How Much Is That Doggie In the Window?

How much is that doggie in the window?
The one with the “waggly” tail…
How much is that doggie in the window?
I do hope that doggie’s for sale!

Two songs about puppies–how could that possibly relate to a life of pursuing prayer? Well, I’m going out on a limb, but let me try to connect the dots.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple”

Luke 14:26-33

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:33-34 (NIV)

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

James 1:22-25 (NKJV)

Children love puppies. Most children have expressed desires similar to the ones in both of the songs above. They wish and dream and beg for a pet to love; a furry “best buddy” to play with and befriend. There is a longing deep in our hearts for someone to understand; someone who is always ready to greet us with unconditional love and companionship. And sometimes, we have a tendency to take this desire–this wish– and see in our relationship with Christ its fulfillment. Christ is the our “forever” friend; someone we can talk to; someone who will share our burdens, and walk along with us “most everywhere.” This is not “wrong.” But Jesus warned His listeners that becoming a disciple would involve more than just dreams, wishes, and good feelings.

Following Christ comes with a cost– we cannot just wish for God’s presence when it is convenient and jolly, and escape or turn our backs when our Christian Walk involves sacrifice or hardship. Jesus is not just our Friend; He is our Lord! We need to be ready to let go of anything that would hinder our relationship with Him; we need to be willing to risk and even lose things we love in the pursuit of the One we Love Best. After all, Jesus gave up everything– including His Life– to make our relationship and reconciliation possible.

Jesus challenged His followers to “count the cost” of their discipleship. It’s more than just wanting a “fuzzy feeling” of belonging and listening to the Wisdom of God. It’s committing to a life of growth, work, and submission to His Will and His Purposes. A child may want a puppy, but may not be mature or responsible enough to care for it. We may want a relationship with Christ, but we need to measure our willingness to do His Will and make changes and sacrifices.

The Christian Walk is far more than just “dreams and wishes.” It is more than just asking about the initial price– because that is far beyond what we could ever pay! Redemption and Eternal Life are beyond any price. But they are also free! The cost of our Salvation has already been paid. The cost of our sanctification– our growth and maturity– is what we need to consider as we walk forward.

And the joy we will experience on this journey is greater than the joy of having a puppy–greater than the fulfillment of all our dreams and wishes–it is nothing less than the Glory of Eternity in the Presence of the One who truly loves us perfectly and unconditionally! That is worth the pursuit. That is worth EVERYTHING.

Blessed Are the Meek

I’ve been looking at the Beatitudes lately, and how they relate to prayer. Today I am focusing on “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) Does this verse suggest that we should be meek or timid about prayer? Is God offended when we plead with Him or pour out our frustrations about pain or injustice? Doesn’t this contradict the writer of Hebrews, who says that we should “boldly approach the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16)?

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God invites us to have a relationship with Him. Good relationships cannot survive in an atmosphere of fear. But they must involve respect. There is a tendency in the Church today to look at prayer as a casual conversation with God, where God is our “pal,” someone we hang out with and chat with like a best friend. But even our close relationship with God as “Father” demands the same kind of respect we should give to an earthly father or an elder. God is not “one of the gang,” or “the man upstairs.” He is God Almighty, and Lord of All Creation.

Like any Good Father, God wants to hear from us– all that is on our minds and hearts. But we must remember who God is– and who we are. We are His children, not His “crew.” In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus began by addressing His Father, and establishing His place– “Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name.” (Matthew 6:9 or Luke 11:2) The meek person comes before God gladly, with awe and gratitude, eager to honor Him before all else.

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And the second part of the Beatitude is also key in how we pray. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Many times, we focus on the inheritance itself– “the earth.” But what about the act of inheriting? The meek will not conquer the earth. The meek will not purchase the earth. The meek will not gain the earth, or win it, or demand it. Instead, the meek wait patiently for their inheritance. How would our prayers change if we took this to heart? God will give us all that we require– in His time, in His wisdom, for His purpose, and with His delight! The whole earth belongs to God– and He desires to share it with us! There is never a reason NOT to be meek, humble, grateful, or reverent before our Father. There is never a reason to be demanding, rude, dismissive, or grumbling when we pray.

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This can be a very freeing realization. No matter how chaotic, frightening, or painful our situation, God IS in control. Wars rage, disease stalks, famine strikes, yet God has promised to give us access to all of His riches, including a peace that passes understanding and unspeakable joy! They are a guaranteed inheritance from our great Father– His lavish Grace and everlasting Love poured out on us.

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Lord, Lord!

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Matthew 7:21-23
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In just the past three weeks, three of my family members and one of my friends have made the decision to be baptized as a public declaration of their decision to live for Christ. All of them (and the others who were baptized at the same times) were baptized by immersion, signifying that they have, spiritually, died to self, been buried, and are raised with Christ to eternal life. This is not a step to be taken lightly, and I have confidence that all four (and more) of those I know are serious in their passion to follow the Lord.

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When I write about prayer as a pursuit, I hope to convey that prayer is part of a larger pursuit of seeking God. And seeking God must include acknowledging Him as Lord above all– especially self. Jesus warned about people who claim to follow Him in word, but do not obey Him. It is, unfortunately, very easy to “speak Christian-ese”: to sound righteous and reverent when we are around others who claim to believe, but justify behaviors that may or may not stem from selfish motives.

There are obvious examples of hypocrisy in our world, but in His famous “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus warns that many who seem to be doing good deeds, and “talking the talk” will not be part of God’s eternal kingdom. We are not to be seduced into thinking that God will be impressed by charitable giving, memorizing Scripture, or working on the Mission field if we are not willing to repent of our “secret” sins and false attitudes. And it is not for us to point fingers at “other” hypocrites– it is for us to humbly assess whether or not we are truly acting in obedience and submission to our Lord, or satisfying our own selfish desires and hoping for God’s stamp of approval.

Prayer should be a two-way communication. We pray to God, but we also listen for God’s guidance, wisdom, conviction, and encouragement. And we must act in obedience, and confess our disobedience if we want to “keep the slate clean” and keep a close relationship. When we refuse, we are just giving God lip service, and using His name to impress others and deceive ourselves. Others may judge us on appearances, but God sees what is in our heart. And “in that day” (v. 22), He will not let imposters through the gates of Heaven.

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The Good News is that Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging in verse 23. He goes on to say, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock..” (Matthew 7:24) Jesus is our Lord, but also our Savior and our Advocate. When we call on Him AS our true Lord, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9), and His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3a)

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The act of Baptism alone does not have the power to save us. The practice of prayer alone has no saving power. But the pursuit of a relationship with Christ depends on such acts of obedience, humility, and trust. And the other good deeds that come from that relationship will not only help others, but will please God and strengthen that relationship. Instead of hearing, “I never knew you,” we can hear, “well done!” Not because of what we’ve done, but because of the partnership we’ve developed in God’s work.

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May God bless all those who have recently taken the step of Baptism. And may we all continue to pursue that relationship of dying to self, being buried with Him, and rising to new life in Christ!

Shibboleth

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matthew 7:15 KJV)
Behold, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves; be wary and wise as serpents, and be innocent (harmless, guileless, and without falsity) as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:1-6 NKJV)

(All Bible references, including emphases, via biblegateway.com)

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Hucksters, charlatans, con-artists, false prophets– we’ve all seen or heard them. Some are easy to spot; while others seem sincere. They “talk the talk”–they “Praise the Lord,” they pray, they quote scripture. How can we tell if they are “wolves in sheep’s clothing?”

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In the Old Testament book of Judges, two tribal groups had a battle. Afterwards, the victors set up a “test” for soldiers trying to cross the Jordan River. The Ephraimites spoke a dialect that did not contain the “sh” sound. When asked to say the word, Shibboleth, they could not pronounce it correctly, and so were unable to hide their identity as enemy soldiers, even though they looked just like the others waiting to cross.

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There is an old Irish prayer that says, “May those who love us, love us; and those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping.” God doesn’t always “turn their ankles,” but He will give us the wisdom to discern false prophets– If we ask and listen. Even those who “talk the talk” will speak with a worldly “accent” that gives them away. They will fail the test of “Shibboleth.” Their talk will be filled with spiritual-sounding words and phrases, but it will deflect honor away from the only One truly worthy of our worship. Their teaching is described in 2 Timothy as “having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Timothy 3:5 NIV) Beware of teaching that proclaims the power of the Human Spirit over that of God’s Spirit; or speaks of God’s power being demonstrated only in terms of worldly success. They may not “limp,” but they will “lisp.”

When the Gileadites used the “Shibboleth” test, they were looking for a specific mistake in pronunciation to identify their enemies. When we are testing Christian teachers, we should also look for specific “mis-pronouncements.” And just as important, we should look for words that don’t match actions and attitudes. For example, anyone who wants to call themselves a Christian or Christ-follower, but won’t proclaim Jesus Christ– His ministry, life, death, and resurrection– should be suspect. Many people want to proclaim a Jesus who will appeal to the masses– a Jesus who will be your pal, your guru, your cheerleader, or your “life coach,” but NOT your Lord. Others will present Him as a Savior who is distant, whose love is conditional on abject obedience and blind trust. Neither of these are accurate pictures of the biblical Jesus Christ. We must also beware the teachers who present a Jesus whose lifestyle is nothing like the one they practice. None of us is perfect, but we should be living a life that testifies to God’s faithfulness, not our own popularity or power or purse.

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The best way to learn to detect imposters and false teachers is to spend time each day with “the real thing.” When I spend time reading scripture each day, it become easier for me to detect a “lisp” when someone misquotes it or takes it out of context. When I spend time asking God to reveal more of his character, I will learn to spot His character (or absence!) in those around me.

Father, may I have ears to discern Your voice and Your power today. May I be wise as I listen to those who speak of You. And may I not say, do, or write anything that doesn’t reflect Your Truth and Your Glory. Thank You for Your wise counsel, Your examples throughout Scripture and in those who desire to follow You faithfully, and for Your Spirit, who reveals Truth.

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