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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Praying Like Paul and Don Carson

It was in seminary that I was introduced to the idea of praying the Apostle Paul’s prayers.  My Greek professor, Dr. Don Carson (a.k.a. D.A. Carson), wrote a book on prayer (A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers), and as the title suggests, it was mostly about using Paul’s prayers to petition the Lord.  I’ve mentioned Dr. Carson a couple of times already on my blogs.  He is not only one of the most brilliant men I have ever met (one person said, during seminary – the greatest mind on the New Testament alive today), but he was my academic advisor my first year of seminary. I have a few Dr. Carson stories that I will have to relate sometime.  More than once, I asked him a question and he replied, “You know, I wrote a book on that.” And he wouldn’t be kidding – he’s written or co-authored more than 45 books.

Out of love for my dear professor, I wrote him a limerick once and put it on the chalkboard before he came into our morning class.  To appreciate this little ditty, you’ll need to know that there was a Professor of Preaching at the seminary named Dr. Larson, and that Dr. Carson never let us use Bibles that had the English words over the Greek words (called Interlinears) to easily translate.  I guess he wanted Greek to be as hard as possible. Oh, yeah, one more thing – although he had reached the top of his game in academia, he once confessed to us that he missed the pastorate (where he had started his ministry):

There once was a Doctor named Carson,

Who talked just as good as a Larson.

He taught us the Greek.

Interlinears, don’t peek!

The truth is he’d rather be a parson.

Dr. Carson came into class, saw my attempt at poetry, said, “Not bad” and quickly erased the whole thing.  He was a real treat.  I have many wonderful recollections of seminary, and among them are two days of Greek exegesis class where the great man stopped teaching us Greek and took two classes to revel in the beauty and necessity of Christ-centered preaching.(To paraphrase…”Where preaching is at a high state, the church is at a high state; where preaching is at a low state, the church suffers!”)  I still see him when he is speaking at conferences that I go to now and then, and he half remembers me – at least my face.

But I was going to write about praying Paul’s prayers, a habit which Dr. Carson taught me.  I regularly pray 7 of Paul’s prayers, keeping in mind my family and my church family.  They are…Colossians 1:9 – 12; Ephesians 1:16 – 19; Ephesians 3:14 – 19; 2 Thessalonians 1:11, 12; Romans 15:13; Philippians 1:9 – 11; 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 13.

Let me just say a word about one of the shorter ones – Romans 15:13…

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (ESV)

It’s a great prayer to pray for someone who is struggling with assurance of salvation, and there are a couple of people in our congregation who have talked to me about this, and so I have their names on this card, but it’s good to pray for everyone.  I want my wife and kids to abound in hope and I want all of our Edgewood family to be filled with joy and peace, and I personally want to be overflowing with hope. 

So if you’re looking for a way to energize your prayer life with some really biblical prayers, this is a great place to start.  You’ll be praying like the doctor named Carson…not to mention like the Apostle Paul himself.

 
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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Death is Wrong

Elisabeth and I are reading Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir, by Carolyn Weber, the story of a young agnostic woman and her surprising encounter with Christ at Oxford.  Ms. Weber is a delightful writer, and this evening as I read aloud, there were a couple of passages that I almost couldn’t get through, they moved me so much.

My reaction is perhaps due to something else I read this morning, so I don’t know if it will have the same effect on you, but to set the scene, in this narrative, she is telling about a lavish Christmas dinner party she is invited to at the University, and the conversation that ensues.  The speaker, seated near her, is an eminent heart surgeon…

“But to cut to the chase,” Dr. Inchbald stated, no doubt seeing the same reactions I saw as he glanced around the table, “when I see death, I know it is wrong.”

“Obviously.” Dr. Rieland snickered.

“But really, really wrong. In-my-gut wrong,” Dr. Inchbald almost pleaded. “It was not meant to be. It was not meant for us. We were not built for it. Everything in my body, at a cellular level, let alone a metaphysical one, twists against it. Not just my death, but the death of every living thing.”

The politician’s wife next to me sniffed. “Yes,” she said. “I had a beloved Shih Tzu who escaped from my purse and got struck by a car. I held her broken body as she breathed her last, looking at me with bewildered adoration the entire time. I was heartbroken. When I think about it, it felt so wrong.”

We all sat there in silence, serious or otherwise, but unified, thinking of dead pets, birds fallen from their nests, whales washed ashore. Of unborn babies, abducted children, hospices and the elderly. Of loved ones wasting away, suffering, shattering against a windshield, bleeding from a wound. Of aging. Growing weak. Losing one’s mind. Of ourselves.

Buried. In the dark. Devoured by insects. Turned to dust. Burned. Cremated. Turned to ashes. Was this really all there was, forever? That we were lost to ourselves and to each other forever?

Wrong.

Wrong.

As I said, perhaps this passage struck me so much because of what I had meditated on this morning in 2 Timothy, chapter 1, verse 10…

“…our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (ESV)

Don’t let anyone fool you.  Death is not natural.  Death is not something we should ever get used to.  It wasn’t meant to be.  No way.  There is a reason death feels wrong. 

But as believers, we have a Savior who has abolished death.  ABOLISH is a wonderful word when it comes to the grave, is it not?  Not so wonderful when used with fun, or food, or a host of other things we love.  But I am so, so very glad that Jesus Christ has done away…with death.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Feel Like Giving Up?

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  Luke 18:1 (NIV)

I’m not going to say anything about the parable that follows this verse.  You can go look it up yourself later.  I will mention, however, that it’s in my personal top 5 of Jesus’ parables. I’ve probably taught on this one more than any other.  For today, though, I just wanted to say something about the introduction.

He told them a parable…and Luke tells us the reason why He told them the parable.  I don’t think the gospel writers usually spell it out like that for us.  And much of the time Jesus’ own disciples walk away scratching their heads – “What was that all about?”

Not this time.  There’s no wondering here.  We know exactly why Jesus told them this parable.  We know the purpose of the telling.  We know the main point of the story.  It’s really simple: When you feel like giving up, don’t. Instead…pray.  Or…always pray and don’t give up.  Other versions use the phrase “…not lose heart”, and the sense in the original is not to be wearied or exhausted.

Have you felt like giving up lately? Throwing in the towel?  Picking up your ball and going home?  I’ve been there…and I’ve given up a few times, but that’s never the best plan.  When you feel like giving up, the best plan is to go somewhere…and pray…and pray…and pray.  Always pray.  Don’t give up.

It’s the only way to live.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Prayer by Eric Alexander

As a sophomore at the University of Illinois, I attended the 1984 Intervarsity Urbana conference.  Sometimes you don’t so much remember the conference as the feeling you had there.  That’s true for me and Urbana ‘84.  I had been a Christian for about 2 ½ years, and I don’t think I had so much considered the needs of the world at that point in my new faith, but God used the time there to grip my heart with the need for world evangelization.

But what I remember more than anything else was the main speaker at the conference.  His name was Eric Alexander, a Scottish preacher whose second of four messages was on prayer out of Ephesians 1:15 – 23.  I remember him telling the story of asking a young lass in his church why she hadn’t been at the prayer meeting.  She told him that she didn’t feel like praying.  And his response (imagine a old Scottish preacher with a deep brogue): “Young lady, prrrrayer is not a glandular condition.”

And I remember something else he said in that message from 28 years ago.  He said, quite simply, “Prayer is fundamental, not supplemental.”  That struck me, and it has stayed with me ever since.   You get the idea, I suppose, but let me spell it out. 

We tend to think that prayer is a very nice thing if you can squeeze it in.  It will make your day go a little smoother if you can find the time.  It is supplemental, kind of like dessert after a fine meal.  If you have it, all the better, but it’s not really necessary. 

Ah, but that’s where we are wrong.  Prayer is not dessert after the meal; it’s the meal.  We cannot do without it.  It is at the very heart of the Christian life, and yet massive numbers of Christians are convinced that they really don’t need to pray.  They will do okay without it.

What a lie!  Don’t believe it.  Prayer is fundamental, not supplemental.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Right and Wrong Worship

This video that I ran across today gives me the opportunity to say something about worship, one of my favorite forms of prayer (don’t try to relate these comments to the video; I just thought it was somewhat funny):

I really enjoy our worship at Edgewood – I think we are very blessed. And if you’re a regular attendee, I hope you feel the same. Some people take offense at the idea of “enjoying” worship, that we should worship for God and not ourselves. But I have learned that this is the wrong way of thinking about it. John Piper’s thinking in his book Desiring God has transformed my thinking.

What Piper writes is simple yet profound. When I “enjoy” God, I glorify Him. How does that work? Well, think about it this way – if I tell my wife that I want to take her out on a special date, and she says, “Why would you want to do that?” and I say, “I read in a book that all good husbands take their wives out occasionally. It’s the duty of a good husband.” How do you think she will feel? Lousy, I would guess.

But what if I say, “Well, darling, we’ve been busy lately, and I love to spend time with you and I miss you – that’s why I want to take you out.” How will she feel then? I think she will feel encouraged, and loved.

Or what if I go see someone in the hospital, and the sick person says, “Oh, Pastor, you shouldn’t have come – I know you’re busy.” And I say, “Well, actually, the elders told me I had to come.” (which they haven’t – if you’re sick and I come to see you – but I think you get the idea). How will that person feel? Lousy, again. But if I say, “I really wanted to be here with you,” then that person will be blessed.

In the same way, how does God feel when we enjoy Him in worship? The answer is that God is glorified. How about when we come to delight in Him in His word, or in prayer? How do you suppose He feels when we operate out of a sense of duty? Now, sometimes the only way we get things done is by duty, and we need to live lives of obedience, but life is not best lived this way, and God is certainly not most glorified in this manner.

So Piper has written, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” That little statement has revolutionized my life since I heard it some many years ago. Truly, what he is saying is that God is joy, and when we delight in Him, we glorify Him. John Piper has written another book called God is the Gospel, which I have only started, but I think I know the idea. The idea is that God is the good news, that the best part of heaven will be His presence, not seeing old relatives (as glorious as that will be) or eating a feast.

So why do you worship? Or why do you pray? Or why do you come to church or read your Bible? If you would say that your primary motivation is duty, then pray a simple prayer right now and ask God to turn your duty into delight.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Bait and Switch

In one week our 40 days will come to an end.  Have you thought about what you will do after praying every day for 40 days?  Can I let you in on a secret that isn’t really?

I’m hoping that your 40 days will become 40 years.  I’m hoping that the people who have taken this challenge to pray every day for 40 days will make it a lifetime habit.  This isn’t really a bait and switch, is it?  You knew it was coming, didn’t you?

Oh, the promises to those who will pray!  Ask and it will be given to you.  Seek and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened to you.  Everyone who asks, receives…!

Oh, the happiness to be found, not foremost in front of the movie screen, but on our knees…in His presence.  As hard as it can be for me sometimes to get there, I still say confidently that the greatest joys of my life have been in that place where there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

Oh, commit yourself to trust in Him through prayer, will you?  Think of how the tide of the battle will turn in a Kingdom direction in your life (Exodus 17).  Consider how many jars He will fill on your behalf (2 Kings 4).  Think of the arrows that you will shoot toward heaven and how many victories He will grant because of your faithful firing (2 Kings 13)

My word to you today is this: Don’t think of these next 7 days, think of the next seven years and beyond, and what God will do in your life and in the lives of those you love, if you give yourself to prayer.

Let it be said to his shame that he did not believe enough, so he did not obey enough.  It is what happens in the secret chamber that determines the amount of victory we have in the actual battle of life.

- spoken regarding King Jehoash in 2 Kings 13, author unknown

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Why is Prayer (Sometimes) So Hard?

It is, sometimes, isn’t it?  It’s about 4:20 p.m. and I haven’t had my prayer time yet.  Mind you, today was not a normal day.  I was at a seminar in Houston yesterday (79° and sunny – it’s practically summer there), and so I was flying home today.  I got up at 3:45 a.m., which is definitely not the norm for me, and prayer might have gone well for the great saints of old at 3:45, but prayer was not happening for me at that hour. I had a bunch of time on the leg from Houston to Chicago, and I got some good reading done, including a great time of meditation in 1 Timothy.  But it wasn’t all “constructive”.  I’m trying to finish Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, and if you haven’t picked up The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, well…don’t.  But if you do, you will get a picture of a Sweden that needs Jesus.

But I digress.  In one sense, I did pray on the plane. The pilot promised us a smooth ride from Houston to Chicago, but he turned out to be a liar.  So there were the standard turbulence prayers (there is no format for these in the Bible, and I have worked them out on my own).  I actually did pull out my prayer list at one point, but our campus pastor from Fond du Lac, Jeremy Thompson, was sitting next to me.  Now, Jeremy is not a nosy guy or a gossip, but of course we were not in roomy first class, and I have things on my prayer list that are just for Jesus, and I would like to keep it that way.

As I write this, Annie is sitting next to me and has offered her opinion: “I don’t think prayer is so hard.” She’s right, of course – praying during the turbulence wasn’t hard at all, and I’ve talked about my walking prayer here, so sometimes it is easy…but never easy in a way that watching TV is easy.  

This is what I think: First, prayer is sometimes hard because we have an enemy. Satan is real, and he doesn’t want us to pray, to really pray, because he knows that when we pray, we communicate with the Almighty, and that’s bad for his plan.

Second, prayer is sometimes hard because it requires faith. And faith…is not natural.  In fact, though kids get it pretty easy, for us adults, it can be one of the more unnatural things in the world.  So we will sometimes do anything besides pray. We will work instead of praying.  We will call a friend instead of praying.  We will watch TV, eat, or sleep instead of praying.  Sometimes, believe it or not, we will even write an article about praying…instead of praying.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Just Another Wednesday?

I partook in an Ash Wednesday service last year at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Waupun.  My friend Peter Bird is the Vicar or Pastor there, and he had invited me.  I think it might have been my first Ash Wednesday service…ever. 

Ash Wednesday, for those not in the know, is a day of repentance which marks the beginning of Lent. Typically, the officiant makes a cross of dust on the penitent’s forehead, and says on this order: “From dust you were made; to dust you shall return.”

This evening, I read this thoughtful article on the meaning and message of Ash Wednesday…

Living in denial of death is typically a youthful response. We live recklessly, believing that death will come for the old, the weak, or the sick, but not for us. Such recklessness plunges out of airplanes and into strange beds, shunning any measure of caution.

Eventually, most death-deniers are brought into face-to-face encounters with the future they fear: the death of a friend or loved one, a bad diagnosis, an accident or close call. As the cultural myth goes, this brings us “down to earth” and we live in a more solemn acknowledgment of life’s realities…

Ash Wednesday serves to interrupt denial and panic both. It quietly reminds us, in the days before Easter, that death comes for all born under the curse, and it lays groundwork for the hope of Easter Sunday to ring all the louder and more powerful.

In truth, Ash Wednesday is about repentance and remembrance. We remember that Kansas wasn’t totally off the mark when they said, “All we are is dust in the wind”, and we are moved to repent for the sins in our lives which have become too casual, but for which Christ died.

So I don’t know if you made it to an Ash Wednesday service today, but if not, you would no doubt profit from a few minutes in the Lord’s presence remembering the reality of the curse…amidst the joyous backdrop of a risen Savior.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Learning Prayer from Jerry Seinfeld

Years ago, my friend Charlie introduced me to the concept of “plundering the Egyptians.”  It comes from when Israel was to finally leave Egypt, and they simply asked for all of Egypt’s stuff on the way out.  The people of Egypt, decimated by the various plagues, gave them gold, silver and clothing because they had found favor in the eyes of the Egyptians (Exodus 12:35, 36).

Anyway, Charlie’s point was that we can get good stuff from those who don’t know the Lord, and today I ran across something that might help you in prayer.  It’s a concept from the comedian Jerry Seinfeld that has apparently helped him be productive through the years, and it’s simple. You can read all about it here, but I’ll sum up the basic idea: Decide you’re going to do something, even a small thing, every day, and when you accomplish it, put an X on the calendar. Take a look… 

It’s more commonly known as “Don’t Break the Chain,” and the concept is simple: spend some amount of time doing a desired activity every day and, when you do, cross off that day on a calendar. This creates a chain of Xs showing your progress. If you don’t do your specified task on one day, you don’t get an X and that chain is broken. It seems almost too simple to work, but it’s allowed me to accomplish so much more than I ever thought possible.  

If you don’t do it, you don’t get an X.  That’s your “punishment.” I feel somewhat compelled to introduce a warning: Don’t let an open day produce guilt – disappointment, yes – guilt, no.  Remember that missing exercise or your time in the Bible or prayer after doing any one of these things consistently for 45 days could make you feel like you need to confess.  Don’t do it.  The Bible is our guide, not a man-made exercise plan or anything else.  There is no law in the Bible that says you must have a 15 minute Bible or prayer time every day. 

But we need to do battle with the flesh which resists the Spirit, and this might just help in that every day struggle.  Try it out, and consider doing it in the most important aspect of your day – your time with the Lord in prayer.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Praying for the People of Edgewood Church

Can the staff of a church do anything more productive than pray together? I can’t think of what that would be, and so most every Monday, Edgewood’s staff spends 30 – 45 minutes in prayer over our Friendship Register prayer requests. A long time ago (10 years maybe?), someone complained that our administrative assistants were being paid to pray at our staff meetings.  We kept praying; the dissatisfied person left. Can’t please everybody, I guess.

Today was probably something of a record – we had 141 prayer requests from Waupun and Fond du Lac (about 10 more were marked confidential, and the full staff doesn’t see all these).  We usually receive around 100 – 110 non-confidential requests. (If you’re interested in personally praying through these requests each week, send an email to Pam Hron (phron@edgewoodcommunity.org), and she will put you on the list to receive these weekly requests.)

From the beginning, prayer has been important to our staff.  When I started back in ’99, Mike Giebink and I agreed to pray together every day.  I guess things have changed a bit over 13 years – nowadays, he and I meet once a week and pray together during this time.  I meet the other guys one-on-one once a week as well (most always – everyone on Monday), and prayer is almost always a part of these regular times.  I once served in a ministry where I met my boss each week, but we rarely prayed together.  He loved God and such, but took a more “corporate” view of things.  Well, to each his own.

I’ll close with the words of the prophet Samuel…

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.

1 Samuel 12:23 (ESV)

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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 
 
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