Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Have a proper prayer life outside of ministry: Another book excerpt from "So you think you're called."

Have a proper prayer life outside of ministry.

Just as it is tempting to study only to prepare for a sermon or a lesson, it is also tempting to pray either only right before (or during) church services.
Jesus prayed daily- usually many times a day.
Note to the ministry: Ministry happens anytime, anyplace. It is not just a “church meeting thing.”
Jesus understood this. He understood that the flesh can do nothing apart from God's empowerment. So, he prayed. Daily and, in fact, several times a day.
We are to pray, first and foremost, for a closer walk (a stronger relationship) with God. Ministry flows from our walk with God. Our walk with God does not flow from our ministry. As we pray and walk and talk with God, he can guide us to minister to others in unexpected ways. He can open the door for ministry in places we never dreamed of. If we stay prayed up, he will begin to lift us up (in him, I mean. I'm not advocating a prosperity doctrine.). Why? To lift up his name to a lost and dying world!
How often should we pray?
Short answer: 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing.”
The word “ceasing” here means “without intermission, incessantly, assiduously.”
Incessantly means “without stopping.” Without intermission means “without a break.” Assiduously means “showing great care, attention, and effort.”

By this definition, if we take it literally, we would all die soon after becoming a Christian. If we could never take a break, or stop praying, then we would never be able to eat, drink,sleep, potty, study the word, work for our living, etc. So, is he truly saying we must physically pray all day, every day?
I think not?
However, I do believe he is telling us not to neglect our prayer time with God. Always have an attitude of prayer. Always make prayer a priority. Do not let it get lost in the business of life or ministry. Make it a priority. Do it with “great care, attention, and effort.” Don't let it become a ritual of words. Don't reduce it to a short phrase or two. Do it with all we have!
David says in Psalms 63:1:
O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; “
So, we should start our day, even if we must get up a little earlier, with concentrated and consistant prayer. Is that all?
Isaiah 26:9 seems to hint at night time prayer, in addition to morning prayer:
With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.
Daniel prayed three times a day:
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.

And this he did, in spite of the kings order that no man should pray to any other god, besides the statue that he had just erected. Daniel knew he was risking his life by praying to God. But, he also knew that his time with God was the most important thing in his life. He might die from his choice, but at least he'd be right with God.
As far as I know, there is no limit on how many times a day we should pray- just as there is no prescribed time period we should pray for. Follow the leading of the spirit of God. Allow him to lead you. But, do not neglect prayer. Make it your top priority every day.

Without it, we become dry and hard. With it, we are watered with his spirit and pliable in his hands. Without it, we become a Pharisee. With it, we have his love to reach out with. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Is it ever OK to cheat?

With the exception of the scripture involved, this is the essay I wrote for my college entrance exam. Any comments you have will be much appreciated:

 Exodus 20:13                   Thou shalt not kill

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s ....

Society has changed much in my forty nine years. It used to be that honesty and dedication were qualities to be admired. Government, businesses, churches, entertainment, and education all tried to build these qualities into our young people. Now, it seems that "Do the right thing" has been replaced with, "The ends justify the means." But, is cheating ever justifiable?

   The sports world, of late, is riddled with it. Whether it's individuals using Performance enhancing drugs (PED's), or teams cheating with video tape (remember "Spygate" from the 2006-2007 NFL season?), the modern sports cast's are seemingly incomplete without a scandal.

   Most of the checkout stand headlines (and entertainment shows) are about the latest scandals of music and TV/movie stars sleeping around. I remember when Lionel Richie, the great love song singer/songwriter, was caught cheating on his wife in 1988. He lost millions of fans. The media blistered him for his infidelity. His career never really recovered. If that had been today? They probably would have patted him on the back and given him a reality TV show about "cheating singers."

   What of the political scandals that are talked about endlessly by the pundits on both sides of the aisle? Are they brought out from genuine outrage? Or, in the interest of trying to defeat opponents in an election? How has the cheating on either side of the aisle truly helped our country.

   What about less public cheating?

   How about two companies competing for a defense contract? One stands on it's record of quality and honesty while the other wines and dines the politicians on the committee that makes the decision. Who do you think gets the contract? What if the winner's product is not only inferior, but the design flaws will cost the lives of soldiers? This will effect our national security. What about the employees of the losing company who struggle to make ends meet because there's no raise- because they didn't "play the game?" Is cheating still OK?

   Consider the college student who pays others to do his work for him and spends his time partying. Say he graduates with an MBA and a fortune 500 company hires him to help manage their expanding overseas business. Because he cheated, he's neither qualified nor able to perform the job he was hired to do. The company loses millions. Many families suffer because of this loss. Was his cheating still worth it?

How about on more personal levels?

   Consider the soldier who is deployed for six months and returns to discover his wife is pregnant by another man. Or, how about the spouse who's longed for the return of their soldier who discovers they've been given an STD- by their spouse? How does this effect their children?

   What about the student athlete who is "helped" to graduate by their school- by fraudulent means? Does it truly matter how many games were won by the student's play if he can't read and write? And if he is injured along the way, as so often happens, and he's unable to become a pro, what then? The schools (High School and College) got their wins. But, the left behind athlete is stuck flipping burgers because he can't walk and can't function above the eighth grade level. Was there any real benefit gained from the cheating?

   Then there's the local mayor who owns an ice cream parlor. Because he's "connected," he's able to use his clout to prevent a competitor from opening up nearby. The consumers lose because they have less choice. The workers lose because there are less jobs to choose from. But, the mayor kept his local monopoly. Is this right?

   There are many scenarios we could go through, but you get the point. Cheating, on any level, is never justified. It always does much more harm than good.

   What we, as a society, must do is return to the principles that helped to found, shape, grow, and protect this country: Truth, Honor, Dedication, Honesty, Personal accountability, and elbow grease. Government programs and business initiatives will fail without truth and honesty. All the educational ideas in the world won't help without honor, dedication, and personal accountability. Nothing will work without elbow grease.

   Cheating destroys families. Cheating hurts businesses. Cheating cheapens and weakens our society. There is no excuse for cheating- ever.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Making it through the trials: A lesson from Psalms 42- enjoy the roller coaster.

1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial, which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. 

Let's face it folks. We humans love the easy road. We, especially we in the "western world", love things to go smooth and  
gently. How else can we explain the proliferation of the false "prosperity doctrine" that we see and hear in our society. These "preachers" are not stupid. They line their pockets by telling folks that, if they will just get with "God's"- really their- program, then God will flatten every mountain, dry up every quagmire, heal every disease, as you live your lives "happily ever after" (as long as you send the "preachers" your check. 

Yet, they ignore verses like 1 Peter 4:12, and the like. 

The truth is, it takes intestinal fortitude and a made up mind to make heaven. 

The prosperity preachers scream that Jesus came to give us LIFE, and that more abundantly. Yet, life is a series of good times and hard times. Jesus said we were going to have even more- of both good times and bad times.

With this in mind, I believe there's a pattern that can be gleaned through reading Psalms 42. So, please, pull out your Bible and have a look. Here are some notes to help us understand it a little better. By the way, I only use the KJV. If my wordings don't match what you read there, then you are reading a different version.

Verses 1 and 2 deal with the fact that we must have a hunger and thirst for the Lord. David wasn't called "a man after God's own heart" because he was such a perfect man. He was called that because he spent his life in hot pursuit (ever going AFTER) God's heart. He knew when he messed up, where to go in repentance. We must have the same attitude. Try our best. But, when we fall, we must go to God in full repentance.  

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But, just as a child with a godly father, there comes a point where the fear must turn to love. We stop doing good to avoid hell and start doing good to please the God who loves us. In other words, we must fall in love with him.

In verse 3, we see that in our hot pursuit of God, we run into some hard trials. This is not uncommon in scripture. Twice the disciples were in a boat going where Jesus told them to go (so they were in his perfect will) and they ran into terrible and life threatening storms. The prosperity preachers of our day, and even some hard liners, would say that, if you are having that much trouble in your life, then you are in sin- or at the very least, you have stepped out of God's perfect will. 1 Peter tells us to "think it not strange concerning the fiery trial" which is come to "try you." The word try in the Greek means test. Our trials are tests that we must pass to reach the next level in God. But, during this, our friends and enemies are all saying the same thing to us: "Where is thy God?"

"If you were right with God, you wouldn't be suffering like this, hurting like this, or be so broke, or (you fill in the blank)." Ever been told this by the "well meaning" believers in you life? Their "kindness" usually starts with some form of this phrase: "Brother (or sister), I want to tell you something in love." When someone starts a sentence like that, put on all your armor! You're about to get hit- hard. 

In verse 4 We must remember going to the house of God and pouring out our hearts to God with other worshipers. Check out the Greek meaning for "kept holyday." It's great!  It means, "song of thankfulness!" When we are going through, if we can just remember our God and our song, then we are beginning to see some light at the end of our trial. 

In verse 5, the words "cast down" mean "bow down." We need to shake ourselves. We must chide ourselves for submitting (bowing) to their interpretation of our trials. We must pick ourselves back up and begin to praise God. Notice the faith we must have: "I will YET praise him  for the help....," signifying that we must believe that in the future, this trial will be over (because we believe God is going to help us!) and we will praise him (afterwards) for the help he sends us. 

But, the meaning of "help" is really interesting. It means, in the Hebrew, "something saved, deliverance, aid, victory, prosperity." So, our deliverance comes when our faith and God's timing meet. Remember, there's a time for every purpose under heaven. God's purpose is to conform us to the image (representation) of the man Christ Jesus. So, he chisels away at our lives through the trials we go through. 

Our victory comes when our faith in God and his timing meet. Our prosperity comes when our faith and his timing meet. Please note: Prosperity does not necessarily mean wealth. It means the provision of what we need to accomplish his purposes in our lives. 
And why does our help come? Because we responded in faith (finally) and God's favorable countenance is turned on us! 

So, a) we go around in circles for a while in a pity party because we listen to the evil voices that chide us. b) Then, we shake ourselves and remember all God has done for us in the past. c) Then, our faith rises up and we believe this trial will end because God is going to send help. d) Finally, the trial ends and we receive from God salvation, deliverance, aid, victory, and prosperity. 

So, we can enjoy the mountain top- for a while- until the next valley. 

In verses 6-10, we enter another trial. This one is worse than the last one. (verse 10 says it is so severe an attack that we feel it in our bones!) Yet, in all this, our faith doesn't falter. Unlike the first attack and struggle, we don't lose our faith. We press through the attack. We are still holding onto our faith in God's help. 

In the midst of this trial (verse 7) God calls us by name! The word "calleth" here actually means "to call by name" in the Hebrew. Indeed, God uses this trial to change us. The words for "are gone over" mean, "transition, to cross over, cover." So the Lord changes us here (transition) and allows us to cross over into the promises he has given us in the past- and he provides us with a spiritual covering. So, now God has our back. 

But, the trial still goes on.

 The enemies are still yelling, "Where is your God?" We're still being tempted to give up. We almost do. But, in verse 11, we read the almost identical declaration as verse 5. We correct ourselves for doubting- though certainly not as much doubt as the first time. We place his focus squarely on God, pointing perhaps to the first trial(s) we went through to remind ourselves that God will bring us through again. We reach the point, again, where we say (in full faith of future deliverance), "I shall YET praise him..." 

But, this time, the outcome is different. Our HEALTH ("the health of MY countenance") is restored. Mental health? Physical health? Spiritual health? It's all under the broad term HEALTH. Our mental and physical health are made whole AND our relationship with God is made stronger than ever before (it says, "and my God.").

This, I believe is the true progression of a Christian's life. This is the true meaning of Romans 1:16-17:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith."

Did you catch that? From faith TO faith.

The Christian life is a a God ordained progression of trials and triumphs, good times and bad times. Why? Because that progression builds our faith and relationship with him! Because each trial exposes some flaw in us that we can repent if. And each victory places in us godly fruit.   

If we will learn to trudge on through the trials of our life, holding on to faith in God, then a) our individual trials may not last as long, and b) we will grow up in God faster to become what he is intending the trials to make us to be in the first place.

God is the potter and we are the clay. The trials we go through are intended to change us into the vessel he needs us to be.

So, we need to stop complaining about the roller coaster (the ups and downs) and enjoy the ride. The end of the ride will certainly be worth it all.