Thursday, December 14, 2017

Prayer: Trust God's Timing and His Answer

And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him,and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John." Luke 1:12-13

 A couple of weeks ago I was preaching on "Christmas Fear" and looking at some of the Christmas story characters from the Scriptures. I read the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the elderly parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah was serving as a priest in the Temple when an angel appeared to him to tell him he would soon be a father. Naturally Zechariah was troubled and the angel assured him, saying:  

Do not be afraidZechariahfor your prayer has been heardand your wife Elizabeth will bear you a sonand you shall call his name John." (Luke 1:13) What caught my attention was the phrase, "for your prayer has been heard." My first thought was, "What prayer?" 

Scripture doesn't record Zechariah's prayer for us, but the context of the Scripture indicates that he had been praying for a child, particularly a son. We also don't know how long he had been praying for a child, but he was an older man when this happened, so we can assume he had been praying this prayer for many years. 

What would have happened in the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth if God had answered their request for a baby immediately? What if God had said "Yes" earlier in their lives? They would have gotten a sweet little baby that they would have loved and cherished. But God delayed the request for a number of years, and then when He answered, He gave them John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus Christ, the only prophet to see the prophecies of Jesus fulfilled, and the forerunner of the Messiah.

Sometimes God doesn't answer our prayers when we pray them, because He has something better in mind. He has a bigger plan and purpose and He can see the end from the beginning. If God had answered some of my prayers exactly as I’d asked them, I would have gotten shortchanged. His answers were much greater than my requests. 

This is a great reason to keep praying, and not give up. God has something better in mind for us, we just have to trust Him with the outcome of our prayers, and trust His timing. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Movement, Monument, Mausoleum

Ray Ortlund is the lead pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, TN and a board member of The Gospel Coalition ministry. He wrote and excellent article about the stages many churches are going through in our culture. Powerful and important words...
Some years ago a friend of mine used these three simple categories to objectify the sequential stages of a church’s rise and fall.
A healthy church is born as a burst of positive gospel energy. It’s a Pentecost-like explosion of joy, a vital gospel movement. Such a church has a sense of mission, even a sense of destiny. It’s exciting to be in this church. Think of a steep upward trajectory.
Given human weakness, after a time, this movement becomes a monument. The spirit of the church changes from hunger to self-satisfaction, from eagerness to routine, from daring new steps of faith to maintaining the status quo, from outward to ingrown. It’s easy not to notice this shift. The self-image of the church might still be that of a vital movement. But deep within, everything has changed. Think of leveling off.
If the trend toward mediocrity is not arrested, the church will decline and become a mausoleum, a place of death. The church as an institution may have enough social momentum and financial resources to keep churning on. But as a force for newness of life, it no longer counts. Think of steep decline—indeed, a death spiral.
The responsibility of a church’s leaders is to discern when their movement is starting to level off as a monument. It is at this crucial point that they must face themselves honestly and discover why they have lost their edge, go into repentance and return to the costly commitments that made them great to begin with. They may need to deconstruct much of what they have become, which is painful and embarrassing. But if the leaders will have the humility, clarity, and courage to do this, their church will go into renewal and re-launch as a movement once more. Jesus will become real again, people will be helped again, and those bold, humble leaders will never regret the price they paid.
“Remember from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”  Revelation 2:5
Ray Ortland, The Gospel Coalition. You can read the original article here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thankful for Fleas

I shared a little of this story in Pastor's Pals this past Sunday. Corrie ten Boom and her family were arrested by the Nazi's for hiding Jews in their home in Holland. She and her sister Betsie were imprisoned by the Nazi's at the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp. She and Betsie, devout Christians had managed to smuggle a Bible into the camp, and secretly studied the word and prayed together. In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie tells how she came to realize that God was working even in the worst circumstances. 

The living conditions in the camp were pretty deplorable.Corrie writes:
"Barracks 8 was in the quarantine compound. Next to us--perhaps as a deliberate warning to newcomers--were located the punishment barracks. From there, all day long and often into the night, came the sounds of hell itself. They were not the sounds of anger, or of any human emotion, but of a cruelty altogether detached: blows landing in regular rhythm, screams keeping pace. We would stand in our ten-deep ranks with our hands trembling at our sides, longing to jam them against our ears, to make the sounds stop.   
"It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy."
Yet, in the midst of the terrible conditions, the women found comfort in the little Bible studies they held in the barracks. Corrie writes they gathered around the Bible "like waifs clustered around a blazing fire…The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God." 

When they were moved to Barracks 28, Corrie was horrified. The barracks was packed beyond capacity and the straw covered bunks that they were forced to sleep on were infested with fleas. Corrie wondered how could they could possibly live in such a miserable place?

It was Betsie who discovered God's answer:
"'Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus." That's it, Corrie! That's His answer. 'Give thanks in all circumstances!' That's what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!'   
"I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room…" 
They thanked God for the fact they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the horrible crowds of prisoners, that more people would be able to hear God's Word. 

And then, Betsie thanked God for the fleas.
"The fleas! This was too much. 'Betsie, there's no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.'"  
"'Give thanks in all circumstances,' she quoted. 'It doesn't say, 'in pleasant circumstances.'  Fleas are part of this place where God has put us."   
"And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong."
As it turned out that Betsie wasn't wrong; the fleas were a blessing after all. The guards were aware of the flea infestation in the barracks and refused to go in. The women were able to have Bible studies in the barracks with a great deal of freedom, never bothered by supervisors coming in and bother them. Through those fleas, God protected the women from abuse, harassment and even worse cruelty.  Dozens of desperate women were free to hear the comforting, hope-giving Word of God. 

We all have "fleas" in our lives. We all have things that are unpleasant, painful things that we want gone from our lives. But is often the "fleas", the unpleasant, difficult things in our lives that God uses to accomplish His purposes in our lives. Our greatest burdens may also contain our greatest blessings. As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, lets thank God in all of our circumstances, and for the hidden blessings that often come disguised as "fleas."

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Field of Stars, WWII Memorial
Praise the Lord, who is my rock. He trains my hands for war and gives my fingers skill for battle. He is my loving ally and my fortress, my tower of safety, my rescuer. He is my shield, and I take refuge in him. 
Psalms 144:1-2 (NLT)

Several years ago our family had the privilege of being in Washington, D.C. for a brief vacation. We were visiting the World War II Memorial for the first time. I'm a bit of a history nut and I've always been interested in World War II, and being in the Memorial for the first time was strangely emotional. The Memorial honors the 16 million who served and more than 400,000 American soldiers who died during the war. The engraved quotes from the political and military leaders are inspiring, but the Field of Stars representing the lives lost, is overwhelming.

While I was trying to absorb all of the Memorial, I noticed and older gentleman dressed in a military uniform and a younger woman with him taking in the sights of the Memorial. Something within me said, "Tell him 'Thank you.'" So I spoke to him and the woman, who was his daughter, and learned that he served in the Pacific Theatre during the war. I thanked him for his service and for protecting our freedoms. He chuckled a little and said, "Oh, I was just doing my job." He acted like it was no big deal. We talked a little longer and then shook hands and I walked away. A few minutes later his daughter came up to me and said, "I just want to thank you for what you did. You are the first person that has ever told my dad 'Thank You' for his service in the military. It really meant a lot to me for him to hear that." 

I was overcome with emotion but managed to hold back the tears until she walked away. I couldn't imagine all that he had gone through in the war, and then never have anyone to say "thank you." I was heartbroken, and determined to never let an opportunity pass to say thank you to the men and women who have served in our military.

We live in a great country; she's far from perfect and after watching about 5 minutes of national news, I sometimes worry where we are going to end up. But I'm incredibly grateful to live in America and experience the freedoms we have. I am also mindful that this country is great because of those who have given years of their lives to protect and serve through our military. This Veterans Day, I encourage you to make the effort to thank a veteran for their service.