A Life of PRAYER

A Life of PRAYER

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday but didn’t remember to take my mp3 recorder with me, so no audio to share this time.  As I practice, and teach about, a lifestyle of prayer, there are a number of things that I find happen through such a way of life.  I’ve prepared several sermons that highlight some of what a lifestyle of prayer is, and yesterday’s message was one of them.

Many times when we try to describe something we skip the most obvious part of it because it is so obvious we think everyone must know that much about whatever we are describing.  In an attempt not to do that, the message I shared was “A Lifestyle of Prayer is a Life of PRAYER”.  But not only is it a life filled with prayer, it is a life filled with the results of prayer and that is what the sermon focused on — some of those results.  With no audio to share, here is the outline and some of the main points from the message.

A Lifestyle of Prayer is a Life of . . . 

  • Peace:  The Bible teaches that it is through a continual process of presenting our requests to God through prayers and petitions that we can replace anxiousness with peace.  Prayer may not bring an immediate change to the circumstance that has caused you to be anxious, but it should serve as a reminder of who is really in control of the situation.  Our prayers should fill us with peace as we grow in our trust of God to carry us through, and beyond, the anxious moments of life.  
  • Respect:  As we live with prayer as a lifestyle, we find that our approach to God grows in regard to the respect we give Him.  It seems our respect often fluctuates based on how real we view God to be.  When we are consistently engaged in conversation with Him through prayer, we find that He not only demands respect but that He deserves respect.  It is this life of respect that continually reminds us that while prayer is a conversation, it is no ordinary conversation — it is communication with the living God.
  • Answers:  This is the part of prayer that we often desire most and can be the most likely to wreck our prayer life when it doesn’t happen according to our expectations.  Yet a lifestyle of prayer is a life of answers — some “yes”, some “no”, some “not right now”, and some so far removed from the answer we wanted that we fail to see it.  When our prayer life is sporadic, we often fail to “connect the dots” of God at work and thus miss the answers He is providing.  But the more that prayer is woven into every aspect of our life, the more we begin to notice that God has been answering all along in ways that are for our good.
  • Yielding:  In nearly every relationship we have, the more time we spend with someone the better we get to know them.  An active prayer life is time spent with God both talking and listening so that we begin to become familiar with the things of God that He has revealed by the power of His Spirit through His Word.  In a life of prayer, the yielding is often interwoven with the answers as we learn to accept that His answers are better than ours.  When we can pray, “not my will but Yours be done”, and really mean it, we find that we will be more likely to yield to the answers that God provides as we learn to trust Him.
  • Encouragement:  A life of prayer can bring great encouragement — not just to those who pray, but to the people that see and hear of the mighty work of God that takes place in the lives of those who pray.  It is this encouragement that not only emboldens the life of the one who prays, it often causes others to consider what a life of prayer would do for them.  While we ought to pray just for the privilege of talking with the creator of everything, many times it is the benefit that prayer brings into our life that keeps us going back to God.  Let’s face it, if every conversation we have with a person makes us feel poorly about our self for some reason, we will likely not seek to continue that relationship.  However, when our time with God brings daily encouragement to both us and those around us, our desire to pray ought to grow each day that we live.
  • Renewal:  Isaiah wrote that “even youths get tired and weary, but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”  A lifestyle of prayer can result in a life of renewal as we continually seek the “new mercies” that God promises each morning.  The Bible teaches that we are to be transformed by a renewing of our mind, and prayer is a major part of that change of mind that can bring about a godly transformation.  When we allow a growing lifestyle of prayer to bring peace, respect, answers, yielding, and encouragement into our life, we will find that we are indeed being renewed daily by the power of God’s Spirit and through the truth of His Word.

When we live a lifestyle of prayer, we ought to find that these qualities are growing in our life.  And as they grow, we find that we are more drawn to prayer as a way of life each day that we live.  It is my prayer that each one of us would grow in our desire to live a lifestyle of prayer that results in a life of PRAYER!

In prayer,
Tom

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Spring Reflections

Spring Reflections

I enjoy taking photographs of items that are reflected in various bodies of water.  As I’ve done this, I’ve discovered at least two key ingredients to a good (and accurate) reflection.  One is the stillness of the water and the other is the purity of the water.  In nature, both ingredients are highly variable even from one day to the next in the same body of water.  The photo below is one I’ve taken many times and sometime the water is calm and pure giving a clear reflection of the spring house, and other times there is no reflection at all.  The source of the water comes from a spring the little house is built over — thus a “spring house”.  The water is pure and clear coming from the spring, but once out in the open it doesn’t always remain so.

I suppose the same is true in my efforts to accurately reflect Christ so that He is seen when others observe me.  The source, Christ, is unchanging in its purity and clarity so any imperfection in the reflection has to come from me.  My ability to be still and know Him as God will be a determining factor in how well He is reflected in my life.  The purity I live my life with will either help people see Jesus in me or cloud their view of Him.  As I spend time at the well of Living Water and allow His Spirit and His Word to continually wash over me, I find that the turmoil and impurity of life no longer gets in the way of others seeing who resides within.

I pray that you and I would desire our lives to accurately reflect Jesus.  As we live out that desire, I pray that we would be both still and cleansed so we would not become a distraction to the reflection of Christ others should see in us.

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No Longer DEAD

As I’ve worked on the sermon I’ll share on Easter Sunday at the North Wayne Mennonite Church, I have ended up with two different outlines. 🙂  One has more of a focus on what the resurrection of Jesus saves us from — death.  The other has a greater emphasis on what we are saved to — life.  Since I’m pretty confident they don’t want me preaching both of them on the same morning, here are the main points of the “No Longer DEAD” outline.

Because of Jesus we are no longer:

  • Distant — While especially true of Gentiles, even for the average Jew the approach to God prior to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was always from a distance.  From the time of Moses leading the people out of Egypt to the time of Jesus, the instruction from God to the people almost always sounded like “stand back!”.  Yet while Jesus was on the earth, His words more often beckoned people to “come to me, you who are weary and I will give you rest.”  When we are made alive in Christ, we are adopted into His family and are no longer considered distant.
  • Excluded — Sin separates us from God and excludes us from His presence.  When Jesus paid the penalty for sin through His death on the cross, the veil in the temple which separated people from the presence of God was torn from top to bottom.  God chose to make Himself accessible to all who were once excluded, should they choose to seek Him.  Remaining dead in our sin excludes us from life in Christ, but through Jesus those who were once “not a people” can now become the “people of God.
  • Aliens — While science fiction fans may first think of strangers from another planet when they hear of aliens, in many ways that is exactly what we are to God when we remain in our sin.  Because God’s ways are so much different and higher than man’s ways, while we live according to our own ways we are indeed aliens in regard to the kingdom of God.  Yet an interesting thing happens when we arrive as aliens in a foreign land.  When we choose to make that land our home and become accepted by its rulers, it becomes our home and we become aliens in regard to our former way of life.  Through Jesus we are no longer aliens in regard to God and His kingdom.  In fact, it is in Christ that we walk as aliens in this world.
  • Destroyed — Because the “wages of sin is death”, outside of Christ we are all on a path that leads to destruction.  The sin that we commit, whether large or small in our eyes, all requires the same penalty — death.  Because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus our penalty has been paid if we choose to accept the payment being made on our behalf.  When we are in Christ, we choose to walk a path away from destruction and toward a life that remains eternally in Him.  It is through the goodness of God and His mercy that He has made a way through Jesus to destroy the power of death so that we need not be destroyed.

Yes, because of the power of the resurrection, in Christ we are no longer dead.

2017: Page 255

Page 255 began with the usual prayer, cleaning and building prep.  As I took the trash out, the eastern sky was beginning to show some light over the tree line, so I set up my camera to do a sunrise time-lapse.  As I was photographing, a mother deer and her two young came out of the woods beside me.  My zoom camera was shooting time-lapse and I had a wide angle lens on the camera in my hand.  By the time I got a hold of my medium range zoom, the deer had moved to the end of the field where the lighting wasn’t adequate to get very good photos.  It wasn’t long, however, until another mother deer came out beside me with her young one.  This time I had my mid-range zoom in hand and the deer just stood there watching me for quite a while.  I took a some photos of them standing there before they took off down the field.  Today’s photo was taken while they were on their way away from me and it made me think of the story of Peter and John healing the lame man who, according to the song, went “walking and leaping and praising God, walking and leaping and praising God!”

After the deer had finished walking and leaping and praising God all the way out of my sight, I went back inside to take care of some work projects.  As I worked in the office and followed up on some messages, I heard the distinct sound of Susan having a seizure.  It had been a while since she had one, so I guess we were due.  It is still a sound that no matter how often I hear it, it gets my attention immediately.  While it didn’t go into what we would call a major seizure based on convulsive activity, it was according to a measure of time.  As I held her and talked to her and tried to reassure her throughout the seizure and as she was coming out of it, I couldn’t help but think of what an incredible gift she is to me — and to all who know her.  

Once the seizure was done I took her home so she could get cleaned up and get some rest.  As she rested, I turned my attention to getting a location and date set for the first Growing Strong retreat.  After leaving messages with a couple location options, I headed to lunch with my family.  When we got home I had a response from one of the locations that I really liked, so I began the process of confirming the dates so I could begin to promote the retreat.  I’m pretty excited about both the content and the location for this retreat as it will take place at the Maumee Bay State Park near Toledo, Ohio.  My family and I had visited the park a few weeks ago to see how it would measure up to what I was looking for, and I left that day thinking it would be perfect.  The park is set along the Lake Erie shoreline and has a really nice boardwalk trail through the park which will be a great asset for the directed quiet times and free time.  More information will soon be available on the Growing Strong retreat web page at www.growingstrongretreats.com or on the Growing Strong facebook page — www.facebook.com/growingstrongretreats.  

As I reflect on the day, here are some thoughts/lessons that stand out to me:

  • Whether seen or not, the sun rises each day and serves as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.
  • The good seeds of faith planted in childhood are not wasted.
  • When you connect a Bible truth and/or story to a fun childhood song, it can plant a seed that stays with you well into adulthood.
  • Sometimes it seems like the best opportunities come when I’m not prepared.  
  • Missed opportunities ought to prepare us to be ready for the next opportunity.
  • God continually uses nature and wildlife to remind me of how I ought to praise Him.
  • Some things get our attention immediately whether we want them to or not.
  • Sometimes all you can do is hold and reassure a person until they are able to reconnect with reality.
  • Living by faith is difficult . . . living without faith is even harder.
  • God wants us all to grow strong in the Lord and I continue to pray that the retreat concept He has put in my mind will be a great tool to help people do that.

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Peace On Earth

On December 25, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem, “Christmas Bells”, that was eventually put to music and became a popular Christmas carol. There are some stories that say the poem was written following the death of Longfellow’s wife in a house fire, which may be true, but that isn’t the despair of which he writes. The despair is a nation divided by hatred and war. His son had just returned home after being seriously wounded in a Civil War battle. The first part of the poem seems to speak of the “peace on earth, good-will to men” that he believed existed prior to the war. Then, in the middle of the poem, come two verses that were left out when the poem was made into a song — the verses which make it clear that the despair written about in the next-to-last verse comes from seeing a nation divided by hatred. The violence that comes from hatred has a way of drowning out the sounds of peace and good-will today just as it did in the days of Longfellow. The good news comes in the final verse with the realization that even as bad as things seem, “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep”. Even in a nation filled with reprehensible hatred and violence, God continues to offer hope through those who promote peace and good-will. Here is the last half of Longfellow’s poem, including the two “left out” verses.

Then from each black, accursed mouth 
The cannon thundered in the South, 
And with the sound 
The carols drowned 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent 
The hearth-stones of a continent, 
And made forlorn 
The households born 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head; 
“There is no peace on earth,” I said; 
“For hate is strong, 
And mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
The Wrong shall fail, 
The Right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
(Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, December 25, 1863)

New Wine Church

Finding Joy In Who You Are

What do you want to be when you grow up?  Do you remember that question?  Perhaps you’re still waiting to grow up and figure out the answer to that question.  Or maybe you’ve grown up and you’re living your dream.  But more likely, if you’re like me and many others, when you evaluate who you are today, reality hasn’t fully matched your dreams.  Our answers at six, twelve, eighteen, and even twenty-five and beyond rarely take into account all that life will bring our way.

Unfortunately, most of our answers to the “what do you want to be” question rarely answer the question that ought to be asked.  We hear the question and our answers invariably sound like we heard, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  I don’t know what your answers have been over the years, but perhaps some of these sound familiar:  I want to be a policeman, a fireman, a nurse, a teacher, a farmer, a doctor, a builder, an astronaut, a mechanic, a business owner, or a whatever else we hope to do.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone answer the question of what they want to be by saying they want to be kind, loving, compassionate, honest, forgiving, joyful, content, fair, generous, peaceful, patient, gentle, or any other attribute that expresses the presence of God’s Spirit dwelling within us.

Yes, what we do can be a gift from God, who has in advance created good works for us to do.  But if our identity is fully formed around what we do, what happens when we can no longer do?  What happens if we can never do what we’ve dreamed of?  To find joy with who we are, we must move beyond what we can do and develop the deeper traits of who we can be.  One of the most difficult things in life, at least for me, is to find joy in being when the world says my doing doesn’t measure up.  Sometimes I think we, as a society, have worked so hard for equality that we’ve failed to see the dark side that often lingers with it.  Treating people without partiality is a good thing — and a God-commanded thing.  But that is not the same as believing everyone should fit into the same mold in order to be equal.  Yes, we should constantly strive to do all the good that we can do and work toward giving everyone the opportunity to do all the good that they can do.  But we should work harder at being content with who we are and helping others find joy in who they are regardless of what any of us are able to do.

So, how do you and I find joy in who we are?  We begin by believing what God says about who we are.  When we wrap our identity around being God’s child and allow our sense of value to come from His love for us, what we can and cannot do becomes less important compared to who we are and and who we can be in Christ.  Remember that list from paragraph two of what many people want to be (do) when they grow up?  My daughter, who is now twenty-seven years old, will never be any of those things — at least not in an official way, short of a miraculous intervention from God.  Yes, she teaches me more than just about anyone else, so you could say she’s a teacher — but not in the sense it is used when answering the question about growing up.  Yet she has great joy in who she is, and I have great joy in who she is, because her life is wrapped around her identity in Christ and is focused on being the things that we all ought to strive for — the things I mentioned earlier that I said I never hear in response to the question of what we want to be.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be like Susan.  I want to be one that finds joy in who I am — a joy that the world can’t take away, a joy that is not dependent on my abilities measuring up to the expectations of others but is solely dependent on being who God created me to be.  I pray that God fills you with His Spirit so that you overflow with joy simply because you are His.

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Joy In Being!

2106: Page 100

Page 100 was a full day which began with a snowy drive from the hotel to Great Lakes Christian College for the second day of the Michigan Christian Convention.  Once at the convention, the day was filled with great conversations about the prayer ministry and the resources God has gifted me to write.  When I packed up to head home, I had two empty boxes so I estimate about 150 books made it into the hands of people who would use them.  I stopped by Lake Michigan on the way home to catch the setting sun on a very cold evening.  The beauty that I was able to see and photograph was worth the cold fingers as the wind came off the lake.

As I worked on the timing to catch both lights on at the same time, I thought about the teaching that Ben Merold shared at the convention today.  In addressing the topic of “Church Relevant”, he addressed a growing trend where churches often sacrifice many important Biblical doctrines, and sometimes even the gospel itself, in order to pursue being relevant to the culture we live in.  He made a series of statements that he termed a paradox.  I’ve been chewing on these statements since I heard them and I believe they are worth your time and energy to chew on them as well.  He said the first century church was never relevant to the culture it existed in — in fact, it generally stood in complete opposition to the current culture of its time.  The second statement on relevance reflects what scripture teaches made the first century church attractive within the culture it operated in.  He said the first century church was always relevant to the needs of the people who lived in the culture it existed in.  

I fear that far too often church leaders have decided the church must look more like the culture so people will feel comfortable, all while neglecting the actual needs that people experience because of the culture of the world they live in.  Jesus said that the world would know we are His disciples, not by how much we look like the world but by how much we look like Him.  While the design and technology behind lighthouses has changed over time, the purpose has always been to make them as effective as possible in meeting the need of guiding ships away from danger and safely into the harbor.  The one thing a ship’s captain needs from a lighthouse is for it to function as it was designed to.  I’ve always appreciated, and been saddened by, the story told of life-saving stations along the coastline becoming clubs of comfort and prestige as they would do away with the tasks of going out on the water and saving lives from storm-tossed ships.  In an attempt to be relevant to the people living on land, they were no longer relevant to the needs of the people caught in the storms out on the water.  

I pray that you and I would constantly seek wisdom and direction from God in living the gospel in a way that is relevant to the needs of the people around us who are caught in the storms of life.  I pray that we would never lose sight of our calling and purpose to make disciples.  I pray that we would be more concerned about directing people away from danger and toward Christ than we are about blending in with the culture in a way that we are no longer noticed.

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