Marked by Prayer (Part 5 –Knowing the God Who Is There)

Over Bregenz2Faith is often used as a term to define a system of belief, e.g. “What faith is he?”  At other times it is used to express wishful thinking, “Oh, I just have faith that I will get the job.”  Most commonly, it is the acceptance of something for which one does not have proof, “Just have faith it will all work out.”  A little boy, once asked to define faith, answered honestly, “Faith is believin’ somethin’ you know just ain’t true!”

But in the Bible these definitions are insufficient.  Certainly, last among them would be believing something which isn’t true.  Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as the solid substance of something expected, the evidence of something as yet unseen.  Dictionary.com’s first definition is “confidence or trust in a person or thing.”

For an excellent 30 minute word study, do a search by entering “faith” into the text box on Biblegateway.com.  Of interest is that most of the Old Testament references come up with “faithfulness” which suggests that faith is something more than just believing, that is, in terms of mental agreement.  You will find this word study most rewarding if, as you read the references, you replace “faith” with “steadfast trust”, or in the case of “faithful” read “steadily trustworthy.”

This same exercise can be done for “believe” or “belief;” just substitute the word “trust” for greater understanding of the passage.

Why do we make so much of “faith” and “believing” as we come to prayer to the God Who Is There? Because “without faith [steadfast trust] it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe [steadfastly trust] that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.

There is much more we could discuss about faith, but let us move on to Whom we pray, i.e. Who do you trust?  Some skeptics will say it does not matter to whom one prays; it is the mental energy exerted in prayer that moves the “Energy” of the universe on one’s behalf.  But such impersonal efforts are more along the lines of karma as it is found in Buddhism or Hinduism.  We would include here philosophies of Jainism, the Sikhs, Confucianism, or teaching of the Tao.

God has specifically revealed Himself, from the creation of the world to His final revelation in Jesus, called the Christ.  He is not hiding nor silent as some suspect.  He is not an absent landlord who started the “timepiece” of the universe, and then left it to run on its own.  He is not a grandfatherly policeman in the sky, looking for whoever is having fun, so He can yell with a lightning bolt, “Stop that!”

SpaceEPSON MFP imagePaul told the Romans that “what may be known about God is plain, because God has made it plain. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” Romans 1:19.  Consider the amazing vastness of the universe and stand in awe of His might and greatness.  Consider the details of DNA or atomic structure and wonder at His brilliance and organization.  Look at a sunset or moonrise or the loveliness of a flower or your wife, or the birth of a child, and worship Him for His gentle tenderness and beauty.

He more clearly revealed Himself in history, first to Noah, then to Abraham, and to his son, Isaac followed by Jacob and the twelve tribes that came from him. He finally revealed Himself in the man called Jesus, who was God in the flesh. Now here is a mystery which we can only begin to understand.  After all, the only way a being could fully understand who God is would be to be God. (Isaiah 40:13-15).

Thus we can only understand what He has taught us about Himself.  To Adam and Eve He was their Companion in the cool of the day, instructing them in gardening and animal care.  To Noah He was the Righteous Judge who came to cleanse the earth from the violence and immorality of mankind.  Burning BushTo Abraham He was the Promise Keeper who was faithful [steadily trustworthy] to give him and Sarah a “child of promise” in their old age, rather than a child born by natural means while he was still virile.  To Moses from the burning bush, He revealed a Name by which He could be called, I AM That I Am.

Now each of us had a beginning.  Each of us is the result of our parents’ actions, all the way back to Adam and Eve.  But He has no beginning!  Even the created universe had a “big bang” for a start, but He was already there! Before anything, He is the I AM, the First Cause.  Is there any question as to why we cannot comprehend Him, when we can barely begin to understand what He has made?

And in Jesus He revealed Himself as the Savior, the one who was the Son of God. His sonship is not something He acquired when He was born from a virgin mother.  Nor do we imagine something as crass as God, who is a spirit, having sex with a woman. (Luke 1:35).

TrinityThe Father, Son and Holy Spirit was the One True God from eternity, existing in a relationship within Himself, somehow three persons in one being.  The difficulty we have in wrapping our minds around this is due to our limited human experience.  Among us, every being is one person and we cannot imagine more than one person to one being.  But when God said, “Let us make man in our image . . .” He was not playing with delusions of importance the way a royal refers to him or herself in the plural, “We are not amused.”  Rather, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was conferring within Himself, among Themselves, to make a new creation.

The significance of this is made clear in Jesus words, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me” John 14:6.  He had earlier said, “I and Father are one,” which the Jewish leaders recognized as a claim to be God.  No one in any religion has ever made a claim like this, Mohammed, Buddha, Zarathustra, Guru Nanak, Confucius, nor Hindu.

When you read His biographies there is no opportunity to treat Jesus as a good teacher, a prophet, or a grand example.  In Mere Christianity, C.S.Lewis said, “a man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; else a madman or something worse.  You can call Him a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us now be done with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great moral teacher.  He has not left that option open to us.  He did not intend to.”

In Prayer, Timothy Keller states, “The implications of the Tri-unity of God for prayer are many.  It means first that God has always had within Himself a perfect friendship.  We know of no joy higher than being loved and loving in return, but a triune God would know that love and joy in unimaginable, infinite dimensions. God is therefore filled with perfect joy, the fierce happiness of dynamic loving relationship.”  This enables us to encounter in the one true God a Fatherhood, a Brotherhood, and a Spirit of adoption, such that when we “believe [steadfastly trust] that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” we will encounter Him, not as a subject for theology, and not as a ritual of certain positions or times for prayer.  Rather we will meet Him as Moses did on the mountain and know Him for who He is.

So where do we pray?  See you next week, March 29, 2015.

Marked By Prayer (Part 1)

A Man (or Woman) of God will live a life Marked By Prayer. prayer4cIt is important to recognize some prayer can be simply a show, a mark of spiritual one-upmanship. Public prayers, especially, can be a mark of hypocrisy, or simply a religious observance. Many prayers are “false prayers,” performed more for the human audience, than for communication with God (Matthew 5:6-8).

But a man or woman who is getting to know the Divine One will pray! So just as you should always read with a critical mind, you should listen to prayers with attention for whom the prayer is really intended. But if you would like to know the answers to the Great Questions of Life; if you want to find the purpose of life, of your life; if you want to understand the confusion and injustice and cruelty of our world; if you desire to know what will happen to us after we die; well, then you must become a man or woman of God, Marked By Prayer.

prayer6Prayer is one of the most misunderstood concepts in Christianity. Max Lucado, in “before Amen”, suggests the picture of a child approaching his dad when he has come to pick him up from elementary school. Imagine the child saying to his daddy, “Oh, Father, it is most gracious of thee to drive thy car to my place of education and provide me with domestic transportation. Please know of my deep gratitude for your benevolence. For thou art splendid in thy attentive care and diligent in thy dedication. . . . Carefree. Joy filled. Playful. Trusting. Curious. Excited.”  These are the things that children feel approaching their dads, not the staid formality of many prayers one hears for show.

The idea is that prayer is supposed to be the conversation of a creature, you or me, with our Creator, Him Whom He Knows Himself To Be. Now this God is very unlike us. We are talking about the designer of DNA, architect of galaxies and the very structure of light, and maker of dark matter. He strides between stars and counts all the kingdoms of the world as less than a drop in a bucket (Isaiah 40:12-31). How can we approach Him with anything less that the most auspicious respect and humility? Actually, we cannot approach Him at all, except that He has invited us to do so. And He has invited us to come as little children to a loving Daddy.

There is nothing you cannot say to Him; He already knows what is in the deepest parts of your heart, what is on your mind, what you wish you could tell someone (Psalm 139:1-16). When you are angry, there is no use pretending not to be when you pray. If you have just had lustful thoughts, there is no fooling Him as though He did not know. If you are holding onto bitterness, it is useless to pretend everything is all right in your heart. HE KNOWS!!

But the marvel of His love is that He still wants us to come. He does not intend to leave us angry, lustful, bitter, or with any fault, but He cannot change us unless we spend time with Him.

prayer2So prayer is first and foremost getting to know Him better. This means two-way communication. In our times, He usually does not speak in audible voices, or provide dreams and visions, although for some He does these things. But for most of us, listening to His voice is an exercise in growing attentive. You will likely NOT hear Him with music blasting from your stereo or iPod, or even from a “worship team”; He will not yell over the noise of your companions or friends; He does not come in burning bushes or thunderous storm clouds. He did that and people did not listen to Him (Hebrews 3:7-13).

So now He comes quietly in a still small voice (I Kings 19:11-12), looking for anyone who will set aside time to listen for Him. The volume of prayer, either in decibels, number of words, or hours, is unimportant. But consider what you do with your time; how many minutes do you spend each day in prayer? Although the value of prayer cannot be measured by its volume, it can safely be said that prayer is valueless if you do not pray.

So make some time to pray today. Anticipate opposition to doing this. But make some time today to be alone with Him, and see if you can begin to learn to hear His voice. In future blogs, we will discuss different types of prayer, how to listen for Him, and how to recognize His voice, but for right now, just PRAY!

PRAY then things are going well; PRAY when you have a need; PRAY when there are things you do not understand; PRAY when there is an emergency; PRAY when there is no crisis; PRAY for your family, coworkers, that irritating person, the one who always is so nice to be around; PRAY about everything in your life and your world. Let your life be Marked By Prayer.  (See March 1, 2015 for Part 2)

prayer3

 

Surprise; an intermezzo blog

IMG_2219I was composing Sunday’s blog on Prayer as a Mark of a Man (or Woman) of God, so this is an intermezzo blog this Wednesday. You see, life has a way of throwing surprises at us when we expect normal events. Anita’s comment afterward was, “Well, I’m glad I did not kill us this time.” 

As Anita and I drove to Iowa on Monday, January 12, I was working on the blog for this Sunday. While there were piles of snow all around us from the weekend storms that had blown through the Midwest, the big roadways were completely clear and dry. We have very good snow-removal teams, especially in areas like northern Illinois and Iowa, where they are accustomed to seeing lots of snow in winter. So Anita took the wheel and I opened my computer.

As we were driving the speed limit, 70 miles per hour (~110km/hr), the “cruise control” was set to maintain the constant speed. Along the way we had noted six different cars sitting at various angles off the side of the road or in the median strip of grass, now covered with snow. These were “leftovers” from the weekend, folks who had run off the road in the storm, and had not retrieved their cars yet.

We reached one of the many flat expanses in northern Illinois, where the wheat, barley and hay fields seem to go on forever. A sign along the road read, “High Wind Area” which meant the winds of the plains would sweep across the highway and could affect the stability of one’s driving. While we felt some light winds, nothing really strong buffeted our car.

But . . . ahead in the medial strip we saw a seventh car facing the “wrong way” with tracks in the snow showing he had skidded from our side of the road, and turned around in the snow as he slid off the roadway. Blowing snow had covered the inside lane on our side of the road. Though no longer blowing, there it was, light snow all over our lane! We were just passing a 65 mph semi-trailer and Anita over-cautiously pulled to the left to keep a wide distance away from him. I immediately saw the danger – she was going to miss the tracks that most traffic in our lane had made through the snow and put her left tire in the deeper snow next to the medial strip! By the time I could warn her to stay in the tracks, we were feeling the pull of the snow under the left tires dragging us into the median.

To avoid this, she turned sharply to the right and skidded in front of the semi-truck! The skilled professional driver had seen this coming and was substantially slowing in his clear lane. I grabbed the steering wheel and reversed her sharp right to approximately center to avoid flipping the car and said, “Don’t BRAKE!” afraid that she would panic and slam on the brake, which could also have flipped the car or put us in the way of the truck. But the cruise control was still set for 70, and we began “fish-tailing” on the snow and now slickened tires. I spoke out loud to the LORD, “Oh, God, please help us,” realizing there was no time to instruct Anita on how to pull out of the fishtail nor to turn off the cruise control.

This was not the scream of someone facing impending danger. This was just a simple request to someone who daily talks with me, and I with Him. I know Him, and I knew that when we were out of control, He could step in with universal controls. He can change water to wine, make the deaf hear and open blinded eyes, feed 5000 with five loaves of bread and two fish; He can walk on water and command wind and waves to obey His voice. Needless to say, I was afraid, but not with terror of one who does not know what will happen; just the discomfort of one who does not know exactly what He, my Father, will do. But with full confidence that He owns my life, and that what Lane Martin said was true: “Nothing happens TO a Christ-follower; filtered by His love, it only happens FOR us.”

Count three seconds: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand.

IMG_2217In less than three seconds from when we first touched the snow, we were flying off the right side of the highway, the car was skiing into deep snow, and without speaking, my prayers were for no huge boulders to block us, or drop-offs that would roll the car. The snow enveloped us like angel dust, obscuring our view of the field ahead, and eventually blocking the right side doors. We sunk into the drift without a sound except for the car’s engine. I spoke first, “We’re okay, dear.”

We had arrived at this resting point without any loud bangs against rocks, and only the “swoosh” of the snow settling around us. The passenger side was completely blocked, as was the driver’s door, but the rear left door was openable with some push against the snow. Thanx to modern technology, a quick call to 911, and assurances that no one was injured, a state police officer was dispatched and arrived within 20 minutes, followed shortly by a tow truck who winched us out of the snow.

IMG_2227With no damage to the car, we could easily finish our drive, only delayed about 45 minutes! Any number of “natural” explanations could minimize our miracle. But when you think about the thousands of ways this story could have ended with us in the hospital or in Heaven, and the very narrow window of how a car zooming 70 mph could go off the highway, avoid a semi, and land with no damage to the car or occupants . . . we live in His grace, and His miraculous Hand takes care of us in every situation.

As to why this would happen? Maybe for the brief interchange I had between the officer or the tow truck driver; or the couple of people at the next truck stop where I shared our story; or so I could share this with you, that He works miracles for any who call on His name. Check out Hebrews 11 for heroes of faith, some who saw great miracles, but some suffered torture and even death. So we are thankful for our “miracle” rescue, but we trust Him no matter what would have been the outcome, and no matter what or when the next surprise comes at us.

Jesus at the wheel

A Marked Man (or Woman); an Introduction

A “marked man” used to refer to one who had done something for which he was going to suffer. And our usage of the term may turn out to be the same at times. But I wish to consider what constitutes the “Marks of a Man (or Woman) of God.”

These marks are not what many outside of faith would expect.
They do not include any of the following:
Regular Church Attender
Nice to NeighborsIMG_0327
Gives Lots of Money to Charity
Never Cusses
Lives a Moral Life
Goes to a Religious School
Observant of Religious Holidays

Please understand, none of these are opposed to the Marks of a man of God, but they do not mark a man as one who belongs to God. Anyone may do these things listed and not have anything to do with God.

There are three distinctions, or Marks, that will mark a Man of God, and I will address each of these in more detail in blogs that will follow. But for simplicity, let’s consider first what the three distinctions are in general.

These are presented in journalistic style of the most important idea first, and developing it later, in case someone is inclined just to read the first paragraphs for a quick summary . . . in which case, I may have lost you already!! 😉

The first Mark of a Man (or Woman) of God is LOVE.
The second Mark is Reading and Studying the Bible.
The third Mark is Prayer.

Wow! That is a lot to digest, even if you just stop reading there, if you are thoughtful about these things. But allow me to clarify each of these a little, with more thorough treatment to follow in subsequent blogs.

The LOVE referred to here is not a mushy feeling or sentimental emotion. It is the fluid water of life that can take any shape depending on its surrounding, yet is so strong that not even rocks can resist its persistence. It is more powerful than hate (which is not its opposite), it is consuming of the one who loves, yet fulfilling and completing. Its simplest definition is “to look for the best for another without regard for the cost to oneself.” It is the stuff that made Father create us; it is the stuff that makes Him still reveal Himself to us; it is the stuff that took Jesus to His cross; it is the stuff that will remain when faith is no longer needed because we will see Him face-to-face, and hope will be unnecessary, because all will have been fulfilled and completed. But more on these in another blog.

Reading and Studying the Bible is not like studying Holy Writing of other faiths. The written Word of God has been provided for us over a passage of 15 centuries by 40 different authors, but in an area spanning less than 10,000 miles2 (26,000 km2) of territory. But the constancy of its themes, the consistency of its revelations, and the thoroughness of its addressing the human condition make it a full and complete guide for faith and life, making any other unnecessary, and extremely weak by comparison. It has never been disproven on any point of history or science, although it is not intended to be a complete history nor a scientific text. It has been the most challenged book of history with detractors trying to discredit it since Jeremiah’s scroll was burned by King Jehoikim (Jer. 36), yet it has stood up to every challenge when all the information was gathered. A good resource for questions about the Bible and its authenticity is found at http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-God-Word.html. In the meantime, Wikipedia and many other online resources follow the old tripes of trying to discredit the Bible. Read carefully, all the time, even this blog!

Many other books may have some value in providing historical context or showing what men teach each other when they lack the Light in God’s Word, but only the Bible has stood the test of time and proven to be true in every word in every way at every level. Its effect on individual lives, its transformative power in societies, and its prophetic accuracy all attest to its distinction over all other claims of Holy Writing. Truth is self-evident to the seeker of Truth, and it rings with a crystal pitch like pinging a goblet of fine glass. The Bible has that ring. The lover of Truth will discover it to be all he needs for a rule of faith and practice.

Finally, Prayer is more than the recitation of words into the air. It is a two-way communication with Father, our Creator. He is so vastly higher and Other than we are, as Trish O’Connor says, “Humans explaining the nature of God is like an ant trying to explain who dropped the sugar.”  This is true when humans begin with their own perceptions, but He is willing to explain to us what we are able to understand. In this case, we are not merely ants annoying a picnicker. He loves each and every one of us “ants” and places the sugar for us, and shows us what He is like; He even became an “ant” like us, so that He could more completely explain the rest of His creation, and so that we could communicate better with Him.

So these three mark a man or woman of God: Love, Bible Reading and Study, and Prayer. Have you heard from Him lately? He is there and He is not silent! Are you listening? Next blog, next week, January 18, 2015.

Please Pass The Salt

Often I used to wonder why God asks us to pray.  After all, He knows everything, right?  Will He not bless a friend, or not supply a desperate need if I do not ask?

Will He really let someone suffer because I am an unfaithful prayerer?  And the simple answer is, YES!, but there is much more to it than that.

First of all, gathering around a table for supper, one could reach across for the salt or potatoes, or you could walk around the table to get what you want.  But we are a family sitting here, and the courteous and involved thing to do is to ask, becoming aware of who else is at the table, and this asking opens up a whole world of communication, of communion, for those eating around the table.  In this way, we are at the Table of the LORD, and He invites us to participate.  Maybe Father will pass the salt to another even if you do not ask, but He wants us to be involved with each other and with what He is doing at the Table.

Pass the salt.
Please, pass the salt.

And there is that mystery that Ezekiel spoke of in Ezekiel 19, putting responsibility on the “watchman” to warn of God’s judgment or to share in it, to be held “accountable for their blood.”  This is not a light matter.

So we pray, we call others to prayer, we encourage, teach and exhort others to pray and to find grace for ourselves and for those with whom we share the Table, and trust Him to pass the salt.

As I pray for my former students every night, I usually picture them in their various “usual” seats as they sat in Basic Ecology.  Sarah and Suggi, who always came early and would help arrange the chairs from the mess left by the previous users, usually sat to my left, side by side.  In front of them was the sweet Altanzul, who went by Aagii then, but whose fuller name seems to roll off the tongue.  Behind them would be Bujee and Pujee and Helen; Philipp would always sit in the very back, playing baseball on his smart-phone, but fortunately was smarter than the phone, and did well in the class.  To the right, and in front would sit our surprise-mother-to-be, Molly, who kept her pregnancy a secret until she had to deliver a few weeks early before the semester ended.  Behind her sat the Afghan cohort of some of the greatest guys to ever come out of the Mid-East: Atash, Hussain, Reza, Sajjad, Nasim, and Maisam; and the two most beautiful Afghan women in the world, Razia and Somaia.  To their right would be the four men of the Mongolian contingent, Tsogoo, Conq, Munhuu, and Erdenetulga.  Scattered around the room depending on if they were sneaking in after the Bell-Ringer Quiz or if they had slept early enough to come in on time were Mandal, Tume, Grace, Nicole, and Ona.  Along with Philipp in the rear would be my four Korean friends, John (Sunghun), Jay (Sung Min) and Yoon Se, and Min.  Somewhere towards the rear would be the quietly brilliant Uynaa, who was valedictorian that year.  And almost always, right in front of me was Ariunaa B, so named because the class had begun with two Ariunaas, “N” dropping before the semester went very far.

And, yes, I remember every one of the 31 of them, as I “walk around” the room and present each of them by name to the Heavenly Father, asking for His protection, blessing, wisdom and guidance, and that they each would discover how good He is.

Beyond them are Narangoo, Oyu, and Amme who all took special places in my heart though they were not in my class, along with most of the faculty from MIU.  And then, my very best Mongolian friends, Dorjbat and Tuya, who are expecting their first little one very soon.  And Ariunaa, our landlady, who adopted her Mongolian name somehow from Yee Ling.  And Ariuka, our Alliance Builders Scholarship student.

And the “grocery list” goes on through the watches of the night, with family and FAC friends and others from around the world with whom we stay in contact, from across the U.S. to Australia to Guinea, until Jesus and I have walked all the way round the earth, east to west.

If you received an invitation to read this, you are probably on that “grocery list,” although a few of you are not.  I am small and can only see so far up and down the Table.

And “grocery list” praying is only the tip of an icicle on an iceberg of prayers, into which Father invites us.  But we’ll begin here, with the grocery list.  Put me on yours,

and Please Pass the Salt.salt and pepper