Stumbling Blocks

obstacles_webTake a minute to think about how you got to where you are right now. I don’t mean financially or in respect to your profession or family but right now physically as you read these words. I imagine you walked from somewhere to the seat you are sitting in now. Did you have to think about walking? How many times did you stumble or fall? Other than stubbing my toe on a chair once and a while or stepping on a stray piece of Lego in the dark of night while checking in on my kids I do pretty well.

Ezekiel talks about a different kind of stumbling that has a profound effect on our lives, in fact he calls them “wicked stumbling blocks”. He is talking about the things that hinder our relationship with God, these are the sins, the idols and the practices that we hold on to in our lives. The audience Ezekiel is speaking to are some of the elders of Israel, these are the men called to be leaders and examples to the people. These elders have built up in their hearts and lives idols that have hindered their relationship with the only one true God, their trust in God has been diverted to the things of the world. Overcoming the stumbling blocks in our faith and relationship with God constitutes an authentic change of heart, a genuine repentance for the sins in our lives.

God hears our prayers; He waits for us to come Him knowing that we can’t do life on our own. I often think about the stumbling blocks in my own life that hindering my relationship with God, has the open line of communication with God through prayer become a little clouded or blocked by the idols I hold onto in life? I may be quick to judge the hindrances I see in others people lives but I have to continually examine my own life for those same things. We may have a good handle on physically walking around the things that might make us stumble but can we say the same thing for our spiritual lives?

God’s Timing and Prayer

old-clockWe all need reminders of things from time to time; this has been proven over and over throughout history. Peter writes to the believers of his time to encourage them as they face opposition and false teaching both inside the church and in their community. Peter’s encouragement for them was a reminder of what the Lord had done for them in the past; chapter 2 recounts many of the events throughout the history of their people.

As I reflect on the role of prayer in my own life and in the lives of others I was mainly drawn to the words of chapter 3:8-9,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promises, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

I know that Peter is talking about the coming day of the Lord in this passage; I find encouragement in these words when I consider them in respect to my prayer life. Often I pray for something and wait (sometime patiently and other times not so much) for God to answer my request. These verses remind me that we (God and I) work on a different timeline; He does promise to give us what we ask for (in His time and His way). As we grow in our relationship with God we can begin to understand how He can use this time to strengthen our faith. As hard as it is to appreciate I think that “unanswered” prayer prompt us to dig deeper into our faith and be patient in waiting just as He is with us.

This verse talks about His promises, not just that Christ will come back one day but He also promises to be with us here and now. The key to any great relationship is communication, time in prayer with God, spending time in the word are the ways we have to build and grow in our relationship with Him.

Sober and Alert

1_Peter_Title“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming”(1Peter 1:13). Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray” (1Peter 4:7). “Be alert and of sober mind” (1Peter 5:8). Alert and sober, two words used in the NIV translation that offer insight to an appropriate state of mind as we come to the Lord in prayer. Other translations use words like vigilant, disciplined, watchful and self-control, each of these words help shape our relationship with God.

When we think of the word sober it is often used in context to contrast the  the lack of self-control and over indulgence of alcohol, an unfortunate state that often numbs the senses and makes one careless and unaware of their actions. There are many things today that can pull us away from that alert and sober state of being that Peter writes about. Things like power, prestige, love/lust and even technology, all these things can distract or diminish our faith allowing us to fall away from God. Peter writes in chapter 4:7 that “The end of all things is near”, He is warning us to be in the right place with God so that we may pray and be ready to be in His presence.

When we set our hope and trust on the grace given to us through Christ Jesus we have an open line of communication to our creator who gives us when we humbly ask the ability to maintain a lifestyle of self control and reverence for Him. The key to staying “sober” is remaining vigilant and disciplined when it comes to our time in prayer with God. Taking time to remove ourselves from the distractions of life (Mat 6:6) will help us know our God more fully and help us live out a life that is pleasing to Him.

Blessings and Smiles

smileWe have all heard it, many of us could recite it, and I wonder how many could find it in the Bible? Hidden in the book of Numbers among the many instructions, directions and countless reminders of how God’s people failed to listen we run into a short poetic prayer that spells out a blessing that covers the whole nation of Israel.

 24 “‘“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”’

I have to admit that when I was growing up and still today as the preacher reads these words as a benediction instead of reverently bowing my head and listening to the words I have my eyes wide open looking up towards the heavens in expectation that I will get a glimpse of that light that is shining down on me. These words to me were an open invitation to experience the blessing of a pure and holy relationship with my Heavenly Father. This blessing spoken by Aaron in his time was to communicate the Lords love and commitment to His people.

This prayer and many others like it is the line of communication that helps us as believers to know the Lord and strengthens our personal relationship with him. Spoken through His appointed people these words encourage and ignite a passion that comes when we truly believe in Him. When I study these words I gain a sense of closeness with my God, He is not standing at a distance or behind a wall, He wants to be right here with me face to face. One bible translation replaces the word shine with smile; can you imagine that smile of our great and mighty God stretching as far as the eye can see? I can and it makes me want to smile. Thank you Father for your goodness to your people.

Prayer & Thanks

sermon_desertAs I read through many of the Old Testament books in the bible I often struggle with the dynamics of the relationship between God and His people. Let me try and explain.

It is hard for me to relate to the life and experience of the Israelite people as they wandered in the desert having to make sacrifices and offerings (burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings) for forgiveness when they had broken their covenant with God. As a believer today I have an open line of communication with God through prayer, through the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross I have privilege of coming before God through Christ to ask for forgiveness. I often wonder how my faith would have been different if I was wandering with the Israelites through the desert.

Reading through the book of Numbers gives us a glimpse into the life and actions of the people and it’s leaders. On behalf of the people Moses talked with God, he prayed for deliverance from afflictions and destruction when they all had sinned and turned their backs on God. In the face of difficulty and opposition we have a leader who stood strong and humbly went before the Lord on their behalf. As leaders today we have the privilege of praying for others. So far, it has been my experience that most people no matter their maturity in faith or understanding of grace and mercy continue to look to their leaders for prayer and direction. As a leader this becomes a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Like Moses we can be leaders who pray for God’s people and in light of the cross we have the opportunity to encourage them to pursue a personal relationship with Him. I am thankful for a loving, gracious and merciful God who sacrificed His Son so that we could have a relationship with Him.

Three Times a Day… Not just for Meals!

christian_prayerMany things changed for Daniel over his lifetime, there were major shifts in power from one King to another, He was taken from his family to serve in the palace, his life was threatened and yet there was one thing that never seemed to change. As we read through the book of Daniel we can not only find Daniel turning to God when he need help, but chapter 6:10 tells us that “three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before”. For Daniel, praying three times a day was a part of who he was.

Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9 reveals a passion and purpose that should help us understand how we are to humbly come before our God confessing our sins, asking for forgiveness and giving praise to Him. Daniel “turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes”. Have you ever pleaded with God in pray and petition? We may never have donned sackcloth and covered ourselves with ashes as Daniel did but his example calls us to put aside all the distractions and things of life to be on our knees in front of our Heavenly Father.

Three times a day, most likely morning, noon and evening Daniel prayed to God, praising Him, confessing his sins, seeking wisdom and guidance as he was a leader and example to many. As vocational ministry leaders I believe we are called to be like Daniel, we must be set into a life that is centered around prayer. For many of us prayer is often the result or response to something that has happened, and that is OK. I am sure Daniel did the same thing as he worked through his day as things came up. It is his example and devotion to those personal times of prayer that should inspire us. Daniel spent time in his “upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem”; Matthew 6:6 commands us the same thing “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen”. There is never a time when God is too busy to listen, it is the busyness of life that draws us away from the practice of prayer.