and see how it aligns with this pattern.  This type of praying will utterly transform your relationship with God, not because it's a cool tool, but because this is how Jesus taught us to pray. 

Try it out and let me know how it goes...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Break over...

I didn't intend for that break to be so long.  Every time I think I'm getting back to normal something gets in the way, so I am just not going to let anything get in the way. 

Over the last month I've started a workbook for the Prayer Lab course I was planning to teach two years ago.  The Father has been showing me such neat things along the way.  It's intended to be an overview course, but since good theology leads to good practice, there's no way to do an overview without a bunch of heavy lifting, scripturally.  I've been genuinely surprised by this.  The going has been slow, but it's good stuff.  The Spirit has even reordered the book at least once (maybe twice) and added several chapters.  So far it looks like 8 weeks of solid work, but a bunch of the topics are not mainstream--or at least I haven't seen them in print very frequently.  Of course that may be why the going is so slow.  Any time you work on something that will help people pray effectively, the enemy won't be happy. 

One of the biggest things that is hard to get across is that God Himself is worthy of being sought, not just his gifts.  This is fundamental both to communicating with God and interceeding for others.  All effective prayer starts with a look up, to revel in the greatness, majesty and wonder of God.  I'll have more to write about this over the next few weeks, but it's a great place to start if you feel distant from Him or just tired.  Nothing lifts my spirits like a breath of praise--it is truly a breath of fresh air in the staleness of my life.  Even the cry, "Holy, Holy, Holy..." is enough to drop my stress level about 20 notches. 

Try it...

"Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come."

Feel better?  I do...