Saturday, August 26, 2006

Lessons on Prayer from Jill Carroll

"Through all the weeks and months I hadn't prayed. I thought it would be hypocritical...I hadn't been to church in a long time."

Those are the words of Jill Carroll, kidnapped/released reporter who had spent some time in Iraq.

I have been reading the eleven-part series as it plays out in our local newspaper (The Ann Arbor News). [My twelve-year-old son was telling me that he'd been reading it sentence at a time as he bags his papers for his paper route!)

It got me asking some questions: "What does God think about us praying only when we're in trouble?"

"If I haven't been thanking God for stuff up till now, can I really expect my prayers to be heard when I'm deep crud?!"

Here are some thoughts about that.

1.) The Bible constantly shows this whole God-thing, is not primarily rules, but a RELATIONSHIP. Granted, God is unlike anyone else you know, in MANY ways. But I think that good relationships might give us a little insight in how to approach this (and bad relationships might give us insight into how NOT to approach it.)

2.) As a parent, I expect my kids to come to me when they're in trouble, even if we haven't spoken in awhile. Jesus teaches us to call God "Father" so apparently there is to be a relationship like a parent and a child. (Many of the prophets call God the Shepherd, which makes us sheep. Sheep are dumb, and so am I a lot of times. But even THAT is a relationship, right? One provides sustenance and protection. The other eats, sleeps, and is unaware except for the Voice that calls out occasionally. However, we become aware when we're attacked and wonder, "where'd the protection go?")

3.) A healthy relationship might BEGIN when one person is in need of help and the other provides it. I remember meeting Carl for the first time, on the side of a busy freeway in Indianapolis when our family's mini-van broke down in the middle of rush hour traffic. I wasn't going to tell Carl to get back in his pick-up truck because I hadn't sent a Christmas card last year. My emergency and his generosity were how we met. I think God is a little like Carl, always anticipating the opportunity to begin a relationship when the other person's in need. BUT, and this is a big but, no healthy relationship remains on an emergency-only basis for long (other than the police, the Emergency Medical Service, the fire dept., well, you get the idea).

While I DO think that God is willing to be AAA for roadside towing in our life, and that might be how you meet, and God is probably fine beginning a dialogue that way, I guess my hope for you would be that you'd move onto a deeper, more meaningful relationship.

Which brings me to my final thought (for now) on this subject...

4.) The Bible is full of all sorts of examples of relationships between people and God: healthy/unhealthy, those who call anytime (see Psalms)/those who only call when they need help (see the book of Judges), relationships that are just beginning and those that are more fully developing, people who were willing to begin a relationship with God when they needed help (the Prodigal Son)/people who were stubborn and unwilling to cry out (the Prodigal's older bro.) when they had nowhere else to turn.

Jill Carroll overcame her feelings of hypocrisy and prayed:

"God, thank you for getting me through all these days so far. Please just give me the strength to keep going. Stay with my family right now and sit with them and give them strength. I know I never used to come to You before and it's bad of me to come to You now when I really need it. Please, just stay with me right now. Just stay with me right now and don't leave me."

I think that is EXACTLY the prayer she should have prayed.

What prayer might you pray next?

Grace & peace.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I'm A Man. . .more or less

I just finished the summer task on my "to-do" list that caused me to lose the most our out-building.

It's not that large (12 x 15) and the peak is probably around 20 feet off the ground. So it wasn't a huge job. But I was not looking forward to it. I don't like heights. Don't enjoy being in the sun for long periods of time.

But the main reason is that I'm not a handy, do-it-yourself, fix-it, type of guy.

I have a circular saw. I've owned it since last year. But just took it out of the box for the first time this weekend. This is my first circular saw. I'm nearly 40 years old! (And had to have my friend who helped me re-roof the building show me how to use the saw.)

We needed an air compressor and a pneumatic nailing gun for the job (both of which he owns, neither of which I probably ever will).

I'm the anti-Tim Allen. Not only do I not want "MORE POWER!!" I wouldn't know what to do with it if you gave it to me. Give me anything besides a hammer or screwdriver and I feel pretty useless. I remember growing up when some adult would ask me to get this tool or that instrument, I automatically turned into Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man". I had NO CLUE what they were asking for.

This is one of the many reasons my wife and I are such a great mix. She is known by all friends and family as the fixer in our family. We have totally jumbled up all the traditional male/female at-home chores. Recently someone was admiring all the wood trim work in one of our rooms. They asked how much I did and I could honestly answer "None". It wasn't that she wanted me to help and I didn't. We both simply knew who does what in our house. (By the way, it looks GREAT!)

When I went to replace the kitchen faucet recently, I made sure she had a significant portion of the day open to "help". (In my defense, I DID learn to remove and replace the garbage disposal. [I was very proud of this fact.]) Did I mention that I'm nearly 40 years old?

And I'm just now starting to own circular saws and learning to remove garbage disposals. (I'm still debating whether or now I'm grown up enough to get a chain saw.)

My dad always tried to show me things when I was growing up. I didn't want to learn and now I'm paying for it, I suppose.

To MY son's credit, he's pretty much willing to learn anything I (or my wife!) can teach him about fixing stuff around the house.

What's the spiritual application to all this? I'm not sure, except I think God loves us no matter who we are or who we aren't, no matter what we can or can't do.

I think God likes it when we learn new things and stretch ourselves to places where we don't feel comfortable, because we know it will be good for us or those we love.

So here I sit, with my laptop on my achy knees, sore back, and sun-burned face. Hoping I don't have to get up anytime soon (because I'm not sure I can!). Feeling like I've accopmlished a pretty good-sized task today.

Here's to trying something new. Like trying one more time to find a church. Reading a difficult author. Starting that exercise regimen. Or beginning a savings account.

Now if I can only remember what I had to do to re-asphalt my driveway...

Grace & peace

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

What Does God Want from Me??

Ever ask that question?

I’m sure many, if not most of us have wrestled with that one from time to time. In the middle of a quandary about a decision we have to make, or wondering what direction to turn for help and relief, we may pose the query like a frustrated traveler on an unfamiliar road and without a map.

I came across a scripture recently that gave me some encouragement on the subject. 1 Samuel 3:1 reads:

“…And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.” (NKJV)

“How could THAT verse bring comfort?!” you are probably wondering. Here are two reasons.

First, the verse describes a time long, long ago when God is getting ready to speak. And, interestingly enough, God is getting ready to speak through a child; a child who “did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him” (3:7). He is an unlikely choice indeed!

The second reason I find this passage encouraging is that the teaching of the Church through Scripture is that we no longer live in an age when the word of the LORD is rare. We believe that since Pentecost (Acts 2), God’s Spirit is readily available to “whoever calls upon the name of the LORD”.

So here’s the Good News:

1. If God’s activity has seemed to be absent or infrequent in my life, maybe He is getting ready to act.

2. If God’s word has seemed rare in my life, quite possibly it has more to do with ME than God. Maybe He is waiting for me quiet my heart and mind through silent waiting in prayer. Maybe He is longing to meet me in reading the scripture. Maybe He has something special for me in the next gathering of my church family in worship or a small group.

May God help me get ready to hear His word for my life.

Grace & peace,
Pastor Jeff