Monday, October 26, 2009

Obey to Learn

Our ‘major league’ baseball team, the Trojans, was playing against the Firefighters. But no one called the Firefighters by their ‘mascot’ name of ‘Firefighters.’ No, this team was known throughout the league as ‘Ricky’s team.’
By some kind of chronological hocus-pocus, Ricky was playing in a league of mostly 10-year olds who were in 4th and 5th grade. However, Ricky was in 6th grade and was a good foot and a half taller than anyone else in the league. He could have really shined in the ‘pony’ league where he belonged, so you can just imagine how he dominated our league.
Well it just so happened that I was pitching and I had gotten myself in a jam of having the bases loaded. And who do you think was coming up to bat? That’s right – Ricky.
I glanced over at our coach in the dugout, and he motioned for me to throw the ball high – right across the shoulders. While not particularly known for my control (the bases were loaded, after all), I lucked into getting the ball to go right where my coach told me to pitch it.
CRACK! Grand slam.
A couple of innings later, fate found me in the exact same position – bases loaded and Ricky at the plate. I eyed my coach for advice and he motioned his hand across his knees – “keep it loooowwww.” Miracle of miracles, the ball went right where I wanted it to for exactly the second time in the entire game.
CRACK! Grand slam.
In the bottom of the last inning of that game, I had made it to third base and my teammate, Dennis, was at bat. Despite having hit two grand slams, Ricky’s team was only one run ahead of us. My coach called a suicide squeeze play. The pitcher started his windup, I broke for home, and as I slid between Dennis’ legs, his upper body was cork-screwed around watching the ball sail over the fence.
While I had what I considered to be a miserable day of pitching, after the game our coach commended me for doing what he had told me to do. And although we won the game on Dennis’ homerun, the coach chastised Dennis for ignoring his squeeze play signal and swinging away.
The folks in the stands thought Dennis was the hero; but our coach was sorely disappointed with him. Everyone was eager to forget my pitching performance; but my coach was quite satisfied.

In the ‘game of life’ – at school, at the D.P.S., in professional certification classes, etc. - we take tests to see what we have learned. But in the ‘game of godliness’, we learn by taking tests along the way.
The ‘test’ is whether or not we will obey God. Choose to do first (obey), and we learn as a result – we learn about God’s goodness, His trustworthiness, His love, and sometimes about His plans (but certainly not always). We learn about godliness.
We do not learn about godliness by obtaining lots of information about it. We learn about and grow in godliness by taking tests every day.
Yes, it is imperative to study the Bible to ascertain what is written about leading a godly life. But putting it into practice (taking tests) is the only way to learn about godliness.
[T]rain yourself to be godly. “Physical training is good,
but training for godliness is much better,
promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”
1 Timothy 4:7-8, NLT
What kind of ‘physical shape’ would you be in if you studied fitness magazines to ascertain exactly how to get in shape, but never did anything about it? Training in godliness is exactly the same – you have to ‘do’ to get there.
Jesus didn’t tell us to ‘study’ His life to become godly. He said: "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." Matthew 11:28-30, MSG (emphasis added)
It is all about ‘doing’ – it is all about ‘obeying’ what we read in the Bible and hear from God. When we hear from God – by reading the Bible, listening in prayer, receiving godly counsel – we need to put into action: [M]ake every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.
The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.
So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
. (2 Peter 1:5-11, NLT, emphasis added)
Do you want to become godly? Do you want to live a godly life? Well, quit just studying about it and do something about it!
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. (James 1:22-24, NLT)

It’s by doing what the Lord is telling us to do, without yet knowing the results, that we begin learning from God. First we choose to obey, and then we start learning.
Pitching the baseball to Ricky where my coach instructed didn’t turn out so great (at least from the fans’ perspectives). But I became a better baseball player by doing what the coach told me to do.
I usually don’t have any idea what the results of obeying God will be, but I know that I’ll be a more godly man by obeying anyway.
And the Coach will be satisfied with that.

Today: When you hear from God today, obey immediately without contemplating the results or consequences. You will grow in godliness by passing that test.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Peace Prize?

There has certainly been a lot of discussion and debate about the recent Nobel Peace Prize award. The debate seems to focus primarily on whether or not this year’s recipient, or ‘laureate,’ has the accomplishments, track record, or ‘body of work’ to merit such recognition.
It is not my intention to disparage this year’s laureate, nor am I inclined to join forces with those alleging some ideological agenda on the part of the organization making the award. No, what has gotten my attention is just how silly the world’s whole concept of ‘peace’ really is.
It seems as if most people think that ‘peace’ will overtake the world when we all join hands around campfire and sing Kumbaya together. “Let’s get Obama, Gaddafi, Putin, Kim Jong Il, Hugo Chavez, Netanyahu, Pope Benedict, and Osama Bin Laden to do a group hug and the world will be a better place.”
Do ya think?
I don’t.
As with scientific breakthroughs, shouldn’t major accomplishments in ‘peace’ build on previous ones? Shouldn’t one Nobel Peace Laureate’s work build on another’s so that there is more ‘peace’ or a greater level of ‘peace’ with the combined efforts of the various ‘laureates’ over the years?
Well, since it began, the Nobel Peace Price has been awarded 97 times to individuals and 23 times to organizations. But is there any more ‘peace’ in the world today? Are we living in more ‘peaceful’ times? Have each of those laureates built on the accomplishments of those who went before to gain more and more ‘peace’?
Of course not.
Why? Because the world is looking at the wrong things to attempt to define ‘peace.’ Is it ‘lack of armed conflict’? Is it ‘cooperation between peoples’? Is it ‘working toward common goals’? Is it ‘the elimination of nuclear weapons’? Is it fighting ‘climate change’?
The problem is that the world is looking at circumstances to define ‘peace.’ But ‘peace’ is an inside job, not determined by our circumstances.
‘Peace’ is accomplished by ridding our minds of turmoil, anxiety, hatred, hostility, and fear. Paul tells us that instead we should: Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9, NLT)
Is that after our circumstances change? No, it is regardless of circumstances, as Paul continues: I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (v. 11-13, emphasis added)
And what strikes me the most from Paul’s encouragement are the words: “I have learned.” It took time for Paul (and for us) to learn that true peace comes from training our hearts and minds to trust God with . . . everything.
And ‘everything’ means just that. Anything you can envision that causes you to be anxious, fearful, worried, angry, . . . everything. Trust Him with it and you’ll learn about peace.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
Then you will experience God’s peace,
which exceeds anything we can understand.
His peace will guard your hearts and minds
as you live in Christ Jesus
Philippians 4:6-7, NLT
That’s the kind of ‘peace’ that builds and gains momentum. That’s the kind of ‘peace’ that makes a difference. That’s the ‘peace’ that can change lives and make this a better world.
And who should be recognized for bringing about this peace? I believe we can call Him the Prince of Peace.

Today: What is keeping you from experiencing ‘peace’ today? Are you willing to really trust Him with that to start learning the secret to true ‘peace’?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Praying With Doubt

At the end of a recent small group meeting, as the guys all huddled up for prayer, it became obvious that we were all weighed down by a common concern. A couple that we all knew and love seem headed for a certain divorce. We knew that a solution, reconciliation, and restoration were all way beyond us. We felt powerless. We felt sick.
So we prayed. Heartfelt prayers. Ernest prayers.
But, while these actual words weren’t used, I believe our prayers could be summed up and paraphrased something like: “God, we know you are in control of everything. We know you perform miracles and can heal this marriage. We pray that you would restore these two into one. But . . . we know this situation is probably beyond repair and . . .”
We prayed with doubt.
People often cite various Bible verses to assert that God doesn’t answer our prayers unless we have the faith to KNOW that He will answer them from the start. For example:
But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6, NLT)
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24, NLT)
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matthew 21:22)

But what about having ‘faith as small as a mustard seed?’ (See Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6) What happens when we have enough faith to approach God, to bring our concerns to Him, yet we still harbor some doubt in our hearts and minds? Will He hear us? Will He answer our prayers? What then?
Well, the story in Acts 12:1-16 describes that very scenario: Peter was in jail and “the church was earnestly praying” for him (v. 5). So, an angel came and released Peter from the jail. Peter went to the home where the church was praying for him. After Peter knocked at the door, a servant girl ran to the others to tell them Peter was there. “"You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel." But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.” (v. 15-16, emphasis added)
Why did those praying for Peter doubt that it was him and assert that it must be his angel? Why were they “astonished” that he showed up at their door? Because there was at least some element of doubt in their minds and hearts that their prayers would be answered.
Yet they prayed. And God heard their prayers. And He answered them.
I am embarrassed to admit how many times I have been surprised, shocked, amazed, and – yes – astonished that God answered my prayers. In various instances I suppose I may have thought “God probably won’t get involved in such a minor thing,” or “This isn’t a ‘spiritual’ matter that God deals with,” or “This is just a shot in the dark,” or maybe even “This is TOO BIG for even God.”
Doubt crept in.
But - I still prayed (usually).
So, is a bit of ‘doubt’ when praying a good thing? Well, I certainly am not saying that it is. But I will say that it’s better than having so little faith in God’s love and power that you don’t see any need to or benefit in praying at all. Still, God desires that our relationship with Him continue to grow such that our prayers are less and less clouded with any doubts.
The more we pray, the more we will see God’s power in answering prayers, and the less we will doubt His ability/willingness to answer prayers in the future. As we experience His answers over and over, we begin to have more faith and less doubt that He will answer us. Our faith grows as we trust Him more.
We should begin to expect answers to our prayers rather than being astonished by them.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still working on that.
Yes, I’m still praying for my friends’ marriage. But I’m also praying to have more faith in my prayers, and less doubt. I’m not there yet – my lack of faith shows in the fact that I haven’t yet bought my friends an anniversary card for next year.
My faith still has a ways to grow.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.
Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers
for all believers everywhere.
Ephesians, 6:18, NLT
If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter.
He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs,
our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves,
knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God
Romans 8:26, MSG

Today: Pray – even if you aren’t sure God is listening. Pray - even if you aren’t certain God will answer or how He’ll answer. Pray – even when you don’t know exactly what to pray.
Tomorrow: Do it again.