Monday, June 29, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

As He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Luke 11.1

As we have been learning in the past several weeks, there are several good and helpful prayer methods. These can help you as you learn to pray more effectively and more extensively. The frequency, length and satisfaction of our prayers can all be improved by using a pattern, or a system, to give our prayers consistency. One of these methods is based on the Lord's Prayer.

Developed about 20 years ago, this pattern will take that familiar prayer and help you use it for your spiritual growth and consistency in prayer. The Lord's Prayer is broken into an outline that gives guidance for prayer. Try praying in each of the following areas:
  • Our Father in heaven hallowed be thy name. The basic idea behind this prayer element is praise and worship, but we can also emphasize the name of God. There are several names given to God in the Old Testament. You can do a study of those Hebrew names and their meanings to get a deeper understanding of how you might praise God.
  • Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done. This is not a mark of resignation, but rather a faithfulness to the will of God. We should understand that God's kingdom is the most important thing and pray for his will in our lives and the lives of those that we know and love.
  • Give us our daily bread. We all need to be reminded that all we have comes from God. He is the one who sustains us in everything. We need to ask him to meet our needs and the needs of others. This also implies a dependent relationship. Christians, and others, too often try to live life on their own. We need to realize that we need God.
  • Forgive us as we forgive others. An important and significant part of all these prayer models is repentance. Jesus reminds us to repent and turn from our sin. But he also charges us to forgive others as well. Notice that he does not say anything about whether are not they repent to us...
  • Lead us not into temptation. There are many Christians who stumble every day simply because they were not prepared when temptation came. Ephesians 6 discusses the Whole Armor of God and how important it is to protect yourself from attacks from the enemy. Pray that you will be protected from all sorts of temptation in every form that comes along.
  • Thine is the Kingdom... Jesus model prayer ends where it began, with praise to God. Tell God how great he is and remind yourself of how valuable he is for your life. Worship him with your whole heart.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Strengthen me this day that I may faithfully serve you. Cleanse me that I may be a blessing to the world. Anoint me that others may see you through me. Amen.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

"Are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour?"
Mark 14.37

A number of years ago a man named Dick Eastman developed a great prayer pattern. He based his work on Jesus question to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Could you not tarry one hour?" His implication is that one hour must be the amount of time that a Christian should pray. Before you freak out, let me say that most Christians, even most Christian leaders, do not pray for an hour at a stretch. However, most Christians would agree that an hour is a noble goal.

That's why Eastman came up with his "Hour That Changes the World" prayer wheel. You can see the wheel and read an expanded outline at For our purposes, let's briefly look at each of the 12 areas of prayer. If you spend five minutes praying in each of them, you will have prayed an hour.
  • Praise and Worship. Begin your prayer time by telling God how great you think he is and how much you love him.
  • Wait on the Lord. Do not spend all of your time talking. After you talk to God, allow him to talk to you. Wait for his leading for your prayers.
  • Confession. Be sure to spend time repenting of your sins. We all have sins and we need to give them to the Lord so we can be forgiven.
  • Pray the Scriptures. Use the Bible to guide your prayers. Some times you may just want to read God's word to you. In other times you may want to pray one of David's Psalms.
  • Watching. This is when we are aware of what is going on the world around us. Pray against evil, for protection and about world events.
  • Intercession. When we intercede we are praying for the needs of and on behalf of others.
  • Petitions. This is when we pray for our own needs.
  • Thanksgiving. Never forget to thank God for all that he has done for you, today, in the past and always.
  • Singing. I know that this is not every one's favorite thing, but spend some time singing to God. Find some privacy and sing a hymn or song of praise to the Lord.
  • Contemplation/Meditation. When we meditate we are examining our relationship with God, the claims of God and the goodness of God.
  • Listening. After all of this talking, be sure to listen to see if there is anything God calls to your mind. He might want to remind you of something else to pray about.
  • Praise. At the conclusion of your prayer, be sure that God is in charge of your life. Make him the Lord of all you have and all you are.

Don't get stressed out and upset if you cannot make it for a whole hour. But, use this outline to expand your variety of prayer, and the consistency of your prayer. You will never be sorry for praying more.

Prayer: Help me to pray, o Lord. Give me patience, consistency and perseverance. Show me how to be creative in my prayer time. And meet me in prayer, God, so that my time will always be new. I pray that in the name of Jesus my Lord. Amen.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Preference or Prejudice, Part 2

This year we have had an exchange student living with us. Maarten is from the Netherlands, and very proud of that. At the end of the year his family, mother, father and sister, came to visit for the weekend. We had a wonderful time with them. It is always exciting for me to learn about another culture. This was especially good because Maarten's family turns out to be a group of wonderful people.

We talked. We learned. We played. We ate. There were three days in which we spent most all of our time together. But it was not always comfortable for me. I learned of ignorance in my own life. Ignorance that certainly makes it appear that my prejudices have made me a racist.

But here is the hard part: I don't believe that I have those prejudices. I plead ignorance completely. However, my ignorance, not realizing what I was doing, saying, believing, was offensive to my guests. For that I apologized and apologize.

My problem was that I did not realize how often we Americans refer to the Dutch in derogatory ways. I did it a couple of times without realizing, but there are so many other ways we do it. Here are some phrases that we use without even thinking about them. Everyone of them can be seen negatively.
  • Double-Dutch- Although we may associate this with a jump rope game, it's origins come from a kind of double talk or gibberish. The jump rope game is called double dutch because the rhymes that are used are hard for the uninitiated to understand.
  • Dutchy- People with speech impediments are sometimes referred to as dutchy.
  • Dutch auction- This is a sale where prices are set to begin artificially high. The implication is that the Dutch are dishonest.
  • Dutch treat, or going Dutch- Usually referred to on a date, this means that everyone pays their own way. This implies that the Dutch are cheap.
  • Dutch uncle- A person who is painfully honest, sometimes harsh, is called a dutch uncle.

There are dozens more of these slanders, but you get the idea. These are phrases that we use regularly without even thinking about them. I did it because I never thought about it. I never realized that they could be offensive to anyone.

So now I realize that I must...

  • Think about my language and attitudes. I can no longer be careless about my speech. Every word, phrase and thought needs to be carefully considered.
  • Be proactive in changing my attitudes, even when I think I do not have attitudes.
  • Research ways that I talk and think.
  • Discover how I may be offensive to someone else.
  • Encourage those around me to be thoughtful and considerate with their speech and attitudes as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Boy in Striped Pajamas

This was one of the most heart-breaking movies that I have ever seen. I will try very hard to not divulge the gut-wrenching twists in the film, but the story put a face on the holocaust for me like nothing else has. It is a wonderful, terrible film.

To give you an idea of the impact of the film on me, I watched it two months ago. I have been meaning to write about it since then, but I have not been able to bring myself to. It was hard. It still is hard.

I have always had an interest in the holocaust. It was, and continues to be, one of the great tragedies in human history. It may be the greatest tragedy in history. It is nearly incomprehensible that so much evil can be expressed and acted on in such extreme ways. This entry is not about the holocaust, not even about a movie about the holocaust, but about a movie about a family who was impacted by the holocaust.

The Boy in Striped Pajamas is about the family of German officer who is transferred to the countryside. His children are protected from the fact that their father is the commander of a concentration camp. The "death" camp is barely visible from the sons room and it causes questions, explorations and changes to the boy, his family and ultimately their entire perspective on life.

As the parents try to protect their children from what they must believe to be an awful truth, we learn that issues are not so black and white. Those who hate others often struggle with their decisions and actions. Bruno, the son, begins to sneak off to explore the countryside, much to the consternation of his mother. Finally, Bruno meets and befriends a boy in the camp who wears pajamas all the time.

It would be easy to be distracted and put off by the production values of this film. It is a British production that sometimes look like a television movie. Do not give up on this film. I promise that it will make a difference in your life. You will be changed. If you are not deeply affected by this movie I will give back all the money you paid to read this blog.

Go rent The Boy in the Striped Pajamas right now.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Preference or Prejudice??

I heard someone say a profound thing the other day. "Everyone is prejudiced, but not everyone is a racist." I hope you caught the significance of that statement. We all have our ideas about the way people behave and live. There are some things that I prefer more than others. It does not necessarily follow that my prejudices will cause me to behave in a racist manner.

For example, if I am in a group of people where conversation is required, I usually tend to gravitate to women. I am more comfortable talking to women than I am to men. Conversation is easier with women. I have more in common with women than men (as a general rule). This does not mean that I do not like men, or that I cannot or will not talk to men. In fact, some of my best friends are men. I talk to them a lot. But when given the choice, I prefer to talk to women that I do not know rather than men I do not know. I have a prejudice toward men.

It would be helpful, I believe, to work on some definitions. These are my definitions and I hope that my intentions will become clear.

  • Prejudice- An opinion, usually negative, about a person or subject based on no evidence or experience.
  • Preference- To rank a person or group above another. This is often the consequence of a prejudice.
  • Bigotry- A person who is fanatically committed to his own ideology and opposed to any that differs.
  • Racism- The practice of being opposed to others and their beliefs based only on their ethnic heritage.

It is important that all humans, and especially those who follow Jesus, never allow their prejudices and preferences to become grounds for bigotry and racism. Recognize where you are prejudiced. Learn to see your preferences without letting them consume you and rule your life. Make allowances to ensure that you never become a bigot or racist.

One final thought: There are many times when ignorance becomes an obstacle to peaceful interaction among people. I will write more about this in a later post, but for now hear this warning: Ignorance about what offends someone else is no excuse. It is not acceptable to offend others with your ignorance. To the one offended it still seems like racism. It is racism.

Educate yourself. Learn where your prejudices are. Treat all others fairly and without preference.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Practices of a Christian: Bible Study

I almost hesitate to write about the importance of Bible Study. Everyone, Christian or not, understands the importance of the Bible to the faith. We understand that it contains the history of our founding as a faith movement. The Bible includes the laws by which we live and organize our lives and relations. The Bible contains the building blocks for our faith, the very doctrines that we hold and cherish. We all know that we are supposed to be studying the Bible, and yet we do not.

Let’s skip right over the reasons that we do not study (or even read) the Bible. We know why we do not. We should focus on why we should read the Bible, or the benefits of it, and how to do it.

  • We should read the Bible because God says we should. We ought to be obedient to the Lord and his Word teaches us that we should read the Bible.
  • We should read the Bible because from it our relationship with Christ can grow. Getting to know Jesus is one of the greatest benefits to reading the Bible.
  • We should read the Bible because it offers us guidelines for living. When faced with dilemmas, answers can often be found here.
  • We should read the Bible because reading it will bring you peace of mind.
  • We should read the Bible because spending time with the Scripture will teach you more about life than any other source.
  • We should read the Bible because it is the primary driving force behind all of western culture.
  • We should read the Bible because it offers us a great overview of creation, history and culture of the Middle East and beyond.

Here are some suggestions to help you get going on your Bible reading adventure.

  • Find a Bible that you can read and understand. Every house has a Bible. The problem is usually that the Bible was written 400 years ago. The English of the King James Version is very difficult for the modern reader to understand. The most popular current Bible is the New International Version. It is very understandable. This year I have been reading the New Living Translation. I am enjoying it very much. You can get a very good Bible for less than $10 at most Christian stores.
  • Don’t over do it. Sometimes you can get tempted to try and read the whole thing at once. If you are just starting, do not do it that way. Start by reading just a few verses or a single chapter a day. This will help to keep you from getting overwhelmed by how much Bible there is.
  • Don’t start at the beginning. This suggestion does not seem to make sense, but if you start at the beginning of the Bible you will get bogged down pretty quickly. Start by reading the Gospel of Mark. Then try Jonah, Acts, Philemon, Ruth and Judges. After you have conquered some stories then try the larger books.
  • Get a partner. Find someone who would like to read the Bible with you. You do not have to read aloud together, but accountability will help you stay focused and on-track.
  • Keep going. Sometimes the Bible seems very dry and lifeless. There will be days when you will not “feel” anything from reading. You will get bored and want to quit. Keep reading anyway.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Psalm 103.1

As we continue thinking about ways to pray, particularly focusing on patterns that we can use to pray, I would like to turn to a more "biblical" model. Biblical is used in quotes because it is not more holy or Scriptural than the other models we have used, but because the outline comes directly from the Bible itself. This pattern can be found in the first several verses of Psalm 103. You might want to open your Bible to that chapter as we go through this outline. This will be a brief introduction to praying the Bible, or using the Psalms in your prayer.
  • Bless the Lord (Psalm 103.1). We can always begin our prayers by praising the Lord. Here we tell God how much we love him and how important his Son is to us. This is maybe the most awkward part of prayer, but it also can be the thing that provides the most blessing.
  • Forget not his benefits (Psalm 103.2). We should never neglect to thank God for all the blessings that we have received. I like this pattern because it puts thanksgiving so close to praise. They are complementary. Praise him for who he is and thank him for what he has done.
  • Pray for forgiveness (Psalm 103.3). Never forget to repent of your sins and ask God's forgiveness. He is willing to forgive anything and everything. Our problem is that too often we think that our sins are too great, or that we are too far gone. As you pray for forgiveness, you should also be sure to ask God for help in receiving his forgiveness and forgiving yourself.
  • Pray for healing (Psalm 103.3). There is never anything wrong with asking God for physical help. Throughout the Gospels Jesus heals all kinds of diseases for all sorts of people. I believe that God's will is for his people to be healthy.
  • Pray for redemption (Psalm 103.4). It is God who saves us and redeems our lives. He has paid for us. It is appropriate for us to seek his redemption. There are many situations in which we struggle with anxiety, difficulty and depression. God offers redemption so that we can begin to minimize, and ultimately eliminate, such situations.
  • Pray for lovingkindness (Psalm 103.4). The gifts that God gives include things like peace, joy and lovingkindness. We should ask God to fill us with those things so that; 1) Our lives can be more fulfilled; and 2) We can share them with others.
  • Pray for renewal (Psalm 103.5). Our spiritual lives are of great concern to God, and should be to us as well. Pray that God will keep us close to him. Pray that you will always follow him closely. And pray that you will be encouraged to always be faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, continue to teach me to pray. Help me to find a way, a pattern, a discipline that suits me. Teach me how I can be blessed by you, how I can be a blessing to you, and how I can bless others through my prayers and my life. Amen.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Football Cheers

When I was in school I secretly wanted to be a cheerleader. However, my school had no boy cheerleaders. It was the late 1970's after all, and being a cheerleader was a very feminine thing. Boys in the band's color guard or cheerleaders were looked on with suspicion. We worried about whether they were actually men or not.

So my dreams of leading cheers were suppressed for another day and another generation. But I secretly wrote cheers. I wrote several. I have since shared my cheers with my daughter (also not a cheerleader). Now it is time to come completely clean. Here are my cheers. Enjoy.

For a tie game:
"We're ahead. We're ahead. So are you!"

When your team is on defense:
"Run and fall on your bun. Run and fall on your bun!"

For anytime:
"If you fall on the grass, you'll get a stain on your... pants!"

As I reflect on these now, 30 years later, maybe it is no wonder that they didn't let people like me be cheerleaders.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Movies You Ought to See (for good reasons)

Here are a few movies that I have seen recently that would be good to see. Some of these movies I have not seen recently, but I was reminded of them by seeing some of the others. I stand behind all of these recommendations. I guarantee you will like them, or I'll refund the price you paid to read this blog entry.
  • Doubt- Philip Seymour Hoffman is the best actor in American movies today. He is great, as usual, as a priest accused of sexual abuse with a minority student at his school. Meryl Streep plays the nun who thinks the worst in every situation. She raises suspicions and evil thoughts in every possible situation. Amy Adams plays the young nun who is caught in the middle and doesn't know what to think. Although we never learn whether or not the priest is guilty, we learn and grow a lot in the experience. Pay special attention to the sermons on doubt and gossip.
  • Henry Poole is Here- This could easily become my favorite movie. Luke Wilson is a terminally ill man who has given up on life and hope when his neighbors begin to notice an image of Jesus on the side of his house. Henry deals with his own disease, his impending death, his nosy neighbors and the miracles that start happening in thought-provoking ways. Again, you will be left with as many questions as answers, but the trip is worth it.
  • Leap of Faith- This Steve Martin film of several years ago raises many of the same questions as the Henry Poole movie. Does God heal? Who can you trust? What about a person's motivations? It's fun and funny, but be sure to wear your thinking cap.
  • Up- A great new animated feature in which an elderly man deals with his loneliness and a young boy works through his feelings of abandonment. These issues are packaged in a delightful story with wit and sensitivity.
  • Bella- Although I felt I was being preached at on a couple of occasions, this film is only part propaganda. It is mostly great. The issues surrounding abortion are dealt with seriously without flinching. Nina is a pregnant waitress who is fired for being late. She is befriended by the restaurant's chef. As the two of them spend 24 hours together we see the conflicts in Nina's life, as well as how great Jose (the chef) is. It does not have a traditional story book ending, but you will not be disappointed.

Watch one. Watch them all.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now. Numbers 14.19

In my last prayer devotional I began exploring a series of prayer patterns that could prove to be very helpful to anyone who is interested in deepening their relationship with God and improving their prayer lives.

I think this sort of practical tool is important for several reasons.
  • It is easy to get distracted in your prayer life, even when you are very motivated to pray. A prayer-pattern can help keep you focused and on track.
  • Many people tend to think of prayer as asking God for things. When we use a pattern, or formula, for prayer, it helps keep us focused on all the areas of prayer. This is one way to keep our prayers balanced.
  • Using a form can also help to jump-start our prayers when we struggle with what or how to pray. These simple suggestions can get you going and keep you going.

Consider the PRAY prayer pattern.

P- Praise God. It is always a good idea to begin your prayer time by praising God. Tell him how much you love him and how important he is to you. I often sing praises to God. Even when I do not, the lyrics to hymns and praise songs are great resources for praising God.

R- Repent. Never forget to repent of your sins. Confess your wrongdoing and promise God that you will never do it again. The Lord has promised in his word that when we repent, he will forgive.

A- Ask. Always praise God and repent of your sins before your get to your list of needs and wants. When we have established our relationship with him, then we begin to enumerate our prayer needs.

Y- Yield. The hardest part is the last part. Yielding means simply that your will is submitted to God's will. Your wish is for what God wants. Pray this pattern for one week to see what will happen. I believe that your prayer times will be changed as you worship and pray in a consistent way.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Peace is Not a Wall

I looked for peace and found a wall.
The preachers pointed and said,
"Here is peace."
The children chanted, "We have peace."
The women cried, "Finally, we have peace."
The men frowned, "Yes, this is peace."
But peace is not a wall.

I looked for peace and found a club.
The preachers saw it and said,
"Now that, that is peace."
Children called out, "Peace is finally here."
Women were relieved, "Ah, peace."
The men were encouraged, "This is big peace."
But peace is not a club.

Peace and War

Here is the bottom line of this entry: Peace is more than the absence of war.

It's a mixed up world. We call guns and soldiers peace-keepers. We defend the right to keep guns as a measure to ensure peace. There are places where humans have built fences and walls as a way to "keep peace." I have a problem with all of these.

I have been thinking a lot about peace lately. I have been thinking about the need for peace in my own life, in my family, in the world. There isn't a lot of peace anywhere. We are raised in conflict and taught to be contentious. We look out for ourselves and compete in every facet of our lives. It is no wonder that we are filled with jealousy, bitterness, envy, strife, hatred.

Our nature is to be selfish and that leads us, without a consistent check, to lift ourselves up, usually by pushing others down. And in the midst of all this ill-feeling, we are convinced that if there is no war, then there is peace. Hogwash!
  • There is peace when there is an absence of fear. Fear leads us to anxiety, which lead us to paranoia. When we are afraid we arm ourselves. We think about the best ways to defend ourselves. And we are only a couple of steps from war and death. This is not peace.
  • There is peace when there is serenity. Calm and quiet are hallmarks of peace. We should seek to settle our hearts, our thoughts, our minds for the good of those around us.
  • There is peace when people listen to one another and attempt to understand positions different from their own. This is dangerous because it may make you change your mind, but it is vitally important to peace in the world.
  • There is peace when people consider the needs of others as just as valid and important as their own needs. Everything changes when we realize the humanity of "enemies." It is hard for me to hate someone who is hurting or hungry.

Our world is filled with conflict. There are wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Congo, Uganda and Sri Lanka among other places. I believe that war is never good. I also believe that peace is more than an absence of war.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It Came from the Media

A friend of mine wrote a youth curriculum by that title in the early 1990's. The idea was that the media has a great influence on young people, their actions, and unfortunately, their beliefs. I would like to report that things have improved in the last 15-20 years, but sadly I think that they have only gotten worse. In fact, one of the most important issues is that at this point, adults are nearly as subject to media influence as teens. Not only that, the pervasive impact of the media has crept into younger age groups as well.

A couple of recent examples of media influence illustrate the dangers perfectly. To begin with, let me make clear that I believe the reality television phenomenon to be a very bad thing. I have written about it before so I will not belabor the point. Just know that there is nothing real about reality tv. They are not real people. They are placed in unreal circumstances. A recent change is the celebrity status that reality participants get. There are many people who are now famous because they were on a reality show. UNREAL!! But I digress.

  • John and Kate. These two have too many children, but that is not the problem. The media has hounded them, because of their status as reality stars, until they are questioning their marital commitments to one another.
  • Susan Boyle. The frumpy middle-aged singer became a sensation because her voice did not match her appearance. The media turned her into an international star. Unfortunately, we got too much of her and turned on her. God only knows the extent of damage to Ms Boyle.
  • Nadia Suleman. Octo-mom just signed a contract to star in her own reality tv show. Some producer is looking to make a ton of money on something that no one should know or care about.

All of these have received media attention beyond their own reality vehicles. In fact, television news outlets have been saturated with the latest news from each camp. It infuriates me to hear the latest ramblings of a woman in a lot of children when I want to hear about the latest news from Washington, or Darfur, or the Middle East. Reality stars are not real. They should not be stars. And they are definitely not news.

One final word: If the media goes overboard, it is partially our fault. MSNBC, CNN and FOX News are only interested in ratings. They do not care about political agendas as much as they care about making money. They only broadcast information that you and I will watch. Shame on the media for putting it out there, but mostly shame on us for watching.