Faith is…. (Nine thoughts)

November 16, 2014

PrayerFaith is… believing for the miracle despite the impossible.

Faith is… believing God will answer though I come up with reasons why He won’t answer.

Faith is… persevering in prayer and belief despite evidence that the miracle is undeserving.

Faith is… persistence and perseverance in pleading with Jesus for the miracle despite 1) silence from God, 2) inner and outter voices that beckon me to give up.

Faith is… recognizing my own unworthiness, but at the same time beholding Jesus’s worthiness and mercy, and applying that to myself and my situation.

Faith is… not being offended by Jesus because of what I am in His perfect and holy presence.

Faith is… believing Jesus will lavish me with mercy, delight in my feeble belief, and grant my request.

Faith is…“the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen…and is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” (Hebrews 11:1).

Faith is… what pleases God. (Hebrews 11:6).

What are your thoughts on faith?

When she said, “Yes!”

November 12, 2014

Salt-N-Pepa‘s “Pump Up the Jam” was blaring over the small radio box in the Orphanage’s assistant director’s office. It was the day we were to meet 8 year old, Veronika (pronounced “Veer-oh-NEE-kah”). This was the little orphan girl we would call “daughter” forever. The only picture we’d seen of her was outdated. So we had no idea what she looked like at eight.

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The wait inside the little office was excrucating. Would she like us? Would she be afraid of us? Would she want us? Would she let us be her family?

Josiah was having a “moment,” so I walked him into the hallway to get some air. Still, my thoughts were on Marni. We’d come so far. What if she didn’t want us to adopt her? Suddenly, a little girl whizzed by me in a bright orange dress and in flip flops that were hanging on by a strap. She was carrying an unpeeled banana in her right hand. Abruptly, she turned back and looked at me. I knew in that instant it was Veronika. Her long black eye-lashes and those big brown eyes took my breath away. She smiled that precious gap-between-her-two-front-teeth smile.

I was smitten like a shy schoolboy. So smitten that I turned away like I didn’t recognize her and sprinted into the AD’s office. “It was Vernoika, Christie! I think I just saw Veronika!”

Moments later, Veronika was escorted into the office by one of the orphanage workers. She was seated before our family of four. We couldn’t help but gawk at this beautiful creature of God. Right then I thought, “Dear God. How does this child not have a mommy or daddy? Who could give her up?”

Candy and stuffed animals are a cross-cultural language, of course, so we drenched her in that. We learned her favorite colors, games, and the like. We did all we could in the few minutes allotted us to drink in the lifetime of this little girl, and to share ours with her.

Then it was time to pop the question. In our presence, with all eyes fixed on Veronika, the assistant director asked: “Veronika, do you want to be adopted by this family?” All the air was sucked out of the room. While we held our breath, Veronika looked down at her hands, smiled, and in Russian, and in her cute raspy voice, answered: “Yes! Very much!”IMG_2224

That moment changed all of our lives forever. A little girl who faced a potential future of doom was not only rescued, but given the life many orphans will never know–a life with a mommy, daddy, siblings, pets, days at the beach, her own clothes, plenty of food (and candy), and most of all, the practical love of God through Christ through a family to rescue her, give her a new name (Marni Veronika Jones),and a new life.

Adoption is the gospel. It is the gospel in living-color. Every day Christie, the boys, and I, and even Marni and Jubilee see, hear, and feel God’s passionate rescuing love through adoption. It’s hard at times. It’s glorious at times. It’s the gospel at all times.

Could God be leading you become the gospel-in-living-color for an orphan? For more information contact Lifesong for Orphans HERE. If you are a Grace Community Church family or friend, email our Grace Foster and Forever Family Ministry at: GFFF@graceoc.com
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prayer-bible“There is a mighty lot of difference between saying prayers and praying,” declared a 20th Century preacher. So how can we be sure we’re not just saying prayers, but praying?

In the previous two posts we’ve considered having a morning ritual of meeting with God in the quiet. We’ve surveyed the six musts of how to prepare and spend time with the Lord. In this post, let’s consider praying, and not just praying prayers. The greatest way is praying Scripture.

Why is praying God’s word a wonderful means of prayer? God promises that He is watching over His word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12). God declares His word will not return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11). As we pray God’s word, God’s word penetrates us more deeply (Hebrews 4:12). To pray God’s word is to pray God’s will. Praying God’s word moves us to pray timely truths and promises that we may otherwise overlook. Praying God’s word assures that we are not mindlessly saying prayers, but praying.

Many years ago, Pastor Harry Walls of Shades Mountain Independent Church, Birmingham, AL, taught me a beautiful way of praying Scripture. This is a summary of his teaching that I share with you.

Approach the Scripture with the below questions and statements to direct you. We’ll use Psalm 23 as our text for this post.

* What is God saying about God?
Per Psalm 23, God is Shepherd, Satisfier, Leader, Rest-giver, Restorer, Promise-keeper, Comforter, Conqueror, Protector, Victor, Pursuer. He provides resources for courage, confidence, and security. He is intimate, good, righteous, and merciful. He is home.

* What is God saying about me?
According to Psalm 23, deep down I am unsatisfied, needy, lost, confused, weary, fractured, lonely, afraid. I lack courage and confidence. I have enemies (spiritual and otherwise) who want to do me harm. I am exposed and unable to see things as they really are. On my own, I have no protection. Yet God loves me. God protects me. God pursues me with his goodness and mercy every single day of my life. God wants me.

* Talk to God about God.
Now take all that God has revealed about Himself and praise Him for it! Which apply most to your life right now? Now, hush. :-) And just “be” before Him. Allow who God is to be the warm blanket to your soul. Open yourself to what He wants you to know most about Him in the moment.

* Talk to God about me.
Take all that God has revealed about you and admit it to Him. Which most apply to your current situation(s)? Confess it fully before Him. Allow what He’s revealed about you to be covered and redeemed by what He’s revealed about Himself.

* What must I do (regarding what God said about God and about me)?
You can never leave an intimate time with God the same. Ever. Where must you repent? What promise can you claim? What truth helps your unbelief? Who must you apologize to? Forgive? What people do you need to stop fearing? And on and on.

The popular “A.C.T.S.” (Adoration. Confession. Thanksgiving. Supplication.) is also a great way to pray Scripture. Whatever you do, guard against approaching God with a prayer formula. Only let it be your guide to intimate communion with Him.

Is this helpful? Do you pray Scripture? Do you follow “A.C.T.S.”? What is your approach? How do you guard against prayer becoming formulaic?

I love you more….

November 5, 2014

FullSizeRenderA couple of months ago, within a span of two hours, Jubilee had a freakish three seizures. Christie and I were in separate cars when she experienced her second. I turned the corner onto the on-ramp to get on the highway. Christie had the van over on the curb with Marni frantically waving me down. Christie was in the grass on the other side of the guard rail and holding Jubilee in her arms as Jubilee seized. I fought fear. I held back tears. Finally, we got home. After getting direction from a doctor, we laid her down to rest. Unbelievably she seized again as I was walking out the door to preach our weekend services. I quickly hurried to get Jubilee the emergency rectal-shot of Valium to curb the seizure. Thank God it worked. Thank God. And thank God she recovered and has been doing well.IMG_2261

During the above, I asked myself out loud, “Did Christie and I sign up for this?” Yes. Yes. And yes. Not only did we sign up for it. We chose it. We chose our girls. We sacrificed for our girls. We wanted our girls. With all of the past trauma their little lives have experienced and the baggage it brings, they are our daughters… till death do we part. I love them. My God, how I love them. As I have told Marni before, I would cross the ocean again ten thousand times to make her and Jubilee mine. Every single night I tuck Marni and Jubilee into bed, I whisper “I am so glad I get to be your daddy. I love you,” Marni always smiles, pulls my hand close to her chest and whispers back, “Oh, Dada… I love you more.FullSizeRender-3

It’s adoption month. And I can’t help thinking how the world is one big orphanage. We are all orphans. And we are orphans with serious issues–regrets, pain, sin, and for some, seizures. Yet God crosses the oceans of space and time to come to us. Imperfect US! Broken US! Yet He signed up for this. More so, He chose this. He chose us. He sacrificed for us. He actually wanted us! This is what makes His adoption of us, and the adoption of our girls, so glorious. We feel the pleasure of God. We see the goodness of God. Adoption is the gospel.

I look at the cross and behold the truth that God would cross space and time ten thousand times to make us His own. In Christ, I hear Him whisper, “I’m so glad I get to be your Daddy. I love you.” Oh, Dada… I love you more.FullSizeRender

8“A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t,”stated an anonymous someone. I love that quote. And it ties nicely into this post.

In a previous post (go HERE), my hope was that you would commit to a daily morning ritual of making your heart happy in God. But what does it look like in your morning ritual to meet with God and make your heart happy in Him? Here are six musts:

* Commit the time. Let’s don’t be legalistic about this thing. Your devotional time can vary according to your commute and work hours, if you have young children, and the like. I argued for the morning in the previous post. But if you’re an evening person, it can apply the same. The important thing is you choose, plan, and commit to the time–whether 5:00am, noon, or 9:00pm. View it as a non-negotiable date, meeting, conversation with the Lord. You wouldn’t stand up your best friend, your spouse, or your dad, would you?

* Declare the place. Visualize right now where you will meet with the Lord. What room? What chair? In other words, declare a place as the place where you will daily meet with God in prayer and His Word. Jesus often chose a mountain side, a garden, and so forth. So there’s something to spending time with the Lord in nature. Ultimately, the point isn’t where you meet or when you meet, but that you meet with the Lord personally and alone in an isolated place (Mark 1:35). That place needs to be comfortable and serene readying you to meet with your God. When you read Scripture, you never read alone. God, the Holy Spirit, meets with you to converse, unveil, awaken, enlighten, convict, and encourage your soul.

* Choose your food. Have you ever felt starved and gone to the fridge or cabinets to scan the jars, boxes, and cans trying to figure out what to eat? It’s frustrating. So don’t approach Scripture like that. Don’t wait until your devotional time to scan the pages and decide what Scriptures you will feast on. Be prepared the day or night before. Even better, have a plan already in place. Right now, I am reading through the gospel of Matthew, one chapter a day. If I have time, I will also read a Psalm and Proverb that correlates with the day of the month (i.e., October 29 means I am reading Psalm 29 and/or Proverbs 29 that morning). Upon finishing the gospel of Matthew, I’ll switch to an Old Testament book.

* Ready your tools. Get the coffee cup out the night before and set it by the Keurig. Have the water vat filled to the rim and your k-cup ready to go. Have your journal, pen, and Bible ready and waiting for you in your chosen place of solitude. In the winter, if you’re big on making a fire as I am, have the newspaper, kenneling, and wood placed in the fireplace and ready to go with the strike of a match. In other words, remove every obstacle and time-stealer you can between you and the precious time of meeting with the Lord Jesus. And surely it goes without saying, but here’s a friendly reminder to turn your phone and laptop off.

* Savor don’t Surf.The most dangerous thing you can do leaving your solitude with the Lord is mark “Bible-reading and prayer” off your check-list with no sense of eternal perspective, no deeper wonder in God, and especially no take-away to apply to your life. You will get none of the above if you are simply trying to get your chapter read and prayer prayed so you can get to your email. Don’t surf Scripture. Savor it. As Tim Keller says, sometimes you’ll need to savor Scripture like hard candy. It’s weighty, so you can’t chew and swallow it too quickly. Other times the Scripture can be like a good chocolate. It’s soothing to the soul. So don’t gulp it down, enjoy it. Practially speaking, if you are on verse four in your planned reading of a chapter, and the verse grabs you, by all means STOP! God is speaking! Turn the verse and its truth over and again, like spiritual hard candy or sweet chocolate, to get all that you can from it. If that takes all your devotional time, so be it.

* Share your fruit. Share what you’ve learned with your spouse, kids, parent(s), best friend, small group, or believing co-workers. God is passionate about community. In community you should share what God is teaching you and revealing to you. With all the social media at your finger tips (that should not replace community, by the way), post a tweet or Facebook post, or send to an email group, what God is showing you and teaching you. This sears the truth into your heart, mind, and life.

What I didn’t cover in the above is prayer. That’s a given. But let’s take it a step further—praying Scripture. How do you do that, exactly? That’s the next post! Stay tuned.

Do you practice a daily ritual of meeting with God–morning or evening? Do share! And share how you approach your “devotional time” with God–where, when, how, and the like! I would love to learn more, as I’m sure the readers would. Share in my site’s comments section on this post. Thanks!