Monday, January 28, 2013

No Matter How Many People Pray, There is Only One God

Last week on Facebook there was a heartbreaking post about a girl looking for 30,000 prayer warriors for her cancer treatment.  I am not sure of the validity of the story, but if true it is truly heartbreaking.  I myself had a family emergency this week and sent out requests for prayer.  This is something we have all done and this is something that is good for all of us to do.  There is nothing wrong whatsoever about asking others to pray for you.  I am also not saying that we should not pray for this girl.  We absolutely should.  The problem, though, is that we sometimes take more comfort or put more emphasis on the amount of people praying than we do the One that we are praying too.  In the end, God is not moved by the quantity of prayers, but the faith of the one praying. 

Confess [your] trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5:16 NKJV

This passage is clear.  We should pray for one another.  This is important for several reasons.  First of all, it helps us not go through whatever it is we are going through alone.  It also opens up avenues for others to be able to minister to our needs.  I know it can be humbling to ask for prayer, but it is essential that we do.  We were never meant to go through the trials of life alone.  God has made us into one body so that we can come together as a body to meet the needs of one who is hurting.  I am guilty of this myself, but sometimes it is easier to minister to others than to allow others to minister to you. 

That said, we need to be careful that we do not put our faith in who or how many others are praying for us and put all our faith in the One to whom we are praying.  Listen to the words of James "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."  James does not say that the effectual fervent prayer of a group of people avails much nor did James say that the repeated prayers of however many people we can get paying avails much.  What James does say is that the prayer of a righteous man avails much.  Of course, this begs the question, who is a righteous man? 

You see, we may think of ourselves as righteous.  Not one of us is completely without sin.  I would be hard-pressed to find someone who is without sin just today.  We may not ever feel particularly righteous, but the Bible says differently.  The Bible says that through our faith in Jesus Christ, we are righteous.  In other words, if we have faith in Jesus, we have righteousness.  This is not because of any righteousness in our own lives, but because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is imparted to us upon our salvation.   This means that what is required for God to answer our prayers if faith in Jesus Christ. 

Faith is the key to our prayer.  We often think of needing many people to pray for whatever is going in our lives, but how many people did it take for the greatest miracle in your life to happen?  How many people had to pray for your salvation for you to ultimately be saved?  Don't get me wrong, I know that many believers probably prayed for your salvation for quite some time, but none of their prayers saved you.  They merely brought you to point of decision, but ultimately it was your decision to make.  Ultimately, salvation was achieved in your life because you made that prayer of faith to receive Jesus Christ.  Just as God answered that one simple prayer of faith to come into your life and heal your heart, God will answer the prayers of faith you lift up to Him now.  He may not always answer in the way you would have chosen them to be answered, but they will always be answered in best way, that is God's way. 

Jesus tells us in several parables the importance of our own prayers, and for us to be persistent in prayer.  These parables are the Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Parable of the Late Night Guest.  Both involved people persistently asking until they received a response.  The solution for their problem was for them to keep asking.  The answer was not to give up their own prayers and start a Facebook prayer campaign, send out a press release, or a Twitter message, or even to call the town crier.  The answer was being persistent in their own prayers and we must do the same.  We must not give up on our own prayers thinking that the prayers of others will have more of an effect than our own prayers.  We must have faith that God hears our prayers and that God wants us to be persistent in our prayers until God gives us an answer. 

The solution for our prayers lives is not in the quantity of people we have asking for us but in the faith in which we ask.  Not that our faith should be in our faith, but our faith should always be on the One answering and not on those asking.  Our faith should not be in hoping that someone extra holy or just by shear numbers that God is moved to respond.  Our faith needs to be in God and His promise to each of us individually to answer our prayers and give us the desires of our hearts (that is hearts turned to Jesus).  If God is not giving is what we think is the right answer, the response is to accept that answer and not get a gang of people to try and change God's mind.  Quite honestly, if He does and gives you what you think you want, you may very well end up regretting it.  In the end, it is about faith.  The same faith that God used to answer that first prayer to come into your heart is the same faith that will move God to answer the desires of the new heart He created in 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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!   Matthew 7:7-11 NKJV

Friday, January 18, 2013

Homeless Yet Homeward Bound

For two weeks now, my wife and I have been officially homeless.  No, we are not on the streets or in our cars or anything like that, but we do not have a home.  What I do have is very loving and welcoming in-laws who are allowing us to stay with them and take over a good part of their house, but we do not have a home of our own.  The place we sold was small and, once the Lord begins to bless of with children, it would have become too small.  It was home, though.  It was home for me for two and a half years and much longer for her.  It is a home I miss, sometimes more than others, and one that will always have a special place in my heart. 

You see, it was back in 2009 when I met my wife at that little place.  For our first date, I took the long drive down, picked her up, and we had a very nice time walking the boardwalk at Ocean City.  After some time of dating, the couch in that little place became my every-other-weekend home as we made every attempt to spend as much time as possible together in our somewhat long-distance relationship.  During our time of dating, engagement, and marriage, many memories have been formed.  I miss coming home and saying (even if no one was around) "Home" everyday after my long drive from work. 

That condo has also at times been a place of refuge.  It was in that condo where my wife and I rode out hurricane Irene.  It was where we lived during the derecho that took away our power for days.  It was where I longed to be those nights I had to stay away up close to work for a snow storm and it was the place I rushed to get to the next day.  It was the place that I drove right through Super Storm Sandy to get to jut to be home.  Then there were those nightmare drives through terrible snow over several hours that I endured just because I wanted to be home.  I remember having fires on cold snowy Winter days and I remember trying to stay cool during that previously mentioned derecho when we lost power for days. 

When I think about it, though, the condo was not really home at all.  It was not my condo I met back in 2009, but it was my wife.  I did not sleep on that couch while we were dating because it was not comfortable!  In fact, not only was it uncomfortable, but my wife's roommate was a night owl and so it was never an undisturbed sleep!  I did not make that drive every other weekend to spend time with a condo and when I got married I did not move into the condo for the condo's sake.  In fact, those memories I have are memories of my wife.  The condo was only the setting.  As for refuge, what I missed was my wife those nights I had to stay away and those long hard drives in bad weather were always to get home to her.  That condo was where I lived, but with my wife was and is still my home.  Even now when I have no place of my own to live, I have a beautiful, loving, and, most of all, Godly wife to live life with. 

And then I thought some more and realized that this is what Heaven is about.  It is not about my wife, but it is about us meeting our Groom.  Heaven is about the grand finale of the story of the church and that is Marriage Supper of the Lamb and our eternity, with our Lord, in indescribably Paradise.  And that brings up my final point.  The Bible does not tell us in great detail what Heaven is like and what our eternal life in Heaven will be like.  Sure there are allusions here and there, but nothing that tells us with any true clarity.  We get some bit of the setting, but nothing of exactly it will be like other than that it will be amazing.  Personally, I do not think we need to know.  What I mean is that Heaven, as amazing as it will be, is merely a setting.  You see, the truly awesome thing about Heaven is not where we will be, but with Whom we will be spending our eternity. 

Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God [is] with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them [and be] their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."  Revelation 21:2-4 NKJV

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Real Life Haunting of Long-Crucified Flesh

A couple of weeks ago I battled a ghost.  This was no regular ghost in that it was not a spiritual being fighting a physical one.  Rather, it was the complete opposite as it was my own flesh doing battle with my spirit.  There is a very good reason God gives us this admonition through Paul:

For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be [in the likeness] of [His] resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with [Him], that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For [the death] that He died, He died to sin once for all; but [the life] that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:8-11 NKJV

I included its context, but I really want to focus on verse 11.  " Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. "  The wording is interesting.  Paul just got done telling is that the old man is dead but now he is telling us to reckon, or consider, us dead to sin.  We should already be dead to sin if the flesh that sinned was crucified with Christ, right?  I mean we all know people who are dead.  We do not need to remind ourselves of that.  We just know it.  They have gone onto their eternity and have gone out of this world forever.  We do not need to reckon them to be dead, they just are and we just know it and accept it. 

At least that is how it is supposed to work.  If this person was near and dear to us, sometimes we can catch ourselves still talking to that person.  There is nothing wrong about that (unless you believe they will talk back), it is just a natural part of missing someone who was close to us for a very long time.  Some (and unfortunately this even includes Christians who should know better) believe that this person is still part of their lives and can still be reached through some kind of medium.  Many scam artists have made much money on this sort of thing.  Others, of course, believe in ghosts where people they once knew haunt or affect their lives in positive or negative ways.  Now there is no place in Christianity for any of these ideas.  We do not speak to dead people through mediums or any other vehicle.  The Bible is absolutely clear on that.  The Bible is also clear that there are no such things as ghosts.  There are only two places where our spirits can go after death, and haunting a house is not one of them. 

We all know its not a good thing to live as though a dead person were actually still alive.  If you do, you are either insane or you are living under a false set of beliefs.  I am sure that just about everyone reading this knows that and accepts that.  I am also sure that just about everyone reading does this very same thing with our old man.  If we were not prone to live as though the old man with with his old slavery to sin was still alive, God would have not seen it necessary to remind us to reckon that man dead.  You see, whenever we live as our old selves or fall into our old temptations, we are living as though that old dead man is alive. 

I was in that same kind of situation recently.  The man I used to be was capable of some pretty cruel behavior.  If I felt wronged, my general response was a scorched earth attack where it did not matter who else was hurt in the process (including myself) as long as the offending party was also hurt.  The issue was an incompetent and quite frankly dishonest mortgage company delaying the closing on the condo we have sold.  In fact, there were six attempts before we actually completed the transaction.  That said, on Monday when we were literally supposed to just be waiting for our check to be delivered, another delay came up.  I was livid.  I was angry.  I wanted to lash out.  I wanted to pull the entire deal just so that mortgage company would lose business then go on to file every complaint possible with that mortgage company.  I would have hurt myself, my wife, the buyer, and the realtors involved, but it did not matter, it also would have hurt the mortgage company.  My wife reminded me that I am not that person any longer.  She did not use the same words, but she reminded me like God reminds all of us through Paul that we need to reckon that old man to be dead. 

I think this is something we all do from time and time and a lesson of which we all need to be reminded.  Let's face it, we once loved that old dead man.  Before God revealed to us the depravity of our condition and our need for a savior, we thought living a worldly life of sin was fun.  Whether it was sex, revelry, intoxication, crime, homosexuality, or anything else people get caught up in, there was a time we were very happy with it.  I know that I used to look forward to getting drunk as though it was a good thing.  As for my vengeful streak, it was fun plotting, planning, and winning, and whatever hurt I caused I justified as acceptable in the grand scheme of things.  There was a time I loved that life but then God showed me that what I thought I loved was just there to mask the misery of what I was missing.  I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and that old man died.  I wish that was the end of the story, but familiar situations bring familiar temptations and even though that old man is dead, I think we all sometimes feel that we want him back.  Sometimes, in fact, we act as though he is back and very much alive.  We have memories, we have habitual responses, and we have the same temptations that we have always had.  What we did not have then is the Holy Spirit living in our hearts and the freedom by the power of Jesus Christ to not fall into those temptations. 

The next time you are faced with some old temptation that reminds you of a life you no longer live, remember why you came to Jesus in the first place. Remember the depravity of your condition and just how far Jesus has taken you from that former life.  Above all, remember that old man is dead.  That man was a slave to the flesh and was leading you to nowhere but eternal destruction.  He is dead, crucified with Christ, never to come back again.  Its time to forget that person you once were and grow more and more into that person God is making you to be.  It is time to bury that old man once and for all and be that new creation in Jesus Christ. 

if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.  Ephesians 4:21-24 NKJV

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Finding Comfort in Atheism and Other Fairy Tales

Shortly after the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, CNN published an opinion piece from an atheist questioning why so many people turn to God in such tragedies and bemoaning the fact that people do not see the value in atheism at such times.  The piece was supposed to be serious, but its more in line with the genre of a tragic comedy and becomes a perfect illustration of a Bible verse we have all heard.

To the Chief Musician. [A Psalm] of David. The fool has said in his heart, "[There is] no God."  Psalm 14:1a NKJV

It's really interesting to hear an atheist complain about anyone "choosing" to do anything.  If there is no kind of god and if we only a product of chemical reactions that we call "life" then there is no such thing is true sentience.  We are only computers acting in response to stimuli the way we our brains were randomly programmed to react.  Free choice is merely an illusion that our brains believe we have, but even that concept has severe logical implications.  For an atheist to be right in that there is no God, then the response of people to cling to God is merely a evolved set of programming we have no choice but to follow.  In other words, people are clinging to God not because they choose to but because that is how people evolved.  We evolved into a species that seeks after a higher being.  The atheist is basically complaining to a process they revere but has no self-awareness to care about their complaints.  They say that we pray to nothing because they do not believe in God, but they complain to a power that actually is nothing, just a process, and one they do not control or understand. 

It is also interesting to hear about an atheist talk about the act of the shooter as being "evil."  To the atheist, I ask "What is evil to you?"  I have asked that question before and the best answer I have received is something to the effect of doing no harm to others.  By and large, though, "others" is defined as humans.   Considering their is no intrinsic value in being human (other than a higher place on the evolutionary scale), I do not see how they can make that assertion without implying some kind of higher power over humanity.  What is the difference between slaughtering twenty cows or twenty children?  Do cows feel less pain?  Are they any less harmed?  Of course cows do not have parents and family to grieve their deaths so perhaps doing no harm is more about emotional pain than physical pain.  This again has a logical issue in that emotion, to the atheist, is just an evolutionary byproduct.  It is merely a chemical response to a stimuli.  It is nothing "real" and entirely illogical.  Of course then what if the shooter was equally grieved allowing those children to live?  With no superseding authority, who is to weigh the emotional pain of one over another?  The fact is that in atheism there can be no such thing as good and evil because there is no authority over humanity to define universal rules.  A murderer is just a murderer just because of a random set of genetic mutations and life circumstances.  They are not evil because they posses no ability to choose evil, they just are, just like the rest of us. 

And, finally, there is the point of how people can turn to atheism for comfort.  I saved this one for last because this one really sums up the rest. There is no comfort in atheism because their is no hope in atheism.  There is no "better place" for the children to have gone.  There is no hope of parents ever seeing their children again.  Their children no lover even exist.  What they once were is now just a pile of rotting flesh.  Then again, they were not much to begin with.  In the atheistic world, the only reason parents feel any affinity for their children is because over millions of years parents who took care of children had children who survived into adulthood. That gene was passed on and the genes of parents who hated or killed their children slowly diminished. Such is death for the atheist.  Perhaps it is better than Hell, but for me the idea of all that I am as a person merely ceases to exist at some point brings no comfort.  It makes life pointless, just a certain number of days to grow as a person then merely cease to exist.  There is no comfort in atheism.  There is only a reality where grief is illogical and the deaths of those children were just as pointless as their lives.  That is atheism. 

Honestly, I feel sorry for atheists.  More accurately, I feel sorry for those who pretend to be atheists.  I really do not believe that many atheists are actually atheists.  It is not that they do not believe in God, it is that they do not want to believe in God or that they hate the very fact that there is a God.  This is evident in their vitriol in all things about God.  They do not merely try to disprove God, but they try to make people hate God.  It is amazing how much energy they expend in making people hate what they believe to be imaginary.   I can see why they are so bitter.  They exist in a self-defeating system of beliefs.  They claim to be better and smarter than others who believe in God, but their very belief system negates that they ever even had a choice in what their beliefs would ever be to begin with.  They call themselves "free thinkers" when in reality there is nothing free about their thinking.  There is no true sentience or consciousness, just a cruel illusion based on some set of chemical reactions due to billions of years worth of errors and what they are is merely a culmination of mistakes destined to live as genetically programmed.  The only truly free thinkers are those who put their faith in God.  With God, we have a soul.  With God, we have free will and a choice whether or not we believe in God.  With God we have hope and purpose.  With God, what we are is not just an illusion but real.  One day they will face the God they malign and they will learn a tragic truth.  For all their hate, for all their arguing, for all their persecution, and for all those foolish things they have said, Jesus still died for them.  Sadly, they never chose to consider that gift.  Sadly, their illusion will become their eternal reality.  In this world, they tried to convince everyone that there is no God.  In the next, they will live in a world where there really is no God and they will truly learn what it is to live in a place separated from God. 

These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,  1 Thessalonians 1:9 NKJV