February 2018


I strive to be a man of prayer. Without question, I hold the practice of prayer in high regard and with good reason. The Savior that I serve placed a high premium on prayer. Early in His public life, the Gospels report that Jesus’ disciples knew He spent time in prayer. When they were looking for Jesus one morning, they found Him in a place where they knew he went regularly for prayer (see Mark 1:35-39).

In this modern age in which we live it is sometimes seen as poor form to be a person of prayer. Some people have gone to requesting or offering “positive thoughts” instead of prayer so as not to offend or be offensive. I still offer to pray.  I do this for a couple of reasons: first, I am a person who puts great stock in prayer, and also, I expect God to answer my petitions.

I also remember that Jesus expected answers to His prayers as well. He did not assert that only prayers answered in the way He desired were answered prayers though. Consider His last night in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus’ earnest request was that the cup He faced (namely, paying the penalty for sins He had not committed in order for mankind to find salvation) be accomplished in another manner. He accepted, though, that the Father’s will might overturn Jesus’ own desires.

So, if you have a need that you make known to me I will make it a matter of prayer. I will rejoice with you if the answer matches our desires. I will cry with you when the answer is “no.” And I will persist with you when the answer is “not now.” Prayer is a powerful thing—if we do not get what we want, God can use our communication to change what we want.

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much  —James 5:16b

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Sometimes I think that we lose sight of what traditions are about. In the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tavia—the patriarch of the family of Russian Jews that is the center of the story—argues against all of the new-fangled ideas that are thrown at him by, of all people, his family. He has one, single, solitary argument: “Tradition!” Without fail, he sees his heartfelt traditions crumble before progress until the family is finally forced into exile because of the political progress being made around his faith-filled traditions.

In the church we have a number of traditions and practices that are in danger of losing so much meaning that they will be crowded out by progress. One such tradition (which could do with a little life breathed in) is Lent. Growing up in the Baptist tradition that I did, we had lost our grip on the celebration of the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday. The main reason, as far as I can tell, is that Lent is too closely associated with a more ecumenical and less evangelical side of the Christian faith (i.e. Catholicism, Lutheranism, etc.)

Part of the crumbling of the traditional view is the boiling down of Lent to “giving up something (usually a bad habit or lesser indulgence that we probably wouldn’t miss anyway)” for the season when the purpose of Lent is to prepare the Christ-follower to be of worshipful mind when he arrives at the holy week of Easter. This year let us (yes, even those of us who are Baptist) prepare our hearts and minds to fall before the feet of the Savior as we celebrate His death, burial, resurrection and ascension.

“Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us, so we can eat it.’  —Luke 22:8

One of the opportunities and privileges of being a citizen in our great country is that, occasionally, one might be called on to sit on jury duty. When the summons comes, a first reaction will be to consider all of the inconvenience jury duty entails. Work will be missed. We may be out of pocket for several days. Time away from family must be factored in. It’s just a hassle to have jury duty.

First response: figure out a way to get out of the duty. Certain possibilities allow people to be excused from duty. The only summons I ever received was when I was a college student and the duty was scheduled to happen in the middle of my semester finals. All I was required to do was mark a box on a form and I was automatically excused. I recall the time my father was summoned and selected for a pool of jurors in a capital murder trial. Being a Baptist minister, he expected to be turned down by one or both sides, but they didn’t. Then as he sat on the jury, he was astonished that his fellow panel members elected him to serve as chair.

What would happen if every able and eligible citizen would gladly be involved in their civic duty? Including voting in elections and answering summons for jury duty without trying to “get out of it.” I think perhaps we’d have a kinder, gentler nation than we do—and maybe, just maybe we’d get to a place where involvement was the norm rather than the exception.

An even deeper question would be what if every church member would be actively involved in the ministry of their local congregation? Including generous giving and volunteering instead of being begged to serve in an open position. The result, I expect, would be vibrant, growing churches with happy, joyful members.

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  —James 1:22

In the book Endangered Species (about reaching the needs of others), a parable is shared about some friends who join together for an after-worship meal on a nice fall Sunday. As they are settling in, a couple of children, notably in need of a healthy hot meal stand at the restaurant window craving just a morsel of the sumptuous meal laid before the diners. According to the parable, one of the women of the group (whom we expect to invite the children in to join them) gets up from the table, draws the curtains closed to hide the scene outside, and returns to her seat with the declaration, “There now, isn’t that much better?”

One of the important marks of Christianity—and by extension, the church—is the spirit of generosity borne out of knowing the blessing of salvation. Often our generosity expresses itself in giving our cast-offs, extras, and no-longer-needs to someone in the name of a generous spirit. Lots of churches are filled almost to capacity with pianos that someone no longer wants (many of these will no longer hold a tuning if someone were willing to pay for the process). At the same time countless church nurseries are filled with worn-out, broken, and useless toys that people feel generous to donate once their children have outgrown them.

We are also willing to “generously” donate that coat that we are replacing to the shelter down the street.

Generosity gives the best from the first that we have, not the leftovers that we no longer want. What has happened to our generous spirit?

 If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need—how can God’s love reside in him? —1 John 3:17