Monday, March 27, 2017

Ask and You Shall Receive

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9

Have you ever wondered why we have to pray and ask God to "give us our daily bread", why Jabez had to ask God to "bless me", why Hezekiah had to pray and ask God to deliver him and his county from Assyrian invaders and why people pray and ask God for a friend's healing? I have been struck by the fact that often to receive blessing and freedom in our life requires asking God to set us free and bless us. 

This leads me to the questions, “Why wouldn't a loving, kind, all powerful, all knowing, Heavenly Father automatically do these things? Why do we even have to ask?

First, Jesus told us to ask.
When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray he taught that they should ask for their physical needs like food, relational needs like forgiveness and spiritual needs like being delivered from the evil one.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  Matthew 6:11-13
If we want what God has for us- we have to ask for it.  In Luke 11:9 records Jesus saying to his followers, "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
For many people knowing that Jesus told us to ask would be enough to answer the question “Why do we have to ask?”. I am not one of those people. Honestly, this answer reminds me of when I was a kid asking “why” and the reply, “Because I said so” would be the response.  It was never very satisfying. So if you are like me and need a little more explanation on why we need to ask, here are six more reasons.

Second, it deepens our relationship with God
The Lord’s Prayer starts with the phrase, “Our Father.” This is so important for understanding the relationship God wants to have with us.  He is our loving father.  When kids ask their parents for money to go to a concert, to get a new pair of shoes or a popular toy, it gives their parents insight into their kids’ interests and motivations.  It builds the relationship and allows the parent to be a provider, create fun memories and put limits on inappropriate stuff. God does the same for us. Luke 11:11-13 says “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Third, it humbles us
I have been blessed with intelligence, wisdom and the ability to get things done.  These blessings mean that will I try to do things on my own rather than getting God involved.  I find that my pride results in an “I don’t want to bother the big guy” attitude until I am in over my head. Humility comes when I acknowledge- I don’t know everything; past, present or future but God does. I am oblivious to what is going on in someone’s heart but God isn’t. I am limited but God is infinite. Isaiah put this beautifully in verses 5:8-9,“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Asking for God’s help and intervention gives us access to His unlimited wisdom and resources.
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Fourth, so that we see the blessing
It is incredibly easy to take for granted all that God does for us, all the gifts we have been given and the blessings that surround us. One of the greatest blessings of becoming a mom was that I realized all the sacrifices and gifts my parents had given me. I had taken most of them for granted until I made the same sacrifices for my kids. In the same way, we can take all the blessings that God has given us for granted. James 1:17 states “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Asking opens our eyes to seeing God as the source of the good things in our lives.  

Fifth, it deepens our faith
God is more than just a “sugar daddy," he is the all powerful King of the Universe.  Sometimes we will find ourselves in situations that are way beyond our ability to manage. Prayer is a means of accessing all the resources of heaven. 
In 2 Kings 6:15-17, Elisha found himself in a scary and seemingly hopeless situation. “ When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
Seeing God at work in our life and other’s lives in answer to prayer gives us a glimpse of his might and resources.  Each time a prayer is answered our understanding of him grows and our faith grows as well.

Sixth, so that we value it
This weekend our grocery store had a great deal, a free package of Chips Ahoy cookie thins.  No one in our family eats Chips Ahoy but I couldn’t resist. So what if they went to waste?  They were free. Freeee! Human nature is such that we value what we work for and we often don’t value things that are free. A story about King David in 2 Samuel 24:24 captures this point, “But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
By humbling ourselves in prayer, we value the answer to prayer so much more.  This verse right before the Lord’s Prayer states “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” It is obvious from this verse that God knows what we need before we ask- He is just waiting for us to ask.

Finally, so that we give glory to God
Intrinsic in the meaning of glory is value and weightiness.  Just as you measure the value of gold by its weight, as God is glorified his weightiness is magnified. As I have pondered glory, it seems to me to be a circular thing. We are created to give God glory so he is glorified as he blesses us. His blessings show he values us just as a parent shows their love for their kids by blessing them. His blessings cause us to give him “glory for the great things he has done.” Jesus summarized this key point about asking in John 14:13, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” By asking God in Jesus name, we are bringing glory to him.  Wow! No wonder we are called to ask.  Asking in Jesus name not only blesses us and blesses the people around us, but in turn blesses God.

These are seven reasons I have found why we need to ask.  Have you found any other reasons? How has God answered your prayers so that your faith and relationship with him has grown?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Snowy Grace

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool. Isaiah 1:18

I woke up last Sunday to a fluffy blanket of snow that covered everything except the roads and driveways. Really, it was the perfect snow. No shoveling, no icy spots, no downed power lines. Our drive to church was filled with 360 degrees of beauty as each branch was highlighted in white. A Carolina blue sky was filled with puffy white clouds that perfectly coordinated with the cloud-like covering of snowflakes that covered the earth like a blanket all around me. 

Snowy days remind me of the verse from Isaiah 1:18 that says, "though your sins are like scarlet they shall as white as snow."   The snow blanketed and removed all imperfections.  It created a place of immense beauty from barren trees.   Bare branches were dressed in white. It covered over brown grass and muddy spots.

I love that God removes all of our imperfections just like the snow. His grace covers all of our mistakes and failures. Just as the trees and ground don't do anything to be worthy of the snow- we don't have to do anything to be worthy of God's grace and forgiveness.   

God's grace doesn't discriminate based on our actions and attributes-  whether we feel like dirt or we are on top of the world- we are covered in His blanket of forgiveness, love and acceptance. 

Like the snow covers everything in an area, God's grace covers all of our mistakes whether they break the Ten Commandments like murder or abortion, adultery, stealing and covetousness or smaller ones like lying to a friend or hurting someone's feelings. Just as a mountain receives a greater volume of snow because it has more surface area than an anthill, we get more grace and forgiveness the greater the sin.  Paul explains this concept in Romans 5:20 "Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more..."

The snow is long gone at our house but God's grace and forgiveness is eternal. Because of Christ's sacrifice for our sins, we are covered in a blanket of righteousness so that when God sees us, he doesn't see our imperfections and mistakes, he sees Christ's perfection.  

If a you are haunted by poor choice or a careless mistake and you feel unworthy of God's love and grace, it is time to accept God's forgiveness. Nothing that you have done is too bad for God's forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says  "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.". Pause and imagine Jesus' blood on the cross covering that sinful place in your life and making it pure as fresh fallen snow. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

I Love Lent

It is a funny thing to love Lent.  Lots of people love Christmas, I know many people whose ancestors called Ireland home will plan St Paddy's Day celebrations a year in advance, and I have neighbors who spend exorbitant amounts of time and money getting ready for Halloween.

"What is there to love about Lent?," you might ask.  For some people, Lent is like 40 burpees at 4:00 am, you feel great when you are done but hated every minute of it.  Other people just don't see the point, "So what if I have to eat an extra serving of fish on Friday. Dr Oz recommends cold water fish twice a week anyway. No biggie."

For me, Lent has turned into 40 days of really trying to hear God.   Seeking His will and the next steps in my relationship with Him become my focus. It probably should be all the time- but it isn't so Lent provides the focus and motivation I need to take things to the next level.    Mardi Gras, which is the day before Lent starts, is typically associated with parties, parades and debauchery.  For me, it is a day to ask God what to give up and what to do.   Usually these are things I should be doing more consistently and intentionally anyway and Lent is a time to put them into practice.

God has used Lent to refine me, lead me into green pastures, restore my soul and show me my absolute need for a Savior.  If I can't not drink soda pop for 40 days- something I don't even like - how in the world could I ever be good enough to merit salvation on my own, and I am reminded how undeserving I am of the gift that God sent His Son to die because of my mistakes.  Lent humbles me and reminds me over and over how much God loves me in spite of my failings.

What I do or don't do for Lent every year varies.  Some years it has been to read the Bible every day, memorize a scripture every day, call a friend to encourage them, write every day or exercise 15 minutes everyday.  Some years, I have given up sweets, reading fiction, biting my nails, drinking soda and this year I have given up reading the Wall Street Journal.

Giving up the Wall Street Journal probably doesn't seem like a big deal but I am a compulsive reader and I LOVE it.  I love the stories and feeling the paper in my hands, I love discovering tidbits of information about other countries, popular icons and new words. Sitting down with the Wall Street Journal sucks me into a vortex of information that I won't come out of for hours.  Bliss.

So I am giving it up.   Just for 40 days, not because it is bad but because God has something better. You see, I have replaced my Journal reading with intentionally praying for healing.   Leading up to Lent, I was reading a book called Authority to Heal by Ken Blue.  It is a fascinating book and has challenged me to expand my views of healing.   The premise of the book is based on verses like Luke 9:2 "Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick." TLB (underlining mine). Basically the author's point is that many Christians feel compelled to share the good news of Jesus Christ but don't feel compelled to pray for healing. However both physical and mental healing were always a part of Jesus' ministry and the ministry of the apostles in the early Church.  This has really challenged me.  I have seen and experienced amazing miracles but I have often prayed for healing and have not seen any evidence of change in my family member's or friend's health.

I have a lot of questions about healing.  I have friends who had kids born with congenital defects. What is healing in that situation? Did God create them needing to be healed or perfect but different?

Is healing in the Bible metaphorical because the Greek word "Sozo" often translated "saved" also means "healed?"  Yet over and over in the Bible, Jesus healed true physical ailments.  I have seen and experienced true physical miracles so I know it isn't just that Jesus saves- he also heals.

I have questions about healing as it relates to death.  Isn't death for a believer the ultimate healing? I have spent over ten years pondering Hezekiah's life and one of the premises of my book is that God healed Hezekiah even though God's will for Hezekiah was for him to die. This was a doozy and I highly recommend my books if you want to know more.

I firmly believe that God numbers our days while we are still in our mother's womb as it is written in Psalm 139:16. I have a friend who gave birth to a baby boy whose life was measured in hours.  My 17 year old friend in High School went to sleep one night and just didn't wake up the next morning. She probably had an undiagnosed heart problem that no one knew about. My neighbor Judy, who I met in seminary classes and had just closed on a property to create a Christian retreat and conference center, died with no warning from an aneurysm.

As much as I have questions, I can't get away from the fact that Jesus sent out his disciples to share the good news of the Kingdom and to heal the sick.  Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10), I believe that just as we should pray for a loved one's salvation we should also pray for their healing.   So that is what I am doing for the next forty days, instead of sitting down with the newspaper, I am setting a five minute timer and consciously praying for friends with chronic health problems.  I am praying for deliverance, break through and healing.  I hope in the next six weeks I will see God's faithfulness to set my friends free and heal them. However, I am absolutely certain in the process of praying for their healing, my love for Him will grow so much greater and my faith will be increased and that is why I love Lent.