Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Cost of Prayer

I have this routine in the morning that involves coffee, eating breakfast, and reading my Bible.  I love it.  Throw in a mountain or an ocean view and you'd be as close to my idea of perfection as is possible this side of heaven.  It sets a tone for the whole day.  A morning enjoyed does a satisfaction in the evening provide.  Words to live by.

Yet, with the sunrise comes an inevitable hurdle, namely my children.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my kids.  No matter the burden, there is nothing for which I would trade them.  Their smiles, their voices, their feet sprinting from their rooms are a reminder that God's blessings are indeed new every morning but why does morning need to come so early?

My oldest son Jamison's current passion is birds.  If he wakes at 6:30 (6:27 today) I can expect the first ornithological discussion to begin at 6:31.  You can set your watch by it.

Consequently, if I want to have any time to enjoy my routine, then I must wake at 5:30.  That way I can get my reading and coffee in before the thundering herd begins to rumble.  What I cannot do, beyond a few seconds, is pray.

Part of this is my fault.  I developed this habit in high school where I write out my prayers in a journal.  The reason is my brain wanders far too easily to do otherwise.  Writing in a journal is hard to do in the early morning hours not just because of the time; it's an issue of light.  If I turn on too many, the boys won't even sleep till 6:30.

My solution is to save my prayer time for when I first arrive at the office.  Every morning I am thus reminded of a single, solitary fact.  Prayer has a price.

When I get to my desk I want to hit the ground running.  I want to bear down and dive into whatever projects demand my attention.  If I start with prayer, I have to delay what I want to get done.  Quite frankly, prayer costs me and it's not a cost borne easily.

If God were a vending machine, things would be different.  If I knew that what I ordered in the morning would arrive in the afternoon, you wouldn't be able to get me off my knees so to speak but it doesn't work like that.

More often than not what we find in the tray at the bottom of the rack of goodies isn't an answer so much as a call to persevere.  I don't want that.  I want the goodie.  It's like getting a birthday cake made out of broccoli.  I wonder if it's worth it and I'm not just talking about time.  When I ask, I risk disappointment.  We wear our hearts on our sleeves when we pray.  That's how hearts get broken.       

Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up His cross, and follow Me."  To deny means to reject someone with whom you have a relationship.  In this case, it's ourselves.  If we want to grow in Christ, we have to literally say no to a life-long friend.  I have to say no to me.

This is what happens when we pray.  We say no to ourselves, even when we ask for ourselves, because prayer is trusting in someone other than ourselves.  Prayer is taking up our cross.  When we pray we admit our helplessness.  That's self-denial.  That's following Christ.  Prayer may cost me time, effort, and energy but what I get back is a life more conformed to the image of Jesus 

There's never a shortage of needs for which to pray.  There are people you know who are sick.  There are people you know who need to know Christ.  Marriages are hurting.  Children are struggling.  Pick something, pick someone, and pray.  

Hebrews 4:16 tells us to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.  Doing so will cost you.  It will take time.  It will take energy.  I can't promise that God will answer in the affirmative but I can promise that Christ will change your heart even if just a bit.  That's worth more than the price of gold.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What's it Supposed to Be?

I know this sounds like I've just discovered objects fall to the ground when you let go of them but I'm going to say it anyway.  Summers in Texas are hot. 

True, it isn't just Texas, but where I live to the north of Dallas can be absolutely brutal.  Walking outside in August feels like stepping into a blast furnace.  Forget, "average temperatures."  Those numbers are meaningless.  Any day between June and August that ISN'T a hundred degrees or higher is a win.

I've lived here for 11 years now.  I'm not used to it but I can cope...until September. 

That's because my house is close enough to the local high school that I can hear the marching band practice when I leave for work in the morning.  The drums and horns evoke a Pavlovian response that makes me think of sweatshirts and jeans. That's what I'm supposed to be wearing, not shorts and a t shirt.  It should be crisp and cool and not as if there's a hair dryer blowing in my face.  That's not what September is supposed to be like!

If that's irrational, I apologize.  Blame the heat.  What the weather is, "supposed," to be is relative.  Ask people from Alaska and Guatemala what winter should be like.  You'll get vastly different answers and neither one of them will be incorrect.  Weather is allowed to be in the geographical eye of the beholder.

The local church is different.  There are some things that are supposed to be.

Consider 1 Peter 2:9, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."      

Peter is quoting from the Old Testament and applying language whose original audience was Israel to the New Testament church.  In doing so, he expands the meaning of the word priesthood. 

In the days of the Old Covenant, a priest was a priest because of the family into which he was born.  Was he or was he not a member of the tribe of Levi?  That's what mattered. 

Under the New Covenant, a priest is a priest because they have placed their trust in Jesus Christ.  Are they or are they not a Christian? 

Under the Old Covenant that meant administrating the sacrificial system; burnt offerings of grains and animals.  Under the New, it means living out the purpose for which Peter says God's people are chosen, "proclaiming the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." 

People tend to view church much in the same way that they view the dentist or the place that fixes their car.  They view it as a service provider.  Has it been a tough week?  Could the battery use a jump?  Church should do the trick and as long as it does, we're satisfied. 

Obviously, I'm not against refreshment.  Jesus said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink (John 7:37)."  The problem is when we see our involvement as an exchange, when we see it as give to get. 

Just like we pay to have our car fixed, if we expect the giving of our time or money to yield a return on that investment, we are falling short of God's design.

When I was on Young Life staff, my favorite times of the year were staff conferences.  I loved those 24 hours at the Holiday Inn in Zanesville because the room was filled with people who were putting it on the line for the Kingdom and I couldn't believe I was one of them.  I thrived on the sense that a small corner of the ministry was my responsibility.

That's the way the local church is supposed to function.  That's the way it's supposed to be.

Church is not meant to be filled with consumers of services provided by a professional staff.  We are what Peter says we are: a royal priesthood.  We should walk into Sunday mornings hungry to worship the God who called us out of darkness and privileged us with the shared responsibility of the advancement of His Kingdom.  That's His intention.  That's His design.  What does that mean?

Discipleship is meant to be everyone's responsibility.  Evangelism is meant to be everyone's responsibility.  The same is true for care, service, and support.  No one gets left behind if all are involved.

Do you see yourself as part of the team?  Do you believe that you have a role in the discipleship of the body?  Is it your conviction that people need to hear about Jesus and that God has equipped you to be involved in the process?

If not, what do you think the apostle meant in 1 Peter 2:9?

It isn't easy.  The temptation to see the church as give to get is real but when Christ died on the cross He didn't simply pay the penalty for our sin.  He supplied all our needs according to His riches in glory.  We lack for nothing.  We are therefore able to give.

Instead of looking for where to find life, trust the words of Christ who said, "Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

That's the way it's supposed to be.

Monday, July 8, 2013


When you get back from vacation, there's always stuff.  The refrigerator needs replenishment.  The laundry is relentless but it's worth it because you are...home.  You know what it's like.  As good as it was to be away, nothing feels quite like home.

We recently returned from a week in Delaware.  Yes, Delaware.  I understand if you're confused.  Who vacations in Delaware?  I get it.  Google, "Wayne's World Delaware." You're in good company.

So why Delaware?

Well, after my grandfather retired, he and his wife bought a small sectional home 25 minutes from Rehoboth Beach in the southeastern part of the state.  My grandmother, who now lives in Spokane, Washington, turned 90 in April and asked the family to take one more trip back east.

Even thought I hadn't been back since 1986, it felt like I never left.  The shop on the boardwalk where you buy saltwater taffy is still there.  The same is true for the pizza place and that spot where you get the fries in the bucket with the vinegar.  I couldn't stand those as a kid.  I can't stop eating them as an adult.  It's as if time was polite enough to pause.

Two days after arriving, my grandmother asked me to take her to the old house.  I remembered it as a mobile home development filled with nice, quiet retirees enjoying their golden years.

Time was not as kind as it had been to the boardwalk. 

The homes still stood but many had aged poorly.  My grandmother's sat empty, a casualty of foreclosure.  The front lawn consisted of weeds and a rusted-out boat trailer.  We walked around the property looking in windows and checking out the backyard.

On impulse, my brother tried a door and it opened.  We went inside, my grandmother on my left arm.  I hope I never forget her reaction.  When she saw the kitchen, it wasn't for long but she literally sobbed.  My wife, standing behind her, described it as a physical response.  Her shoulder slumped and I felt the downward tug on my arm.  Through her tears, I heard her say, "I loved this house."

Why?  What was so great about it?  The floors and walls were so thin you could put your fist through it.  I know because it was clear that someone did.  There were horse flies and because the house was near a series of canals, the smell outside was what my son called, "Yucky."  How could you love a place like this?

The same reason we all love wherever we call home.  Places have a way of housing our memories.  What my grandmother recalled were the friends with whom she shared, "Happy Hour."  She saw in her mind's eye my grandfather's smile when he went crabbing (yes, it's a verb).  They were yet to face the limitations of age while at the same time beyond the responsibilities of work and raising a family.  It was her ideal season of life.

We all have an ideal whether it's rooted in what once was or what we hope will one day be.  It drives our aspirations and is the root of our disappointments.  Every experience is measured against what few of us have ever even said out loud.  Why do this?  Wouldn't it be easier if we never wanted more, never dealt with disappointments?

C.S. Lewis put it well, "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world."

We yearn for yesterday or tomorrow because this world is not our home.  The other world Lewis spoke of is heaven.  It's home because that's the place where our deepest desire is met, the desire for a relationship with God.  Yes, in Christ we have that but as long as we're on earth, it's diluted, having to pass through the strainer of the Fall.

Whether you are aware of this or not, your, "hopes and dreams," are your brain's attempt to quantify what you and I crave.  We want to go home.  What's frustrating is when we can't explain what, "home," is.  It's even worse when we can't find it.  If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about.

The Bible helps.  1 Corinthians 13:12, "Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely (NLT)."

So if heaven is home, what do we do until then, just gut it out?  Not at all.  Home is someplace you can actually visit, albeit imperfectly.  We get a taste of home when we spend time with Christ.  We get a taste when we spend time with His people in genuine fellowship whether that's Sunday morning or Monday night.  We taste what it will be like when we sing and pray and all of that's because of the Spirit who lives inside us, whom Paul described as, "the guarantee of our inheritance (Eph 1:14)."  It won't just happen.  You'll have to choose to do so but it's worth a try.  Go and visit.  You might even find yourself wanting to invite someone else.