Lonely Places

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16



In 2014 I wrote my first article challenging people to reflect on their prayer practices. I realized, even after six years have passed, that each of the questions asked are one I must still ask myself today.



These are the questions asked:

Do you pray more than you did a year ago?

Do you have set times in which you speak with God?

Do you pray on the fly?

What causes you to pray?

Do you fell a nudge from the Holy Spirit, or do you only pray when something good or bad is happening around you?

Do you think prayer is intermingled with all other parts of your life, or is it just another activity that may or may not occur during your day?

Do you know the purpose and value of prayer?



Visualize someone who you cannot stop thinking about because of the fond feelings you have for them. Consequently, there may be phone calls or texts to that person to say hello. In addition to the unexpected connections throughout the day, scheduling a time to meet with them and looking forward to seeing them at the scheduled time keeps your relationship alive. Furthermore, the climactic feeling of being with them and then having to say “I hate to leave” keeps the relationship strong. This desire to connect should be the attitude and concept of scheduled prayer.


 Planned prayer, and the anticipation of that time with God, keeps our soul charged.


During Jesus’ earthy ministry, the people of Israel had set prayers times. They drew on the practices and words of David and Daniel and prayed three times a day. These times also coincided with sacrifice times in the temple and helped people focus on loving the Lord with all their being. They had developed the habit of personal and group prayer times. Jesus prayed during these times showing how to maintain an intimate relationship with the Father.

Starting our day in prayer sets the tone for the day with the One who first loved us. However, prayer is meaningful at any hour of the day. It is an essential part of Christian life, but many people have forgotten that talking with God can improve our lives in so many ways. God wants us to speak with Him, and even when we do not know what to say, He still wants us to stop and come before Him; He will read our hearts. Continue to pray whenever you feel compelled but consider being more intentional about setting up a time to stop what you are doing and acknowledge our God.

Remember: “Planned prayer, and the anticipation of that time with God will keep your soul charged.”

What is Normal?

The first book of the Bible highlights the reality that people are flawed. Cain was jealous of Abel and killed him. Lamech introduced polygamy to the world. Noah, the most righteous man of his generation, got drunk and cursed his son. Lot, when his home was surrounded by residents of Sodom who wanted to violate his visitors, he offered to let them have sex with his daughters instead. Abraham had relations with his wife’s servant, then sent her and their son off to the wilderness at his wife’s request. Jacob married two wives and ended up with their maids as his concubines when everyone got into a fertility contest.

There’s a significant reason these stories were included in scripture; the writer was trying to establish a profound theological truth – everybody’s flawed. All of us have habits we can’t control, past deeds we can’t undo, and flaws we can’t correct. We know in our hearts that this is not the way we’re supposed to be, so we try to hide our flaws. We pretend to be healthier and kinder than we are.

We were created as God’s idea of normal, in the image of the Holy God. His normal for us was to love one another and to be able to make the right choices. Our reasoning, understanding, will and affections were aligned with God. Normal included the fact that our relationship with the world and each other was one of love and respect, just like God’s.

We are flawed, and that is ok because we are not alone. Despite our flaws, God chooses to work with us and transform us to get close to being the normal He desires for us. The next time you feel inclined to point the finger at someone and suggest they are not normal, remember who you are. Putting everyone in the same category helps us see the world through God’s eyes and allows us to serve His creations.

Death does not end.

Last week the community of Blackville, NB buried three teenage boys who died in a car accident. A year earlier, they cried together over the loss of a teenage girl, who, along with her father, died on the Miramichi River in a rafting accident. Prior to that, they gathered to mourn the passing of a teenage boy killed in an ATV accident. In a world where millions die each day, to many, these five deaths do not seem noteworthy, but in a community where everyone knows everyone, death, especially that of youngsters, hits hard.

When Jesus witnessed those mourning for the death of His friend Lazarus, scripture records, “He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33 NIV). The original Greek text uses words to imply Jesus was outraged with Himself. He was upset upon seeing the impact that sin and death have on the world. He felt outraged, but it was replaced with raw grief as He wept. Even though He would raise Lazarus, He did not emotionally detach himself from this awful reality. However, unlike many who see death as the end of life and the beginning of nothing, Jesus did not despair, and neither should we.


Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (I Thessalonians 4:13). We must not be terrified like those who cannot see beyond the grave.


We were all shocked by the news of these deaths because we assume they had many more years of life to live. Scripture shares that life is uncertain and fleeting. James writes, “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:13-15 NIV).

We must trust in the truth that Jesus has triumphed over death, but that does not mean we must pretend that death isn’t awful. When loved ones die, we are angry at the unfairness of death. But we can weep knowing that our Saviour wept the same tears. These deaths remind us that we dare not presume on the future. We have only the present moment to serve God and our neighbours. While we may still grieve, we must not be despondent because the life of our Saviour is in us, and we look forward to a day when the last enemy of the world is destroyed.

Pray for the community of Blackville, NB.

The Temple

On one of Jesus’ visits to the Temple, he expressed His anger as to what the Temple had become. The gospel of Matthew tells us, “It is written,” he said to them, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21:13).

He was frustrated that Temple had become a place of business, rather than a place of worship and that the hustle and bustle were drowning out God’s voice.

The world around us is noisy, and there seems no escape from its noise. Even our churches are loud. However, that does not mean we can’t hear God or find Him, or that we condemn church facilities. What it means is we need to be more intentional in our efforts to seek and praise Him. Maybe today, you can isolate yourself and spend some quiet time to hear God whisper to you. But if that is not possible, be comforted in knowing that as a follower of Christ, He is with us no matter where we are.


Let your body/temple, become a house of prayer today.


Hear our Prayer

“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
turn your ear to me and hear my prayer”
Psalm 17:6



David was a shepherd lad who became King of Israel. When he became king, he ruled righteously in accordance with God’s WILL; Israel enjoyed the golden years of their history during David’s reign. Yet, as a man, David sinned. However, as a sinner, he was aware of his need for God’s forgiveness. He courageously accepted God’s punishment; as one who suffered the consequence of sinning against God, he also took the challenge of rebuilding his life for God. David prayed.


God taught David that he worships
a God who answers prayer. 


When we consider all the power that is available to us today – for example, flip a switch and the light will come on – there is none that is as powerful as prayer. The unfortunate aspect of it is that so few of us know how to use it. Electricity was there for discovery in the days of Abraham, but he and the people of that time missed out on the use of it because they did not know how to harness it.

What was the essential aspect of effective prayer that David, no doubt, learned during his life? He alludes to it when he says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”(Psalm 66:18). He learned that a surrendered will was the secret that opened the door of access to the heavenly Father. Unless we are willing to surrender our will to the WILL of God, there will be no answer to prayer.

The best part of prayer is the new sense of God that comes to those whose prayers are answered. Not every prayer is answered in the way that we thought it would be or in the way we wanted it to be; but when we realize that our prayer was answered in God’s way, in accordance with His WILL, we cannot help but rejoice and be glad because of our new sense of awareness of who God is.


He is a God who listens to our petitions and
takes notice of our praise.


David had cried out to God with his mouth; he had praised God with his tongue; God heard his plea; God took notice of his praise, and the result was that God blessed him with peace of mind and heart.

You and I shall know the peace of God when we cry out to Him in prayer and offer words of praise to Him with our lips. Afterwards, we shall realize that God has answered our prayers in His way, according to His WILL; and that realization will cause us to exclaim:


“Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or
withheld his love from me.” Psalm 66:20.


Create a web of prayers

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way,
  you will fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2.



Have you ever looked carefully at a spider’s web and marvelled at its construction? The spider web has several purposes, including gathering food or safely moving its young from one place to another. The web is made from a silk material produced inside its body. When the spider begins to build its web, it releases a single strand of silt. It needs a strong foundation to create the web, so it may use the strand to lower itself to a solid foundation, or it may throw a strand into the wind expecting it to attach something substantial. The spider continues to produce these threads from within until it creates a web. As the spider waits for the web to perform its intended purpose, it does not stop working on the web and continually reinforces it with more strands so it will not fail.

We all need strong support to hold us up in this incredibly confusing world. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit has been given to those who believe in Jesus’ message, and we can use this power within us to help change our lives and those around us. Like a spider, we should start our day building and reinforcing our foundation. Through prayer, we can throw out pieces of ourselves to the Holy Spirit, wait and watch. As we pray, the Holy Spirit will remind us of circumstances in our community and family that are causing anxiety, worry and lack of hope. So, we drop another prayer. Your heart has been breaking as you think about your child who no longer goes to church or believes in Jesus. So, you let loose with another prayer. As you pray, you are encouraged, and you begin to pray for your neighbour’s son, the staff at your local coffee shop and you begin to add strands to the ones that are already in place.


After a while, you have a web of overlapping prayers, and as you sit, watch and pray, you are comforted, knowing God answers all prayers.


Each moment, prayer stands are fluttering in the wind; the Holy Spirit breathes meaning into them as they go to our Father in heaven. We are strengthened, knowing that we are not alone in our prayers. Maybe members of our church family have been praying similar prayers to ours, ensuring many prayer webs are being spread around the city. Scripture share that united, we can become stronger; stronger in our faith and our relationships. (“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” Ecclesiastes 4;12.). We should not be shy to ask others to pray with us; in fact, we should have a prayer partner so that we, not our prayers, can become more robust.


Prayer works. It feeds the Church body and the soul.

Pray often, and don’t give up.


 

What is TRUTH?

“You say that I (Jesus) am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” (John 18:38) 



History records tensions existed between Pontius Pilate and the Jewish community. When Jesus stood before Pilate awaiting punishment, Pilate was uncertain as to the crime Jesus had committed and tried to get answers. The gospel of John records a back and forth interaction between Pilate – the leaders – and Jesus. Getting nowhere with his conversations, Pilate seemed to exclaim in exasperation, “What is truth.” 

Today the words FAKE NEWS has become a common phrase for many who disagree with what they are reading or hearing and somehow the truth has been set aside. Wikipedia defines fake news as deliberate disinformation or hoaxes  spread via print, broadcast or online social media; it is not news we don’t like. FAKE NEWS is not news that shows the flaws and weaknesses of an individual. When an individual speaks in front of cameras and makes inappropriate statements, repeating those statements is not fake news. However, there is a lot of fake news being spread by people who are not in the media business. Destructive fake news about COVID 19 cures, political agendas, or social causes are being shared by our family, friends, and neighbours. Even though much of this news can be quickly verified, many don’t bother to do so or are uncertain how to check the information. They spread this disinformation, creating anxiety and worry for many. It is so prevalent that many ask, “what is the truth.”

When Jesus confronted religious leaders about their teachings, He was not condemning them for FAKE NEWS. Jesus’ teachings, like the Sermon on the mount, was not spoken to squash fake news, but to realign people’s thinking to THE TRUTH. This truth was available to them but somehow got lost in the legalism of the age. He did not call them to ignore God’s laws but called them to repentance, to turn back to God and His truths. He reminded people to focus on loving God with all their heart, soul and mind and to love their neighbours. (Matthew 22:37-39).

So, what is THE TRUTH that Jesus came to share? It is a truth that all should believe. This truth comes from outside the world and gives meaning to the world. It is unchanging and absolute. It is THE TRUTH that there is a God who created everything and wants those who believe in His Son’s message, to spend eternity with Him. Today if we try to claim that there is absolute truth, a truth that everyone should believe and follow, we will very likely be considered misguided and immoral. People will say we are mistaken because they think there is no God to give absoluteness to the truth, or, if there is a God, there is no way of knowing him and what he thinks. Not only would you be considered mistaken and misguided, you would also be considered by many to be immoral if you insist on absolute truth. Why? Because to claim that there is absolute truth leads to intolerance and prejudice against what others think.

People don’t think about absolute truth anymore. They are not looking for THE TRUTH that can give meaning and purpose to all of life and history. Instead, people are trying to experience life to the full and call this experience truth for them, not absolute truth, just truth for them. Jesus was not born to keep secret the truth of God. He was born and came into the world to bear witness to THE TRUTH, the unchanging absolute truth of God. That is not FAKE News but Good News.

Are you a disciple of Jesus?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and, in your name, perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21-23



Do you realize what Jesus is saying – there are many people who are emotional about their faith, who are active in ministry, and who in fact perform miracles, but their hearts have never been transformed by the gospel of grace. They are believers in Jesus who are not disciples of Jesus.

Is there a difference between believers and disciples? Believers and disciples appear to do many of the same activities, but their motives are miles apart. Many believers try to impress God and those around them by being involved in church and service, but disciples do the same things to know God better and reflect His goodness and greatness to everyone. Believers serve God if it’s convenient, while disciples serve God based on conviction.


Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 7:13-14


Jesus compared the way to heaven as a path and suggested that many have intentionally widened that path by pushing aside the boundaries God placed before us in scripture. Believers focus on the passages that promise what God will do for them, but disciples take the whole counsel of God seriously. Disciples follow God whether they agree with God’s word or not, whether they understand or not, whether obeying is comfortable or not. Believers elevate their opinions, feelings, and thoughts above the Word of God while disciples elevate the Word of God above their opinions, feelings, and thoughts. Jesus says that because so many have created a wider path, they will miss the gate that leads to eternal life with Him. Many will miss eternity with Him because they think they are playing the game properly. But it is not a game, or a performance God seeks but a relationship with Him. The creator of the universe wants us to spend eternity with Him, He has given us the Holy Spirit, prayer and scripture to guide us to Him.

Have you ever considered whether you are just a part-time follower of Christ? Do you only trust God when everything is going well? Disciples follow God regardless of the circumstance. Part-time followers stick around if God seems to be blessing them, and life is easy, but disciples keep pursuing God and trusting in Him even when their world is falling apart. God asks us to believe in Him, repent and turn away from our desire to be a follower under our terms. He asks us to acknowledge His grace and forgiveness, repent and turn from activities we know are offensive to Him, to those around us, and even to ourselves. He wants us to turn from being a weekend follower to a 24/7 disciple.

Instead of starting your day with a coffee, breakfast, a quick check of the news, or whatever you habitually do, start your day by saying: “You are my God, and I want to be on the path that leads to you. Help me honour and love you this day and every day”. It’s a start on the discipleship path.

Which path are you on?

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Matthew 7:13-14



Christian blogs, magazines and even friends often offer advice on ways to improve ourselves so we can become “better” Christians. They list activities or actions that, if followed, could lead us closer to God. Although the advice comes from the heart and is meant for good, it often leaves out a key component of the change; the needed influence of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, many tend to analyze these suggestions, even if they are biblically sound, to decide whether to accept them or not. The Holy Spirit stimulates us to think of Jesus not ourselves.

We don’t become Christians unless God chooses us, and we don’t change unless the Holy Spirit transforms us. It is not about will power, but God’s power. Although God chooses whose eyes and hearts He will open, He does not take control over followers unless they allow it. Scripture tells us that we have choices including whether we want to follow Jesus or not. Being a Christ-follower requires a mindset that points to God. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that we have to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (see Romans 12:2). We have to intentionally choose to become followers so that we can honour and glorify God. We have to purposefully seek to love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength and we can’t do that without the Holy Spirit’s help.

There is an expression that states, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. God does not want us to imitate Jesus or flatter Him as flattery can also suggest an insincere act or word used to impress the recipient.


God wants our action to be sincere and pure.
God wants us to be as Jesus is
.


When the Holy Spirit gets involved, our actions and behaviours should become Christ-like. They then should become immediate responses to the Holy Sprit’s activity in our lives, not responses motivated by our personal preferences of even a desire to please God or get something from Him. We do what is right to honour God.

During a gathering, referred to as “The Sermon on The Mount”, Jesus presented guidance on becoming His disciple. He spoke about disciple attributes but did not suggest these were steps or checkpoints we must achieve to climb a ladder to get to heaven. He proposes these as behavioural boundaries which guides us on a path that leads to God. A path that can become wide as we judge whether these words are relevant, whether we understand them, or even whether we agree with them. The wider we make the path the greater chance we have in missing the gate to life.


Our desire to be Christ-like should be for no reason
other than to seek and worship God. 


We must look to scripture to find God’s boundary markers pointing to Him. Jesus promises the Holy Spirit as a guide and we must respond to His prompting. Prayer, reading scripture and responding to the Holy Spirit keeps us on the path to God.

Blessings for a True Disciple



We often hear people speak of the cost of being a disciple of Christ however, when we follow Jesus, numerous blessings help us live a life focused on God.



Below is a shortlist of scripture that speaks of the abundant life that God offers. These are given to those who learn to love God and obey His commandments above all else:

  1. PURPOSE – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

  2. DIRECTION – Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your understanding in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).

  3. STRENGTH – I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).

  4. COMPETENCE – For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

  5. PEACE – Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:29).

  6. SATISFACTION – Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

  7. POWER – Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and will do even greater things than these (John 14:12).

  8. RELATIONSHIP – Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20).

  9. ETERNAL LIFE – And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).

  10. LEGACY – Understand, therefore, that the LORD your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands (Deuteronomy 7:9).