My early days as a new Christian were filled with the music of the infancy of the Jesus movement: Keith Green, Second Chapter of Acts, Barry McGuire, Phil Keaggy and Pat Terry albums filled the spindle of our stereo system.
Many of the songs were happy, melodic, and the foundation of modern worship music. Some were prophetic and some had social conscience. I was reminded the other day of a song written by Pat Terry. And as we have seen recent violence across our land, the song seemed very timely. It was called “In My Dream”
I saw it in a dream last night
The world was acting strangely right
Black and white, left and right
Living in perfect harmony
There was no violence in the streets
The smoke had cleared and the air smelled sweet
And drums of truth, beat loud and clear
The rhythm for our feet
In my dream
There was a policeman on the corner
Who had laid his badge aside
Because the law lived in the hearts of men
Instead of fear and pride
And the parents loved their children
And the husbands loved their wives
And the ones worn down, kicked around
Saw the value in their lives
In my dream
And the spires atop the churches
Shone like spaceships in the sun
With altars for their launch pads
And room for everyone
And the earth bowed down in unison
Christ was on His throne
In my dream…
As believers, we pray, we hope, we work towards a world where “the earth bows down in unison” to the King of Kings. Until then we endure racial violence, murders and warfare, injustice and suffering.
But the good news is, it isn’t a dream. The Kingdom is coming. Our despair will turn to hope.
And the dream will become reality!
FOR MEDITATION: And the wolf will lie down with the lamb… and a little child will lead them. Isaiah 11:6
FOR REFLECTION: A day of peace and racial harmony and reconciliation will come to earth, but until then we live in the “not yet” of the Kingdom of God. Though we are in that “pause” before the final consummation, we still must live to see a world where hatred does not win. How are you working and praying toward that end?
In his report to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention last week in Nashville, Dr. David Platt, President of the International Mission Board, shared a remarkable story with us. The story, relayed by several of our IMB missionaries working in a small village among unreached peoples in Southeast Asia, concerned the beginning of an outreach in that area resulting in numbers of the people bringing amulets and other magic objects to the center of the town to be burned. Without being told to do so, the villagers who had begun turning to Christ, brought their objects which connected them to the magic to the village center.
Rejoicing in their genuine faith in Christ, the missionaries celebrated until news came that the village elder, who everyone held in fear and high regard, had suddenly died. The villagers took this as a sign that the forces which controlled the magic (and their lives) were displeased and had begun to take their wrath out on the village. Almost immediately the villagers returned and retrieved their discarded articles.
The missionaries were heartbroken over this turn. “God, here we are on the verge of revival and now this? How are we to turn their attention back to You now?” They banded together and decided to go and pay their respects to the family of the elder, whose body lay in state at the family home… customary in that culture. They pressed through the crowd of weeping people surrounding the house, entered and extended their sympathies to the family.
Asking for the privilege to pray with them, they joined together for a prayer of comfort for the family. While they were praying near the body of the elder, he coughed! Everyone suddenly stopped in silence. And he coughed again… then, he sat up! He was ALIVE! Everyone embraced with joy over this demonstration of power, and no one was more surprised than the missionaries themselves. And they took that opportunity to preach the Gospel of the resurrected Son of the Living God.
And suddenly, revival swept through with the power of the Holy Spirit. Did the prayer of these faithful servants really raise a man from the dead? Only God knows the answer. But what the missionaries knew was this: Their God is powerful… and prayer works!
Can we pray and see a dead person live? Obviously nothing is impossible with God. If God can resurrect a man from the dead, He can also resurrect a dead marriage, a dead relationship, a dead-end job, a dead hope. God can bring life where no life currently exists. He has done it over and over again.
And He can do it for you today!
FOR MEDITATION: This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 1 John 5:14
FOR REFLECTION: What is the dead situation in your life that you need to trust God to resurrect? Can you ask for it according to His will? Then pray with confidence! He who promised is faithful. And who knows? You may be surprised by a resurrection as well!
Did you know that the can opener was not invented until 1870, nearly a full century after canned food? And that the doorknob did not come into common usage until 1878, though doors have been around for centuries? So how did people get into their foods they had locked safely away in cans? (Remember, no electricity either!). And why did it take so long for someone to come up with the idea of how to open doors?
Now it can be argued here that one item inspired the other. Of course. But it is also an illustration of how we can get really important things out of order. Like prayer. How can we begin a project, a day, out of order in such a drastic way? To begin our day, our trip, our meal, our decision-making without prayer is like… having a can with no opener!
Jesus kept the priority of prayer in front of His disciples both by the things He taught them and by what He modeled. He would sometimes rise early in the day, before any of them were even thinking about being awake, to seek the Father in prayer. And He would take them away for a retreat for a few hours or a few days and go “to a solitary place” to set the priority of prayer in place.
I doubt the disciples ever did anything else without first asking, at least within themselves, “has this been adequately prayed about?” To start an important project or to face a significant decision without praying was like… having a great door but not having a handle to open it! I see praying as tithing our time. While we may not give ten percent of our time to prayer, we honor God by giving Him the ‘firstfruits’ of our day, of our season, of our decision-making.
The priority of seeking God first in prayer is a biblical one. While it isn’t wrong to pray DURING or AFTER an issue or a storm, it is better to set things in place from the beginning by giving it to God BEFORE it becomes a reality. If we say we want to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, how much better is it that we prove it through how we use our time… and pray.
And then, let’s see how easy that door opens!
FOR MEDITATION: O God, Thou art my God; early will I seek Thee…. Psalm 63:1
FOR REFLECTION: Our heart’s desire is paid for by our investment of time. What we spend our time doing is a reflection of what our heart really wants. If you want more than anything to seek God and know Him greater, then the price tag for such seeking is time. What are the true priorities of your life if your watch and calendar are an indication of the truth?
“Men ought always to pray and not grow weary.” (Luke 18:1). Prevailing in prayer is key to success in prayer. There is nothing more important for believers to learn than the lesson of refusing to quit.
Anne Graham Lotz said that her mother, Ruth, taught her children the secret of “praying on the fly.” Prevailing prayer does not mean just that we should not miss our daily appointment with God in our prayer time. It means that, even as our “prayer time” ends, we continue in conversation with our Father.
“Pray without ceasing,” Paul said. It may press the point too far, but prayer is truly as essential to our spiritual life as breathing is to our physical well-being. We do not just stop for a few minutes in the morning, take a couple of deep breaths, and then hold our breath until tomorrow morning. We inhale and we exhale all day long.
Daniel was a prevailing, prayer warrior. He lived a prayer-saturated life and reflected his commitment by entering into a concentrated time of prayer three times a day. But I doubt that was the only time he thought about God or prayed about the culture he lived in and how to live his life in a foreign land.
We pray without ceasing. The key is that we dare not quit. It is our oxygen… our lifeline to Heaven, allowing us to breathe pure, eternal air, not the toxic air of this present world.
FOR MEDITATION: Never stop praying. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
FOR REFLECTION: Remain conscious of moments today when you need to breathe spiritually. Can you find a time, even in the midst of a heavy schedule, to express your heart in prayer? See what a difference it makes!
For most Christians, the subject of prayer is guaranteed to generate a number of emotions. Some have deep and wonderful memories of time spent in the presence of God. Others find that prayer has sustained them through times of wilderness wandering even when feeling far from the presence of the Lord.
And for many, prayer evokes feelings of guilt. “I know I should pray more.” “I have a friend who prays and seems to always know just the right words.” Some of us struggle to find time; others to find time alone. And some have just given it up all together and have left their prayer life in discouragement.
The secret to success as a believer and follower of Christ rises or falls on prayer. If we will not pray, if we do not pray regularly, if our “backstage” life is a shambles, then the life people see before them will suffer. Prayer, however, is just like many other life skills. We learn how to talk by listening… and imitating those who pray. Our granddaughter lights up and mimics sounds when her Mamaw gets close and begins to talk to her. She’s learning how to speak, even though she does so by imitation.
We don’t learn how to play piano reading books about it. We listen, and then we sit at the keyboard and begin to practice. We don’t learn how to fish by reading a book or going to a seminar. We can’t sharpen our knowledge about fishing that way, but learning how involves holding a line and hook and rod and reel in the water. You didn’t learn how to ride a bike watching a video.
Likewise, if you’re a person who has said, “I don’t know how to pray,” this blog will not teach you how. You must simply pray. It is, first, a discipline we commit ourselves to. Daniel’s prayer in Chapter 9 of his prophetic and inspired work, was a monument to a man who had “purposed in his heart” to pray regardless of circumstance or consequence. He prayed three times a day… morning, noon and night.
Prayer is a discipline… just do it. It requires some model to follow. Find someone in your world you would like to pray like and study their prayer life. And don’t be surprised if you discover that someone may be learning from you!
There is not a “scorecard” for prayer. God simply wants to hear from you, His beloved child. You don’t come as a beggar. You come as family. You come as you are.
And you leave transformed forever!
FOR MEDITATION: The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:16
FOR REFLECTION: What is the first step you can take today to enter into a consistent prayer life? What must you say no to in your life so that you can say yes to this important discipline?
A study was conducted to study the effects of amphetamines on the behavior of mice. While the outcome was fairly predictable on the physiology of the rodents, their behavior as a group was a surprise to the researchers
A mouse alone receiving the controlled dose of drugs would last for ten minutes before dying. When administered in a group the mice died much more quickly and the behavior together was much more erratic. They would only last a matter of a few minutes.
But when a mouse who had not been given the drug was dropped into a group that had been, the erratic behavior of that mouse mirrored the others and the undrugged mouse would “go off like popcorn” in the words of one researcher. And it too would die in a matter of moments.
The power of the group we associate with is underscored here. We live in a culture that is hurried and anxious and “going off like popcorn” in ways that impact us every day. How do we “come apart” from the crowd before we “come apart” at the seams?
- We must find some time daily, weekly, regularly to be alone. That’s hard for some but necessary.
- We must be aware that the “course of this world” does impact us. We need to ruthlessly evaluate ourselves to make sure we are not floating down a stream toward destruction. Examine yourself.
- We must listen to the still, small voice of God in our spirits through the chaos of the day. The world is marching to a different drummer. Don’t buy into that rhythm.
It’s hard to be distinctive in a world that’s falling apart. But that’s our calling.
And now, it’s our hope of survival.
FOR MEDITATION: Come out from among them and be separate says the Lord. 2 Corinthians 6:17
FOR REFLECTION: Think of one thing you can do today that will allow you to step out of the “rat race” and breathe the pure oxygen of Heaven. Your survival may depend on it!
It is an honest and continual challenge for Christian (aka church) people to deal graciously and lovingly with those who are newly converted to the faith or who are marginal at best in their lifestyle. Russell Moore, in his book Onward, illustrates this well.
He tells the story of how he, a young boy growing up in a Mississippi Southern Baptist Church, was sitting one morning in service with his grandmother when a member of their church brought a guest. This guest, obviously unacquainted with church life, came in wearing a sleeveless shirt and sporting a tattoo of a woman on his arm who, shall we say, was immodestly attired.
People around him were shocked but none more so than young, impressionable Russell (now our director of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission). He nudged his granny to look in the direction of the visitor. His eyes were wide as he looked with as much indignation as an eight year old can muster.
That’s when his grandmother shocked him. She said, “Russell, we mustn’t judge this man. He may not know Christ yet.” And with that, Russell learned an important lesson… not about inking… but about grace and dealing with a lost world.
Russell watched this man who gave his heart to Christ, was baptized and then started coming to church with sleeves to cover the tattoo on his arm. As he grew in Christ, Russell noticed one day when the man wore short sleeves that he had altered the tattoo by adding a bikini to the figure. Then later it became a one-piece bathing suit. And though Russell didn’t attend the funeral, he imagined the tattoo was clothed in a plaid pant suit under the gentleman’s suit!
We are often far too quick to write people off by external appearances. Lost people and an unreached world will come to church bearing the marks and scars of their past. And while we are not as quick today to assume a person with a tattoo has lived a raucous past, (this is not a pro- or anti-tattoo post, by the way) our ability to look beyond externals when dealing with a lost world, whether at work or when they do come to church, is a needed part of our evangelism strategy.
And who knows? The next Billy Graham God raises up to win the next generation…
… may be sporting a tattoo!
For Meditation: If any man be in Christ he is a new creation…old things pass away and all things become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17
For Reflection: Does you attitude reflect a judgmental, self-righteousness that is unbecoming of Christ or can you show the grace that was shown to you as you work around, live around, and reach out to a lost world?
My granddaughter McCail is smiling at me now. Well, sometimes. But I can usually get a grin from her and when she smiles, it makes my day. I’ve learned, as you have, that smiles have that effect on people. (Especially grandfathers). One place you can go and get a guaranteed smile is the wonderful, “magical” place a couple of hours to our south called “Disney World.” Disney World’s motto is that they are “the happiest place on earth.”
That’s a tall order to fill. Especially since I’ve BEEN to Disney World and it is most assuredly NOT the happiest place on the planet. In fact, it can be a downright UNHAPPY place to be, especially if you have two or three unhappy children in tow. You know, the ones who no matter what they see, what you buy, what they eat or drink; there is always something they want that you haven’t gotten to. Happiness.
But the employees of Disney, from the umbrella salesperson to the poor kid locked inside a hot costume all day, are commanded to smile. That’s right. No matter how they feel… SMILE. Smile at the unhappy, whiny children and their stressed, now bankrupt parents. Smile. Smile and the whole world smiles with you, right? According to Walt Disney, YES.
There is some science to back that up. When you smile at someone, they will almost always smile back at you. Try it for yourself. Walk through your office, your school classroom, your team meeting smiling. Everyone will wonder what you’re up to. But I guarantee, if you look some of those folks in the eye while you’re doing it, they will automatically respond with a smile in kind.
I wonder sometimes even at church if we would make more of an effort to smile at folks, if their experience would be remembered as happier. Would that make a difference in a person’s life who came to the campus bearing burdens that are overwhelming? Probably.
Wouldn’t it be great if our reputation was “the happiest church” people have ever attended? Maybe the Gospel could be shared more easily, not with a scowl…
…but with a smile?
FOR MEDITATION: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10
FOR REFLECTION: Could you turn your life upside down today… with a smile?
The majority of our adult lives, according to one estimate, is spent at work. Almost 150,000 hours, or 40% of our waking lives is spent getting up, getting ready, going in and living through our day (or our night) at our place of employment or vocation. Today, it should be added, that many spend their days logging in to a computer at home or from a remote office locale. But that is still an exception and not a rule.
So, it’s off to work most of us go. And how we treat those hours has eternal significance. We don’t simply “spend our time.” We invest it… somehow. Whether wisely or foolishly, our time at work is a stewardship of a precious resource. As author Dorothy Sayer noted, “our work is the way we offer ourselves to God.”
That literally puts a different spin on our jobs, doesn’t it? If “whatever we are doing” (Colossians 3:23) is to glorify God then nothing we do is menial work. Everything we do has meaning. Whether we work well or poorly, there is significance to our employment. God sees what we do and according to 1 Corinthians 7:17, He has “assigned” us to our task. Therefore He has a purpose for our being exactly where we are, even with an irritating supervisor or annoying co-workers, we are being watched by God’s eyes. Even if the eyes watching us are the eyes of children we are spending our days raising; every act has value and weight.
This is not meant to add pressure to an already pressured life that some may feel. It is simply (hopefully and encouraging) a reminder that “nothing we do in the Lord is in vain.” It is a reminder that we need to “keep on” for the Kingdom’s sake, even if we can’t find reason to “keep on” for the company or the people we work for or with.
And as a caveat, let me add that this applies even for those who are working jobs that you feel are far below your level of skill, expertise, seniority or capability. You may have lost a lucrative, prestigious job with a nice office and expense account with assistants scurrying at your command and now you are the second-shift, night manager of a convenience store. You still work, and live for, the glory of God. The downsizing may have blindsided you but it didn’t take God by surprise. Many who were addressed in the New Testament books and verses were “slaves,” which in that context usually meant an educated, skilled worker who was owned by or who worked under a household manager. Even the slave had a choice about the attitude with which they worked, even though they may not have had a choice about being there.
At the end of your life, I pray we can look back over a “job well done” because of our labor. And if you are working for the right Boss and living for the right Audience, you will find you can.
FOR MEDITATION: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. Colossians 3:23
FOR REFLECTION: How can you work to keep your attitude right… to keep your work focused… on the right motivation? Can you begin each day by praying, “Lord, may I so do my work today that I will be the answer to someone’s prayer.”
Since we have labored long through the summer on the subject of leadership and we closed the book on Nehemiah’s journal last Friday, I want to press into one more area. This is more than just a sidebar, but a critical and central area of concern. This has to do with a leader’s character and integrity.
Over the past week or two, several high-profile leaders (not in the Presidential campaign) have found their “dirty laundry” floating for the public to see. One story concerned a rising star general who was caught (actually reported on) by his former partner in adultery. As one story after another surfaced confirming his adulterous affair, it was also discovered that this General, working in a secure military post, using a secure military phone, was actually sneaking around the endless security screens inside the facility where his office was located to make secretive phone calls to his lover. There was no denying his affair, which has cost him his job, his rank, his impending promotion to five star general and certainly his family. All because of a fatal flaw in his character. And a miscalculation that he would never be caught.
Meanwhile over the same days sordid details emerged about Congressman Paul Weiner, who was again caught sexting illicit photos of himself to a woman. This now the third time he has been caught in the same act. This time, because of the proximity of his child, he is being investigated by child protective services.
What do these two men have in common? Both were high profile leaders. That means, contrary to some opinions of them, that they are highly intelligent individuals. So this is no failure of intellect. Both were in seemingly happy marriages with loving spouses, with Weiner’s wife being a close personal assistant to Hillary Clinton. So they were socially connected as well as politically wired in. They both are paying a high price for their “private” lives… which most today will tell you is nobody’s business but theirs.
And they are both proving, unwittingly, the truth of Scripture. “The way of transgressors is hard.” Ask them. They will tell you. “Be sure your sins will find you out.” Ask them. Even with an assumed name on Twitter and a secured military phone. And by the response to both men’s situations, “The wages of sin is death.” At least for them, it has meant the death of their reputations, their marriages and their careers.
So does the invisible, inner world of the leader matter? Simple illustration: try crushing an empty soda can in your hand. Now try to crush one that is full. The illustration is mundane but very true. The person who is empty of character on the inside is devoid of substance and integrity to guide them, ignorant of the significance that the inner part of a man is where character is formed, and, though unseen, is sorely missed when absent.
Can God restore such a person? Absolutely. Can they be forgiven if they ask? Certainly. Can they be fully restored to their former influence, value and usefulness? Doubtful. Weiner was fortunate. He had a forgiving wife, and a forgetful public who almost elected him at one time after his first indiscretion to Mayor of New York City. The General? Busted down to the last rank he held “with honor,” according to military officials. For the most part they are now as useful as empty soda cans.
If there is a hopeful postscript to all of this horrible mess, it is this: there is still the reality of moral outrage happening in our culture. People are horrified by the acts of both of these leaders, who whether they knew it or not, were being held to and judged by a moral standard. And if their lives and stories are useful at any point, it should strike terror into the heart of any person… and certainly any leader… who thinks people aren’t watching or that people won’t care.
Because they are… and apparently, they do.
FOR MEDITATION: There’s a way that seems right to man, but the end thereof leads to death. Proverbs 14:12
FOR REFLECTION: While this post is directly pointed to those in leadership, let us all remember that there are people watching us and who will stumble if we fall. Count the cost of your moral choices and decisions… each one adds to your inner strength or erodes it.