Monday, October 31, 2011

A Prayer about “Trick or Treat” Spirituality

By Scotty Smith:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great cloud a of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.   Heb. 12:1–2
Lord Jesus, over the course of the next 24 hours, many people in the world, mostly Roman Catholic and Anglican, will be celebrating All Saints Day—a day for remembering commendable examples of spirituality, departed men and women worthy of the title “saint”. It’s also Halloween—a celebration of strange attire, doorbell ringing, and tooth decay. I can now see how much these seemingly antithetical celebrations have in common.

For a good part of my life I thought the “cloud of witnesses” referred to in this passage in Hebrews was a select company of spiritual giants, peering down from heaven onto the earthly playing field of Christianity, cheering us on in the righteousness race—pulling for us to make it across the finish line. Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David, the apostle Paul—all winners and worthy saints, charging us to do well, persevere with sweat, and finish strong. What a burden to wear. What an utter distortion of the gospel and a colossal misrepresentation of you.

That version of spirituality fueled my pride, when I did well; and stoked my fear, when I did poorly. Actually, it was a “trick or treat spirituality.” I got the “treat” if I performed well. I got the “trick” if I performed poorly. What a mockery of your cross, Jesus. I now realize there’s no more ghoulish or ghastly costume to wear than my own attempts to appease and please you. The one thing Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Paul all had in common was their abject brokenness and consuming need of your grace. They’re in a “hall of fame” of faith, not of works (Hebrews 11).

So today I remember the heroes of grace you’ve sent into my life—the men and women who preached and still preach the gospel of grace to my heart. I don’t fix my gaze on them, but on you, Jesus, for you are the author and finisher of our faith. The only reason I’m a saint is because the Father has hidden my life in yours. My only “dress” is your perfection plus nothing; for you are our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor.1:30).

I will run and finish the race because in you, Jesus, I live, move, and have my being. Nothing can separate us from your love. I will make it to heaven not because of my efforts but because of yours. There are no tricks nor treats, there’s just you; and everything that is yours, you have made to be ours. What wondrous love and eternal inheritance is this, indeed! So very Amen we pray, in your holy and worthy name.
It's good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace Hebrews 13:9

Thursday, October 27, 2011

More Questions than Answers on Prayer

PHILIP YANCEY from the book Prayer:  Does It Make Any Difference 

"Everywhere I encountered the gap between prayer in theory and prayer in practice.  In theory prayer is the essential human act, a priceless point of contact with the God of the universe.  In practice prayer is often confusing and fraught with frustration.  My publisher conducted a website poll, and of the 678 respondents only 23 felt satisfied with the time they were spending in prayer.  That very discrepancy made me want to write this book.

Advances in science and technology no doubt contribute to our confusion about prayer.  In former days farmers lifted their heads and appealed to brazen heavens for an end to drought. Now we study low-pressure fronts, dig irrigation canals, and seed clouds with metallic particles. In former days when a child fell ill the parents cried out to God; now they call for an ambulance or phone the doctor.

Prosperity may dilute prayer too. In my travels I have noticed that Christians in developing countries spend less time pondering the effectiveness of prayer and more time actually praying. The wealthy rely on talent and resources to solve immediate problems, and insurance policies and retirement plans to secure the future. We can hardly pray with sincerity, 'Give us this day our daily bread,' when the pantry is stocked with a month's supply of provisions.

Increasingly, time pressures crowd out the leisurely pace that prayer seems to require.  Communication with other people keeps getting shorter and more cryptic:  text messages, email, instant messaging.  We have less and less time for conversation, let alone contemplation.  We have the constant sensation of not enough:  not enough time, not enough rest, not enough exercise, not enough leisure.  Where does God fit into a life that already seems behind schedule?
"Prayer to the skeptic is a delusion, a waste of time.  To the believer it represents perhaps the most important use of time.  Why, then is prayer so problematic?  The British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed up the confusion:  'Of all the activities in which the human engages, and which are part of the spiritual life, there is surely none which causes so much perplexity, and raises so many problems, as the activity which we call prayer.'

"I write about prayer as a pilgrim, not an expert.  I have the same questions that occur to almost everyone at some point.  Is God listening?  Why should God care about me?  If God knows everything, what's the point of prayer?  Why do answers to prayer seem so inconsistent, even capricious?  Does a person with many praying friends stand a better chance of physical healing as one who also has cancer but with only a few people praying for her?  Why does God sometimes seem close and sometimes faraway?  Does prayer change God or change me?
The psychiatrist Gerald C. May observed, 'After twenty years of listening to the yearnings of people's hearts, I am convinced that human beings have an inborn desire for God.  Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and most precious treasure.'  Surely, if we are made in God's own image, God will find a way to fulfill that deepest longing.  Prayer is that way."  (pp. 15-16)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Are We There YET?

By Christine Cain:

Today I am flying home from Memphis with my girls, and Sophia came into our room at 7:30 this morning asking, "Mommy and daddy, how long will it take to get home from Memphis? Is it a long drive to the airport? Is it a day flight or a night flight?" (Remember my kids have traveled with us around the globe since they were born, and gauge the length of a flight based on whether it is a long night flight or short day flight.)

The point of this story is that we had not even left the hotel yet, and Sophia wanted to know when we would arrive at our destination. And I have no doubt that we will soon be going down the runway, and she will lean over and whisper, "Mommy are we there yet?"

I am smiling as I anticipate her question and simultaneously wondering how many who are reading this blog have quietly whispered in their heart to God, "Are we there yet?"

God, when am I going to find a life partner...are we there yet?

God, when am I going to get my breakthrough...are we there yet?

God, when am I going to get my promotion...are we there yet?

God, when will I reach my goal weight...are we there yet?

God, when will I get my ministry breakthrough...are we there yet?

I want to encourage you today to simply rest in God's love and trust His perfect timing in your life. God is a good God.

And if you look at your life right now and think God is doing nothing, realize He is actually preparing you for the thing He has prepared for you.

There is always more going on than what you can see. If what you see is all you see, then you will never see all there is to see.

You will not make the journey any quicker by asking God every five minutes, "Are we there yet?" If you are a parent, then you know the only thing achieved when a child asks this question over and over again is frustration.

So today...
Trust God
Remove any obstacles from your progress
Wait for your breakthrough

At the appointed time, and in the due season, you WILL reap if you faint not. (Galatians 6:9)

I believe your breakthrough is coming. Hang in there and let patience have its perfect work in you. You will lack no good thin

Monday, October 10, 2011

Grace (Les Miserables)

Jean Larroux writes about this clip:
"My eyes fill with tears every time I watch it. I remember when my daughter was young and particularly troubled one night about her sin. She could not sleep. She told me that she could not ‘forgive herself…’ I gathered the family and we watched this particular clip from the movie. We all wept. She got it. The picture of grace in this artistic expression is inspired. Anyone who doesn’t think grace leads to obedience and holiness needs to watch the rest of the movie. Victor Hugo understood what so often seems to elude us…the powerful reality of Grace is the ONLY thing that turns us a man from evil to good."

Outrageously affluent in the currency of kindness, tolerance, and patience.

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer about God’s Kindness Leading Us to Repentance

Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Rom. 2:4
Heavenly Father, I’ve seen many crazy things in my life; I’ve encountered a few crazy people; and I’ve certainly done my share of crazy things. But the most certifiably insane thing I do is to show contempt for the riches of your kindness, tolerance, and patience toward me in Jesus. I do this when I bow my neck, dig my heels in and refuse to follow your kindness into the green pastures of fresh repentance. Have mercy on me, the sinner.

The GPS of the gospel will never direct us to a destination of harm but only to a place of greater freedom and health. When we fight humbling ourselves; when we refuse to acknowledge the ways we love poorly, act immaturely, rebel openly; when we say “No!” to grieving our attitudes and actions that rob you of glory and us of grace, this is sheer madness. Showing contempt for your kindness is the ultimate destructive folly. Have mercy on me, the sinner.

Father, I praise you today for being outrageously affluent in the currency of kindness, tolerance, and patience. There’s no economic downturn in heaven—never has been, never will be. But I don’t presume on the bullion of your loving-kindness. It’s only because Jesus willingly endured the judgment I deserve that I’m in a position to be dealt with so mercifully and graciously. It’s only because he took the bankruptcy of the cross we get the inheritance of your grace.

Father, thank you for kindly leading us to humility, not to humiliation; to shelter, not to shame; to repentance, not to penance. For when I repent, I’m not the one making promises for change—you are. Only you can change us, and you are changing us, for you have covenanted to do so. That’s what the gospel is all about—simply collapsing upon Jesus, once again, as our perfect righteousness and sure hope of a new and changed heart.

So this morning, kind Father, I repent. I repent of not trusting that you are at work in my current irritating circumstances. I’ve looked at the weaknesses of others more than I’ve kept my eyes fixed on Jesus. It’s been easier (and at times more satisfying) to gossip than to pray. I’ve been moping about and plotting like an orphan, rather than rejoicing and trusting as a beloved son.

I’ve been more preoccupied with the ways of broken men than thrilled with the occupied throne of heaven. I’ve acted as though I care more about Jesus’ church than he does. How arrogant. I repent—because the gospel is true and you are so kind, I repent. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Paul ran from Christ; Christ pursued and overtook him.  Paul resisted Christ; Christ disarmed him.  Paul persecuted Christ; Christ converted him.  Paul was an alien; Christ made him a member of the family.  Paul was an enemy; Christ made him a friend.  Paul was ‘in the flesh’; Christ set him ‘in the Spirit.’  Paul was under the law; Christ set him in grace.  Paul was dead; Christ made him alive to God.  How does one give reasons for this?  He does not give reasons; he sings,  "Blessed be God who blessed us . . . even as he chose us in him.”

Lewis B. Smedes, Union With Christ (Grand Rapids, 1983), pages 86-87.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Because those guys aren’t just Kevin and Danny.

By Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like 

My wife and I own an unbelievable amount of junk.

Had you asked me how much junk we owned a year ago, I would have said, “Not much.” And I would have been gravely, gravely mistaken.

I realized just how much nonsense we owned when we decided to move twice in a year. In the first move, we boxed and packed our entire house ourselves. Then a group of 7 men with nicknames like “Tiny” put it all on a truck. Then they had to add an extension to the truck to fit other stuff. And then add a trailer.

It was like watching a prequel to an episode of the show “Hoarders.” In my defense, we don’t have any pets so we’ll never be on the even scarier version of that show, “Animal Hoarders.” I once saw an episode where a guy was living with 60 full-grown chickens inside his house. If I ever tweet out a picture of a chicken sitting next to me on the couch watching TV, please come over my house and have a poultry intervention.

After our move from Atlanta to Nashville exposed the innards of our attic, we decided to get rid of a lot of stuff. We gave it away. We sold it. We threw it away. So when it came time to do a cross town move in Franklin, TN, I thought it’d be a lot easier.

It wasn’t. We still had a tremendous amount of stuff, including a ridiculous amount of books. Have you ever carried 800 or 900 books? Not all at once, you’re not huge like me and Tiny, I get that. But have you ever had a moment when you actually wanted to punch your stuff in the face? That’s where I was after my wife and I made 59 trips in our cars across town to load and unload the small, random stuff we could carry.

For the bigger items, we hired a moving company that our friend recommended. This turned out to be a mistake.

For starters, they showed up an hour after they were supposed to be there. My wife told me that was actually early for movers. It always drives me crazy that there are still some professions where an hour behind schedule is considered early or on time.

But after 60 minutes of tracking them down, they did show up. Both of the guys got right to work. They started hauling things out of the house quickly, but there were some things they tried to talk us out of owning. They looked at some potted plants we had in our courtyard and said, “I’m not sure if those are going to fit on the truck.” Which is a weird thing for a mover you’re paying by the hour to say. The plants were three feet tall. If they didn’t fit on the truck on the first run, we’d just bring it back and make a second run.

Then they started to complain that they were having to carry heavy items. Again, weird thing for a mover to be surprised by. I assume that carrying heavy items is one of the first things they teach you at moving school. If you’re an accountant and you showed up at work and someone said, “Can you please move that fridge to the truck in the driveway?” you’d probably be thrown a little. As a mover, carrying things kind of comes with the territory.

The grumbling got louder and louder throughout the day, the pushback from the movers more direct and off-putting. Finally my wife, who had literally dealt with the mafia on a job site in Boston when she was in construction, said, “I don’t feel comfortable being around these guys. Can you please handle everything from here on out, even if things get put in the wrong place?”

So I did. And we came to a bit of a crossroads. The truck was so full we had to make two trips. The movers started talking about coming back tomorrow to finish the job. But the remaining items at our old house were our beds. And, if I paid them that day for the job, the chances of them driving back out the next day to finish were slim at best. So I convinced them we were completing the job today and drove them back over to the house to empty it out.

On the way, I was praying about my attitude, which stunk at that point. (Even reading those paragraphs above, I sound whiny and ridiculous.) And I prayed that God would let me see the movers Kevin and Danny the same way he did. I was kind of hoping that would be a prayer he slowly answered, so that I could still be grumpy that day. Then maybe a week later he’d reveal how he saw them, and I could write a post about it without actually having to change the way I behaved that day.
But I felt like his response was almost instant.

“How do I see Kevin and Danny? They’re two of my favorite people.”

Dang it. They were. I saw Kevin and Danny, the belligerent movers. The guys who were an hour late. The guys who took a bajillion smoke breaks. The guys who banged and bruised our furniture. The guys who creeped out my impossible-to-creep-out wife. The guys who seemed determined to complicate moving day.

But that’s not who God saw.

He saw Kevin and Danny.
He saw two guys he loved.

Two guys he sent his son for.

Two guys he was crazy about.

Two of his favorite people.

After we got back to my house, Kevin asked me if I could pay in cash instead of a check. The owner of the company called and asked me to do that too because the banks were closed and Kevin wouldn’t be able to get his money that night. In a near empty garage, Kevin quietly told me, “Tomorrow is my eight-year-old son’s birthday, and I don’t have anything for him yet. If you pay us tonight, I can get him something.”

Kevin was carrying my furniture all day, but he was also carrying the weight of being a dad without a gift for a little boy’s birthday. And that was heavier than anything I owned. He was carrying the realization that on a Saturday he wasn’t at home with his family, he was at work with someone else’s.

I don’t know if you’ve got a grumpy mover in your life. Someone who feels like an opponent to your day. A coworker whose hobby seems to be making your life difficult. A neighbor who walks their dog into your yard to use the bathroom. There are a million possibilities, and ultimately I don’t know who that person is for you. But I do know how we’re called to respond.

With love.

With prayer.

With more compassion than they deserve, more forgiveness than they’ll ever ask for and more kindness than they’d ever expect.

Because those guys aren’t just Kevin and Danny.

They’re two of God’s favorite people.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I dare you. Search.

From Max Lucado:

I was mulling over a recent conversation I had with a disenchanted Christian brother. He was upset with me. So upset that he was considering rescinding his invitation for me to speak to his group. Seems he'd heard I was pretty open about who I have fellowship with. He'd read the words I wrote: "If God calls a person his child, shouldn't I call him my brother?" And, "If God accepts others with their errors and misinterpretations, shouldn't we?"

He didn't like that. "Carrying it a bit too far," he told me. "Fences are necessary," he explained. "Scriptures are clear on such matters." He read me a few and then urged me to be careful to whom I give grace.

"I don't give it," I assured. "I only spotlight where God already has."  Later I had a great thought. A why-didn't-I-think-to-say-that insight.

If the subject resurfaces, I'll say it. But in case it doesn't, I'll say it to you. (It's too good to waste.) Just one sentence:

I've never been surprised by God's judgment, but I'm still stunned by his grace.

Story after story. Prayer after prayer. Surprise after surprise.

Seems that God is looking more for ways to get us home than for ways to keep us out. I challenge you to find one soul who came to God seeking grace and did not find it. Search the pages. Read the stories. Envision the encounters. Find one person who came seeking a second chance and left with a stern lecture. I dare you. Search.

You won't find it.

Seems to me God gives a lot more grace than we'd ever imagine.

We could do the same.

I'm not for watering down the truth or compromising the gospel. But if a fellow with a pure heart calls God Father, can't I call that same man Brother? If God doesn't make doctrinal perfection a requirement for family membership, should I?

And if we never agree, can't we agree to disagree? If God can tolerate my mistakes, can't I tolerate the mistakes of others? If God can overlook my errors, can't I overlook the errors of others? If God allows me with my foibles and failures to call him Father, shouldn't I extend the same grace to others?

One thing's for sure. When we get to heaven, we'll be surprised at some of the folks we see. And some of them will be surprised to see us.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Walking again in the Garden

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.
      - G. K. Chesterton