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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Memories of My First Prayer Meeting

Cadet Chapel, West Point

The year was 1982, sometime in the second half of August, and it was Reorganization (reorgy) week at West Point.  Reorgy was supposed to be one of the hardest weeks at the Academy, and at least in my book, it lived up to its reputation.   I did something wrong – doing things wrong was the plight of Plebes – and some upperclassman threatened that I might not be able to go on the retreat I was so looking forward to.

The retreat was a Sunday school teacher’s getaway, organized by the Protestant Chapel, and the Chaplain had invited me – not for my winsome ways with the kids – but I assume because he pegged me as fresh meat for evangelism if he could get me away for the weekend.   He offered me the post of teaching three and four year olds in the Sunday school chapel, assuming, I suppose, that I couldn’t do much harm at that level.  So I accepted the challenge, and in God’s providence, the threat to my weekend didn’t materialize.  Off I went.

This was the weekend that I called on the name of the Lord for salvation.  The Chaplain gave a group of us that opportunity, and I took him and the Lord up on the free offer of salvation.  Glorious.  Don’t remember much about that, truth be told, but I do remember my first prayer meeting.

Towards the end of the weekend, sometime after that gospel presentation, a group of cadet old-timers and some of us newbies gathered around a table and held hands.  Someone explained the plan: we would pray around the table, and when the person next to you was finished saying his piece to the King of kings, he or she was supposed to squeeze your hand.

I was scared.  What was I supposed to say? More than that, what if I said the wrong thing?  But for all my discomfort, it might have been most unpleasant for the persons on either side of me; I don’t remember for sure, but I’ll bet they could have nicknamed me old “sweaty-palms”.

It came my turn.  I said my piece.  Lightning didn’t strike.  And I’m here to tell you about it today, thirty years and a whole lot of prayer meetings later…but now thankfully, with dryer palms.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Exceedingly Abundantly More…

There is one prayer request I will be seeking God for more than any other in these next 40 days.  It is found in Ephesians 3:20, 21.  If you like, add it to your list, and together we will ask God to do something really wonderful over these days.

In the context, Paul has just told the believers in Ephesus how he prays for them, and I love his prayer. He prays that they would know how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for them.  There may be no better thing to ask for than a deep knowledge of God’s incredible love.  So many things flow from this.

But then he says this:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20, 21 (ESV)

Now here’s the truth, of all the things you are asking God for over these days, our God is able to do far, far, far more than you and I could ever ask or imagine…all for His glory!  Every day, I’m going to pray that He does just that.

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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Power Through Prayer

Personally, I need reminders.  I tend to forget the basics from day to day. No where is this more key than in the life of prayer, where Satan is constantly whispering in my ear that prayer does not matter.  I don’t think I regularly hear him tell me to skip daily prayer.  What I hear is “Do it later…when you have more time.”  Yeah, right.

So in the matter of prayer. I have found myself regularly moved to prayer by thoughts and quotes about prayer.  What follows is one of my absolute favorites.  (Ladies, try to look past the non gender-inclusive language.)  This is from one of the great prayer classics, available for your Kindle (or computer) for $.99, Power Through Prayer, by E.M. Bounds…

“Men are God’s method.  The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men…What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer.  The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men.  He does not come on machinery, but on men.  He does not anoint plans, but men — men of prayer.”

-E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer

So tomorrow, at Edgewood, we’re beginning the “40 Days of Prayer” journey.  We’re not starting a new method of evangelism to reach the world; it’s not a new church program.  Nothing wrong with these things – we start new stuff at our church from time to time.  But I’m excited because during the 40 Days, we will be going directly to God, asking Him to pour down His favor and blessing on our lives and on our efforts to advance His Kingdom and give Him glory.  And as we pray in Jesus’ name (prayers that Jesus Himself would pray), He most certainly will do just that.

Here’s my prayer: Lord, open the floodgates of heaven…let it rain!

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Bicycle Helmets and the Surprising Danger of Committing Yourself to Prayer

Usually, I wear a bicycle helmet.  I hear they keep your brain from becoming mush if you happen to kiss the pavement.   Now, most everyone knows this, but still, it is a rare sight to see a teenager (I have two in my house) with a bike helmet. Diane and I have fought the battle of helmets, and…I think we’ve lost.

Turns out the officials in the Australian state of Victoria read the studies also and made helmets mandatory for all bike riders.  And it worked…sort of.   Head injuries went down, but something else happened: the number of teenagers riding bikes decreased as well.  It seems that teenagers think it’s better to walk or beg for a ride than appear unfashionable.  Guess what, final studies showed that less bike riding and more car sitting led to poorer health. Now that wasn’t what they wanted.

This is called the perplexing problem of unintended consequences.   You try to make something better, and it ends up only making the situation worse.

Now imagine a church which devoted itself to prayer…only to sense God seeming farther and farther away.

How might this come about?  Prayer is, after all, the way we communicate with God, the lifeline to the Almighty.  How could prayer be detrimental to knowing God?  Well, certainly true prayer, combined with study of God’s Word, is the key to knowing God, but sometimes, when prayer is misunderstood, it can indeed be harmful to the spiritual life.

Our church is on the cusp of a campaign we are calling 40 Days of Prayer, where everyone is being encouraged to commit him or herself to a daily prayer time each day over the period.  I’m fired up about this – I’m excited about it not just because I know that God answers prayer and we’ll see Him do great things, but I’m also excited because I want everyone who participates to learn the incredible value of prayer and the truth – you do not have, because you do not ask. (James 4:2) In short, I want us to become pray-ers!  Whether you are part of Edgewood or not, I hope you’ll take part in it with us.  We start on Monday, January 23rd, and finish on March 2nd. I’ll be writing some articles about it here off and on throughout the 40 days.

The Surprising Danger

But there is a surprising danger in devoting oneself to prayer; it is the danger of “performancism”, a word I’ve taken from Tullian Tchividjian (cha-vi-jin) in his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything.  He writes:

“The Bible makes it clear that the gospel’s premier enemy is the one we often call “legalism.” I like to call it “performancism.”…Legalism happens when what we need to do, not what Jesus has already done, becomes the end game. Our performancism leads to pride when we succeed and despair when we fail.”

Here’s my point: It doesn’t take too much imagination to see pride and despair becoming part of a 40 Days of Prayer emphasis.  At the end of it all, can you see some group of folks saying, “I did it!  I made it!  I accomplished 40 days of prayer.  I’m sure God is smiling.”

And can you see another group feeling like spiritual losers? “I blew it again.  I started something and I didn’t finish.  I failed miserably.  I’m sure God doesn’t want to hear from me again.”

Tchividjian continues…

“(Performancism) becomes all about us and what we must do to establish our own identity instead of resting in Jesus and what he accomplished to establish it for us…A Christian may not struggle with believing that our good behavior is required to initially earn God’s favor; but I haven’t met one Christian who doesn’t struggle daily with believing – somehow, someway – that our good behavior is required to keep God’s favor.”

In light of that truth, chew on this – there are at least two good reasons to pray, and one lousy reason to do so:

The first good reason to pray is that “in (His) presence there is fullness of joy” Psalm 16:11 (ESV).  In other words, we pray because we have come to know the incredible love and mercy and grace of God in the gospel, and prayer gives us the opportunity to bask in the presence of the God of love.  David went into the sanctuary in Psalm 63 and said, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you” Psalm 63:3 (NIV).

The second good reason to pray is that God answers prayer.  This was Jesus’ point in Luke 11: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”  Luke 11:9,10 (ESV)

Translation: God will answer your prayers…so pray.

But there is also a bad reason to pray – some pray so that God will be impressed with them.  Others pray to get on His good side, so that they might have His smile.  However, if we pray in order to gain God’s favor, we show that we are misunderstanding the gospel.  In Christ, God the Father is already smiling.  The gospel teaches us that we are loved because we are in the Beloved. You cannot “qualify” yourself for His love.  He has already “qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the Kingdom of light.” Colossians 1:12 (NIV).

So join us over these 40 days and pray…but never forget: we pray not to gain God’s love but because we are loved…and we pray not to gain His smile but because our Heavenly Father is already smiling and delights to answer the requests of His children.

And so, as Freddie M. once said, “Get on your bikes and ride.”

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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11/22/63

When I was a junior in high school, on a sleepover with my friends Ed Wells and Jim Fabry, I told a ghost story whose authorship (in a period of adolescent insecurity?) I proudly claimed for myself.  I don’t know what I called it, but Stephen King called it “The Bogeyman”.

Imagine my  horror when Ed told me later in school that, surprise, surprise, he had read the same story that I had supposedly written in a King short story book called Night Shift.   I was, as they say, caught red handed.  But Ed is still my friend to this day; in fact, he was my best man and I was his, so I’m quite certain he has forgiven my lapse in integrity.  Right, Ed?

My point, I suppose, in this confessional introduction is that Stephen King has been a great writer worthy of imitation (if not downright thievery) for a long time now, and continues that prowess in his latest novel, an enjoyable read called 11/22/63.

What were you doing on that day?  I was a gleam in my mother’s eye, but those over 5 years old in 1963 will probably know the answer to the question and recognize the date of JFK’s assassination.  11/22/63 is therefore King’s time travel exploration of that fateful day.

In 11/22/63 our hero, writing in first person, is Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school English teacher in 2011 who gets introduced to a “rabbit hole” to the past in the pantry of his favorite eatery, Al’s Diner.  One night Jake is in for one of Al’s famous Fatburgers (nicknamed by the locals, Catburger, because of their suspiciously low price), and the next day at school, he actually gets a call from Al.  This is a surprise because, while friendly at the restaurant, the two are not exactly phone call buddies.

More strange, when Jake goes to see Al, it seems that in the span of only one day, the latter has apparently aged 4 years, and is now dying of cancer.  To explain, Al urges Jake to go into his diner pantry, where stepping gingerly forward, he emerges on September 9th, 1958.  Jake spends an hour or two in the past, taking in the sights and smells and sounds of a bygone era, not to mention a cold mug of root beer, and then returns to 2011 exactly two minutes later (it’s always just two minutes that have elapsed in the present).  He learns that Al has been making this trip for years now, always emerging on September 9th, 1958, the same day and time.  How this “rabbit hole” came to be in his diner pantry, Al has no answers, but he has been using his link to the by-gone era to buy cheap ground beef, and recently got the idea to do something much more constructive: stop Lee Harvey Oswald.

However, cancer comes into the picture, and deathly ill, Al is forced to return after a 4 year experience in “the land of ago”.  So, would Jake be willing to resume the mission?  Imagine what great things could happen if JFK were saved, Al reasons, and Jake can find no counter argument.  Armed with the outcomes and details of a few baseball games and boxing matches to fund his trip, Jake goes through the rabbit hole again, this time, more or less, to stay…that is, until the deed is accomplished. 

11/22/63 has sat on top of the New York Times Bestseller list, and for good reason.  Part love story, part science fiction, part exploration of the JFK conspiracy theories, I found it delightful and hard to put down.

And yet…this review begs a question – couldn’t I have spent my time listening to something more constructive? (11/22/63 was an audible purchase). Did I make a bad choice?  What do you think?

Our staff at Edgewood has recently started reading and discussing Lit, A Christian Guide to Reading Books, by Tony Reinke.  It’s terrific, evidenced by the fact that Youth Pastor extraordinaire Jamie Thompson devoured it in about a day.  Reinke devotes a chapter to worldview and a chapter to the benefits of reading non-Christian authors, and offers this quote from one of our more famous Christian Poets…

“So long as we are conscious of the gulf fixed between ourselves and the greater part of contemporary literature, we are more or less protected from being harmed by it, and are in a position to extract from it what good it has to offer us.”

–          T.S. Eliot

This is not to say that we read anything, or watch anything, or listen to any kind of music, but that as long as we are well-equipped with a Christian worldview, we are likely well protected from “fool’s gold.”  Reinke is, for instance, not allowing his 9 year-old son, a voracious reader, to pick up Harry Potter yet, although he would read the books to his boy; and I take it that the day will come when he will deem his son old enough and wise enough to matriculate at Hogwarts.

Albert Camus said, “A novel is never anything but a philosophy put into images”, and King has a philosophy or worldview in 11/22/63 which has nothing to do with the make-believe world of time travel.  It’s “moralistic therapeutic deism”, a term coined by sociologist Christian Smith. I’d like to talk about that too, but I’m not convinced you’d like to read, so I’ll put that off for another time.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Design-a-Prayer Meeting

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”  Matthew 7:7(ESV)

The Challenge: At Edgewood Community Church, we’re challenging everyone to make 2012 a year of prayer.  Whether you’re part of Edgewood or not, consider joining in the challenge!  What if everyone reading this found 1 or 2 (or more) friends in the next couple of weeks and organized their own prayer meeting for the New Year?  Consider what God would do!

What is the format?  Answer – whatever you want it to be.  Do you want to pray for your kids?  Great!  Do you want to pray for world missions?  Super duper.  Maybe you want to pray through the Psalms. Great idea – go for it.  Prayer for our country?   We need it!  Suppose you just want to spend some time in praise?  Find some friends who are fired up about that and get praising.  Maybe you don’t want a “topic” at all.  That’s fine – just get together and pray about anything.  It’s up to you.

When, where, how long, and how often do we meet?  You probably guessed this by now: it’s your choice.  You may want to meet once a week at Tuesday noon for a half an hour at your neighbor’s house. Some may plan a once a month meeting. Or daily?  Sounds radical…charge on! No need to say more, I’m sure.

Finally…Comment on the blog that you’re joining in with us.  Then we can all rejoice that there’s a “whole lot of praying going on!”

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Escaping the Dungeon of Giant Despair

What is the lie of the enemy that has you locked in the dungeon of despair and hopelessness? I’ve been there before, and it’s an awful place to be. The lie could be anything.  Perhaps he trifles with you regarding your salvation?  Does he tell you that all others can be saved but you have no hope?  Maybe he whispers to you that God will answer the prayers of others, but never yours.  There is an answer, and John Bunyan reveals it in the story of his hero Christian, who found himself with his friend Hopeful locked in Doubting Castle in the Dungeon of Giant Despair.  Read on and find hope…

Well, on Saturday, about midnight, they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost break of day.

Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out in passionate speech: “What a fool,” quoth he, “am I, thus to lie in a stinking Dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty. I have a Key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any Lock in Doubting Castle.”

Then said Hopeful, “That’s good news; good Brother pluck it out of thy bosom and try.”

A key in Christian’s bosom, called Promise, opens any lock in Doubting Castle. Then Christian pulled it out of his bosom, and began to try at the Dungeon door, whose bolt (as he turned the Key) gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out.

Then he went to the outward door that leads into the Castle-yard, and with his Key opened that door also. After he went to the iron Gate, for that must be opened too, but that Lock went damnable hard, yet the Key did open it. Then they thrust open the Gate to make their escape with speed; but that Gate as it opened made such a creaking, that it waked Giant Despair, who hastily rising to pursue his Prisoners, felt his limbs to fail, for his Fits took him again, so that he could by no means go after them. Then they went on, and came to the King’s High-way again, and so were safe, because they were out of his jurisdiction.

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 
 
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