What Others Say

I have read your columns many times, have saved the ones that "speak" to me and reread them....... I just want to thank you for your inspired writing, illuminating faith and the day to day that focuses on God and His Son....
- Carol C.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Prayer Perspective

Perhaps you have heard the story of the church that was incensed because a local bar opened across the street. Knowing nothing else to do, the church members mounted a prayer campaign to rid themselves of this blight on the neighborhood. They prayed that God would intervene to remove the bar.

A thunderous storm soon swept across the town and a streak of lighting lit up the sky, striking the bar. The building burst into flame and burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church for the destruction of his property as a result of their prayers. The church defended itself claiming that the lightning strike was an accidental act of nature. The judge sat perplexed in front of the plaintiff and defendant. “It appears,” he said, “that I have a bar owner who believes in prayer and a church that doesn’t.”

During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln pondered the issue of prayer. Both the north and the south were religious. Both believed they were right and both prayed for victory. After his death, the following note was found in his papers: “The will of God prevails — In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is somewhat different from the purpose of either party.”

It is widely reported that during the civil war Lincoln met with a group of ministers at a prayer breakfast who tried to encourage him. They told the president that they had prayed that “God would be on our side.” Linclon corrected them saying, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.”

How do we pray and what do we pray for? The Bible is clear that we should let our needs be known to God, that nothing is too great or too small for prayer. We must be careful, however that our prayers are not merely extensions of our own self interest and desires. And we must not allow prayer to degenerate into a tug of war to get God to line up on our side against the interests and desires of others.

When Jesus gave us the model prayer he taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Everything else in the prayer flows from this and is secondary to this. But Jesus went a step further. He not only gave us a model prayer to guide our words, he demonstrated how to pray when he faced death on the cross and prayed, “Father, not my will but thine be done.”

Prayer works best when it brings us into alignment with God and his purposes on the earth, purposes that often are at odds with our own. When we pray this way we will love our enemies, do good for those who abuse us and give ouselves generously for others.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nightfall

Under the glaring light of day we may fool ourselves into thinking that we are center stage, that everything revolves around us, but the night gently tells us that we are, in fact, a small spec in the galaxies of creation. The wind, whipped into a hot fury during the day, loses its strength, grows silent and lies down for the night. Darkness dissipates the day’s heat. Tires that whine on pavement grow silent along with the roar of the engines that drive them. Crickets tune their instruments and fireflies flit about in the dark. The world sleeps. As the sun fades in the west, the lesser lights gradually take their place in the night sky.

Perhaps previous generations were more in tune with the realities of their existence because they spent more time under the night sky. Too often, we crawl into our houses and fill the evening hours with noise from our televisions without witnessing the nighttime reminders that were designed to renew the spirit and place each day’s work in perspective.

Genesis describes night in God’s creation: “Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning.”

A shepherd who grew up under the stars guarding his father’s flocks, David wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than God and you crown him with glory and majesty. … How majestic is your name in all the earth.” … “Give thanks to Him … who made the moon and stars to rule by night, for his loving kindness is everlasting.” (Psalm 36:9)

“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light! Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, For He commanded and they were created.” (Psalm 148).

When the night falls, know that He is near.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Verdict

After three years of courtroom drama the Casey Anthony trial is over. The verdict sent shock waves across a nation that had been glued to the proceedings. Not guilty on all accounts for murder. I assume no one reading this column is uninformed regarding the essential elements of the case and its outcome. People are still talking about it. Television viewership spiked when the jury gave its verdict. HLN drew its largest audience in its 29-year history. Audiences for other news channels doubled. This morning NBC devoted live coverage to the sentencing. The emotions of this trial touched a nerve.

I suppose part of it was due to the innocent images of two-year-old Caylee Anthony that flashed across our screens and the horrendous death she somehow suffered. Parents remained mystified by her mother’s failure to report her missing child for thirty-one days and the fabricated stories she told to police.

Few questions, it seems, were answered by the agonizing trial. The largest question of all remains unanswered in the minds of many: was justice done? According to our American judicial system we would have to say “yes.” Casey Anthony was tried by a jury of her peers who failed to find evidence beyond a “reasonable doubt” to convict her of murder. Regarding what really happened, we don’t know. No one knows.

Our judicial system is not perfect. At times it fails to convict the guilty. At others it wrongly convicts and punishes the innocent. Nonetheless, it is the best judicial system we have been able to devise for a just society.

Ultimately, of course, we will all appear before the court that never makes a mistake. Jesus spoke of this court when he said, “I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”
We will all face a verdict on that day. And, for each of us, the verdict will be “guilty.” What we already know to be true will be made abundantly clear. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. When Peter met Jesus he cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” The Apostle Paul confessed, “I am chief of sinners.” Our own sin is just as heart-rending in the eyes of God as the tragic death of this two-year old child may be to ours.

Our personal sin and guilt created a great dilemma for God. He loves us and doesn’t want to punish us. But He is just and must punish the guilty. That of course, is the reason Jesus had to suffer the cross. A penalty must be paid for our guilt and God chose to let His Son pay that penalty for those who receive him as Savior and Lord. This is the mystery of John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His sonly begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

God's Metrics

We live in a world of metrics that is obsessed with measuring progress in almost every area of life. The business world has created an entire glossary of terms for measuring CPM (Corporate Performance Management). Every business needs to know its ROI (Return on Investment), Churn Rate (the measure of customer or employee attrition over a specified time) EBITDA. (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization), to name a few.

Students and educators are all too familiar with TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills). Past curriculum has focused on TAKS that determined the future for both students and schools. The Texas Education Agency is now phasing in End of Course (EOC) assessments and STAAR (Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) to measure achievement.

Sports is enamored with metrics. Athletes compete not only against each other, but against all the records of the past. When Rory Mcllroy set a new 72 hole record for the U.S. Open he was competing against Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and all those who played before him. PGA players are rated by average score, percentage of fairways hit, greens in regulation, average putts per round. Baseball is synonymous with statistics: batting average, runs batted in, on base percentages, earned run averages.

We have created metrics for area of life. If measurements are so important, it might be good to know God’s metrics. How does God measure success or failure?

Most of us assume that God’s measurements are limited to religion: church attendance, offerings, budgets, building, religious ceremonies and service. Surprisingly, according to the Bible these things are not God’s primary measurement.

The prophets taught that God could care less about religious ceremonies. In Amos, God says, “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

In Isaiah, God says, “Incense is an abomination to Me. … I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

When Jesus confronted the religious leaders of his day, he reproved them for focusing on religious disciplines while omitting the “weightier matters of the law.” He challenged his followers saying, “I was hungry and you fed me, in prison and you visited me, thirsty and you gave me to drink … in that you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”

So, how well are we measuring up by God’s standard of measurement?