Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Few Thoughts About Prayer

I hear or see something said often that has gotten me thinking over the past few months. When someone asks for prayer, people will say something like, “Prayers sent your way!” I know and understand that is meant to be encouraging, but I fear it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what prayer is. I don’t think I’m being nitpicky with this, either. I guess someone could argue it's just misuse of the phrase, like a grammar mistake, but somehow, I don't think so. I see it too often for it to be just an unintended error. 

See, I think for much of the pop culture of America, prayer has taken on a sort of pop spirituality definition that means little more than something along the lines of, “Good feelings, warm thoughts for you,” rather than realizing prayer is actually talking to Someone, and who that Someone really is. America is saturated in a kind of civil, sentimental religion, “God Bless America,” feel-good sentimentality that masquerades as spiritual that I think is becoming more and more pervasive. Less and less do people we rub shoulders with in our community really understand or actually believe in the real, true, almighty Creator God who has revealed Himself very specifically in His word and through Jesus Christ. What I’m noticing today is that when people talk about ‘God,' they really don’t have a clue about GOD, but they have in mind a kind of deistic god who is benevolent, but not really intricately involved in their lives except when some crisis comes along and they ask for ‘prayers’ but live pretty much without much thought for God any other time, and they certainly don’t seem to think much about what God may demand of them. He’s sort of like Santa Claus. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good.....and you give him your list of wants/demands/wishes when you ‘pray,’ and if he doesn’t deliver or if your prayers aren’t answered the way you want or bad things happen to you, well, you get mad at him. This video says well, I think, how much of our culture has a wrong understanding of who God really is:

This sentimentalized spirituality that has so saturated our cultural dialogue is manifested in a number of ways. I think that’s one reason there’s so little discernment over books like “Heaven is for Real” and Joel Osteen’s feel-goodisms and Oprah and contemplative spirituality even in our evangelical churches and dialogues. We just don’t see the error for what it is because it’s so sweet and feels so nice and sounds so good. We were at a band competition once and the school band boosters of the sponsor school made an announcement before the awards that this competition had been dedicated to the memory of a girl from their band who had passed away. They said the family asked that instead of a moment of silence that we all cheer loud enough for her to hear us. There was an awkward moment of silence before the announcer came back on and said, “Come on, now, let’s hear it.” I am NOT mocking the pain of a family who lost their daughter much too young. NOT at all. My heart aches for them, truly, and while the stands awkwardly cheered, I prayed silently for the family. But that demonstrated, to me, some of the weird, sentimental spirituality so much of the culture around us embraces that breaks my heart when you see how very far it is from understanding the truth. In the end, it’s empty, wishful thinking, hoping for something better, faith in faith, but with nothing on which to rest that hope and faith. And my heart breaks for people who are burdening under that tyranny of hopeless hope.

Christian friends, we have the Something Better for which they hope. We know the gospel. We know the Savior. May we, may I, do a better job of articulating and sharing it with people we rub shoulders with. 

Anyway, back to prayer. The thing is, when I ask for prayer, I really and truly do not want prayers ‘sent my way.’ I can’t hear or answer prayers. Well wishes and kind thoughts are all well and good and very much appreciated. I am not knocking that at all. But they aren’t PRAYERS. Prayers, true prayers, are prayed to God. We pray to God for other people, we don't send prayers their way. God hears the prayers of those who come boldly before His throne through Jesus Christ, and, friends, that is the ONLY true way to pray to the God who created all that is. 

Words mean something. Prayer is talking to God. The only way to truly pray is to pray to the God who IS, and the only way to pray to the one true God is through His Son, Jesus, who shed His blood to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness and be our ONLY mediator with the Father. Jesus alone is our High Priest, and it is in relationship with Him alone, cleansed by His blood alone, dressed in His righteousness alone that we can stand before God and pray. And the wonder of it is that as believers in Jesus Christ, we have the awesome privilege and burden and responsibility TO pray! How wonderful is this!

So, send kind thoughts my way if you want, but prayers? They are only to be to God.Only God can hear and answer prayers. Sending them my way, or the way of anyone else won’t do anyone any good at all. 

Hebrews 4:14-16
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Some Things I'm Thinking About Today

I believe what I wrote yesterday.  I also think it would be hypocritical of me not to admit that believing it and feeling it are two different things. I’ll be honest here and tell you I am deeply disappointed with the results of yesterday’s election. I do not believe that the majority chose wisely yesterday. I could write a lengthy political post this morning detailing my frustration and disappointment, but I’m not going to do that. (Tom Chantry has some good thoughts on it, if you're interested.)

I will admit to you that I’m about having to sit on my hands not to make this a much longer post about some of the things I'm thinking through, not least of which is the implications it has on the issue of the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, and a right understanding of economics. I believe we, as a nation, have gotten what we, as a nation, have said we want. Now all of us get to live with the consequences, and I have to say, I am not at all optimistic that those consequences will be anywhere near what I believe is the direction I want to see our country go. I have so much more I could say, but I’m stopping there. 

I’ll also be honest and admit to you that I’m having some attitudes and thoughts this morning that I have to confess are sinful. I’m praying through it and trusting God to keep my heart and guard my heart and mind and tongue as I seek to honor Him. 

So now let me tell you what I truly, deep down believe. God is sovereign. It is He who sets up rulers and brings them down. If this is the outcome of the election, then I absolutely believe God has a plan and a purpose in it. Someone asked me once if I think we are a nation under judgment. That’s a complicated question. I do not believe our nation has a special covenant like Israel did, and I am not one of those ‘reclaim America’ people who tend to make an idol out of our country and what they think it should be. In fact, while we’re being really gut-level honest here, please don’t stone me if I share that I haven’t felt real comfortable with the idea of placing my hand over my heart and pledging allegiance to this country (or any country) or singing, “God bless America,” for years. How can we as a people enact laws that enable us to kill millions of unborn children, just to name one issue, or daily shake our fists in the face of our Creator in countless ways, give no thought to repentance and holiness, and then have the audacity to think we can ask for God’s blessing on our unrepentant ways? That may be a controversial opinion, but it’s one I’m struggling with and have been for years. Don't take that wrongly, either. I am thankful for my country, I pray for my country, I want what is best for my country and I'm very thankful for the sacrifices others have made so that we can have the freedoms we seem so willing to take for granted and throw away today. But I am also wary of extreme patriotism that sometimes blinds us to the truth. What I pray for is repentance. That is what God blesses, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. We are just one of the nations. How I answer that question about judgment when asked is that I think we are a nation that has gotten what it has elected and chosen. I do believe that as a nation more closely aligns with righteousness, it will prosper, and as it choses otherwise, it will face consequences. Read Romans 1.

All that said, I am not in despair today. Sure, I’m disappointed, but, honestly, not much has really changed from yesterday. The mission of the Church is the same as it has always been. Granted, it may well become more difficult for Christians to have the freedom of speech we’ve always taken for granted in this country as political correctness and the ‘tolerance intolerance’ mentality gains ever more influence in our cultural discourse, but we need to remember that we are citizens of another Kingdom. Though we are called to be good citizens in the country where we are placed, our final allegiance isn’t ultimately to any country. As Christians, our calling is so much bigger than one nation. Our calling is to be proclaimers of the gospel and to live as salt and light and obedient servants of King Jesus wherever He calls us to be and in whatever time He calls us to live, to love even our enemies and to share with them the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and to live peaceably with all men, as much as it is in our power to do so. To be honest, I believe we evangelicals have been too willing to worship at the altar of the political process anyway. The gospel isn’t America first or reclaim America or God Bless America. The gospel is that Jesus has come to save sinners, for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

Here’s some things I’m thinking and praying over today, and rather than type out the whole passages, I’ve linked to them so you can read them. I’ll be honest and say some of it is hard:

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day Thoughts

I know what outcome I hope for today, and I have now done my part as a citizen and voted for the choice my conscience can live with having voted for, and I’m thankful for a country where I’m free to do so, but I also know that however the election turns out, I will sleep tonight, because I know where my true hope lies.....and it isn’t in government. I know which candidate I believe is better for America, and I have definite political opinions, and still will tomorrow, but I also know that my hope isn’t in who wins an election or even ultimately in what happens to America. For generations, America has been a model of peaceful elections and transfers of government leadership, and I pray today will be the same. I pray all the media hype over potential riots, is just that...hype. But my hope, ultimately and always, is in my God, and I know that my Redeemer lives.

Isaiah 26:3-4
3 You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
4 Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

Philippians 4:5-7
5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The LORD is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Job 19:25
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

Philippians 2:9-11
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Status Report - November 2012

November has arrived, chilly and right on time. Does it seem like this year is flying by? I intended to write a status update post yesterday, but never got to it, so here it is today. my kitchen. It’s a little chilly in here, so I’ve got my sweater on. It’s been chilly enough for our gas fireplace to kick on the past few mornings. I have a feeling it may be a cold winter this year. 

Sipping....homemade ‘pumpkin juice.’ We really liked the pumpkin juice we found at Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter last year, and I’ve attempted to come up with something similar here. The last time I tried to discover a recipe, we didn’t like it very much, but that may be because we didn’t stumble across the secret that we did this time, which is that it is much better served cold than hot. After looking around on the internet for some ideas, the recipe I came up with this time is much more to the liking of my boys and myself. Even my daughter claims to like it, though she didn’t finish her small cup of it last night. Here’s how I made it if anyone wants to give it a try:

1 gallon apple cider
1 can pumpkin
1 large spoonful honey
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice (if it’s ‘allspice,’ why do you have to use other spices with it? Just something my inquiring mind wants to know)
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Add all together and simmer on the stove for a while. Cool and store in refrigerator. Best served cold. 

Funny (to me) story...The apple cider was not in the refrigerated section of the store when I bought it, so when I brought it home, I put it on the counter until I finally got around to trying the pumpkin juice experiment, which was two weeks later. I was wondering if maybe it should have been refrigerated after all because it seemed to have expanded the plastic jug it was in a little on the bottom and it was a little tangy and it frothed pretty quickly as I simmered it. I did a little wondering about how bad it might be if the teetotaling Southern Baptist deacon’s wife made her kids tipsy with fermented apple cider, but it turned out ok. :-) 

Waiting....for the sun to come up just a little bit more so I can go out and take a walk. Walking outside is a little depressing when it’s chilly AND dismal gray out, so I’m hoping for chilly and a little sunnier. I need some exercise, though. I haven’t done very well this week with exercising (meaning, I haven't exercised at all, urg) and need to get back to it. 

Glad....that the time change is this Sunday. It will be nice to have daylight in the morning when I walk kids to the bus again, at least for a little while. Don’t forget to change the batteries in your smoke detectors, too!!

Thinking...that this year is flying by. I think the busyness of band practices and football practices this fall contributed to how fast time seems to go by. Just last summer when we were thinking that the busiest time of the year would wind down in October once marching band season was over, that seemed such a long way away. And here we are, no more band practices for my oldest boy, and only one more week of football for my middle boy. Already. Band ended on a high note (smile!) as their band finished fourth in their class for the state. Just qualifying for state finals was so cool. And football is ending on a high note for our middle boy, too, as his team won their playoff game last week and is 'superbowl' bound this weekend. It's going to feel strange when all the whirlwind slows down after this week, but it's going to be nice to have a more relaxed family time in the evenings, too. Looking forward to getting back to reading together again. We still so enjoy reading books out loud together, and that's been on hold for MONTHS now. I'll be glad to get that back. how often people gripe about laundry on Facebook. Seriously, laundry isn’t exactly my favorite thing, either, but it has to be done. I, for one, am really glad to have a washing machine and dryer. After watching Revolution and wondering how they always seem to look so clean with no electricity for the past 15 years and always on the road looking for the kidnapped brother, and then thinking about what a chore laundry really would be without electricity, I've decided that, yeah, laundry can feel like a drudgery and a ‘vanity of vanity’ kind of chore since once you get it done there’s always more, but it has to be done, so might as well just do and stop griping about it. My two cents there. You could always be glad you don’t have the torture I do going through my head, singing, “Laundry, Laundry,” to the tune of “Monday, Monday” every time I go in there and start sorting the clothes. Or, then again, maybe now you will now that I’ve planted that little gem in your noggin. You are welcome.

Speaking...of Facebook, I’m thinking it may be time, once again, to take a bit of a hiatus. Facebook is good in a way, because I’ve reconnected with friends from times and places past who I had lost touch with or would have lost touch with, and I enjoy keeping up with them. However, for someone like me who is all too prone to hermit-like tendencies, it also has dangers in that it can lead to a false sense of connection, too. It’s really easy to get sucked into thinking that if you interact with blog and Facebook friends that you have ‘community’ and then ignore the real people right across the street. What I mean is, Facebook can feed hermit-like tendencies if I’m not careful. So, need to watch it and get out there and connect with my nearby neighbors more. Plus, when you’re tempted to check in too often, it eats away at things that are more important. For example, I meant to be getting serious about my writing this fall. I need to get past the ‘mean to’ and just DO IT. That may mean hiding my dumb ‘smart phone,’ which I think has actually made me dumber with the false urgency of having too much right there at my finger tips all demanding my dwindling attention span. I am convinced computers and smart phones are turning us into zombies.

Speaking....of zombies, what is the deal with all the death stuff on kids’ clothes? And all the talk about zombies everywhere, all the time, by almost everyone? My daughter has nightmares about zombies, thanks a lot everybody for talking about them all the time. Stop it already. Why is our culture increasingly obsessed with grossness and death?

Working....on memorizing several passages of scripture again, and I’ve come up with a way to be more disciplined about working on it throughout the day. Aside from the limited time block I’m planning to allow myself on the computer, whenever I’m tempted to hit the Facebook app on my phone, I’m going to reach for the memory work instead. This morning I began reviewing Philippians to refresh it once again. It’s amazing that after all those months I spent memorizing it and how well I once knew it, how rusty I’ve become since I haven’t reviewed it in a while. I don’t want to lose it completely, so I’m actively reviewing it. I’m also going back to work on something else I started but never finished a few years ago. When I was an Awana helper at our church in South Carolina, we were challenged as leaders to memorize several passages, and I have always intended to complete that challenge, for my own benefit even though we are no longer there in SC. Today I was reviewing Psalm 23, and I just love, love, love that Psalm. I think when a passage is familiar, sometimes we neglect to take time to really think about what it’s saying, and this morning was sweet indeed as I thought about how the God who is so awesome, as I wrote about in the October 23 post, is so very tender and personal and loving to His children that He is our shepherd who cares for us and leads us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 

Reading....well, just finished reading, The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler. I highly recommend this book. And I’m also reading a fiction book I got at the library the other day, State of Fear by Michael Crichton. Due to my aforementioned smart phone induced ADD, I’ve had a little trouble sitting still long enough to really read, but I think that will be improving now as I put the safeguards in place to really limit those tendencies to be online all the time. Hoping to spend some time writing, too. Like I’ve said countless times before, I need to hurry up and keep writing the pirate story while my middle son who requested it is still a kid and can enjoy it.......

Looking....out the window, I see the sun is finally up, so I think I’ll go ahead and end this and post it and get moving today. 

Happy Friday, all.