A Prayer for Sunday

God our Father,

You are a God of love, joy, and peace.
You are patient and kind and good.
You are gentle and faithful and willing to sacrifice for the good of others.

And we want to be like You, O God.

Teach us to love.
Grow us into a joyful men and women.
Transform us into peace-lovers and peace-makers.

Build our patience.
Bring out Your kindness in our lives.
Help us express Your goodness.

Change us into gentle Christians.
Mold us into dependable people.
Break and control our raging egos.

Thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit.
Thank You for the power of the the Holy Spirit to transform us.
Thank You for leading us.
Thank You for shaping us.

Thank You for living within us.
Thank You for bringing out Your nature from within us
and into our daily lives
through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Forgive us when we grieve Your Holy Spirit.

Open our eyes to the blessing of
the supernatural transformation process that is
happening in our hearts
right now.

Bring us Together Sunday
so that we can remember
and celebrate.

We pray in Jesus’ name,

AMEN

What Kind of God is This?

People from all around the small community in Washington gathered to search for Cody, the eleven year old boy who had been missing for several weeks. Alarmed neighbors. Frightened classmates. Concerned friends. Helpful strangers. They all gathered, listened closely to the instructions on where and how to search, and then scattered to cover as much territory as possible.

One person was obviously missing from the search, the boy’s father.  He “lawyered-up,” refused to talk to anyone about his missing son, and skipped the search. The father and his girlfriend even refused to attend the candlelight vigil. The community rallied to find the boy. The boy’s father refused to search.

Can you believe it — Dad skipping the search for his missing son?

Maybe now is a good time to remember what kind of Father we have. Take a moment to read through Luke chapter 15 and reflect on three pictures of God.

God is like a shepherd who searches for that one lost sheep until he has it safely in his arms (verses 1-7). When he finds it, He rejoices with his friends and neighbors.

God is like a woman who searches for the valued silver coin she has lost until she has it back in her hands. (verses 8-10). When she finds it, she joyfully celebrates with her friends and neighbors.

God is like a father who patiently and persistently watches and waits for his son to come to his senses and return from the far country of sin (verses 11-32). He won’t stop until his son is back in his arms. Little does the son know that while he is traveling down the road toward home rehearsing his plea for forgiveness, his father has been looking down the road to the far country while going over plans for the welcome home party. Talk about a blow-out celebration — the best robe, the ring, the sandals, and the fattened calf.

What endearing pictures of God! I don’t think I will ever understand a father skipping the search for his missing son. How can a father’s heart be so apathetic? But more and more I am grasping the Father God who loves us so much that He never stops seeking, searching, waiting, and watching for us. More and more I am understanding our God initiates and leads the joyful celebrations of heaven. The more I know Him, the more I want to joyfully celebrate right here and right now.

After all, when you know the Heavenly Father who would never skip a search, why would you wait until heaven to celebrate with Him?

Grace Before Time

“For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:9 NLT).

Before there was sin, there was grace.

Before there was time, there was grace.

Grace before time.

For years I have pondered God’s relationship with time. I have wrestled with the idea that God, as an eternal being, exists outside the realm of time. The result of trying to get my mind around God and time has been praise. As God is revealed, I am moved to praise God for what I can know and understand.

But on the outer edges of revelation — some smooth edges and some rough edges — there are hints of a God beyond our capacity to fully comprehend. As we understand the revelation of God I am moved to praise. But as I consider what is out there beyond those edges of revelation, I stand in awe of God’s mystery before falling on my knees in adoration. Paul’s description of grace before time both reveals God and hints at more than we are able to fully comprehend.

So why does Paul tell us there was grace before time? Because grace is in the nature of God. Grace is in the character of God. Grace is at the center of God’s heart. So gracious is God that before time began, God planned to show grace through Jesus.

I want to know the grace of God. I don’t mean know that I am saved by grace or that I live by grace — I have come to understand that intellectually and emotionally. But I want to know the grace of God in the sense that I want my nature to be grace. I want my character to be grace. I want my very heart to be grace. And I want to show that grace to people no matter how they behave themselves or how they treat me.

Often that is not the case.

When I am relating to others and thinking about what they might do or say I often plan my response in advance. “If she says this, here’s what I will do. If he does that, this is how I will respond.” My relationship strategy often flows from my fleshly nature rather than from grace. I automatically respond with indignation, self-righteousness, criticism, even judgment. I want my heart to be filled with godly grace rather than harsh judgment. I want my automatic response, no matter what she says or he does, to flow from a heart of grace.

I want to be like God — a God of grace before time.

Gracious Father God,

As Your nature is revealed, I respond with praise.
As I encounter the outer edges of revelation, I respond with praise.
For what I know about You makes me adore You.
And what I don’t know brings me to my knees in worship.

You are a gracious God.
You are a God of grace.
Grace before sin.
Grace before time.
And I want to be like You, gracious Father.

Fill my heart with grace.
Take away the judgmental spirit.
Reform my critical nature.
Ease my desire for revenge.
Relieve any anger or bitterness in my heart.

Pour out Your grace.
Until my heart is full.
Then keep pouring out Your grace.
Until my heart is overflowing.
And I am gracious, like You.

In Jesus’ name,
AMEN.

Earthquakes, God, and Answers

Last week an earthquake devastated Haiti.

Descriptions of the earthquake event are difficult to imagine. The earth rising and falling like crashing waves. Buildings shaking and then collapsing. People screaming and crying out. Day after day we hear horrific stories from the aftermath that we find hard to grasp. Entire villages destroyed. Death tolls rising. Bodies piled in the streets. Mass graves. We hear the fears of the future even as rescue and recovery efforts are underway. Aftershocks. Outbreak of disease. Growing violence rooted in utter desperation.

Even as stories of the event’s destruction and the future’s fears are being reported, another kind of report has begun to be heard — amazing stories of hope. People being pulled out of rubble after being buried for days. Orphans being relocated to join loving families. Churches mobilizing teams to go into the affected region in the name of Jesus. Athletes and rock stars organizing fundraisers. Heroes rising to the occasion.

Sadly, some have seized the plight of the Haitians to further their own agendas by suggesting they know the reason for the earthquake.  A televangelist who has for years hinted at exerting control over hurricanes now claims to know the earthquake was caused because of a deal the Haitians made with the devil in 1791. An actor who is no stranger to making headline-grabbing claims has suggested the earthquake may have been caused by our refusal to deal with his global warming concerns in a way he feels reasonable.

I am not writing to defend or accuse the Haitians regarding their religious tendencies (although my guess is that to talk about “the beliefs of the Haitians” is about as futile as to talk about “the beliefs of Americans”). I am not writing to advance a position on global climate change. I am writing to express some frustration with the need we sometimes have to provide logical, cause-effect reasons for everything that happens, tragedies included.

Yes, I realize this is nothing new and that these explanations are not limited to the aforementioned televangelist and actor. In fact, I remember in the Bible account of tragedy striking Job how everyone either wanted or had an explanation. We see Job wrestling with questions about why troubles had come his way. We see Job’s “friends” coming forth with explanations that made perfect sense to them.  I am struck with how little things have changed and how determined we are to explain events that leave us reeling.

And yet there are some things we are never going to understand, at least not in this lifetime. I think the reason we find this so tough to accept is that it underscores our finite nature. It means I am not in complete control. I am not even completely “in-the-know.” Neither are you. And honestly, I do not like to admit my limitations of control or understanding. Do you?

So this morning I have spent some time reading through Job chapters 38-42. The first 37 chapters of Job tell the story of Job’s tragedies, Job’s search for answers, and Job’s friends offering their explanations. But beginning in chapter 38 God answers Job out of the storm. God’s answer includes question after question that seem to be designed to help Job know God in a deeper, more meaningful way. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

When tragedy strikes we often look for answers to the question, “why?” Sometime we offer our explanations. But what I want to do is seek not explanations, but seek God. Because one thing Job teaches me is that knowing God is better than knowing answers.

Right Now

“It’s better to admit you are a mutt than pretend you are a poodle.”
–Curt Cloninger

Why do we do it?
We wear masks.
We put on airs.
We pretend.
We deny.
We cover-up.
We play act.
We claim to be something we are not.
We profess to be someone we are not.

Again, why do we do it?
And what does it say about us? 
Often the only one you are fooling is yourself. 
The only one I am fooling is me.
What benefit is there to this self-deception?

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). 

What does our denial say about our understanding of God?
Doesn’t our refusal to confess reveal a lack of confidence in God’s forgiveness?
Doesn’t our reluctance to stop pretending betray a distrust of God?

“If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts” (1 John 1:10 NLT).

So why don’t we just confess?
Rather than deceiving ourselves…
And calling God a liar.
God is faithful.
God sees our sin, even our secrets.
God is full of mercy.
God is quick to forgive.

 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:10).

So what are we hiding?
What secrets am I keeping?
What sins are you concealing?
Will we confess?
Right now?
Owning our sins and opening our hearts to God?
Right now?

Remember, when we confess our sin, we are affirming our trust in God.
Trust in God’s love.
Trust in God’s mercy.
Trust in God’s grace.
Trust in God’s forgiveness.
Trust in God’s word.

Come clean.
Get real.
Trust God.
Right now.

God and Me

Romans 11:33-36 NLT
“Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge!
How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?

Who knows enough to give him advice?
And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back?
For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory.

All glory to him forever! Amen.”

Today I have been reminded, again, of the riches and knowledge and wisdom of God.

Today I have been reminded, again, that I am not God.

I needed both reminders.

Sometimes I think I know everything about God, to the point He is unnecessary.

Sometimes I think I know better than God, to the point I want to tell Him what to do.

Today I have been reminded who God is and who I am.

"I Counsel You"

I received this Stott quote by email and wanted to share it. These three words set off a chorus of praise in my heart!

“’I counsel you …’ (Rev. 3:18). Perhaps we could first observe that fact that we have a God who is content to give advice to his creatures. I can never read this verse without being strangely moved. He is the great God of the expanding universe. He has countless galaxies of stars at his fingertips. The heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain him. He is the Creator and sustainer of all things, the Lord God Almighty. He has the right to issue orders for us to obey. He prefers to give advice which we need not heed. He could command; he chooses to counsel. He respects the freedom with which he had ennobled us.”
–John R. Stott, from “What Christ Thinks of the Church” p. 119.