Moving On…

We each need to move. Christianity is a faith of mobility. Biologists use the word “motility” to explain how a cells move almost instinctually toward its purpose. Spontaneous. Instinctual. As if responding to an inner call. Christianity is a faith of motility.

Forward (or backward) motion is a given in the life of the Christ-follower. While we may “stay” in place where we live, work, serve, play, worship, and learn; we are not “static” in our faith walk. Even our vocabulary urges us forward: walk of faith, run the race, stretching for the high prize of God’s calling. He speaks and we move toward His Voice.

Jesus made one final and specific demand on our lives… He is the Boss, after all. He told us to “make disciples,” “instruct in the faith,” “baptize new disciples,” and do it all “as we go.” His demand isn’t that we find the mountainside cave and meditate our lives away. He says “go.” We are a people on the move.

Proverbs 3:7 says “Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” The Message captures this movement with this: “Run to God! Run from evil!”

The account of the Prodigal is a story of movement, too. The running from God toward evil that the younger son chooses is quickly followed by the running out of money he faces. Then, he makes a new, timid move back to the father. And the father’s response is both unbecoming and impassioned – he hikes his robes and runs to his son. Then, his next demand is to his servants – restore him to a place of honor and run and set up the party room.

  • Movement in repentance
  • Movement in restoration
  • Movement in celebration

When we move from a place of self-centeredness and sin, we join in the movement…and the Movement. The grace of God is this: He calls, we answer and move toward him, and He runs to us for the grand embrace. And we get to chase after Him in the race of a lifetime!

On the Move,

Rick

Surprised by an Angel… and the Call to Tell the Story!

Nearly everyone loves to hear a good story. Movies, novels, poems, and digital versions of it all, invite us to become a part of the action or the suspense, or the romance, or the journey. Most stories we read or watch or listen to come and go. They may touch us or speak a bit; but they are easily filed away somewhere dusty and hard to find. Some stories are grab our hearts and our imagination. We identify with the people or the crisis they face and how they survive.

Then, there is the story that comes along once in a lifetime. Not only does it capture our imagination – it changes our lives. We look back on this rare story, the characters and what they experienced, and we realize that what happened meets us right where we live, it changes how we see life, and that story redefines who and, more importantly, why we are.

That’s the story the sheepherders found themselves a part of over 2000 years ago on the hillside overlooking the town of Bethlehem. Luke 2:1-20 are the verses that, surprisingly, make up an assignment my high school teacher at NMBHS way back when had me memorize and recite (yes, that was another day.)

It’s the story of Joseph and his betrothed wife Mary, their trek to Bethlehem, the birth of God’s one and only son, Jesus, and a bunch of unwary sheepherders who became a part of the Story of stories.

1At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

This baby, who is both King and Savior, was born in perhaps the most available and approachable place in the town – in a stable around the corner from a hostel, just shouting distance from the streets of the town. God chose to send His Son, fully human and fully God, to be born where word would get out. And this prepared the town for what happened next. And, this is when the sheepherders are invited into the story.

8That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. 

The Good New story met the sheepherders right where they lived. And it began with the herders who drew the night watch. While their partners caught up on sleep, an angel appeared right in the middle of their conversations. And this angel had just come from the presence of the Father to bring the news about the Son. And the glory of God remained.

And they were terrified. They were used to fighting off wild animals or climbing down the cliffs to rescue a lamb. But, an angel! How many times in the Bible did God show up through His presence, through a vision, or through an angel’s visit – They were scared beyond words. And the answer: Don’t be scared! God met these sheepherders right where they lived.

  11 “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

If the angel’s visit was at first terrifying, the message that he brought was liberating. As good Jewish sheepherders, they heard this message through all they knew about Lord God of Israel.

  • Good news means freedom.
  • Messiah and Lord means salvation.
  • And if you throw in King David, they understood they would be God’s people again, under the rule of His King.

The message from the throne room of God through this single angel literally changed who they were. Sure, they remained sheepherders. But this Good News brought the promise of…

  • Peace that comes with freedom from the oppression of the enemy.
  • Hope that comes with the promised Messiah.
  • Celebrative Joy that comes with being together as God’s people ruled by His King.

And whether in response to the Good News being proclaimed on the hillside or in response to the faith and joy of the shepherds, the worship of the heavens broke through into the physical realm, and…

13Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

This was more than the sheepherders could contain and, by now they were all together on the hillside echoing the same rejoicing. They had to see it for themselves.

15When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

There in a stable for animals, the greatest expression of God’s love slept. The message propelled the shepherds to check it out for themselves and discover if the Good News was really the Good News. And it was. And it changed both who and why they were. They had to tell others and fanned out through the streets of the town telling anyone they saw that Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord and King was born – in a stable, just around the corner, right where anyone could find Him.

The Good News met the shepherd right where they lived, and the truth of the message of Christmas transformed who they were and became the reason for why they lived. God’s great Story intersected their story and surprised them and transformed them.

  • This Christmas – surprise you with His peace, His love, His joy, His hope. He is God near to us.
  • His Good news meets us where we do life.
  • He invites you to approach Him, come to him – with fears, with broken plans and promised, with empty and dead spots in our lives.
  • And he speaks to you right now – no fear except the awe of a Savior with unchangeable love, no loneliness or emptiness because he fills us and comes close, no dead spots because he brings life and mercy.

Welcome again to the Story. Praying it intersects your story frequently in 2020!

Changing Lanes and Staying the Course

One of my favorite teachers is Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa Pastor Brian Brodersen. I respect how he and his church pour into missions as if the Great Commission was given directly to him and his team. And that they hold to the never-changing Truth of the Scripture while expecting God to do a new and fresh work today. He and his church are a good example of what it means to be missional.

In a recent message here in Europe, he noted that we each are to follow our calling with energy, wisely and with a clear direction –  he likened it to staying the course in the “lane God has chosen for us.” That lane gives us guidance and intentionality, and a respect for those in other lanes following hard after God, too. We work better together trusting God’s work in each others’ lives – no judgment and no disparaging, but prayerful honoring since, after all, it is God’s work.

But, we also should know that, at some point, we will sense it is time to “change lanes.” And we can have one of two responses.

At some point, we may feel the urge to change lanes because we find the going difficult. It could be pressure from others, conflict in relationships, lack of measurable progress (which can easily happen on the mission field), or outright failure or major setbacks. In this instance, it’s best to first take the faith lesson that difficulty teaches and stay the course. This is probably the hardest to do, and to urge others to do with authenticity. It’s painful. And it seems that light and hope for God’s voice are furthest away.

But in another point, God will nudge us to consider “changing lanes”: we sense it will please Him, we gather that it will point to and honor His wisdom, and perhaps the stepping out of one lane shows us how God has been nudging us into another lane. It could be that serving and ministry is going great, or we may be struggling. We still sense before us an obedient step toward something new or different. The calling hasn’t changed, the location or mode perhaps has.

It’s a good idea to listen and step toward the new lane, even if it means leaving another lane behind.

In Italy, we’ve chosen to not have a car. I blame it on the cost; the truth is, I scare my wife when I drive in Italy. So, no car for now.

But when we drive and need to change lanes, we make sure we do three things: 1) communicate, 2) keep the pace, and 3) clear the lane. Same with “changing lanes” in missions or ministry:

  • As much as it depends on me, I need to send clear signals. I seek to communicate, to meet, to call, to follow up in writing, and make sure my signal in changing lanes is understood.
  • As much as I can, I need to keep my speed for the new lane. Even though it may be tempting to slow down in the work, I need to keep the pace as I move into the new lane. Even if responsibilities change (which they likely will), keep reading, keep listening, keep connecting, keep meeting, keep praying – in truth, extra speed in some of these areas will help the lane change succeed.
  • As much as it depends on me, leave the lane clean and clear – hand off a clean slate for those who will pick up where you left off. The previous lane had ministry, roles, relationships, and expectations. Few of us are irreplaceable. Give room for closure to roles and expectations (even the best of ministry relationships has varied expectations.) Carefully handle relationships from the new lane that have been important (you can’t change another’s lane for them.)

Some may have guessed or already know. Susan and I have “changed lanes.” We closed out a 1 1/2 year of working alongside the Padova Calvary Chapel. We have good friends and frequent reminders to pray because of our journey with the pastor and his wife along with the people who have come in and out of our experience there. But, we sensed last year that we needed to “change lanes” and move out so we could move toward.

For those who wonder, we have begun worshiping in Italian on Sunday nights at a Baptist fellowship and investing in an International Fellowship at other times. We continue to meet with internationals and students, look for ways to reach out to our city, and above all, pray, study, listen, and knock on doors and build bridges so that the Gospel of truth, peace and compassion will connect others to the Kingdom of God who loves them.

From a “new lane” – Rick

 

The word for the year…anonymity

A friend of ours planned a tour of Italian museums and recalled afterward that, while there were some awe inspiring artists –Caravaggio, Giotto, Tintoretto – the favorite by far was an “unknown” whose art was everywhere, very diverse, and over the nameplate of Sconosciuto.

My wife and I just finished reading through the Bible in a Year (on the YouVersion app under As it Happened – we recommend it for its chronological order). Near the end of our journey through the Bible, we read Hebrews, a book written to next-gen Jewish followers of Jesus. In the famous “Hall of Faith” chapter, the writer recounts the faith (and fate) of well-known Hebrew heroes. He also cites the unwavering faith of a crowd of believers who stood firm, often to the death, in their belief that God is worth it all. They are anonymous, at least on this side of heaven.

I have discovered that the biggest fear I’ve faced for years is anonymity – call it a fear of obscurity or becoming unknown, unseen, or unheard – but, until recently, this fear has been an overlooked but active drive in my life.

I know I can acknowledge this, and choose to turn from this fear … and embrace the privilege of obscurity.

My word of guidance for 2019 is Anonymity.

A university library in England maintains a seven-section archive of journals, pictures, magazines, and records related to Chinese missions over the past 150 years. When the first (and current) Chinese president of China Inland Missions, long-since renamed Overseas Mission Fellowship, walked into one of the rooms housing these records, he was overcome by the magnitude of seemingly anonymous people who had given their lives for his country-people, many martyrs for the Gospel of Jesus.

Dr. Fung told this story to students attending the missional conference Urbana ’09 (you can hear his story in the interview online) that, as he scan through the extensive lists, journals and pictures, he was reminded that the work of evangelism is done by people willing to live without a desire for fame, glory, and recognition.

When John the Baptizer saw Jesus gaining attention, he was asked by a somewhat envious follower what he should do. His response is timely and timeless: “Jesus must increase; I must decrease.”

In my case, the fear of anonymity has been too frequently a companion. I want Jesus to be enthroned, but I want a chair close by near the right side.

It has guided decisions. I’ve chosen worry and delayed action and played it safe so I wouldn’t look bad. And usually looked bad anyway.

It has silenced conversations. I’ve talked myself out of conversations I should have had or introductions to Jesus I should have made so I could protect my insecure reputation. And stayed insecure.

It has hidden love. I’ve left too many relationships lingering on the surface because I either didn’t want to know or chose not to be known. And loved less by doing so.

Today, careers are made by being seen, heard, photographed, liked, shared, hearted, retweeted, and reposted. Fame is even possible by taking the stage “anonymously.”  Artists hide their identity behind walls, bags, masks, and pseudonyms and “stay famously in the dark” to become celebrità oscura – Sia, HER, Elena Ferrante, Daft Punk, Banksy.

The most visible evidence of following Jesus is that I love in greater and greater measure. And the greatest measurement of love is sacrifice, putting others above myself, pushing others up and staying below the stage lights, decreasing so Jesus will be famous. He says He sees what’s done secretly and perhaps that’s more than enough recognition.

Maybe this year will produce such a beautiful work of truth and healing and compassion that anyone who sees it will know it was the hand of the Master Artist Who crafted it. I will decide more selflessly. Speak more freely and compassionately. Love without fear or shame.  I expect to be tempted to pick up a brush every now and then and offer to script my name into the corner. But, it’s my desire that it remain His work under the name plate of Sconosciuto.

In my own words,

Rick

P.S. I know it ironic to blog about anonymity. I like to know my words matter. And I’ll keep working on my motivations.

P.P.S. Conosciuto means “known.” Scononsciuto means “unknown.”

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/)

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).

The Apostle and the Congressman

The Apostle:

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Philippians chapter 4:4-9. When the Apostle Paul wrote this to the church that gathered in the city of Philippi, he was in prison for preaching the Good News about Jesus.

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. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What a great way to approach life –1) Focus on good things of life – noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. 2) Practice the right things we learn from Scripture and pass it along to others. 3) Don’t worry; but pray and trust God. And Paul includes, as he writes from his cell, do this with thanksgiving.

He certainly was learning how to do this in prison. But, he knew that it’s only when our faith is tested that we really get to put this into practice.

The verses before this passage tell us what the Philippians were facing. Two of the ladies in the church were having problems with each other. And not just two ladies; but two who had worked diligently right alongside Paul and other leaders in their church.

Euodia, whose name means “good journey” and Syntyche, whose name means “pleasant friend” – were absolutely not being pleasant and good. They were not getting along – and it was causing problems.

Paul encouraged them: to remember who you are, remember who you represent, and to work things out with the help of God. And directly after this – to change what you think about, change who your examples are, and change how you pray.

From the first settlers, when the Pilgrims survived their first winter in the new land, America was where people came who were oppressed for their faith. And for a century, Congregationalists, Baptists, Puritans, Presbyterians, and others settled in different colonies.

The Congressman:

A hundred years later, after the end of the Revolutionary War and during the establishing of the United States, the new President of this new nation named George Washington faced his own set of problems. America’s new Bill of Rights was barely three days old. It was the same Bill of Rights that guaranteed “free exercise of religion.”

And Washington knew he had thirteen states, with different dialects, different economics, different expectations, and different styles of worship. They didn’t get along and they weren’t sure this new government would work.

Washington’s good friend, Elias Boudinot, stood before Congress with a proposal he thought would unite the States in a stronger way. Boudinot, barely remembered today, was famous in his day for his strong faith, his belief that all people were created equal, his passion for everyone to hear the Good News, and even later for his outspoken defense for the rights of blacks and for Native Americans.

He proposed the first National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving under the new government of the United States of America – “ a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”

The House of Representative, the Senate, and the President agree to call the whole nation to prayer on the final Thursday of the following month of November. It was to be a day of repentance and a plea that the new nation would be “a blessing to all the people” – that the leaders of this new nation would “faithfully execute…the wise, just and constitutional laws” of the new land. And, it would be a day to “promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue.”

In other words, this Day of Thanksgiving was to encourage this new nation to remember who you are, remember who you represent, and works things out with the powerful help of God.

And just like Paul reminded the church in Philippi, and the two ladies in the church, this Day of Thanksgiving was a day to focus on the good things of life, practice the right things we have learned from God’s Word, and pray with faith and with Thanksgiving.

Remembering —

 

 

One of these things is not like the others…

Since moving to Italy, I have noticed how easily it is to take on the the mantle of fault-finder. Granted, it seems that sometimes our new culture collectively looks askance at anything or anyone that diverges from their own. And mostly in a negative light. So, this has got me thinking.

How can I guard my eyes from focusing on the “big negative” among all the positives around me? If I only find what’s wrong, talk about what ought to change, or get consumed by the one thing I don’t prefer – then, I’ll miss out on all that’s beautiful and good and astounding and rich.

Here’s an example: we have a lot of immigrants and refugees in Padua. A half-IMG_3830million live in our region (that’s the legal ones), and that’s a very visible part of the stuff that goes on in the city – buses, trams, clinics, parks and street corners.

I can choose to see them different negatively (how they act, talk, dress, interact, etc.) or I can see the beauty (in how they act, talk, dress, interact, etc.)

My wife is my tutor in this. We were standing at the train station bus stop surrounded by immigrants and refugees. And I got frustrated with one who was… well, just in my way. Susan says to her, “the color of your scarf is beautiful.” Simple. But the most beautiful conversation followed. I was dumbstruck.

We got on the bus and we were completely surrounded by Africans. It only took a few minutes to realize everyone on the bus was on the way home from a church meeting on prayer. It was an experience that shifted my grid, perhaps for good.

All the good, beautiful, gracious, astounding, and rich around me can shout down the one thing I might find negative. If I’ll take time to listen.

Listening in the city – Rick

No Muck, no Miracle

I grew up two blocks from the famous “Grand Strand” of the South Carolina beaches, and just across our street stretched a long finger of marsh from the tides toward the inland highway. Its where we hunted for small bait (we called them fiddler crabs, since they “fiddled” their way sideways across the sand). I remember stepping into the mushy, wet sands and sinking down past my ankles. I can still hear the sucking sounds as I dislodged my feet from the muck! (My brothers, always encouraging, informed me there were hidden stretches of quicksand nearby waiting to gobble little boys whole.)

The psalmist writes that he found himself in “the slimy pit” and waited patiently for God’s clear path toward a firm footing (and everyone knows from the movies never to struggle in quicksand since it makes for a speedier demise.) He was stuck in the “mud and the mire” with no footing below and no way forward. And he did what any of us would do – he cried out, “help!”

We love the promises! When God gives a promise in the Bible, it nearly always is in the context of dire circumstances. Try a search on Top 10 promises and read them in context. God promises he will be near, that he never changes, he will strengthen us, uphold us, bless the work we do, save us, pour out his grace, and give us wisdom. The promises are truth, yes, but they are delivered in the quicksand of loneliness, pain, threats, fear, sin, hopelessness, and grief.

Today, and all week, my prayers have turned to a family I knew, worshiped with, and served alongside back in the states. The godly couple stood strong as an example of servanthood, leadership, and self-sacrifice. And they were lost to a careless driver’s bad choices this week. And there are kids, friends, church family, and more left behind.

In our hurt and in our prayers, we ask God to hear the cries that arise from the slow murkiness of grief. We ask him to provide a moment of firm footing in the midst of the swirl of questions. We ask Jesus to stretch out his hand and pull His kids back up onto the Rock.

It’s interesting what happens when the psalmist finds his footing in the Lord. Not only does he stand firm, but he breaks into song. Not a song from the canon of worship already learned and enjoyed. But, one that brings new comprehension of how much God cares and how near he is. It’s a new song, fresh from the experience of God’s provision and presence. And, through it all, as we wait, as we cry out, and we reach out for his presence, the psalmist says “many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”

On solid rock.

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.

 

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