Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meaningful, Life-changing Entertainment

Just so everyone knows, ('everyone' meaning all 2 people who look at this blog, haha) but I am going to begin a marketing internship with Lamplighter publishing, and I thought I would start by at least putting up a link to the website so that people can go to it.  In the next few days I'll put up a post about why I believe in Lamplighter's ministry so much that I'll work for them for free!  (Well, the experience is priceless, but you get my point.)  Check out Lamplighter's website!
They have just released two brand-new, high-quality radio dramas called Teddy's Button (Lamplighter's #1 best-selling book), and Sir Knight of the Splendid Way (which is an allegory many say is even better than Pilgrim's Progress!).  These audio dramas are on the same quality level as Adventures in Odyssey and Radio Theater from Focus on the Family for those of you who know what those are.
These books and dramas are life-changing, and I highly encourage you to check them out.
I was going to put up a promo too, but couldn't figure out how to get it into my blog post, so just go listen to it. :)

God is Drawn to Humility

Continuing along my prayer thoughts...
I know I've been quoting a lot from Luke, but Luke does talk a lot about prayer. (Or recorded a lot of talk about prayer, I guess.)  And I was noticing that prayer seems to be kind of a central theme in chapter 18.  Throughout the chapter different points were standing out to me.  I touched on the first one in my last post.  The second one I notice is very clearly demonstrated in the next parable Jesus tells.
Two guys go up to the temple to pray.  (Remember the theme is prayer.)  One of them is a Pharisee.  This is someone who has studied the law to the extent that he's part of a particular group.  He knows what he's talking about Scripturally, and he leads a pretty good life.  He doesn't commit a lot of the "concrete" sins like adultery, murder, extortion, drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll, (ha sorry had to throw that in) and people can look at him and see that he's trying to live a pure life.  The other guy is a publican.  He's part of a hated class of people, and he likely has committed some of these sins!  Extortion was a particularly common problem for publicans to have.  They have two different lives, but both come with different attitudes, and I believe if either had had the other's attitude, their results would have been different accordingly (yeah try to dissect that sentence).
The Pharisee walks up and says, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as..." *casts a side-glance to publican and sniffs before clearing throat and piously returning to praying* "...other men are.  Extortioners, unjust, adulterers.  Or even as...this...*spits out word*...publican." *wraps robes around him, and strides to another column, lifting his hand in the air haughtily*  "I fast twice in the week, (Tuesdays and Thursdays, you know).  I give tithes of all that I possess."
Whereas the publican doesn't even feel worthy to come as close to God's seat as the Pharisee does, but stands afar off, and won't even look up to heaven, but smites his chest and says, "God, be merciful to me...a sinner."
Then Jesus says that this man went to his house justified, rather than the other!  The publican, who likely had committed the "concrete" sins we were talking about went to his house justified, rather than the publican who didn't commit these "concrete" sins but did all these great things.  Why?  Because of the way they approached God in prayer.  I said in my last post that it's hard to be a hypocrite when you pray in secret.  I still think there's an element of truth to that.  But I should be careful about making a blanket statement like that.  I've been learning that even when praying, there's a certain attitude you have to have toward yourself and God in order to get God's attention.
God is drawn to humility!  Some of my favorite verses in the Bible have to do with this concept.  Psalm 51:16-17 is something I'll occasionally pray and it says, "For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken, and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."  It says He won't despise that kind of spirit!  Something draws Him to it.  1 Peter 5:5 says to the younger Christians to submit themselves to the elder Christians, and to be clothed with humility, then gives this reason: "for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble."  I love that.  It's beautiful. The reason is that God desires us to completely depend on Him.  HE's the one who will exalt us in due time.  He wants us to cast all our care upon Him, for He cares for us!  C.S. Lewis wrote something really profound about pride in Mere Christianity, and I wish I could remember exactly what he said, but the gist of it is that the reason God hates pride so much is that the very nature is of competition.  When we are prideful, in a sense, we are trying to compete with God.  And His glory can't be competed with.  He loves humility because we are casting ourselves at His feet and admitting that we can't do anything to save ourselves, but have to depend on Him.  And that's when He's able to work.
Jesus gives a visual example right after he told the parable I was talking about earlier, when little children are being brought to Jesus and the disciples try to get rid of them.  But Jesus stops them and says, "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein."  He points them to the humblest member of society--a little child, and tells them that's the same attitude we have to have when approaching God.
In prayer, God is drawn to humility, because humility is just honest.  Seriously.  Think about it.  Where is boasting?  It is excluded.  If we have an inflated opinion of ourselves, we're just deceiving ourselves.  It's not the way things are.  In reality, if we were really faced with the glory of God like Isaiah was, like he did we would fall to our face and cry, "Woe is me, for I am undone!"  The fact is we ARE nothing.  We really AREN'T anything...without Him.  The first thing on the list of the 7 things God hates is a proud look.  When we come before God, we must come with humility.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Prayers not Players

"Minister who do not spend two hours a day in prayer are not worth a dime a dozen, degrees or no degrees."  Yikes.  Rough words from an old preacher named Leonard Ravenhill.  It shows a striking contrast to my own prayer life.  And it seems like most of the world has my mentality of five minute fasts rather than incessant interceding.  Okay, I was trying to alliterate, which didn't work out so well, but you get my point.
I want to challenge a statement I seem to hear often in youth groups or Bible studies.  "It's okay if you only pray for 5 minutes or read 2 verses, as long as you do it consistently."  On a certain level, that's true, and I get what people who make that statement are trying to say.  They want to promote consistency, which is great.  But praying for 5 minutes won't get you past all the carnality that you've been thinking about for the rest of the 23 hours and 55 minutes in the day. (Okay, minus sleep time for you technical folks out there.) Those two verses you read can't be adequately received unless they're taken in context and studied!  God wants us to spend quality AND quantity time with Him.  How will we get to know Him better if we don't spend more time with Him?
It's interesting...almost all the examples of prayer you have in the Bible have to do with not stopping.  And I'm not just talking about "Pray without ceasing."  Let's take a look at a few.  In Luke (you can tell I've been studying Luke) chapter 18 verse 1, it says that Jesus spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint.  The story he tells is about an old unjust judge who doesn't care what anyone thinks, including God!  He's not interested in the opinions of others whatsoever.  And then there's a widow lady.  Can you imagine this poor lady who because of her position is being taken advantage of?  Who knows what her adversary was doing to her...maybe afflicting her financially or emotionally or whatever but something was being done that required justice.  So this lady gets up her courage to go to the judge.  Timidly, she comes before him, and presents her request...and is turned away.  Now what would we do in that situation?  "Oh, I guess my problem can't be solved.  If the judge won't listen to me, nobody will!"  Not this widow lady.  She persists in constantly going back and bugging the judge over and over and over again about the same thing!  And finally, not because of any righteousness on his part, but because he's tired of dealing with her, he grants her request!  So Jesus tells this story, then says, "Check out what the unjust judge says."  This is a guy who wouldn't fear God or regard man!  And if even he responded to this poor lady's petition after she kept coming to him over and over, "shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?" (emphasis mine.)  What I get out of this story is that prayer is supposed to be persistent.  Pressing.  Continual.  God doesn't want us to give up, just because we don't hear anything from Him, or we don't get an answer right away!  In the next verse, Jesus says, "I tell you, he will avenge them speedily.  Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?"  Consistent prayer requires faithfulness.  If we really believe God and we trust Him and are faithful to Him, we will continue in constant prayer.  Remember, we're not supposed to have faith in faith, as my pastor always says.  We're supposed to have faith in God, which means that we trust Him whether our prayers are automatically answered or not.
Jesus gives another example in Luke chapter 11, along the same lines!  His disciples ask him how to pray, and he teaches them, then gives them the example of a guy going to his friends house at midnight for some bread, and banging on the door, even though his friend's kids are in bed and his friend doesn't want to get up, till the guy finally comes and answers.
One more example and I'm done. (This one's actually not in Luke!) Elijah was one of the greatest prophets who ever lived, and James uses him as an example to us, to show us that prayer works.  "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months."  James is saying that Elijah was human just like us, but because he prayed earnestly, things happened.  The next verse says, "And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth brought forth her fruit."  We actually have an account of this in 1 Kings chapter 18.  It says that after fire came down from heaven and the prophets of Baal were killed and stuff, Elijah told Ahab that there was the sound of abundance of rain.  There had been a drought for three years, and there probably wasn't a cloud in the sky when Elijah said this!  But he goes up to the top of the mountain, and he puts his face between his knees, and he begins to pray.  Then he tells his servant to go look toward the sea, and the servant goes and looks, and comes back and says, "There is nothing."  A lot of times that's how it seems when we pray.  Nothing.  Isn't weird how hard our flesh fights against praying?  What's the big deal?  You're setting aside time to talk to God.  But it can be so hard to do!  And this is one of the excuses I'll throw out.  "There is nothing."  Why should I pray if I don't feel God?  Why should I pray if He's not listening to me anyway?  But look at Elijah's response.  He doesn't say, "Well, I put my 5 minutes in, we'll see what happens."  He says, "Go again."  And he prays again.  The servant comes back, and there's nothing.  Elijah sends him back out and prays.  This happens 7 times!  Then finally, on the seventh time, the servant comes back and reports, "I see a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand."  That was enough for Elijah.
The point that I see here is to pray consistently and incessantly.  Prayer is more than a ritual or presenting God with a wishlist.  It's communicating with the King of the universe!  That may sound cliche, but it's very true.  My heart is convicting me because of my lack of prayer.  It's one of the simplest things in Christianity!  The most fundamental, basic thing: pray.  Yet, I think there are a lot of people who don't do it!  Corrie ten Boom once said, "Don't pray when you FEEL like it.  Make an appointment with God, and keep it!"  We can get so caught up in all the other stuff that we miss this basic weapon.  One time I told a preacher I couldn't figure out God's will for my life and I wasn't sure what to do, and he asked me the most simple question.  "Are you praying?"  Ha!  Well, of course I'm...uh...praying.  But it hit me.  I really had slacked off on getting up early in the morning and praying.  You mean I have to pray to figure out what God's will is?!  Maybe!  It might help!  The great thing about prayer is that it tests how real you are.  I'm not talking about praying at church or a convention or the dinner table.  Another thing Leonard Ravenhill said is that the secret to prayer is secret prayer.  (Matt. 6:5-6)  You can preach, teach Bible studies, sing, attend church, give money and still not have the anointing of God...but it's hard to be a hypocrite when you pray in secret.
And that's all I have to say!  I'll probably be posting more about prayer in the next few weeks, because I think it's a big deal.  Later!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Glory and Suffering

Two seemingly incompatible words.  Glory and suffering.  Yet, I've been learning they seem to be inseperably linked.
Think about the stories we love the most.  Usually they are the ones about people who have overcome insurmountable obstacles, been tested and tried, discouraged and disillusioned, and yet somehow still succeed.  We love the stories about little ragamuffin orphaned chimney sweeps who somehow rise to a place of position in the king's palace, or people who start from the bottom and work their way to the top, but what kind of success story is someone who says, "Yeah, I have an amazing story.  I inherited a billion dollars from my dead grandma and now I'm living in ease and luxury!"?  Boring!
Glory is most clearly revealed in the darkest circumstances.  For example, if a sports team beats another competitor with no problem or struggle, it's not really that big of a deal.  But if the team has struggled through the entire season, and barely make it to the most important game, and starts out by losing point after point till its almost impossible to come back, but then by some incredible odds they begin making an amazing comeback, and the best players are being hurt, and then at the last possible second someone makes an awe-inspiring pass and wins the game...those are the kind of glory stories we love!
And yet...we (meaning I) seem to constantly want glory without suffering.  The disciples of Jesus had the same problem, and I was really noticing this contrast between glory and suffering in Luke chapter 9 at our Bible study the other night.  Let me set the stage for you: Jesus has appeared on the scene and called his disciples, choosing twelve specific men out of all his followers to be his disciples.  He has been doing incredible miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, even raising the dead and calming storms!  I can imagine the disciples are beginning to get pretty excited.  This could be a really good deal.  Maybe this really is the promised messiah we've all been waiting for, who will drive out the Romans and establish the kingdom of Israel to its rightful place again!  Not only that, but these twelve were in his inside group.  At the beginning of chapter 9, Jesus sends out his twelve disciples to do what he'd been doing and gives them power and authority over demons and to cure diseases.  This even attracts the attention of King Herod.  Things are going very well.  Then when the disciples get back, Jesus performs the miracle of feeding the 5,000 with only five loaves and two fishes! Fish. Fishes. Whatever.  Can you imagine what the disciples are thinking?  Here's a guy who can feed an army out of nothing!  This is great!
Then in the middle of all this, Jesus brings things to a screeching halt.  He takes his disciples out to this place where Luke says he is alone praying, and then asks them, "Whom do men say that I am?"  The disciples begin throwing out all the different theories, then Jesus asks, "But whom say ye that I am?"  Peter answers, "You're the Christ of God!"  Then Jesus does an odd thing. (At least, I thought it was odd when I read it.)  He tells them not to tell anybody!  Putting myself in the disciples shoes, I'd probably be thinking, "What?  Isn't that the whole reason you're here?  Shouldn't we be proclaiming to everyone who you are?" 
A similar thing happened in chapter 8.  A twelve-year old girl is dead, and Jesus brings her back to life.  Then he tells the parents not to tell anybody what happened!  When I first read that, I was thinking, "What?!  Sure, that'll be easy.  'Hey, wasn't your daughter just dying?  Now she's running around and eating food and stuff as healthy as ever! What happened?' ''m not allowed to tell you...'  Why would he tell them not to tell anybody?"  But now...(and I may be wrong about this, so don't stone me all you theologians) I think maybe he was trying to teach his disciples something about glory. 
So back to chapter 9.  He tells them not to tell anybody, then he throws another curveball in verse 22.  He says, "The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected of the chief priests and elders and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day."  Then he says, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it and whosever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."  This totally goes against our grain!  The disciples are thinking of all the glory of this coming Messiah, and now Jesus says if anybody wants to follow him, they have to deny themselves and take up their cross.  That sure doesn't sound glorious.  I think there are still people today who want to follow Jesus for the glory, but he says, if we want to follow him, we have to deny ourselves and suffer.
The next thing that happens in the chapter is the mount of transfiguration.  Clearly a moment where Jesus peels back the wrapper and shows them His glory!  But even there, Luke includes a detail not mentioned in the other gospels.  Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in glory and talked about his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.  In glory, they were talking about his decease!  So here's a glory moment to cap all glory moments, then they come down the mountain and Jesus casts out a demon none of his disciples could cast out to top it off.  But even while they're all standing there marvelling at the mighty power of God, it's as if Jesus cautions them by saying, "Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men."  And they still don't get it.  The next part cracks me up.  The disciples obviously don't get it because they began arguing about who's the greatest!  First of all, Jesus has been trying to show them humility throughout this whole thing, and second, you'd think they would have learned some humility when they couldn't cast out the demon!  But Jesus patiently teaches them again.  Then we have two more examples, of John specifically, forbidding a guy from casting out a demon because he wasn't part of their group, and then he and his brother wanting to call down fire from heaven because some Samaritans wouldn't give them a hotel room! 
You can tell where the disciples’ minds are at...and Jesus continues to constantly correct and instruct them.  The chapter climaxes with three accounts of people willing to follow Jesus but under certain conditions.  The first man says, “Lord, I will follow you withersoever you go!”  Now, I may be reading into the text, but based on Jesus’ answer to him, I’m guessing he didn’t really realize what he was saying.  Maybe he was just in it for the glory?  But Jesus tells him, “Look you can follow me, but you’ll be homeless, worse off than animals.” (Paraphrased, of course.)  The same type of thing with the next two.  They were willing to follow Jesus and share in his glory, but only on their terms.  But Jesus calls us to total commitment.  “If we suffer we shall also reign with him.  If we deny him he also will deny us.”  This chapter was full of examples contrasting suffering and glory, and the disciples just couldn’t seem to grasp it.  But we know that Peter finally did because in his first letter he writes, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Glory and suffering are linked.  And in living for God, you can’t have one without the other.

Another blog?!

A definition of blogging I once read (on a demotivational poster) is, "Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few."  This has been my opinion of blogs until recently, but yes, I have now joined the ranks of the bloggers.
Yes, another blog.  What makes me think I have anything to say that people will want to read?  (That's the question my sister asked me when I told her I was creating a blog.)  And my answer is...well...nothing...  But I think that a blog will be a good way to practice writing and a good place to share the thoughts that people don't want to hear me ramble on about out loud, but that I still want to share!  So here goes.
In this blog I'll share short stories, little devotional thoughts that come to me from stuff I'm reading in the Bible, and things I'm learning in life.  So read at your own discretion.
To share a little about me, I'm a senior in high school, but also a sophomore in college (due to concurrent enrollment classes and such).  I'm working on graduating with a BA in Communications from Thomas Edison State University...which means I'll be learning how to communicate, I suppose.  I'm completely committed to my relationship with Jesus Christ, since He's the most important and influential part of my life.
More about me later.  Maybe.  Right now I'm going to start blogging!  Thanks for coming by and reading this beginning post.