Saturday, August 11, 2018

Prayer and Faith

Several times each week, I have the privilege of praying with and for people.  Oftentimes, I'm praying with people I don't know and for their specific requests.  And it's scary.

As a Christian, I know that God listens to and answers my prayers.
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  1 John 5:14
I also know that God often answers prayers in ways that we don't expect; but the people I pray with don't know that.  And because of that, my faith is tested during these prayers.   

What if I pray and God doesn't answer a prayer with a positive outcome?  What type of testimony is that to other people?  How will they believe?

But I've found that God doesn't leave me "alone" when I pray.  Lately, I've "heard back" from people whom I've prayed for...and God has answered their prayers, with specific answers and provision. 
And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name's sake…  Ezekiel 20:44a
For His name's sake, He answers.  And my faith is strengthened.

This month, my pastor's sermons have included a three-part prayer.  

One part is, "Grant me I pray Oh Lord...A greater faith in Your power." 

I've been thinking, "What does a greater faith look like?  How does that come about?"

And while considering those questions, I opened and read from Praying Together by Megan Hill:

At it's heart, prayer is an invisible act of faith in an unseen God, and praying with others strengthens our own faith and silences our nagging doubts.  

Praying together, sharing our prayers with others, is a way that God strengthens our faith. is chaotic.  I struggle with how my Christian journey is going.  Am I growing in faith and encouraging others?  Most often, it's lonely and hard, and I seem to fail.

In my Christian experience, I've participated in very little corporate prayer.  

Maybe it's because...praying aloud with other people is intimate and personal.  I'm talking to my God, and I can't be fake.  

Maybe it's because...people are afraid and just don't know how to pray with other people.

Maybe it's because...prayer is foreign.  Do most Christians spend much or any time in prayer?  There have been periods in my life when I didn't pray.

I think Megan Hill is correct...

First, in praying with another person, I'm invited into that person's relationship with our Lord.  And that experience is faith strengthening.

Second, our Lord is all wise and knowing.  He acts in response to prayers and acts in amazing ways!

And - I'm smiling right now, because He answers in ways that I don't expect.  It's humbling, and it's also faith strengthening.

In the early church, we find the believers together in prayer.
All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.  Acts 1:14
I pray for myself, my church, and all Christian churches to be devoted to prayer...for the strengthening of our faith and for His name's sake.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Hungry Cats

I'm not a cat person.  But we've had a mother cat and her six kittens living under our back porch for a couple of months.  And they're so cute - four gray and two black kittens.

We're working with our neighbor, who's husband is a veterinarian, to catch the cats, especially the mother, and to get medical attention for her.  So, we've alerted other neighbors not to feed the cats, making it easier to catch them.

The kittens are now thin and looking for food.  And last night...the mother was lying on our porch and letting four no-longer-baby-kittens nurse from her.  I couldn't watch, and see their hunger and do nothing.  So I shut the blinds.

The past few days, my Bible readings have been about Jesus teaching lost and hungry people.
When he saw the crowds, [Jesus] had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.   Matthew 9:36
Jesus healed the hurting, fed the hungry, and comforted and taught the crowds.  He provided for those in need.

And just about every week, I meet people who say something like...
- I believe in God.
- I'm spiritual but I don't go to church.
- I talk to Him, and He takes care of me.
- I'm a good person.
I know they're hungry, and I know what they're missing.  Paul said...
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  1 Timothy 1:15
Jesus came to die for sinners...not for good people, not for people who are spiritual, who believe in God or pray, but for sinners, sinners who are hungry and in need of forgiveness and salvation.  

And, He's entrusted His message of salvation to the church, to Christians, to me.   

But the truth is, I often have more compassion for hungry cats than I do for lost people.  

When I hear people speak about "being spiritual" or "being a good person" I don't always recognize their hunger.  And I'm often too distracted or just selfish to respond with the truth of God's Word.  

At other times, my faith is weak, and I don't speak up.  I also need to know His comfort.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Heavenly Father,
Forgive me for not caring for people, for not sharing Good News with them, for my weak faith.  I pray for the wisdom, courage, and faith to share Your truth.  Give me opportunities to care for and share with others who need to know Your mercy, forgiveness, and love.
In Jesus's name.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Lutheran Message

I attended a Baptist church when I was a child.  And throughout my teen years, college years, and early adult life, I read all types of Christian books, visited different churches, and talked with people from various Christian traditions.  

This past week I was asked, "In what ways is the Lutheran church different from other denominations?"

That question is broad, and includes Lutheran beliefs and positions on many topics.  And I started listing them...

- Baptism
- The Lord's Supper
- Confession and Absolution
- Salvation
- Sinner vs Saint
- Law vs Gospel
- Stewardship/Money
- End Times

And the list goes on...

But, in thinking about the Lutheran difference, I realized that every topic is answered by looking to Jesus.  No mystery, nothing hidden!

From Luther's Small Catechism:
Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, is the heart and center of the Scripture and therefore the key to its true meaning.
To know about God, look to Jesus. 
Jesus said to him, "...Whoever has seen me has seen the Father..." John 14:9
To understand the Bible's message, look to Jesus.
...And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.  Luke 24:27
To distinguish Law vs Gospel...
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  John 1:17
To know forgiveness of sins...
...Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  Luke 24:46-47
 For the Lord's Supper...
And [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."  Matthew 26:27-28 
To pray...
And [Jesus] said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come...'"  Luke 11:2
Everything about the cross, sin, salvation, what we should believe, how we should live...everything is cohesive and explained through Jesus. 

Jesus came for our salvation, for my salvation, to die for the sins of the world.  That's the message.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  John 1:12–13

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Who's the Greatest?

The Bible gives various accounts of Jesus's disciples misunderstanding Him or reacting to His teachings.  But six times the gospel writers record that the disciples were concerned about which one of them was the greatest.  

Besides arguing greatness, two of the disciples asked Jesus if they could be seated next to Him in His kingdom. 

And even at the Last Supper, when Jesus talked about someone betraying Him, the topic turned to"Who's the greatest?"

Every time I read those passages, I'm perplexed that the disciples could so unabashedly discuss their own worth.  

What were they thinking?  Why were they concerned about it? 

As the mother of three sons, I think part of the disciples' question was, "Jesus, who's your favorite?  Which one of us do you love best?"

And that question hits home for all of us, for me - I want to matter, to be loved, needed, and important.   

But Jesus - He turns the question around.  Instead of answering who matters the most to Him, Jesus's response is to tell His disciples who should matter the most to them.   

This passage always comes to mind:
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you…”. Luke 14:12-14 
And Jesus lived that out.  He didn't try to curry favor or impress the Jewish leaders.  And they noticed and didn't like it.
And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:2 
And the truth is, we're all needy and weak, and sometimes it's a fellow Christian or a best friend who needs to be encouraged, loved, and reminded of the gospel.

But loving and showing favor to my friends and family is fairly easy.

Loving the lowly and needy, loving someone who can't pay me back, loving when it's inconvenient and it costs...not so easy.

But Jesus did that, and He calls Christians to do likewise.
The greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:11-12
The answer to "Who's the greatest?" is - Jesus.  My salvation is because of Jesus, not because of my works.  I can't even begin to boast about my own worth, or to jockey for a position of greatness.
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  Romans 3:23-24, 27
Because of Jesus, I'm forgiven, valuable, and loved.  I don't have to be concerned about greatness.  I'm free to serve others and to show favor to someone who needs to know the love of God.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Jesus died for even that...

So, it's happened again...this time, the founder of Papa John's Pizza is reported to have used a racial slur...and the world is reacting.  

The price of Papa John's stock has fallen.  Professional sports teams are cutting ties with the company.  And the company's in damage control mode.

And, I sigh... it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one."          Romans 3:10
That includes the Papa John's founder; that includes my neighbors, my friends and family, my fellow Christians, members of my church, and me.  We all sin.

I also sigh because...we don't know how to handle sin among us.  We react with vengeance, we make excuses, we promise to do better and to educate so that this doesn't happen again.

We even react this way in the church and with other Christians.  

Recently, I was struggling with a series of events that was somewhat coincidental, but also included some unkind acts.  

Part of me was bothered by the situation and wanted to strike back and say, "This isn't right."  The other part of me wanted to handle the situation with love and mercy, and to be forgiving.  

As I dealt with this, someone said to me, "You've changed.  You're not like you used to be."

Of course, that's wrong.  

What's happened is, this person has gotten to know me and now sees that I'm not always calm, composed, and kind.  Life and situations affect me...and I sin.

And it shouldn't be a surprise that I sin.
...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
But, when sin occurs among fellow Christians, as it does everyday...we don't know how to handle it.  We don't know how to act when it's happening to us, and the sin is our own.  And when we're sinned against, we don't know how to respond and how to show love and mercy. 

More often than not, the response on both sides is anger, condemnation, and a broken relationship - no forgiveness or kindness.  

Apologizing for sin...well that's hard to do.  Accepting apologies and letting go of hurt, loving and trusting someone again - that's also hard.

And I fail at both.

But, Jesus died for even that...for my sins and those sins committed against me.  He died for the founder of Papa John's.  

To the sinner, Jesus says:
Your sins are forgiven...Luke 7:48b
...and from now on sin no more. John 8:11b
To the one sinner against, He says...
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  Matthew 18:15
...and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, "I repent," you must forgive him.  Luke 17:4
My prayer is that we, as the church, the body of Christ, can live that forgiveness and love.  It's through forgiving love and mercy that the world knows the forgiveness and peace of God, and will see that the church truly is a sanctuary for sinners.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Saturday Prayers

On Saturday mornings, along with my Bible readings, I have prayer and confession through the Ten Commandments.  I got this idea from Martin Luther, who said we should pray the Ten Commandments daily, and from Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller, who suggests that each commandment prompts self-reflection questions.  (See my "Saturday - Confession" at the end of this article.)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9
I prepare and print my daily readings and prayer pages well ahead of time.  

And, it never fails, come Saturday morning, I cringe when I read at the top of the page "Saturday - Confession."   

Again?  Already?  Didn't I just do that?

It'd be simpler to read a few Bible passages.  Who wants to look into his own heart and think about his sins? 

My First Commandment looks like this: 
You shall have no other gods. We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.  What am I afraid of? What am I worried about? My fear exposes my heart and the idols of my heart.   
Those questions help put everything into perspective. 

I recognize the areas of life that worry me, and make me afraid. not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  Philippians 4:6 
But, at the same time, I become unafraid and even comforted, because I know that my God knows me and is listening to my confession.  He makes it "safe" for me to share my worries, my fears, and my sins with Him.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7
And, in the midst of it being reminded of my sin, my struggles with sin, my dislike of sin...I'm reminded that I can't deal with the sin myself; I can't free myself from it.  

But Jesus can, and did.  As I note my sin and confess it, I also know that His death has freed me from the power of sin.  I know I'm forgiven.  I know the greatness and power of His sacrifice.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  1 Peter 2:24  
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.  Hebrews 2:14-15
It's all about Jesus and what He did for me.

Saturday - Confession                  ____________________Date 

Ten Commandments - Prayer and Confession

1. You shall have no other gods. We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.
  What am I afraid of? What am I worried about? My fear exposes my heart and the idols of my heart.

2. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. How are my prayers? Do my thoughts turn to anxiety and worry? Help my “alone” thoughts to be spoken to you, my Lord, who listens and answers prayer. And help my prayers be in accordance with your Word. 

3. Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. What is my attitude towards worship? Do I like going to church? Do I despise or delight in Godʼs Word? Am I neglecting worship or your Word? Help me to worship knowing that all is a gift from you. 

4. Honor your father and your mother. What is my attitude towards authority? Do I respect and pray for the government leaders and others in authority? Am I always looking to criticize authority or complain? 

5. You shall not murder. Am I angry? Why am I angry? What about “the person” makes me angry and exposes my sin? Help me to forgive as Iʼve been forgiven. 

6. You shall not commit adultery. Am I content in my marriage and the spouse whom the Lord has given me? I pray for us to love and cherish each other, to show respect and to speak with kindness and gentleness. Help us to always have “desire” for each other. I pray for our marriage, in some way, to reflect Christ and the church. 

7. You shall not steal. Am I greedy? Am I lazy? Am I a faithful steward of all that Iʼve been given? Help me to not waste time. 

8. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. Am I bitter? Do I seek to harm someoneʼs reputation? Help me to forgive and to speak kindly. 

9. You shall not covet your neighborʼs house. Am I content in all that the Lord has given me and in how He provides for me? 

10. You shall not covet your neighborʼs wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Am I content with the family and friends the Lord has provided for me? 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Ramen Noodles and God's Word

Al's going to college this fall, and we've been joking about how college students eat Ramen noodles. 

A Ramen noodle meal is a block of dried, instant noodles that includes a flavoring packet.  The noodles are cooked briefly in water, the flavoring is added...and poof...instant meal.

I bought Al a package of these noodles, and he fixed and ate it.  He wasn't impressed.  

And I got to thinking about this food, and why college students like it.  Truth is, the noodles are cheap, they're quick and easy to make, and they're somewhat tasty.  Perfect for busy, but broke college students.

Unfortunately, these meals aren't very nutritious or good for you healthwise.  

And, just like we feed our bodies with food - be it Ramen noodles, salad, or steak and potatoes - we also feed our souls and our minds with "what we take in" each day.

And, I can't help contrasting these noodles with God's Word.  

Unlike Ramen noodles, on many levels, God's Word isn't cheap.  

His Word ultimately speaks truth about our salvation, a salvation paid for by the blood of Jesus...not at all cheap.
…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  1 Peter 1:18-19
And, God's Word is neither quick nor easy.  Reading and hearing His Word, it changes one's life to that of a Christian, a life that's not like the world.  And this change is a continually happening thing.
…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  1 Peter 2:5
God's Word isn't always tasty, or easy to digest.  His Word speaks of my sin; it convictsIt's difficult to face and confess my own sin, to hear that truth.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12-13
But, unlike Ramen noodles, God's Word does nourish me and is good for me.  And, it satisifies.
...[Jesus] answered, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Matthew 4:4

Just like those college students who settle for a quick and easy meal, I often resist "feeding" on God's Word, even though I know it's precious and good for me.  I'm lazy and will settle for "instant gratification" and not the Word of Life. 

Lord, forgive me.  
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.            Psalm 119:105
Give me a hunger for Your word, and the will, desire, ability, to take it in, every day...and to be grateful, to praise You for it.  Amen.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.  Psalm 81:10b