Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Teach Us To Pray!

There are some incredible prayers in the Bible.  I immediately think of some of David's prayers in Psalms.  Psalms were songs, but if a song is directed to God, how is it not a prayer?  And then there are the two "most studied" prayers in the Bible, the model prayer that Jesus gave in Matthew 6, and his passionate prayer in John 17 for his followers - both present and to come.  These teach us to focus on God, share what is on our hearts, and pray knowing he hears and answers.
Paul's prayer for the Ephesians (and us) in chapter three is one of the most personal and passionate prayers recorded in scripture.  It comes from his joy in the grace of God, and from his desire that they experience the relationship with God that he enjoys.  I think what strikes me as so significant is that it teaches me what I need to being praying for regarding people I love.  This is he question I posed in my lesson last Sunday.  "If you knew that you could pray and bring about change in someones life, what would you pray for?"  Paul, and the Holy Spirit, give us the answer.
1. Pray that Christ may dwell in their heart!  God, "out of his glorious riches" will give anyone who seeks him all the power, encouragement, and grace to have a relationship with him.  The word "dwell" is present continuous tense - meaning if we keep trusting/seeking, He continues to dwell in us.
2.  Pray that they learn to love him TOGETHER!  Being "rooted and established" is a foundation of togetherness - with those on the same journey.  He never meant for us to do it alone!  We need spiritual family!  It is the only way to "grasp" the ungraspable - know the unknowable - and filled with the limitless power of God.  The "fullness of God" is not being "like God" but maturing in our relationship with God - which is the goal of togetherness (i.e. church).
3.  Pray that they learn OUR GOD IS ABLE!  His capacity to meet our spiritual needs far exceeds anything we can ask for in prayer.  More than we can even imagine!  When we learn this, all the glory is his!  Not attention but adoration!  In his church!  In Christ Jesus!  To all generation!
And all God's people said, "YES INDEED, LORD!"
I don't know which is more humbling.  That we can ask such things of God for others, or that others can ask such things of God for us.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Reunion Time

We did a quick trip to Searcy, Arkansas last Thursday, and returned on Saturday.  It was time for the Curtis Family reunion.  We were blessed to have all our family there except for Jonathan and Holly who couldn't get there from LA.  On Thursday night, we had about 21 for dinner at Donna's mother's house and then on Friday evening we had 34 for dinner.  The picture above and below are of the singing time we had, after dinner, all crammed into the small living room.  Three of us were off in the kitchen area, joining in as best we could.  I took these two pictures with my IPhone.  It's four generations of family, starting with Donna's mom on the far left, through her four children (Donna, two sisters, and brother) and spouses, through twelve grand children and spouses (not all were there), and then most of the twenty great grand children you see scattered all over the room.  Even the youngest enjoyed the family singing.

The picture below is at the larger Curtis Family reunion on Saturday.  After having a great lunch together, it was time for group pictures.  There were pictures of each family group, cousins, and patriarchs, and then this attempt to get a picture of all the children.  It was chaos.  They had to be dragged in there from playing, and many were tired and ready for naps (it was 1:30 already), but it was fun to watch.  Kids are always cute - when there someone else's problem.
It was a great time to be with family.  A short time and hard trip, but well worth it.
Needless to say, it's the reason I didn't get to do another blog last week.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Water, Water, Every Where...

Scroll down and take another look at the pictures of our pond out back that I posted last Saturday.  That was four days ago, and it's a lot worse.  There is something disconcerting about looking out our living room window and seeing clear physical signs of drought.  Usually, when we've heard about such things in the past and even when it was happening around us, I found myself thinking, "Oh, those poor farmers."  But, I was in my temperature controlled house, my fridge was full, and it never caused me to lose a minute of sleep.  But that drying up pond...it's a constant metaphor to me...of a soul that is drying up - the sadness and danger of being in a spiritual drought.
I was spiritually watered and excited last week, long before we went to a spiritual retreat that added to both my spiritual sustenance and my spiritual excitement - but I've been dry before.  It's just like the present drought.  One day without rain is no big deal!  One week is common!  But then it became weeks and then months and...and...survival became the issue.  Satan rarely slaps us upside the head and demands that we obey him.  He's subtle, deceptive, and gradual.  He's interested in the war not the battles.
Jesus is living water!  People don't start out planning to be in a spiritual drought, they just gradually disconnect from the Water Fountain.  The amazing thing is that we can "do church" and still never take a drink!  We can "party hearty with the holy ones" and never quench the real thirst in our throat - that thirst for closeness with Jesus.  We just stop reading his Word, stop thinking about him and what he would do, and we stop communicating with the only One who has a pitcher of water in his hand.  We spend our time in dry places and never hydrate head of time - or after.  We weaken, lose interest, feel burdened by opportunities, and we forget how good it tasted to drink deeply from the only water that not only gives life but is life.
Got a drinking problem?  Don't let it become a drought.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

As the DEAR pant for Water!

We have had so many pictures of our beautiful pond out back over the years that I thought I should show a couple of pictures of what it looks like now in the middle of our drought.  We got back from being gone to a retreat this past week (thus no blogs) and were saddened to see how much worse it has gotten.  In the picture below, which is straight out our back door, that water area between the two dry spots in only about eight feet wide.  Our Home Owners Association has been saving money (and raising dues) to have the pond re-dug and remade completely.  What you see is twenty-five years of silt and soil filling it up.  It is really just a holding pond and is supposed to be several feet deeper than what it is now.  I thing the plan is to do that next year, but it sure would make sense to dredge it now when it is so shallow and mostly dry.  The sad part is that we have no rain in the forecast and triple digit temps for the next week.
By the way, we had a wonderful time at the retreat!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Grail of Grace

My vote for the least understood teaching in the Bible is grace.  There are several really good reasons why I believe that, but the bottom line reason is that when grace is understood, it changes people.  It's ironic that the concept we've heard about the longest is also the one that will bring about the greatest change in our life - if we "get it".  We learn a cute Bible school definition of grace, accept the fact that it is the reason we are saved, and tend to file it away with all the other religious terms that we save for conversation with those who understand the secret language of Christianity.  At any point in my four and a half decade walk with God, if you had asked me if I understood grace, I would have proudly answered, "Of course," but - of course - I didn't.  I don't now.  I know more now, but to say I completely understand the depth of God's grace would be a huge overstatement of the truth.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about, and studying, what the Bible says about grace.  I am planning to do some writing about grace, and I feel strangely unprepared.  Oh, I've got plenty to say, I am just woefully aware of how much I don't know.  My seeking to know God better, and to understand his grace, reminds me of one of my favorite movies.  It is my favorite Indiana Jones movie, The Quest for the Holy Grail.  I love the interaction between Indy and his dad.  The climax of the story is when they finally find the entrance to where the Grail is kept, but they must first master three deadly challenges/puzzles/tests before they can go into the room with the Grail.  Everyone fails the tests - except Indy, who has some serious close calls, and he finally reaches the goal.  The problem is that the Grail is hidden in the midst of a score of other Grails and cups, and he must pick the right one.  If you haven't seen it - he does and the bad guy picks the wrong one.
Seeking to understand grace is like Indy's journey to find the Grail.  There are tests, challenges, and "leaps of faith," but each new discover seems to just widen the possibilities and avenues for further seeking.  That shouldn't surprise me.  After all, seek grace is seeking God.  Grace is love - God is love - so God is grace!  I think that is why grace is so difficult to grasp.  It's not a definition, or a Greek word to translate.  Nothing we know or have experienced can fully enlighten us as to what it really is.  It certainly isn't just "unmerited favor" or " a gift we don't deserve".  It is God!  It is what he is, does, thinks, and gives.  It is how and why unholy people can be united with a holy God.
So yes - it is the Holy Grail we are looking for.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lessons Learned

We had the first of four Sunday evenings at the building summer series this past Sunday.  We've done this for several years now.  It sure makes for a longer day for me, but it always brings back great memories of some special Sunday evening assemblies from the past.  The singing is always good and fun - we actually use those things called song books, and I keep it laid-back and pretty non-traditional.  I enjoy sharing some thoughts in a more personal, and somewhat challenging, way then I would on Sunday morning.  Our theme is "Lessons I've Learned Lately," and I've asked some other guys to kick it off each night with a short sharing of something in their life that fits that theme.  Steve Holloway did an awesome job sharing how he has learned lately the importance of priorities.  I gave a brief overview of some of the life-changing lessons that God put on my heart through the years - as a way of introducing one of three major lessons I plan to share in this series.
So, for those who are interested - a little FYI high points from what I shared:
Some of the things that have been part of my spiritual/preaching journey - in chronological order from earliest years to the present (again - just some):
1. Preaching is about the message not me (Fear of looking and/or sounding like an idiot)
2. It's more important to be honest and transparent than to fear being wrong!  I lived in fear of being asked questions I was supposed to have the answers to but not knowing the answers.
3. The joy of seeking, learning, and discovery!  I love revealing or making things understandable!
4. Worship is my life not a day, place, or event on Sunday.  I discovered that in college (early '70s) but I couldn't defend it or prove it for several years (i.e. 3 books written).
5. It's okay, if fact necessary, to ask "How come?" or "Who says?"  Prove it to yourself!
6. I must not only preach Jesus to others, I must be Jesus to others!  True about all spiritual leaders.
7. If I am going to truly be like Jesus, I must develop the compassion and humility of Jesus.  (Early to mid '90s and scary to the bone)
8. (Late '90s) We can rise no higher spiritually than our level of thankfulness.  It is the key to all spiritual grow and to developing a true prayer life.
9. The biblical preeminence of seeking God!  It is what God wants to see in the heart of everyone!
10.  First of the BIG THREE I'm sharing this summer - and it is an extension of seeking:  A relationship with God is more important than being right!  God takes care of the "being right" (i.e. righteousness) when we have a relationship with him, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Consider the personal confession of David in Psalm 23 and Paul's in Acts 17:24-28.  We must be able to describe our relationship with God the same way.  The real life-changing part of this is coming to understand that it really is possible and not just theory.  A relationship with God is (and happens) the same as any relationship.
There are four parts of any relationship: 1) Desire: want it; 2) Sharing:  communicate, talk, pray - remember the words of "My God and I"?; 3) Presence: time together enough to develop a sense of his presence (he is also present when his people are present - see 1 Jn.3:16-24); and Effort:  relationships must be built, worked on, fed, fostered, for love to grow.
Has this one hit you yet?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Alaska Again!

Since 1998, we have had a priority of taking one really good vacation every two years.  So far, they have all been cruises mostly with Princess Cruises, and, while hard to save for and/or pay off, we've loved every one of them and have absolutely no regrets about any of them.  Our winter vacation this past January/February was wonderful, memorable, and, hopefully, repeatable.  BUT, we can't wait another two years.  Even while we are still paying off that last one, we have booked a new cruise for next July 29th (2013) for Alaska - AGAIN.  It's the only one we've repeated, and now we plan on doing it a third time.  We love the TOTAL get-a-way of a cruise, and the total package deal of a cruise, but mostly, we love sharing it with friends.  As we have said to hundreds of people on hundreds of occasions, if you only do one cruise in your life - do Alaska.  AND we have been on some really awesome cruises.
Next year's trip is a ten day cruise out of San Francisco rather than the usual northbound or southbound trip from Anchorage to or from Vancouver.  The airfare should be less, since it's round trip to the same city, and it is a city I have always wanted to visit, so we will stay there a couple days at the end of our cruise.  Four of the ten days are at sea, but up there the scenery is incredible 24/7, and it's a great time to be with our friends who are with us.  It stops at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Victoria, BC, which I can't wait to see, and it spends a day touring Glacier Bay National Park - INCREDIBLE!
Alaska is one of the most reasonable cruises, cost-wise, and the most spectacular in terms of scenery.  The ship is always fun.  Amazing food, entertainment, and lots of activities to do with friends.  Did I mention the food?  Oh yeah!  Anyway, if you are interested in going with us - there are six of us so far - just get in touch with me and I'll give you our travel agents name and number.  You can look it up on Princess.com and go into their Alaska  cruises, 2013, July 29th, 10 day cruise.  It's voyage number A320.  Our cruise last winter was on the Grand Princess and it's a really wonderful ship.  We've also got pictures from two previous Alaska cruises we'd love to show you if you want to see what it's like.
Love to have you come with us, and yes family, this means we'll be driving our two old vehicles for a little while longer.  It's all about priorities - and fun with friends.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Don't you hate it when you say the wrong thing, but you totally thought you were saying the right thing?  I used Wesley, from our family's favorite movie The Princess Bride, to illustrate one of the few ways that bringing someone back to life is not portrayed in movies as something weird or Zombie-like.  I love the scene with Miracle Max and all the wonderful quotable lines that are in it.  Yet, in the midst of telling the story, I called him "Mad Max."  I didn't even realize that I did it.  I'm sure it sent all those dedicated cult members of the I-Love-The-Princess-Bride-Club into a momentary shock.  Dropping visions of Mel Gibson into the heart of this classic story is traumatic on any level.  It was a slip of the tongue - a mental glitch - an I Knew That moment.  I think I've had a couple of those over the last nearly 40 years of preaching.  Oh well, "Have fun storming the castle!"
Okay smartie, without using your iPhone or iPad to cheat, what was the name of Miracle Max's wife?