Featured

Less Grumbling, More Gratitude

This message is centered on gratitude, on thankfulness, on the need for us to focus on the positives in our lives, rather than—what we might think of as—the negatives.

I have a couple of stories to share. But we begin first with Philippians, chapter 4, where we read: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. And remember whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.”

First story.

When our first grandchild, Katherine, was born, our daughter Brooke went in search of a second-hand dresser that she could paint for her. At a used furniture shop, Brooke located a two-drawer piece that she thought would work. She painted it all white and then applied a bright yellow to the drawers. In white letters over the yellow, she put the words to a song I had sung to her when she was a little girl: “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine.”

Katherine is now 10 years old. Two weeks ago, Brooke purchased a new dresser for Katherine, and the old sunshiny one was taken to a local transfer station where Brooke hoped other parents would find it and bring it home for their child or children.

But then, recently, Brooke and Andrew happened to take their youngest boy, four-year-old Gaelen, to the local fire station where there was to be a safety demonstration.

The department had created a simulation of, a model of a child’s room with a bed, stuffed animals, clothing, a lamp, and a toy chest. And there, in the middle of it all, was Katherine’s dresser. The firefighters had found the piece at the transfer station and probably realized the personalized, painted dresser would increase the impact they were hoping to achieve.

Brooke was stunned, shocked, floored…and overcome with heartbreak. She had to leave. She couldn’t bear to see the dresser go up in flames. And she called me immediately because, she said, she knew I would understand. And I did. And I cried with her. So much family history, so much love, so much caring, so much emotion, was in that dresser.

Now, why do I tell you this story in a message about gratitude? Because her heartbreak, my heartbreak, came from a place of love and gratitude. Neither of us could have cared as much—as we did—about that falling-apart, rickety, broken-down dresser if we hadn’t been invested in it, if we hadn’t been grateful for all the blessings it had seen. We couldn’t be heartbroken at its loss, if we hadn’t stored up in our hearts and minds and spirits the memories represented by that dresser. Now, we had a choice. We could stay in that place of heartbreak, and lament the passing of the years, or we could turn to refocus and reframe the moment to give thanks for the blessings the Lord had bestowed upon us over those years.

Gratitude pumps oxygen into our souls and helps us refocus and reframe our days so we can experience more joy and more peace.  Did you happen to notice in the passage from Philippians how anxiety is linked to how we think, where we put our focus. Too often we quote only verses 6 and 7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We don’t go on to verse 8: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.”

I have a confession to make.

Over some months, not all that long ago, I had allowed myself to become so depleted, so discouraged, so drained of energy, so focused on what was wrong, so discontented, that I had become a grumbler. I had become SO worn out, so worn down… I’d become a chronic groaner, a chronic complainer, filled to the brim, filled to the grim, with ingratitude. A grumbling machine.

But then one day, the Lord began to work in me an increasing awareness of my sin of ingratitude, and then He hit me between the eyes with the words of speaker at a conference I attended. I was reminded through these words that ingratitude is one of the great malaises of our society. Ingratitude is a form of idolatry. Some folks believe it’s the real root of all evil, the failure to give God thanks, and it’s tied to what we notice. Do we center on the flaws, the negatives, the missing, on what we think is not quite right? Are we plagued by a spirit of entitlement? Ingratitude can arise when we don’t get the respect, or the money, or the valuing that we think we deserve.

Years ago, author Paul Tournier observed that ‘no gift can bring joy to the one who [believes he] has a right to everything.’ While there is a healthy interpretation of entitlement that is tied to a sense of dignity and equality, when it is exaggerated, it brings continual dissatisfaction and an inability to be thankful for anything. If we think we deserve the gifts and blessings we have received, it is easy for us to become greedy for more benefits and to overlook the needs of others. We may cultivate a capacity not to notice when ‘our benefit has come at someone else’s expense.’ Dissatisfaction as a way of life is encouraged by a consumerist culture that feeds notions of entitlement. We want more, and we want better—better bodies, newer cars, bigger churches, more beautiful homes, finer coffee—a cycle of generalized dissatisfaction fuels envy, striving, and buying.”

Ingratitude can be tied to envy: wanting what someone has and not wanting them to have it. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Envy is sorrow for another’s good.” Henri Nouwen suggests we can only appreciate God’s goodness to others when we appreciate His goodness to us.

And you know what?  Ingratitude is contagious. It can spread and become terribly destructive.

So…what’s the cure? Gratitude. Focusing on the immeasurable goodness of God’s grace. Reframing our lives to center on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Strengthening practices of gratitude. Articulating our blessings. Beginning and ending each day with moments of thankfulness. Modeling thankfulness. Writing notes of affirmation and encouragement. Working to become more adept at celebrating what is good. Catching people at being a gift, and telling them, “You have been God’s grace to me.” Every night at dinner, sharing that for which you’re grateful. Each and every one of these acts adds to a reservoir of grace.

Now, gratitude doesn’t displace lament. There are experiences in our lives that can bring on sadness, disappointment, anger, frustration. But we are helped when times are tough in remembering that we are secure in the Lord. That God is still good, God is still with us, even when, especially when, times are tough. And even lament has elements of hope, promise and grace.

In a recent Streams in the Desert devotional guide was the following poem by Annie Johnson Flint:

They are HIS billows, whether they go o’er us,
Hiding His face in smothering spray and foam;
Or smooth and sparkling, spread a path before us,
And to our haven, bear us safely home.

They are HIS billows, whether for our succor
He walks across them, stilling all our fear;
Or to our cry there comes no aid nor answer,
And in the lonely silence none is near.

They are HIS billows, whether we are toiling
Through tempest-driven waves that never cease,
While deep to deep, with clamor, loud is calling;
Or at His word they hush themselves in peace.

They are HIS billows, whether He divides them,
Making us walk dryshod where seas had flowed;
Or lets tumultuous breakers surge about us,
Rushing unchecked across our only road.

They are HIS billows, and He brings us through them;
So He has promised, so His love will do.
Keeping and leading, guiding and upholding,
To His sure harbor, He will bring us through.

Author and pastor Rick Warren has suggested that, in happy moments, we praise God. In difficult moments, we seek God. In quiet moments, we worship God. In painful moments, we trust God. In every moment, we thank God.

From G.K. Chesterton we have this, “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or you take them with gratitude.”

“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us—and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.”—Thomas Merton

God’s grace can appear like a blinding flash of lightning, splitting the sky on a dark night. Our gratitude is the thundering response.

The English poet George Herbert was born at the end of the 16th century into a powerful English family. His father held an aristocratic title and sat in Parliament. The son, who was educated at Cambridge and became a favorite of England’s King James I, seemed destined to a life of wealth, prestige, and political prominence before he decided to take orders as an Anglican priest in his mid-thirties. For three years, he labored as a country parson in a tiny parish southwest of London, before succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of thirty-nine. “Gratefulness” is part of a collection of poems by Herbert that was published shortly after his death.

He wrote in part:

“Thou that hast given so much to me, give one thing more, a grateful heart.
I cry, and cry again; And in no quiet canst thou be, till I, a thankful heart obtain of thee: Not thankful, when it pleaseth me; As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be Thy praise.”

Hear the Word of the Lord:

Psalm 107:8—Thank God for His marvelous love, for His mercy and wonderful works on our behalf.

First Corinthians 1:4—I thank my God always on your behalf for the grace of God which has been given to you through Jesus Christ.

First Thessalonians 5:16-18—Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4— Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…(And remember) whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.”

From writer Mariel Davenport comes our closing story about resting thankfully in the Lord:

Closing the day as a family, lying on my youngest son’s bed and saying our good-night prayers, my son decided out of the blue that he wanted to pray tonight. This is a rare occurrence for him, especially at bedtime, as he tends to do more wiggling than praying; so we were thrilled at this opportunity to peek into his young heart.

“Thank you, Jesus,” he began, “for my brother, my mommy, my daddy, my house, my friends…oh, and thank you especially for my bunk bed. And, thank you, Jesus, for my toys and for the roof on our house and for our neighbor friends we played with today. Thank you also, for my covers, our food and plates, my cats…” My sweet son must have thanked Jesus for 10 solid minutes! He’s the one who never wants to pray when we do family devotions or bedtime prayers. It was like he was catching up with God. I smiled at the thought.

We finally kissed him and his precious big brother ‘good-night.’ We gently closed the door behind us and left the room.

Not even three minutes passed and we thought we heard our boys calling us, so my husband went to check on them. Everything was fine, but to his surprise our youngest was already sound asleep! My husband examined him closely, and sure enough the little guy was out. He had unloaded on Jesus and now was peacefully off to dreamland!

As I pondered his approach, Psalm 55:22 rolled over in my mind. “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you…” My young son had the faith to pour his little heart out to God in thanksgiving, for even the smallest treasures, and now could rest secure in the love of the Father. I wondered why I often fail to do the same.

Why do we allow the spirit of discontentment to rob us of true thankful rest in the Father’s care? Why do we focus too often on what we lack rather than what we have? This little one was able (for the moment) to glance around at his life and overflow in thankfulness for a God who abundantly provides.

Colossians 2:6-7 urges believers to do the same, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” What a beautiful example of this was demonstrated in living color through this little boy. He had absorbed the blessings around him to the point he could no longer contain them in his little heart. He spilled over with thankfulness and that thankfulness unveiled the lack of thankfulness in my own weary soul.

Too often, burdened by the cares of the world and life in general, we can focus on the negative rather than pouring out words of praise and thanksgiving to our God. Based on the example of this little one, I am seeking to empty pitchers of praise before the feet of my Heavenly Father.

In this season of Thanksgiving,  let’s be sure our focus is on praise and the positive, let us allow our own often weary hearts to be led by a child as we thank our faithful God for the many blessings around us… both big and small. Then we can rest peacefully in His care!

 

 

Telling Bob About the Pastorate

In preparing for this morning, I struggled for some weeks over what I should present in the way of a candidating sermon. I scoured the Word; I perused articles; I searched online; I sought the advice of pastoral colleagues, family members and friends; and I prayed and prayed and prayed. For whatever reason, the message to be delivered at a neutral pulpit before the church’s search committee had come to me with immediate certainty. Forgiveness. A no-brainer!

But what to offer today? This one didn’t come as easily. Should I offer a sermon on the Word and words? A message on spiritual awakening and revival? The I Am Statements of Jesus? The 23rd Psalm? Or, in the wake of Hurricane Florence? Perhaps a message addressing the question: How Could a Loving and All-Powerful God Allow the Catastrophic to Occur?

A mere 66 books, only about 800,000 God-breathed words to consider!! Narratives. Prophecies. Poems. Gospels. Epistles. Should I offer a topical sermon or a verse-by-verse message, mining each word for its breadth of meanings in the original languages? What to do! What to do!!

And then, while preparing my opening remarks for last night’s dinner and this afternoon’s luncheon, I felt led to Bob. Now, most of you who are here this morning likely know that I have served as a professor of evangelism and renewal and directed a doctoral program centered on the Renewal of the Church for Mission. In those capacities, I often served as a pastor to pastors or as a pastor to those preparing to enter the pastorate. And, over the years, many dear ones have asked me to speak at their ordination services and installations. As I am here this morning praying that you might call me to serve as your pastor, I thought it appropriate to return to a message I delivered at a service for one of my Master of Divinity students.

Now, Bob was one who’d been in several of my classes, and I’d even invited him to participate in a doctoral level course that I taught in Washington, D.C. Some years ago, he accepted a call to lead a church in upstate New York, and I was called upon to share key lessons from the Word on the responsibilities of the pastor; I was charged to bring a charge to him on the day of his installation.

I took a three-part approach. First, I looked to the passage in the Bible that has been called “the handbook for ministers.” Then I considered the temptations that face the pastor, and I concluded with an examination of what it means to be a servant leader, an under-shepherd of Christ leading according to the example set by Jesus. In creating the message, I built upon the reflections of other writers on these themes and passages that have ministered to me and have taken up residence in my heart.

One last bit of introduction, before we turn to the Word. . . a question that was once posed to me that still prompts a shake of the head, a moan and a good laugh: “I know pastors work on Sunday mornings but what do they do the rest of the week?” In the next few moments, I’ll convey a bit about what we do the rest of the week as I speak to Bob, to Bob’s congregation, to you and to myself.

MATTHEW 4:1-11 AND 2 TIMOTHY 4:1-5

First Timothy 4 (and that’s not a mistake, I do mean First Timothy 4) has been referred to and has served as a “handbook for ministers.” The chapter provides practical instruction for the one called to pastor the local church. The task: preach the Word, practice the Word, progress in the Word.

This passage, as rendered into contemporary language in The Message by Eugene Peterson, reads this way:

The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars . . . [But] you’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the Christians here, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God— no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, the Savior.

Get the word out. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.

Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will all see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.

Now, let’s bring alongside of this a portion of Paul’s message in 2nd Timothy 4 where he writes: “I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder . . . so proclaim the Message with intensity, keep on your watch. Challenge, warn and urge your people. Don’t give up. Just keep it simple. You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you— keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.”

In both passages—1st Timothy 4 and 2nd Timothy 4—Paul addresses two of the great dangers within the church today: apathy and apostasy. Apathy might be defined, in the context of the faith, as unfaithfulness to the faith, a lack of concern, a lack of interest in the faith. Apostasy is an abandonment of the faith, a turning from the faith to a lie.

Both are all too commonly found in many who profess to be Christians today, and there is a great need for preachers who will boldly and unashamedly preach the Word without compromise. I hear too often today of folks who are in churches where the Bible is held in the hand and used as a prop, or where entertainment is the word of the day, or where messages are preached each week that are all fluff and no substance, barely milk and certainly not meat. Paul was instructing Timothy to set forth a banquet, and this is a word for all of us who preach today.

Over time, you must work out an entire Biblical menu, drawing from the Old Testament and the New. Doing book studies; character studies; thematic studies; offering sermons that address specific theological questions; messages that focus on special occasions or times of the year. You must make certain the messages preached are drawn out of the Word, are faithful to the Word, and offer practical applications to contemporary realities.

But it is not enough simply to preach. As Paul reminds us, we must also practice what we preach. Practice the Word. Your first call is to faithfulness to the Lord and to His Word. Immersion in the Word will spill out in faithful living and teaching. Commitment to the work of the Holy Spirit will be seen in your concern for the spread of the Gospel. It will be demonstrated in your concern not only for the welfare of your local community but for your region, your country, your continent, your world. Always keep your ministry of prayer and ministry in the Word first. Listen to the Lord and the rest of your responsibilities will be clearly laid out for you.

You are also called to progress in the Word, to mature in it, to be cultivated in it, to grow in it, to live in it, to move forward in and through and for it. Know that there will be temptations along the way to be diverted from your call. We draw lessons about what these temptations might entail from what Jesus experienced when He was taken into the wild for the Test. There were three parts to the test as we see set forth in Matthew, chapter 4.

These temptations of Christ speak to the temptations that face the pastor and, really, for that matter, all of us.

First there is the Maturity Test—The Test of Pain and Pleasure. When you are empty, hurting or confused, will you trust God to meet your needs or will you rush to satisfy them yourself?

Will you be as those who look to the fountain of living water or as those who dig for themselves cracked cisterns that cannot hold water? Will you trust in the Lord and walk in His light or will you try to live by your own light, try to warm yourself by your own fire?

Remember, your Heavenly Father knows all your needs and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. This we are promised in Matthew, chapter 6.

Then there is the Integrity Test—The Test of Popularity and Praise

Will you use your abilities to serve God and others or to gain praise for yourself? Keep in mind the lesson from the story of Rehoboam from 2nd Chronicles 12. At the height of his popularity and power, he abandoned the Lord, the people followed him in that sin, and the Lord then abandoned them to their enemies. Remember also Proverbs 27:21: “A person is tested by the praise he or she receives.”

To resist this temptation, we are told to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. If we do, we’re told in Galatians 5, we won’t need to look for honors or popularity and when the Lord blesses, we won’t be tempted to think we achieved everything under own power. Keep in mind that you will never please all the people all the time and you’re not meant to. We’re to focus on Jesus. In 1 Peter 5, we are told to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and, in His good time, He will lift us up.

The third test is the Priorities Test—The Test of Prosperity and Possessions. Do you, will you, value possessions on earth more than treasures in heaven?

In Matthew 16:26, the question is asked: “What good will it be for a person if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” And in 1st Timothy 6:18 to 19, we are instructed to use our money to do good, to give generously to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given us. By doing this, we are storing up real treasure for ourselves in heaven and living a fruitful Christian life here as well.

Trust in the Lord. Humble yourself before Him. Keep your priorities straight. And then lead like Jesus. Bosses boss. Dictators dictate. Servants serve. The pastor is called to servant leadership. In Luke 22, verse 26, we read: “The one who serves you best will be your leader.”

If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will need to set an example, following the example that Jesus set. In John 13, we read the words of Jesus: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” In 1st Peter 5:3, the one called to lead is told not to lord it over others. Instead, to come alongside and lead by good example in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will need to challenge folks with a greater purpose. The popularity of Rick Warren’s book on the purpose-driven life drives home the great desire in peoples’ hearts for purpose, for meaning. We only grow when we’re challenged. God is at work in His people to will and to act according to His good purpose. We have each been made for His purpose. We have each been called according to His purpose. We must work according to God’s agenda and beware of substituting our own agendas for the Lord’s.

If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will need to affirm folks for their potential and you’ll need to be patient as each will grow as the Lord brings the increase. Remember Proverbs 12:25: A word of encouragement does wonders.

If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will need to trust folks with responsibility. Luke 16:10 reads: “Whoever can be trusted with a little, can also be trusted with a lot” and in 1st Corinthians 13:7 we’re told that if you love folks, you’ll believe in them and expect the best of them. If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will offer folks honest feedback, helpful correction, using only helpful words for the building up of others according to their needs.

If you wish to pastor like Jesus, you will be open with folks, honest with them. You’ll look to folks as friends, you’ll love them and you’ll pray for them. You will let folks minister to you. If all goes as it should, you will become pastor of your church one person at a time. And when you find yourself introduced by one in your family of faith not as simply the pastor of the church I attend but rather— with a special inflection and tone—as “my pastor”—that precious gift will fill your soul with a joy that you will treasure always. The pastor has the honor of being present in the most intimate moments of people’s lives: at births, at marriages, at crucial turning points, as an individual breathes a last breath. What a privilege it is to be admitted to such moments! These are the treasures of the pastor.

What tears down the pastor, weighs down the pastor, and can ultimately burn out, chew up and kill the pastor are manufactured crises, perpetuated dramas, pettiness, nitpicking, infighting, behind-the-scenes maneuvering, the stirring up of dissension, discouraging words, negativity and impatience. Warnings and chastisements against these are found throughout scripture. Beware of these, walk carefully through them, pray for wisdom and the strength of the Lord to use them for forward (rather than backward) movement, and pray that you will behave honorably when you encounter them.

One of the burdens of the pastorate is the guilt we can carry because we’re not given the gift of omnipresence. In any given week, there will be personal and family crises needing your attention, folks in the hospital or recuperating at home, homebound or folks in nursing homes urging you to visit. You’ll have a sermon to research and craft and Sunday services to prepare; committee and board meetings to attend; materials to select; short term and long range planning to do. You’ll have a budget line to watch; stewardship to promote. You’ll have dedications, baptisms, weddings, funerals and other events at which you will officiate.

There’ll be a website to update, advertising to consider, staff to nurture, a building to maintain, community and regional contacts to make and keep, classes to teach, phone calls to make, emails to write, a community to reach; mediation to perform. You will be a prophetic voice against the evils of the day. You will need to discern which causes to champion. And there will be seemingly endless adminis-trivia calling for your attention every day of every week.

In the midst of all of this, you must make the effort to maintain a healthy home life, paying attention to your family. You must make time for fun. You must rest. You must keep a Sabbath.

And, in the midst of all of this, there will always be folks who are certain they know far better than you how you should do your work. Some of these will not approach you directly but will attempt to make end runs around you. You will need the patience of Job! At times, you may become so enmeshed, so all-encompassed by the doing of the work that you may begin to lose sight of your first priority:  the being, the being in a deep and ever deepening relationship with the Lord. Put the brakes on when that happens and get yourself back on track.

Several years ago, Vernon Grounds addressed a gathering of pastors at a conference in Massachusetts. In his message, he looked to 1st Samuel 12:23 where these words are written: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.”

When he finished his presentation, I looked around the room and every pastor—myself included—appeared to have been cut to the heart by his message. If you remember nothing else from what I’ve shared today, remember this: Prayerlessness is a sin. It is disobedience to the will of God. Luke 18, verse 1, records that Jesus told His disciples that they should pray and not give up. Throughout the scriptures, we are told that prayer ought to be the habit, the rule, the discipline of our lives.

Prayerlessness is contempt for the fellowship of God. If we don’t have time for fellowship with God, we’re serving something wrong. In Rev. 3:20, we’re told that the Lord stands at the door and knocks and comes to anyone who will invite Him in. Sometimes we behave towards God as though we believe Him to be at our beck and call. We expect to press a button and have Him do our will. That’s disrespectful.

Prayerlessness is indifference to the purpose of God. We say we want to be molded in the image of Jesus. Well, Jesus, during His time on earth, prayed. And what is He doing now? Interceding on our behalf.

Prayer is a struggle, a battle on three fronts. Prayer is not always a matter of pure delight. It is a struggle with the physical. With our restlessness, our drowsiness. It is a struggle with the mental. Lack of concentration, a truant imagination. It is a struggle with the spiritual. Remember Ephesians 6. We are not engaged in a struggle with just flesh and blood but are wrestling with the powers of darkness. The enemy uses emotional, physical and spiritual weapons to battle against us. But Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint on his or her knees. So get on your knees. If you’ve got bad knees, then get on your knees in your heart.

Be concerned about your prayer life. Pray about your prayerlessness and ask the Holy Spirit to revive you in prayer. Give a thought to when you are able to give your undivided attention to God. The times may vary. Perhaps you’ll pray while you walk or when you’re in the car. Perhaps you’ll pray on your knees or prone before God. Perhaps you’ll get up earlier or stay up later when the house is quiet. Do whatever helps.

Be disciplined. With the Holy Spirit’s enablement, keep at it. Pray for the grace to be consistent in prayer. Someone once said that “ruts of routine serve as God’s grooves of grace.” Remember that today you are becoming what you will be the rest of your life. You’re laying the groundwork today for the Christian you’ll be tomorrow. If you have some lack, attend to it today. Teach us to pray, Lord.

Keep before you this prayer: as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for these who make up my family of faith. And if you want your church to grow in every way, encourage your folks to pray.

I ended my message to Bob and his congregation with a prayer that his family of faith might serve as a beacon of light in the place where the Lord had planted them. I prayed that Bob might serve faithfully and well, keeping his priorities straight and the Lord the Lord. I ended with the benediction from Numbers 6:25: May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

What I’ve presented this morning is that to which I aspire. I want to be a Christ-honoring, Bible-centered, faithful and faith-filled pastor and I pray you will call me to serve as your pastor. And the congregation did…by unanimous vote.

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

 

The Lord Can Change the Trajectory of Your Life: Billy Graham and the Supernatural Activity of God

Billy-Graham1Over the course of my days, my life has intersected again and again with the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham and ministries to which he was connected and/or had founded.

In 1982, my marriage was falling apart and I was falling apart. Friends, who’d been praying for me for some time, invited me to attend the Graham crusade at Nickerson Field in Boston and, on Pentecost Sunday, I went forward with thousands of others to accept Jesus as my Savior. I invited my husband, Gene, to attend the next night and he went forward as well, welcoming Christ into his life. Jesus saved our marriage and turned our lives completely around. In the days that followed, when I sensed a call to the professional ministry, I never considered studying anywhere but Gordon-Conwell: Billy Graham was one of the founders of what would become my alma mater and he was chairman of the school’s board during my years there. His signature is on my Master of Divinity diploma from that school.

ham-mainnew
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

As a student, I was given the opportunity to train in and engage in evangelism through one of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) phone centers that was activated each time a crusade aired. Some years later, when I was serving as a visiting professor in evangelism and practical ministry at Gordon-Conwell, I made participation in the BGEA phone ministry a requirement in my courses.

While at GCTS, I was also one of the first students invited to participate in the Arrow Leadership Program which was founded by Billy Graham’s brother-in-law, Leighton Ford. The latter had a desire to help those who were emerging as new communicators of the Gospel. Dr. Ford had created Arrow as a means through which strategic investments might be made in the character, calling, and competency of young leaders. The organization continues to make those investments today.

Around the same time, I was invited to serve as a delegate to Lausanne II (in Manila, the Philippines). This international congress was one in a series of events called by the Lausanne Movement to foster cooperation among evangelical leaders. That movement was founded by Billy Graham, and it was in Manila that I developed a greater understanding of the realities of the global Church.

Two years later, the Graham Association created a profile of my life and ministry for airing during one of its crusade telecasts. As this came in the early years of my work for the Lord, I was stunned to learn that my profile would be the second in a series that began with Major League Baseball player Dave Dravecky. Rev. Graham’s message for the program in which my profile appeared, was entitled, “Who Is Jesus?” I can still hear the voice of Cliff Barrows introducing my segment. And, of course, George Beverly Shea’s comforting bass-baritone filled and lifted the hearts of those in the stadium seats at the Meadowlands in New Jersey along with the hearts of those listening from their seats at home.

The list of life intersections with Billy Graham and the organizations he founded continued on in the years that followed. I was asked to contribute chapters to the Billy Graham Christian Workers’ Handbook and worked with the BGEA to create a film for use in the telephone training centers. I was invited to serve on the Ministerial Advisory Council to the President at Gordon-Conwell and was interviewed for the school’s Contact Magazine. I was one of about a half dozen graduates, serving in churches, who were selected to speak to the GCTS Board of Directors about what additional training I would suggest the seminary should offer. I also collaborated with three GCTS professors on a book that was honored as a Christianity Today Book of the Year. Billy Graham founded the magazine CT in 1956 and its panel continues to select the top books each year in about a dozen categories, ranging from apologetics to Biblical studies, fiction to history and biography.

Decision-Covers-11-2016-1As I have often said elsewhere, I am deeply indebted to Billy Graham. He and the organizations he founded set the trajectory for my life in ministry. This man of integrity, humility, generosity and faithfulness was used of the Lord in the transformations of millions of individuals around the world, including my own. And now, even following his passing, I continue to be blessed by “America’s Pastor” and the BGEA. I have just received a request from Decision Magazine, a publication founded by the Rev. Graham, that I tell the story of how I came to faith in Christ at the Graham Crusade in Boston and how that decision has impacted my life to this day. What I find particularly astonishing is that no single human being has orchestrated these connections over the years. Everything points to the supernatural activity of God.

I pray that anyone reading this might be led to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior by offering a prayer that follows that was often shared by Pastor Graham. Those who know Jesus, might also take this opportunity to rededicate themselves–through this prayer–to the Lord’s service.

In Reverend Graham’s last message in the 2013 video-recorded My Hope America, he shared his heart for our nation today:

“Our country’s in great need of a spiritual awakening. There have been times that I’ve wept as I’ve gone from city to city and I’ve seen how far people have wandered from God. I want to tell people about the meaning of the cross. Not the cross that hangs on the wall or around someone’s neck, but the real cross of Christ…With all my heart I want to leave you with the truth, that He loves you, and is willing to forgive you of all your sins. Sin is a disease of the human heart…There is no other way of salvation except through the cross of Christ.”

He then offered a simple, yet powerful prayer, along with a final reminder that if we are willing to come to Christ, Jesus has the power to change our lives and future forever. “Today,” he said, “I’m asking you to put your trust in Jesus.” Then he lifted these words:

“Dear Heavenly Father, I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins, and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins, I repent of my sins, I invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

If you lifted this prayer, from your heart and with all sincerity, know that your life will be different from this day forward for you will now walk with Jesus. He can change your life as He changed mine, as He changed Gene’s.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Shifting Focus to the Gentlemen

downloadA couple of days ago, I was so incensed over the barbaric conduct of some Philadelphia Eagles’ fans that I posted an article I have since taken down. I regret having shared it. The team shouldn’t be smeared by the brutish and boorish behavior of the few. Far better to focus on the gentlemen who are on the team who are worthy of respect.

The article, to which I link here, highlights the faith of quarterback, Nick Foles who has described himself as a “Believer in Jesus Christ, husband, father, son, brother.” After the play-off victory against the Minnesota Vikings, Foles said: “First and foremost, all glory belongs to God. I wouldn’t be here without Him and this is just very humbling and unbelievable…I’m blessed to have amazing teammates, amazing coaches.”

Foles took over the starting job in December when star quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a knee injury. Wentz has said, “I think the biggest thing that we’re always challenging each other with is just to not lose sight of the bigger picture. I think wins, losses, highs, lows, everything that comes with this game, it’s so easy to take your mind and your eyes off of the ultimate prize, and that’s living for the Lord.”

See more here:

https://stream.org/headed-super-bowl-eagles-qb/

 

The Rest is Part of the Making of the Music

Rests-WholeHe withdrew… to a solitary place (Matthew 14:13).

There is no music during a musical rest, but the rest is part of the making of the music. In the melody of our life, the music is separated here and there by rests. During those rests, we foolishly believe we have come to the end of the song. God sends us time of forced leisure by allowing sickness, disappointed plans, and frustrated efforts. He brings a sudden pause in the choral hymns of our lives, and we lament that our voices must be silent. We grieve that our part is missing in the music that continually rises to the ear of our Creator. Yet how does a musician read the rest? He counts the break with unwavering precision and plays his next note with confidence, as if no pause were ever there.

God does not write the music of our lives without a plan. Our part is to learn the tune and not be discouraged during the rests. They are not to be slurred over or omitted, nor used to destroy the melody or to change the key. If we will only look up, God Himself will count the time for us. With our eyes on Him, our next note will be full and clear. If we sorrowfully say to ourselves, “There is no music in a rest,” let us not forget that the rest is part of the making of the music. The process is often slow and painful in this life, yet how patiently God works to teach us! And how long He waits for us to learn the lesson!
–John Ruskin

John_Ruskin_in_his_thirties
John Ruskin, 1850.

An Apparent Defeat May Result in Victory

Golden-Lampstand-Church-pre-demolition-1100
The Golden Lampstand Church, pre-demolition.

In today’s entry in Streams in the Desert, I was reminded of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown into an enormous fiery furnace when they refused to abandon their allegiance to the living God. Here was an apparent victory for the enemy. It looked as if God’s people were going to suffer a terrible vanquishment, but God saved them in and through the fire. We can imagine what a complete defeat the destruction of the Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen, China must appear to be to many, but as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego emerged from the fire unsinged, so let us pray this apparent defeat will result in a marvelous victory for Christians.
chinese-megachurch-portrait

Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out.

When the great oak is straining in the wind, the boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk sends down a deeper root on the windward side.

Only the soul that knows the mighty grief can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.

 

 

Praying the Church in China will grow ever stronger as Christians are coming under increasing persecution.

Daniel 3

https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/chinese-government-blows-christian-megachurch-warning-local-churches/

Store Up Comfort

The_Good_Samaritan_MET_EP151Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God (Isaiah 40:1).

God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.
–John Henry Jowett

Store up comfort. This was the prophet’s mission. The world is full of comfortless hearts, and to make you sufficient for this lofty ministry, you must be trained. And your training is costly in the extreme; for, to render it perfect, you too must pass through the same afflictions as are wringing countless hearts of tears and blood. Thus, your own life becomes the hospital ward where you art taught the Divine art of comfort. You are wounded, that in the binding up of your wounds by the Great Physician, you may learn how to render first aid to the wounded everywhere. Do you wonder why you are passing through some special sorrow? Wait till ten years have passed, and you will find many others afflicted as you are. You will tell them how you have suffered and have been comforted; then as the tale is unfolded, and the anodynes applied which once your God wrapped around you, in the eager look and the gleam of hope that shall chase the shadow of despair across the soul, you will know why you were afflicted, and bless God for the discipline that stored your life with such a fund of experience and helpfulness.

Adapted from today’s Streams in the Desert

Accompanying photo: The Good Samaritan, David Teniers the Younger (Flemish, Antwerp 1610–1690 Brussels).