This week, I have been reading a fascinating book of historical fiction entitled, The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas.
As you will hear in this PODCAST, in the book Douglas records a conversation between Marcellus, son of a Roman Senator who has fallen out of favor with Emperor Tiberias, and Marcellus’ slave, Demetrius.
The conversation goes like this:
‘Demetrius’—Marcellus swept the sky with an all-inclusive arm—’do you ever believe in the gods?’
‘If it is my master’s wish, I do,’ replied Demetrius, perfunctorily.
‘No, no,’ said Marcellus, testily, ‘be honest. Never mind what I believe. Tell me what you think about the gods. Do you ever pray to them?’
‘When I was a small boy, sir,’ complied Demetrius, ‘my mother taught us to invoke the gods. She was quite religious. There was a pretty statue of Priapus in our flower garden. I can still remember my mother kneeling there, on a fine spring day, with a little trowel in one hand and a basket of plants in the other. She believed that Priapus made things grow…. And my mother prayed to Athene every morning when my brothers and I followed the teacher into our schoolroom.’ He was silent for a while; and then, prodded by an encouraging nod from Marcellus, he continued: ‘My father offered libations to the gods on their feast-days, but I think that was to please my mother.’
‘This is most interesting—and touching, too,’ observed Marcellus. ‘But you haven’t quite answered my question, Demetrius. Do you believe in the gods—now?’
‘Do you mean that you don’t believe they render any service to men? Or do you doubt that the gods exist, at all?’
‘I think it better for the mind, sir, to disbelieve in their existence. The last time I prayed—it was on the day that our home was broken up. As my father was led away in chains, I knelt by my mother and we prayed to Zeus—the Father of gods and men—to protect his life. But Zeus either did not hear us; or, hearing us, had no power to aid us; or, having power to aid us, refused to do so. It is better, I think, to believe that he did not hear us than to believe that he was unable or unwilling to give aid. … That afternoon my mother went away—upon her own invitation—because she could bear no more sorrow…. I have not prayed to the gods since that day, sir. I have cursed and reviled them, on occasions; but with very little hope that they might resent my blasphemies. Cursing the gods is foolish and futile, I think.’
Well, you could reason, of course Zeus did not hear Demetrius’ prayers. There was no Zeus to hear him.
And of course, you could also argue, there was no answer to his prayer because there was no Zeus who promised Demetrius what Jesus promised to us:
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
Yet, how many of us have had a crisis of faith equal to that of Demetrius precisely because we prayed to our God in a time of crisis, in Jesus’ name, the same Jesus who did indeed make to us this promise:
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened…”
…and yet, nothing happened.
What exactly did Jesus mean by those words, His prayer promise to us?
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There is nothing more toxic to our faith than when we base our faith on misinformed expectations. More precisely, holding God to expectations that He never intended for us to form; expectations God never committed Himself to fulfill.
They say that “confession is good for the soul.” OK, here’s my confession to you: Every week, when I open the Bible and begin to teach, I keenly, keenly feel my inadequacy. That’s not a me-trying-to-sound-humble statement; that’s a me-being-brutally-honest statement. A true statement, an honest admission, because I know that each and every person who listens to my voice and hears my words is experiencing their own challenges, asking their own questions, working through their own difficulties.
Consequently, there is so much that I would like to tell you, but literally so little time. How much can we accomplish in less than an hour together each week?
I am certainly not alone in my frustration. I take great comfort that Jesus felt it too, keenly so. Which is precisely what He told His disciples in one of the landmark chapters in all of the Bible. Yet, ironically, it’s a chapter that is so often overlooked as to its significance and importance.
If I were to ask you to tell me your favorite chapter in the Bible, or the one that brings you the greatest level of comfort, I doubt you’d say John 16. But for me, without a doubt, I’d say John 16. And it’s in this chapter that Jesus expressed my same exact frustration.
There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.
The scene was the Upper Room. The night was His last night before the crucifixion. Jesus knew what the next 24 hours would be like. Consequently, Jesus had to recalibrate His disciples’ expectations. And so on this night, Jesus huddled with His disciples at what should have been the singular celebration of the year: a Passover Seder.
A beautiful night that would soon turn ugly.
These men had left everything to follow Jesus. They had literally put their lives on the line to become committed Christ-followers.
Jesus had warned them repeatedly that this night was coming — the night of His betrayal and arrest.
But you know, it’s amazing to me what we hear, and what we don’t allow ourselves to hear.
I am coming off of an exhilarating week with the best students in the world, the Joshua Wilderness Institute students. So in my absence, and for your edification and enjoyment, I have reached way back into the archives, all the way to Podcast #61.
This was at the time a wonderfully received and enormously helpful discussion that brought so much peace to so many troubled (and sometimes tortured) souls.
If you were ever going to hear just one message on the mysterious and majestic practice we call prayer, let this one be the one. For here we come to the crux of the matter regarding this glorious thing we call prayer.
So much is going to become so clear in just the next few minutes: Questions about unanswered prayers. Questions about why God even designed this thing called prayer. Questions about the purpose of prayer. Questions about what we ought to pray for, and what we don’t need to pray for. Why prayer sometimes doesn’t seem to work. Yet why every time we pray biblically, it ALWAYS works.
So much to talk about. I am so glad you are here to share in this discussion with us.
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HAPPY LISTENING, and may God richly bless you as you listen.
What you are about to read below is just a small but tantalizing taste of what you will hear in this PODCAST, my expanded paraphrase of that wonderful passage, Philippians 4:6-9.
You can hear the podcast in its entirety by clicking on this podcast player:
Concerning your many personal problems, let me encourage you to do what I do. Over time (of which I have a lot, sitting here in this prison), I have actually trained myself not to worry about anything, but rather to pray about everything. I share with God everything – my joys and sorrows, my victories and my defeats, my thrills along with my spills, my hopes and fears, everything.
And every time I do, He answers my prayers. Not necessarily by giving me everything I want. No! No loving parent would do that – not an earthly father, nor certainly our Heavenly Father. Instead, He does something so much better. He floods my soul with His peace – the quiet contentment and calm assurance that everything is going to be OK.
I can’t explain it. It is in every sense of the word a miracle of God’s loving touch. But especially during those times when I would otherwise be freaking out, it’s like God whispers to me in His wee small voice, “Hey, I’m here. I know what you’re going through. I’m on top of it. I’ve got your back. I will fix this – in my own way and in my own time. So… relax.”
Yes, that’s it! By His grace, because of His grace, I have learned how to mentally and emotionally relax.
Let me teach you this one simple principle: When we worry about stuff, when we become anxious, when we do freak out, we are not dealing with realities. We are mentally inventing fantasies, most of which will never come to pass.
But even if our fears do come to pass, that’s the point, isn’t it? They come to pass. Our problems won’t last forever!
Far too often, we negatively worry about the things that we imagine might happen, instead of positively channeling our energies into dealing with what really happens. What a waste of mental, emotional, and spiritual energy!
So I offer to you this challenge: Develop the mental discipline to think only about those things which are true, that are real. As someone who loves you more than you could ever know, I beg of you to train yourself to think only those thoughts that bring honor to God, rather than thoughts that cause you to doubt God. Doubts about whether or not God is big enough or loving enough to handle your present trials. Trust me, He can handle them. And He will handle them.
Think only those thoughts that are wholesome, not worrisome. Try not to allow your mind to meander into places that will emotionally bring you down, rather than to lovely places that will spiritually build you up.
Mentally focus on the promises of God that will cause you to praise Him, rather than your unfounded fears that will only cause you to question Him.
If nothing else, try to follow my example. I have certainly had my share of struggles. You know about the personal pains that I have endured, and continue to endure. You know that I could make the argument that life has unfairly dealt me — an apostle — a losing hand. But you also know that I choose to regard my present circumstances, even in this prison, as though our good God is dealing me a winning hand. Because you know what? In the end, I will win! And so will you!
Oh, my dear Philippian friends, how I long for you to put into practice all of lessons that I have taught you, both when I was with you, and now as I write to you. All of the principles that you are watching me in real time apply to my own life. In short, how I long for you to learn how to luxuriate in God’s peace, just like I strive to do today, and every single day.
OK! You may well be wondering, “Are we really going take an entire message to talk about fasting?”
As you will hear in this PODCAST, Yes! We are indeed! And for some very good reasons.
Just the mention of the word sounds like something out of an ancient Byzantine Orthodox liturgy. Certainly not something relevant to our fast-paced 21st century get-up-and-go, hectic, frenetic lifestyles. Which is precisely the point!
The fact that our lives have indeed become so deliriously fast-paced (Get it? Fast-paced? When talking about fasting? A little pun there.) demands that we build this discipline into our lives.
And just to give you one tantalizing clue as to where we are going with this: Fasting has much more to do with our time than it does with our food. As you will hear me propose in this message, fasting is much more of a time-management issue than it is a food-management issue.
It’s not at all surprising, really, that Jesus followed up His presentation of The Lord’s Prayer with this invitation to fast. Because here’s the thing: We can approach our newly-discovered insights on The Lord’s Prayer with all kinds of renewed enthusiasm and excitement about praying the way Jesus taught us to pray. (I certainly hope you do!)
But the raw reality of the situation is this: Many of us simply don’t have the time or take the time to pray. To get alone with God. To embrace the silence, an endangered species in our day, a silence in which we prayerfully consider the significance of each phrase of The Lord’s Prayer.
I mean, if your life is at all typical, as you run here and rush there, you barely have time to eat, let alone time to pray. Which, again, is precisely the point!
So take some time — relatively very little time — to listen to this podcast. It may just change your life in a really, really good way.
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God bless you as you listen. And PLEASE “Share” the link to this message with your friends.
Ready to have a huge load lifted off of your shoulders? A load of guilt that God never meant for you to carry?
As you are about to hear in this PODCAST, it is my sense that far too often in the Christian community at large, we display a woefully naive and underdeveloped understanding of person-to-person forgiveness.
Too many times I get the sense that our default position is to demand of the one who is wronged his or her need to forgive the one who wronged him. While at the same time almost giving a pass to the one who committed the wrong in the first place. As if to say, “Yes, it’s too bad that someone hurt you. But you are obligated to forgive that person, whether they acknowledge the hurt they caused or not.”
I mean, is it not one of the most basic of Christian ethics to say to someone who has been deeply wounded, “You need to forgive the person who wronged you, love the person who wronged you, and be reconciled with the person who wronged you. No matter what”? Whether or not they make any attempt to right the wrong that they committed? Whether or not they repent of the wrong, or even admit their wrong?
A woefully inadequate view of forgiveness which (IMHO) ignores Jesus’ purposeful and particular and pointed and powerful usage of the word “debts.”
A naive view of forgiveness which, in far too many cases, only amplifies the pain caused to the one who is wronged. (When we demand of the one who was wronged a forgiving spirit, while neglecting to suggest any obligation on the part of the one who did the wrong to right the wrongs that they committed, or in Jesus’ words, to settle their “debts.”)
A woefully underdeveloped theology of forgiveness which only empowers and enables hurtful behavior.
Which forces me to ask, Why do we do this? Why do we hold the persons who are hurt accountable to forgive the ones who hurt them, without equally holding accountable those who caused the pain to their biblical obligation to right the wrongs that they committed? Thereby empowering dysfunctional behavior on the part of one who caused the pain in the 1st place? Which only motivates them to continue to hurt others with no accountability whatsoever.
Is this really what Jesus meant to teach here, in the Lord’s Prayer, when He taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”? That no matter what the hurt, how deep the hurt, we just forgive. End of story.
I don’t think so.
You might be in for a pleasant surprise as you listen to this podcast.
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God can sometimes seem so distant. Remote. Removed from the intricate details of my daily life.
BUT HE’S NOT. As you will discover by listening to this PODCAST.
God is closer to you than you can possibly imagine.
To prove this point, here’s a pop quiz for you. When Jesus wanted to convey to the people He loved — in the single most culturally-emphatic way — just how close God is to YOU, what image did Jesus invoke?
You, my friend, are in for quite a surprise.
Please note that depending upon your connection speed and web browser, it may take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to play. But it’s worth the wait!!! 😉