Tuesday, April 30- Daily Bible Verse

Luke 17:3b-6 ‘If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying’ I repent, ‘you must forgive them.’ The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’  He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree,’ Be uprooted and planted in the sea, ‘and it will obey you.

Tuesday, April 30- Mustard Seed Faith

     Remember when you were little? All you wanted to be…ALL you wanted to be…was…wait for it…BIG! Am I right? When I was 5, all I wanted to be was 6. When I was 12, I wanted to be 13. When I was 19, I wanted to be 20. It’s human nature.
     But somewhere along the way – and I can’t really pinpoint WHEN that is, just THAT it is – that whole way of thinking begins to do a 180. Now, as that great theologian Amy Grant said, it takes a little time, sometimes, to turn the Titanic around. While the 180 doesn’t happen overnight, slowly you begin to less and less want big and more and more want little. We remember with a certain skewed fondness how awesome it was to be a kid. Suddenly, little doesn’t seem so bad.
     Today’s Scripture leans that same direction. Jesus helps us re-imagine the power of “little”.
      
Luke 17:3b-6 ‘If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying’ I repent, ‘you must forgive them.’ The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree,’ Be uprooted and planted in the sea, ‘and it will obey you.
     This one is hard. OK…this one is nearly impossible! First, Jesus tells us that if someone sins against us and repents, we are to…what?!…forgive them! Ouch! That SOUNDS great, but when the rubber meets the road, that is REALLY hard! Then He says that, even if they sin against us SEVEN TIMES in the same day, we are supposed to forgive them EVERY TIME! Come on, Jesus! Really? The apostles feel the same way, because their immediate response is, “Lord HELP us!” (Or words to that effect!)
     But you have to love Jesus’ response to the whole thing. He tells them…and us…how things are. They respond in predictable human ways. In true Muhammad Ali fashion, He has set them up with His classic “rope a dope”, and now He comes in with the haymaker that is going to close the deal!
     In response to their request for more faith, Jesus offers them perspective. “You don’t NEED more faith. In fact, if you only had a LITTLE faith, it would be enough to do miraculous things!” Did you notice that He used the analogy of a mustard seed? Guess what the smallest thing folks in the Ancient Near Eastern world could imagine? Yep, you guessed it- a mustard seed! We have the luxury of magnification and super-magnification, which means we understand (at least at some level) subatomic particles. But the folks Jesus was talking to knew nothing smaller than a mustard seed. So, in our terms, Jesus tells them that with faith only as big as a quark (one of the smallest things we know of), they could do amazing things in His name.
     Do you ever feel that you need to have “more religion” before you can actually serve God by serving others? In today’s Scripture, Jesus helps us understand that it’s NOT about quantity…it’s about quality!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- On the Road to Forgiveness: Conditional Forgiveness

Monday, April 29- Ice Cream Cake

     Birthdays are a big deal at our house. Don’t get me wrong- we LOVE Christmas. But Christmas is NOT any of our birthdays, so we look at it differently. Birthdays, however, ARE…our birthdays! So we make a big deal out of everybody’s birthday in our house.
     Today is my wife’s birthday. I have celebrated birthdays with that awesome woman for MANY years. In fact, it was a birthday 36 years ago…36 YEARS ago…that started it all. 
     I was in the school musical (which was, by the way, Oliver!), which opened on…wait for it…April 29th. We were friends, but the relationship seemed to be headed toward more than that…at least I WANTED it to be more than that! So I invited her to come to opening night and then go out for food afterwards. She accepted!
     I sent roses to her house that day, and then she attended opening night. (How frighteningly appropriate for an actor that the first date would be her sitting alone in the audience, watching me on stage!) I had told her beforehand that, when I tipped my top hat during the curtain call, it would be for her! (What a hopeless romantic!)
     After the show, my mom drove us (Hey! Give me a break! I wasn’t old enough to have a driver’s license yet!) to the local Ramada Inn. (Get your mind out of the gutter! We went to the restaurant that was there!) We had a small skillet full of sauteed mushrooms and I had called ahead to have a small birthday cake ready for her. As we ate, we listened to the musical stylings of Mike Zichovich and his magic synthesizers! I was smitten!
     My wife and I have been through much together. I have not always been the perfect husband, and there have been tough times along the way, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world. She is THE BEST thing that has ever happened to me, and I thank God daily for her presence in my life!
     And so, I wanted to make her birthday special. At our house, we get to choose our birthday dinner. So I made, at her request, her special birthday dinner. It was:
Grilled Steak
Baked Potatoes
(you slice the potato cross-ways every half-inch or so, but not all the way through. You then drizzle olive and melted butter over the potato, add fresh-ground salt and fresh-ground pepper, along with garlic powder. You then bake them at 425 degrees for 60-75 minutes. WOW- they are good!)
Grilled Asparagus (marinate the asparagus in olive oil, salt and pepper for several hours, then lay on the grill and cook. Again- WOW!)
Her favorite cake is the Dairy Queen ice cream cake…but sadly there is no Dairy Queen in town! So…I made an ice cream cake! I started with a spring pan, which I covered with a layer of Chocolate Marshmallow Ice Cream. Then I added a layer of crushed Oreos mixed with hot fudge sauce. On top of that, I added a layer of Cookies N’ Cream Ice Cream. I then topped it off with a “frosting” layer of equal parts vanilla ice cream and Kool Whip, mixed together and spread on the top. It was pretty darn good!
     Thank you, Sweetheart, for being mine! Happy birthday!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Mustard Seed Faith
    

Sunday, April 28- Daily Bible Verse

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Sunday, April 28- God in the Silence

     When I was a kid, my mom got tired of my shenanigans and sent me to my room. As I walked down the hall, she called to me, “And DON’T come back until you learn how to act!” I was in my room for about 30 minutes and then reappeared. “Well, you weren’t gone long. Did you learn how to act?” I stopped, looked at her and then said, “…To BE…or NOT to be…THAT is the question!” Worst beating I ever got!
     Today, we continue our current sermon series- The Power of a Whisper. Do you ever find yourself wondering if God is actually speaking to you? And further…how do you KNOW it when He does? Based on the Bill Hybels book of the same name, this series focuses on how God talks to us…and how we can better hear Him when He does! Each week will look at a different method God uses to talk to us. The first week, we looked at hearing God in the Bible- God in the Word. Week 2 saw us focusing on how we find Him in Creation- God in the World. Last week, we considered actually hearing His voice- God in the speaking. Today we look at hearing Him during prayer- God in the silence.
     The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Prayer is not asking- it’s a longing of the soul.
    
Psalm 4:1 Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
     Remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz where the wizard is revealed to be a fake? They’re all terrified (as was I as a little kid!) of this huge head, floating in the midst of a cloud of smoke. They’re all terrified, that is…but Toto. “Her little dog, too!” is rather non-plussed by the wizard and starts to nose around, accidentally uncovering the truth. The curtain is pulled back and we get to see “behind the scenes”- the great and powerful OZ is nothing more than the snake oil salesman we met back in Kansas.
     Today’s Scripture pulls back the curtain and gives us a glimpse behind the scenes. But unlike the wizard, what we see not only doesn’t disappoint us- it helps us better understand not only the power of God, but the power of prayer as well!
    
Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
     Prayer is a powerful thing, and you will seldom hear a more heart-felt prayer than one that comes from a child. Here are some actual children’s prayers:
     From Debbie, age 7: “Dear God: Please send a new baby for Mommy. The one you sent last week cries too much.”
     From Jimmy, age 6: “Dear God- Who’s smarter? Boys or girls? Me and my sister want to know.”
     From David, age 7: “Dear God: I need a raise in my allowance. Could you have one of your angels tell my dad? Thank you.”
     From Diane, age 8: ‘Dear God: I am saying my prayers for me and my brother, Billy, because Billy is six months old and he can’t do anything but sleep and wet his diapers.”
     From Angela, age 8: “Dear God: This is my prayer. Could you please give my brother some brains. So far he doesn’t seem to have any.”
     And my favorite, from Joyce, age 7: “Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother- but what I asked for was a puppy. I never asked for anything before. You can look it up.”
     When the Apostle Paul asked God to remove what he called “the thorn in my flesh”, God responded to that request. And HOW did He respond? He said “No.” He said, “My grace is sufficient for you- My power is perfected in your weakness.” Not as much a “feel good, happy ending” sort of thing as we would like…if we’re honest. If I ask for a new bike for my birthday, I don’t want socks and underwear instead…no matter how much I need them. And if I ask for God to heal my physical affliction, hearing that He is, in fact, NOT going to heal it because “My grace is sufficient for you- My power is perfected in your weakness” is NOT the answer I was looking for! But how does Paul respond? “Alrighty then- it’s OK, because I would rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
     We’ve all heard it before- there are 3 possible answers to prayer. God will either say “yes”, “no” or “not now”. We WANT it to be ONE answer- YES! We want God to hear our prayer…our request…and answer with a swift and emphatic, “Yes! Of COURSE I’ll do that…whatever you say!” But that’s not realistic. That’s not how God works. There ARE 3 possible answers – yes, no and not now. And we need to learn to be thankful regardless of which answer we get. If God says “yes”…AWESOME! We got exactly what we asked for! Winner, winner, chicken dinner! But what if God DOESN’T say yes? What if He says, “Not now”? Or worse, heaven forbid- what if He says, “No”? Then we STILL need to be thankful. Because prayer is about trust. If we actually GO to God in prayer, then we must trust that He will not only HEAR our prayer and ANSWER our prayer, but that He will also answer our prayer…with the best answer possible! And if we’re honest, we don’t always know what that is for ourselves. But God does. God may choose to do the things we ask for in prayer. Then again, God may choose to NOT do them…because it’s not in line with His will for our life at this moment. And so…sometimes it’s “yes”, sometimes it’s “not now” and sometimes it’s “no”. But always God has our best interests at heart.
     Imagine you’re walking along a path when you notice a huge ant hill. As you get closer, it becomes apparent that a kid has ridden their bike right through the middle of it. You get down on your knees to get a closer look and you see that the ants are in a state of chaos- running back and forth, seeming lost. Your heart goes out to the ants so you try to fix their mound. But your hands are too big. The ants cower in terror, not understanding that you’re only there to help. Your words are only heard as thunder and the ants tremble helplessly. What to do? What if you could BECOME an ant? The ants would be able to relate to you, understand your directions, and follow you as you lead them back home.
     Sound familiar? From the beginning of time, God knew that one day, in order to set things right again, He’d need to become a human being. And when that day came, He did just that. Jesus came down to walk among us. And even Jesus went to His Father in prayer.
    
Luke 6:12-13 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.
     A young boy called the pastor of a local corner church and asked him to come and pray for his mother who had been very ill with the flu. The pastor knew the family and knew they’d been attending another church down the road. So the pastor a
sked, “Shouldn’t you be asking Rev. Johnson from YOUR church to pray with your mom?” The young boy replied, “Yeah probably, but we didn’t want to take the chance that he might catch whatever Mom has!”
     Regardless of anything else, there are three tools….three POWERFUL tools…that you always have at your disposal- the first is love. We ALWAYS have the capacity to love. We CHOOSE to love. And we choose NOT to love. The second is forgiveness. It is completely up to us whether or not we forgive someone. When we DON’T forgive, the other person retains control over us. But when we CHOOSE to forgive, we are freed from the baggage that goes along with bitterness. So the first two tools are love and forgiveness. The third tool in our arsenal…is prayer. Prayer is a privilege…a privilege…given to us by no less than God Himself. Prayer is not simply talking TO God. At its best, prayer is talking WITH God, and LISTENING to God.
     Remember the Bobby McFerrin song “Don’t worry, be happy”? A great, catchy tune with a great, catchy message. SOUNDS great…but hard to actually live out. Statistically, most people worry unnecessarily. According to surveys, 40% of us worry about things that never happen; 30% of us worry about the past, even though it can’t be changed; 12% of us worry about personal criticism that is untrue; 10% of us worry about health issues that are only made worse by worrying and only 8% of us worry about actual, real problems. Ultimately, the beginning of anxiety spells the end of prayer, the end of faith. Meanwhile, the beginning of true faith is found in prayer…AND it signals the end of anxiety.
     When Albert Einstein fled Nazi Germany, he came to America and bought an old two-story house in Princeton, NJ- walking distance from Princeton University. He quickly gained a reputation of entertaining some of the great minds of his day, discussing everything from physics to human rights. But he also had another frequent visitor few knew about- a 10-year-old girl, named Emmy. She’d heard about a very kind man who knew a lot about math and, since she was having trouble with her 5th grade arithmetic, she decided to pay him a visit. Einstein was very willing to help and told her she was welcome to come anytime. One of the neighbors told Emmy’s mother about it. Her mom told her that Einstein was a very important man, whose time was very valuable, and he couldn’t be bothered with a kid’s math problems. She then made her way to Einstein’s house to apologize for her daughter’s intrusion. Einstein immediately cut her off, “She’s not been bothering me! When a child finds such joy in learning, then it’s my joy to help her learn! Please don’t stop her from coming to me with her school problems. She is welcome in this house anytime.”
     So it is with God. We are NOT a bother to God. We are NOT an intrusion. God WANTS us to come to Him in prayer. Prayer is not a get out of jail free card. It’s not a credit card that gives us everything we want. It’s not a Hallmark greeting card that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy. It’s not an insurance card that guarantees good health. It’s not a magic drug that solves all our problems. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action we have.
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
 Tomorrow- Ice Cream Cake!