Saturday, December 16, 2017

Clear the Mechanism

Read Psalm 33 

It’s so easy to get distracted when praying. I’ve made it my daily liturgy to get up early and make prayer and Bible reading the first part of my day. But even when the house is quiet and there are no distractions, my mind has a hard time being still. I’m fighting sleep, I’m thinking about what I’m expecting from the day ahead of me, if I watched a movie or TV show the night before, the story may still be running through my mind. And when I finally settle down to pray and focus on God, there is my prayer list calling out to me. If I’m not careful, my prayer list becomes my priority and my prayers soon become remote and cold. When this happens, I’ve missed God. I haven’t spent time abiding in His presence because I’ve taken over control of the time and have missed His loving embrace.

Do you ever have this problem? I’m not saying that praying for people and needs is bad. Absolutely not! The Word of God tells us to make our requests known to Him, to pray for the sick, etc. But if your list is getting in the way of you seeking God’s heart, then something is wrong. Your list has become a distraction and a hindrance. You may need to surrender it to Him.

I’m reminded of the movie For the Love of the Game with Kevin Costner. This movie was about a professional baseball pitcher who pitched a perfect game when everyone thought he was washed up and ready for retirement. Every time the pitcher went up to the mound, the fans of the opposing team would heckle him from the stands, blow loud horns to distract him, yell insults. To focus on the task at hand, the pitcher would say, “clear the mechanism,” and the entire stadium would become perfectly still and quiet. All the pitcher would see was the batter. His mind was now focused and he was ready to pitch. This is how we need to train our minds when we come to God. Like the pitcher who focused on the batter in this movie, we need to see only God when we pray. We should see that He is right here in the room with us, waiting to commune with us. If the list starts calling out to us as we approach the throne room of grace, we need to clear the mechanism and refocus on God. If our mind is skipping around to all kinds of thoughts that are taking us away from our heart touching God’s heart, we need clear the mechanism. Look at the Father. God wants to meet with us in our innermost being—that is His priority. He wants to commune with us—with you! Hold you in His arms, pour His love into you as you pour out your love to Him. Don’t you think God knows what is on your mind and what is on your list? If and when He wants you to pray from that list, He will lead you to it. But wait for His lead. Don’t rush in and take over control to get to your list.

Look at it this way. If God is not the Lord of your prayer life, how can He be the Lord of the rest of your day? If you can’t give up control to Him when you are in His presence seeking His face, how easily will it be when you are out in the world, rubbing shoulders with the unsaved? Our time in the morning with God is the most important time we have for God to lead us and teach us to surrender and abide with Him. He wants to teach us to let go of our priorities so that He can direct us—even in our requests. If we can learn to love and adore Him during our quiet times with Him, then His joy, His Spirit, His abiding love, will begin to spill out into our everyday lives.

So clear the mechanism today and seek only to touch the heart of God. Let God direct your prayers and he will direct your life.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Who Is My Enemy?

“Have you any idea what’s going on in the world?!”

The older man’s face is red with anger and a look of disgust is evident in his eyes. I recognize the anger. It is the same angst I witness daily whenever I check my Facebook wall.

It is the same anger I have often felt in my own heart.

But this isn’t Facebook and it’s not Fox News. It’s a Bible study.

The young pastor sitting next to me has opened up this can of worms by suggesting that this may be an opportune time to reach the Muslim people for Christ.

The response? People go ballistic.

But I remember a challenging sermon from the book of Jonah. And so I offer...

“The Assyrians in Nineveh were even worse than ISIS, and God loved them enough to send Jonah.”

Now four people start voicing strong opinions against the pastor and me.

They are acting just like Jonah, I think to myself.

But who can blame them? Or Jonah, for that matter? Jonah hated the Assyrians in Nineveh for much the same, justifiable reasons we hate Muslim terrorists today. They were doing very evil things. He hated them so much that he disobeyed God and took flight (or ship) to the farthest city in the known world.

But he didn’t get very far. We all know the story.  

“Jesus says to love our enemies—” I begin.

“So you think we should just let them come over here and bomb innocent people?” The man with the red face is incredulous; he’s shouting, leaning forward in his seat, nearly standing up.

“Those people place NO VALUE on human lives,” an older woman next to him joins in. 
 “They torture innocent women and children. They are killing Christians in the streets—cutting off their heads!”

According to historical records, the Assyrians were feared throughout the world for their brutality and ruthlessness, such as skinning their victims alive and hanging their skins on the walls of conquered cities.

No wonder Jonah tried to run away.

“I’m not saying we should just open our borders and allow dangerous people in,” the pastor replies in a calm voice. “But most of these people have lost everything because they wouldn’t go along with ISIS and are fleeing for their lives. They are the victims of ISIS. And they have nowhere to go. This is the first time in known history when we have a chance to reach these people with the love of Christ.”

I find myself nodding in agreement, but I seem to be the only friendly face in the room.

There’s so much more to say, and my fingers are itching to dig into the Word, my mouth to start quoting verses. But tempers are running hot and fear has replaced truth.

And then I realize why Jesus said we each must lose our life in order to save it.  Because, as long as we care more about our own safety and security than we do about saving the lost, we will never really be His hands and feet on this Earth.

Am I advocating any kind of public policy on this issue? Certainly not! I’m hardly qualified to tell a whole country what to do. All I’m suggesting is that we tap into that source of love and grace that goes beyond all human understanding before we start attaching labels and condemnation to people.

And if our leaders allow some refugees a safe haven in the United States, will the church push them away or will we show them the love of Christ?

What would Jesus do?  

Go and do likewise.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Aravaipa: The Conclusion

Here is the last part of my Aravaipa story. Thanks for reading!

She was taking us to the community center, she said. It was used as an emergency shelter for those who became stranded. She thought there was a phone there with a land line.

The community center (aka emergency shelter) was about seven miles back to Klondyke and turned out to be the one-room schoolhouse that we had passed on the way in. It was no longer used as a school because there were no more children living in Klondyke. 

 The Klondyke Community Center

Our rescuer led us into the building, which was completely empty except for a few broken down desks and a dead bird on the dirty wooden floor. It turned out there was no phone, but our rescuer had Verizon service on her cell and we were able to get a signal and call Eric’s parents. 

“Are they mad?” I asked Eric.  Honestly, I couldn’t imagine them not being mad. 

But Eric smiled and said “No it’s fine. They’re fine.”

So we took our packs out from our rescuer’s truck and waved our goodbyes. She waved back and then backed up right over Dave’s backpack. Eric’s camera was sitting on top of the pack and toppled to the ground on impact. She stopped the truck. Eric was staring at his camera, but didn’t make a move toward it.

“Did I just run over your stuff?” she asked, sticking her head out the window.

“Yeah,” Eric said. “But don’t worry. It’s fine.” 

It turns out his camera was fine. And except for a tire track on Dave’s backpack, it was fine too. 

 Dave and Eric standing next to the run over pack.
So the day turned out to be beautiful and sunny. And I think in the back of our minds we were all wondering if we had made the right decision to not hike the canyon. But I figured it was better not to know and be alive then to know and be dead. We had four hours to kill, so we hung our wet tents over the brick wall outside the school and sat around talking. Although we didn’t get to see the beauty of the canyon we did meet a few nice people, including a large rancher who drove the road grader and stopped to say hello and give us a quick history of the region. 

And while Dave and Eric didn’t capture breathtaking images of the canyon, they did get some nice shots of the town of Klondyke, a visiting praying mantis, and the picturesque mountains that surrounded the region. 

 Taking pictures of a visiting praying mantis

The best part was that Eric’s parents were smiling and in good humor when they arrived with the dogs to pick us up. And so, after cleaning out a new pile of puppy puke from the back seat of Eric’s Jeep, we loaded up and headed home.