What is Eternal?

 

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

 

What has always existed, God or stuff?  I was a college student when I began to think seriously about this question.  I didn’t think it was possible to know if God existed, so I began to consider what it would mean if stuff were eternal, meaning that physical matter has always existed and will always exist.  Let’s walk that path for a minute.

 

I found there are several big problems that the “stuff is eternal” camp needed to solve.  These are three that perplexed me.  The “big bang” theory (the explanation for the current state of the universe and not the television show) is a big problem.  According to the theory, the universe had a starting point 16 billion years ago and has been expanding outward since.  For the big bang theory to work, the stuff needs eventually stop expanding and contract so that the big bang can repeat itself and continue to do so in an ever-repeating cycle.  The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be enough matter in the universe for gravity to slow the expansion and cause the collapse.  This realization has led to the search for “dark matter” which will provide the additional gravitational pull we need to stop the expansion.  It has also led to other explanations for how matter has come to exist.  Do we have any proof dark matter exists?  No, but I would need to believe it exists because it is necessary to support the stuff is eternal view of the universe.

 

The existence of life on earth is a problem.  The view until a thousand or so years ago was that life was created by God or the gods.  No one considered where life may have come from if stuff is eternal and there is no God.  At first, the answer seemed easy, life happened by some happy accident when the right collection of chemicals got together in some primordial soup.  Life began as a simple one-celled something that reproduced itself and evolved over time into the vast array of plants and animals we find on Earth today.  Then, we found out how difficult it is for life to “happen.”  Whether life first happened on Earth or someplace else and was eventually transported to Earth by a meteor or alien space craft, science has found the odds of life simply happening are astronomical.  Regardless of the odds against life happening on its own, if we want to believe that stuff is eternal, we need to believe that life just happened.

 

Finally, regardless of how people got here, there is no dispute that we have a strong belief about what is morally right and wrong.  It is right to tell the truth and wrong to kill people, for example.  We believe in moral right and wrong so strongly we have developed laws to reflect our view of morality and punish people who don’t follow them.  This was the biggest road block for me along the path of stuff is eternal.  I wasn’t smart enough to weigh in on the continuation of the universe or on the origin of life.  But, I lived with moral decisions every day.  It became clear that in the stuff is eternal world, what we consider moral laws are really just practices that have developed over time to protect human existence.  We have agreed as a group to enforce our beliefs on everyone for the sake of preserving our view of how life should be.  This wasn’t even a matter of faith in some unseen thing or occurrence, it was a dressed up version of brute force, might makes right.

 

When I had reached this point along the path of stuff is eternal, I decided not to make a final decision about stuff and God, because it would take as much, or more, faith to believe that stuff is eternal than it did to believe that God existed.  Was it laughable to believe God created the heavens and the Earth and God was the creator of life?  No more than believing the universe will continue to exist and life simply happened by accident, even though both are contrary to any scientific explanation.

 

This is where I was, stuck in the middle.  I began by thinking that it took too much faith in the unprovable to believe in God and got to the place that it would take too much faith in the unprovable to be an atheist.

 

Next week, I will tell you have this has resolved.  I hope telling about my journey will help you or someone you know who is traveling the same path I traveled.  For now, I will leave you with the question I asked at the beginning of the post, “What has always existed, God or stuff?”

 

Press On!

David

Light

 

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalms 119:105 (NIV)

I was backpacking in the Smokey Mountains and I had walked away from the campsite to check out the trail we would be on the following day.  The sun went down faster than I had expected and I found myself in the woods as darkness fell.  Luckily, I had taken a small flashlight with me and I knew the direction I should be walking.  The flashlight didn’t illuminate the entire forest, but it provided enough light for me to see the trail in front of me and I made it back to camp.  The next day, when we continued the hike, I saw again where I had been the night before.  This time, I saw the trail and the glorious surroundings I had not seen the night before.

Later, I heard someone teach on today’s verse and it reminded me of my hiking experience.  The teacher explained that this verse refers to a small handheld oil lamp.  It would cast a  pool of light like a candle.  If someone used it to get around at night, it would provide just enough light to see where your feet would fall along the path.  You would see the next step, but you would never see more than a step or two ahead.  His point, that was illustrated to me with a modern version of the oil lamp, is that God often works in the same way with us.  As we walk along the path of our life, He is there with us providing a light for our feet and a light for the path.  Usually, it is enough to illuminate the next step and, when we take the step we see, the light will fall on the next step.  We way move though life that way, a step at a time illuminated by God’s word and direction.  When we look back, we see the path clearly with the surroundings illuminated and we understand the purpose of the twists and turns we have taken.

How should we live if God’s word is a lamp that helps us see the path of life?  These are a few ways I have thought about this verse.

Trim your lamp and keep it burning.  Take time each day for prayer and Bible reading.  Remember that the race of faith is a marathon and not a sprint.  It takes diligence and discipline over time.

Keep your lamp full.  In the flashlight example, I would say, keep your batteries charged.  Again, this includes time for Bible reading and prayer.  But, it also includes time for worship, teaching and being with other believers.

Ask others to help you in difficult times and help others when they need it.  Sometimes your lamp may not be enough light in a very dark place.  In the same way, you can provide light for others through their dark and difficult times.

Take the time to look back and reflect on where you have been.  You will see the path you have traveled and the full view you may have missed at the time.

Use your lamp of faith to illuminate your path this week and take the time to look back and reflect on where God has led you.

 

Press On!

David

Speak

 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. Psalms 19:14 (NASB)

 

I have spent most of my life doing public speaking of one kind or another.  Early on I came across today’s verse and it became the short prayer I pray before I take the stage.  Over the years I had forgotten that the verse comes at the end of Psalm 19.  You have probably heard or read this Psalm.  Here it is:

 

Psalms 19 (NIV)

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge.

3 They have no speech, they use no words;

no sound is heard from them.

4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6 It rises at one end of the heavens

and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is deprived of its warmth.

 

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,

refreshing the soul.

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,

making wise the simple.

8 The precepts of the Lord are right,

giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant,

giving light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is pure,

enduring forever.

The decrees of the Lord are firm,

and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,

than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

than honey from the honeycomb.

11 By them your servant is warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

 

12 But who can discern their own errors?

Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;

may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless,

innocent of great transgression.

14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart

be pleasing in your sight,

Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

 

This Psalm tracks the path of faith that many of us have traveled.  I grew up in a place where you can see the stars at night.  Oh, I see stars now.  But, it they are the handful of really bright ones that can punch through the background light produced by a city of a million people.  As a boy, I remember seeing the Milky Way stretch into the night sky and meteors flash in a brilliant ending as they entered the atmosphere.  I remember thinking about the size of the universe and how majestic it appeared.  I can imagine the effect was even greater for the person who wrote this Psalm living in the desert with no artificial light to mask the view of the night sky.  But, as the Psalmist tells us, we can see the majestic display and the clockwork that allowed the writer to time the days, months, seasons and years.  We can admire the creation, but we cannot know the creator simply by looking at the night sky.

 

The psalmist goes on to remind that the God who made the magnificent universe and set it into order has also made us and gave us the potential for order in our lives.  One big difference is, unlike the stars and planets, people have a free will.  The sun can’t decide not to rise (or as the science-minded person would remind me, the earth can’t decide to stop turning and stop revolving around the sun).  The sun didn’t learn about light and the earth didn’t learn about gravity.  They just do what they were made to do.

 

We, on the other hand, can choose to follow the path created for us.  That isn’t a mistake or a flaw in God’s creation, it is His intent.  That’s where God’s word come in.  We see in verses 7 through 11 that’s God’s law is good for refreshing our soul and making us wise.  God’s word endures forever.  It is sweet to us when we follow it and warns us when we don’t.  We are wired to respond to the Bible, to hear God’s wisdom and respond to His teaching.  If we take the time to read His word, God will use it to change our lives.

 

The psalmist doesn’t stop there.  We see the universe and it gives us an idea of the greatness of the God who created it.  In the same way, I might see a painting or a piece of art or grand architecture and have an appreciation for the brilliance of the one who made it.  God’s word will tell me what He has done and what he expects.  In the same way, I might read about the one who painted the masterpiece or built the monument.  That would give me insight into who they are and what they know about art or architecture.  It might even help be become a better artist or architect.  But, I would only know about the person, I wouldn’t know the person.

 

That leads us to the final section of this Psalm.  The writer recognizes the same problem.  We can see God’s greatness in His creation and we can see his standards and expectations in his word.  But, to be the people God made us to be, we must go even further.  We must know God.  The creator of the universe.  The one who set everything in order also wants to us to know Him and allow Him to set our lives in order.  But, unlike the stars and planets, we need to exercise our free will and ask God to keep us spinning, to check our orbit, and to teach us about the gravity that holds us to Him.  If we do, we will become blameless and innocent of great transgression.

 

What began as a simple prayer before I speak is really the conclusion of this short psalm telling us how to live in a way that pleases God.  The challenge for me, as I begin each day and each encounter, is to ask God to make the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart acceptable in His sight.  Make that your conscious effort this week too.

 

Press On!

David

The Peace that Passes Understanding

 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7 (NIV)

 

I was at a funeral this week and the Pastor concluded the service with this familiar blessing taken from the King James translation of this verse, “May the Peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  I have heard that blessing many times.  But, as Yogi Berra might say, this week I was hearing it again for the first time.

 

I never thought about this blessing I had heard so many times.  What does it mean to wish someone “peace that passes all understanding,” or as the NIV says “transcends all understanding?”  I did a little research when I got home and found what I expected, a great theological explanation.  As one commentator says, “it is a tranquility that comes when believers commit all their cares to God in prayer and worry about them no more.”  There’s no arguing with that.  But, it didn’t seem complete to me.

 

As I mulled this over during the rest of the week, I thought, “How would I describe something ‘that passes all understanding?’”  In this case, the synonyms could be “incomprehensible,” “mysterious,” or “seemingly impossible.”  That led to the question, “When does someone experience the incomprehensible, mysterious or seemingly impossible peace of God?”  Do you experience a peace that passes understanding when you have great health, a steady job and a place to live?  Not really, that peace is understandable.  How about when your children are healthy and happy, your marriage is sound, and you have more than you need?  Same answer, no one would have trouble understanding the peaceful feeling you have in those situations.  You see where I am going with this.  Paul is saying, “May you experience God’s peace when others might expect you to worry, panic or give up in despair.”

 

If you are a believer, you may experience that kind of peace.  If you don’t, there are some things you can do that may help.  This verse comes at the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and follows his closing admonitions: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:4-6 (NIV)). If you read this blog regularly, you have seen some of these themes: giving thanks, prayer, and gentleness.  Paul is saying, when we practice these things, we will know God’s peace in situations where we might otherwise panic.

 

My prayer for you this week is that through giving thanks, prayer and gentleness, you will know God’s peace that transcends all understanding.

 

Press On!

David

Give Thanks

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

Let’s get back to our discussion of God’s will.  A few weeks ago, I talked about a period where I viewed God’s will as an enchanted path that, if we could find it, led us through a perfect life.  Instead, though, there is much more in the Bible telling us that God is more concerned with who we are than what we do.  Our verse this week is a good example of that principle.

This verse is from the closing of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  I suspect that the Thessalonians knew this was not simply a platitude from Paul, he had lived it.  They had probably heard the story of Paul and Silas in Philippi.  They got into trouble with the local authorities because Paul cast a demon out of a servant girl.  The girl’s owners were upset because they could no longer make money from her predicting the future.  So, they brought charges against Paul and Silas.  The two were arrested and beaten without a trial.  Then they were thrown into prison for the night.  About midnight, they were praying and singing hymns.  There was such a violent earthquake that their chains fell off and the prison doors were opened.  In the end, Paul and Silas shared the gospel with the jailer and he and his family became believers.  You can read about it in Acts 16:16-40.

We have talked a little about Paul’s admonition to pray continually in Pray Now and A Simple Plan for Daily Prayer.  Today, we’ll talk about rejoicing always and giving thanks in all circumstances.  I heard someone speak on this over 20 years ago.  I don’t know if I had ever thought about it before then.  His challenge was simple, do what the Bible says, give thanks in all circumstances.  As I thought about his challenge, I realized that I usually gave thanks in the good circumstances and asked for help and deliverance in the hard circumstances.  His point wasn’t that asking for help in times of trouble is bad, it’s just incomplete.  If we believe that God is directing our life, can we put that belief into practice by thanking God, even in the hard times, and asking Him to use the hard times for our spiritual growth and for his glory?

I began applying the principle of thanking God in all circumstances.  I will admit that I often don’t remember to lead with rejoicing and thankfulness when there is trouble, “thank you God, the car won’t start” or “thank you God, I am off to the hospital, again.”  But, I have done it and I have seen God respond.  I don’t have stories of earthquakes in the middle of the night.  But, I have seen God work in situations that I thought were hopeless.

How does this connect to the topic of God’s will?  Paul tells the Thessalonians (and us) that it is God’s will for us to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances.  Not only is this good to do, it is what God wants us to do.  There was a period in my life I spent so much time trying to find the enchanted path that I thought was God’s will that I spent little time doing what the Bible clearly says is God’s will.  I eventually learned that fulfillment is not found along some mystical enchanted path, but in doing the things that God clearly says: rejoice, be thankful, pray, serve.

The application is simple to explain but may be hard to do.  As you go through your week, thank God in all circumstances.  To remind yourself, you may need to write it on Post-It notes and stick them around the house and in the car.  Test God in this one area this week and see what happens.

Press On!

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions This Year

 

I am reprinting a few posts that I wrote four years ago during an extended stay at the Cleveland Clinic.  The trip involved a helicopter ride, a heart attack, a week in a coma and 6 weeks learning to walk.  Many of you know the story and those that don’t can read about it here.   Toward the end of the process, I began writing about the experience and this time of year I go back and revisit those posts.  I am sharing a few posts from those days that have been helpful to me and others.

As the title implies, this post was written in January 2015.

For several days as I was coming out of the coma, I couldn’t move more than my arms and hands.  There is no TV in ICU and, while Mary Ann was with me most of the time, she needed to sleep and do other stuff (mainly stuff for me).  As a result, I had plenty of time to think.  And one of the things I thought about is why this would happen to me.  At that point, I had nearly died twice, first because I couldn’t breathe and then because I had a heart attack that required about 30 minutes of CPR to get my heart started again.  (There would be a third time in about two weeks when I went into septic shock.)

I found myself asking, “Why me?”  Not the whiny kind of why did this bad stuff happen to me?  But, why did God spare my life, not once, but twice?  As I said in an earlier post, two Relapsing Polychondritis patients died from respiratory failure while I was in the hospital and people die from heart attacks every day.  It is rare for someone to spend thirty minutes in CPR and live to talk about it.  So, the big question on my mind was, “Why did God save my life?”  I suppose that a psychologist would say that I was suffering from survivor’s guilt.  Which, is an OK explanation for someone who doesn’t believe that God works all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. I knew that God had saved my life and I wondered why.

This time of reflection led to time in prayer. I thanked God for the opportunity he had given me. Like Isaac, when he got off the altar after nearly being sacrificed by his father Abraham, I knew that my life no longer belonged to me. From June 13th (2014) on, I have been living on time that has been added after my clock ran out. The experience makes a nice illustration of what it means to be a “living sacrifice” (see Romans 12:1 and 2). But, my goal was to find some answers and not to have a good sermon illustration someday.

Over the next few days, I began to get some answers. I sensed that there were changes that would strengthen each of the major areas of my life: my relationship with God, my marriage, my family and my ministry. In some of the areas, I set specific goals. In others, I am still working on the goals. None of the revelations were earth shattering. But, all of them were important and helped answer the question of why I had a second chance.

This leads to the title of this post. I am a regular listener to a podcast by Michael Hyatt called “This is Your Life.” Michael is the former CEO of big Christian publishing company and is now a speaker and internet entrepreneur. In one of his recent podcasts, he talked about New Year’s resolutions and cited a study that found that most people abandon their resolutions after about 6 days. If you are reading this post when it goes up, and you made New Year’s resolutions this year, you have about 2 days left with them. So, that means if you hold off for just a little while longer you can forget your resolution about losing weight and go back to eating chocolate cake for breakfast. Or, you can take a different approach.

You see, it isn’t necessary to nearly die before making decisions about how you will live. The fact that my life isn’t really mine was driven home to me in a dramatic way. Maybe because that was the only way I would get the message, maybe because that is the only way that I could be moved to share the message with you, and maybe because it would take that kind of dramatic story for you to care what I have to say about life and death. Actually, there is a fourth answer, which is “all of the above.”

While God showed me these things in a way that was hard to miss, the fact is that we all wake up and do whatever we do every day because God has granted us another day to live. The real question, then, isn’t, “What resolutions will I make this year and keep for an average of 6 days?” But, “How will I live my life for God and not for me?” That’s a harder question because we’re not talking about private promises you make to yourself, but decisions and commitments that you make with God.

My goal is not to make you (or me) feel guilty, which leads to paralyzed inaction, but to stir convictions that will lead to personal and spiritual growth. Are you ready to live your life today as if you died yesterday? If you are a Christian, will you put into practice Paul’s attitude that his life was not his own, but he was revived from spiritual death to spiritual life by God’s grace. (Read Ephesians 2:1-10) This is the same grace that has changed us and now sustains us.

If you want to get beyond New Year’s resolutions, try living like a dead person. What would you do differently if you really believed that each day is a new gift from God that you have the opportunity to use? Don’t just recycle your annual resolutions but spend time in prayer and reflection about how you might live your life differently and the impact that could have on yourself and others. Then, as God shows you the new directions, write them down and refer to them often. I pray that this is the year that I will move past resolutions and make lasting commitments that will alter the rest of my life and the lives of those I care about most. I also pray for you; that you will make the same decision

Press On!

David

A Simple Plan for Daily Bible Reading

I am reprinting a few posts that I wrote four years ago during an extended stay at the Cleveland Clinic.  The trip involved a helicopter ride, a heart attack, a week in a coma and 6 weeks learning to walk.  Many of you know the story and those that don’t can read about it here.   Toward the end of the process, I began writing about the experience and this time of year I go back and revisit those posts.  I am sharing a few posts from those days that have been helpful to me and others.

So far, I have talked about the importance or praying before the trouble starts and about developing a simple plan for daily prayer.  Today, a simple plan for daily Bible reading.

You may have tried reading the Bible from front to back.  Genesis and Exodus are exciting, but you fell asleep in Leviticus and gave up in Numbers.  You’re not alone and not without hope.

I recommend that folks try a daily reading plan where they read the Bible in a year.  That way, you are getting regular input from the Bible and you get to see God’s big picture.  You also aren’t just picking and choosing the good parts and avoiding the parts that make you uncomfortable.   I have done it for over 15 years now and it stays fresh.  I am always seeing something new.

Start by finding a Bible that is designed for annual reading, like the One Year Bible or find a reading plan that breaks it down for you.  I use the Olive Tree Bible app on my iPad and they have a host of reading plans you can select.  My preference is a plan where I am reading through the Bible chronologically with readings from the Old and New Testament each day.  There are many choices available to you.

Begin your Bible reading time with prayer, either as part of your devotional time or just ask God to open His word to you as you read it and make you sensitive to what He wants you to learn.  You will begin to see that God uses the regular input that you are receiving to shape your life and attitude for the better.  Paul calls it a “transforming” of the mind as we see life from God’s perspective and not our own.

The purpose for this time is to get regular Bible input that gives God the raw material to build positive change in your life.  As you read, you will have questions or ideas that you want to look into.  Keep a Bible reading journal (it could be part of your prayer journal if you have one) where you write down topics, questions, and ideas that you would like to investigate more deeply.

For the purposes of your daily reading, focus on what the Bible passage is saying and ask how it applies to you.  What truths can you apply to your life?  Does the passage identify sin that you need to confess?  Maybe it will give you direction in a problem that you are trying to solve.  Nothing jumps out at you today?  No problem, just stick with it.  The more you read the more it will begin to apply.  My physical therapist told me that the work I did one week would begin to show next week.  Bible reading is a similar cumulative process.  Give it time to build up.

It seems like Bible reading should be more complicated, but it isn’t.  It is a matter of discipline to read the Bible daily.  If you will do it, you will see the result in your life.  You can’t read the Bible daily and not be changed by it.

Now you have the two basic tools for spiritual growth and preparedness: prayer and Bible reading.  There’s more and I will talk about it in future posts.  If you are doing these two things, leave a comment with your approach and suggestions.  If you’re not, why not start today?

 

Press On!

David

 

A Simple Plan for Daily Prayer

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  Mark 9:29

I am reprinting a few posts that I wrote four years ago during an extended stay at the Cleveland Clinic.  The trip involved a helicopter ride, a heart attack, a week in a coma and 6 weeks learning to walk.  Many of you know the story and those that don’t can read about it here.   Toward the end of the process, I began writing about the experience and this time of year I go back and revisit those posts.  I am sharing a few posts from those days that have been helpful to me and others.

If you missed last week, I talked about the importance or praying before the trouble starts.  This week, is about developing a simple plan for daily prayer.

There are all sorts of complicated plans that I could have developed for my personal Bible reading and prayer, but I figured that the harder I make it, the less likely I would be to do it.  So, I kept it simple. Simple is good for me.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to call this “devotional time.”  It is time spent with God talking to Him and reading His word.  I will talk in other posts about the kind of Bible study where you dig into specific topics or questions.

Start by picking a consistent time.  Many people like their devotional time in the mornings before they start the day.  My time is in the evening as I close my day.  The reason was more by default than by plan and you can read about it here.  [Editor’s note – since writing this, I have changed to a morning devotional time.] If you can take time in the morning, I think that is a good choice.  Whatever time you pick, be consistent.  You want this to become a habit and that takes a period of consistent repetition.

Open your time with prayer.  Putting aside all the theological stuff, prayer is talking to God.  Does God already know you and what you need, sure, but He likes to hear from you.  Haven’t prayed in a while.  No problem, a simple model to get you started is the acronym ACTS.

“A” stands for acknowledgement or adoration.  Begin by acknowledging that you are talking to the God of the universe.  It doesn’t need to be overly formal.  As you read Jesus prayers or the Psalms, you will get an idea of how to start.  You may just start with, “Dear God, thank you that you want to spend time with me and that you care for me.  Please guide me as I pray because I am new at this.”  The more comfortable you become the easier it will be to get started.

“C” is for confession.  We all fall down.  Even the best people fail and normal people mess up all the time.  God’s standard is perfection.  He is perfect and he wants us to be perfect.  Of course, we can’t be perfect on our own and I’ll write more on that later.  I like to think of confession as “clearing the air” with God.  He knows where I have failed, I know where I have failed, let’s get it out there and admit.  The great thing about confession is that I can ask for forgiveness, cleansing and healing.  Tell God where you have failed and where you need Him.  Can’t think of anything to confess?  Ask God to show you.  If you keep in mind the two greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself, you will probably think of some things to get started.

“T” is for thanksgiving.  What are you thankful for?  How has God blessed you?  Let Him know that you noticed and you are thankful for it.  The Bible teaches that we should be thankful in all circumstances and not just for the good things.  You may not be there yet, but there are things in your life to be thankful for.  As you grow in this area, you will be able to thank God for the struggles and trials because He will use them to make you look like Jesus.  As hard as it may be to believe, that is His goal, that we become more like Jesus every day.

“S” is for supplication, a fancy word for “asking for stuff.” It rounds out the acronym and makes is easy to remember.  You may have thought of prayer as only asking for stuff, I hope this helps you see that there is more to it than that.  At the same time, you might believe that asking for stuff is selfish or wrong.  It’s OK to take your cares and concerns to God and ask Him to get involved.  You can pray for yourself and for other people.  God wants you to bring your cares and concerns to Him and He will respond.  Keep a prayer journal.  Write down the things you are praying about and asking God to get involved in and then write down how He responds.  It is a great faith-building experience.

I always close my prayer with “In Jesus name, amen.”  The “amen” is just how Christians traditionally say “OK, I’m finished praying now.”  The “in Jesus name” is important because Jesus tells us to pray in his name.  So, I’m not going to change that.  Again, there is a lot of theology that supports it.  But, basically, it is through Jesus that we have the right to pray and ask God for anything.   That’s enough reason for me to close with ‘In Jesus name, amen.”

There you have it.  As you grow comfortable with prayer, you won’t need this model.  Just like building a relationship with anyone else, as you build your relationship with God, you will find that you have a lot to talk about and that you and God are talking all the time.  Pick a time and place and get started.  Commit to it now.   Next week I will talk about a simple Bible reading plan that I have used for years to get daily input from the Bible.

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Press On!

David

Pray Now

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  Mark 9:29

On Father’s Day four years ago, I was in the Cleveland Clinic, in a coma, with no promise that I would eventually “wake up.”  Many of you know the story and those that don’t can read about it here.  I did wake up a week later and began a long rehab process full of victories and setbacks.  Toward the end of the process, I began writing about the experience.  This time of year I go back and revisit those posts.  Over the next few weeks, I plan to share a few posts from those days that have been helpful to me and others.

One of the things I have noticed as we are going through this process is that I don’t worry about the outcome.  At this point, it appears that God will heal me completely and that I will walk again. There have been enough worrisome things happen to us that I might fret a little about what is next or what we will do.  But, instead I find a peace that passes understanding and the assurance that comes from knowing that God holds the future.  He has already determined what will happen and my responsibility is to follow His leading and cooperate.

This conclusion is not based on some blinding revelation from God but, rather, on the years I have spent building a foundation of prayer, Bible study, and learning God’s character.  I believe in an unchanging God who loves me unconditionally and who will work all things together for my good because I am called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-30).  All the truth that I have stored up is now ready to use and God has the raw material to build this situation into the outcome that He desires.  I could not imagine coming into this situation unprepared.  I would be overwhelmed with questions about why bad things happen to good people, why it feels like God is punishing me, and what would have happened if I died.  I will talk about all those topics over the next days and weeks.

When you go on a vacation, you probably plan for it months in advance.  A journey like I am on starts in a heartbeat.  You must always be ready.  I chose the scripture for the opening because it highlights an important point. Please take a minute and read the entire passage from Mark 9:14-29.  Mark writes that Jesus told the disciples they could not cast out the unclean spirit because this kind only comes out with prayer.  But, when you read the passage, you see that Jesus did not pray, he simply commanded it to leave.  The disciples couldn’t command the spirit to leave and apparently did not think to pray.

Was this a situation where Jesus was telling his disciples to do something while he modeled a different approach?  That’s not likely.  As you read the gospels, you see that Jesus was a man of prayer.  This event was the day after the transfiguration.  Jesus was undoubtedly up early and in prayer about his day.  He was ready when he encountered the boy with the unclean spirit.  The spirit came out with prayer because Jesus had gone into the situation with prayer.

My goal is to live in a state of readiness.  I don’t know what I will encounter, but I know that there will be trials and temptations along the way.  And, sometimes, there are experiences like I have had that are completely unforeseeable.  On June 12, I never would have expected to be where I am today.  Without the years I spent in prayer, Bible study, and learning about God, I never would have been ready.  This has been the greatest physical challenge I have ever faced.   The spiritual battle has been ferocious, there is an adversary, and for some reason he does not want me well.  But, I am trusting the grace and mercy of my unchanging God to lead me through this process and bring me out stronger and better because of it.

What should you be doing?  I will talk in my next post about my approach to daily prayer.  Think of it as preparing your “life’s journey emergency suitcase.”  You want it filled with prayer, Bible and a firm knowledge of who God is.  Sometimes you will pull things out of your spiritual suitcase as you need them and sometimes you may be called to live out of it for a while.  Either way, you want it to be ready.

Press On!

David

Living in Babylon – Updated

I am repeating a blog post written during my hospital stay at the Cleveland Clinic six months ago.  This was one of my spiritual insights from the time.  I thought the six-month anniversary of the beginning of that stay would be a good time to repeat the post and add an update at the end.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-9 NIV)

I had gotten to the book of Jeremiah in my Bible-in-a-year reading plan when this hospital journey began.  By this time of the year, I should be in the book of Revelation.  Those of you familiar with the Bible know that I have missed a few days reading this year.

Jeremiah was a prophet during Jerusalem’s fall to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.  It was a terrible time for the people of Judah.  The Kings of Judah and most of the people hated Jeremiah.  They wanted good news from God.  They wanted to hear that Nebuchadnezzar would fail and the city would not be captured.  But, Jeremiah continued to speak the words God gave him, condemning Judah for their idolatry and predicting the city’s defeat.  In the end, he was proven true.

There were several run-ins with Nebuchadnezzar that resulted in groups of exiles being taken from Jerusalem to Babylon.  Today’s verse is a letter Jeremiah wrote from Jerusalem to the first wave of exiles taken to Babylon.

Over the last two weeks, I have come to see that this letter was also written to me.  And, as I explain myself, you may find that it has been written to you too.

The people in Babylon were completely displaced. They longed for their homes in Jerusalem, for the Temple, the bazaars, the places they knew well, the way of life that had become comfortable for them. They hoped God would rescue them.  Somehow, they would be released from Babylon, return home and get back to the old life.  They would attend their daughter’s wedding, in Jerusalem.  They would buy that vineyard and make wine, in Jerusalem. They would be a stone mason, in Jerusalem. They would celebrate the feasts, in Jerusalem.

But, we know today that the people reading Jeremiah’s letter would never return to Jerusalem.  They would continue to live, and die, in Babylon.  What’s more, it was God’s plan for them to be there.  God told them:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

God is saying, “You are right where I want you.  If you will be the people I have called you to be, I will work through you to bless this place and these people who would otherwise never know me.  This isn’t a mistake, it’s the plan.”

Seven years ago, my health was taken to Babylon.  I developed a rare auto-immune disease that has altered my life dramatically.  Earlier this year, God took my career into Babylon.  The company I worked for closed.  These two things together have set me on a new path to develop a career that can be practiced from a hospital tray table if necessary.  And, here’s the big thing I have learned over the last couple weeks, that’s OK.  I agree, that’s a pretty simple lesson from nearly three weeks in the hospital.  But, the simplicity doesn’t reduce the importance.  Had I learned this lesson earlier, I may have avoided this experience.  And, I hope by sharing this, I may help you avoid a similar experience in your life.

I have realized that, though my health and career have been taken to Babylon, I was trying to get back to Jerusalem.  I wanted my old life style without breathing issues and hospital stays.  I tried to live my old life and do the old things.  For me, success was staying out of the hospital because, in my old life in Jerusalem, I never went to the hospital.  My life in Babylon will probably include more hospital stays.

It’s the same on the job front.  In Jerusalem, I had a regular job.  I knew going in what I would make each week, about how many hours I would work and what I would be doing from day to day.  In Babylon, I have my own business.  I can do what I love to do from my office, a coffee shop, and a hospital tray table.  It’s been a long time since I have enjoyed what I do as much as I enjoy it now.

My new circumstances have allowed me to meet people I would otherwise never have met.  I learn from them, encourage them, and pray for their success and prosperity. Because, I know if they prosper, I prosper.  I have always considered myself a man of faith, but I had built a life in Jerusalem where faith in everyday things wasn’t necessary.  I had my health, no reason to rely on God for health.  I had a job, no worries about daily bread.  Faith could be less practical and more intellectual. There was no adventure, just following the plan.

I don’t know what other decisions I will need to make in the weeks ahead.  But, the big decision has been made; I am going to live in Babylon.  God will use me to build the prosperity of the new community where I live.  This life will be as good as my life in Jerusalem, and in many ways, better.

UPDATE:  I was released from the Cleveland Clinic on January 5th.  God has blessed my law practice with continued growth.  April was my best month ever and May was well ahead of last year.  This summer, I am looking forward to meeting new clients and building my base.  I addition to the business growth, I have had the opportunity to coach and mentor several men in their faith and career.  I love working from home.  My health has been generally good.  April was a hard month fighting Cincinnati allergies and a light flare-up.

How can you pray for me?  Thank God for sending me on this journey and how He is using me along the way.  Pray for connections for me to share my vision for integrating law and faith with people who would like to work with a Christian attorney.  Pray for our family that this summer will be a time of rest and renewal.

I still miss Jerusalem sometimes.  But, the feelings come less often as I grow to love life in Babylon.

 

Press On!

David