Category Archives: Journey

Powerful and Effective

There are some topics that are worth second, third and even unlimited visits. Prayer is one of those topics. At this moment, I’m called to pray for a very important time in my family’s life, and I’m encouraged to pray because of stories I’ve heard recently about how God has answered my prayers in ways that were considered impossible. A friend has had a strained relationship with a son. That son was coming to visit his father for many more days than was even considered useful by the father. The father shared his concern for the planned visit with me. So we began to pray.

We prayed that God would do a work in the hearts of both the father and the son. We prayed that God would glorify himself in the building of that long broken relationship. We prayed for healing. At times like this, it is important that we pray things that are in keeping with God’s word. God wants families to be whole. That is how he made them. God wants fathers to celebrate their sons, like the father of the prodigal son. God wants our parent child relationships to mirror those that he wants to have with us. As a son, I always wanted to have a close relationship with my father, yet at the same time I wanted to find my own faith, I wanted to make my own way in this world. Still, in the depths of my heart, I had a desire for the approval and support of my father. For reasons not completely clear to me to this day, my relationship with my dad didn’t become mutually rewarding until I was almost in my forties.

I have two sons in law who, like so many, have had awkward relationships at times with their fathers. For a short season, I wanted to step in to fill that gap, until I realized that these two men were coming to grips with the way God has made all of us. We are all made to desire the love of our fathers. Sadly, too many men will never experience that warm relationship, but that doesn’t mean we don’t desperately¬† desire it. So too with my friend, who for a variety of reasons has been distanced from his sons. With the one son coming to visit, we prayed for the time to be such that would allow for the relationship to be healed.

Despite the dismal outlook for the pending visit, prayer was critical. I was reminded of the scripture found in James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power and is working.” Another translation calls these prayers powerful and effective. We need to pray for each other, building each other up not only with encouraging words, but also in prayer, asking God to do his work in the lives of those we love. Hebrews 10:24-25 provide this instruction, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This stirring each other up and encouraging one another comes through exhortation and encouraging words, yes, but also through prayer.

If you had been able to hear the story told by my friend a day after his son’s visit, you would have known that these things happen only when the power of God is released through much prayer, calling on his character and desire to draw the hearts of the children to their fathers. The prophet Malachi describing the Day of the Lord says, “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” It is important when we pray that we know the heart of God in these matters so that we can pray, knowing his will with all confidence asking God to remain faithful.

Christ gave us a great model for intercessory prayer, i.e., praying for each other. In John 17 he prayed for all of his followers, present and future. Christ prayed for you and me on that day. In the same way, we need to be praying for each other to be released from the guilt that so easily sidetracks us, to be filled with love for those around us so that we will model for the rest of the world what love of our brothers really means. Christ instructed us to follow his example of how he loved us, by loving each other to show that we are his disciples.

God bless.

Growing in Grace

I was reading Psalms 118 this morning and was touched by verse 14 which says, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” It struck me that our faith walk is a journey. Abraham journeyed to the land of promise. The people of Israel journeyed from Egypt to the land promised to Abraham. The Apostle Paul counsels us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. (Php 2:12) In the letter to the church at Colossae, Paul prayed for the people to increase in the knowledge of God. The prophet Jeremiah shares a word from God that says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches; but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,’ declares the Lord.”

As I reflect on this concept of spiritual growth, I am drawn into Psalms 119 where nearly every one of the 175 verses of that psalm refers to your precepts, your law, your rules, your statutes, your word, your testimonies, your promise and other descriptors of God’s word. Verse 105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s word brings us light to find our way in an otherwise dark world. God’s word helps us discern our relationship with our government. This is particularly helpful in the times in which we live. God’s word helps us find our way with our families, our employers, our churches and a myriad of other relationships.

God’s word gives us hope for the future. Psalm 119:90 says, “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth and it stands fast.” This is a great hope that we all can have. God’s faithfulness to his word and to who he is will endure to all generations! That means that until this world passes away, (Lk 21:33) God’s faithfulness will always be with us. And once that happens, God will provide a new heaven and a new earth that will be the dwelling place of God. Revelation 21 tells us, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Now if that doesn’t give us hope for our future, nothing will!

Spiritual growth helps us in our personal growth as well. In Peter’s second letter to the churches (3:18) he calls us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Growing in grace is something that we could all use. In the Lord’s Prayer cited in Matthew 6, he teaches us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors …” Forgiveness is one way of extending grace. Christ goes on to say, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” So extending the grace we have received to others allows the grace we receive to grow even more. The harsh words and rhetoric of our political campaigns are divisive and cause sharp lines to be drawn between people rather than drawing people to unity. In America, we are divided as never before. I constantly have to ask myself what part I am playing in extending grace and creating unity.

Ephesians chapter 4 is a powerful passage that calls us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This bearing with one another in love is called grace. While we were still sinners, God chose to forgive us of our sins because of the blood of Christ. That is grace.

For us it appears in the form of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As I read these words from Galatians 5, peace fills my heart. They feel like gracious living. These are the fruits of the Holy Spirit that is given us by Christ at moment we stake our faith in him. What are we doing to grow in gracious living? We are all on a journey and God, who gave us the Spirit and began this work in us will continue working with us to bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. He knows us and is patient with us, continuing to encourage us on our journey until the last day. He can calm the storms of the sea, he can also help us grow in grace.

Grace and Peace!

The Path of Faith is Smooth Sailing (Not!)

Despite what some people may want you to believe, the path of faith doesn’t always come with a smooth ride. You may hear things like “Ever since I gave my life to Jesus, life has been wonderful!” Folks, the Bible tells us that we are aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11). The ESV calls us sojourners and exiles. That same passage tells us we live in an evil world that wages war against our souls. In addition to the spiritual warfare that is going on in this world these days that includes things like abortions, men and women pursuing unnatural relations with one another, a society in which over half the country is on the government dole, and so on, we have the daily stuff of life. The need to work to provide for one’s family, the beautiful thing that is called marriage where two distinct individuals are to become one flesh, raising children in the way they should go and all that is entailed in these endeavors is enough to make some days feel pretty daunting.

I’m reminded of the days early on in our marriage when the manufacturing world seemed to have a limited future. After praying together about what God might have for us, we were led to an opportunity at IBM. Interestingly, the IBM opportunity called for a 25% cut in pay. This caused us to pray more earnestly about what God wanted us to do as we had a 2 year old daughter, a new home and a new car. Yet, in faith, we felt God was leading to this new job. I was attending the University of Omaha at the time which placed additional demands on my time available with the family. But we were convinced in our hearts and minds that God had led us to the IBM opportunity and that He would provide. Little did we know that His provision and the path ahead would include taking on two additional jobs and dropping out of college to make the financial pieces fit and family life work.

You know, Abraham’s journey from the land of Haran and his father’s people to another land he didn’t know, was based on a promise from God. Rom 4:20ff says “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” In the same way, we were convinced that God had taken us to IBM. This next bit will give you pause about my maturity, experience, and wisdom in those days. To be perfectly honest with you, I did not know that IBM made office equipment. That was the division where I had my first jobs in IBM. God literally led me to a place in which I had no idea what God would do with me there. I only knew that He had led us to this place. Even, after the first 90 days when my manager told me I would never amount to anything at IBM, I knew God had brought us there and would see us through. I had no idea what this was going to look like. I only knew what faith in God had brought about in our lives and I knew that He was faithful! When the Bible says He uses the simple things of this world, I was and still am a living example of that truth!

But God, brought us through those days and blessed us. But God put people into my path and took a few out as well, to accomplish His work in and through my life. My story never ceases to amaze me. When we sing the song “Amazing Grace” my mind begins to wander over the years to see his grace at work in my life and I am left in tears of gratitude, crushing humility, and just falling at His feet in adoration for the great things He has done. Hallelujah!

In the walk of faith, there are many challenges, both from inside and outside the faith. As Paul says in Romans 14:5, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Everything we do should be to honor the Lord. Being fully convinced means that we have been Bereans (Acts 10) looking into the word of God to see what He says to us. Only by prayer and searching God’s word can we walk confidently in faith. When we are challenged, we go back to God’s word as our consistent source of strength and truth. Then we can put on the full armor of God and are prepared to do battle with a world that rages against the truths of God.

As we navigate this world in which we are aliens and strangers, Philippians says, “with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Does the path guarantee smooth sailing? No, because the world is filled with trouble and we, ourselves, are not sin free. But if we lean in to God and throw our cares on Him, by making our requests known to Him, He will give us peace in the midst of the storm.

Growing and Getting the Idea

In the previous post, I shared about my beginnings on the journey of faith. Based on my understanding of scripture, there is no doubt that in spite of my herky-jerky beginnings (think albatross, think gooney bird) that I was, in fact, completely and totally covered by the blood of Christ and my sins, past and future, were washed away. I had the behavior patterns of a young boy growing into his teen years with all that entails. But as I grew older, I was also growing in the knowledge of God. When I was 16, I attended a series of meetings (known in those days as Deeper Life evangelistic meetings) in Meade, Kansas. It was during those meetings that I was gripped with the need to make my faith my own. To own my faith meant to me that I needed to rely less on what my parents thought and more on what God would teach me through His word, the Bible.

A few years later, I would undergo a significant test. Part of being Mennonite, also meant that I was taught that war and the killing that was part of war was not for Christians. There came the time after registering with the Selective Service System (SSS) as a conscientious objector (one who was willing to serve, but in non-military capacities) that I felt I needed to come to my own conclusions in this matter. I studied and prayed and studied some more and prayed some more. After searching the scriptures that were held by the church to lead one to the conscientious objector conclusion, and various other passages that also provided insight and instruction in my search, I came to a conclusion that was different from the view held by my church and my parents and would have to be communicated to my father. While it was a dramatic setting that I’ll share more about later, I was proud of my father as he listened to my heartfelt confession of the soul. He knew that I had been searching the scriptures out for quite some time and that this was not from a rebellious heart, nor was it an arbitrary decision. Effectively, the result of my decision would cause me to be drafted (twice) for the Vietnam war so this was not a decision without consequence.

From my childhood days I had heard the stories of Solomon and how he gained his wisdom. What grabbed my heart was that God was pleased with this request. So, I too, because this pleased God, began praying for wisdom. At the same time, my mother had been praying Colossians 1:9-12 over me nearly every day. Among the many aspects of that prayer, a couple of parts were that I would grow in the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and knowledge and that I would grow in the knowledge of God. Without being prideful, I believe that God has honored those prayers. He has put me into situations for leading churches in seasons when He knew I needed a growth spurt, when I needed to learn what it was like to depend on Him. At times my learning was by observing how men of God walked by faith and at other times, I was in situations where I literally made sure the passenger seat in the car was empty so that He could be there with me and we would talk about things that were heavy on my heart.

I’ve found it interesting how He has insisted on using this ragamuffin guy with all his imperfections (just ask my wife) to carry the good news and to be a voice both inside the church and outside. I’m reminded of Samson and Peter as I think about my journey. I also think of David too. Now that I’m approaching my 69th birthday (in two weeks) I wish I could say that I’d figured out the air pockets and downdrafts in this walk of faith. But God is my source and my strength. He gives me a word for this person and that person who know me and my imperfections. Yet His word is true and when He gives us a word, it will strike the chord that God wants to be struck in another person’s heart and mind. Paul’s second letter to Timothy chapter 4 comes to mind where he says, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season, correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine, instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Paul goes on from there to tell how men will turn aside to myths and false teachings.

Our task is to be like the Bereans (Acts 10) who tested everything they heard against the scriptures. Even the things that Paul taught them were tested. They made their faith their own and they learned to grow in the knowledge of God as a result.

God grant us steadfast hearts that pine for You and You alone!

Starting the Journey of Faith

In my last post I commented that some of us grow up in a Christ-centered home and others grow up in homes that are almost the antithesis of that Christ-centered home. Those who actually go to the point of professing belief in the salvation that comes from Christ alone, however, set out on the same journey of faith. For some the embarkation on that journey is indiscernible and for others the transition is a marked transformation as the Holy Spirit begins to shape our minds to be more Christ-like. The degree of change seemingly has little to do with our upbringing. It has more to do with behavioral modification brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds.

The interesting piece of this is that while changes may be less or more noticeable by others, the real change and the change that matters is what God sees in the heart. Our behavior and speech patterns are driven by the heart. So to some degree, the heart change is seen by others, but we must acknowledge that some of us have inherited mountains of pain, of degradation, and violation. It’s what we call baggage. Just like the picture above, we bring that baggage into our relationship with Jesus. It has often been said that our relationships with our earthly fathers will influence how we are able to relate to our Heavenly Father. It is also true that troubled homes, bad marriages, dysfunctional churches and all the rest weigh heavily in our journey of faith.

These things are all part of our complex personalities and broken lives that we bring to Jesus when we come to faith. He understands all that. He knows where you’ve been. He can redeem the most desperate sinner who comes to Him in simple faith. I’m reminded of Rahab, the prostitute, who let the Israelite spies down in a basket from the wall of Jericho. God not only spared her, but gave her a place in the lineage (genealogy) of Christ. She was the mother of Boaz who married Ruth! Talk about redemption! That simple act of putting herself at risk to save the spies who came from God’s people, showed us that her heart was faithful to Jehovah God. He knew her heart and not only spared her miraculously when He brought down the wall of Jericho, but gave her an honored place in the line from which Christ would be born.

So how does it look when one embarks on this journey? For me, it was praying to receive Christ at my mother’s bedside at the age of 7, and then not living a perfect life from that point on. Rather, because I grew up in a legalistic setting, it was a life filled with rules and judging people who played by the rules and those who did not. In retrospect, I became really good at judging people by their merits or sins for standards that were not consistently applied to myself.

There was a saying among the young girls in our church circles that said, “I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, and I don’t go with¬† boys that do.” Interestingly, in the middle of all this judging and my private life, God had my heart. I always pined for God. I wanted to be like David, a man after God’s own heart. In my private moments, While I wanted to live by the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, I didn’t play so well at the stuff like judging and trying to get away with things, for example, smoking. Smoking wasn’t the real issue. The real issue that I had to resolve was this deep seated rebellious heart. The smoking was only a symptom of the rebellious heart. While in many ways I sought God’s counsel on matters of life’s decisions, I was a classic example of a young man committed to being in control and no rules or authority was going to tell me otherwise. To some degree, I was blind to that control or authority issue. Today, my wife calls it a stubborn streak. As has been passed down by the women in our family, they say that I inherited that from my dad. Dad is with Jesus now but he probably would have denied having that stubborn streak, just like me!

Suffice it to say that the word picture I would use is that of an albatross learning to fly or then learning to land. The beginning of my faith walk bore a striking resemblance to these feeble attempts. Check this out. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVmoYVTZTXU)

I hope this doesn’t discourage you from attempting to fly. One parting thought for this leg of the journey. God loved you before your were conceived, at which time, He formed you in your mother’s womb. He knew what would happen with each of your days before one of them came to be. He knew how each day would effect you and guess what? He has a plan for you as a person that will cause you to flourish to be a light and a help to others trying to find their wings. But you must take the step of faith, like Abraham had to take the first step to start the journey. The writer of Hebrews tells us that, “without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (11:6)

Until next time …

Standing Amazed

The old hymn says, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene…” That pretty much describes me right now. I am standing amazed at how God is working in the lives of many of my friends. While I’ve operated from an understanding that no one comes to the Father except that the Father draws them, I’ve been amazed to see that drawing at work. I’ve been praying for some of the people in my life and hoping I stay out of God’s way so that He can do His work of drawing. Guess what? He’s doing it!

Why are we amazed when God does what He says He will do? I was reading again this morning in John 6:44 and went from there to Ephesians, 1st and 2nd chapters and then to Romans chapter 8 where Paul talks about how God foreknew those who would believe in Him. We all have different journeys to arrive in the place of faith. I shared a post from Billy Graham a few days ago about faith being the thing that pleases God the most. Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness. Follow Hebrews chapter 11, often referred to as the faith’s hall of fame.

Faith is something that we all need to wrestle with. Do we believe God? Do we believe that God will keep His word and carry out His promises? One man’s journey begins in a Christian home and his transition to faith is barely discernible. Another grows up in a world of abuse and anger, yet, when the God of eternity touches him and draws him to faith, his life is dramatically changed. But what is that journey? I want to pursue that topic in the next few blogs.

Christ died for the sins of the whole world so that whoever believes in Him will not perish (in hell) but have eternal life. It is by grace that we have been saved, through faith, and that faith not attained under our own strength, it is a gift from God Himself. Not accomplished by works so that none of us can boast in how we found our way to faith in Christ.

Until next time, try standing amazed at how He is working in this world in the lives of men!