Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sincere Faith- the Opposite of Hypocrisy

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 1 Timothy 1:5
My two boys and I were discussing proper table manners before going out to lunch with my friend. They were not happy that I requested, “No technology at the table while we were eating.” To help them understand my rule, I explained that it was rude and disrespectful to the people at the table. Then my youngest, John said, “But mom you do it.” Ugh! I had been caught red-handed. He’s right. I’ll sit at the table and check the weather or if my husband and I are having a discussion and need to look up a fact, one of us will pull out a phone to look things up. When I am out to lunch with a friend I’ll happily pull out my phone to show them a picture. I’ll even keep my phone on the dinner table if I am expecting a call. My son called me out on my double standard because intrinsically he knew that there was something wrong with my hypocrisy.
My eight-year- old pointed out one of those great inconsistencies of life, we’ll often tell someone the right thing to do and then not do it ourselves. We excuse our hypocrisy with a mental explanation that somehow our situation is different and therefore it is okay to use our cell phone at the table, not wash our hands or talk behind someone’s back. We make excuses for these small things but are upset by doctors who smoke, police who break the law, and ministers of the Gospel who act in ungodly ways. In fact, hypocrisy at any level is offensive unless we are the ones being hypocritical.
One of the greatest criticisms of Christians is that they don’t practice what they preach. In Embracing Change Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible is a chapter about Lois, a remarkable grandmother who stood out in her community as a woman of sincere faith.[1] Paul wrote to Timothy that he was “reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”[2] The Greek word for "sincere" in this verse means "anti- hypocritical." Greek society was a place of wearing a mask and being hypocritical was typical.   Though she was surrounded by hypocrisy, Lois was a woman of integrity who lived out her faith in such a way that those around her including her daughter and Scripture to her daughter and grandson. Genuine sincere faith draws people to Christ but hypocritical faith repulses people.  Too often kids are turned off by the hypocrisy they see in their parents’ lives. Just as my son saw my cell phone hypocrisy, our kids know us better than anyone else. Our minister likes to say that “faith is caught, not taught.” If we want to leave a lasting legacy that stands the test of time, we have to live out our faith- one that is real and genuine- and in the process we will be passing down a real and genuine faith to our family and the other people that God brings into our lives.
As we live out our faith, not just in words but in actions, we have to begin by practicing our faith with our families and also bless the people around us. Please read how author Eugene Peterson paraphrases James 3:17-18 in The Message and makes this point about how we should live and love, “Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”

How do you fight the battle against hypocrisy in your life?

[1] This blog is an excerpt from Embracing Change Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible Open Door Publishing Hendersonville NC 2016
[2] 2 Timothy 1:5

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Power of Fasting

“And then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” Luke 2:37

There has been a lot of press recently about the benefits of fasting.  The Fast Diet is a new book about the value of intermittent fasting.   People are losing weight and feeling great.  Even movie and TV stars like Jimmy Kimmel and Hugh Jackman think that this is a great way to lose weight.  I also learned that we lose our appetite when we are sick to let our body focus on fighting the sickness rather than digesting food. 
It is obvious to me that fasting can have physical benefits but it is even more powerful in the spiritual realm. I’ve been thinking about fasting as a spiritual practice while I was writing a chapter in Embracing Change Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible about Anna, an 84 year old widow who never left the temple but worshipped day and night fasting and praying.    
Anna’s home in the Temple wasn’t like a modern day church, a building that people visit weekly to worship God through songs, giving offerings or listening to sermons. From now on when you read about the Temple, you need to imagine something closer to an all-you-can-eat steak buffet or the smells and excitement of a Texan’s annual whole steer BBQ. Imagine the smell of steaks grilling, spices sizzling on the flames and the excitement of a meal with friends and family. Since the Temple was the place that sin offerings, guilt offerings and fellowship offerings were offered to God, the scent of well-done beef, lamb and dove continually filled the air. Faithful worshipers of God would bring their sacrifices to the Temple and give a portion of it to the priest and then depending on the type of sacrifice; they could have a cookout with their friends and family. After making the sacrifices, it was a time of celebration. Sins were forgiven and people were in a right relationship with God. Time to kick back and enjoy some grilled meat.
Fasting is a spiritual practice that involves refraining from food. I can hardly imagine how hard it was for Anna in this environment. She was too poor to buy food; so she depended on the generosity of the people who came to the Temple to share their sacrifice with her. On days that no one shared their sacrifice with her, she responded with prayer and fasting. It would be like living in a steakhouse and being a vegetarian!
Anna was called to a lifetime of intermittent fasting but most fasting typically lasts for a certain amount of time. Fasting was done in various ways throughout the Bible. When Jesus fasted, he ate nothing[1] for forty days to prepare for being tempted in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry. Paul, Esther and Ezra fasted for three days and did not eat or drink.[2] Esther fasted and had all the Jews fast before she approached the King to seek deliverance for her people from Haman’s decree.  The Israelites fasted in the face of a battle. As a sign of repentance, the Israelites turned back to the Lord, fasted, confessed their sins and put away false gods. Daniel participated in a partial fast when he abstained from the meats and items from the royal table. One of my friends goes to a church that has a “Daniel fast” every January to refocus the leadership and members of the church. I have several friends who participate in Lent- which is a partial fast for forty days before Easter. I believe that fasting has immense physical and spiritual benefits but if you have health problems, please make sure to talk with your doctor before beginning any fast.
Fasting is done to experience God more fully and to draw near to God. Fasting provides an avenue for seeking God’s will in a specific matter. Fasting is also combined with repentance to draw us closer to God. Fasting takes our focus off of physical things like food and our bodies and helps us to refocus our energy and mind on the things of God.
In my life, God has used fasting to break through addictions and unhealthy habits.   I have seen that some of the most powerful benefits from fasting in healing broken marriages. Friends who were told by their husbands that their marriages were over took to heart the wisdom of 1 Corinthians 7:5(KJV) which in my words says, “The only reason for depriving your spouse of sex is prayer and fasting.” Since their husbands didn’t want to be intimate, my friends got serious with God and fasted for their marriage. Why would we sit around feeling hopeless and sorry for ourselves when we have the God of Hope on our side? Don’t trade the comfort of food for the presence of the Comfortor. Prayer is powerful but combining it with fasting adds another level of depth and focus.
 One important note- Fasting is not a quick fix. I have several friends who see fasting as a diet of sorts or a “cleanse.” While eliminating things from your diet may have physical value- spiritually, it is a bad practice. In fact, thinking that you could lose weight on a fast is only going to send you down a slippery slope of focusing on yourself rather than on God.  Isaiah 58 records some of the dangers of going through the motions of fasting and praying but missing the heart of seeking to know God and do His will. We go through the motions of seeking God when we are really seeking our own will. God told His people in Isaiah 58, they were fasting and dressing in sackcloth and ashes as an outward sign of repentance, but they weren’t doing what He wanted. "This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own family.[3]
Let me know what you think.  Have you tried fasting for spiritual breakthroughs?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What Should You Pray for?

She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. Luke 2:37

How do you decide what to pray for?  Here’s a quick way to decide what to pray for- “Is there anything that you can do better without God’s help?” For me the answer is no, so I pray about everything.  

I have been thinking about prayer as I have been wrapping a chapter from my soon to be released Bible Study Embracing Change- Learning to Trust God from the Women of the Bible about Anna, a homeless woman who was in the Temple when baby Jesus was brought in to be dedicated to God.[1]  Anna was a prayer warrior because she knew the power of prayer came from God’s resources and abilities. In spite of her physical poverty, she had spiritual riches that she could bless others with. Prayer and fasting opened Anna’s eyes, ears and heart to see God’s work in the midst of hopeless circumstances. Prayer and fasting allowed her to trust that God would take care of her. It redirected her attention from the poverty and desolate situation that she was in and allowed her to see and hear God more clearly as a prophetess. It opened her eyes to see that the baby Jesus was the Messiah, the redeemer of Israel, a privilege given only to one other woman, Mary.

Prayer is simply asking God to intervene in a situation. He can heal us, save us, bless us, prosper us and expand his kingdom.  Prayer has immense power because God has immense resources.  God knows the future, He knows other people’s hearts and intentions, He has unlimited resources and nothing is too hard for Him. Nothing is impossible with God.

I recently read a quote from Clayton King, author and evangelist that summarized why we pray, "When we pray, we are admitting we need God. We are confessing that control is an illusion. We are establishing intimacy with God through prayer. We are establishing intimacy with God through prayer.  We are interceding for those we love. May God remind us how much we desperately need him, as individuals and as a nation. May we call out to Him in humility and utter dependence, knowing God alone can save and sustain us."

To pray, simply means to ask God for something.   That seems pretty easy but I have found I can quickly fall into a “gimme, gimme” trap where my prayers are just a list of wants and needs.   When my prayers are focused on my desires, they feel pretty shallow and petty.  Many years ago I learned a help for acronym for making sure my prayers have a proper balance.  It used the word Pray as the outline.

P is for Praise- Praise and exalt God for His character, His resources, His miracles, His power, His majesty, His holiness, His love.  Praising God gets your focus off your limitations and the situation.  Jesus did this when he prayed – Our Father in heaven, hallowed is your name.[2]
R is for Repent- We have to repent of our sins, our imperfections, our unforgiveness, and our unrighteousness just as the priest had to make an offering for his sins before interceding for the people. We need to ask God to forgive our sins and trespasses as we forgive others.[3]
A is for Ask- This is really the heart of praying.  Asking means that we need God to intervene in a situation.  We need his help.  It requires humbling ourselves to His power and sovereignty. Jesus modeled the need for daily asking for God’s help when he prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread” and “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”[4]
Y is for Yield- Yielding your request to God puts the responsibility for that situation where it belongs –on God.  You can pray as Jesus prayed, “Not my will but your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Prayer has immense power but with power comes responsibility.  Prayer is a weapon and asking for God’s will to be done in the situation points the weapon in the direction that God wants it to go.
Prayer provides that connection and the power for spiritual breakthroughs.   “Prayer is our way of communicating with God. God deeply wants to have a relationship with each of us. Prayer builds our relationship and is a means of directly contacting God, our Creator, Healer, True Love and Best Friend- any time we want. Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship. Through prayer we can share our heart’s desires, concerns and interests to our Heavenly Father, God.[5]

Anna's life shows the power of prayer. I have seen impossible situations changed through prayer.  Would you try the prayer acronym above? Let me know how has prayer made a difference in your life.  Thanks    

[1] Luke 2:36-38
[2] Matthew 6:9
[3] Matthew 6:12
[4] Matthew 6:11,13
[5] Noyes, Penny, Responding to God. Open Door Publishing Hendersonville, NC 2009 pg. 95

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hope Does Not Disappoint

“Get used to disappointment.”  The Man in Black from The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is the only movie I can quote and this is one of my favorite lines, right after “As you wish.”  Disappointment is something that we all have dealt with at one time or another. Disappointment with God, our parents, our friends and ourselves can result in a shell that goes around our hearts. We think our shell will keep us from being hurt again but can also keep us from fully connecting with God and others. Psychologists classify disappointment as a form of shame along with shyness, discouragement, embarrassment, self-consciousness or inferiority.[1]  Vulnerability and shame are topics that resonate with many people,  Brene` Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability has over 24 million views!  Before listening her talk, I didn’t understand the impact shame can have on our lives.  Shame is a feeling that something is intrinsically wrong with me either because of who I am, choices I have made or because of things that have been done to me.  My mother-in-law, a wise older woman simply defines shame as “some people don’t think they are worthy.”
I have been thinking about shame and vulnerability because I have been finishing a chapter on Elizabeth for my upcoming Bible Study on women of the Bible.  Elizabeth’s story is found in Luke 1, she is known as the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus and as the mother of John the Baptist but most of her life was filled with the disappointment and shame of infertility. When she found out that she was pregnant, she exclaimed, “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”[2]  The word “disgrace” in this verse means “shame.”  Though she was commended for being righteous, she had shame because she not been blessed with children.  A holy life was supposed to result in God’s favor with fruitfulness and many children but Elizabeth and Zachariah had no children. Even in modern times, couples who struggle with infertility ask the question, “What is wrong with me that I can’t have kids.” Testing hormone levels, sperm counts and ovulation cycles helps answer this question from a physiological perspective but doesn’t get to the heart of shame and disappointment that can surround infertility.  Every month brings disappointment and grief.
Zachariah’s and Elizabeth’s public shame of infertility was amplified by being descendants of Aaron and members of the priestly order. They were called to a higher standard of righteousness. In his work, Zachariah had also lived with the shame of not being blessed in his work.  He was an old man who hadn’t been chosen to offer incense in the Temple. Since his early 20’s, twice a year he had gone to serve in the Temple and twice a day during his week of service, lots were drawn to see who would offer the incense.  It was a once in a life time opportunity. [3] Over 700 times, he faced disappointment and questions about his worthiness as he saw younger and younger men get chosen. The clock was ticking, he knew at age 50, he would no longer be able to serve in the Temple.[4]  Time was running out.
The amazing thing to me is that Zachariah didn’t lose heart and he held on to the hope that each time he would be chosen.  Just like a single woman who risks heartbreak and shame as she continues to try to catch a bride’s bouquet long after her friends have gotten married, Zechariah kept himself holy and ready to serve in case his lot was drawn. The book of Leviticus outlines all the requirements for a priest to serve- if he had “forgotten” to do even one thing, he could have avoided the potential disappointment of not being chosen. Instead, he didn’t allow his heart to grow hard and he didn’t give up hope that God could use him and answer his prayers.  As a result, he was ready and able to serve in the Temple when “he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.”[5]  His willingness to be vulnerable and put himself out there instead of checking out or calling in sick, enabled him to experience God’s presence in his life in a way that few people in the nation of Israel were even able to comprehend. Elizabeth and Zachariah were able to expand their view of God and His involvement in their lives in a miraculous way just because he was willing to be disappointed, willing to keep trying and willing to follow what God had called him to do. Even after 25 years, he made himself vulnerable and didn’t lose hope that God could use him. 
Romans 5:3-5 shows the importance of hope.  You may have read this passage before, this time pay attention to how these different translations use the words shame and disappointment.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (NIV)
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (NLT ) Our hope has to be built on God’s love for us even in great suffering, after we are deeply disappointed, when promises we thought we heard were not fulfilled, if children aren’t healed, and dreams don’t come true. 
Hope is hard. My natural response to disappointment and shame is to pull away.  When I have done something embarrassing, the last thing I want to do is be around the people who saw me in my embarrassing moment.   When people have disappointed me and let me down, I withdraw, I don’t want to ask them for things or depend on them.   My walls come up and I decide I am better off without them.  I feel vulnerable and hurt  when God doesn’t answer my prayers and seems to let tragedies occur, when he didn’t intervene to heal a friend’s daughter, and when growing up, we struggled financially though my parents did all they could. I easily have my own version of the Job and friends pity party.  I have asked, “If God is all knowing, all powerful and has unlimited resources, why hasn’t he answered my prayers?”  Then I start to blame. I wonder if it is something that I did or a family member failed to do.  Once I rule out those possibilities, I get mad.  It is unfair.   
Elizabeth and Zachariah may have wondered if there was some sin in their spouse’s life that kept them from God’s blessing.  I am sure they examined their own hearts to see if there was any way in them that was impure. At times they must have gotten mad at God, angry when they saw irresponsible people become parents, when fools were blessed in their careers and when others who had no desire for righteousness seemed to have the life they wanted.  It is hard to keep going, to keep putting yourself out there and to keep trusting God after 25 years of disappointment.  But they did, and God was faithful, answered their prayer, though not in their timing or even way they expected.  His plan for their blessing was greater than they could have imagined. 
Brene` Brown points out that the antidote to shame and disappointment is vulnerability.  We have to let ourselves be vulnerable, we need to stay in the game and pursue healthy relationships and connection even if we are going to get hurt. This even more important in our relationship with God. Rather than pulling away from God, we have to draw closer.  We need to depend on Him more, we need to trust him more and we need to love him more.  Unlike people who are flawed and selfish, He is always loving and kind.  Only when we draw closer to God will we experience, the promise found at the end of the Roman’s 5 passage, that “we know how dearly God loves us.”  If we place our hope on God’s love, his sovereignty and his perfect understanding we will have abundant life regardless of our circumstances. 
Is there a place where you have been disappointed, ashamed, or discouraged so you have pulled back and stopped trying, stopped hoping and stopped believing?  Don’t lose heart.  Be brave and vulnerable, Put your hope in God – this hope does not disappoint or put us to shame. 

[2] Luke 1:23-25
[4] Numbers 8:24-26
[5] Luke 1:8-9