God Gave…


For God So Loved the World
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.


John 3:16 English Standard Version (ESV)
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From the very beginning, God has been a giver of good gifts.  He created a beautiful world, teeming with life and joy.  He gave mankind dominion over this beautiful creation, and even when we rebelled and fell short of our calling, God gave us promises of restoration and renewal.  He gave His words and demonstrations of His character and goodness as He interacted with His chosen people.  He took a childless man and promised to make him the father of many nations.  He took His people through the wilderness and provided for their every need– from their heads to their sandal-shod toes.

God’s greatest gift was himself– and He gave everything He had to give.

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14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.


John 1:14 New International Version (NIV)


In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8
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Many of us are celebrating Thanksgiving today– but there is great reason to give thanks every day for this indescribable gift!

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Thanksgiving is so much more than turkey dinners or football on TV or shopping.  It is a lifestyle and an attitude that recognizes the God who gives lavishly, lovingly, eternally, and to the very last measure.

God Created…


For the Beauty of the Earth
The United Methodist Hymnal Number 092
Text: Folliot S. Pierpoint 
Music: Conrad Kocher; Arr. by W.H. Monk 
Tune: DIX, Meter: 77.77.77

1. For the beauty of the earth, 
for the glory of the skies, 
for the love which from our birth 
over and around us lies; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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2. For the beauty of each hour 
of the day and of the night, 
hill and vale, and tree and flower, 
sun and moon, and stars of light; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 




3. For the joy of ear and eye, 
for the heart and mind’s delight, 
for the mystic harmony, 
linking sense to sound and sight; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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4. For the joy of human love, 
brother, sister, parent, child, 
friends on earth and friends above, 
for all gentle thoughts and mild; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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5. For thy church, that evermore 
lifteth holy hands above, 
offering up on every shore 
her pure sacrifice of love; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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6. For thyself, best Gift Divine, 
to the world so freely given, 
for that great, great love of thine, 
peace on earth, and joy in heaven: 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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This week, may we raise hymns of grateful praise to the creator of all the beauty of the earth.

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all tings were created by him and for him. 

Colossians 1:16


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

St. John 1:1-5 (ESV)

The Seven-Layer Prayer

Growing up, I loved going to pot-luck meals at our little country church.  Neighbors, family, and friends would bring large dishes of home-cooked deliciousness for all to feast on as we chatted, laughed, and encouraged one another.  There were certain dishes we all could count on–homemade yeast rolls, courtesy of Lulu M.  Jello with fruit was my mom’s standard.  Another lady almost always brought meat loaf.  Baked beans, candied carrots, fried chicken, chocolate cake, scalloped potatoes– my mouth still waters just from the memories!  The wonderful woman who has since become my mother-in-law brought her famous cookies, and often, a seven-layer salad.

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I love Mom’s seven layer salad, and I have learned to make my own variation.  It’s easy, it’s delicious, it’s healthful, and it travels well.  I’ve seen other recipes that use different vegetables, don’t use eggs or meat or mayo–I’m sure they’re ok, but I’m happy to stick with the basic outline that follows below.

I was thinking about the seven-layer salad the other day– it’s a wonderful dish for this time of year– chilled and utilizing fresh produce, and I realized that you can use a similar “recipe” for prayer.  So here’s my modified “Seven-Layer Prayer” recipe:

 

  • First, start with a layer of “Let Us”
    • Prayer doesn’t happen without an act of the will.  We must be deliberate about setting aside time and thought for prayer every day.  We should “leaf” the busyness and chaos of the day and “romaine” in fellowship with the Father!

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  • Next, add a layer of “Care”-rots (shredded).
    • 1 Peter 5:7 New King James Version (NKJV)
      casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
    • Give your worries and cares over to the One who cares most about you and all those you love.
  • Now you can add the “Peas” that passes all understanding
    • Trust that God hears and answers prayer.
    • Trust that God is in control.
    • Trust that God is Good, Wise, and Loving.
    • Rest in the knowledge that “God’s Got This!”

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  • Here’s where I like to add some “Meet” (usually bacon!, sometimes ham or chicken)
    • While it’s vital that we spend time in personal, private prayer, God also wants us to meet regularly with others for fellowship, mutual encouragement, accountability, PRAYER, and guidance.
  • Now it gets a little dicey–diced onion (sometimes I substitute green onions or sliced or diced mushrooms)
    • Time to peel back the layers, and cut through to the root of anything that is getting in the way of a closer walk with God–confess it and give it over to Him.
    • Sometimes, this process may cause tears, or involve a little dirt– clean it up before you proceed!
  • Time for some dressing– mayonnaise or salad dressing.  Annoint your salad, and your prayer, with oil.  Remember, God has annointed you to spread His love and grace to others.  Don’t forget to add this to your prayer life.  Just as the dressing will coat all the elements of the salad, so God’s Spirit will surround and influence your words and actions done for Him!
  • “Cheese!”  It’s a “gouda” idea to round out prayer with a time of joyful thanksgiving.  Pile it on– God’s given us a LOT for which to be “grate”-ful!

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  • Finally, the garnish– Hard-boiled eggs.  These remind me of the new life we have in Christ, the Triune nature of God (we used to have lessons in Sunday School about the egg having three parts but being a single egg.  We don’t use the shell in the salad, of course, but you can’t make a boiled egg without all three parts…), and also, the yolk reminds me of Heaven’s streets of gold.  In prayer, we should remember God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promises, and the hope we have in Him.

That’s the basic recipe for a seven layer salad– enough of each ingredient for a healthy “layer”.  I’ve added extra layers a couple of times–diced tomatoes or peppers are good if you are planning to eat the salad quickly, but they will cause sogginess  if you let the salad sit.  (Also, if you use peas, use fresh if you can– drain canned peas, or get rid of any ice crystals if using frozen peas. )

watering plants with a watering can
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A good seven-layer prayer should also be presented fresh, and savored.  It’s delicious, it’s good for you, it feeds others, and it travels well!  Try some!

Looking Back

In my pursuit of prayer, I have found it helpful to keep a Prayer Journal.  One of the reasons is that I can look back and see what prayer concerns and issues I prayed for weeks, months, or even years ago.  I also save space in my journal to go back and fill in how God answered those requests, or what the progress has been in those areas of concern.  see also: Proactive Prayer Points

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The Bible warns us to be very careful about looking back…the most famous example is the tragedy of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19).  In looking back, she lost her chance to rebuild a life after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and was turned into a pillar of salt.  In the book of Exodus, the newly freed Israelites grumbled about their circumstances and looked back with fondness on their lives in Egypt, forgetting their oppression in their homesickness for certain foods (Exodus 16).  Spending too much time and energy on the past leaves us with little motivation and energy for the present or future.  The past should never become more important to us than moving forward.  If we long for the past, if we romanticize it or cling to it, fearing the changes and opportunities to come, we can stagnate, and miss the blessings playing out right before our eyes.

But we should take some time periodically to look back in order to gain perspective.  The same Children of Israel who grumbled about leaving Egypt, once they arrived in the Promised Land, were commanded to remember their wandering in the wilderness, and told to teach their children about the past (Deuteronomy 8).  Holidays and religious rites were instituted as reminders of the past.  But this kind of looking back gives us renewed encouragement, incentive, and momentum to keep going by showing us how far we’ve come, and reminding us of God’s faithfulness.

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I am especially encouraged when I see how God has answered prayer–so often, I’ve forgotten about trials and struggles that have come my way–issues that seemed huge in the moment, but in hindsight look insignificant.  Sometimes, God’s answers were immediate and breath-taking.  Sometimes, they were subtle and were revealed in several stages.  Sometimes, the answers revealed how God was working beyond anything I imagined!  Often, the requests reveal how I have grown (or not!) to trust him more or to listen better to those around me.

And, just like that, I have material to add to today’s prayers– gratitude for prayers answered, hope for new growth, praise for God’s faithfulness, and confession for times I have doubted or looked back in envy or regret.

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In Everything Give Thanks

So many times my prayers do not reflect a grateful heart, but a needy one.  Giving thanks is easy in those miraculous moments, and those special times of reflection and rejoicing.  It is not so easy during times of stress, suffering, and waiting.

God blesses those who are “poor in spirit”; he is close to the broken-hearted, the weary, and the afflicted.  Yet he asks us to give thanks always and in all circumstances.  Many people see this as unreasonable, egotistical, and tyrannical on the part of God– that somehow, he needs our constant and abject praise.  But what if this command is for OUR benefit?

IN everything– Not for everything.  We don’t thank God FOR the death of a loved one, or the loss of a home, or an injustice done to us.  But we can and should thank God for being sovereign throughout all the circumstances of life; for conquering death, for providing help and hope in our times of need; for promising both justice when we have been wronged, and grace when we have been unjust in our turn. There is never a time when we CANNOT be thankful–though there are many times when it is difficult, or when we choose not look beyond our pain.
EVERYTHING–Not just the “big” things– everything.  We can be thankful for teeth, for dishes to wash, for traffic, for the way the moon hangs in the misty darkness, for a puppy’s eager greeting, for finally understanding our math homework, for the memory of a loved one, for the song that keeps playing in our head.  Sometimes it’s not the actual thing, but what it represents that causes gratitude to well up and turn our hearts back to God.  If we wait for “something to be thankful for”, we’ll often miss those things right in front of us.
GIVE– Giving thanks is an action, not just a reaction.  It is a choice; a mindset.  We learn to say “Thank you” as children.  Our parents pound it into our training as “etiquette” or “manners”, but everyone can tell when a thank you is genuine.  Saying “Thanks” is not  the same as giving Thanks.  Actions speak much louder than mere words, and our choices in the moment are a reflection of our true character and not just “good training.”

THANKS– not just the word, but the concept.  Even in my neediest moments, as I pour out a suffering, exhausted, wounded, and broken heart, I do so because I have a God who is THERE– a God who listens, who cares, who never leaves me alone and hopeless.  I may feel overwhelmed, abandoned, even battered in those moments.  But those awful moments do not define my life, nor do they characterize my walk with God.

This morning, I woke up–a small and underappreciated miracle– I am alive!  I opened my eyes– I can see!  I looked up and saw a roof over my head–I have shelter!  I turned over and got out of bed– I can move!  I have a bed, mattress, pillows, sheets…a bedroom!  I brushed my teeth and washed my face– running water!  Teeth!  A toothbrush!  A  wash cloth! Skin!  A bathroom–indoor plumbing!   I saw a stack of bills on the table– I have electricity! Heat and air conditioning!  A table!  Money to pay bills!…I’m writing this on a computer with wireless internet in my apartment!  All these things are precious gifts from God.  I can be grateful, and give Him the thanks He deserves, or I can choose to ignore the blessings, or take the credit myself.

And what if I wake up tomorrow and I can’t see?  What if my blessings all disappear– no house, no running water, no food or internet; no money, no family?  Giving thanks is still a choice.  I can choose to be thankful for who God is, and for what he has chosen to give me– or I can choose to be angry and envious and bitter.  Some of the most grateful people I have ever met are those who have struggled with difficult circumstances– poverty, pain, loss, injustice–and yet they have chosen to look beyond those circumstances to give praise to God.  Some of the most miserable people I’ve met are those who choose to look at their blessings with contempt; those who deny God’s goodness and choose to see only what they want but don’t have.

Our community experienced flooding recently– some people were inconvenienced by roads washed out or events cancelled.  Others experienced leaky roofs, flooded basements, or soggy yards and drives.  A few lost their homes and cars, or businesses.  In all of this, we’ve seen much to make us sad, scared, and frustrated.  But there is also much for which to be grateful– a caring and generous community willing to pull together to help our neighbors– clothing donated, homes opened up, meals provided, and people rescued.  We don’t ignore the loss and hurt, but we are strengthened in hope when we look up and over the waters to see that God is still in control of our future, and that he is with us in our present struggles.

And in everything, we will give thanks.  And I’m so grateful that we can offer prayers of praise, of petition, of pain; prayers for people and places and priorities; prayers in the flood, in the cleanup, and in the rebuilding.

 

 

What? A Privilege?!

“What a Friend we have in Jesus,  all our sins and griefs to bear!  What a privilege to carry everything to God in Prayer!”

The word “privilege” has taken a beating lately.  A privilege used to be considered a good thing.  Merriam-Webster defines it as, “a right or immunity granted as a particular benefit, advantage, or favor.”  A privilege is granted–given as the prerogative of someone in power or authority– to someone else.  It may be given as a reward, or granted for a limited time and under certain conditions.  But a true privilege is a gift–you can’t make your own privilege, and you cannot own or control a privilege– the terms are set by the giver, not the receiver.

In the past generation, the word “privilege” has become charged with political and societal connotations.  Those connotations, and the issues surrounding them, are worthy of discussion and could fill volumes, but I want to talk about a privilege that should be free of undertones and dubious meanings.

Prayer is a pursuit, and a practice.  It is personal, practical, and powerful.  But it is also a privilege.  Often one that we take for granted.

In pursuing prayer, we are not just developing a personal routine or discipline.  We are not just approaching a powerful supernatural entity.  We are fallen creation entering the presence of a Holy Creator; we are rebels entering the throne room of the King of Kings.

We have the right to approach God; to talk to, converse with, ask favors of, plead with, confess to, and expect answers from the One who creates galaxies with a single spoken word, and designs every unique flake of snow.  This same God grants us the right to draw breath, to experience both beauty and wonder, to question and to create.

Prayer in ancient times was almost universally accompanied by sacrifices, and surrounded with ritual– incense, bowing and prostrating oneself, covering or uncovering the head–in recognition of the horrible chasm, the great separation between God and mankind.  Many traditions still use ritual for prayer, and there is nothing wrong in this reminder of God’s Holiness and Sovereignty.  Yet God talks of prayer in intimate terms.  He didn’t impose ritual and sacrifice for his benefit, but for ours.  Several times throughout the Bible, he makes clear that he does not require the blood of bulls and goats–what he wants most is a humble and pure heart.  At the moment Jesus died, the great veil in the Temple was ripped in half from top to bottom–the most holy place laid open to all who might come into God’s presence.  Christ’s death and resurrection were not just means of saving us from Hell, but the means of bringing restoration of the intimacy God designed from the beginning.  God– Almighty, Omnipotent, and completely Holy–wants to give us the privilege to enter his presence and pour out our thoughts, feelings, burdens, and triumphs; to share intimacy with HIM.  We are not just objects of his care (or his wrath), not just creatures in whom he has a certain fond but distant interest.  We are recipients of lavish love and priceless privileges– forgiveness, power over sin, power to become more Christlike, restoration and renewal, and yes,  the pursuit of  prayer.

The Lost Art of Saying Grace

“God is great, God is Good…”
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest…”
“For what we are about to receive…”
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts…”

Saying grace at the family dinner table used to be a tradition.  So much so, that it has been made fun of several times in the movies and on television.  Some families recited a favorite prayer; others selected a family member to do the honors.  Some families held hands; some closed their eyes; some stood.  But NOBODY touched their plate until the Amen.

Grace has fallen out of favor in recent years.  Some families still practice it for the holidays or special occasions, but many of us have lost the art of saying grace.  In fact, many of us no longer have a family dinner table.  Some of us eat, sleep, and live alone; others share a house, but rarely a meal, and never a grace.  I would like to think that many of us WOULD say grace more often if  we made time and effort for it, but many others actually hold grace in contempt, calling it old-fashioned; a senseless ritual, or a meaningless tradition.

I want to look a little more closely at grace– how and why we say it, and what it means (or should mean) as part of our daily walk with God.  Calling grace a meaningless tradition may sound harsh, but it may also be a valid criticism.  If “Come, Lord Jesus…” could be replaced with “Gentlemen, start your engines…”, then it might be time to rethink the entire practice.  Similarly, if we dust off grace, only to say it for company, or to show that we still acknowledge tradition and have “good manners”, we’re missing the point.  Grace should be more than just a moment to bow our heads, say a few familiar words, and dig in…grace has become laughable and spoof-able precisely because it has become senseless, formulaic, awkward, and grudging.

I read a tragic statement by someone who asserted that saying grace is actually “graceless”– tactless and inane.  The writer suggested that when we thank God for food, we are really thanking him for feeding us, and choosing to bless us, as he allows others to starve– that saying grace makes us feel more special/less guilty in light of social and economic inequities, which he blithely allows.  In other words, saying grace, in this person’s opinion, makes us arrogant and apathetic to the condition of others, while giving an unjust God undeserved thanks.

I would posit that it should be just the opposite.  I suppose there are many who pray with the arrogant mindset suggested above, but their mindsets and their hearts are not mine to judge.  True grace is not about the recipient of the grace, or the other potential recipients of grace, but about the giver–God– and his worthiness to receive our sincere thanks.  If I believe that God is indeed unjust, then it makes little sense to feel “blessed” or “special” at all– an unjust God is also a capricious  and unreasonable God who is not likely to be impressed or swayed by my smug “thank you,” anyway.  So not praying doesn’t make me any less arrogant or apathetic toward others, nor does it move me to be more grateful or more generous than one who prays.  It merely passes the blame for all injustice to God, leaving me off the hook, and making me feel more just than God.

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However, if God is loving and gracious, promising perfect justice in his time, and forgiveness to those who seek him; a God who promises to be close to the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and who are broken and contrite; I am not thanking him for who I am, for what I have, or for what I think he should do.  I am thanking him for who he is and for what he has chosen to give.  And in thanking him for the very things I would take for granted,  I am reminded that blessings are not given for me to boast about or hoard, but to share with others.  That’s what saying grace SHOULD do–cause us to reflect on God’s goodness, and our call to share it with a needy world.

Grace is also an invitation– asking God to be part of every moment of our day, rather than just on Sunday or during a special devotional quiet time.  According to his Word, he’s always present, anyway.  But grace is a way of acknowledging and welcoming that presence.  And that invitation isn’t limited to Thanksgiving or Sunday dinner with the whole gang.  That invitation can be made anywhere, by anyone, at any meal (or snack, or midnight raid on the fridge!)

Is God welcome at our dinner table?  Does he share in our drive-thru breakfast, or our trip to the deli?  Do we allow him to join us at the restaurant, where others might overhear and find us quaint and old-fashioned?  Does he sit with us in front of the TV or computer as we absent-mindedly munch on a sandwich?  Grace isn’t about our goodness, our riches, or worthiness to enjoy God’s blessings.  Grace is about a gracious God who has poured out blessings on a graceless and fallen world; a God who loves us all equally and offers to give us something more precious than food– freedom, forgiveness, and family–forevermore.

“God IS great; God IS good; Now we thank him for our food.”
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest; let this food to us be BLESSED”
“For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us TRULY grateful.”
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, THY gifts, which we are about to receive from THY bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

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