Some words are more important…

The polls are in and the top words banned in 2018 are fourteen overused words to avoid – included this year are “unpack”, “tons”, “drill-down”, and my favorite: “nothing-burger.” The number one vote-getter is “fake news.” Last year’s was “so” as in “I am so tired of lists.”

As we “off-board” last year and “on-board” 2018, it seems everyone is trying to put words to the year almost gone, maybe thinking what they might need to “walk back” or even “double down” on from the year –  and, or course, they “seeking traction” and are trying to “wrap their heads around” the coming months. I better stop now.

Some words are more important than others. Jesus came back to certain phrases to help us remember the important stuff. “Whoever has ears to hear, let him listen.” “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you” and it’s KJV companion, “Verily, verily, I say to unto you.” But, at the top of the list is ” The kingdom of heaven (or God) is like…”

Jesus would then attach to this phrase something totally, well, common. Relatable. A farmer, or a seed, or a net, or yeast, or a homeowner, or a wedding party.

My first thoughts about the “kingdom of heaven” is to look up, to the future, to eternity. And certainly eternity and heaven are within the stories Jesus told about the kingdom. But what we do here and now is kingdom stuff, too.

  • The kingdom of heaven is like the the woman who makes coffee for her friends so they can talk about Jesus around her table.
  • The kingdom of heaven is like the builder who hires and treats his workers with honor so they will see Jesus in his life.
  • The kingdom of heaven is like the the living room filled with people from different countries, languages, colors, and stories whose lives have been changed by the Savior.
  • The kingdom of heaven is like… (On 1/2/2018, let’s leave a blank and see how we can fill it in each day by inviting the common things in our life to connect and display the supernatural acts of God.)

Call it a “paradigm shift” or an “adjusted grid” – Perhaps 2018 is the year that I will ask how the common, the relatable things in my life, can show others what the kingdom of heaven is like.

For the King – Rick

P.S. My pastor and friend in Myrtle Beach, Tim Holt, has said more than once that the Kingdom is present when the King gets His way.

P.P.S. (List provided by Lake Superior State University – they’ve offered this list for decades! https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2017/12/31/2018-banned-words/993549001/)

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All Mission Supporters are not created equal…

From someone on the field who has some wonderful missional people in my life, I have learned to live by grace when it comes to the weighing the excitement people share about missions. (Please read on and don’t judge me by the title.)

  • Some are genuinely passionate to see the church go to the nations – after all, in more nations than not, a McDonald’s full of people would not have one solitary evangelical Christ-follower (other than you) if you walked in.
  • Some are excited for us that we are going on the adventure. And doing so for God.
  • Some look incredulously at us and ask, “what’s that all about”. In the words of my late father-in-law, many think, “I ain’t left nothing over there.”
  • And some wish they could go, want to go, would try to go if they could find the door opening. I can see it in their eyes. They want to be a part of the adventure.

So, how does this translate into being a mission supporter? And are they created, or does missional passion emerge?

Perhaps, to move further down this path, a quick recap of the needs missionaries have might help with perspective:

Food, transportation, housing, clothing, ministry resources, medical and dental care, the occasional vacation or conference – and since I live in Italy, a regular measure of coffee. Add to this short-term teams to come and help, church rent, Bibles, project resources, and special ministry funds for reaching out to the different kinds of needs. (I don’t know a missionary yet who is asking for the moon.)

Mission supporters come in all shapes and sizes. And God, somehow, matches us mission supporters with these needs.

I know fixed income Christians who give regularly beyond their tithe. I’ve met reasonably educated and employed church-goers who give up things they’ve earned the right to spend their resources on so they can give to multiple missional causes. Some of my friends are highly educated, highly skilled, and/or blessed with great wealth, and they strategically look for and give to mission needs. I even have retired friends who could be on the back nine who have reinvented their skills in business so they can give all the profits to Kingdom causes.

Then, how can each of us nurture our lives so we can be more missional?

  1. Overestimate … each moment of prayer for missions. Most of us, honestly, low-ball our impact in the prayer closet. We just don’t “feel” we are making a difference. God says otherwise. When we pray, we change and we connect God’s purposes and resources to those for whom we pray.
  2. Reposition … the heart. We can get pretty wrapped up in what’s before us, and forget what is happening across the street or around the globe. Ask God for an upward love – on Him, and an outward love – for the world, and for specific cultures and people. Jesus said the heart resides with what we value.
  3. Lavishly spend … time with missional people. Find ways to get “in the way” – get into the lives of missionaries. Learn about their nations. Find ways to surprise them with your presence and word of encouragement.
  4. Turn up the heat … on giving and going. Your heart follows your bank account. My pastor from Crossroads Church in Newnan taught me this in relation to giving. If you don’t give at all, give some to someone. If you don’t give regularly, give monthly to someone. If you don’t give a percentage, begin to give a specific portion. Make your tithe count in your church and strategic giving count to missional causes.

It’s very true that “disciples are made, not born”* and the same is true of mission supporters. We are all (yes, this missionary is a missionary supporter, too) on the way to becoming better mission supporters. God, the God of The Mission** to save our world, is working it in us.

From the field – Rick

* Two disciple-makers, Howard Hendricks and Walt Henrichsen, wrote Disciples are Made not Born years ago. Still an awesome book to read. The premise: each of us as Christ-followers have the potential to change our world, but we need to make the choices to be a disciples and find others who can pour into our lives and into whom we can pour into theirs. (Another shout out to Ken Adams, pastor of Crossroads Church Newnan GA – we are called to “be and build disciples of Christ.)

** I hear at Christmas time how Jesus came into the world as an immigrant (the trek to Egypt is the nod this claim gives). In reality, He was missional in the Advent – He came to declare and be Good News: the Kingdom of God is at hand (Isaiah 61, Luke 4, John 3).

Vineyard 201 – Power of God, Power of Prayer

This week’s article by John Wimber, one of the key pastors who helped launch the “Vineyard Movement” links two important spiritual topics: the power of God and the Christ-follower’s prayer life. God wants to display His power through our lives – no question about his (the whole “same works and even greater” promise still wrecks my experiential grid!) But, what is our responsibility through prayer? And more importantly, how does prayer display God’s Kingdom and Power? Wimber would say, it’s all about intimacy!

Enjoy the article below and learn about the empowering nature of intimacy with God:

PRAYER: INTIMACY WITH GOD

Only in an intimate relationship with God can we hear his voice, know his will,

and understand his heart.

By John Wimber

If most Christians could listen to recordings of their prayers over a week’s time, we would discover we pray the same things, using the same words and sentence structures, over and over again. But, I suspect, what would disturb us most is the cold, mechanical, removed feeling of the prayers. We would become more aware of something we already know but can hardly acknowledge: our relationship with God is distant and impersonal – and because of this we are unhappy and unfulfilled.

Now think of the quality of Jesus’ prayer life. Picture in your mind the freedom and openness he always experienced with his heavenly Father. He spoke to his Father in terms of endearment, referring to him as “Daddy.” Jesus took every problem, every concern, and every decision to him moment by moment. And he did it with ease and joy! It was an intimate relationship, an openness in which he freely shared his most essential, private, and personal thoughts and emotions.

The quality of relationship with his Father also was a key to answered prayer. By knowing his Father’s will, he knew how, what, and whom to pray for. “The world must learn that I love the Father,” Jesus said, “and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). How did the world know Jesus loved the Father? Because he did what the Father told him to do, and he was able to do that because he had an intimate relationship with him.

I believe Jesus’ prayer life is something that we should aspire to, that intimacy with God in prayer is a primary goal of the Christian life.

Obedience

Why is our goal intimacy with God? Because only there do we experience forgiveness, renewal, and power for righteous living. Only in an intimate relationship with God can we hear his voice, know his will, and understand his heart.

Some of us, though, think of intimacy as merely a warm emotion—something akin to spiritual goose bumps. But this isn’t what I mean by intimacy with God. By intimacy I mean four things:

  • First, intimacy is self-disclosure. This is our ability to talk with God about who we really are, to say what we need and want, all the time knowing that he hears us and cares about these things. This touches on the formation of such character traits as honesty, integrity, and confidence.
  • Second, intimacy is being known by God. God doesn’t need our cooperation to know everything about us (Matthew 10:30). But for him to work in us and through us, we must cooperate with him, joyfully receiving his fatherly love.
  • Third, intimacy is continual obedience to God. This means knowing God in the deepest part of our beings, hearing his voice, experiencing his grace and then doing what he says to do. There is nothing fancy or mysterious about obedience. The rewards are great: A greater knowledge of God’s holiness and a clear conscience.

Scripture

  • Fourth, intimacy is knowing God. By knowing God I mean having relationship with him and knowing about him. The latter point contains a Catch 22, because a proper understanding of God’s nature is both a goal and prerequisite of intimacy. In other words, what we believe about God determines how we pray, and the quality of our prayer life powerfully affects what we believe about God!

A defective understanding of our heavenly Father’s nature (usually a result of some failure in our earthly father) is one of the greatest obstacles to an intimate prayer life. Do you think of God as quite distant from creation, disinterested in ordinary people’s daily struggles? If so your prayer life is probably an infrequent exercise in paying homage to the Creator, but in no way is it a life-changing relationship. Do you think of God as an angry old man, depriving you of life’s pleasures and joys? If so, your prayer life likely is a loathsome event, full of fear and anger.

God has provided means for overcoming our misconceptions about his nature: Scripture. In the Bible, God reveals his nature to us, but most of us require healing in some area of our lives so we can receive the truth of Scripture. Hurtful memories of our earthly fathers may hold us back from receiving our heavenly Father. Prayer for overcoming the effects of past hurts and immersion in God’s Word are the pathway to knowing God.

Models

Another obstacle to attaining intimacy with God in prayer is the dearth of mature prayer models, men and women who inspire and instruct us through prayer and deed.

As a new Christian, I was discipled by a man who embodied what it meant to be intimate with God. But even he wasn’t perfect, and when he moved away after only two years, I was forced to look elsewhere for a model of intimacy. So to whom can we look? Christ is available to all, our great example of intimacy with the Father. He is the one that we ultimately look to and pattern our lives after.

I began this article by contrasting our prayer life with Christ’s. In the remainder of the article, I will take a closer look at Christ’s relationship with his Father as found in what is commonly called the high priestly prayer of John 17.

The Upper Room

John 17 must be understood with its broader context, chapter 13 through17, the longest account of Jesus’ last night with his disciples in the upper room. Jesus speaks to his disciples in an intimate, after-dinner exchange. He discloses to them some of the most beautiful truths in the Bible. One prominent feature of his discourse is his use of the word love. It is used only six times in chapters 1-12 of John’s Gospel but 31 times in chapters 13-17.

Chapter 17 records Jesus’ conversation with his Father about himself, the apostles, and all believers. I am not as much interested here in what he prayed about as how he prayed, for his manner reveals much about his relationship with the Father.

Verse one says, “He looked toward heaven and prayed.” Did you know that the customary attitude of prayer for Jesus was to open his eyes and raise his head? His position on prayer was different from the practices of most Western Christians. Now, I believe there is nothing wrong in lowering our heads and closing our eyes (it communicates reverence toward God and helps us keep our concentration on God), but Jesus looked up and opened his eyes because his relationship with the Father was open, free, uninhibited.

He begins his prayer with the simple “Father,” the common address of a child to its parent. Jesus was using language common to everyday family life and transferring it to God. It reveals the close familiarity between Jesus and his Father.

Reinforce Truth

Jesus then goes on in verses two to five to pray for himself as within hours he would face the cross. But the tone of his prayer impresses me—informal, free, and heartfelt. These were the prayers of a friend of God. In reading many of Jesus’ prayers, I get the feeling that he is interrupting a private, unspoken conversation in order to speak aloud so the disciples can learn how to pray. In other words, his spoken words appear to be the overflow of a continuing dialogue with his Father.

In saying, “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you,” Jesus revealed his one motivation in life was to glorify his Father. This meant that all his prayers were steeped with an attitude of obedience and sacrifice, a desire to submit his life to whatever his Father wanted. It is almost as though he is reviewing a fundamental principle of the Christian life: You glorify me, I glorify you. We too, should never hesitate to repeat the fundamental promises of Scripture to God in prayer; in doing so we reinforce his truth in us and faith grows. We need to regularly review our commitments, and what better place is there to do that than with God?

In verses 6 to 19 he prays for the disciples. He continues to focus on fulfilling God’s purpose: to redeem and raise up a people who know the Father. When we experience intimacy with our heavenly Father our hearts will naturally turn toward intercession. Why? Because we will take on his heart, his burden for men and women.

Jesus and the early Christians rarely prayed for the world. Instead, they prayed that the church would be bold in proclaiming the gospel to the unsaved! You don’t have to tell God your friends aren’t saved. He already knows. You need to tell them about Christ, and ask God for the boldness to speak the gospel in love.

Unity

In verses 20 to 26 he prays for all believers “that all may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21). This is the punch line of the high priestly prayer: We can have the same type of relationship with the Father that Jesus has.

I grew up as an only child with both parents who worked. From the ages of five to eighteen I devoted my life almost entirely to music, sitting alone for hours practicing different musical instruments. I didn’t develop very many social skills with a horn in my mouth. If it hadn’t been for my wife, I don’t know if I would have ever learned how to have deep, intimate friendships. I have found it difficult to know God as my “Daddy,” but as I grow in the knowledge of his nature and take risks with him, I’m learning he loves me and accepts me the way I am. I can enter into the same quality of relationship as Jesus has with the Father.

When we experience the intimacy of the Father and the Son, it will affect our relationship brothers and sisters in such a way that many pagans will believe that Jesus was sent by the Father to redeem the world (v.23). Christian unity, rooted in an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father, is the most powerful testimony of Christ’s lordship in the world today.

 

How Many Miracles?

When Jesus took the short-cut across water, He really didn’t expect the delay of a series of miracles. He planned to “pass them by” after a lengthy time of prayer, according to one of the Gospel writers (even though here Matthew says He came toward them.)

How many miracles surprise us in this passage: the miracle of Jesus walking on water (creating substance under his feet or creating a gravitational miracle, the miracle of faith for Peter to step out of the boat, then Peter’s miracle of walking on the water, and the subsequent repentance, forgiveness and rescue; and we can’t forget the calming of the storm.

Here are some “take-aways” I can walk away with, too:
1. Miracles happen when we are aligned on the same course with the God of miracles. The disciples were on course.
2. Miracles happen when we need miracles. They were on course, but they were struggling.
3. Miracles happen when we ask for one. Peter asked; Jesus answered. He could have said, don’t be an idiot, Peter, people don’t walk on water!
4. Miracles happen on His word. The firmness of the statement “Yes, come,” was the substance just under the waters that Peter walked on.
5. Miracles happen when we repent. The timeliest rescue is when we are going down for the last time.
6. Miracles happen in the midst of relationships. Does a miracle make a story if no one is around to share in it? Jesus got in the boat, and His Presence alone stopped the storm.

How many miracles does it take when I step out of the safety net around me? Let’s see – one so far, and looking for the next!

Staying on course,
Rick

What I Have Learned About Prayer in 40 Years…

What I Have Learned About Prayer in 40 Years…
And Still Wish I Could Get Right!
Rick Harrell
appuntivita.wordpress.com

1. Mix it up. Don’t get into a routine that can grow stale. Try new things in your devotionals to bring new energy to your prayer time. For a whole year, each of my daily devotion times involved reading through the Psalms and learning about worship and trust. He expanded my heart for Him that year.

2.  Try online resources for devotionals. I currently use StudyLight.org and go to the devotional section and choose two of these as a part of my day’s start – my two choices currently are “Word for Today” and “My Utmost for His Highest.” My Utmost is in book form in a modern translation, and may be out there in Italian, too, since I am writing this from Italy and you may even be Italian.

3. Pick a special place to have your devotions and prayer.
It may be a chair in a certain part of the house, or a corner of your balcony. I have a friend who has a real closet area, with a window, a stool and small table. He is on his knees more, though. Have your Bible and journal/prayer notebook waiting on you each morning.

4. Make appointments in your diary for time with God. Give Him priority… that means He gets first spot.

5. Always, always, always, start your Bible reading with prayer. We need His help to discover and uncover truth. Put yourself in the story, and picture the people and places. Listen with your imagination to the background noises. Ask God to talk to you and show you what He wants you to take away and apply. Remember to say: “God, this is supernatural in front of my eyes; and I need your Spirit to help me understand it and what I should do in response to it.”

6. If you want to learn how to pray, go on a “treasure hunt.” Read through the letters of Paul and write down the things he prayed for others. Then read through the prayers of Jesus. Most of them were short (“Be healed.” “Come out.” “Be calm.” “Be still.”) Look at the authority He prayed with. Pray like him when you pray for others. “God, calm the storm in his life.” God, make her whole.”)

7. Understand your day’s rhythms. When are you most full of energy and can give your best to God’s call to prayer? Try to fit your time to this – if it’s morning, make it happen then. Don’t give God your yawns! And if you have trouble focusing, keep a list of things you will take care of that come to mind while you pray. Get them off your mind and onto the paper, so you can return to praying.

8. Understand your emotional rhythms. You are uniquely you! Some days of the week or month and even some seasons of the year are just not your best “I really feel great about praying” times or days. Do it anyway. God isn’t dependent on your feelings each time you pray. He really isn’t limited to you getting emotional (even though He wants to engage your passions.) He loves to answer when we are not “feeling it.” So, quit the excuses of “I don’t feel it” and PRAY! Faith in God, His Word, His Promises, His nature, His will – these are fuel of what our prayer life runs on.

9. Some days are time-limited. Make these shorter times count. Worship, read and pray in faith. Don’t try to work up an emotional high before praying since you will frustrate yourself, frustrate God, and probably still not pray in faith.

10. Some days are time-gifted.
You sometimes have “open windows of prayer” when you can take extended times to worship, pray, fall in love with Jesus, journal your heart out onto paper or your digital blog. Look forward to those days, and ask God what he wants to teach you about His heart. Be obedient when He speaks. These times can often change the course of your life or the lives of others. (One time, about an hour into my prayer time, God spoke to me about lifting my hands to Him in worship. I was outside at the time, and I told Him I didn’t worship like that. He clearly said, “If you don’t, you will stop right here in your growth in worship.” My hands went up so quick it was funny. Now, lifting hands to a loving Daddy is a natural response to His love.)

11. Organize your prayer life by circles. This may be my biggest struggle to keep up with, other than the simple let’s just do it attitude I need to have toward prayer. It helps to remember that “praying always” or “praying continually” for someone doesn’t mean you have him or her on your lips all day and all night. Praying continually means that you have a consistent time of praying for them
•    Your most immediate circle should be daily, and include those God has put in your life for an ongoing purpose. (My wife, my three kids; my spiritual leaders – missions, pastor, Bible study; my work leaders – boss, those I work immediate with most of the time; those I am discipling, usually two or three guys; those I am reaching out to, usually three or four people I am trying to strengthen bridges of trust and compassion to them that the Gospel can travel more freely over.) Sounds like a lot on the first list that happens each day – but really only about 10-12 people.
•    My next list is the once a week list. This is usually broken down into Monday-Saturday, and I cover extended family, church members who have needs and ask for prayer, missions partners whom we support, our government/schools/military/economy/culture – that it would all work together to create a spiritual climate open to the Gospel, the persecuted church, extended list of lost or hurting people.
•    My final list is those “one-time” prayer requests that come my way. I pray for them right there with the person, or pray for the need when I get home. But I don’t own this one as my “burden” to pray for regularly. I do pray for these occasionally, and I check in with the person to see how God is answering and to let them know I am continuing to pray (not continuously, but continuing…)

12. Move prayer needs around. Journaling helps me keep up with names, needs, answers to prayer, praise reports. Just because a person or a need is on a certain day or list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t “bump the priority up” when God says so.

13. Begin and end each prayer time in worship and thanksgiving.
As a part of the beautiful conversation God has begun with us, make worship and adoration an essential part of your prayer time. Sometimes, it may be your whole prayer time. Other times worship is the prelude to praying in faith, and thanksgiving is the consummate finale.

14. Use the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer as your extended prayer day pattern.
An hour or more can go by quickly when you take these words Jesus gave us, and you use them as the “diving board” to jump into the deep end of the pool in prayer. I can share more about this if you’d like. I keep an outline of an hour’s prayer time in my Bible most of the time.

15. My favorite Prayer Verses? Ephesians – the whole book. Incredible insight into our position in Christ, the battle we are in, and how to stand faithfully to the end in prayer.

Prone to Pray,

Rick

Praying for the City

Who wouldn’t agree that we need to pray… a lot… when we are faced with the insurmountable. But, “we need to pray” can become a phrase we say to segue to “the real work” of evangelism, servant-hood, social help, etc. Or it can at time sound tired, and almost empty, as if it’s the best we can do since the situation is, after all, insurmountable!

OM-Italy is convinced that the real work of ministry alongside churches, of servant-hood, of redemptive social help, and especially of declaring the Great News about Jesus, begins and ends with prayer.

“Our goal is to pray in preparation for ministry and outreach, pray throughout the campaign, and pray for the results after we pack up the tent, fold up the boxes, or put away the face-paint. We want to surround the ministry of the Gospel with prayer,” said Rick Harrell, discipleship leader for OM-Italy.

A recent cool Monday night, Rick and members of the OM-Italy team drove into the center of Turin to the Piazza della Repubblica to pray. In two weeks a team from all over Europe will join a dozen evangelical churches in an outreach campaign in the center of this busy piazza.

The area, locally called Porta Palazzo, is filled with high rise buildings of flats that surround the piazza and line nearby streets and alleys. The dense population is split among Chinese Buddhists, Moslem’s from various countries of Northern Africa, and a modest mix of various other nationalities, including Italians. Christ’s name is heard infrequently on the streets of Porta Palazzo.

Market day, everyday in Porta Palazzo, Turin, Italy

This night, however, the name of Jesus was heard, praised, and lifted up as the team moved from one corner to the next worshiping and interceding for the city, the churches, and the outreach campaign.

The format was simple with just a few words, or tags, to guide the prayer time.

Praise, to remember that God is Lord of this City. He is worthy of worship even in places other gods are honored. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and highest praise is due Him.

People, to remember that there are people groups, or “ethnos” clusters, that live here and need Christ. And more specifically, there are families, students, marriages, seniors, children, singles, widows, businessmen and women, all on the edge of eternity – and Christ left heaven to rescue them.

Pictures, to remember that God speaks to us and reminds us visually of what He has done, how He works, and what He delights in and longs for in this city. An image or metaphor brought to mind can be a catalyst for faith and prayer when we intercede (the Bible is full of these pictures, by the way.)

Promises, to recall that He has assured us that He will move on behalf of His children, and that He is active working in hearts and lives, even in the inner city of Torino.

Powers and principalities, to remind us that the enemy has designs and influential activity in the center city, that we need God’s Spiritual Armor to advance His kingdom, and that we can take the city for Christ.

The Italian word, inondazione, describes the growing prayer strategy of OM-Italy. “We want to flood the city with prayer before, during, and after the outreaches. Already, we see a coalition of churches who are reaching into Porta Palazzo multiple times this year. We want to see the churches and pastors join us in the streets and piazzas as we all intercede for the city”

OM-Italy invites you to join them in praying for Italy, for Turin, for Porta Palazzo, and for the outreaches planned on November 11 through 13.