Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wait for Me, Freddie!!

I want to be a "retreat junkie" when I grow up.

That's what I've been telling people lately. I want to go to retreats and speak to groups. Not necessarily a high-profile or highly sought-after speaker for major arena-sized confernces. And not that I have done anything profound with my life that everyone must know about. I'd be perfectly content with the smaller scale groups, sharing with them how God has impacted my life, and hopefully inspiring them to take a step or two forward in their faith journey.

And I almost had a chance to do that. I almost was invited to be a speaker at a retreat in October.

How did it come about? Well, I recently filled in for my vacationing pastor as "guest preacher" at my church. And the domino effect started from there.

A Facebook friend saw my status update that I would be preaching, and she asked me if I would consider speaking at their upcoming retreat. Knowing this person the way that I do, when she asks a question like that, she's not half kidding/half serious. She's 10% kidding/90% serious. (Actually, I think I may be underestimating her.) When I told her what I want to do when I grow up, she told me that she was talking to another retreat organizer at that moment in another conversation. She also told me that they were waiting to hear from another potential speaker before the invitation could be "officially" extended to me.

If I were invited, I would accept. After all, kids today are in such a hurry to grow up, right?

But I said earlier that I was "almost" invited. The other speaker accepted the invitation.

Was I disappointed? Yes, a bit. But God will provide the right opportunity at the right time. For now, I wait.

I guess that means I still have some growing up to do.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dangerous Prayer

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." – Matthew 9:35-38

It’s no secret that many people believe that prayer has a positive impact in their lives. After all, it's how we communicate with God, how we make our requests known to the Divine. We seem to pray for everything: for blessings over our meals, for our favorite baseball team to have a winning season, for green lights in traffic, healing of ourselves or others, for business deals to go through, even for world peace and safe return for our men and women serving in the military.

While there is nothing wrong with praying for these things, let me ask you something. If tomorrow you woke up and all the prayers you had prayed today were answered, would your life be any different?

Let me ask that again.

If tomorrow you woke up, // and all the prayers you had prayed today // were answered, //
Would your life be any different?

A while back I started a discussion in a Facebook forum on that same question. I got some “yes” answers, but I also got a thought-provoking response from a former classmate of mine named Mara:

Would my life be different? Yes, but only momentarily. I suppose I am acknowledging the fact that I don't always pray for the right things. Praying that I close a business deal and having that prayer answered might change my financial circumstances temporarily, but it doesn't really change my life. Praying that a family member be given a longer life as they battle an illness might buy me time with someone who is close, but I know that I have no control and must accept the passing of life. So my world might change when my prayers are answered, but since that world is in constant change anyway, how long will that be? I can pray for world peace. Would it change MY world? Perhaps. But will the nature of man change on a permanent basis, along with that world peace? If not, the peace is temporary. … It made me question what I'm praying for, that's for sure!

As Mara rightly expressed, we pray for healing of a loved one, but is that just for us because we do not want to lose them? What if it is time for them to move on? Praying for a successful business deal is fine, but what if you'd miss a valuable lesson if you failed at that point in your life?

Too often when we pray we do so with only one outcome in mind. We pray “safe” prayers. Safe, in that we pray that all our problems will go away. Safe, in that our lives are not inconvenienced in any way.

If these prayers are “safe,” what would a “dangerous” prayer look like?

You know what they say … “Be careful what you pray for, because God may just answer it.” A good example of this is, praying for P A T I E N C E . That sounds all nice and rosy, until God answers “Sure! Here, have!”, and it’s not long before you find yourself waiting in line at the store between the mom with the crying toddlers behind you – I wonder why they only bring the crying and restless kids to the store – and the sweet grandma trying to use expired coupons and counting out exact change in coins.

But even a prayer such as “Lord, grant me patience” might still be considered a safe prayer, because we are asking for what in the end will be something we can visualize, and doesn't necessarily result in our lives being changed or our stepping out in faith for God's kingdom.

So, what does make a prayer dangerous? A dangerous prayer is a danger // to our sinful nature. A dangerous prayer is a danger // to our comfort zone. A dangerous prayer means that we will be having a bumpy ride for a while. Most of all, a dangerous prayer opens us up to living out the adventure that our omnipotent God calls us to. This morning I will be looking at seven “dangerous prayers,” and you can follow along in your outline to fill in the blanks of these areas.

First of all, in order to enter into a life God-ordained adventure, we must humble ourselves before the Lord. We find in the gospel of John, where followers of John the Baptist were telling him that Jesus has a greater following that he does. John, of course, knew all along that Jesus would ultimately be the one to follow, and tells his disciples, “He (Jesus) must become greater; I must become less.” We too should take that same attitude. So, our first dangerous prayer is just that: “He must become greater; I must become less.” This takes our eyes off of ourselves and directs them toward Jesus.

The second prayer is “Search me.” In Psalm 139, David prays “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” A “search me” prayer asks God to show you what is in you that shouldn't be there. Things such as words you shouldn’t say; hanging out with people that bring you down; hidden or unconfessed sin, or even unforgiveness. Things that you need God to work on, things where you need to partner with God to change in your heart and in your life.

Third is “Break me.” “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; / A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” This prayer allows God to take you in the process of breaking the patterns that are worldly and not of Him, and then allowing Him to put you back together – as HE chooses – to shape you and re-form you to be more like Christ.

So far in this process you've humbled yourself to Christ, seeking to live more by His agenda than yours. You've had some hidden sins exposed and confessed them before God. And it probably hasn't been pleasant up to this point. I mean, some of our hidden sins are ugly ... otherwise we would have confessed them and dealt with them long ago. God has broken us and we can be assured that He has put us back together, because when we confess our sins before God, he is faithful to forgive us and restore cleanse us from unrighteousness.

But we're only at point 4 out of seven. And the fourth prayer on your outline is “Stretch me.”

Now, at this halfway point, we're still used to the safety of praying for things where we don't have to go through a lot of personal searching and changing. This whole dangerous prayer thing is starting to make us uncomfortable. We may even be wondering if it is worth it to move forward, or just go back to “praying it safe”.

In the movie “Braveheart” the rag-tag army of Scotland has assembled on a field in Stirling to face off against the English army. The Scots are afraid because they are immeasurably outnumbered by the English, and the Scottish nobles would rather negotiate a treaty to live under English rule than to fight for a free Scotland and possibly die in battle. One man, William Wallace, knows what the consequences of a surrender would mean for the future of not only Scotland, but of these men as individuals. Click here to watch.

Just as with the Battle at Stirling, there is a spiritual battle being waged all around us. Any time you and I step out in faith for God, we step onto the battlefield and face the enemy, and that enemy is Satan. We may feel afraid. We may feel “outnumbered.” We may be required to give up something. And we may want to turn back. But what are the consequences? The battle will still be there, whether or not we choose to fight. But the Good News is that as Christians, we are not entering the battlefield alone – we have Christ on our side. The “stretch me” prayer develops perseverance to withstand the battle. Without this perseverance it would be all too easy to give up and go back to playing it safe. I implore you, when God is stretching you, don't lose faith. Don't give up. Don’t live the rest of your life wondering “what if I had …”

So far in this process, God has been working on our past. Now it’s time to move forward in the ministry that God is calling us to. And the fifth “dangerous prayer” is “Lead me.” Our comfort zone has been stretched, and for many of us we are in unfamiliar territory. Our dependence on God has grown. We've passed the point of no return, and we don't want to go back to the life we had before. A “lead me” prayer asks, “Teach me your ways, O Lord.” / It's time to surrender your personal agenda and allow God to rearrange it; to become less so that Jesus can become more. In doing so, you will find that the more you are led by God and the Holy Spirit, the more you want to be obedient to His plans, and the more your agenda is in fact aligned with His.

The sixth “dangerous prayer” is one that most of us have prayed at one time or another, and that prayer is “Use me.” “Use me” prayers are powerful. They say, “God, I'm available if you'd like to do something great through me. // I'm available if you'd like to touch another life through me.” They create adventures. They might not necessarily be extreme “thrill seeking” adventures like, say, spending a year as a missionary in a country you’ve never heard of – not everyone is called by God to be such a thrill-seeker. Your “use me” prayer may be answered by simply open-mindedly listening to someone and praying for them in a way you've never prayed before. Perhaps it's by starting a new ministry or stepping out in faith to do something you thought you'd never do. In my case, I had a “use me” prayer answered in the form of filling in as guest preacher while Pastor Chris was on vacation last spring. When I was first approached with the opportunity, it was truly a “stretch me” moment. I'll be perfectly honest here - I wanted to turn around and run from it as fast and as far as I could. But if I had not prayed “Use me” and been available and willing to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, I would have missed out on the personal, spiritual, and ministerial growth from the adventure. And the adventures that God calls you to through “use me” prayers will give you a spiritual rush like nothing else can.

The final “dangerous prayer” is “Show me the harvest.” This is where we see what God has broken us and re-shaped us for. In the gospel after Jesus had a very full day of teaching, preaching, and healing, Matthew tells us that Jesus “saw the crowds and had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He then said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” A “show me the harvest” prayer asks God to give us the compassion, to ache for the same things that His heart aches for, to actively engage in ministry to build up the kingdom of God.

In 2007 McKay Hatch was a junior high school student in Pasadena. Kids at his school, and some of his friends, would cuss and use swear words all the time. In fact, they did it so much that they didn’t even realize they were doing it. It bothered McKay to the point where he challenged them to stop. McKay was surprised when his peers actually accepted the challenge. But there were some students who had been using bad language so much and for so long that they didn’t know how to stop. So they started the “No Cussing Club.” The word spread, and within one month the No Cussing Club had 50 members.

When McKay entered high school he started the No Cussing Club there as well. During club rush week there were 100 students who signed up.

Within six months the No Cussing Club had 10,000 members from all 50 states and internationally that joined through the club website. McKay had no control over the club’s growth – the hand of God was definitely involved!

Was all of this easy for McKay? Not always. In fact, McKay Hatch is probably one of the most cyber-bullied students around. He’s received emails telling him that “the words don’t have any meaning” and that he’s wasting his time. He’s even received death threats!

But through his persistence in simply encouraging people to commit themselves to use polite, respectful and kind language it wasn’t long before the No Cussing Club received media attention from Dr. Phil, Jay Leno, MSNBC and CNN. And McKay Hatch’s little club that he started to help a few classmates has made a difference in thousands and thousands of lives around the globe.

What is it that you see that breaks your heart? Is it latch-key kids who are left to themselves after school? Is it people suffering from serious illnesses such as AIDS or cancer? Maybe it’s adults who struggle in life because they can’t read. Or people wandering spiritually, like lost sheep. Whatever it is, guess what – those are fields where God wants to use you to help out in the harvest, to have compassion on his people and bring the harassed and helpless to the Shepherd.

Christ doesn't expect us to produce more than we can, but he does expect us to produce ALL 88We expect too little from God, and as a result we attempt too little for Him. God created us to live dangerous lives in faith. He desires for us to have ever expanding boundaries. When you courageously and prayerfully move out of your comfort zone your spiritual life will never be the same. I encourage you to pray these seven dangerous prayers on as part of your regular prayer life. “Lord, you must become greater; I must become less. Search me. Break me. Stretch me. Lead me. Use me. Show me the harvest. All for Your glory and Your kingdom. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.”

Friday, August 21, 2009

When I think of beauty, I think of flowers, nature, attractive people, things that bring to mind the goodness of God. I often have nice, warm-fuzzy feelings come over me. I mean, who doesn't like to be in the presence of beauty?

But ugliness? Well, that's another story. We often react to ugliness with mockery or disgust.

Thinking of ugliness reminds me of a woman who was particularly unattractive physically. She had the frizzy hair, two or three front teeth missing, eyes that resemble a chimp's, the face that only a mother could love. Well, maybe not even mom ...

Wow! That's a sore for sighted eyes! As my granddad would say, "DAAAYNNG!! This girl was dragged through the Ugly Forest ... and her face hit every tree!!" (And he meant it, too!) Or another remark would be, "Beauty may be skin deep, but ugliness goes all the way to the bone!" Or, "She's the kind of girl that no one would share secrets with ... not even beauty secrets!"

Ugliness is not limited to physical appearance. Truth be told, deep down in places we don't talk about at parties, we all have some ugliness in us. Things we don't want to expose to others. Things we want to keep hidden from even ourselves. Things that we'd hide from God, if we could.

In Psalm 139 King David prays, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you..." I don't know about you, but those statements make me squirm in my seat a bit. We can't hide our inner ugliness from God. And when we pray for God to reveal the ugliness we thought we had buried from ourselves, he'll exhume it, and there it is in front of us, in all its vileness, to disgust us once again.

But the words of David that come next bring me comfort: "And lead me along the path of everlasting life."

God cannot erase our past. Yet, He does not want us to remain in the mud and miry clay of our ugliness. He wants us to be cleaned up made beautiful again. But sweeping our dirt under the rug isn't enough. And God knows that we can't clean ourselves up on our own - we need help.

This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him.

This is what Jesus did: Jesus went through the ugliness of death by crucifixion, and took on the ugliness of our sins, so that our relationship with God could be restored - so that we could be rescued from the miry clay we've been stuck in - and made clean once more.

This is how God cleans us up: if we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away. Yes, we did all those ugly things that we tried to keep covered up. But when God forgives, he's dumps our sins - our ugliness - into the depths of the sea, and puts up a sign for us that says "No Fishing."

Hey, when God gets involved, we clean up real good, don't we?

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Staying Positive

Everybody goes through hardships in life. Whether it's losing your job at the same time your spouse faces a pay reduction, or a serious illness in the family, or kids not wanting to go to school, or whatever the circumstances, life can bring us down.

But it's not a healthy thing for you or me to stay down when we get there. So I'm sharing a list that my cousin Sue forwarded to me. It's a list of 39 little things we can do or mottos to live by, to turn our frowns upside down:


1. Drink plenty of water
2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar
3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants, and eat less food that is manufactured in plants
4. Live with the 3 E's -- Energy, Enthusiasm, and Empathy
5. Make time for prayer
6. Play more games
7. Read more books than you did in 2008
8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day
9. Sleep for 7 hours
10. Take a 10-30 minutes walk every day ---- and while you walk, smile


11. Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
12. Don't have negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.
13. Don't over do; keep your limits
14. Don't take yourself so seriously; no one else does
15. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip
16. Dream more while you are awake
17. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
18. Forget issues of the past. Don't remind your partner with his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.
19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.. Don't hate others.
20. Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the present
21. No one is in charge of your happiness except you
22. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
23. Smile and laugh more
24. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.


25. Call your family often
26. Each day give something good to others
27. Forgive everyone for everything
28. Spend time with people over the age of 70 & under the age of 6
29. Try to make at least three people smile each day
30. What other people think of you is none of your business
31. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your family and friends will. Stay in touch.


32. Do the right things
33. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful
34. GOD heals everything
35. However good or bad a situation is, it will change
36. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up
37. The best is yet to come
38. When you awake alive in the morning, thank GOD for it
39. Your Inner most is always happy. So, be happy.

And the most important thing to remember is that YOU are loved much, and loved by many. Most of all, you are loved by God!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Do you want to be saved?

(DISCLAIMER: The subject of the week for the Topical Bloggers group is "What must I do to be saved?" The following is purely fictional. It is NOT based on my life. Any similarity to any person, real or imagined, is unintentional.)

Forty-six years old. I'm at the peak of my game, so to speak. I've done it all - kids (two daughters), marriage (times three) . Having done it all, is there anything left? Is there really nothing more to life? Am I stuck in this hell that I have created?

If I'm done living, why am I still here? Why do I still have a heartbeat? Why do I still breathe? I'm "alive," but I feel so ... ...

I don't feel. Anything. I'd pour myself a drink, but I'm not supposed to have alcohol with these antidepressants. I don't even know why I take them. They don't seem to do anything for me ...

I remember during my college days groups on campus with signs that said "Are you saved?" Saved? From what? For what? What kind of offbeat question is that? "Are you saved?"

I didn't know any of those students very well. We ran in different circles. And I never asked them what the question was all about. I'd just keep walking by, chewing on a string of licorice as I'd make my way to my next class. I didn't want to get involved in their religious mumbo-jumbo. Besides, I didn't need saving. My life was going fine, thank you very much.

One of those girls from college - I'd see her around town throughout the years. She always seemed ... different. Not in a bad way. Just, I don't know, different. Like she had a handle on life, you know? Our paths would cross, but not in a way where we'd connect. We'd say hi at the grocery store, make eye-contact at the gym, that kind of thing. Our kids knew each other, but only as schoolmates. Her kids weren't in the same grade as my girls. Even as teenagers her children seemed different. They didn't dress like the other kids. Didn't party. I don't know what their grades were like, but they still managed to be popular. I don't get it. My two just seemed so out of control at times. We're about as close as Alaska and Cuba.

And her husband ... they adore each other! None of mine ever looked at me the way that he looks at her. Genuine love ... a look that looks to the soul. No man ever looked at me like that.
I just saw her and her family outside the church up the street as I was driving by. From what I can figure, they're still married ... to each other. How could they do that? I've struck out, three times, and never even came close to what they seem to have with each other.


I think I get it now.

Saved from this dead-end life I've had.

What must I do to be saved? Or is it too late for me?