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Archive for January, 2011

I was working on this a few nights ago, and developed a bad case of writer’s block. I couldn’t get past the first line which at times I thought was perfect and other times I just wasn’t sure. When I went to bed, I prayed as I drifted off to sleep, asking God to help me with the thought I was trying to convey. I had a dream, and when I woke up I realized the Lord had answered my prayer.

In the dream I was on a farm, walking along a hillside toward a barn. I noticed a few dogs that had surrounded and was barking at an injured bird. I shooed the dogs away and picked up the bird. It had been burned on one side. I held it up to eye level. Our eyes locked just long enough for me to sense that it was hoping I would help it – long enough for me to feel that if I did, it would get better.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself . . . and the Lord knew it. It’s a fitting story for the text that had caught my attention. In Acts 20, listen to what Paul tells the leaders of the church at Ephesus.

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard.”

It’s not a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality. It is a ‘fittest keep watch and be shepherds’ mentality. Paul just happens to be talking to leaders here; he called a special meeting for them. He was encouraging them to do what he did himself. As he traveled about, this is a big part of what he did.

As much as he did to point people in the right direction, there were always those who came in behind him to point them in the wrong direction; not too terribly different than how it is today. How many go into church on Sunday and here a good representation of the gospel and by Monday or Tuesday it is neutralized? By the end of the week, at least spiritually, they are like the injured bird surrounded by barking dogs.

We may not have as many to care for as Paul did, but we can all at least keep watch over ourselves. We must keep watch over ourselves. And then, whether over 2, 20 or 200, we are to be shepherds. This, at every level, is our mission.

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When the Lord told Abraham that He would take him to a new land and that he would have a son, was Abraham to pray for it to happen when it seemed like it wasn’t going to, or was it for him pray that his faith – his believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? When Sarah became impatient and tried to help God out, did it help?

When God told Moses that He was going to deliver Israel from Egypt and take them to the promised land, was it for Moses and the children of Israel to pray for it to happen, or was it for them to pray that their faith – their believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? When they were caught between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, was God after their praying or their believing?

When God told Joseph that he would rule over his family, was it for him to pray for when he was sitting alone in prison, or was it for him to pray that his faith – his believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? Did he help matters when he took things into his own hands by asking the two prisoners to put in a good word for him?

When God anointed David to be king, was it for him to pray that the Lord would make it happen, or was it for him to pray that his faith – his believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? David surpassed them all. He could have taken things into his own hands several times to help God move things along, but he didn’t. His trust was in God to do what He said He would do.

In all cases, God in His timing, in spite of what these men did to ‘help God along’ (which in no case actually helped), did what He said He would do. And so these thoughts have changed the way I pray. I no longer pray for the Lord to provide because He told me early on that before it was too late He would, and He has. My praying now is that my faith – my believing – would remain in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looks bleak.

It says of the Israelites when they were backed against the Red Sea, that they were ‘terrified’. Can you imagine if some of them would have nudged the one standing beside them and said, ‘Watch this; this is going to be cool.’; or when Jesus was standing in front of Lazarus’ tomb; none of the disciples believed. Can you imagine if just one would have nudged a few of the others and said; ‘Watch this, this is going to be cool’. Can we, when our situation looks so bleak, believe enough to say, ‘Watch this; this is going to be cool’? I believe it would please God if we could.

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A few months ago, I joined a jail ministry team.  I really didn’t know for sure what to expect.  I guess I’ve always thought you would go in and try to convince a group of guys to believe or accept something they had no interest in. 

It has really been quite the opposite.  For the most part, the guys that come on Tuesday nights realize God has put them there to get their attention.  With few acceptions, they all believe, but realize their believing has not been sufficient enough to change the way they live. 

God knows how to get our attention doesn’t He.  Just this last Tuesday night, I told them that I may not have bottomed out in a way that landed me in jail, but I bottomed out in  my Christianity and He stopped me to get my attention.  Not to punish me, but because He had something good for me that He wanted me to find. 

I tell them that I am not a preacher, which I guess I really don’t have to mention.  (Some things go without saying)  We talk.  I tell them what has changed my life and the part writing has played in it.  Occasionally I leave a story or a poem with them. 

We have some good discussions.  They are honest and real.  A few weeks ago, one guy, who had a good way with words, expressed both belief and unbelief.  He believed but he was hesitant to just jump on the wagon.  Like all of us, he wanted it to be real.

Last week he came up to me afterwards and said he had written a couple of poems and wanted to know if I would read them and let him know what I thought.  I have decided to post one here today. 

 

My Cage

 
My addiction is a cage;
it wants my life.
It’s filled with confusion,
pain, guilt and strife.

It’s cold and it’s lonely,
regret my only friend.
Is this a life’s sentence?
When exactly will it end?

I weep for my family.
On this journey I’m lost.
I long for freedom;
can you tell me the cost?

I search for answers;
they must be the key.
My will is my bond;
my faith sets me free.

Yet I remain a prisoner
and console myself each night.
I’m still locked in this cage
but at least now it’s filled with light.

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Does it ever seem like the more you pray, the worse things get?  It does to me.  Sometimes I can relate to how the disciples must have felt when in their storm they heard these words; “Where is your faith?”

Recently I read about another storm that Paul was in.  I saw something I had never noticed before.  Paul’s storm didn’t let up; in fact it got worse.  But there was never anything said about ‘his’ lack of faith.  I wondered why the difference.

If you look closely at both stories, it wasn’t so much about faith to calm the storm; as it was about faith to believe they would be okay in it.  In Paul’s story, even though the storm kept getting worse, he believed he was going to be okay. 

The disciples gave up before they ever started.  Luke describes it this way; “A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.  The disciples went and woke Him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown’.”

Paul didn’t give up quite that easy.  Listen to how his situation went down. Addressing a crew that has given up hope, he says, “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and who I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul.  You must stand trial before Caesar: and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’  So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.  Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

Paul’s faith didn’t calm the storm; but it did lead to a calming of all who were in it.  Even though the storm got worse – even though it caused them to ‘run aground on some island’, Paul’s faith held up.

It is natural to pray that the Lord would calm our storms.  Sometimes He does.  Paul was probably praying for the Lord to calm his storm when He heard the angel speak.  There is a phrase in there that I like; “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me”.  We can bear a lot when He stands beside us. 

I thought too that had Paul’s storm let up, he would have missed the island of Malta.  Sometimes when we pray and our storms continue to get worse, it may be that God wants to run us aground somewhere for some reason beyond what we have the ability to see.

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I read where ‘Paul, as his custom was, went into the synagogue and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead’.

I thought about his audience; they were Jews.  For as long as they could remember, they had been taught that the Christ would come as a king.  Understandably, they had trouble accepting that this lowly Jesus was the one they were looking for.  In spite of the fact that ‘God had accredited Him by the miracles He was able to perform’, and then further accrediting Him by raising Him from the dead, many, just simply, were still not buying it.  And so Paul and the other church leaders of the day spent much of their persuasive energy trying to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.

But what about today?  We, for the most part, have been taught that for as long as we can remember.  We don’t need to be convinced.  We already believe it.  Somewhere though, there has been some kind of breakdown.  To varying degrees, our believing has just become a part of all the other stuff we believe.  It doesn’t occupy the space within us through which and from which all other stuff flows.  We have given it its spot, or corner, and we call on it or take it out occasionally when it seems appropriate or beneficial.

Today, with this kind of believing, many are still able to shack up, overindulge, speak with foul language, use crude humor, watch inappropriate movies, listen to inappropriate music and read inappropriate books and magazines; all contrary to the principals of the One in whom we believe, yet all coexisting semi comfortably.

Today’s gospel is not so much that we should believe; we already do.  We need to be convinced that if we believe it should change the way we live.  It’s not enough to believe ‘in’ God; we need to believe God.  We need to believe what He said – know what He said – and then adjust our lives to align with what He said.  It is not living as we please; it is living as would please Him.

No matter where we are, there will always be room for improvement; I have plenty.  But I believe, overall, there is much room to become more acquainted and committed to the things that please the God in whom we believe.  Conversely, I believe there is much room to become more acquainted and committed to the things that displease Him.  This, I believe, is the gospel we need to hear and be convinced of today.

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