Thursday, May 31, 2012

Avoiding False Hopes

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. Romans 1:8-10

I’ve done it a thousand times.  I wish it hadn’t taken that long, but it did.  I guess it had slowly just become a part of my conversation… Upon hearing of someone’s illness, or struggle, to casually say “Oh, well I will pray for you…” or when a friend calls and you ask how their day is, they reply: “It’s been awful.  I could really use your prayers…” and we reply that we will remember them when we pray…But we don’t’.  I caught this as a pattern in my life, and I decided to do something about it!

A Culture of Concern
In circles of Christians, we hear the request for prayers so often that it’s possible to actually become deafened to them.  “Hey, we are travelling to Abilene for that court thing this week, keep us in your prayers.”  “Okay.  You guys be safe!”  It becomes a religious version of simply stating: “That’s really sad.” or “Wow, I wish you hadn’t had that happened.”  It’s very easy to slip in a concerned “I will be in prayer for you.” And then move about our lives…and we might remember to pray…or we might not.  Right?  It’s not something we would want to do, it just happens.

But, prayer is important, isn’t it.  We are talking about real people, with real needs, looking for real change in their situations!  We can see how silly the habit of intercessory neglect is when the context of the need is changed: “Uh yeah, I’m going to be at the bottom of the pool in about twelve hours, and I’m going to need someone to drop me my next tank of air.  I’d appreciate you remembering me today.” “Hey, you bet.  I will.”  And then we go home and go about our lives, and forget to do what we said we would.  Problem. Right?

THAT’S how I felt when I realized that I had fallen into the habit of telling people I would pray for them, but then allow life to crowd that commitment out of my day.  I didn’t ever want to tell someone that I would bear him or her up in prayer again, unless I made certain that I did just that!  I want to be that guy, that if you ask him to pray for you, you know that you are being prayed for!

Committing to Pray
The Apostle Paul prayed.  Not just the incidental kinds of prayer we might have a pattern of doing.  He really, really, prayed.  All the time!  Now while I wasn’t witness to this dedication personally, we do see it in his letters, like the passage from Romans above.  He talked about praying unceasingly for the church at Rome.  We see it again in Ephesians 1:15-19, Ephesians 3:14-19, Philippians 1:9-11, and in his letters to the Colossians, and the Thessalonians, and in his letter to Philemon as well.  Paul PRAYED for his people!!  Hey prayed for them as if it were a life or death situation.  In some cases, it was!

I remember a few years ago when my oldest son Jordan became infected with a deadly strain of e-Coli.  It was bizarre, driving him to the hospital – not knowing if I would get to drive him home again…ever.  I prayed for my son!  I didn’t forget to pray for him.  It wasn’t a casual matter of short mentions in prayer.  I prayed night and day, beating on the door of heaven.  If I was awake, I was not far from the place of petition. I was scared to death that his illness would steal him from me.

Do we pray for the needs of others?  Are we fulfilling our commitment to them for prayer?  If you look at your own life, and observe a pattern of unfulfilled promises and casual prayer commitment, it’s time to break the pattern!  Avoid false hopes. Pray.

Scripture to Claim:
To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power,  2 Thessalonians 1:11

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Praying for Strangers

"…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,” Ephesians 6:18

I’ve found myself doing some strange things when it comes to prayer.  I may be out in the yard, look up at the sound of a passing jet, and speak a quick prayer on behalf of the pilots and passengers of that aircraft – zipping past me some thirty thousand feet or so above me.  I might pray for their safety, for the alertness of the crew, or for the hundreds of lives who have no idea that I am anything but an invisible speck below them.  What worries do they carry?  What troubles are they enduring?  What are their needs?  I have no idea.  But my Heavenly Father knows.  So, I’m praying for strangers.

I may do the same from time to time as I find myself stopped at an intersection red light.  In my rush to get where I am going, my main attention is usually fixed on the light in front of me.  But then I will consider that God may have me sitting right there, right then for his purposes.  He may want me to pray for the young man who is passing in front of my car.  His mussed hair and angry demeanor may be the marks of a life that I would never imagine, nor want for anyone.  Yet, there he goes.  I may never see him again.  But I see him right now.  So, I’m praying for a stranger.

Praying At All Times
In Ephesians 6:18 above, we find the Apostle Paul encouraging the people of Ephesus to pray at all times.  At face value, this seems a bit radical…perhaps even ridiculous.  How could anyone be praying at all times?  Right?  We have jobs, we have families, and we have real life distractions that require our full attention!  We have this mental picture of driving down the freeway, looking left into the next lane and seeing the driver of the next car with his or her head bowed and eyes closed.  Uh.  No thanks!  But that isn’t what he means is it.  Paul speaks of being in contact…being sensitive to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Keeping alert, with all perseverance, and praying on behalf of those around us. 

Last evening, my wife Laura entered the room where I was and said: “Okay.  We need to give our badges names.”  I didn’t understand.  So she clarified.  “We have these badge numbers (when we signed up for a badge number, we asked for three numbers, one from each – Fire, Police, and EMT/Paramedic) and we need a way to refer to them when we pray…so is it Fireman Bob, and Policewoman Debbie?  We need to give them names!” 

I now understood.  What she was saying is what we all sense…prayer is so personal!  As we pray for these persons, we want to pray for them like we pray for ourselves, for our families, for our friends.  We needed a point of mental connection.  Whatever imagined name we give to those officers, firemen, and EMT’s we pray for, we have this confidence that our Omniscient God knows every atom in their body, every hair on their head, and every circumstance they are enduring at any moment.  So we will pray…for these persons…without knowing anything but his or her occupation.  We will pray for their safety, for their peace of mind, for their family, for their finances, for wisdom, for discernment for them, and whatever else the Spirit brings to mind.  We will pray for strangers.  Who knows, they may need that prayer…at this…very…moment.

Pray for strangers.

Scripture to Claim:
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Same Model Car, Different Worlds.

"TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Luke 1:79
We might read an excerpt from Zacharias’ prophecy over the infant who would grow up to become John the Baptist as a glimpse into the realities faced by law enforcement officers, firemen, and paramedics.  As we launch our Shield A Badge ministry, I want to encourage you to make the commitment to pray for these who “sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
I sat in my car one evening last week waiting at a stoplight when a Weatherford Police Officer passed through the intersection in front of me.  He was driving a white Dodge Charger.  I was driving a black Dodge Charger. 

I was headed home.  He was driving his beat…the streets of our city. 
I was dressed in my usual ministerial get-up: khaki slacks and a golf shirt.  He was wearing body armor, a bulletproof vest, his uniform, two pair of handcuffs, a Taser, extra ammo, a firearm, and a badge. 
When I am at work, people who love me, who share a common faith, in an environment where I feel safe and comfortable, surround me.  When he is at work, his life is frequently in danger.  If surrounded, he places himself between the assailant and the innocent.  In order to preserve the peace, he may have to initiate or endure physical violence. 

If I have a bad day, I may come home stressed.  If he has a bad day, he may never see home again.

Let Us Pray
Does it occur to me to pray for the men and women of law enforcement?  What about other First Responders such as Fire Fighters, and EMT’s?  In the last few years, I’ve developed the habit of thanking first responders when I see them in public…a firm handshake and a sincere expression of gratitude.  They are always very gracious and seem to appreciate it.  Perhaps you share these sentiments. You may even have expressions of your own.  But do we pray?

What is the power, the influence, the effect, of prayer to the daily walk of a law enforcement officer, a fire fighter, an ambulance driver or paramedic?  If our God really is a protector…and He is, we should pray his protection for these brave men and women.  As our God really is the Wonderful Counselor, then we should pray for the hearts and minds…for the emotional health and inner peace of these persons who place themselves on the line to protect us from the violence, anger, and trauma that we do not want to encounter or endure.   As our God is Jehovah Rapha…our Healer, we should pray wisdom for them as they strive to preserve and protect life…bringing healing to broken individuals and families.

My family must have some peace in knowing that I work in ministry.  While occasionally stressful, and there is the periodic encounter with persons who are disturbed, very few people would describe ministry as “Dangerous.”  The spouses and families of first responders however must carry with them the knowledge of the risk that comes with the calling of being a cop, or a fire fighter, or an EMT.  So we will pray for the families as well.  For the strength of marriages…for the safety of mothers and fathers who leave their families every day, with a gun strapped to their side, or destined to enter burning structures, or be exposed daily to the traumatic sight of people’s broken bodies, or exposed to persons infected with deadly diseases…all in the name of preserving life and reducing suffering. 

We will pray for First Responders…Because.

Scripture to Claim:
“I will be strong and courageous. I will not be terrified, or discouraged; for the Lord my God is with me wherever I go.” Joshua 1:9

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Render to all what is due them: ... honor to whom honor. Romans 13:7 
I was born on July 4, 1776, and the Declaration of Independence is my birth certificate.  The bloodlines of the world run in my veins, because I offered freedom to the oppressed.  I am many things and many people.  I am America!

I am 200 million living souls, and the ghosts of millions who have lived and died for me.  I remember the Alamo, the Maine, and Pearl Harbor.  When freedom called, I answered, and stayed until it was over -- over there.  I left my heroic dead in Flander's fields, on the rock Corregidor, on the bleak slopes of Korea, in the steaming jungles of Vietnam, and in the desert of Desert Storm.
I am America!  And we are Americans!

The graves of our brave soldiers are scattered all over the world.  Each lonely marker stands as a reminder that all we cherish has been preserved at such a great cost. 
They died for liberty.  They died for us.

In the midst of battles, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death.  They are at rest.
At the close of the Civil War, a group of women in Columbus, Mississippi, honored both Confederate and Union dead by placing flowers on their graves.  When the news of this act of compassion reached the North, it helped to heal the recent wounds the young nation had suffered.

In 1868 General John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued his historic order to all chapters of the Grand Army of the Republic to set aside May 30 as Decoration Day (now called Memorial Day) to decorate the graves of the heroic dead.  And so today, we take this day to remember them.

Many Americans will place a flag or flowers on the graves of those who served in the armed forces of our country.  We do remember them!  We will never forget them!

They still serve us!  Their memories are powerful influences on our lives!  We idealize them, recalling some virtue or trait of character which each of them possessed, and by such idealization, we become better men and women.  We draw strength from their memories and then go again about our own tasks, meeting our own responsibilities with high courage and deeper fortitude.

They have placed in our hands an inheritance and a heritage.  We will forever be indebted to them.
We warm by fires; we have not kindled;
We drink from wells; we have not dug;
We live by liberties; we have not won.
Every liberty we enjoy has been bought at the cost of the best our nation had to give.  Our nation rests upon this foundation cemented in place by the blood of our soldiers who fought their way through icy battlefields or over burning sands.  The words inscribed on a War Memorial in Glasgow Scotland remind us what we can do who remember:  "These died in war, that we at peace might live, These gave their best, so we our best must give."

Scripture to Claim:
The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God, the Rock, my Savior! He is the God who avenges me. . . who sets me free from my enemies.  2 Samuel 22:47-49

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