Thursday, April 25, 2013

Wishing is Not Praying

by Andrew Cromwell

There is a tendency today to consider “wishing” and “praying” to be the same thing. The often used phrase “our thoughts and prayers are with you” is a good example, I think, of this confusion. We say this to people when we feel bad for them, but very often it ends up being just an empty saying. We neither think nor pray for the situation afterwards. 

Now, if you are the kind of person that says this and then goes and prays, then this clearly doesn’t apply to you! But I believe that many people do not, in fact, go away and pray. In these cases, there is a tendency for this phrase to become an empty filler—and when this happens, then “thoughts” very easily gets confused with “prayers.” And before you know it, we believe that anytime we “think” about a situation we are somehow sending positive energy into the universe, which is magically doing something good.

But that is just wishing. And wishing is a game we teach to our children when we see shooting stars or throw coins into fountains. It is the stuff of Disney movies and fairytales and princesses kissing frogs. It has no power to change the real world. Prayer on the other hand, changes things. 

The problem with wishing is that it is based in you and it is sent out directionless into the universe. It is like writing a letter addressed to no one and mailed without proper postage. 

When you pray to our Heavenly Father, on the other hand, you are having a conversation with the most powerful person in the universe. Your empty wish becomes a request, submitted to someone who sees all and knows all and is infinitely good. And the great thing about praying to God is that not only can He do anything, but also when we give our request to Him, we can trust that we have been heard.

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, He gave them a model—we call it The Lord’s Prayer. It starts out with “Our Father” and then continues to cover all the bases. The prayer Jesus taught the disciples was meant as a model for our prayers, not just a prayer for us to repeat. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer in this way, we are engaging in the work of prayer instead of just throwing out “hail Mary” passes to the universe.

So the next time you are tempted to throw out a wish when confronting a difficult situation -- take a few extra moments and actually pray.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Please Listen

by Tim Howard

Have you ever tried talking to someone who didn’t want to listen? This is often the case with my grandson Drew! When I try to help him with a problem, 99% of the time he makes it very clear he doesn’t need my assistance. “I’m just trying to help you,” I respond… “Please listen.” 
I’m sure a lot of parents and grandparents have similar experiences so I don’t feel totally weird or alone. At least that’s what I tell myself!
Jesus said: “Listen!” when He told a parable in Mark 4. He used this term because the story being told was very important. Pay attention, hear what is being spoken, don’t miss what I’m about to say because your vibrancy, growth and quality of life depend upon it.
He then goes on to talk about four responses people make to truth and what happens as a result. This narrative is found in Mark 4:1-24.
The first group Jesus identifies is those who don’t want to listen. They are ‘unreceptive’ to truth. I call them the ‘I couldn’t care less listener.’ When truth is spoken, it’s goes in one ear and right out the other. 
Unreceptive means to be closed-minded. This type of person makes no attempt to take truth in, reflect on it, understand it or accept it.  In doing so, a hardness of heart sets in. The soil of their lives becomes like ‘hardpan.’
LISTEN: You don’t want to be this type of person because little grows in hardpan soil. Hardheaded people and hardhearted people are impervious to input, resistant to truth and stuck in their ways.
The second group is those who respond with their emotions. They don’t listen with their mind but their feelings. Your emotions can be a wonderful asset to your life but they will not always guide you in making the best decisions.
LISTEN: You don’t want to be this type of person because you will become very shallow in your approach to life. When trouble comes, you will run. Maturity will elude you and growth will be stifled. 
A third group is those who offer a half-hearted response to truth. They listen but they aren’t really hearing. My wife says that about me! They get distracted!  Worries of life, the quest for more money and the desires for material things keep them from focusing.  
LISTEN: You don’t want to be this type of person because this type of listening acts likes weeds and chokes out the important things of life.
The last group Jesus mentions is those who are open and responsive. This type of person practices active listening, isn’t gullible but open, accepts truth, listens intently and plants truth in their heart. They also listen with the intent of obeying. The result: A great harvest of fruit. 
LISTEN: This is the type of person you want to be like because you will bear much fruit.
What kind of fruit can you expect? If you open God’s word to Galatians 5:22-23 you will find some fruit God mentions. Your love will grow stronger. Your joy will increase, peace will abide, kindness will overflow, patience will be demonstrated, Self-control will be experienced and a host of other things will grow. 
Jesus talked to a lot of people. Some wanted to listen, others wanted to argue and still others didn’t want to hear anything He had to say. Please Listen! Eternity is at stake and the quality of your life can increase. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Withered Hand

by Andrew Cromwell

It is said that one day Jesus was teaching at the temple and there in the crowd was a man whose hand was paralyzed. Now, we don’t know exactly what was wrong, but it is pretty clear this hand was not particularly useful. One translation says it was withered, another says shriveled and still another says deformed. It’s safe to say, the dude’s hand was messed up.  

Right in the middle of teaching, Jesus stops and tells the man to stand up in front of everyone. 

So imagine, you are the man. You’re hand is jacked up and it’s been that way for a while. You’ve gotten pretty good at compensating and people who meet you for the first time often don’t notice your limitation. You’re an expert at being invisible. You came to hear Jesus teach, and with a slight hope that the amazing stories you’ve been hearing about Jesus healing people might be true and that He might heal you.

And all of a sudden, Jesus stops and turns and looks at you and tells you to stand up. At first, you think He must be talking to someone else, and then that sick feeling settles in the pit of your stomach and you know He’s talking to you. 

As you stand up, you immediately begin to imagine the worst - Jesus is going to use your disability as an example of what happens when someone lives a sinful life or worse, He is going to mock you. But then, instead of either of those things, Jesus tells you to stretch out your hand.

Let’s just skip ahead in the story for a moment so you can hear how it ends. Jesus tells the man to stretch out his hand, and the man obeys and as he reaches out, his hand is instantly healed. That’s pretty amazing stuff and another example of the amazing power of Jesus.

But let’s step back to that moment just before the man stretched out his hand. The moment right after Jesus uttered the words “stretch out.” Put yourself back in the man’s shoes again. 

“Stretch out your hand?!” Who’s He kidding? I’ve tried that a million times. I’ve prayed. I’ve asked God to heal it. I’ve strengthened the muscles around it in the hopes that would help. I’ve visited doctor after doctor. Tried every medicine and pill and herbal supplement known to man, and still nothing -- nada -- zippo. That hand is dead. I gave up on it long ago.

And yet, something stirs within you. What if Jesus really does have the power to change my situation — to heal my hand? What if today is the day where it all changes? Why not do what He says? What do I have to lose? 

And the rest is history.

So let me ask you a question. Do you have a withered hand? Maybe it’s not a physical disability, but rather a place that is severely broken in your life. That area where you have given up hope that it could ever be repaired. That place you’ve tried to fix and prayed about and worked on and nothing seems to help. 

Good news. Jesus is in the business of repairing withered hands. He’s looking for people who are willing to stand up and acknowledge that they are broken. People who are willing to stretch out and trust that He can fix what is broken. These are the kind of people He heals!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Divine Encounters

by Tim Howard

Back in 1977 a movie called: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was released. It was a major box-office success primarily because people were fascinated with the thought of UFO’s. Questions about life on other planets and visiting aliens from other worlds have intrigued people for generations.
I too am interested in the subject but not questioning the possibility. The Bible is full or historic records where common, everyday people like you and me had more than  ‘close encounters’ but ‘divine encounters’ with God. It is possible! Sometimes it happens indirectly but at other times directly.
Beginning in Genesis we see Adam and Eve talking directly to God. Noah heard God give him directions on building an ark. Abraham encountered an angel who assured him that his 90-year-old wife would give birth to a child. Moses encountered God as he viewed a burning bush and Daniel experienced God’s presence when he was in a den full of lions. Encounters like this happen more frequent than one might imagine.
No one is shocked when someone says: “ I believe in God” and very few are surprised if they hear a person say: “I talk to God.” If, however, someone says: “God talks to me,” they become suspect.  Lily Tomlin asked: Why is it that when we talk to God we're said to be praying but when God talks to us we're schizophrenic?
The Bible clearly reveals a God who is involved with people. He initiates divine encounters, contrary to the song, “From A Distance” that Bette Midler sang. It suggests God is ‘somewhere’ out there watching us. The Bible declares the opposite is true. He is immanent in every way.
These thoughts about divine encounters might help some who are curious.
1.     Often people have divine encounters but don’t recognize them. When the supernatural is  conveyed in natural means, it’s difficult to identify. Many people had face-to-face encounters with Jesus but didn’t realize they were talking with God.
2.     To identify a divine encounter you must STOP! When the Apostle Paul had a supernatural encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he stopped and asked God some questions. In a fast paced world it’s easy to fly by significant events and not see the depth of what is taking place. At the end of each day, it’s good to pause and ask God if you missed anything. Take some time to reflect on what is happening in your life. Don’t ask: “What are you going to do” in this situation but ask: “What do you, oh God want me to learn.” Rather than trying to ‘fix’ everything, try to learn something. Sometimes you get the wrong answers because you are asking the wrong questions.
3.     When you affirm that God is speaking to you take a second step. SURRENDER! That doesn’t mean ‘give up’ but it means ‘give in’. When Mary had an encounter with God and was told she would give birth to Jesus, she said: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” She yielded - that’s what it means to surrender.
4.     FAITH completes a proper response. If you put your trust in God, listen to what He says, take a step of faith and follow His instructions, you will be on the right path.
Divine encounters can’t always be explained but they still happen today and need a proper response. You can’t make one happen but you can be prepared. Jesus is the light of the world and wants to meet with you! Are you ready for a Divine Encounter?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why Saturday is Filled with Hope

by Andrew Cromwell 

This weekend we celebrate the event that is the lynchpin that holds all of human history together—the Resurrection of Jesus.  No other figure in human history is as important and no other event so crucial.  Our very calendar is split in half by Jesus.  At the same time, no other figure is so controversial—no one so vilified on the one hand and worshipped on the other.   

And so, this weekend, all across the world, people will wake up on Sunday, don their best and go to church.  For many, it will be the only service they attend all year.  They go for many reasons—tradition, worship, family, guilt, celebration—but they go because of this God-become-Man who visited our Earth two thousand years ago. 

But before Sunday, comes Saturday. Saturday is the day before the Resurrection. The day before the celebration of death turned to life.  For those who followed Jesus and walked with Him so many years ago, Saturday was a day of uncertainty, of loss and of doubt.   

On Saturday, Jesus was still in the tomb.   

On Saturday, all their dreams appeared to be dead. 

On Saturday, the future was filled with fear and dread. 

Have you ever experienced a Saturday?  Saturdays are the moments in your life when the light appears to have gone out on the bright path of your future.  They are the times when you begin to lose hope for your marriage.  The moments when you start to believe that you're just not going to be able to overcome the challenges of life.   

On Saturday, you lose your job. 

On Saturday, the doctor gives you the bad news. 

On Saturday, you find yourself repeating the same destructive pattern you swore you'd never repeat again. 

We all have experienced Saturdays.  Maybe it's Saturday in your life right now and you've pretty much given up.  Perhaps you have stopped believing that tomorrow can hold something new and different.

Let me encourage you.  It's not time to throw in the towel! Saturdays are followed by Sundays. Crucifixions can be transformed into resurrections. Death can be turned into life. And your situation, no matter how dead and impossible, can be turned around. 

It's not that Sundays are guaranteed.  We all know plenty of people whose lives seem to be an endless sequence of Saturdays.  They have been caught in the vicious cycle of life's downturns and don't know how to get out.  They need the key to escape. 

The key to seeing your Saturday turn into a Sunday is knowing the One who owns the calendar.  When you know and follow Him, you discover what the disciples discovered—He loves to turn impossible situations into moments of divine intervention. 

Saturdays are simply opportunities for Sundays.  The darker the Saturday, the brighter the Sunday.