Monday, July 23, 2012

Ways to Pray

This year we have been focusing on spiritual growth. Our primary exercises, or disciplines for doing this have consisted of Bible reading and prayer. There are many other things that will help you grow in your faith. Do not think that these are the only methods to use in getting closer to God. However, I believe that prayer and Bible study are the most simple, universal and effective ways to enhance your relationship with God. If you will do these things, you will find your faith growing significantly and quickly.

With all of that being said, let's look at some practical approaches to prayer. I am convinced that many Christians are simply intimidated by prayer. It seems so holy, so directed at the “other” that we don't even start praying. What follows, then, is a series of solutions that are accessible and simple for anyone.

  • Pray with a journal. I often (almost daily) write my prayers. It gives me a record of what is important to me and what God is teaching me. This also keeps me focused on my prayer times. I can look in my journal and know how faithful I have been. If I am not writing my prayers, I may not be praying.
  • Memorize prayers. Everyone remembers prayers that they said as a child; “God is great,” and “Now I lay me...” But there is value in memorizing prayers as an adult. Learn and pray the Lord's Prayer or the 23rd Psalm. Make those prayers, and others, a regular part of your prayer time.
  • Use prayer reminders. Write a prayer request on a sticky note and put it on your bathroom mirror, your office door or some other visible location. Every time you see the note, say a short prayer for that person.
  • Pray aloud. I often find that praying silently easily leads to mind wanderings for me. Although this is very discouraging, it is avoidable. If I am actually speaking, I tend to stay more focused.
  • Pray while you are driving (but don't close your eyes). There is a lot of driving time that is wasted. We listen to radio programs that may not be good for us and generally lose all the time we are in the car. Make your car a “prayer closet.”
  • Text message prayers. Get a friend or prayer partner that you can pray with. Use text messaging as a simple, quick and effective way to keep in touch and up to date with needs and prayer concerns. Texting gives an immediacy to your prayers.
  • Sing your prayers. Sometimes you will find that a particular song or hymn speaks exactly to the needs in your life. Sing to the Lord.

There are many more ways to pray, but you surely can find one here that will get you started on your path to a deeper relationship with God. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's Not Car Food

The advent of fast food in general, and the 'drive-thru' window in particular, has not been kind to the interior of the typical American automobile. It is not uncommon to find a missing french fry under a floor mat, or to discover that the source of that mysterious, gag-inducing smell, came from a long-forgotten Whopper that made its way under the passenger seat. I am a guilty person, but I am hoping that some of my unfortunate experiences might serve as lessons for the uninitiated. Be warned. Some foods are not intended for the car.

To begin with, let's cover the basics. If it takes more than one hand to eat, it's not car food. Keep at least one hand on the wheel at all times. Secondly, be sure that whatever you are eating while driving does not take a lot of organization. By this I mean, keep your eyes on the road. If you have to look for your food, strategize the best way to hold it, and closely monitor it's approach to and entry in your mouth, it's not car food. Finally, you should not have a buffet in the front seat of your car. Limit how many items that you plan to eat. Plan your menu based on the available table space (empty seats and/ or center console area) and cup holders.

Well, there are the ground rules. Now here are some specifics. The following are not car food.

  • Any ice cream product that does not come in a cone or on a stick.
  • Pizza.
  • Any Mexican or Chinese food.
  • Pasta.
  • Soup.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How to Study the Bible

There can be little doubt among Christians that the Bible is the beginning place for spiritual information and growth. Our prayer lives are important, but we must never take for granted the Holy Scriptures as we learn about God and his will for our lives. The Bible serves as the foundation stone for everything else that we believe, do or value. We have spent time discussing the importance of reading and studying God's word, and we have considered some tools that will assist us in understanding the background and meaning of the Bible. Now let's consider how to study the Bible.

To begin with we need to reiterate the importance of reading the Bible. In the words of the famous Nike ad, “Just do it.” You do not need to learn everything before you start reading the Bible. Just start reading it. There are a lot of aids at this point. Find a schedule that will work for you. There are many online resources to help with this. In addition, we have a schedule that we are following as a congregation for 2012. Choose something and get started.

Now that you are started, ask yourself the following questions about your reading each time you read.

  • What does this passage say? Decide what it is that the Biblical author is trying to communicate. You can do this by using some resources that will assist you in understanding. A study Bible or a commentary might be helpful. It could be that you will want to read the passage in some different translations. Start by reading the passage slowly. Ask the big questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Learn what is happening and what is being said in a passage before you move on.
  • How does this passage apply to me? Bible study is perhaps the most important thing that you can do on a regular basis. But the value of that study is severely limited if you don't follow it up by learning what you should do about it. The Bible calls us to action. It is a great source of information, but more importantly it is a book of instruction. When studying God's word think about what you should do because of what it says. How does a passage affect you? How should you think?
  • Why is this passage important? To begin with we need to understand that all the passages in the Bible are important. Some are more or less relevant to us than others, but all are equally a part of God's word to us. With that disclaimer out of the way, pray about the significance of a passage. Not how important it is compared to other passages, but rather, answer why it is important to you. What is God trying to teach you with this passage? What is it's significance in my life?

There was a Christian song that was pretty popular several years ago. The hook of the chorus was “Read the book; don't wait for the movie.” That should be our approach to the Bible. We need to jump in and have a go. Hopefully you are now feeling more prepared to do that.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Things my Dad Says

My Dad is better than yours. And to prove it, I offer the following life-lessons. This is wisdom from the lips of Dewey L Miller, Sr.

  • That smells like money! (upon approaching a particularly pungent hog farm)
  • I bet that suit cost him a pretty penny! (upon seeing this weeks outfit on the Porter Wagoner Show)
  • This is the standingest one church I have ever been to! (upon attending any congregation that asks you to stand, even once)
So now you have a little insight into how I have developed my rather complicated life philosophy.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Praying, Plain and Simple

I am convinced, as many of you are aware, that Christian people want to pray. They believe that they should pray more than they do, but they feel ill-prepared and untrained for the task of prayer. Part of this is because of some false perceptions of prayer. For example, we often labor under the assumption that praying is about telling God what we want. We read or recite a list to him, and we think that our responsibility for prayer is complete. However, as we grow in faith, we come to learn that prayer is not about a 'wish list,' but a relationship. Being with God is more important than telling him what we need.

As we continue on this year-long journey of spiritual growth then, we should agree that the two most important steps to improving our prayer lives are simply, 1) learning to pray, and 2) just beginning to pray. What follows are some samples of ways that you can pray. These models of prayer include times for asking God to meet our needs, but there are other aspects of prayer as well. These patterns will help you get started.

The idea behind using patterns for your prayers is not to enforce a strict formula, but rather to suggest some topics that will enhance and strengthen your prayers. Use the following patterns to guide you to deeper levels of prayer, rather than to oppress you with rules and obligations.

  • ACTS- This is an acronym. The letters of ACTS give you a handy reminder of some areas for prayer. Use this to remind you to have a well-rounded prayer time. A- adoration: Praise and worship God for who he is. C- confession: Confess your sins and repent of your wrongdoing. T- thanksgiving: Thank God for all the blessings that he has provided for you. S- supplication: Ask God to meet your needs.
  • PRAY- This is another acronym. P- praise: Offer to God words of praise and adoration. R- repent: Repent of the things that you have done, as well as the things that you should have done, but have not. A- ask: This is where you ask God for the things that you need, and for the needs of others. Y- yield: When we yield to God we echo the words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “not my will but yours.”
  • PATH- Yet one more acronym. P- praise: Give to God your allegiance and glory. A- ask: Again we ask God for the things that we need. T- thanksgiving: Thanking God for answers to prayer is essential. Don't forget to also thank him for the blessings he provides that you haven't specifically asked for. H- help: There are areas in which you need God's help that don't fit into any of the other categories. We need help making decisions, finding direction and forgiving others, among other things.

There are some suggestions. Now its time to start praying. Try praying in these patterns for the next month. You will find that you grow much closer to God.

Why Should You Pray More?

As we have been reflecting on spiritual growth this year, we have been focusing primarily on Bible reading and prayer. Those are two of what I call the Four Most Important Things. The Four Things, in no particular order are:
  • Bible Study
  • Prayer
  • Christian Fellowship
  • Ministry
Each of these elements lend themselves to the spirituality of the Christian believer. Be sure to participate regularly in each of those “disciplines” for your spiritual health.

In this article I would like for us to think about the question of prayer, and especially why it is valuable for us to spend more time in prayer. To that end, let us consider the following answers to the question of why we should pray more.
  • We should pray more because it will help us to know God better. Like a conversation with a friend, prayer will allow you to reveal things to God, and help you to gain deeper insights into his person and his will for your life.
  • We should pray more because it is gives an indication of our level of commitment to God and his ways. When we love him more, we will spend more time with him.
  • When we spend more time in prayer, we are able to pray for more needs. You can pray more specifically for more things; for missionaries, family members, lost loved ones, the ministries of the church, etc.
  • When we spend more time in prayer, we long to spend more time in prayer. It is intriguing how this works. The more time you spend with God, the more time you want to spend with God.
  • We should pray more because our conscience pricks us. We do not pray enough presently. For peace of mind, spend more time with God.
  • We should pray more because our spiritual growth depends on it. If you want to grow in your walk with the Lord, spend time in prayer.

There are more reasons than these to pray more. In fact, there are enough different reasons that each person reading this could have their own specific rationale for praying more. But the bottom line is this: The reason you pray more is insignificant. You need to pray more. Get started. Don't wait another day. Pray to the Lord as if your life depended on it- because it does.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why Read the Bible

For this year we have been focusing on getting everyone (as many people as possible, anyway) to read the Bible. To that end everyone is encouraged to read from the New Testament every day. By reading for just a few minutes each day we will have read the entire New Testament by the end of this year. What a great accomplishment for any Christian, but especially for those who are trying to learn as much as they can about God and his word.

The question that we haven't addressed yet is “Why should we read the Bible?” Most of us agree that the Bible is good, and that we feel like we should read it, but too often we don't think about it beyond the 'ought to' of it. Let's change that, shall we? Here are some reasons to read the New Testament. You can take them as that, or view them blessings that we receive when we read and know God's Word.

  • Reading the Bible gives us valuable information. When we know what God has said in the Scriptures we can use it to help ourselves and others.
  • Reading the Bible can help keep us from falling into error. It is easy to listen to some one's explanation of the 'truth', but if we have studied what the Bible says we know what the truth actually is. Compare the teachings of others with God's Word.
  • Reading the Bible gives us information and context to share with others, those who are believers and those who are not yet Christians. One of the calls that all Christians shares is to teach and admonish others with the Word of God.
  • Reading the Bible is the best way to learn about Christ. You can listen to sermons, attend Bible studies, read Christian books, but the way to learn the most and to grow the quickest is while reading the Bible.
  • Reading the Bible is perhaps the best way to receive comfort in times of trial. In times of grief, stress, discouragement or loneliness we can turn to God's word for patience and comfort.
  • Reading the Bible is a way to be approved by God. The expectations of the Lord for his followers are often too high for us to grasp, but a great starting place is to learn the Bible.
  • Reading the Bible also builds us up, spiritually, intellectually and emotionally. Scriptures are a source of healing, strength and encouragement.

There are a lot more ways that we will benefit from Bible reading and study, but that will give you a few ways to get started. If you haven't begun this incredible journey yet, now is the time.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lent Again!

Five years ago this week, February 21, 2007, I first posted to this blog. Actually it was Ash Wednesday when I first wrote here. And now, these years later, it is Lent once again. Time for reflection, introspection, repentance, changing my ways, renewing commitments and the like.

I am not the same person I was five years ago. A part of that change has to do with some of the reflections that I have posted here. I have grown and developed. Generally I think I am a better person today, but I am sure there are many ways that I am not. It would not be completely wrong to think of this period of time as one long Lenten period in which God has been molding me. For the most part I have willingly submitted to his work and am satisfied with the result.

The frequency with which I write has diminished greatly over these years. I have several possible explanations, or contributing factors.
  • I have found other outlets for my writing that have kept me from writing here. I have published a couple of Bible study books, a Vacation Bible School curriculum and written a novel.
  • I have moved to a different ministry setting that is occupying more of my time.
  • My family situation has changed several times and in significant ways. More of my attention is now required at home than it has been in the past.
But the significance of Lent is still present for me. In these 40 days, no matter how busy or distracted I am or may become, I will focus on my relationship with Jesus. He will be my priority.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Simple Bible Study Tools

This year I have been (and will continue) trying to encourage you (and me) to think seriously about developing spiritually. The focus of my articles (and sermons) has been to give you some practical tools for growing in faith. My hope is that by the end of 2012 we will all have matured as disciples of Jesus Christ.

There are two primary ways that we are looking at this year: Prayer and Bible Study. The more time we spend in each, the more we will find ourselves becoming like Christ. The problem that we have is that too often we are clueless about how to go about praying. We get easily overwhelmed by trying to read the Bible.

First of all, let me say that I believe it is a misconception to think that the Bible is hard to understand. In earlier English versions we find language that has become archaic. Consequently, since the language is difficult we assume that the concepts are difficult as well. This is a very easy issue to overcome. To understand the text of the Bible with complete clarity, get a Bible in a translation or version that you can understand. I use the New King James Version, but some more accessible versions include the New Living Translation, the Message and the New International Version.

There are some other resources that will easily help you as you learn more about God's Word. The internet has become a tool for many things, including the Bible. Some of my favorite, and most helpful websites, include . Bible Gateway is a collection of Bibles that can be searched by word, topic or verse reference. I use Bible Gateway on a weekly basis. Another excellent resource is It is a new translation that includes a multitude of study notes and explanations.

There are many other resources to consider in your Bible study as well.

  • A study Bible comes complete with commentary, explanatory notes and concordance.

  • A concordance will help you find a verse by know a word in the verse.

  • A Bible commentary will help to explain a particular passage in a way that makes it easier to understand and apply to life.

  • A Bible dictionary will offer definitions for hard to understand words and concepts.

All of these items are available for loan in the church library or the church office in addition to be available for purchase at any Christian bookstore or at

Happy Bible reading! Understanding God's word will make a world of difference in your life.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Adopt-a-Block Proposal

Purpose: Because we cannot expect hurting and unchurched persons to come to our worship services, we will take the message of the grace of God to them. We will become pastors to the various neighborhoods in and around Argos. Our priority will be to build relationships with people who need the grace of Christ, but may not even know it. We will serve everyone regardless of their past or their present reality. We believe that God is no respecter of persons, and therefore, we cannot judge or condemn either. We will work to build up those who are struggling, hurting, lonely, isolated and victimized. We will serve those who feel as though they do not need God. We will love all and serve all, while lifting up One.

Outline: The Adopt-a-Block ministry will include (but not be limited to) the following-

  • Each week (probably Saturday) a group from the church will serve in the same neighborhoods.

  • We will go in groups of two or three to knock on each door in the neighborhood.

  • We will ask for pray concerns and work requests.

  • We will become friends, mentors and confidants to those we serve.

  • We will clean and sweep the streets, walks and yards in the neighborhood.

  • We will collect and dispose of trash and debris.

  • We will offer assistance in any way we can.

  • If we cannot make contact with someone at a home, we will leave a connection card.

  • We will offer to pray for the residents of the neighborhood.

  • We will leave church and personal contact information so that residents may follow up with us as needed.

Philosophy: The most important elements of the Adopt-a-Block ministry are:

  • Consistency- We must be regular (weekly) with our contacts and visits.

  • Perseverance- We must be willing to continue this ministry for several months (years).

  • Relationships- We must be willing to love others and allow them to love us.

  • Transparency- We must be real. Phoniness will be recognized immediately.


February- Brainstorming and approval of ministry.

Promoting ministry to the congregation.

Prayer for success of ministry.

March- Recruiting of volunteer ministers.

Selection and scouting of neighborhoods.

Prayer for success of ministry.

April- Details of work projects finalized.

First Adopt-a-Block Saturdays.

May- First big event outreaches (block party)

Potential Ministries:

  • Feeding program

  • Home repair and maintenance

  • Emergency child care

  • Children's ministry

  • Community give aways

  • Job fair/ employment preparation

  • Worship services

  • Parenting workshops

  • Cooking classes

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Disadvantages to the Kindle

For almost a year I have been using the Kindle. I own the model that is now called the Kindle Keyboard. Let me be as brief as I can in analyzing my overall opinion of the Kindle: I love it. I like reading on it. I like the convenience, the flexibility and the size of the Kindle. I love that books are less expensive and take up less space. For example, I have six Bibles that I paid a total of 99cents for and I take them everywhere I go. I love that I can read many books (that means more than I will ever read) for FREE. I am sure that I will be reading electronically for the rest of my life.

However, I am also sure that I will never completely forsake the traditional form of the book. I love everything about books as well. I am sure that a large part of my reluctance to fully embrace the Kindle has to do with my deep affection for everything bookish. That is why I do see several disadvantages to the Kindle. Here are a few of them.

  • I miss book sales. Overstock and remaindered books never pop up on the Kindle. They don't take up inventory space. With the Kindle I will not find that Garrison Keillor book that I have been holding out for on the $3.99 table.
  • I miss used books. There is something exciting and romantic about books that have been in other hands and in other places. I can't buy Kindle books in my local second hand book store.
  • You cannot trade, share or exchange books on a Kindle. I would never pass along my machine to a friend. How can I share the books I love with someone else? Conversely, what great books will I miss because a friend can't loan them to me?
  • I miss the feel and smell of books. Oh sure, sometimes after reading a library book, or someone else's book I feel like I need to wash my hands, but there is nothing like the way that a book involves the senses.
  • I like the way books look. There is something about that shape that looks good. It feels good in your hands. My little screen is cool, but it doesn't feel the same.
  • I still want to turn the page. Let me see the progress that I am making in my book. I want to know how far it is to the end of the chapter. Those anticipatory moments are largely gone with the Kindle.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Using a Prayer Notebook

Are you ready to learn the most important secret to my personal spiritual life?

I have a deep sense- I believe that it comes from God- that our congregation is to focus on spiritual growth for 2012. This does not mean that we will neglect worship, or mission, or the administrative parts of the church. It just means that I am going to spend the rest of this year encouraging you to grow spiritually. In reality that's the most important part of my job anyway. I am supposed to convince pre-Christians to accept Jesus and join the faith, and to get those who are already committed to the way of Christ to grow in it.

There are a lot of ways that we can do this. One of the easiest is to join in our congregational resolution of reading the New Testament this year. By reading God's word it will become clearer how we are to live, behave, think and believe. But Scripture reading focuses on the intellectual part of spiritual growth. There is more to it. We also need to be praying.

So, here is the big moment. This is the secret to my spiritual life and growth. (I hope you are sitting down as you read this.) I pray in a spiral notebook. Revolutionary, huh?

Most days I write my prayers to God on one page in a regular spiral bound notebook. I know this is anti-climactic, but it makes a huge difference in my life, and I think it could in yours as well.

  • Writing my prayers forces me to slow down. I write more slowly than I talk, so when I am writing my prayers I often hear God speaking to me about an answer, a solution, or even something else altogether.

  • Writing my prayers forces me to be a little bit organized. I cannot just sit down with my notebook and make words magically appear on the page. I am more intentional about my prayers.

  • I limit myself to one page of prayer. I never want praying to seem a burden or an overwhelming obligation. I write one page each day (which gives me 15-20 minutes with God) and then I close my notebook.

  • I use a variety of types of prayer in my notebook. On Monday I might use a prayer list and pray for needs of friends and family members. On Tuesday maybe I will write a love letter to God. Wednesdays might be used for writing Scriptures that I have memorized.

  • I do not limit my prayers to my notebook. I pray way more than my 20 minutes of notebook time. I pray for needs that arise throughout the day. I pray for meals and for other things. When I close my notebook I am not done praying.

Give notebook praying a try. It is pretty inexpensive and can change your life.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Favorite Books: 2011

I used to make a list of my ten favorite books of the year. For the past few years, because of various things happening in my life, there has not been as much time for reading. Therefore, I could not find ten "best" or "favorite" books. I read a lot more than 10 books in these years (including 2011) but too many were unmemorable, or merely filler books.

So this year I am again offering my favorite books. These are not the best books of the year, but the ones that I enjoyed the most. That means that they made me think or feel in a new or exciting way. Most of these books were not written or released this year, but I read them for the very first time. Let me know what you think of my list. What would you add? What would you take off?

  • "The Simple Faith of Mr Rogers" by Amy Hollingsworth
  • "The Confession" by John Grisham
  • "The Woman Who Wouldn't" by Gene Wilder
  • "An Object of Beauty" by Steve Martin
  • "Love Wins" by Rob Bell
  • "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg
  • "Sold" by Patricia McCormick
  • "CS Lewis, My Godfather" by Laurence Harwood
One more thing:

I was given a Kindle for my birthday in March. I will write soon about what I see as the shortcomings to electronic reading, but for now suffice it to say that I love reading digitally. In fact, two of the books on my list of favorites were on my ereader. My reading habits are changing, and I don't foresee them ever changing back.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Favorite Movies: 2011

It is time for round two of my end of the year (beginning of the year?) recap of pop culture. In 2011 I watched a lot of movies. Some were great, several were alright, and there were some that were so bad that I will deny having seen them. What follows is my list of my favorites.

These are movies that:
  • I saw for the first time in 2011.
  • Entertained me more than any other movies I saw last year.
  • Were not necessarily made or released in 2011.
  • Are not necessarily the best movies of 2011.
  • Are listed in no particular order.
So, here is my list of the top 10.
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  • Cyrus
  • The Wrestler
  • True Grit
  • Secretariat
  • The Rat Pack
  • Bottle Rocket
  • Get Low
  • Black Swan
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Favorite Music 2011

It is time once again for my year end (or beginning) analysis of the pop culture trends that caught my attention. As usual, my lists are completely subjective. I am including on this list the albums that I enjoyed most in 2011. That means that several of these- most, in fact- were not recorded or released last year. However, I heard them for the first time in 2011. (There is one album that I heard several years ago, but this year's listening was like a revelation, a completely new thing.

Another thing, I do not have any notion that these are the best albums of the year. These are merely the ones that I enjoyed the most. They made me think, or they made me happy, sad or angry. In any case, I will be listening to all of these for many years to come. Finally, I put these in no particular order.
  • Joan Baez- Noel
  • 77 Sunset Strip- Soundtrack
  • Smith- Minus-Plus
  • Jim and Jesse- Berry Pickin' in the Country
  • Bruce Springsteen- 18 Tracks
  • Roots of Rock: 1945-1956 - Various Artists
  • The Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble- The Wild Field
  • Huey Lewis and the News- Soulsville
  • Mumford and Sons- Sigh No More
  • Etta James- Matriarch of the Blues

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Resolutions 2012

It is that time of year that I look toward goals for the coming year. Each year I try to improve my life- like many others, I am sure. Often the results are mixed at best. Recently, I have been posting my resolutions here in the hope that it will increase my accountability, and therefore, cause the likelihood of my success to improve. It has not worked over the past few years, but I am ever hopeful.

* In 2012 I will continue my 'writing the Bible' project by copying Hebrews, Habakkuk and Obadiah.

* I will read the King James Version of the Bible.

* I will attend more concerts (of all types).

* I will read more consistently than I have recently.

* I will continue to study prayer and to pray more consistently.