May 24, 2014

Believing & Expecting

This is a follow-up to the post on Thursday, The Prayers of the Righteous.

Jesus spoke often about believing. He said, "I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Obviously, Jesus is not saying, "Just ask willy nilly - whatever you want - God will give it!" The Creator and Sustainer of the universe is not a genie. Jesus is talking about our hearts lining up with the heart of God. But he is also talking about having the faith to believe that God not only hears us, but wants to give us our hearts desire WHEN our hearts line up with his will. We must believe. This is faith.

I believe that for most of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, when we pray, we believe. We know that God "owns the cattle on a thousand hills", so we also trust that (as Paul said) He will "supply all our needs according to his riches". And when we cry out to him to bring healing to a little boy who is on the verge of death, because we know he is the Great Physician - because Jesus healed the lame, the blind, the deaf, and the leper - and he in fact called 4-days dead Lazarus out the grave - we BELIEVE that he can heal. We don't doubt for a second that he is capable. That he is able. We believe.

But do we EXPECT?

Think on this for a moment. 

Do we expect God to do what we're asking him to do? To provide the miracle?

There's a great story in Acts 12 about Peter being arrested and imprisoned. As an angel came and rescued Peter from prison, it wasn't until he was at the city gate that he came to and realized he wasn't dreaming. He then said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me..." At that, he went to John Mark's house where "many were gathered together and praying." He knocked on the door. A servant girl named Rhoda answered. She was so excited that she ran to tell everyone and forgot to open the gate for Peter. But when she reported to everyone that "Peter was at the gate" - when she told all the people who were undoubtedly praying for Peter's protection, strength, and presumably, even his rescue - they said to her, "You are out of your mind!"

She kept telling them. They told her she was crazy.

Of course, they eventually realize that Rhoda was NOT crazy and that yes, in fact, Peter was rescued and standing at the gate. 

They may have been praying and believing, but they were not praying and expecting.

I wonder, how often do we do this?

And I wonder why we do this.

Do we not expect because we don't want to be let down?

Have we asked before and the answer was "No", and we don't want to have to hear "No" again?

Or maybe we don't want to look or feel silly, like we were duped or fooled.

In Habakkuk 2:1, the prophet says, "I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint." Habukkuk not only believed that the Lord could answer him; he believed that he would. He was going to stand watch and wait patiently, believing that God was going to respond.

Jesus told the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount to "keep seeking, keep asking, and keep knocking."

How much does it change things to move from simply believing to expecting?

What do you think?

May 22, 2014

The Prayers of the Righteous

As you may know, this past week a little boy in our church family (who's also part of my missional community) almost lost his life to viral meningitis. I was in the room Monday morning when the doctor (after much prodding from an exhausted father) finally gave the very grim and seemingly hopeless diagnosis: "The swelling on the left side of his brain has increased. We see no activity. And we believe the virus is spreading to the right side of his brain. The next 24 hours are crucial. If the swelling doesn't go down...I don't think he will survive this."

At this point, my friend laid over his son's body and wept. 
All that Chad and I could do was lay over Jamin and weep with him.
We wept and prayed.

For 24 hours, from Monday to Tuesday, I prayed. I asked everyone I could think of to pray. So many people prayed. Thousands of people all over the world were praying. And honestly, I don't believe I've prayed more consistently, constantly, fervently, and desperately since my Dad's accident 10 years ago. On Tuesday morning, our staff at The Brook spent our entire time together praying, asking God to do a miracle that only He could perform or provide. I saw and heard these sweet friends I lead and serve with pray with openness and brokenness that I am certain had the attention of God. We cried out, we claimed promises, and we begged the Great Physician to bring merciful healing to Ryker's brain and body, and for swelling to go down and for this vicious virus to be eradicated from him. We know that many others were praying along with us, wherever they were. The people of God were crying out for the Father to miraculously intervene. This was literally all we could do.

In retrospect, I believe that after the most gut-wrenching 24 hours I have lived in years, I said "Amen" for the first time around 11:00 on Tuesday morning.

And at 12:15, sitting in my children's school program, I received this text message from our Youth Pastor:
Great news! Swelling seems to be going down. His body is fighting the infection. Seems to be activity on left side of his brain.

I almost let out a scream and burst into tears all at once. I could hardly contain myself. God had done what we begged Him to do. All I could do was follow the example of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1-2, when her sorrow turned to praise. Only God could move, work, provide, and heal. And He did.

Over the last 48 hours, as I've reflected on all of this and continued to pray, asking God for complete healing in Ryker's life, many things have come to mind that I believe are worth us reflecting on, conversing about, and considering. Over the next week, I'd like to try and separate them out and have a conversation. Most of my thoughts, questions, and impressions have to do with PRAYER. How we pray. Why we pray. How much or often we pray. Do more people praying for one thing make a difference? If so, how many more? Do we really have any idea what it means to "labor" in prayer? Lots of thoughts. Lots of questions. I would love for you to join me in this conversation.

To begin with, one of the verses that has been incredibly prevalent in my life over the last years, and was claimed and held onto tightly this week, is James 5:16. It says, "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." Let's resolve something about this verse. First off, those of us who are "in Christ" are the righteous, but only because Jesus IS our righteousness. And because of the saving work of Christ on the cross and His shed blood, we can now go directly to the Father. We don't need a mediator. We have one. His name is Jesus. (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 4:14-16)

So here's what I'm wrestling with:
If the "prayer of a righteous person has great power" - if the prayer of ONE righteous person is effective for interceding on behalf of someone else - then are the prayers of MORE THAN ONE righteous persons even more effective?

I remember when my Dad had his accident and was in a coma. At the beginning, during the first weeks, we knew that thousands of people were praying. But as weeks (and especially months) went on, and Dad's condition slowly improved, my Mom began to worry that people were going to stop praying. This might sound ridiculous, but I wondered: If the amount of people praying drops below 1000 - maybe dips down to 739 - does an alarm go off in heaven and God inform the angels and heavenly hosts, "Pay less attention to Jerry! We'll teach those 221 lazy, apathetic children to keep praying!" Again, I know that sounds absurd, but that's precisely why I ask. 

What if ONE PERSON had been on their knees, desperately crying out, interceding, weeping, and begging God to move on behalf of Ryker? 
Would God have been listening? Is one enough?

What if you were the ONE? Would your prayers be heard?
What does James 5:13-20 tell us about this?

I think this is worth our prayerful consideration. It's worth talking about.
What do you think?

May 13, 2014

Seize Every Moment

This past Sunday was Mother's Day. What we once called "Baby Dedication" we now call "Parent/Child Dedication" at The Brook. As we had several families on our platform, they were there not so much for some supernatural blessing over their child(ren), but to say as parents to our church family: "I'm standing here before you to prayerfully commit to take every moment captive that the Lord gives me to lead these precious ones to Jesus!" And as a church, it's our opportunity to prayerfully come alongside them and say, "We're here to walk with you."

In conjunction with Parent/Child Dedication, we showed a brief video in our services telling some of the story of how God has worked in the life of one of our families (who also happen to be some of my close friends) to open their home and their lives to foster children. We wanted to tell this story first of all because it's a powerful and beautiful picture of sacrificial love, but we also wanted to share it because it illuminates the reality that none of us know how long we have to shape, mold, influence, and disciple these little lives God places in our care. My friend Stephanie shared that the hardest part of fostering is when the child is taken out of your home - when they leave. Going in, you hardly ever know when or how that will take place. And the thing is, even though almost all of us who have children of our own are lulled to sleep with this false sense of security that we actually have control over things like that, the reality is that none of us have any idea how long we'll have this opportunity. We aren't promised tomorrow. Neither are our children. As parents - biological, foster, adoptive, whatever the case may be - we must seize every moment to lead them to Jesus.

When I uttered these words, I didn't tell God that I needed an example.

I wasn't attempting to proclaim prophecy, but simply state the truth.

But sadly, yesterday, one day after making that statement, it unfolded right in the middle of our lives.

The Brown's are part of our school family at PCS. They have 4 biological children and 2 adopted from the DR. Yesterday afternoon, on the way to pickup their 2 adopted kids, the mom and all 4 other children were in a horrible car accident, as their Suburban was broadsided by an 18-wheeler, causing it to roll over. The mother and 3 year old are going to be OK. Their 8 & 9 year old daughters are both still in critical condition fighting for their lives. [Please pray for Sarah & Rebecca - for the almighty, healing power and presence of God to fall on their little lives and do a miracle that will bring Him glory.] And it breaks my heart to write these words, but their 5 year old son did not survive the accident. Even though I was not present when all of this took place, I can assure you that it happened in the blink of an eye.

When I heard this news yesterday I thought I was going to throw up. 
I thought my knees were going to buckle out from underneath me.
I felt that rush of sweat-filled anxiety come over me that feels like your soul is falling out.

I wept. 

I prayed.

I wept and pray some more.

When I went into my daughter's room yesterday afternoon to share this with her and my son, and to pray with them, I could barely hold myself together or get through the prayer.

We weren't made for this broken world. We were made for something greater.
When we read that "all creation is longing for redemption" - that everything God has made is longing for the world to be put back the way it should be - we only need these kinds of moments to remind us of why we truly, desperately long for "all things to be made new".

How many times do we need to be reminded to seize every moment?

How many times do we need to be reminded that the eternal perspective is the only one that gives us hope and peace?

Will I ever get to the place where I don't need the Lord to painfully remind me of how desperately I need Him - not just today, but in every moment and every breath?

I'm not promised tomorrow.
Neither is my wife.
Neither are my children.

Lord, give me the wisdom, strength, courage, and selflessness to desperately pursue you and to lead my children to do the same. Give me the wisdom to preach the Gospel to myself and to them daily - that my identity is not only found, but complete in who Jesus is and what He did on the cross. Empty me of the lure of the temporary and set my heart on fire for what's eternal. 

Lord, please help me to seize every moment that you give me.

Lord, pour out your mercy, grace, presence and power on this beautiful, young family. Show your power! Be glorified. Bring healing. Only you can.

May 8, 2014

Integrity Hates Excuses

For the 10 years I lived in Wichita I took care of my own yard. And when I say "took care" this is probably a gross understatement. I have friends that would say I was a bit obsessed with my lawn. One of my friends even called me the "Lawn Nazi". I would argue. But it's true. 

We moved into our house Memorial Day weekend of 1999. When I started talking about putting grass in, I was quickly scolded and reeducated by friends that NO, you cannot put fescue grass in at the beginning of summer. OK. Great. What am I going to do with this yard until fall? 

My home was the very last one built in the neighborhood. It was the only one without grass. Which makes it all the more painful when I tell you that I spent the entire summer raking, nurturing, prepping, and "taking care" of my big fat lawn of dirt. That's right. I spent an entire summer preparing that soil. And while I'm sure numerous neighbors drove by and had a good laugh at the guy standing out in the heat, raking his dirt, it all paid off eventually. I laid that fescue sod down in late September - rolled it, watered it, fed it, winterized it - and by the next fall I had the greenest, thickest, nicest yard around. And it stayed that way the entire 8 1/2 years I lived in that house.


5 years ago we moved to Madison. Here in North Alabama, most people have Bermuda grass in their yards. I knew (and still know) nothing about Bermuda grass except that I hate it. I have no idea how to care for it. It's only green 4 months out of the year. It's horrible. (It doesn't feel like grass under your feet; it feels like walking on pick-up sticks.) So I hired a yard company. (Not to mow my grass. I've got that covered. It's the fertilizing, winterizing, and weed killing I'm clueless about.) Actually, I hired them, then fired them. I then hired another company. And now, I'm about to fire them. Why? Because I have weeds.

Currently, at this moment in time, I'm paying someone for weeds.
This is unacceptable all by itself. But what makes it worse for me - and the real reason I'm firing this company - is because every time I complain about the weeds, they don't supply me with solutions or even apologies. All I get is excuses.

If you say you're going to supply something, then supply it with integrity.

If you fail to supply it, make it right with integrity.

You see, integrity hates excuses!

If you have enough people calling your product, your program, or your method into question, then - with integrity - try and recall why you started supplying the product in the first place. If you wanted to assist people in being proud of their lawn, then get back to that place. If you simply wanted to make money, then don't lose a minute of sleep wondering why you're being fired and having a blogpost written about you.

Friends, I really truly believe we've come to a place where integrity almost shocks people, as if we've forgotten what it looks like and can hardly recognize it anymore. 

So, if you want to shock people, one way to do it is to have integrity.
Be who you say you are.
Do what you say you're going to do.
Either that, or get fired and be replaced.

In closing, here's a bit of irony for you. The company whose products I used for 10 years to successfully take care of my own lawn is the same company I'm getting ready to fire for not taking care of my lawn.

Has someone shocked you with their integrity lately?
Would love to hear about it.
Let's tell the stories of those who are living it out!