Prayer is How We Communicate with God

This Includes Saying Thank You

Communication is a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behaviors. It is the transmitting of information. It is a two-way street; it goes both ways.

Too often when we pray, we’re focused on asking God for things we want, and we should ask God for those things. But this doesn’t mean that praying for things we want means we’ll get them.

We need to make sure the things we’re asking for are in alignment with the things God wants.

The other thing that happens too often when we pray. We forget to thank God for all the prayers He does answer.

Notice how the definition of communication above isn’t just talking. It’s the exchanging of information.

When it comes to prayer, communication includes our thoughts. God knows our thoughts, the good, the bad, the positive, the negative, the ugly, and even the sinful because there is nothing that God does not know.

In Psalm 139:1-2 David says, “O LORD, you have searched me and know me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.”

The message of David tells us that our thoughts, whatever the dynamics of them may be, are important to God, and because it is so important to Him, He discerns fully and continually reminds us that these thoughts matter.

However, we should also be careful as to what we are thinking about. This is particularly mentioned in Isaiah 55:8 as stated, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” 

David had an interesting relationship with Saul. One minute David was like a son to Saul, and the next, Saul was trying to have David killed.

Through all this tumultuous relationship, even after having a couple of opportunities to put an end to it and take Saul’s life, David stayed true to God and His plan.

After Saul and his sons are killed in battle, David is made king. David went to the Lord with a prayer of thanks. (2 Samuel 7:18-29) David humbles himself and asks God why He has made a simple shepherd a king. David says,

“You know what I’m really like.”

David goes on to say, “O Lord God, I am your servant; do as you have promised concerning me and my family. Confirm it as a promise that will last forever. And may your name be honored forever…”

Prayer is often looked at as a formal thing. Something that is high and mighty. It is talking with God after all.

We need to remember that it is just communication with our Father in Heaven. Remember to thank Him for all that we are and all that we have.

Stacking Stones Is a Good Reminder

Prayer Is How We Communicate with God

Relationships where there is no communication don’t last.

A relationship is two or more people being connected. It’s hard to connect in any meaningful way without communication. Communication is how we let others know what we’re thinking and feeling.

Granted, different people communicate differently, but when there is none…there is no relationship.

Praying is how we build a relationship with God.

This week’s sermon was about Hannah. She was the mother of Samuel and one of the wives of Elkanah. She had not had any children yet, and Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife, had children.

Peninnah kept throwing this fact in Hannah’s face. (1 Samuel 1:6)

Hannah prayed long and hard for a child. She vowed to dedicate him to God’s service. God answered her prayer, and she gave birth to Samuel. She brought him to the temple as a young boy and left him with Eli the priest.

In her gratefulness, Hannah prayed a prayer of thanksgiving to God. (1 Samuel 2:1-11)

Three observations from the prayer:

  1. We need to share our hearts with the Lord. It doesn’t matter if our requests seem insignificant to us. We need to share these things more than once. Hannah shared this with God for years. (1 Samuel 1:7)
  2. Sometimes the answer to our prayer may not be what we want. Maybe what we’re asking for comes with consequences. Imagine what it would be like after waiting years for a child to give them up.
  3. We need to praise and thank God for answering our prayer. God knows better than we do. This is why we should remember that God knows more than we do. Hannah had more children (1 Samuel 2:19-21), and Samuel became a great leader. (1 Samuel 3:15-21)

Remembering to take the time to thank God is important.

This is the hard one for me. It’s not that I’m not grateful, because I am. It’s just that I have so many to-do lists, that I move on to the next thing rather than pausing and thanking God.

It’s a lot like taking pictures of construction projects. I do a great job of taking pictures before we start and in the early stages. Then, as the project moves forward, I take less and less often forgetting to take completed pictures because I’ve moved on to the next project.

Just like I need to be reminded to take pictures of completed construction projects, I need something to remind me to pause and thank God for answered prayers.

Ebenezer is a male given name in Hebrew that means “stone of help”. There are several instances of the Israelites stacking or standing up stones as reminders of answered prayers.

Ebenezer was the name of the stone that was erected by Samuel to commemorate a victory over the Philistines. (1 Samuel 7:3-12)

This was a reminder to everyone that God had answered their prayer.

As a way of reminding us of answered prayers, Pastor Lisa passed out small colored stones to everyone in the congregation. These are to represent specific prayers.

She placed a clear glass cylinder at the front of the sanctuary for us to drop our stones in when prayers are answered. We can then get another stone for another prayer.

I’ve decided to carry my stone with me and place it on my desk during the day, set it by my phone in the evening and put it by the bed at night. This is to be a constant reminder of my prayer. Then, when this prayer is answered, I’ll put it in the cylinder and get another stone.

Stacking up stones in this cylinder is a great reminder of God answering our prayers.

We All Do Dumb and God Knows It

Yet He Still Loves and Uses Us

People doing dumb has been a common theme as we’ve been going through the Old Testament of the Bible.

We started out the New Year’s message discussing our plan to read through the Old Testament. Reading the Old Testament can be a little scary, but it’s not as scary doing it as a group.

The first Sunday we got a word for the year. This was done by drawing a random word from a basket. My word for the year is deserve. We are all more blessed than we deserve.

This is evident as we look back at the people in the Bible that we’ve discussed.

These people were

  • Adulterers – Sarah had Abraham sleep with another women, Abraham slept with other women, Jacob slept with other women
  • Cheaters – Jacob cheated Esau out of his inheritance, Labon cheated Jacob and gave him Leah for his wife
  • Thieves – Rachel stole idols from her father
  • Murderers – Moses killed a man
  • Idolators – Aaron made the golden calf for the Israelites

This is a pretty sketchy bunch of people, yet God used all of them in His plan and as part of Jesus’ linage.

And He will use us in His plan too.

It’s hard for me to understand how these people would one minute be talking with angles or be freeing people using miracles from God and then turn right around and do stupid things.

This week’s focus was on Aaron. How is it that he could be so dumb as to build an idol after have having just been involved in freeing the Israelites from Egypt? (Exodus 32:1-6)

It’s because like us…he’s human.

Who knows exactly why he did it? But who knows why we do some of the stupid things we do?

The important thing to remember is…there is no amount of stupid we can do to stop God from loving and using us.

It all comes down to us accepting our mistakes and working to do what God wants going forward. This doesn’t mean that our dumb mistakes don’t come at a price. It just means that as long as we’re still alive…we can do better going forward if we choose to.

For God So Loved the World…

That He Made a Promise to Us

Probably the most well known Bible verse ever is John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

Eternal life sounds like a good deal, and all we have to do is believe.

Believing is a little more difficult than it appears at first. True believing requires action. It means you believe what Jesus said. This means believing what the Bible says and living your life accordingly.

It’s no good if you just say you believe.

God’s promise to us is a covenant. The word covenant is commonly used in legal, social (marriage), and religious conversations.

The term “covenant” is of Latin origin (con venire), meaning a coming together. It presupposes two or more parties who come together to make a contract, agreeing on promises, stipulations, privileges, and responsibilities. It is used in various in biblical contexts. In political situations, it can be translated treaty; in a social setting, it means a lifelong friendship agreement; or it can refer to a marriage.

A covenant is a binding promise of far-reaching importance in the relations between individuals, groups, and nations. It has social, legal, religious, and other aspects. 

God made a covenant with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but Adam and Eve didn’t keep their part of the covenant.

God made a covenant with Noah, but the people didn’t keep it. God made a covenant with Abraham, and once again…the people didn’t hold up their end of the agreement.

As humans, we struggle to do our part in the covenants that we have made with God. That’s why He sent His Son.

As we come to the end of the Roots: Advent study we look at the last part of Jesus’ family story.

Jesus is the final covenant.

If we don’t follow through on this agreement, we will get no more second chances.

We are living in the “Already, but not yet”. This statement summarizes the past, present, and future of the Bible.

We live now in the light of what God did in the past through Christ, but also looking to the future when Christ will come again.

We live between the already—what Christ has done—looking forward to the not yet—what He is still to do.

Christ became incarnate, lived, and died, and rose again. He ascended, and is now reigning, still the same incarnate Savior. But He has not yet brought about the consummation that will occur when He returns in majesty and glory.

We need to learn from our past, look to the future, and live in the present.

This Christmas season remember how much God loves us and the price Christ paid for this final covenant. Don’t let that payment be wasted.

How Do We Fill the God Shaped Hole in Our Lives?

That’s Easy…We put God in it

I loved doing jigsaw puzzles growing up (and still do for that matter). I remember when getting near the end of a puzzle the level of excitement would begin to ramp up. In the accelerated push to get it finished more people would get involved. In the rush, often a piece would get lost.

If you’ve ever done a jigsaw puzzle, you know how frustrating it is to get to the last piece…and you can’t find it anywhere. This is the same frustration we experience when feeling that something is missing in our lives.

Often in life we try to fill the hole where the missing piece belongs with things like drugs, work, love, alcohol, perfection, etc. Not all of these are bad. Some are actually good, but when we try to force one of them into the hole where the missing piece belongs, things just don’t fit.

Finding the missing piece and putting it in makes the picture complete.

In Acts 17:16-34 Paul was in Athens, a city full of idols. The people worshipped all types of different things. One of the idols had an alter with the words, “To an unknown god”. Paul pointed out that they were worshipping so many things that they didn’t even know what they were worshipping.

Like the people in Athens, we tend to worship too many wrong things.

Paul went on to tell them about the unknown God. “This God made the world and everything in it. He is Lord of heaven and earth, and he doesn’t live in temples built by human hands. He doesn’t need help from anyone. He gives life, breath, and everything else to all people. From one person God made all nations who live on earth, and he decided when and where every nation would be. God has done all this, so that we will look for him and reach out and find him. He isn’t far from any of us, and he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are.

We naturally have a feeling of being incomplete or inadequate, and this leads to looking for that missing piece. The problem is that if we don’t know what the piece is or make the effort to look for it…then we’ll never find it.

The hole in our lives can only be filled with the one and only piece that fits it. Finding God and putting Him in the empty spot makes our lives complete.

Change is Going to Happen, Whether We Embrace it or Not

Memories From the Past, Looking to the Future, Living in the Present

This past Sunday was Pastor Lee’s last Sunday serving as our pastor. After more than eight years of him being a part of our lives, it was an emotional day. You don’t spend this amount of time with someone without there being a significant impact made.

Change is inevitable and we need to embrace it.

We need to remember that if we get stuck, we will become stagnant. Think about how fresh and clear a running stream is. Then compare that to a stinky, muddy, moss ridden pond.

A large portion of Sunday’s service was spent sharing what he means to us and what we have meant to him.

He shared that over the years we have learned a lot from each other. He knows us, who we are, what we like, and how we act. We learned the same about him and his family. Three things that he said he learned were…

  • People are searching for God, knowingly or unknowingly
  • The Bible is still as relevant today as it was when it was written
  • The Church is necessary

Embracing these truths rather than pushing them away makes for a better community and world.

Embracing is hugging, taking up readily and gladly. There was a lot of embracing (hugging) done Sunday.

As a church we’ve been going through a lot of change in the past year and Pastor Lee’s leaving is just one part of that change. This is why it’s important to be “flexibly rigid”. (link to post)

We need to be true to who God has called us to be without getting distracted by things that are fleeting.

A good example of this is one of the stories that was shared. It was about a milk cow that was bought. It was kicker. It kicked over the milk bucket. It kicked over the milking stool. Milking this cow was not going as planned.

At the same time there was a cow in the pasture that was not feeding its newborn calf. After giving this situation some thought, it was decided to see if the kicking cow would feed the calf…it did.

So, the pasture cow became the milk cow and the milk cow became the pasture cow. This is being flexibly rigid. They got a milk cow and the calf got fed. This was not their plan, but it worked out.

This is embracing change.

Let’s embrace the past and what we’ve learned from it.

Let’s embrace the future and the possibilities it holds

Let’s embrace the present and not forget to live every day in the here and now.

Thank you, Pastor Lee, for your leadership, friendship and making us better people!

It Can Really Hurt to be Confronted with Our Areas of Weakness

Growing Can be a Painful Thing, Both Physically and Spiritually

We all know that becoming physically healthier starts with the realization that it is something we want. Then it requires that we make some lifestyle changes. We don’t like change. Change is scary, but we’re willing to make them, to get what we want. The results are worth the pain.

The same is true of our spiritual health.

A lady was speaking with a pastor about his sermon after church one Sunday morning. She said, “Your sermon today reminded me of the peace and love of God.” The pastor was feeling good about this and asked her to expound. She replied, “Peace…because it passed all understanding and love of God…because it endured forever.” Ouch.

Another similar after church sermon story is of a man greeting the pastor and telling him that he preached powerful sermons. They were thoughtful and well researched. He said, “I can see myself in them. And I want you to knock it off because they’re hitting too close to home.”

Pastor Lee shared that Alene Miller used to tell him that she felt that he had stepped on her toes, and it hurt. It’s a good thing to have our toes stepped on. It helps us see those places that we need to work on.

In Hebrews 4:12 we’re told that God’s Word is “sharper than any double-edged sword. His word can cut through our spirits and souls and through our joints and marrow, until it discovers the desires and thoughts of our hearts.”

Having my spirit, soul, joints, and marrow cut through sounds pretty painful to me.

We are a pretty soft bunch, aren’t we? We don’t want anything to be hard.

Pastor Zach Zehnder in Mount Dora, Florida preached the longest sermon ever (53 hours and 18 minutes). His goal was to share “God’s ridiculous commitment to His people, even though we give up on Him that He never gave up on us.” This love is evident in having Christ die for us, even though we are sinful. Romans 5:8

It is easy to think we have it all figured out. We get a picture of what we expect and get comfortable going through the motions.

This is what happened to the people following Jesus. One minute they believe He was going to save them, and the next they’re shouting for Him to be crucified.

Even his disciples became disillusioned and disappointed. In Luke 24:13-35, three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, two of His disciples were going to Emmaus when Jesus started walking with them, but they didn’t recognize Him.

They were sad, and Jesus asked them what they were talking about. Cleopas asked if He was the only person from Jerusalem that didn’t know what had happened. The disciples shared how they expected Jesus to be the one to set Israel free.

Their idea of being set free was different than God’s.

They were expecting Jesus to come in and take over the country and by following Him they would have an easy life. Surprise…

When they got to where they were going, they asked Jesus to stay with them. Then as He blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to them…immediately they recognized Him, and He was gone.

God is not dead; He is alive, and He shows Himself to those who believe.

We know that Jesus’ followers did not have an easy life. They had to work and work hard. It was painful. They could have chosen to give up and just sit around, but they didn’t. They took the pain of loss and uncertainty and got stronger. They decided to follow Jesus. 

We don’t like facing our weaknesses. We would rather just stick to the status quo. The problem is that this results in the status quo. I don’t know about you, but I want more than that.

Why is it That We Too Often Confuse Simple and Easy?

No One Ever Said That Living Right Would Be Easy

I recently read a blog post from Rabbi Evan Moffic titled, The Difference Between Simple and Easy. As someone who is good at making simple things more complicated than they need to be, I had a light bulb moment while reading. I realized how much of the time we confuse these two.

Simple and easy do not mean the same thing.

For example:

“The Ten Commandments are simple. They are a list of ten things we should and shouldn’t do.

But are they easy? No. If they were easy, we would leave in a world without murder, theft, adultery, or conflict. They are simple but not easy.

Certain acts are easy and simple. Baking a cake from a cake mix is simple and easy. You pour out the mix, add water and eggs, stir, put in the oven, and enjoy.

Some acts can be easy but not always simple. Habits often fall into this category. Take driving, for example.

Driving is easy for many of us if we have been doing it for years. But anyone who has sat with a new teenage driver in a car knows it is not simple! It becomes easy over time.

Now the most meaningful category: Simple but not easy.

Following a diet is an example of simple but not easy. We generally know which foods are healthy and which are not. But we do not have an easy time sticking to them.”

Living right is simple but not easy.

It is easy to look at others and compare ourselves to them, both good and bad.

In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus shows us an example of a Pharisee and a tax collector doing this.

By all appearances the Pharisee had been living right. He was not greedy or dishonest. He had been faithful in his marriage, followed the law and tithed. All things that are part of living as God wants us to.

Then he did something that God doesn’t want us to. He built himself up by comparing himself with a tax collector.

Normally tax collectors were known for overcharging people when collecting taxes and would pocket the extra. They were looked down on by the Jewish people of that time.

The tax collector was belittling himself and feeling inadequate and unworthy. He was asking God for forgiveness.

Neither of these men was completely right or completely wrong.

We need to be careful to not compare ourselves to others.

We need to compare ourselves to what God wants.

This is simple, but not easy.

Like the Ten Commandments as well as the rest of the Bible…it’s all very simple. But living it out in our daily lives isn’t easy.

Don’t Go Through Life Angry at the World…There’s a Better Way

Regardless of Your Situation, Being Angry Will Only Make It Worse

We all find ourselves in situations that make us mad. The question is what are you going to do about it?

Gary Christian took his first step straight into his own dark, cold, hellish hole on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2007. 

That’s when law enforcement told his family that his daughter Channon’s body had been found.

Family and friends had been searching for her for two days,

What happened to Channon Christian and her boyfriend, was one of Knoxville’s most horrific crimes. The young couple was ambushed and carjacked on Jan. 6, 2007.

Both were beaten, tortured and raped.

The anguish never leaves Gary Christian’s voice when he remembers being told his daughter was murdered. 

“That was my baby,” he says.

After being told what had happened, he walked to the far edge of the police parking lot, away from anyone, and looked toward heaven. 

He screamed at God. Then he turned away from Him. 

“I told Him I am done with You. I don’t want You in my life. I don’t need You in my life, and I don’t trust You with anything.”

This was a dramatic turn, a first step into his hell on earth.

Saved at age 8, Christian had grown up in church. If the doors were open, he was there. He went on mission trips, played drums in a Christian band and witnessed for Christ. “I loved the Lord,” he says emphatically.

As a parent, every morning, he prayed. In every prayer, he asked God to watch over Channon and her older brother Chase.

Then God failed him.

“All I asked Him to do for my kids was to protect them. And He didn’t.”

That anger, mixed with deep hate and a desire for vengeance, was all he felt for years. He existed in a cold, dark abyss. Even in a crowd, he felt alone. 

“I couldn’t depend on nobody; I didn’t trust anybody,” he said. “Alone had a lot to do with everything.”

About a year after the initial trials, Christian found a way to keep Channon’s memory alive. He bought a motorcycle and started the Shepherds RC riding club.

The club hosts an annual Channon and Chris Memorial Ride to raise money for charity. 

The ride is one way the families remember their children while helping others.

Then, the Shepherds rode Christian back to a place he didn’t want to go. 

Some club members asked him to attend their church. Come to Easter service, they said. It was almost like a dare. He didn’t want to go. But he did, mostly just to shut them all up. 

“I never denied God. I just didn’t want to have anything to do with him,” he says.

He knew Easter service would be about the crucifixion. But the Rev. Jim Cummings first preached about Peter, the disciple who denied Jesus and whom Jesus restored. Then he talked about Christ on the cross.  

Two weeks after Easter, Christian was back at the church. “I got convinced to go again,” he says with a wry smile.

That Sunday was the day of the Shepherds’ club-only ride to remember Channon’s April 29 birthday. Before the ride, Christian and other Shepherds went to church.

The sermon was different than the Easter message. But Christian felt it was directed right at him. “I couldn’t shake what this guy said the first time, and he’s doing it again.” 

It’s about 24 miles up Pellissippi Parkway from the church to the cemetery. The whole ride that last April Sunday, Christian says, “the Lord was tearing me up.” 

When he got off his bike at Channon’s grave, “I was just so tired. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

“I went down on my knee, and I asked him, ‘Just like you did with Peter, restore me.’ And he did.”

When he got to his feet, he realized the Shepherds around him “were all Christians … Everybody in the club then, some longer than others, had been praying that one day I would find my way back.

“I hadn’t done that when I started the club. Never once did I ask a man about his faith. But all I knew that day, all the ones standing there with me were Christians.” 

He knows now how it happened. 

“When I turned my back on God, he never left me. He never stopped loving me. He never stopped protecting me. He never left my side. And I didn’t even know it.”

Amy McRary, Knox News

Restoration and healing aren’t always easy. For Gary this means revisiting and talking about death, loss and anger.

Anger causes a lot of unnecessary pain. To be healed from that pain we need to ask for help…both from God and others.

In Luke 13:10-17 Jesus healed a woman who had been suffering with a crippling spirit for eighteen years. She came to Jesus and he healed her.

Jesus can heal us too.

Sometimes the healing is different than what we’re looking for, but God knows better what we need. The key to this healing is to ask.

Don’t waste your life being angry.

What’s Needed for a Good Construction Contractor is Simple

I Said It Was Simple…I Didn’t Say it Was Easy

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve written about the difficulty in finding good, qualified construction contractors and how this problem is amplified after a disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, flooding, etc.

Finding a good construction contractor is a huge problem and has been around for a long time. I’ve thought about this off and on for years and recently has been one of those “on times”.

Why is this a problem and what do we do about it?

As I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve concluded, that even though it’s a big problem, the solution is simple…but hard.

The key to this solution is…

Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

Granted, different people have different ways they want to be treated, because each of us is different. Add to that, the long-term acceptance of “this is just the way it is” and it becomes more difficult than ever to solve the problem.

To clarify how we should treat others, we should use God as a measuring stick. Do your work with all your heart, as if you are working for God, not for men. Colossians 3:23

Working as if for God is the opposite of how the world operates.

As I was speaking with a customer just last night, they were telling me how they had been trying to find someone to do their project for years.

They had contacted several contractors who said they would come by and look at the project and never did.

They met with some who did show up only to never be heard from again.

With one contractor they got as far as getting a price but then they could never get him to come do the work.

Equally as bad is when a contractor does agree to do the work, but the customer never knows if or when they’re going to show up and then the  job drags out and out and out.

This is an unacceptable way to treat God or anyone else.

The first and most important thing a good construction contractor needs is…COMMUNICATION.

Communication is more than just talking. It includes:

  • Listening to find out what the customer wants.  
  • Clearly explaining the work to be done, what it’s going to cost and when it will be done.
  • Transparency and honesty. Letting the customer know what to expect and when.
  • Willingness to be vulnerable. If you can’t be there when you said you would…let them know.

I plan to unpack what’s needed from a good construction contractor more over the next few weeks.