Monday, July 29, 2013

Keep the Change

If you have ever been around a cat, one of the features you might have noticed was its whiskers. Have you ever wondered about the purpose for those whiskers? Well, believe it or not, a cat’s whiskers work kind of like the Holy Spirit. They warn the cat that it is going into a dangerous place.
No, really! Check it out –
“… the whisker's primary use is to help a cat judge whether or not he'll fit through an opening. A cat's whiskers are roughly as wide as his body -- sort of a natural ruler. The whisker tips are sensitive to pressure. You'll probably see a cat stick his head in and out of an opening before he puts his body in. He's judging the width of the opening, and is determining if he can fit into it.”[1]
Also like the Holy Spirit, the cat can ignore what his whiskers are telling him. Let me tell you how I know that.

The house where I grew up was built by my parents primarily out of rocks and glass. The head of my bed was against one of these rock walls, so that often I heard puzzling and frightening noises from outside, usually in the middle of the night.

One night I heard what sounded like someone hitting a jar on my bedroom wall. The sound went on for long enough that I was sure there was a stranger outside my room hitting my wall with a glass jar. (I know, just go with it.)

I jumped out of bed and ran to my parents’ room, woke up my father and made him go outside and chase the man away. (Not the first or the last time I did that, by the way.) Of course, by the time he got there, there was no one to chase away. This happened three nights in a row. (My dad was a very patient man.)

On the evening of what would have been the fourth night, we were all in the living room watching TV when we all heard (finally) what sounded like someone hitting our sliding glass patio door with something quite hard – not hard enough to break the glass, but hard enough to make a loud noise. We jumped up to go look and found nobody. We thought it must have been our neighbor boy playing a joke on us, and we planned to ask him about it the next day.

The next day came, and he claimed to know nothing about knocking on our door. We felt like we had quite a mystery. Later that same day, though, I was outside and saw a truly strange thing. I saw a cat walking around with his head in a mayonnaise jar.

Hmmm. All the weird noises suddenly made sense! He was a youngish cat – not a kitten, but not fully grown yet and so he was having some trouble walking and navigating with that big jar on his head. Even so, when I walked toward him, to pull it off, he ran away from me. (Keep in mind, he’d been stuck in that jar for a minimum of four days at that point.)

I got my dad and we finally caught up to him. That was surprisingly difficult, but we finally threw a towel over him and held him down so that my dad could break the jar off of his head.

You’d think that cat would have been grateful…if he was he didn’t show it. He just ran off. Hopefully though, the next time his whiskers told him not to put his head in something, he paid attention to the warning.
I’m struck by how much like that cat we are. We see something we want and we go toward it and the Holy Spirit sends us a message, “Don’t go near that.”

But we look at it, and we think about it, and we get a little closer. The Holy Spirit says, “Don’t do that, it’s dangerous.”

We really want to check it out, so we stick our noses just a little way in. The Holy Spirit says, “Back out now. You’ll get stuck in there.” But it’s so cool and so much fun that we stick our heads all the way inside that jar … and then we realize how trapped we are. We’re trapped and there’s absolutely nothing we can do to free ourselves from our mayonnaise jar of sin.

We wander around, stuck, starving, suffocating, and lost until Jesus comes to set us free. We’re afraid to accept His help. We’re stuck in sin and we’re dying, but we’re not sure we want to make any changes in the way we’re living our lives.

Finally when we’re exhausted from banging our heads against things trying to free ourselves, we let Jesus take us out of our sin and rescue us.

Jesus has changed our circumstances, given us hope and a future, (For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)but how often do we run back to the sin that trapped us rather than keeping the change that Jesus died to give us?
“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:15-23

“Why are you striving these days
Why are you trying to earn grace
Why are you crying
Let me lift up your face
Just don't turn away
Why are you looking for love
Why are you still searching
As if I'm not enough
To where will you go child
Tell me where will you run
To where will you run
'Cause I'll be by your side wherever you fall
In the dead of night whenever you call
And please don't fight these hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you”[2]

[1] Why Do Cats Have Whiskers, Animal Planet,
[2] Jason David Ingram, Phillip Larue, Jason Ingram, Phillip Paul la Rue, Mike Donehey, By Your Side, Formerly Music, Songs Of Razor And Tie O.B.O. My Maxx Songs, Sony/ATV Timber Publishing

Friday, July 19, 2013

Life-changing or Time Wasting?

Would you be surprised to learn that only 31% of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. That number shrinks to a mere 10% if we're only asking people who claim no religious affiliation. In addition to that, 19% of Americans feel the Bible is nothing more than a compilation of myths and legends.

What do you think? Do you believe the Bible is the literal word of God or a collection of myths and legends? Does it make any difference whether or not you believe the Bible is “God-breathed” as long as you believe in God? Is there anything inherently special about the Bible? Is it possible to read the Bible, all the way through, and not be changed by what you’ve read?

Exhibit 1:
“The prince of Grenada, an heir to the Spanish crown, was sentenced to life in solitary confinement in Madrid's ancient prison. The dreadful, dirty, and dreary nature of the place earned it the name, ‘The Place of the Skull.’ Everyone knew that once you were in, you would never come out alive. The prince was given one book to read the entire time: the Bible.
With only one book to read, he read it hundreds and hundreds of times. The book became his constant companion. After 33 years of imprisonment, he died. When they came to clean out his cell, they found some notes he had written using nails to mark the soft stone of the prison walls. The notations were of this sort: Psalm 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible; Ezra 7:21 contains all the letters of the alphabet except the letter J; the ninth verse of the eighth chapter of Esther is the longest verse in the Bible; no word or name more than six syllables can be found in the Bible.
“This individual spent 33 years of his life studying what some have described as the greatest book of all time. Yet he could only glean trivia. From all we know, he never made any religious or spiritual commitment to Christ. He simply became an expert at Bible trivia.”[1]

Exhibit 2:
“A Christian university student shared a room with a Muslim. As they became friends, their conversation turned to their beliefs. The believer asked the Muslim if he'd ever read the Bible. He answered no, but then asked if the Christian had ever read the Koran.
“The believer responded, ‘No, I haven't, but I'm sure it would be interesting. Why don't we read both together, once a week, alternating books?’ The young man accepted the challenge, their friendship deepened, and during the second term he became a believer in Jesus.
“One evening, late in the term, he burst into the room and shouted at the long-time believer, ‘You deceived me!’
“‘What are you talking about?’ the believer asked.
“The new believer opened his Bible and said, ‘I've been reading it through, like you told me, and just read that the Word is living and active!’ He grinned. ‘You knew all along that the Bible contained God's power and that the Koran is a book like any other. I never had a chance!’
“‘And now you'll hate me for life?’ queried the believer.
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘but it was an unfair contest.’”[2]
What made the difference between the responses of these two men? One was saved and one just collected trivia. (Although I’m not convince that the prince of Grenada wasn’t changed by reading the Bible for 33 years. It’s just that nobody got the chance to talk to him about it. Maybe the odd trivia was just an intellectual activity to fill some of the crushing monotony of 33 years in prison.)

We hear so often about people who don’t have any experience with God who just start reading the Bible and are brought into a relationship with Jesus. I guess I really didn’t think of folks who read the Bible and were left unchanged.  That worries me a little because that means that it is possible for me to read my Bible and remain unchanged as well. How can I make sure that we have a life changing experience while reading the Bible is life-changing and not a waste of time?

Well a Tyndale House study found that regular Bible readers, on the whole, describe themselves as "at peace," "happy," and "full of joy" more often that people who said they never read the Bible.
That’s all well and good, but I don’t want to just be happier, I want to spend eternity with Jesus my Savior!
Well, first of all, just Bible reading isn’t enough, I have to study, and study without prayer asking for the leading of the Holy Spirit won’t do me much good either.
“Superficial study of the word of God can not [sic] meet the claims it has upon us, nor furnish us with the benefit that is promised. We should seek to learn the full meaning of the words of truth, and to drink deep the spirit of the holy oracles. To read daily a certain number of chapters, or to commit to memory a stipulated amount of Scripture, without careful thought as to the meaning of the text, will profit but little. To study one passage until its significance is clear to the mind, and its relation to the plan of salvation is evident, is of more value than the perusal of many chapters with no definite purpose in view and no positive instruction gained. We can not [sic] obtain wisdom from the word of God without giving earnest and prayerful attention to its study.
You must dig in the mine of truth till you find its greatest treasure, and by comparing scripture with scripture you may find the true meaning of the text.
“... In searching for Heaven-revealed truths, the Spirit of God is brought into close connection with the sincere searcher of the Scriptures. … No study is better to give energy to the mind, to strengthen the intellect, than the study of the word of God. No other book is so potent in elevating the thoughts, in giving vigor to the faculties, as is the Bible, which contains the most ennobling truths. If God’s word were studied as it should be, we would see breadth of mind, stability of purpose, nobility of character, such as are rarely seen in these times. ( E.G. White, Signs of the Times, September 26, 1895)
Well, I don't know about you, but I'm ready to "dig in the mine of truth" for God's greatest treasure.
Dig in!

[1] Leonard Sweet, Your Church in Today's Fluid Culture (Group Publishing, 1999), p. 59
[2] Floyd Schneider, Evangelism for the Fainthearted (Kregel, 2000

Monday, July 8, 2013

One Habit of Highly Effective Christians

How often do/should you pray? How long do/should you pray? Can you pray too much? What do/should you pray about? Is it possible to pray wrong? Are there certain words/phrases you need to use? What if you feel like God’s not listening? If God knows everything, why do I need to pray? Do I have to kneel every time I pray? What if you don’t have time to pray? Does praying really make any difference anyway?

Have you ever asked any or all of those questions? I have. I really struggle with the particulars of prayer. It’s not that I don’t pray, I do. The problem, for me, is that I’m pretty sure I’m missing some important component.

True confession time – I have a really hard time doing anything on a set schedule. It’s not that I don’t try or don’t want to keep a schedule. I really do! I make schedules and lists for myself all the time. I just rarely follow them, even though I know that certain things, (exercise, Bible study, cleaning, and prayer, for example) cannot be done correctly without scheduling them.

It’s not that I don’t want to do those things, I do. I know they’re all important. And it’s not that I don’t ever do those things, I do, just not regularly or often enough to really get the benefit of having done them.

I remember reading a story some time ago of an 85 year old woman how got trapped in an elevator for four nights and three days. She was all alone – no one else in the building and no signal for her cell phone. Can you imagine how terrifying that would be? She came to the conclusion that she could either panic or pray. She chose to pray and turn the elevator into her own prayer closet.

When the woman was interviewed later she actually said that she had felt God’s presences with her giving her both strength and joy. She said that she felt like the whole experience was a gift from God to provide her with an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with Him.

Isn’t that amazing? I really covet that kind of a relationship with God. I’m fairly certain, though, that the woman had spent many years before being trapped in that elevation, keeping appointments to spend time alone talking with God. That’s different than what Ron Halvorsen calls “crisis praying.”
“We usually don’t say much about prayer, and we don’t pray much, until a crisis comes into our life. Aunt Tillie is sick, so you go on your knees and you pray for the next few days that Aunt Tillie will get well. Or Uncle John. Or someone in the church is sick. That’s crisis praying. When you are sick, have you noticed that you pray more than you did before you got sick? That’s crisis praying. It still works, but is not as effective as the continual spirit of prayer.”[1]
Praying in a crisis is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be the only time we pray. And I think it can kind of mislead us, give us a sense that we are praying, so everything’s ok with our prayer lives. And can you imagine if the woman trapped in the elevator only had that kind of prayer experience? After the first few hours in the elevator, with no signs of rescue, she may have come to the conclusion that God wasn’t listening and given up.

When I was teaching, quite a few of our “classroom management” techniques involved learning the difference between “reactive” and “proactive.” You probably know the difference – reactive is dealing with each crisis as it comes along, while proactive is working in such a way that many of the crises don’t happen in the first place. The proactive route takes more time to begin with, but almost always works better than reacting to every little emergency as it comes along. I believe that prayer can be looked at much the same way. Like Halvorsen says, “That’s crisis praying. It still works, but is not as effective as the continual spirit of prayer.”

Another author describes the importance of prayer as the key to success in any field of endeavor.
“Some things make you successful whatever path you take-whether you're on the ‘mommy track’ or in a full-time career outside the home. You need to be with God daily. You need to be in constant prayer. You need to incorporate God's Word into your life, constantly evaluating your life to make sure you are following God's lead.” [2]
That’s proactive praying – being with God daily. Do you remember when you or your kids were taking some kind of music lessons? The question was always, “How often do we have to practice?” and the answer was, “You only have to practice on the days that you eat.” How often do we need to pray? On the days we eat would be a good place to start, but probably the time we spend in prayer needs to increase to the point that it’s almost like breathing, don’t you think?
“Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. ‘The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.’ James 5:11. His heart of love is touched by our sorrows and even by our utterances of them. Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. ‘He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.’ Psalm 147:3. The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon the earth to share His watch care, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son.” (Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 100)
Ron Halvorsen describes prayer as 
“not what you say, it’s who you are. You see, prayer is your experience. It’s the breath of your soul. You don’t grab a breath at church, and then hold it until next week. And you don’t have to hit yourself on the head and say, ‘Breathe,Halvorsen!’
“No, it’s automatic. You see, once you come into that experience with God, you come in that experience with Jesus, you are with Him always in what you think.”[3]
The question is, how do I get to the point that talking to Jesus is a part of everything I do? I need to stop just reacting with crisis prayers and start, with the help of the Holy Spirit, building the spiritual discipline of personal prayer, worship and bible study time into each day so that when the crises do come, I can see them as opportunities to draw closer to God.

Where do we start? Sing it with me:

Into my heart, 
Into my heart, 
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. 
Come in today, come in to stay, 
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.


[1] Ron Halvorsen, It Is Written Script: 1241 The Power of Prayer ©2012 It Is Written International Television
[2] Kay Coles James, Marriage Partnership, Vol. 11, no. 2.
[3] Ron Halvorsen, It Is Written Script: 1241 The Power of Prayer ©2012 It Is Written International Television