Are We Worshipers or Art Critics?

Today we sang a song in worship and it started me thinking.

When we go to church, are we coming as worshipers or art critics?

We often hear people complain about the church.

  • It’s too formal
  • It’s too informal
  • The preaching is too long
  • The preaching is not long enough
  • They are too many hypocrites
  • It does not meet my needs
  • They only sing old hymns
  • They never sing old hymns

On and on it goes.

Now I know church is important for us as individuals.  We need a place where we can find answers to our questions, where we can feel loved and accepted, where we can be challenged and encouraged.

Church should be a place that meets our needs.

But I wonder if we have become so focused on ourselves, we forget what true worship is supposed to be about.

This song reminds me:

It’s all about you, Jesus!

I’ll bring You more than a song for a song in itself is not what You have required You search much deeper within…

 

 

 

It’s “When” Not “If”

When Jesus was on earth He seemed to assume that as His followers there were things we would naturally do.  Not to try to earn a place in heaven.  Not to rack up points on the “goodness” scale.  Not to “prove” we were His followers.

No.  Things we would do because as a committed follower of Jesus it would be as natural as breathing in and out.  We don’t stop and consciously think “I need to breath now.”  When we walk we do not think “I need to lift my right foot up, move it forward and put it down.”  These are just natural reactions to being alive.

So Jesus states that there are actions we will take – perhaps not even consciously but just as a natural response to His love and forgiveness to us.

Sadly we often seem to think the things He mentioned are suggestions, not actual outcomes of following Him.

Jesus told us:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

That last one is a bit hard, isn’t it?  But if we are to be like Jesus, we need to rejoice when we are put down for our beliefs.  Rejoice, not complain.  Not get mad.  Rejoice.

As our culture seems to be going further and further from Christian principles, we need to remember that one.

But even with society becoming more hostile to Christian standards, we in the USA know nothing about real persecution.

The following is a list taken from the 2019 World Watch List by Open Doors.  This is a mission organization that supports persecuted believers in more than 60 countries.

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North Korea  – Afghanistan –  Somalia –  Libya –  Pakistan –  Sudan – Eritrea
Yemen –  Iran –  India –  Syria –  Nigeria –  Iraq –  Maldives –  Saudi Arabia
Egypt –  Uzbekistan –  Myanmar –  Laos –  Vietnam –  Central African Republic
Algeria –  Turkmenistan –  Mali –  Mauritania –  Turkey –  China –  Ethiopia
Tajikistan –  Indonesia –  Jordan –  Nepal –  Bhutan –  Kazakhstan –  Morocco
Brunei –  Tunisia –  Qatar –  Mexico –  Kenya –  Russian Federation –  Malaysia
Kuwait –  Oman –  United Arab Emirates –  Sri Lanka –  Colombia –  Bangladesh
Palestinian Territories –  Azerbaijan

For more detailed information on these countries and suggestions on how to pray for each particular nation, check out this website.

https://www.opendoorsusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/WWL2019_FullBooklet.pdf

 

The Streets of New York – in the 1980’s

This past week my husband spoke to the residents of the Teen Challenge Center in Saginaw, Michigan.

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This is not the first interaction we have had with this organization.

Our first experience with Teen Challenge occurred in 1985 in New York City.  Just one year after we were married we spent two weeks at the center in New York working on the streets with Christians from all over the United States.

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This center was started by Dave Wilkerson.   A pastor of a small church in Pennsylvania, in 1958, after he saw a photograph in Life Magazine of seven teenagers who were gang members and on trial, he felt led by the Holy Spirit to go to New York and share God’s love with them.  When he entered the courtroom and asked to speak to them, the judge had him removed from the courtroom.

His burden for the young people caught up in the gangs became so strong that he began a street ministry to the young in New York.  His work with the gangs was very successful and he founded Teen Challenge to continue that work.

His story was made into a movie The Cross and the Switchblade in 1970.  By today’s movie standards the movie itself would not measure up to the acting and directing skills of today.  But the message is powerful and if you have not seen it, I encourage to look it up.

We met each morning as a group sharing a simple breakfast and then a time of worship.  Afterwards we broke out into smaller groups of about twelve or fourteen.  We spent a few minutes sharing how things were going for each of us and then we hit the streets of New York.  We partnered with member of local churches as we walked the streets talking and sharing with those we met on the streets and in the subways.

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This was our team.

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This woman was in her 70’s and we were so impressed that an “old woman” like her would join us on the streets of New York.  (Now I’m 71 and my husband 79 – maybe she was not so old.)

For someone from the Mid West this was quite an experience.  This was not the New York of today – but the New York of the 1980’s.

The city was near bankruptcy.  With the introduction of crack-cocaine, there was widespread drug addiction and violence.  Our team was told when we walked down the streets in Manhattan to always have the woman walk on the outside with the man next to the building entrances.  They said women had been pulled off the street into drug dens.  Some neighborhoods we entered we told to not take pictures because we might get shot for taking a picture of a drug deal going down.

Walking in Manhattan we saw signs like this everywhere.

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Stores like this were everywhere.  Our team moved among this neighborhood inviting people to our evening services.

 

Graffiti was everywhere.

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My husband on the subway.  In the 1980s, over 250 felonies were committed every week in the system, making the New York subway the most dangerous mass transit system in the world.

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On schools

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On stores

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Even on churches

What was really sad to me was when I saw beautiful murals that the local population had painted – and they did not even respect their own community – but painted graffiti on the murals.

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There were burnt out cars sitting on the streets and we often saw people sleeping in them.

 

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Each day we walked the streets in a different community and each evening we held street services in the area where we had spent the day.

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And how did all this walking the streets, holding services, meeting the drug addicts and homeless people on the street work out?

We will never know for sure in this life.  There were many different reactions.

  • While holding a service in Washington Square, a young man came up to the area where the musicians were playing, turned his back to us and mooned us.
  • In Manhattan a young man cursed at me and told me to “mind my own business.”

But then there were:

  • Several homeless drug addicts listened to us and came back with us to the Teen Challenge Center where they stayed and committed to the 12 month program to beat the drug habit.  Again, I have no idea how many stayed with the program but I do know the Teen Challenge program in New York has had a high success rate helping people beat addiction.  It was good to see the ones who came back with us in the beginning of our two-week stay.  To watch their eyes go from a blank, glassy look to a clear, coherent look.  To see their listless walk become a brisk lively walk.  To see the dull expression on their face turn to one of hope and smiles.
  • One young man my husband talked to had never heard that Jesus loved him.  After praying with my husband, he wept with joy.  We did not leave these people after such an encounter.  The local churches we partnered with continued to mentor and help them in their attempts to turn from cocaine and to begin a new life with Jesus Christ.
  • On the subway one day we found a pimp beating up on one of his “girls.”  Scared to death, but unable to ignore this, our team of 14 stepped in between the pimp and his “girl.”  He threatened us but we did outnumber him.  He got off at the next stop and we took the young girl with us back to the shelter to help her get free from prostitution and start anew.

The years have gone by and we often wonder about some of those we talked to, shared that God loved them, that there was hope and offered help.  Where are they now?  Did they stay with the program, with the local churches?

We will never know in this life, but I think how awesome it would be to meet one of them in heaven some day and hear their story of victory over cocaine.

So thankful that New York City did finally clean up much of the city and I hear today it is a beautiful place to visit.  Doubtful that I will never get back, but thankful for the two weeks spent on the streets of New York City in the 80’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depends on Where You Stand

Walking with Jesus as my friend and redeemer for many years, I found Him faithful in every circumstance.  Yet, I must confess, sometimes when things get difficult I seem to forget His faithfulness and start worrying.

Recently, thinking about this I thought my reaction really depends on where I stand in my relationship to Him.

Looking up into the sky I can see an airplane flying miles up in the sky.  The airplane looks very small.  In fact, I can hold up my hand and completely block out of my view.  If that was the only time I ever saw an airplane I would think airplanes were small like a child’s toy.

However, the first time I stepped up to board a 747 on a flight to the Philippines, I was amazed at the size of that plane.  Clearly I could never block it our of my view – even if I held up both my hands.

The size of the airplane did not change.  It was always a huge flying machine.  What changed was where I stood in relation to the airplane.

So I think my relation to Jesus Christ may often determines if I see Him as able to walk with me through my tough times and give me strength.

When my prayer life and God’s Word is neglected, He can seem smaller than my problems.  But when I stay grounded in God’s Word and keep that time with Him, I realize how big and mighty He is.

All depends on where I stand.

 

I Have Sinned Against God?

My husband and I finished reading the book of 2 Samuel this morning.   Growing up I loved the stories of King David:

  • the young man who killed the giant Goliath with a sling and a stone
  • the shepherd boy writing beautiful Psalms
  • the mighty warrior king
  • the man who wanted to build a temple for God

One of the best known stories is his great sin when he coveted the wife of another man.  Psalm 51 is believed to have been the psalm he wrote after repenting of his terrible sins.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

 

Reading this I cannot help but think of al the people David sinned against.

  • Bathsheba who he seduced into betraying her husband
  • Her husband, Uriah, whose wife he stole and then had killed
  • His own family for who he set such a bad example
  • His military commander, Joab, who was forced into a compromising position in having Uriah killed

Yet David said he had sinned against God and God only.

Understanding how David must have felt when the full sense of what he had done hit him helps explain this I believe.  David had from his youth depended on God and reading the Psalms he wrote you can see the love he had for God.  When he fully realized how he had betrayed, not only Uriah and Bathsheba, but the very basis of his faith, he was devastated.

So when David says, “Against you and you only have I sinned,” I don’t think he means, “I didn’t wrong Uriah by killing him, and I didn’t wrong Bathsheba by raping her, and I didn’t wrong the baby by being the cause of its death.” He meant, “The horrible thing here, ultimately, is that I rebelled against God. I rejected God as my treasure. I scorned the word of God.” This is what Nathan said to him when he came and pointed the finger at him: “Why have you despised the word of God?” That’s what Nathan said. Nathan didn’t say, “Why have you killed a man, and why have you raped a woman?” He said, “Why have you despised the word of God?”

So David knows from the prophet that the worst thing that has happened here is that he has despised God. And so I think that’s what he means. He is simply drawing attention, not to the minimization of rape and murder, but to the maximization of the assault on God that happened in those acts.

They are not less horrible because he says this: they are more horrible because he says this….John Piper

When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife he resisted her by saying.

“My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

Of course such a sin would have been against Potiphar but Joseph placed his greater loyalty to God and God’s laws.  It was God he did not want to offend.

So, I ask myself – When I offend someone, when I harm someone, when I sin against someone, how do I sorry for that?

Do I just apologize to that person and move on?  Do I think that takes care of everything?  Or, do I realize that my sin is also rejecting the word of God?  Do I realize how I have counted my desire to “do my own thing” more important than my desire to remain true to my faith, my God?

Lord, help me to value my relationship with you and my loyalty to your Word that I will not regard my sins so ightly, but reconize my sins are against You and repent accordingly.

 

Prayer in the School? Yes – No

I hesitate wading into this controversial subject but I see so many posts on Facebook calling for us to put prayer back in the schools and arguing that many of our problems are because prayer has been removed from the classroom.

Wondering which side is right, I decided to go where I always go when I need spiritual guidance or answers – to the Bible.

Here is what I discovered the Bible teaches.

  • Prayer and religious education is the responsibility of the parents and grandparents.

We see it first with Abraham.  When God selected Abraham to be the patriarch of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, one reason He gave was this:

I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just

Later as the nation of Israel were given the Law they were told this:

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

In Psalm 78 Asaph instructs the people of Israel that they should:

O my people, listen to my instructions.
    Open your ears to what I am saying,
    for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
    stories we have heard and known,
    stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
    we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
    about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
    he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
    to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
    even the children not yet born—
    and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
    not forgetting his glorious miracles
    and obeying his commands.

The New Testament confirmed this belief that the parents are the ones to teach their children about God.

In Ephesians Paul tells us:

ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Paul commended Timothy’s faith and noted that it was a result of his mother and grandmother’s faith.

To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.

  • The other place the Bible indicates where prayer should be is in the church.

Isaiah stated that God’s house should be a house of prayer.

Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.

Jesus confirmed this when he said:

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

The Book of Acts tells us that the church began when the disciples were gathered together in prayer.

And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James.  These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

Questions that come to my mind when I see this cry for prayer in the school.

  • What would happen if we had more prayer in our homes and in our churches?
  • How much time do those crying for prayer in the school actually spend praying for our schools, for our teachers, the students?

I’m not saying I’m against prayer in our schools.  But like it or not, we are a multi-cultural nation now.  So – if we put prayer back in schools, who will be leading the prayer?  To what god will they be praying?

And now to really get some readers upset, what about all these prayer breakfasts we have?  I have been to several but quit going a few years ago.  I went expecting that we would pray.  Instead, we had special singers, a special speaker, a meal – and yes we did have a couple of people say a short prayer.  The emphasis was more on breakfast than on prayer.

  • What if we called for a prayer breakfast where we spent a few minutes eating a simple breakfast and then actually prayed?

Join me in praying for our schools and our teachers:

Lord, Grant our teachers an abundance of Your wisdom. Prepare their hearts to welcome and love our loved ones, and may we make sure to show them love and respect in return. Give them grace as they help students who aren’t thriving, courage to say what needs to be said, tools and knowledge on how and when to speak love, and strength when they feel weak. When they feel unseen, remind them that no moment goes unnoticed. They are shaping the future in one million small – yet incredibly important – ways every day. We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of learning they share with our children. Bless them, Lord, and may they see even just a glimpse of how their faithfulness will forever impact generations to come.

And our children:

Bless our children and keep them safe from physical harm. Protect them from abuse, abduction, child trafficking, and addiction. Guard their hearts from the devil’s schemes, and protect their minds from things that are not appropriate for their eyes to see and their ears to hear. Bless them with hearts of compassion for their fellow students and teachers.  May they be kind on the playground and quiet in the hallways. Protect our children from gossip and bullying. May they know and hear Your voice louder than all the others.  Godly friends are important, and we pray today that You bless our children with those friends. May their friendships be innocent and light, and may the be filled with kindness, understanding, and compassionate consideration for one another.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Obtain Success With God

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Reading the book of Ezra recently I was struck by the expression found several times in the story of Ezra’s return from captivity to the city of Jerusalem.  Writing about his success in obtaining help from the Persia king to return to his hometown and help rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians years before, over and over he used this phrase to describe that success:

“the gracious hand of the LORD was on him.”

Wondering why the LORD was so gracious to Ezra, I found the answer in chapter seven where the writer of the book declares:

“This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the LORD and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.”

Many televisions evangelists today tell us if we just have enough faith, God will give us great success.  But I think Ezra had the right idea.  It is not in “my” faith that I manipulate God to give what I want.  His blessings come with the three things Ezra practiced.

Study the Word of God

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Reading the Bible on a consistent basis is a great thing to help a Christian in their daily walk with God.  During those devotional times as we meditate on a portion of Scripture we can gain encouragement and strength to meet whatever the day may bring.

However, if we only read the Bible, we miss the chance to really grow in our knowledge and complete understanding of God’s Word.  Note that in his letter to Timothy Paul said to study not read.  We sometimes resist during that because to really study God’s Word requires time and effort.  But it is in really digging deeper into God’s Word that we not only grow, but we will be protected against the false teaching that is so prevalent today.

Obey the Word of God

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It is not enough to study or to hear the Word of God.  The blessing comes when we obey it.  Many times I think we are guilty of just ignoring those scriptures that require something of us we don’t want to give.  My pastor husband used to say:

“Pick and choose, and you will lose.”

Teach the Word of God

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Here’s where I lose some of you.  You think, “I can’t teach God’s Word.  That is for people who have degrees in Biblical Studies or are ordained ministers in their church.”  Granted, many of us are qualified to lead in-depth Bible studies, but we all can share with others what we have learned from our own study.

Whether you realize it or not, you are teaching others.  Your children, your coworkers, your neighbors are often taught about God by the way you live.  As the verse in Colossians indicates, if we let the word of God dwell in us (by studying it and applying it) we will be teaching others.

Study…obey…teach.

This was also the instruction given by God Himself to Joshua when he was appointed to lead the Israelites after the death of Moses.

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. 

Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”