The Power of Prayer

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This past month has been a tasking and trying month. While it started off wonderfully, as the weeks progressed it got exceptionally more difficult. I had the opportunity to meet with the saints in Madrid, IA, Mattoon, IL and Rantoul, IL. Each of these churches currently supports my efforts in the Grinnell area. And for this, I cannot thank them or God enough. I also had the opportunity to see my parents, my siblings, my grandmother and other distant family members I haven’t seen in a really really long time. I was in the clouds so to speak due to this wonderful time with God’s family and my family.

However, as I said, things turned for the worse. We had 2 different viral infections make their way through my house. My youngest had 2 healthy days in the entire month of March. She was so sick she actually lost 4 lbs. (Keep in mind she is only 2). I was sick with one of these virus’ for 8 days. My wife was sick for 3 weeks. By the time we were healthy we needed a break just to feel good again. I always cracked a tooth this month and had to have it pulled. What was supposed to be a quick 45 minute procedure turned into a 3 hour adventure of pain and suffering. (Almost a week later and my jaw is still sore). But this was not the worst of it. I good friend was told that he had inoperable cancer. It shook me to my core. While I haven’t seen him in a few years, I love him, his wife, and their children dearly. At the same time, my aunt fell and ended up hospitalized for 4 days. Just 2 days after her release she was back in the hospital and the family was called in to say their good-byes. The doctor was ready to give her mediation to make her comfortable and let her go. I know some people may not be close to family, but my family is not like most families. We were always doing things with my extended family. We did road trips, spent weekends together, two summers I spent working with my uncles, etc. I knew my Aunt Barb well. Well enough that a couple of years ago she asked me to officiate her funeral. And now, I was faced with the reality of having to do a funeral for another person I deeply loved. As the old saying goes, when it rains it pours. I began fervently praying. I asked the church here in Grinnell to pray. My children mentioned her in prayers. And I know that her kids, my cousins, they were praying.

And something amazing happened. She got better. The doctors through in the towel. My aunt, my family, my church family, and my God didn’t. Is she going to ever be the same? No. No she won’t. He heart is so weak right now. The doctors told her that she would not likely survive any kind of surgery (75% chance she would die in surgery). But, now they are convinced that with medication she could live another 2-5 years. That is the power of prayer. I remember specifically saying I felt that I was at the end of my rope. I remember praying that I wasn’t ready for this trial. I prayed that God would grant her more time. More time to prepare herself, for her family to prepare themselves. And God said yes. In the end, I don’t know how much more time she will have. The doctors were already wrong once before. What I do know is that God answers prayers.

He is not some clock winder that wound up the clock some 2000 years ago and is now waiting for the end to come. He is active in our lives. He cares for me. He care for you. And this gives me the strength to keep going. Last week I wasn’t ready for another trial. This week, whatever God send my way I have been encouraged to remember I am not alone.

Cinderella Has Arrived

March Madness is here. Next to the Superbowl I love March Madness more than any other sporting event. I love watching my favorite team fight for a chance at greatness. Growing up just north of Champaign/Urbana, IL I grew up a Fighting Illini fan. Save for a couple of years in my life time we usually are not considered favorites to end up in the Elite 8, let alone the championship game. This has led me to be really found of cheering for the underdog, the Cinderella of the tournament. This past weekend the nation watched as Mercer took down Duke. And yet again, there will be at least one double digit seeded team making the Elite 8 as Dayton and Stanford will battle it out in just a few days. I know who I will be cheering for the rest of the tournament. Go Dayton. I also know that I won’t be the only one.

Everyone loves an underdog. We love reading the story of David and Goliath. We know David had no chance to win that fight. If this were the big fight next weekend we would be talking about how Goliath would slaughter David. We would be talking about how there has never been such a lopsided match. And when the fight took place and we saw David walk onto the battlefield with nothing more than a sling and a few stone we would likely laugh. We would have become frustrated with the commissioner for allowing such a match to take place. This kid is going to get killed and it isn’t fair. Then, we would have watched David take the mighty Goliath down with a single stone. We would have stared out our TVs dumbstruck by what just happened as David picks up Goliath’s sword and lops of his head. The truth is, not only would we have talked about for years to come. This story became legendary. Nearly 3000 years after David defeated Goliath we still talk about it being one of the greatest upsets in history. Yes, everyone loves on underdog.

Or at least they love an underdog most of the time. The truth is, the greatest underdog of all time was not loved. He was hated. He was despised. He was afflicted. And when he stood trial, his opponents thought they won. They watched as he was spit upon. They watched as he was beaten. And for your information, this beating was not a minor one. Roman soldiers were not in the business of giving slaps on the wrist. He was beaten to satiate the bloodthirstiness of his enemies. He was led through the streets in shame. He was taken out of the city, forced to carry the means of his own execution. He was nailed to an old rugged piece of wood, lifted up, not as a hero, but as an example to all of those that think they could come to that town and find victory. Yes, Jesus was the greatest underdog of all time. He was born, supposedly being the son of a lowly carpenter. He never went to special seminary schooling like many of his contemporaries did (Men like Paul, Nicodemus, and Gamaliel). He was nothing really noteworthy in appearance. “He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him (Isa. 53:2).” In fact, he was so average looking that Judas had to betray him with a kiss in order for his enemies to know which one was Jesus. He didn’t side with the religious leaders, in fact, most of the time he confounded them, rebuked them and opposed them. He was perfectly set up for a big loss. Even as he hung from the cross, his enemies thought victory was at hand. As he cried out his last breath, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” his enemies were certain that they had won. And as we know, three days later Christ would overcome death. Victory would be his. And this was something, like David’s victory over death, no one saw coming. Even his disciples were not sitting outside his tomb waiting for him to arise. They sat in a room, defeated and when told of his resurrection, even they couldn’t believe it.

Like I said, I love underdogs. And now, myself and others who believe in Jesus are the underdogs. People mock. People laugh. Men like Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, and Bill Mahr think they have it all figured out. They think we are stupid for believing in a “Sky God” and the greatest “Cinderella story” ever told; the story of a poor carpenter who turns out to be the Son of God. Well, I know this, God has promised that if I believe, if I walk with faith, if I am obedient even to the end I will be found victorious (I Cor. 15). With that kind of hope, I have no problem being the underdog.

St. Patrick’s Day

It is that time of the year again. Today all across town we find people dressed up in green. The city of Chicago dyed the river green again this past weekend. There were restaurants serving green eggs and ham for breakfast. 4 leaf clovers have been spotted all over town, and the numerous attempts at recreating the Irish accent can be heard on the Televisions, radio, grocery stores, and all over town. Today is St. Patrick’s Day. It is a day whose celebration revolves really around two things; the wearing of green and the drinking of alcohol. Many will be showing up in bars tonight drinking to keep the “time honored” tradition of getting drunk on St. Patrick’s Day.

Have you ever noticed how much alcohol has become the center of our time honored traditions? We bring in the New Year by getting drunk. On Valentine ’s Day we hope to get our dates a little tipsy with a fancy champagne or wine so that we can have sex later. On Fat Tuesday we indulge ourselves usually with a drunken stupor. On St. Patrick ’s Day, you guessed it, we drink beer, green beer at that. In late May we will celebrate Memorial Day. We do this to remember all those that died from our freedoms. We celebrate by having a BBQ and drinking a few beers. Come 4th of July, we again celebrate our freedoms, by having a BBQ and drinking a few beers. As the summer comes to a conclusion, we have one last BBQ and a few more beers as we celebrate Labor Day. Halloween roles around and people throw Halloween parties where women dress provocatively and adults enjoy their “candy” or alcohol. And as the year comes to conclusion, we have our Christmas or Holiday office parties where people celebrate their bonuses by getting drunk. Our traditions have a massive drinking problem. If this is really the activities of an “average” American, then I would say that we as a nation have a massive drinking problem. It seems that we as a nation are looking for more reasons to drink than not to drink. We drink at the above listed “holidays.” We drink when just hanging out with the guys (or ladies). We drink when watching the big game. We drink when watching the tournament that starts later this week. We drink when we watch the race. We as a nation are fascinated with not being sober. A couple of weeks ago I listen to a person tell me how they celebrated the birth of his firstborn son and how he celebrated the 5th birthday of that firstborn son. And I was shocked to hear that losing one’s sobriety was a good way to celebrate such an occasion.

The scriptures are clear on the subject of alcohol. “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine, those who go to taste mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things And your mind will utter perverse things. And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, Or like one who lies down on the top of a mast. “They struck me, but I did not become ill; They beat me, but I did not know it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink (Prov. 23:29-35, NASB).” Solomon encouraged his son to not be tempted by it, by not even looking at it. It destroys you. It leaves you broken. It shatters your home. It hurts your spouse. And it will inevitably hurt your children. This St. Patrick’s day, rather than drinking to your heart’s content, find a way to have fun… with sobriety. It is possible. And the best part is, in the morning, not only will you not have a head ache, not only will you remember everything you did do, and likely not have any regrets, you stayed sober and right with God.

Raising Children in the 21st Century

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It has been a busy week for me. It was actually nice to unplug for a week and spend time with my children. It was especially fitting because the last sermons I preached before being unplugged were to help the Madrid church of Christ in Madrid, IA kick off their spring gospel meeting. This meeting had focused upon the challenges families face in the 21st century. They asked me to begin this series of lessons. I preached two lessons aimed at the young people of their congregation. I decided to preach lesson on facing peer pressure. One of these two lesson focused solely upon the peer pressure of sexual immorality. The third lesson was aimed at the parents of these young people.

As I prepared these lessons I came more and more aware of the fact that raising children in this day and age is exceptionally hard. As a homeschooler I have the ability to limit who my children are influenced by on a daily basis, and without cable TV or satellite TV my children don’t clamor about begging me to watch 6 hours of TV on the cartoon network. However, I would be denying reality if I think that my kids are immune to the temptations the 21st century has to offer. After seeing poll after poll talk about the lack of interest in spiritual things among the young people of America I am scared. I am scared that my children can be lost. I am scared that my children will not remain faithful. Add to this the fact that I am hardly the perfect father I wonder if my children have any hope at all of being faithful.

I have determined that the only way they can remain faithful is if I change. I had to remove the plank from my eye. I had to stop saying, “I will get better.” I actually had to be better. About 7 months ago I made the biggest change in our home that I have made to date. While we have always talked scripture, prayed and sang together, it was often without focus. We would study a passage here and study a passage there. About 7 months ago I determined that in order to raise godly children I had to give them something to shoot for. I laid down the ground work by studying 5 different qualities with my children each week. We talk about faith, hope, love (I Cor. 13:13) and we talk about integrity and purity. If I want my children to have any hope of being God’s servants I must instruct them to be a people of faith, a people of hope, a people of love, a people with integrity and a pure people. Less than a year into this project and I am already seeing changes. Sure, some weeks are better than others. But, my children are starting to learn what God’s expectations of them are. And I am doing my best to provide them with specific illustrations in their daily lives.

Sundays we talk about faith. We usually go over the lesson that I preached that morning. I encourage them to take notes so that they can ask questions about what I preached on. This way they realize that Sundays are not to be used for coloring, playing games, etc. We are there with the saints to worship God and learn his will.

Mondays we talk about hope. It is our “feel good” day. So many people in the world dread Monday, so I thought I would give us a reason to enjoy the day. We spend our study talking about the different joys of heaven and why it is such a wonderful place to look forward to.

Tuesdays we talk about integrity. I began by teaching my children about bridges. A bridge with integrity can be trusted to do what it was designed to do. I showed them what happens to bridges without integrity. And now, every time we walk on or drive over, under, or around a bridge my children talk about different ways that they can show themselves to be trustworthy.

Thursdays are about purity. With all the things that contaminate our souls it is imperative to keep the impurities out. To start I put salt and sugar in the same container and asked my kids to separate them. Of course, they couldn’t. In the month which followed we have talked about what is impure and different techniques we can utilize to keep the impurities out. Of course, repentance, grace, mercy, and forgiveness play a major role in our lessons on purity.

Fridays are love. While growing up Friday night was family game night. It was the time got to bask in the love of our family. I wanted to put my own spin on the love themed night by spending our study talking about love. Right now we are still studying the definition provided by Paul in I Cor. 13. My hope is that they remember how to treat their mom, their siblings, their bible class teachers, and their God.

I was behind getting started. Perhaps you are too. But I warn you, don’t wait to much longer. Your children need your guidance. You can lead them or the world will.