Thursday, August 28, 2008

What I Believe About Worship and Prayer

Let me begin with two simple definitions:
Prayer: Having a relationship, conversation with God.
Worship: Being with, in the presence of, God.

My definitions for prayer and worship are somewhat different than traditional understandings. The most important difference, for me anyway, is the active nature of both prayer and worship.

For prayer to be effective and meaningful we must be engaged in an active relationship, a conversation with God. Conversations go in two directions. There is give and take. There are requests and answers. For my prayer life to flourish and grow, I must listen at least as much as I speak to God.

For worship to be inspiring we must be actively in the presence of God. Often we think of worship as an obligation, something that we have to “show up for.” Unfortunately, we may be more interested in showing up for the Super Bowl in the basement rec. room. Worship is more than sitting and listening, or kneeling and yawning, or standing and singing. Worship is making an effort to be present with God.

For prayer and worship to be active and meaningful, we need to engage
  • Emotionally. Although we are discouraged from displaying emotions, God made us to be emotional. He created our capacity to know joy, fear, sadness, apprehension. He is the one who made us capable of laughter and tears. Our emotions need to be invested in our prayer and worship.
  • Intellectually. You do not need to leave your brain at the door to trust God. This division between the mind and the spirit is unnatural and unnecessary. Think when you pray. Think about what you pray.
  • Physically. Sometimes worship and prayer requires a physical response to God. We kneel, bow, close our eyes and raise our hands because we are in the presence of God himself.
  • Relationally. I know that in many situations men and women have no choice but to worship alone. Spouses, children, parents are not followers of Christ and so you must attend and participate alone. However, prayer is more effective in a group. Worship is more fulfilling in a congregation.

No one can live and grow in the Christian life without a healthy, active relationship with God. The two primary building blocks of that relationship are prayer and worship.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.
Mark 13.32-33

When I was younger (much younger), I was a Cub Scout. I learned and did a lot of great stuff while a scout. I learned to be "square and obey the law of the pack." I found out what a Den Mother was. I was a Bobcat, a Wolf, a Bear and a Webelo. I realized that I was always supposed to do "my duty to God and my country." Those words and principles were, and still are, grand. But the most important thing I learned in scouting is to be prepared.

It seems like a cliche, but it is perfectly great advice and is the core of Jesus' teaching in this passage from Mark 13. Be prepared. You never know what might happen. You should always be praying because you never know when Jesus will come. Pray because you never can tell when evil will attack. Pray, the future is risky and God is your best insurance policy.

My Uncle Howard, a pastor, used to say, "I'm against going to movies or card games. I never knew anyone who got saved at either place." I think that Uncle Howard took that to an unnecessary extreme, but his point was the same as Jesus' was. Do not fritter away your time. There is not enough leisure to waste. Spend your time and energy with the Lord and focus on his work. This is a great lesson for all of us.

PRAYER: I want to pay attention, Lord. I want to be prepared for your work in my life, in my church, in my community and in the world. Help me to focus. Help me to always watch and pray. Amen.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Why Americans Love the Olympics

I, like a lot of other Americans, have been watching the Olympics. I read in the paper that the top five television programs last week were all Olympics. We love Michael Phelps and Beach Volleyball. Although there is no Curling in the summer games, there is much to cheer for. There is a boat load of good stuff- and that is why we love the Olympics.
  • We love the Olympics because the Chinese have produced a great television experience for us. Never mind the controversies about children too homely to sing on tv, or computer enhanced fireworks. We do not really care how old those gymnasts are. The Chinese have "wowed" us.
  • We love the Olympics because we have short attention spans. We do not have time to sit through an entire football match (that is a soccer game here in the USA), but we can get very excited about watching several swim races, track events, diving, volleyball and highlights from several other sports all in the same evening.
  • We love the Olympics because we are patriots. We have never heard of some of the sports and most of the athletes, but if it says USA on the jersey we can cheer like crazy. When Americans win, we all win. When Americans lose, we are all upset.
  • We love the Olympics because of the "ego-less" competition. We are used to sports figures who feel privileged and better than everyone else. Our professional sports culture has given us a jaded view of what athletes can be like. In the Olympics we find men and women who compete to be the best, not to make the most money, or to get a rap recording contract.
  • We love the Olympics because of the "level" playing field. I do not believe that the Olympics are fair. The largest, wealthiest countries always seem to win the most medals. The USA and China, Australia and Russia are dominating these games. But runners from poor Caribbean or African countries remind us that anyone can compete. Anyone can win.

There are only a few days of Olympics left, but I plan to enjoy them immensely. And now you know why.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How to Think Like a Christian About Evangelism and Missions

Christianity is in a very bad place. We are called to tell others the "good news" about our faith. In fact, we are told that we must recruit others to join our ranks. To begin with, let me state that I am an evangelism, missions, church growth guy. I want to build, grow, move all the time. Most of my time and attention is focused on "getting as many people to follow Jesus as I can before I die."

But we are in bad shape because people don't like Christians very much right now. Look, we are the ones who led crusades, killed Jews, fought wars and more, to the detriment of humanity in general. "Christians" colonized America and pushed everyone else out of the way. If you did not join us we were likely to kill you, steal from you, rape you or kick you out of your home.

Today is not much better. The average American believes that Christians are narrow-minded, bigoted, arrogant, pushy and bossy. I know Christians who fit in every one of those categories. Unfortunately, I know a few who fit in all of them.

So I have a distinct disadvantage when I share my faith. People around me who are not Christian generally do not want to be Christian, and they do not like Christians. It's an uphill battle from the start.

Being unpopular does not eliminate our need to do what Jesus asked us to, however. We can learn some approaches and methodologies that will help us and make us more effective in our mission, evangelistic and outreach work.
  • Listen more than you talk. People with a bad impression of Christianity have that impression because Christians do not shut up. Your friends have problems that you can help them with, but they want to (need to) talk about them. Do not interrupt. Do not advise. Do not anticipate what they might say. Shut up and listen.
  • Share love rather than guilt. Your friends already know about their sins. They know that they are doing wrong. The Holy Spirit is already convicting them of every infraction. You should be a source of love, encouragement, peace and understanding.
  • Give more than you take. Christians are famous (infamous?) for always asking for things. How about if we starting giving to people. Take care of someone else's needs for a change.
  • Be for more things than you are against. Christians need to take stands on important moral issues. We must be against sin and its advance on earth. But we should be for some things, and those things that we are for ought to be our focus. Be for feeding the poor, eradicating disease, respecting all people.
  • Serve others. When we are concerned with the needs and desires of others, they will pay attention to what we have to say. But it is imperative that our motive be serving them, not converting them.

It is hard to be faithful, but it is possible. We need to not give up our calling, but to embrace it with vigor and gusto.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Calvin Miller

I first read Calvin Miller when I was in college. Someone suggested that I should read The Singer, so I did. I loved it. I read the rest of the trilogy and then began to read everything I could by Miller. He is now officially one of my favorite authors. I have read his fiction, poetry and non-fiction. His work on preaching is excellent for preachers. But lately I have been influenced by his books on prayer and spirituality.

The Path of Celtic Prayer, and then, Celtic Devotions are excellent. I have been very encouraged to read about the spirituality of the Celts and now am finding that my prayer life is expanding. Let me mention just two aspects of this transformation.

The Celts prayed about everything. There was nothing to mundane or insignificant to pray about. This is good for me to remember when I think that God cannot be interested in my problems because they are not as important as an earthquake or a disease. God is concerned about every step I take and every thought that I entertain.

The Celts were deeply spiritual. If I were to truly pray about everything (WWJD?), that would make me much more spiritually aware than I am now. The Celts can, and will, revolutionize my spiritual life.

I commend to you anything written by Calvin Miller, but more importantly, I commend to you prayer (about everything).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
Matthew 18.19-20

This passage often gets misinterpreted. Many people read these verses and mistakenly believe that if that can get someone to pray with them, they can get whatever they want from God. Although I reject this thesis, I believe that we cannot eliminate the passage or the meaning behind it. Here it is: God's plan for our prayer is that we would pray with others.

I know that seems awkward, cumbersome and maybe even impossible. But it is right. And it is true. Consider these advantages of praying together.
  • Praying together keeps us in line with God's will. It is hard to get too outrageous when someone else is joining us.
  • Praying together keeps on target in our prayers. We will be more consistent if we know that someone else is counting on us.
  • Praying together will increase our faith. We will be encouraged by the prayers and the faith of our prayer partner(s).
  • Praying together is God's will for our lives.

Before you give up your personal and private prayers, don't. Keep on praying always, in every situation, in every moment. Pray in church, at home, at work, in the car, at school, any where. But, be sure to pray with another.

Get a partner. Get in a group. Pray like crazy.

PRAYER: Give me strength, O Lord. Help me to be vulnerable enough to share my life with another and with you, and strong enough to be faithful always. In the name of Jesus I pray, now and always. Amen.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chick Lit and Chick Flicks

To begin with, this is a rant. It is only a rant. Do not take this seriously. This entry, like the books and films that it is criticizing, should not be taken seriously. And that is exactly my point.

For a long time men have enjoyed westerns, crime dramas and action movies. But we are careful to not think that they are too important. Certainly some are made better than others. There are some films and books in these genres that will last for several years- or even decades. But we are not so deluded as to think that we have great culture because we like Clint Eastwood or Jack Bauer.

Women, on the other hand, have perfected the vapid romantic comedy. (I believe that there are only about three stories that are ever made into romantic comedies. Those stories get altered and alternated for each film. But that's an entirely different problem.) And not only have they perfected it, they want everyone else to experience it and rave about it.

The recent uproar about Sex and the City is a good example. I have not seen the film, but have watched the television program from time to time. I have found it to be funny and generally well-written. But Carrie and her three friends will never be mistaken for Lucy and Ethel. Mary Tyler Moore has nothing to worry about. Sex and the City is very popular because it speaks to a particular demographic group. And that is why it will not remain popular.

When television, literature, movies or music are focused on reaching one gender, age group, ethnicity or socio-economic group they are destined to mortality. No matter how "hip" they are now, when the group ages or changes the popularity will wane.

So, do not tell me that "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," or "Miss Congeniality" are great movies. They may be entertaining, but they will pass.

Do not be a snob and think that everyone has to agree with what you think is excellent. My opinions are probably going to be different than yours. And I am probably going to pass on your Oprah books and your Nicholas Sparks movies.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What Happens in Vegas??

What kind of world are we living in?

Young people are convinced that it is okay to cheat, lie, steal, speed, etc., as long as they do not get caught. Adults justify and rationalize all kinds of evil behavior by re-assuring themselves, and others, that no one gets hurt. We accept drug and alcohol use, gambling, smoking, prostitution, pornography and other vices because we believe that they are victimless crimes. And one of the most prevalent advertising slogans in America encourages drunken reveling and debauchery by proclaiming, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!"

My first problem with this idea is that it is encouraging me to do something that I know that I should not do. "Live it up!" "Go for the gusto!" "Carpe diem!" Life is short, I can rationalize, I should be able to do whatever I want. No matter what. I am entitled. This sense of entitlement has gotten many good boys and girls into a lot of trouble.

The second problem I have with this slogan, and the whole way of thinking, is that it encourages me to keep secrets. This is the philosophy behind the feeling that says, if I don't get caught, it's not wrong. But that is very wrong. If a tree falls in the woods, it makes a sound. It does not matter whether or not anyone is there to hear. There is a sound! If I do something wrong, it is wrong! The effects of my actions on others is immaterial. Sin is sin.

But, let's take this one step further. The secrecy inherent in this motto, leads me to dishonesty. The spouse, parent, child, employer, pastor that I am trying to keep this information from are hurt. In fact, when I keep secrets from the people who love me, it limits their ability to love. They can love me more fully when they know all my needs, desires, sins and activities.

Keeping small secrets today will only lead to committing greater infractions and keeping bigger secrets in the future. Stumbling a little now can very easily lead to stumbling a lot later on.

I am probably being a little too harsh. After all, Las Vegas seems to be proud of it's designation as sin city. However, we should be careful about adopting this carefree, wide open attitude and philosophy in our own lives.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How Hard Can it Be?

If you have been reading this blog, you know that one of my favorite movies from 2007 was Juno. It was smart, funny, human and realistic. Ellen Page was fantastic. So when I saw an Ellen Page movie in the discount DVD bin at Wal-Mart, I had to have it. I was not disappointed.

Hard Candy is a movie that will stay with you for weeks (months...years?). Ellen Page plays Hayley Stark, a 14 year old girl who has met a 32 year old photographer on the Internet. Jeff, played by Patrick Wilson, turns out to be a pedophile. Hayley seems much more mature than her 14 years and appears to want to hook up with Jeff. The odd couple end up at Jeff's house where one thing leads to another. Suffice it to say that Jeff is a creepy child molester/ abuser and Hayley is smarter and more clever than most 14 year olds.

I am not going to give you any more of the plot because I do not want to ruin the story for you. You should definitely see this film. But I will say that this is one of the best "edge of your seat thrillers" that has come out in several years. Most of the action takes place in or near Jeff's house. The dialogue is great. I had no idea what would happen, until it happened. Alfred Hitchcock would be proud.

There has been a debate brewing in my house for a while about what makes for a scary movie. I think that there are two distinct "types" within the horror genre. First of all, there is the 'startling' movie. Startling movies are the ones that use music, light and stereotypical creepiness to make you jump. There may be bloody murders or dead bodies coming out of the darkness to get you.

The second type of horror movie seems even more terrifying to me. A 'creepy' movie does not make you jump or scream, but it causes you to have an emotional response of anxiety. The Ring is a startling movie. Silence of the Lambs is a creepy movie. Hard Candy is one of the best creepy movies you will ever see.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

I will praise You, O LORD, with my whole heart;
I will tell of all Your marvelous works.
I will be glad and rejoice in You;
I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.
Psalm 9.1-2

When you are first starting your journey of prayer, the most difficult part of praying is the worship part. We find it easy to bring our petitions, our requests, to God. After all, for most of us our whole prayer life has been asking God for stuff. Thanking God is also fairly easy because we have asked for things that God has given us. We also find it simple to thank God for the blessings that surround us on a daily basis.

But praising God? Praising God is a completely different story. It feels uncomfortable, unnatural. We are not used to saying the words of praise. Since praise can be a source of tension, let me make a few suggestions from Psalm 9.
  • Praise God with your heart. You do not necessarily need words. Praise is a matter of attitude.
  • Tell of what God has done. You can incorporate this aspect of praise in your prayer time by rehearsing God's work. You can also praise God by sharing the news of God's deeds to others.
  • Be glad about the work of God. You may not be wealthy, beautiful or in perfect health, but God is with you. Be glad for God, with God and to God.
  • Sing to the Lord. Not everyone loves music the way I do, but most people can sing, at least a little. Next time you are alone, or driving, or in the shower, sing a song of praise to the Lord.

PRAYER: Lord, you are good and your mercy endures forever. You are high and lifted up. You are worthy of all glory and power and praise and worship and honor. I love you, Lord. Be exalted in my life, in my words and in my heart. Amen.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Going to the Doctor

I have recently had a lot of time in doctor's offices. That time has allowed me to catch up on some reading (a lot of reading), and to do some thinking. I did some reflecting on my early days of life and where I was in church.

When I was a boy we attended Pentecostal churches. First the United Pentecostal Church and then the Assembly of God. In those environments various manifestations of the Holy Spirit are welcomed and encouraged. In fact, we longed for, prayed for and hoped for the Gifts of the Spirit. In many cases people without the Holy Spirit's gifts, such as prophecy, wisdom, healing and especially speaking in tongues, were viewed as somehow less spiritual than those with the gifts. Often worship services became show and tell time, when everyone made a example of their own spirituality by displaying their personal gift(s).

One of the crucial gifts was/is the interpretation of tongues. I remember occasions as a child when someone would give a message in tongues and then we would all wait nervously for someone to interpret what had been said. If no one interpreted the message, then someone was being disobedient to the Spirit. It was tense until finally someone would speak up.

You see, if someone speaks in tongues most people cannot understand what is being said. The message comes in a language that the hearers cannot understand. They need someone to translate or interpret what is spoken. This is the only way that most of us can understand what the Holy Spirit is saying in a message in tongues.

After my doctor's appointment it hit me. He was almost speaking in tongues. I had waited for a long time to hear what he had to say. And then when he said it, I did not understand. I had to ask questions. I had to probe. I needed the interpretation.

Many things in life can be just like that. Worship. The News. A Book. Your Spouse. God. A Class. Sometimes we need to ask some questions, pray, wait and be a little bit anxious until we get the results from God.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Best Concerts

Here is a list of some of the best concerts I have ever attended, their locations and approximate dates (in no particular order).
  • Planetshakers, Live from Studio B, South Bend, Indiana, 2004
  • Tree 63, Elkhart, Indiana, 2005
  • The Beach Boys, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1980
  • Phil Keaggy, Pendleton, Indiana, 2000
  • David Crowder Band, Elkhart, Indiana, 2008
  • Third Day, World Pulse Festival, South Bend, Indiana, 2005
  • Willie Nelson with Kris Kristofferson and Billy Swan, Tucson, Arizona, 1979
  • Bob Dylan with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Indianapolis, 1986
  • Huey Lewis and the News with the Robert Cray Band, Indianapolis, 1989
  • Andrew Peterson, Live from Studio B, South Bend, Indiana, 2003
  • Eagles, Indianapolis, 1998
  • Willie Nelson with Waylon Jennings, Lima Ohio, 1984

Monday, August 4, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

No one is holy like the LORD,
For there is none besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
1 Samuel 2.2

This verse comes as a part of Hannah's prayer for a son. Up to this point, Hannah had been unable to bare children. We do not know the details of Hannah's situation, but we do know that in her time and culture, the worst thing that could happen to a woman was for her to be unable to provide children to her husband. A woman could be neglected, divorced, or even killed for her barrenness.

Hannah, like so many of us, found herself in a very difficult situation and so she did the natural thing- she prayed. She prayed for a child, and specifically for a son. She turned to the Lord for assistance in what surely seemed like an impossible situation. She prayed. And she prayed. And she prayed. This verse is interesting in the context of Hannah's prayer. Instead of being bitter about her lot in life and blaming God, she was careful to recognize his goodness and his greatness.

Too often we try to blame God for our difficulties when we need to recognize that he is the one getting us through those hard times. Hannah knew this and her prayer reflected that. You and I would do well to learn this lesson in our prayer lives as well.

PRAYER: Lord God, keep us in your care. Remind us of your greatness each day. Teach us to praise you in all our circumstances. We worship you, Lord. We honor and praise you. You are good, and your mercy endures forever. Amen.